OIFF Review: Short Programme 1

A Mile in These Hooves
The first shorts programme of the 2014 Ottawa International Film Festival offers a playlist of great films. These eight shorts show how much the Festival has grown in its fifth year. It also shows how far Ottawa film has come in the age of OIFF, for this programme contains arguably the best Ottawa short production of the past five years alongside a film from The Weinstein Company. Yes, local talents are in the same block of shorts as a film that credits Mr. Oscar Campaigner himself, Harvey Weinstein, as Executive Producer. The real thrill is that the local short is undeniably the better film of the two. To be honest, though, there isn't a bad film in the bunch!

The programme begins with the fun animated film What is Art (Stanley Ka Chun Chan; Canada, 2 min.), which is an intimate mediation on art's ability to teach, inspire, and nourish anyone with a creative spark. This brisk film lets images evolve as director Stanley Ka Chun Chan grows as an artist, learning and acquiring the different characters of art, like competitiveness and commerce, and in turn evolves along with the images onscreen. (Watch it online here.) A much different coming-of-age story comes in Dead Hearts (Stephen W. Martin; Canada, 17 min.), a darkly funny fable about a young boy destined to become both a mortician and a heartbreaker. Dead Hearts unfolds like a morbid bedtime story as the dry, droll narration tells of the destiny of Milton Mayberry (Valin Shinyei) and the long line of undertakers from which he comes. This whimsically offbeat film in a hodgepodge of horror, romance, and comedy rolled into one as Milton pursue a blind schoolmate, Lola Littleton (Lila Bela), until death do them part. Dead Hearts is a little all over the map as Milton’s story throws in everything including love, loss, zombies, wolves, bullies, and Kung Fu, but Martin unfolds it all with a sing-song cadence that’s mischievously funny. This black comedy is bloody good fun.

After Dead Hearts comes Honor Code (Pascal Trottier; Canada, 10 min.). This steely sci-fi film offers a showdown of samurai swords in an alternate world where honor codes demand that lowly drones defer to their superiors and fight to the death. Trottier, one of the writers of last year’s The Colony, creates an eerie setting in an Equilibrium-like world that feels much closer to contemporary society than it does the distant future as Hank Middleton (The Animal Project’s Aaron Poole) defends his honour against an arrogant higher-upper (George Tchortov) in the cold, impersonal world of corporate finance. Strong performance and an intriguing time structure make Honor Code an enigmatic, yet darkly humorous mind-game.

Papa (Nathalie Labarre; USA, 6 min.), on the other hand, is an adorable animated father/daughter tale with sprightly energy and fanciful appeal. Bright colours and a shade of innocence make Papa the most adorable flick of the bunch. Similarly, the bright and fluffy Be the Snow (Amir Hanarnad; Canada, 5 min.) is an adventure that sees a comfy pillow spring to life and discover the wonders and perils that live outside the bedroom. This light, sunny film lets the animated pillow bounce through the streets with a spring in its step as it experiences all sorts of wonderful new things and has an unconventional flight back home for a sentimental reunion with its owner.
Market Hours
 Market Hours (Jon Goldman; USA, 15 min.), the aforementioned Weinstein Company film (and a Lexus production), also offers a bright and breezy comedy. This tale of a market security guard named Randall (Leonard Earl Howze) is a charmer. Randall sports an indefatigably upbeat attitude and an innovative imagination as he walks between the stalls of the market and wonders what goes on in the minds of the merchants whose stalls he protects. His supervisor (Gary Cole, a notably familiar face for OIFF) thinks Randall spends too much time daydreaming to be an observant and effective force, but the sweet love story writer/director Jon Goldman crafts between Randall and a lonely baker (Hong Chau)  lets the guard prove himself in both work and love. Buoyed by winning performances and an irresistible charisma, Market Hours is one of those films that are impossible to resist.
The impressive American flick, arguably the most professionally assembled film yet to screen at the Festival, is then upstaged by the best local flick to screen at the Festival so far. Wired (Nick Lacelle & Nicholaus Hillier; Canada, 8min.) comes to OIFF 2014 after winning the top prize at Ottawa’s Digi60 film challenge in 2013. Actioners tend to be the strong point of the local film scene, but comedies generally don’t come around as often or nearly as successfully. This solid crime comedy, however, shows that Ottawa talents have a firm grip on the art form overall as Wired delivers laughs and gunfire with equally sharp aim. Wired sees a heist go awry as a doofus undercover cop (Nicholaus Hillier) finds himself amidst an exchange of bullets between the po-po and the thugs looking to blast whoever sold them out. The rapid-fire script is smart and funny, while the technical finesse of the film is arguably the most impressive work to come out of Ottawa in years. The rat-a-tat-tat tempo of the script is matched by the sharp editing, while the slick cinematography makes this short visually engaging and an all-around winner. (Watch Wired online here.)
A Mile in These Hooves
As a testament to the strength of the shorts at OIFF this year, however, one final film slightly edges out Wired as the champ of the shorts so far. I could not stop laughing through every minute of A Mile in These Hooves (James Brylowski; Canada/USA, 15 min.) and simply have to declare it the best short to screen at OIFF so far. It’s utterly original and absolutely hilarious. Director James Brylowski takes a zany idea and runs with it as A Mile in These Hooves presents a silly mockumentary about two friends (Jordan Grey and Ned Petrie) who decide to undertake a mammoth journey from Toronto to Venice Beach, California while travelling in a donkey costume fit for two. The sight gags are endless as the ridiculous donkey train stumbles through picturesque settings with his oversized tongue dangling out and his big, wide eyes making an ass out of the friends. Full credit goes to Grey and Petrie, too, for selling the adventure with such deadpan seriousness as they recount their adventure to the camera. A Mile in These Hooves is wickedly funny, but it’s completely on target as a feat of mockumentary filmmaking. This film is so ludicrous, yet so equally convincing that it does for shorts what Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind do for mockumentary features. A Mile in These Hooves is one of the funniest and best shorts of the year!

Shorts Programme 1 screened at the 2014 Ottawa International Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 18 at the Mayfair Theatre.

OIFF runs Oct. 15-19, 2014.

More OIFF coverage may be found here.