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Twenty Years of Crazy8s, and Vancouver’s Not Slowing Down

Despite the two-decade milestone, Saturday night’s screening at The Centre on Homer Street wasn’t a major departure from years past. And that’s the surest proof of a good thing going: after so many years, the Crazy8s films still feel fresh, and the overwhelming support of the Vancouver film community still feels extraordinary.

It’s not just the talent and it’s not just the shorts: it’s the sense that, for once, all of these people who work so frequently on international productions are here to celebrate what you can actually call Vancouver films. Of the six shorts shown Saturday night, not all are set in Vancouver—heck, not all are set on this continent—but there’s a quality to them, individually and taken together, that is unmistakably of this place. These feel like Vancouver’s stories.

Michael P. Vidler’s Unkept opened the screening. This would have been bad programming with a lesser film: a slow-burn, visuals-driven drama about a young boy struggling with identity and belonging, Unkept is not the typical festival opener. But Vidler’s assurance in the film’s quiet pace, and a remarkable performance by the young Yuvraj Kalsi, had the audience leaning forward instead of sitting back. A closeup of a nervous Kalsi waiting for his turn at bat, the one brown face amongst the young baseball players lined along a chain-link fence, holds a tension and an energy to rival the big moments from the screening’s more horror- and thriller-minded offerings.

There are a heck of a lot of “haunted item” movies, but Nessa Aref’s The Mirror doesn’t lean too heavily on its familiar conceit. Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, say, was all about the machinations of a haunted mirror, how it worked, why it was haunted, and so on. But from The Mirror’s opening, which find three young women abandoning prom for some zippy dialogue and pithy one-liners in a supernaturally menacing house, it’s clear that Aref is interested in a much more simple, and much more human, question. If the horror elements suffer a bit for that—it’s not exactly an all-out, peek-through-your-fingers fright-fest—the film nonetheless strikes at a fear that will be familiar and real for many, and with style and humour to spare.

The scariest moment of Heather Perluzzo’s Hatch, which is not on the whole a horror film, comes in its opening moments. Outside a house, two young girls singsong “Crack an Egg on Your Head.” Inside, a woman breaks an egg over a pan, and gasps as a clotted, bloodied yolk drops from the shell. It’s on the nose, but it holds a little truth that drives much of the film: when you’re suffering, the world does you so much harm without knowing it. This cheerful little dark comedy juggles tones with an unfussy skill. It’s mostly just funny, but as it moves from an opening sense of menace to a lovely little coda—which seems indebted to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, of all things—it uncovers an affecting story of personal resilience.

Lee Shorten’s Parabola was the first of three films explicitly set elsewhere in the world. A tale of reconciliation between a daughter and her formerly Yakuza father, the film is set in a Chicago, Illinois that seems possessed by the muscular stillness that so often accompanies the Yakuza on film. As with Unkept, the visuals do the heavy lifting; these aren’t characters that have a lot to say to each other, but their lives and emotions are intertwined in startling images and in the quiet, expressive faces of lead actors Mayumi Yoshida and Hiro Kanagawa. If Parabola’s climax doesn’t quite reach the cathartic heights it’s aiming for, it’s tempting to just consider that all the greater praise of its considerable ambition.

Ada, from director Steven Kammerer, puts ambition at the forefront. Ambition drives its protagonist, visionary mathematician Ada Byron King, in her quest to secure funding to support her paradigm-shifting computer algorithm. AndAda itself, a historical drama set in Victorian London, is nothing if not ambitious for a three-day shoot in (snowy!) Vancouver. The drama is well staged, especially in King’s showdown with a room of haughty would-be investors (perhaps most notable is Edward Foy as a contemptuous, sneeringly sexist “gentleman” leading the room against Ada). But the triumph of the film has to be its production design, which convincingly recreates all the period detail needed for the audience to settle into the story. The film is all the more tragic for its effectively built world of the past, because its story, of course, matters now.

The final short was Jerome Yoo’s Idols Never Die (full disclosure: I was an AD on this film), a scrappy little comedy-drama which closed the night on a high note with the rousing chorus of an original K-pop song. Like The Mirror, it’s a snappy, high-energy story of friends on a rules-breaking mission—in this case, the theft and relocation of a deceased pop star’s ashes—and like The Mirror, too, the soul of the film is in the friendship it depicts. Its surprises come not in the frenetic but easily familiar comedy, but in the little moments between that recall all the selfless support these fictional friends have given each other outside the adventure and outside the story.

Every year, Crazy8s packs a screening full of Vancouver talent, Vancouver benefactors, and Vancouver arts supporters. It makes you proud to be a Vancouverite. It’s been a great twenty years—here’s to twenty more!