Eight years in and the Vancouver Short Film Festival (VSFF) is finding its stride. The festival kicked off last night with its first programme followed by a special late-night selection of horror and genre films.
The festival received a new record of 180 submissions this year. 37 of those films screen at Vancity Theatre January 26 and 27. The festival’s mandate is to support B.C. filmmakers. To screen at VSFF at least one crew member must be a B.C. resident.
Programme 1 offered a diverse selection
On opening night, Mayumi Yoshida’s “Akashi” started things on a reflective note. The story follows Kana as she returns to Japan to attend her grandmothers funeral. The film explores love, forgiveness and the wisdom of experience. Though they don’t exchange dialogue, Yayoi Hirano and Linda Uyrehara Hoffman give nuanced, poignant performances. Proving that a look can say more than a sentence.
The quirky romantic comedy “Violet and June” by Linnea Ritland followed. Ritland wrote and directed the project while she was a student at UBC’s Department of Theatre and Film. Violet meets June and falls in love. The only problem is that June has a boyfriend. With nods to Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet the film is a cheeky story about overcoming one’s fears to take a chance on love. The storybook narration and vivid animation by Kim Nipp are an effective combination.
“Soggy Flakes” was the sole fully animated selection. Co-directors and brothers Heath, Jon, Nathan and Thomas Affolter have created a darkly funny stop-motion look at what happens to the mascots of sugary breakfast cereals when Captain Kale — and gluten intolerance — arrive on the scene and their brands are no longer relevant. The Affolter brothers expertly craft an alternate universe with their clever writing and beautiful animation.
Next up was the short documentary “Hollywood’s Greatest Trick” produced by Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi. The film reveals the imbalance in the film industry’s reliance on special effects and how visual effects artists are treated. At 24-minutes this was the longest film of the evening but felt like it could have used more time to expand its argument. Featuring lively interviews and a segment on Hollywood North, it’s a solid piece of journalism and a call to arms for the industry as a whole.
Director Jason Karman’s hockey drama “Lions in Waiting” came next. A coming-of-age story about Ray, the new kid in town. Through locker room politics, hazing, and his burgeoning sexuality, the film is a meditation on gender pressures and politics.
“Chocolate Queen” was a visually decadent break from the drama. Directed by Mariusz Brozek, “Chocolate Queen” features sumptuous cinematography documenting Danny’s addiction to sweet, sweet chocolate. This one’s a feast for the senses thanks to cinematographer Athan Merrick. Bottles of milk and whipped cream pale in comparison to the film’s star: the Chocolate queen herself.
Last but not least was goofy thriller Fwd by writer/director Stephen Sawchuk. Casey (Mackenzie Mowat) and Shay (Jenna Romanin) are having a girls’ night in when things take a turn. There’s a masked killer on the loose, and he’s slaughtering anyone who doesn’t forward their chain emails. This one combines your favourite horror tropes and a spectacular twist of an ending.
Programme one was a mixed bag of animation, documentary, drama, rom-com and thriller. At eight-years-old, VSFF is still young and will only continue to improve. But as the festival continues to grow, a move towards themed or genre-specific programs would be a good thing.
After Dark, a new addition to the festival did just that. VSFF Co-directors Marena Dix and Zlatina Pacheva curated six horror and genre films to end the night. Who better to introduce this portion of the night than director Gigi Saul Guerrero of Luchagore Productions. Glass of wine in hand, Saul Guerrero introduced her favourite kind of films: the bloody, the eerie and the grotesque. The audience reacted enthusiastically to the breadth of possibility within the genre.
“The Man in the Rabbit Mask” by director Ariel Hansen conjures up nostalgia for childhood sleepovers when urban legends were whispered in the dark and where chanting a name three times could bring you to death’s door. “Home” follows a detective as he makes the unfortunate decision to explore an abandoned orphanage alone in the dead of night. “A Cursed Desire” reinforces the importance of letting things go. “Down the Hill with Jack and Jill” was a hilariously wacky breakup/homicide that went down entirely in rhyme. Director BJ Verot’s northern sci-fi short “Echoes in the Ice” featured a strong cast and paid homage to The Thing. Closing the night was Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Bestia,” a film with a The Revenant like atmosphere that suggests terrifying monsters lurk inside each of us.