Sunday, June 17, 2007

WWSFF #4: It's the thought that counts

Tossing new ideas and elements into a festival that’s 13 years old is usually a good idea, but sometimes things don’t work out quite as planned. My first screening today was a prime example of this.

This year, the WWSFF introduced two new programmes of films called Shorts for Shorties, which feature shorts geared specifically towards children. Today was programme one (for kids aged six to nine) and tomorrow is programme two (kids nine to 12). I figured, being a Saturday, the screening would likely be quite full, so I got to the Cumberland at 1pm for the 1:30pm show.

There was no one there.

I mean, no one. No volunteers, no patrons, nobody. Even the standard “ticket holders” sign was nowhere to be seen out front. Had the festival unexpectedly ended? I checked my watch – surely they couldn’t have let in already, could they? I went inside and found a theater staffer who said, no, no one had yet been admitted to the cinema. Huh. Weird. I went back outside and waited. Eventually, a FOHA arrived and dragged out the ticket-holders sign. I stood behind it. Alone. A few more people joined the “line,” but there were literally only a dozen of us by the time we were ushered inside.

Entering the Cumberland 4, I felt sad: at the front of the venue sat instruments and sound equipment (OMG, a pre-show show!), and women in huge, technicolor skirts were in the process of dropping things (I couldn’t see what) into random cupholders, like tiny little surprises for the audience members lucky enough to sit in those seats. But they were “hiding” a LOT of little things, and I thought, “I wonder if they know that this screening is going to be empty.”

Sure enough, despite waiting an extra 10 minutes after the scheduled start time to get the proceedings underway in the hopes of filling more seats with latecomers, there were only perhaps 40 people (total) in the theater...and only SEVEN children. Exactly seven. I counted. Now, in order for any kind of children’s-themed entertainment to be a hit, you kind of need children in the crowd. There were very few in attendance this afternoon, and I could feel the performers’ unease and disappointment as they emerged from the back and realized they’d be playing to adults who were, for the most part, more interested in seeing films than participating in a sing-along.

Our pre-show entertainment was courtesy of Sir Jerry, his band and his “ga-ga dancers” (the aforementioned poofy-skirt-clad women). They tried soooooo hard to maintain their energy, but it was obvious that they were kind of wishing they could just scrap the gig. Jerry et al. at least had a great, self-deprecating sense of humor about the whole thing; he made subtle jokes about the technical glitches they were experiencing (e.g., referring to the “bouncy bass” only to have the speakers for the bass guitar not work) and to the fact that they knew this was going awry (“this is a song about what happens when things go wrong...”).

Nonetheless, they made a valiant effort and soldiered on despite the scarcity of their target audience. And, really, it was a nice idea to add some live entertainment to the event. I’m not sure why the screening was so poorly attended overall, or why so few parents decided to bring their kids, but there you have it. A lesson learned for next fest.

But here’s the super curious, coincidental thing...Sir Jerry (aka Jerry Levitan) the performer is the guy who, as a 14-year-old boy, interviewed John Lennon for the audio tape that provided the soundtrack for the short film I Met the Walrus, which I saw at the fest the other day and really liked. How freaky is that??? This Jerry was that Jerry! No one pointed that out at the screening today, so I’m not sure if it’s because fest organizers didn’t know or because they figured it wasn’t relevant...but I nearly spat out my water when I went to Sir Jerry’s website and made the connection. It’s like the cinematic circle of life all at the same film fest!

Anyway, on to the films today...

In addition to Shorts for Shorties 1, I also went to Sci-Fi: Out There (which was PACKED TO THE RAFTERS – they even had to break out several sets of folding chairs to accommodate the crowd!) and Official Selection 8: Animal Instincts. My top picks for the day:

* I loved ALL the Shorties shorts – for some reason, the kids’ flicks always tend to be of a higher calibre – but the standout great ones were: At Home With Mrs. Hen (7/8), about a mother bird and her two chicks; Aardman Animation’s Shaun the Sheep: Still Life (7/8), about a painting project gone awry; and The Parish Letter (8/8), a brilliant Irish gem about a snowy town and an empty church.

* Mathieu Fontaine’s wonderfully inventive sci-fi “thriller” Terror on the 3918 (8/8) may wind up being my absolute fave of the entire fest. I smiled all the way through and was hugely impressed.

* Impressive for another reason – namely, because it looks like it cost several million to make and is breathtakingly stunning to look at – was the German offering, D-I-M: Deus in Machina (7/8). Bonus points for its cheeky ending. Visit the film's equally impressive website and watch the trailer to see for yourself -- it's astounding.

* Sleeping Betty (8/8), another animated short I loved, that puts a hilarious, modern-day spin on a classic fairy tale.

* Spencer Maybee’s L’oiseau mort (6/8) was an ethereal, and beautifully shot, examination of isolation in the life of grief-stricken young girl.

* My Life at 40 (6/8), in which the filmmaker uses an essay he wrote at 12 (about what he hoped his life would be like in the future) as the narrative for an animated tale of what could have been.

Tomorrow: OMG! Pib and Pog!!!! I love those two!

Total shorts screened today: 30


Lou said...

Thomas and I would have loved to be there!!

Go, Sir Jerry!

Vickie said...

I think Thomas might have been bored. Jerry's act is geared more towards kids Rosie's age. Nonetheless, it was an interesting afternoon!