The Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival is an annual fest designed to showcase the talents of the best of Toronto’s budding filmmakers and animators between the ages of 14-30.
It was founded as a non-profit initiative on the premise of providing support for young, emerging filmmakers from established industry professionals and organizations, and is run by a dedicated team of volunteers from within the industry itself.
This year’s festival, which takes place on Saturday, September 27 at the CN Tower Maple Leaf Cinema, showcases 36 films across three programs titled respectively, Questions and Discovery, Personal Portraits, and The Bonds That Bind Us.
Below, I’ve got a preview sample of five of the films showcased in this year’s festival, ranging from whimsical, to comedic, to deeply touching and affective.
If these films are a somewhat accurate cross section of the films to be screened at this year’s festival, then I, for one, am truly excited about the future of filmmaking in Toronto.
- Florence and the Fish (Drama, dir. Kristina Mileska)
Florence, a precocious young girl (played by Cadence Schuster), is obsessed with the idea of drowning. She walks around wearing a diving mask, a snorkeling tube, and flippers over her sneakers, and panics at the sight of a water fountain or the slightest hint of snow. Her young, hapless father (Brandon James Sim) tries to wean her off her obsession to little avail.
It becomes quickly apparent, however, that Florence’s idiosyncrasies are in fact the result of trauma – a friend and classmate named Emily is implied to have drowned while swimming, unleashing Florence’s compulsion to save herself and everyone else around her from the same fate.
But when a teacher at school offers her the (possibly misguided) solace that everyone who dies turns into a fish, Florence becomes certain that she can find her friend Emily at the aquarium, and possibly save her this time.
A sweet drama with long, quiet moments, Florence and the Fish is a unique take on dealing with death and loss from a child’s perspective.
- Forever and Two Days (Drama, dir. Elene Mekete)
Blayne (played by Katie Corbridge), the “quirky girl” protagonist of this fun little short, gets me. Boyfriend breaks up with you? Let the Community marathon commence! Troy and Abed make way better company on a Friday night, anyway, amirite?
However, the promise shown in the first few moments of Forever and Two Days trickles off and quickly falls into familiar “teen romance” territory. It’s a story formula that’s been done to death. Recently dumped girl + well-meaning yet overbearing friends + house party + new guy + returned ex-boyfriend drama = a story we’ve seen variations of in many movies before.
This short is rich in pop culture references and visually pleasing, but it plays a little too hard on the character tropes without doing anything particularly new with them.
I did like the film for its gestures toward quirkiness with its dialogue and over-the-top supporting characters, and for the blooper reel at the end. However, the story could have used a little more originality.
A simple story with a conventional plot, Forever and Two Days could have done more with the familiar “chance encounter” plot line, but the filmmaking shows that there is potential, it just needs to be fleshed out some more.
- Glow (Comedy, dir. Nate Wilson)
Glow is short, sharp, and wickedly funny. The story is framed around a young boy, Tavis, who is, naturally for his age, fascinated by ghosts and the supernatural. He subscribes to a comic/magazine entitled Spooky – a publication in the same vein as EC Comics’ The Vault of Horror and MAD magazine – and is a card-carrying member of the Spooky Ghost Fan Club.
Spooky is a publication that promises to answer all your questions about ghosts and how to deal with them, so Tavis writes to the publisher, a certain Mr. Bill Gains. But we quickly realize that Tavis isn’t merely curious – he’s actually in need of help as he’s discovered that ghosts – seen as glowing, white-draped, sunglasses-wearing beings visible only when the lights are dimmed – have taken over his home and hijacked his parents, and he needs to find out how to stop them and get his life back to normal!
A delightful, absurd film, Glow plays with storytelling in new and unexpected ways, and gets creative with the visual effects in a way that is simple but ultimately really effective.
- Mechanical Memories (Experimental, dir. Matthew Bendo)
Mechanical Memories is a beautifully shot ode to the magic of film and filmmaking, and the role that the technology plays in our personal lives.
Narrated via a deeply poetic voiceover that begins, “As the years pass, the reality of forever sinks in…” the film features one character, an old man (Lou Bendo) in an industrial-looking workshop. The film shows him variously working with an old film reel and projector, intercut with scenes of him sanding and working on a vintage wooden rocking horse.
Through the voiceover, matched with a deeply evocative soundscape and a series of shots depicting the film reel stuttering and rolling, the projector flickering and glimmering, the old man’s intensely expressive face, and various gorgeously lit visual elements of the scene, we begin to realize that this loading of the projector and working on the toy horse are a well-worn ritual for the man. They have become a way to come to terms with the grief surrounding a long-ago loss that is kept fresh in his mind by the contents of the film reel he projects.
Mechanical Memories is a moving commentary on the relationship between film and memory, and the ability of film to bring to vivid life what is long gone from the physical world, yet which continues to live on in the ephemeral world of celluloid and light.
- Solace (Animation, dir. Nneka Myers)
When I see the word “whimsical” from now on, I’m pretty certain I’m going to be thinking of an image created by Nneka Myers. A young animator and illustrator coming out of Sheridan College’s Animation program, Myers has created here a sweet little film that plays just under two minutes but manages to capture my imagination in just the first few seconds.
It begins in a desert, where our young, brown-skinned protagonist carrying a sturdy staff tipped with a billowing, bright purple feather has just discovered an oasis. She cries out in relief, “Water!” and hurries down to the tree-shaded pond to satiate her thirst. But then out of nowhere, a great beast appears and charges at her. She freaks out, naturally, and runs around, trying to escape, until she discovers that the seemingly ferocious beast is actually more interested in playing with her giant purple feather than trying to eat her.
The slightly blocky shot transitions gives a sense of hand-drawn animation, so a discerning viewer would notice that it doesn’t have the high-sheen polish of, say, a Pixar flick. But this little story is all heart and gorgeously rendered in all its little details, and the visual look – one can argue – is what gives it its character.
A sweet little animated gem, Solace deals with the breaking down of assumptions based on appearance, and the delightful discovery of joy out of a place of fear.