Thursday, June 14, 2007

WWSFF #1: Vickie? Myrocia. Myrocia? Vickie.

It’s freakin’ hot.

Why must every single Toronto-based film festival inevitably take place during some kind of weird heat wave? It happens every year at TIFF. It happened earlier this month at Toronto’s Inside/Out fest. It’s happened at the WWSFF before and it’s happening again now. If it’s not immediately and inherently apparent: film fest-ing in scorching temperatures makes for decidedly sweaty, musty audiences and uncomfortable pre-screening line-ups.


I’m thrilled to say that I discovered late last week my accreditation for the fest had been approved, so it was with a heart overflowing with glee that I skipped (okay, not really, but I was skipping on the inside) over to the Manulife Centre to pick up my media package this afternoon en route to my first screening at the Cumberland. Imagine my horror when I arrived and was told, “Um, we don’t have those.”


I will spare you the lengthy and likely tedious details of the organizational snafu that sent me jogging through the noon-day heat from one venue to another in search of my press pass, because I eventually did get my hands on it (a few hours later) and because, honestly, I doubt you will find any of it remotely interesting. What you may find interesting, though, is the fact that the aforementioned snag in the fabric of my day resulted in what can only be described as a serendipitous encounter with Myrocia Watamaniuk. That’s right people -- the kick-ass programmer and Q&A moderator whose skills in front of a fest crowd led me to found MWAS at the end of this year’s HotDocs. Heck, I even extolled her virtues way back in 2005.

Well, today we met (she was my ticket into the first set of films while my pass made its way downtown) and it turns out...she’s read the ‘Pie. She knew about MWAS. And so did several of her colleagues. Thankfully, I wasn’t immediately stripped of my accreditation and escorted out of the building. Why? Because I’m right. She is a great mod and everybody there knows it, so fest folks were quite pleased with the praise. Official MWAS membership forms will be circulated shortly.

After MW (as she will be known from here on in because, let’s face it, it’s much faster to type and we at the ‘Pie do love our acronyms) shepherded me into the theatre, it was time for the first programme of a half-dozen films: Laughing at Americans: New Voices of American Comedy. It started off really well, and ended really well, but the middle films left a lot to be desired.

Kidney Thieves (6/8) by Toby Wilkins was a smartly written comedy about an American (Ethan Embry) who wakes up in a ratty Mexican...hotel? hostel? prison? doesn’t discover his kidneys are gone. But not the way he thinks. I loved the dialogue, the macabre humour and the delivery from co-stars Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins. Though I was a bit taken aback by Ethan Embry's bloat -- he's doubled in size since Empire Records and That Thing You Do!

Even better was the programme’s closer, I.A.S.: A Search For Hope (7/8), a brilliant little mocumentary about a rehab program for “real” actors who lose their artistic way once they hit Hollywood and fall victim to I.A.S. (Idiot Actors Syndrome). Timely, wry and with a laugh-out-loud performance from writer-director Paul Bartholomew, it was easily my fave of this set. Plus: Rainn Wilson!

As an aside: I was really, really loving The Fifth -- one of the other films in this programme, about a weekly poker game where one of the regulars happens to be a serial killer – until it veered off the rails by needlessly inserting some rather graphic dialogue (“raping her with her own face”) and imagery (a woman having her head slammed into a table over and over and over again until she’d been beaten to death, then stabbed, accompanied by degrading commentary). Both immediately yanked me right out of the humour by slapping me across the face with unnecessary vulgarity in an otherwise funny dark comedy. Too bad.

Next up was Official Selection 3: Love You Like Crazy, an impressive series of nine shorts themed around love. None of these shorts slapped me across the face with anything, save for some warm, fuzzy feelings. My favourites were:

* Osbert Parker’s animated homage to old film-noir capers, Yours Truly (6/8), which was a dizzying combo of archival footage, stop-motion animation and digital effects.

* Manual Schapira’s Pick-Up (7/8), a French character study about a lonely, seemingly agoraphobic woman, who tries to connect with people by calling a phone booth outside her apartment and chatting with whomever picks up the receiver. It co-stars Jacky Ido, whom I loved in The White Masai back at TIFF 2005.


*Please Stand By (6/8), a twisted (in a good way) Canadian comedy from writer-director Chris Nash that tracks the final moments in the life of a dejected guy waiting to be killed by giant marauding lobsters. Seriously.

And that was it for today. I realized mid-afternoon that I’d neglected to properly prep this diary – and Linda, who’s busy concurrently SIFFing while I’m WWSFFing – so I opted to head home to get things in order.

Tomorrow: more international offerings and a pile of celebrity shorts!

Total shorts screened today: 15


Lou said...

Is it just me or do you also think that the premises of short films are just better or smarter than those of full-length feature films? Maybe it's like the poem and the short story. The writer has to be able to distinguish which form will hold her concept.

Vickie said...


I've seen more than my share of shorts where the filmmakers have no idea how to tell a story that has an ending. They start out fine...and then just meander and peter out with a fade to black. It's like they sat down and think, "Okay, I'm gonna make a short about a dog stealing a girl's favorite toy!"...only to realize they have no idea what to do with the dog, the girl or the toy beyond the initial theft.

I think short films occasionally lend themselves to crappy execution. So do features, I know, but I think shorts are much, much harder to do really well.

Vickie said...

Sorry, that should be "they SIT down and think..." ^^

Lou said...

Do we always need an ending?

Vickie said...

In most cases, yes. And in the cases of some of the shorts I've seen, it's obvious that the lack of an ending isn't a creative decision so much as a creative surrender.

"Ummm...okay...I have no idea what do with this story so I'm just going to stop making it now and roll the credits."