WSFF Day 3: "Superfans", "All Tomorrow's Parties", "Someone to Watch Over Me"

Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke
Day three of the Worldwide Shorts Film Festival included three screenings of Official Selection programmes: “Superfans,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties”and“Someone to Watch Over Me.” As with the other Official Selections, the films in these three programmes slant heavily towards the scale of dark, edgy, and provocative. I tend to like my films on the dark side, though, so that’s fine; however, since many of the shorts tread similar lines, it’s hard for them to stand out from the pack, especially when films like Withering Love and Margo Lily set the bar for dramatic films of such a tone. There were a few standouts in the day, though: not only for their refreshing tone, but also for the tangible authenticity that set them apart from the rest.

First up in “Superfans” is a fan-piece about the work of Philip K. Dick. In the meta-mockumentary No Relation (Canada, 7 min.), Kieran Dick (no relation to Philip K.) explores the author’s famous question of what is real and what is fiction. Using the documentary form, No Relation intuitively plays with the audience’s perception of reality. In some cases, perhaps, fiction is just an honest – if not more enlightening – variation of the truth. Another send-up to superfandom of the literary kind comes in A Gun for George (UK, 17 min.). George is an irreverent tribute to pulp fiction and grindhouse cinema that sees one fledgling author (played by writer/director Matthew Holness) escape his mundane life in a B-movie fantasyland as the crime-fighting vigilante The Reprisalizer. A Gun for George is a funny/campy romp for superfans of trashy action.
“Superfans” takes the programme in another direction with the experimental film Semi-auto Colours (Canada, 6 min.). Semi-auto Colours is not too distant a relative to George, though, since the film was shot on beautiful 16mm – proving that film remains a better choice than digital – and it takes a mixed form approach to dreams and reality. This film by Isiah Median offers an evocative portrait of youth in Winnipeg’s West End and the grittiness of the 16mm serves creates a dark, tenacious rendering of reality. Also screening in “Superfans” are the sombre send ups to horror cinema Dad, Lenin, and Freddy (Greece, 20 min) and Videoboy (Norway, 33 min.), the former of which boasts especially good production value.

“Superfans” rises out of the darkness and gets a spectacular jolt of life from the hilarious film Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke (USA, 12 min.). Uncle Luke is easily the most original and ambitious film in “Superfans”, but in an ironic twist, it also happens to be the only remake in the programme. Filmmakers Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva put a daring spin on Chris Marker’s canonical experimental film La jetée. A landmark of French cinema of the 1960s, not to mention experimental film as a whole, La jetée has become a staple of film course syllabi and a “must-own” Criterion for any serious fan of art-house cinema. (It was also remade as the Brad Pitt/Bruce Willis movie 12 Monkeys if one needs to see the film’s influence.) Now, though, this haunting meditation on love, temporality, and memory gets a radical redux when the story is used in combination with the life of 80s hip-hop star Luther Campbell (aka Uncle Luke). The still frames of the Chris Marker film are replaced by a pastiche of hand-made cut-outs and dismembered actors, and the classical arias of La jetée are swapped for an opera cover of “Pop that Coochie.” The audacious reinterpretation of the film works brilliantly, though, with Uncle Luke telling the story of his survival of a mysterious catastrophe that dooms the earth (and by that I don’t mean the stale white bitches who think his music stinks). Hilarious where its predecessor was haunting, Uncle Luke is a must-see for all serious film buffs. (On a side note, the directors joked during the Q&A that a future project might be a remake of Last Year at Marienbad starring Vanilla Ice… I would pay good money to see that, wouldn’t you?)

Good Night
The second Official Selection screening of the day, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” offered more of the shadier side of short film. These films, however, use the darkness to note how the party’s drawn to a close. Love (Canada, 7 min), for example, is a TIFF talent lab project that shows what happens when a cash grant collides with a big bag o’ weed. I’m sure that Bruce McDonald approves. On the other hand, Eighty-Eight (UK, 11 min.) offers a moving character study of an elderly man (don’t call him “old”) known as “The Banjo Man” who busks on the streets of Cornwall. Eighty-Eight is a surprisingly affective account of one man’s ability to use music as an outlet to escape tragedy. Tragedy occurs in Four Doves on the Aerial (Quatre colombes sure l’antenne télé) (France, 17 min.) when provocation is confused with vulgarity; however, greatness finds its way into The Pub (UK, 8 min.). The Pub is an observational look at one day in the life of a London barmaid. The action in the pub mutate into all sorts of unsightly acts performed by a roster of grotesque characters. This film by Joseph Pierce takes live action drama and overlays it with some impressive black and white animation to create a nightmare that unfolds in real-life. Cheers to The Pub!

There’s plenty of cheers in They Stay for Dinner (Spain, 18 min.), which sees one couple struggle to move forward when one partner wants to grow up and have kids while the other wants the party to rage on forever. They Stay for Dinner is a maddening look at a man who is open about himself to others, yet cannot feel positive when society continues to measure success in terms of the nuclear family. Dinner boasts a quartet of strong performers, especially Olivia Waters who invests a fine dramatic turn to the film’s final act. The question of success continues with What if Famous People Weren’t Famous: Prince (USA, 3 min.). The film asks viewers to imagine that Prince had never been a recording star, but became an air conditioner repairman instead. When one woman calls to have her system fixed, things start to heat up instead of cooling down: mechanical repairs were never done with such flamboyant flair.

Speaking of sexy, have you ever heard of the “vodka tampon”? Well, the latest craze in underage intoxication gets an insightful dramatization in the last film of the programme. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” ends with a strong stand-out among the darker films in the series. Good Night (UK, 27 min.), by Muriel D’Ansembourg, is a brave look at the lives of young girls in contemporary London. Rachel and Chloe (played by Anna Hogarth and Rosie Day) are two fourteen-year-old girls who just want to have fun. They can’t wait for all tomorrow’s parties, so Chloe decides that they should take the plunge with the latest fad. Good Night is a fair portrait of the dangers of reckless behaviour and an honest look at youth as they grapple with the temptations offered by a society that celebrates excess and indulgence. Among all the gloomy, provocative, and sensational films in “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Good Night manages to be all three without a sense of contrivance. This is an honest, ripped-from-life story. The film is more suggestive than graphic in its careful handling of misguided youth and it offers a thankfully optimistic tone, which is made all the more authentic with the remarkable and natural performances by its two young leads. D’Ansembourg also conveys an important message in her tale and she does so without the slightest hint of moralizing.

Bradley Manning Had Secrets
The third programme of the day was the Official Selection “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The seven films in this programme offered tones and subject matter similar to their predecessors, so I’ll admit that things seemed to blur towards the end. Particularly memorable among the set, however, is the documentary Bradley Manning Had Secrets (UK, 6 min.), which gleefully turns the tables on WikiLeaks creator Bradley Manning. The film takes transcripts from online chat rooms in which Manning revealed his most private feelings to fellow hackers. Don’t doubt karma!

While Bradley Manning got his just desserts from one hacker, the justice system receives a much different portrait in The Factory (Brazil, 15 min.). A poignant story about one family struggle to connect through the walls of a high-security prison, The Family is a stark multi-generational drama about the lengths to which parents will go in order to provide for their children. It’s a genuinely moving drama, as is Joy (Ireland, 10 min), which is a sad tale teen motherhood. Moviegoers will also appreciate the even-handed approach to relationships in My Sweetheart (France, 23 min.) and the creepiness of the romantic thriller Deafblind (UK, 15 min.), which brings “Someone to Watch Over Me” to a close with an astonishingly good performance by Maxine Peake as a lonely deaf-blind woman who senses someone watching over her in her quiet empty house.

“Superfans” screens at the Isabel Bader Theatre on Sat., June 9 at 5:15 p.m.
“All Tomorrow’s Parties” screens at  Isabel Bader Theatre on Sunday, June 10 at 7:45 p.m.
“Someone to Watch Over Me” screens at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Sat., June 9 at 4:30 p.m.

Please visit www.shorterisbetter.com for tickets, program/film info, and show times.
(And click here for updates & reviews of this year's Worldwide Short Film Festival.)