A Wealth of Passionate Perfection

The 2013 Crazy8s Gala Screening is the kind of thing that makes you proud to be a Vancouverite. Premiering during a time of tense economic uncertainty for the industry, the six films on display are a proud testament to the wealth of creative and technical talent that our city has to offer. Are the films perfect? Not at all. What they are is peculiar, daring, passionate, unforgiving – a whole host of adjectives that don’t tend to fit with perfection.

Each film is distinct in feel and voice in a way that sets it immediately apart from the majority of short films. There is one commonality, though, that is striking throughout: the technical quality of the films. Through a variety of genres, visual styles, and directorial perspectives, the production teams behind the Crazy8s shorts show off exactly what an experienced crew can do with the ideas of a new filmmaker.

From the first frame of the opening film, Matt Leaf’s Braindamage, that Indie Short Apprehension that I think we all tend to get – is this film gonna be ten minutes in someone’s un-lit living room? – disappears. Steady and atmospheric, the film’s opening shots take their time establishing a strong visual style and revealing production design that’s an appealing combination of Ridley Scott sci-fi and just the right amount of mad scientist laboratory. The story, which is essentially James Cameron’s memory-extraction premise from Strange Days wrapped around the fight-the-power sentiment of the 70s and 80s sci-fi greats, is elevated by Leaf’s visceral storytelling and some surprising moments of humour. Where the film is familiar, it’s well-done – though why women seem doomed to be forever confined to the role of the idealized, sexualized symbol of hope and haven in these stories, I’ll never know – and where it takes chances, the audience is rewarded. The fevered intensity of the film’s heavily-stylized midpoint climax is a particular joy to behold on the big screen.

Ryan Haneman’s Manstruation is, as you can perhaps tell by the title, a change of gears. Built on the deeply nonsensical premise of, yes, male menstruation from the penis, Haneman’s film succeeds on the hilarious interplay of its characters, though some key sight gags should not be under-valued (the sock apparatus – I’m sure you can guess – got a big laugh every time). The film’s main sequence, a poker game between four men facing the difficulties of menstruation, unfolds with endearingly affectionate gross-out humour that brings Judd Apatow to mind without falling prey to that sort of lack of focus. The dialogue is as tight as the premise is stupid – a perfect basis for good comedy.

There’s comedy, too, in Sean Tyson’s Stewing…along with romance, tragedy, chase scenes, speed-ramped fistfights, and a dog that’s so cute that it’s almost a bit of a cheap shot. The ostensibly simple story of a young man getting over what we suspect is his first real break-up, the film jarringly mashes genres and tones into a perplexing but engaging work. The true test of this sort of thing is whether or not it connects with the audience emotionally, and for the most part, I think Stewing does. Actor Patrick Carr effectively embodies the bewildered openness of a first love right before it is broken, and probably just barely earns the film’s final pay-off, one of its trickiest moments. The film is a fusion of romance and action, so its catharsis arrives unapologetically through violence – a tricky balance, but then so is the whole thing, and boldly so.

The screening’s fourth film, Nimisha Mukerji’s In the Deep, is the Serious Indie Drama of the bunch, tackling grief, mortality, and familial relationships. Though I love art films, I have to admit that when it comes to shorts, I’m a high-concept guy (I grew up on kung-fu and James Bond, after all). Mukerji’s sense of rhythm, though, is magnetic. Comfortably quiet, the film’s strong pacing is probably in part a product of its ideals – grief should be recognized and accepted, but not debilitating. In early films there often seems to be a tendency towards melodrama, but the script, from Mukerji and writer-actor Orsy Szabó, allows grief to emerge organically between the characters within lives that feel complete. And Szabó, who shaved her head for the role, is remarkable.

Jane Hancock’s When I Saw You was the “Awwww!” moment of the screening, but a sharp eye towards tone keeps the film on the right side of feel-good. A montaged visual realization of Missed Connection ads (à la the hopefuls in the Straight), Hancock combines that much-maligned technique, the voiceover, with smooth, elegant visuals to tell the story of a city’s stranger-shy youths who stare at beautiful strangers, waxing poetic in their heads while sitting painfully mute. It sounds obvious, yes, but the film pulls off the right mix of sweet, funny, and unexpected. There are missteps – the inevitable “girl watches boy, boy watches other boy” gag is spent early and undercuts a similar moment in the film’s climax – but Hancock’s directorial hand is sure, and the final scene especially speaks to her cleverness with tone, moving deftly from a drunk-glow melancholy to a warm moment of hope.

And then…well, what would the screening be without a few more male-anatomy jokes? An astonishing feat, the complexity of Mackenzie Gray’s Under the Bridge of Fear completely belies its tight production time. A fast-paced, self-reflexive Hudson Hawk-alike (in form, not quality) presented in pristine black and white, Gray’s film is definitely a kitchen-sink deal, especially when it comes to double entendre (“You’re a dick?” “I poke around…”). Packed with enough plot for twice its running time, the film is pleasingly dedicated to its noir source, simultaneously hitting all the genre requirements while building up its own Pleasantville-style motif on the immorality of colour. It’s a mess of parody and homage that never feels derivative, and its dependable star David Lewis – who’s hell with that film noir cadence – is the perfect element to carry us through.

Producers Erik Paulsson and Diana Wilson and Associate Producer Ines Eisses proudly closed the evening by bringing the casts and crews up for speeches. As the stage slowly filled with people who embody the creativity, passion, and talent that go into Vancouver films, it was hard not to swell up with pride as well. In its 14th year in Vancouver, Crazy8s continues to show off just how much we have to offer.