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  • Brandon MacMurray

Toronto International Film Festival Review Roundup

After taking in the Toronto International Film Festival last week, several shorts stuck out to us. Here are our reviews of those shorts:

Bloom, directed by Kasey Lum

“You, you don’t need me. You’ve got it all, with your motor engines and airplanes. Such incredible work you’ve done. But then again, you do like to eat and drink and breathe. How would you do any of this?”

Directed by Kasey Lum, Bloom is a short that explores the connection between humans and nature, parallel to the ending of a relationship of our main protagonist Laurel. Our story starts off in a plant shop where Laurel buys a new plant for her partner Hannah. She returns home to find Hannah gone, and through a series of voicemails that get progressively worrying and angry, we find out that she has taken her stuff and doesn’t plan on returning. Shot on 35mm-4 Perf Kodak Film, the cinematography provides a perfect medium for the settings of the well-lit plant store and apartment in which Laurel lives.

Bloom is thematically strong and provides different lenses for the viewer to examine the story’s metaphors. Laurel’s relationship could be compared to nature. Relationships must be nurtured, given time and love to grow and flourish. As Laurel’s relationship is slipping away, so too does the plant she bought for her former lover. it loses its leaves and dies of thirst. Plants need air, did she perhaps suffocate Hannah in their relationship? Was the relationship suffocating her? Jodi Balfour (known by most for her role in Ted Lasso) does an incredible job embodying these ideas of thirst and suffocation as they manifest themselves from the plant into Laurel.

The second lens in which this short can be looked at is humanity’s treatment of nature. Like the aforementioned quote says, we like to act that we don’t need nature, but we need it more than we know. We live on a planet that is far too mistreated by the humanity, and in all the ways we harm our planet it will come back to harm us too.

Whichever way you choose to look at it, Bloom is a clever short that allows the viewer to examine how relationships and nature are intertwined, and in itself is a breath of fresh air.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

The Skates (Les Patins), directed by Halima Ouardiri

“Your mom doesn’t get to decide everything”

“But they’re not the right kind.”

“Not the right kind? A skate is a skate”

This opening dialogue of The Skates (Les Patins) and it sets the tone for the relationship between our main character Mina and her father.

Mina is a young girl, starting off with her first figure-skating lessons, an activity that is clearly influenced by her mom as she responds to her instructor’s compliment with: “Thanks, my mom taught me.”

Mina’s father, who bought her hockey skates instead of figure skates, at first seems proud of his daughter as she joyously dances on the ice to a needle drop of “Makeba” by Jain.

That pride very quickly turns into disdain for figure-skating after the instructor commends Mina’s mother for signing her up. As Mina exclaims on the bus ride home that “She can’t wait to go skating with her mom” and that she “wants to be a great skater,” her dad only takes notice of how she was the only one who fell on the ice during her first class. Figure skating goes from “being a great sport” to “Not even being a good sport, spinning around on ice like idiots,” in the same eyes of Mina’s embittered father. He then proceeds to intentionally leave Mina’s skates on the bus without Mina knowing.

Later on back at home, Mina’s father knowingly asks Mina where her skates are. He then gaslights her into thinking she was the one who left them on the bus and berates her to the point of tears for not taking care of her things. It becomes clear this is all part of his master plan to get back at his ex-wife.

All in all, Les Patins provides a very simple but real look into the toxicity that divorced parents can show when they put the child in the middle, using them as a chess piece in a fight with their spouse. Where Les Patins excels most is using a visual medium to explain what the term gaslighting is better than any definition of the term ever could.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

Been There, directed by Corina Schwingruber Ilić

If you travel often, you know the feeling. Showing up at a certain landmark, in the heat of day expecting a glorious scene only for it to be crowded with tourists. It reminds me of my time in Venice, trekking alongside the canals having to constantly dodge swinging selfie sticks as people try to take pictures next to every bridge in the city.

Been There asks the question: what do we get out of these photos and selfies with landmarks other than evidence that we were there? Would it just be enough to visit and appreciate what we’re seeing without this proof? In a world full of social media it sometimes seems like if you don’t post it, you didn’t do it. I, myself even fall into that trap too often. It’s a gentle reminder that sometimes moments in life need to be enjoyed outside of gimmicky photo ops and the clichéd poses everyone copycats. Been There takes the time to show the sides of landmarks we don’t get to see and what they would really look like through a wider point of view of someone watching how tourists are behaving as a whole.

Although none of these photo habits are harmful and these views could seem cynical, it is still a good reminder to walk the road less travelled and enjoy the moments you are in, not through a lens but through your own eyes.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

NYC RGB, dir. Viktoria Schmid

NYC RGB is the latest in Viktoria Schmid’s series of works using historical color film processes. Schmidt shoots seven minutes of New York City architecture from within a 20th-floor studio apartment—across to neighbouring buildings, up to the sky and to spires of Manhattan high-rises, down to sidewalks and traffic, and even turns the camera around to the interiors of the apartment. Schmid’s simple but ingenious use of cinematic magic is that each shot isn’t just one single view, the same strip of film is run through the camera three times, each time using a different colour filter in front of the lens – red, green, and blue.

As each beautifully grainy 16mm image is actually three shots taken in succession, what is immobile in the city, largely the beiges, browns, and grays of buildings and the roads below them remain steady, while what is moving in each frame is highlighted and shadowed as it splinters into geometric arrays of color. Smoke billowing from a chimney splits into three vibrant plumes, while cars and clouds creep across the screen one colour at a time. Schmid turns the camera inside as well, and the shadows splashed across her apartment wall separate into colours as if we are looking at them through a prism.

At first the sound is nearly imperceptible: field recordings capture the diegetic sounds of traffic passing by, wind blowing outside the windows, and construction happening somewhere in the distance. This allows the viewer to focus on the fixed-frame images, where change is the only constant. By showing what stays the same and what moves, Schmidt is highlighting the tension between consistency and change that is seen especially in big cities like New York. By showing the city as fixed, immobile and rigid, Schmid allows everything that moves and breathes to explode in living colour.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Dammi, dir. Yann Demange

Riz Ahmed stars in Dammi as Mounir, an Arab man who doesn’t remember his past “We left, that much I do know,” he murmurs. “Behind Paris is Algiers.” This line, repeated throughout Yann Demange’s film, is the key for Mounir to find his identity. He keeps coming back to Paris to try and find a different ending to the past. In one of the films many, many visual embellishments, Mounir stands in front of a slideshow looking at images of his past, but which are real? What really happened?

While Dammi is ostensibly about memory, family, and Arab identity, Dammi comes off as the type of empty spectacle you might expect when a film’s main producer is an expensive French brand (Ami Paris) looking to sell $430 tank tops. Sure, Riz Ahmed looks great in his clothes while he wanders empty Parisian streets, but the film is so focused on having a look that it forgets to have anything to say. Baroque surreal flourishes like underwater shots, a wasted Isabelle Adjani dancing in slow motion, loud sounds and heavy fog are used to disorient the viewers, in hopes that they won’t notice.

There is so much ornate framing packed into Dammi that Demange needed two Directors of Photography to fill its slight 16-minute runtime. Demange and his cinematographers Paul Özgür and Benoît Soler aimed for something like a cross between the smeared romantic memories of Wong Kar-Wai and the neon-lit underworld of Nicolas Winding Refn, but Dammi just comes off looking like a perfume commercial set in the Blade Runner Cinematic Universe, beautiful and empty.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Quiet as It’s Kept, dir. Ja’Tovia Gary

Premiering in the Wavelengths section, Ja’Tovia Gary’s Quiet as It’s Kept takes its title from the opening line of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Set in 1941, the novel examines how certain racial standards are regarded as more beautiful and how this internalized and externalized anti-blackness can lead to inferiority complex. This can bring about a desire for features that equate with "whiteness," as for a black person to be seen as “equal” to a white person, Morrison writes, they must be superlative: they cannot simply have a blue eye, they must have “the bluest eye.”

Gary uses these ideas for the jumping-off point of her film. The backbone of the 26-minute short is a monologue by Dr. Kokahvah Zauditu-Selassi exploring these ideas. But rather than a dry or academic treatise on beauty standards, Gary creates a furious bricolage of colour, image, and sound. There are interview clips of Toni Morrison herself, interspersed with TikToks, film clips, and soundbites from Thandiwe Newton and Lil’ Kim (among others), sometimes presented in split screen, sometimes picture-in-picture. People, information, sights and sounds fly by at a steady clip. The formats, too, are varied: Gary uses 8mm and 16mm film, as well as digital and analogue animation, sometimes painting right on the film itself.

Quiet as It’s Kept is able to mine wisdom from many unexpected sources (Azealia Banks!?) and always manages to tie it back to the film’s main thesis, that for Black people there is a seen world and an unseen world, and that this duality creates an “othering” where Black people have always had to act one way and think another for survival. At exactly the point when this deluge of film styles, information, statistics and history might touch the edge of becoming too much, Quiet as It’s Kept makes one final showing of Black strength and beauty with a performance by dancer Bianca Melidor.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Modern Goose, Directed by Karsten Wall

Modern Goose is an observational documentary short film about a group of geese that have made their home near humans. It follows their day-to-day habits as well as the dangers they face in modern society. It’s directed by Karsten Wall and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Following the standard techniques of natural documentaries, Karsten Wall’s cameras study the habits of those geese and their daily activities of flying and swimming around their nesting grounds. They exist in the company of cars, buildings, and humans that deeply influence their behaviours and put them at risk. While Modern Goose is very much a standard and traditional nature documentary, the shot compositions are outstanding. The use of lighting and shadows spotlight the group of geese and keep the viewer's attention. The score serves as the emotional guideline to the story due to the lack of narration, informative writing, and interviews. The choice not to utilize these elements makes sense; the objective is to observe the animals and see how they live amongst the concrete jungles they inhabit.

Modern Goose is worth seeing because of its beautiful and inspired cinematography. The score is also effective in putting the spectator into the experience. The film was part of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival official selection.

Review by: Pedro Lima



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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