TIFF Review: 'Frost'

(Canada, 13 min.)
Written and directed by Jeremy Ball
Starring Emily Puggford, Oscar Hsu, Lara Daans.
Emily Piggford as Naya. Photo by David Lee.
“All things leave a mark on this world. Sometimes the marks are small, like scratches on the edge of a knife. Other times, they are big, like clouds across the sky. Father says the difference between people and animals is that people choose the marks they leave behind while animals just can't seem to help themselves,” says Naya (a strong Emily Piggford) in the voice-over that opens the short film Frost. Frost, a production from the Canadian Film Centre’s Short Dramatic Film Program that screens in the Short Cuts Canada Programme at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, is sure to leave a big mark on the world. Frost is an ambitious production by writer/director Jeremy Ball that succeeds with every risk it takes.

Naya, a hunter, is in the process of making her own mark. Naya longs to please her father (Oscar Hsu) and prove herself a brave hunter and a worthy provider for her small arctic community. Naya’s quest leads her beyond the borders of the ancestral grounds of her people, and when she walks past the intimidating stone structures, she journeys into a desolate and barren concrete jungle.
Like life for the kids in The Sweet Hereafter, everything is strange and new for Naya as she explores this frozen city. The empty, unpopulated streets have a haunting quality as Naya drifts through them, for one can hardly tell if she has walked forwards or backwards in time. Naya’s search offers unknown riches as she discovers beef jerky and PopchipsTM; however, the hunter encounters a dangerous predator that tests her ability to survive.

Naya’s quest to prove herself offers a rich allegory for our nation both on the need to look forward as well as the need to look back in order to learn from the past.The film begins with a story of where we’ve come from, but it evolves into a stunning piece of science fiction to make a potent allegory of where we’re going. Frost brilliantly matches its thematic mix with some outstanding visuals. The effects in Frost are perhaps the most prominent of its many features. The odd technological warfare that threatens Naya is a notable piece, but the entire world of the film is constructed artfully and innovatively through elaborate effects. (Frost was shot on a sound stage and with a green screen, so the whole of the snowy landscape is the work of a strong post-production team.)

The striking visuals hardly overwhelm the film. Rather, they further its story of the fearless hunter. One could perhaps look at Frost as a short corrective to the depiction of the Indigenous culture of the arctic in films like Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents, which was a great film for 1960, but Frost shows the gift of hindsight in addition to its futuristic effects.

Other credits, such as the music by Andrew Lockington, production design by James McAteer, and costumes by Alex Kavanagh are all top notch. Especially impressive is the cinematography by Guy Godfree, who shot the film with the Arri Alexa and made Frost the CFC’s first shoot on an HD format. Overall, Frost is an excellent example of the kind of breakthroughs that one sees in short film. This is one film to add to your festival line-up! 

Rating: (out of ★★★★★)

 Frost screens in Short Cuts Canada Programme 4 on Tuesday, September 11 at 6:30 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 and on Wednesday, September 12 at 4:30 at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4.
 For more info please visit its page on the festival website.

The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16.

Also reviewed from the Short Cuts Canada Programme are Dear Scavengers and Asian Gangs