TIFF Shorts: Bird, Bickford Park, Threads, Hawking & Kanye, Latched

  Ramona Diaconsecu, courtesy of TIFF 
This blog, unfortunately, doesn’t quite have as much freedom to dive into the TIFF shorts as it has in previous years, but taking on other commitments doesn’t mean shorts can’t be in season. TIFF’s Short Cuts programme often yields some of the best and most overlooked films at the festival. Even if one can’t take in the full spectrum of shorts, it’s worth catching at least one programme as a sample to catch innovations in form like Matthew Rankin’s outstanding The Tesla World Light (reviewed at POV) or any of the impressive documentaries in the shorts series, like Michelle Latimer’s powerful Nuuca, Elinor Nechemya’s revitalizing Everlasting Mom, and Caroline Monnet’s haunting Creatura Dada. (Check POV for a review of short docs coming soon.)

Canadian highlights in the shorts spectrum include new voices behind the camera, like acclaimed actor Molly Parker (Weirdos, House of Cards), who makes her directorial debut at Short Cuts this year. Parker’s Bird (Short Cuts Programme 3) is a refreshing and down to earth film that shows ample promise for Parker in the director’s seat. Parker smartly constructs her film as an actor’s showpiece and gives Amanda Plummer a juicy role as Sam, an alcoholic desperately struggling to take flight and find freedom. Bird is a sharply-focused family drama that Plummer carries with her mostly-silent performance as Sam searches for a family pet. As Sam hunts the bird in the trees around her childhood home, she revisits old memories that she longs to heal, and Plummer reveals Sam’s painful past with an understated performance. It helps, too, that Parker has some of the top talents in the Canadian scene helping bring out the best in Bird’s artistic vision with cinematographer Guy Godfree offering calming natural light, editor Matthew Hannam cutting together a subtly fractured time play, and composer Lesley Barber delivering a buoyant, hopeful score. Bird lets Parker expand her golden wings even wider than before.
Bickford Park
Courtesy of TIFF
The same goes for Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart, who bust out their summer shorts after the feature I Put a Hit on You and the series The Commute. Bickford Park (Short Cuts Programme 1) lets the filmmaking duo excel at what they seem to do best: make offbeat love stories that feel completely natural. (Their Margot Lily is one of the films that made me fall in love with shorts in the first place.) This time, Clark and Stewart opt for New Wave-y black and white as Liane Balaban’s Jill stretches her legs and ambitions one warm summer night when she escapes her hipster husband (Patrick Costello, a lot of fun playing the goof) and his garage band racket and runs into a chance encounter with a skater boy (newcomer Daniel Policelli). What ensues is an intimately platonic infidelity as Jill embraces the youthful tingle that comes with the summer heat, and Balaban, Policelli, and Costello have natural screen chemistry to bring this oddball love triangle to life. The vacant school lot where the directors set the film is a cavernous void as empty as Jill’s marriage, yet the characters surprise us with their hunger for connection in the anonymous concrete jungle.
Courtesy of TIFF

Another down to earth family fable joins Bickford Park in Short Cuts Programme 1. Threads is the latest NFB co-production from Oscar winner Torill Kove (The Danish Poet, Me and My Moulton) that spins a yarn about the endearing connections between parents and children. Kove’s signature storybook animation and hand drawn pastel palette offers a fine counterpoint to the bracing black and white of Bickford Park as it probes one’s desire for intimacy and connection in the suffocating urban void. Quirky, humorous, and driven by a jazzy shuffle of a score by Kevin Dean, this enchanting fable is draws us close with its wonderful simplicity.
Imagined Conversations: Stephen Hawking and Kanye West
Courtesy of TIFF

Also screening in Short Cuts Programme 1 is a completely different tale of strangers forging a connection. Imagined Conversations: Stephen Hawking and Kanye West from Bacon and God’s Wrath director Sol Friedman is about as off the wall and ridiculous as one hopes it could be. The film features the genius with a voicebox putting up with Kanye West’s ever-ballooning ego for an exchange that stretches from "Hotline Bling" to the origins of the universe. Conversation is irreverently funny and totally un-PC as it imagines a badass Hawking and a whiny West. It’s so funny because the spirit of the two talkers seems genuinely true. Just go with it and this short is one of the funniest things you’ll see at the festival.
Courtesy of TIFF

The only thing more effed up than Stephen Hawking’s fictitious backstory is the tale of monstrous mommyhood in Latched (Short Cuts Programme 6). Latched, a downright nasty body horror comedy directed by Justin Harding and Rob Brunner, casts Harding’s wife Alana Elmer and their baby son Bowen in an icky but hypnotic story of a dancer/choreographer who retreats to the woods with her son and gives birth to a demonic fairy that threatens to destroy their family. Elmer has a fluid, free-form style to her dancing as the mother whirls around the screen in a kind of corporeal babel while the sinister fairy, made up with impressive prosthetics, thirsts for her breast milk. At once an unsettling rape culture parable and a powerful story of the bond between mother and child, Latched is an uncanny shapeshifter.

Find more TIFF shorts in Short Cuts and more TIFF coverage here.
(With more reviews of Canadian shorts to come.)
TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Please visit TIFF.net for more info.