Screenie Shorts: 'World Famous Gopher Hole Museum', 'Quiet Zone', 'In Deep Waters'

World Famous Gopher Hole Museum
This second round of Screenie shorts offers a trio of documentaries. The non-fiction front of the Canadian Screen Awards nominees is strong on both the short and feature-length ends of the spectrum. Bacon and God’s Wrath is a tough one to top, but there’s at least one worthy contender in this group!

That fair rival to the Baconater is the droll and down-to-earth doc World Famous Gopher Hole Museum (Chelsea McMullan and Doug Nayler, 20 min.), which whisks viewers to the small Alberta town of Torrington for a tour of its self-renowned gopher hole tourist attraction. It’s hard for a town with a population of two-hundred people to put itself on the map by any means, but the Torringtonians do their darnedest by celebrating their quaint little cottage full of gopher holes. The museum houses an eclectic collection of dioramas featuring taxidermied gophers dressed up like dolls and placed in a variety of amusing scenes.

McMullan (director of My Prairie Home) and Naylor let the museum’s elderly tour guide lead them on the small (but rich) collection of gussied up rodents and describe the wonderful attractions that bring in thousands of attendees a season for the paltry admission of $2 for adults and 50 cents for kids. (A bargain!) World Famous Gopher Hole Museum naturally, humorously, and unpretentiously evokes the character of a Christopher Guest film as it brings this mundanely wonderful subject to light. The film spotlights nearly as the dioramas as the tour guides explains the value of the gophers, and one sees the charm and novelty that makes this place so dear to her heart. The film never patronizes its subject despite finding the humour in the peculiarity of the museum’s treasures; instead, World Famous Gopher Hole Museum keeps apace with the sleepy town by adopting an old-school no-frills form that finds pleasure in a slower, more relaxed way of life. It offers a charming spotlight for a kind of lifestyle that, unfortunately, resembles a museum display in itself. This nostalgic and bittersweet film is a highlight of the Canadian shorts from 2015.
Quiet Zone
World Famous Gopher Hole Museum joins the company of Quiet Zone (David Bryant and Karl Lemieux, 14 min.) in the short doc race. This experimental documentary offers a challenge for viewers, even for those who like a demanding screening, but it deserves consideration for its complexity and its attention to form. The film uses animation and hand processing to create a hyperactive portrait of subjects who are acutely sensitive to electromagnetic waves. Their stories appear in voiceover while surreal images of scratched and emulsified landscape whirl and blur onscreen. It’s a little OCD and the form often overwhelms and amounts to sensory overload—it’s the kind of film one needs to watch twice to grasp—but the explosion of the sounds and images that one experiences is quite the trip.
In Deep Waters

Similarly, the doc In Deep Waters (Sarah Van Den Boom, 12 min.) pushes boundaries with non-fiction form. This doc, which is nominated in the animated category and not alongside documentary shorts, uses a mix of visuals to evoke conflicting sensations surrounding the stories of three subjects. The speakers all recounts tales of loss that relate to birth and death. The subject matter is moving and the testimonies are powerful, and the animation that brings them to life often undercuts one’s expectations. It’s powerful in its tale of celebrating life in the face of death.

The Canadian Screen Awards air March 13 on CBC.