The Toronto Youth Shorts festival is a great platform for aspiring filmmakers and for storytellers with a lot on their mind. I can usually count on the selections to cover themes from cultural reflections to personal discoveries, with an occasional fluffy piece to break up the weight of these programmes.
This year, however,is a little different; with feel-good entertainment outnumbering films wanting to change the world. It’s a nice change that stays loyal to relatable content but, most of all, reminds viewers of the importance behind charm and a good laugh.
Out of the 40 featured shorts spread across four different programmes, I previewed six. Aside from these, I was also delighted to see Chisann Hessing’s Turning Tables included at this year’s event. After enjoying it at last year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, I’m glad to see it have legs to continue captivating audiences on the festival circuit.
Back to the new shorts. Marianna Phung’s Cranberry Flirt is a perfect example of this year’s winning combo of accessibility, sweetness, and humour: a story that amusingly addresses family pressures and tops itself off with a great joke. Phung, who also wrote the script, plays shy pedicurist Linh. Linh works closely with her mother Mai (Tan Huynh), a persistent woman who would love to set her daughter up with a good man. Local customer Greg (played by Jordan Duarte) seems to be Mr. Right, until he asks a deal-breaking question. Resembling the style and wit of sketches seen on CBC’s online catalogue, Cranberry Flirt is a professionally polished and realized film.
Robert Ryan Reyes’ Landed Citizen is cut from similar cloth as well. Just like Cranberry Flirt, the filmmaker also stars as the lead, working with a self-penned script that may (or may not) draw from personal experiences. Reyes plays Rob, a nervous wreck visiting his girlfriend’s parents (Liz Taylor, Michael Glassbourg) for the first time. Rob’s expectations are shot, and he becomes more of a jittery mess as he gradually learns how open his girlfriend, Tori (Jocelyn Feltham), is with her family. With Landed Citizen, Reyes shows his fantastic ability to build comedic tension out of opposite reactions. The natural chemistry between him and Feltham benefits this recipe for success.
Even the animated shorts were cute albeit a bit twisted. Conceived under the mentorship of Tony Tarantini, Devil’s Advokid and Porkstrips were based around animals that were uncannily human. Devil’s Advokid was a quirky spin on family films – a hellspawn Lilo & Stitch. A mother catches her young son being possessed by a rambunctious demon, and cautiously copes with this change as she tries to coax the devil baby out of his body. The physical gags work well, even if we’ve seen variations of this type of “pet demon” premise before, and the animation captures the vibrancy of a Saturday morning cartoon. Porkstrips is an off-beat chiller about a pig who sinks too deeply into an underground world of crime and luxury. The short, while certainly the darkest animated flick I’ve seen recently, has a neat full-circle narrative that may bum out audiences but, at the same time, will charm them all the same.
Another fantasy that should’ve followed suit but flopped instead was Cole London’s My Fair Robot, which told the story of a lonely student who builds a mechanical prom date (appropriately, and hilariously, named Prom Queen 3000). My Fair Robot, which is supposed to be a bubbly sci-fi/romantic comedy, takes the wrong risk. Instead of elaborating on its absurd (but identifiable) premise, London sacrifices a main character to create a conflict for the leading loner. After that misstep, the fun freezes and the story doesn’t recover. There’s a last-ditch effort to surprise the audience at the very end, but it’s a reveal that’s too random to work.
Although I appreciated how entertaining and light these selections were, my favourite short of the festival was a film that drew the most from personal experience. Life in Bathrooms is terrific, and shows exciting potential for a career as a documentarian for director Nicholas Facchini. Drawing from true stories experienced by Evan Arbic, Life in Bathrooms chronicles three life-changing memories that matured Arbic and, in retrospect, taught him lessons in self-perseverance as he figured out his own identity, and how he shouldn’t feel ashamed during vulnerable moments. DoPs Ashvin Anandarajah & Noah Lalonde use eye-catching abstract cinematography to capture a range in atmospheres; from Arbic’s young innocence to fleeting bouts of depression.
Without spoiling how Life in Bathrooms ends, Arbic reminds us how we can’t treat life too seriously. Because, in the end, sometimes all we need is a good laugh – I couldn’t agree more.
The Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival screens at Spadina Theatre – Alliance Francaise Toronto on Friday, August 16 and Saturday, August 17.
Click here to see the complete list of featured short films!
Click here for more details and to purchase tickets!
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