Thursday, June 12, 2008

WSFF 2008 #2: Dying Dogs and Depressing Dramas

Know what’s super-fun? Sitting in a screening and realizing, to your horror, that the big, cuddly dog dying onscreen is actually dying. That was part of how I spent my afternoon on day two of the fest. (Note to anyone who isn’t clear: the aforementioned incident was decidedly *not* fun.)

My first screening of the day was Official Selection 6: Teenland, which was supposedly a collection of films relating to being a teenager, but a few reeeeeally stretched that classification. Most of the films were meh, and seriously depressing, but two stood out:

* Mats Grorud’s claymation tale My Grandmother Beijing (7/8), a sweet story that, on the surface, seems like a man reflecting on his love for his late grandmother, but which in fact contains more than a little political commentary buried within the titular character’s wrinkles.


* Death of Shula (4/8), a depressing and ultimately frustrating drama (?) about a family’s disconnect as reflected through the death of the family dog. This film bothered me for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the fact that, as mentioned, we’re forced to watch – in a lengthy, static close-up – a dog being euthanized...right down to its last gasps of breath. That same dog can be seen here in an earlier scene, where it is clearly in distress (if you’re sensitive to these sorts of things, you might want to skip watching). Filmmaker Asaf Korman obviously shot the canine footage via a veterinarian preparing to put a dog to sleep...and then inserted that footage into the film. At no point are any of the actors (Korman’s actual family) shown with the dog, and dialogue has been looped onto the euthanasia footage. It all felt very cold and exploitative, and the camera holds way too long on the lifeless body, in my opinion. But equally frustrating is Korman’s decision to leave the camera running at the end of his film after he (off-camera) yells “cut.” It completely voided the emotional impact of his story, and took me right out of the action. Too bad. Another example of a crappy ending ruining a movie.

Then came the supremely awkward post-screening Q&A session. I understand that it’s great to have filmmakers or members of the production team on hand, but when it’s obvious they have nothing to say or are perhaps not really wanting to talk about their work (as was the case with a pair of filmmakers at this screening), why not just scrap it? And, if you’re a filmmaker who agrees to take part in a Q&A session, try to at least pretend to be interested in your own project or marginally aware of your own work so that you can answer questions when they’re asked instead of giving the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. My moviegoing pal and I actually had to leave because it was that painful to watch.

Next up was the Celebrity Shorts package, which is always a blend of really great and really self-indulgent filmmaking, and this year was no exception. Falling into the latter category were Kate Hudson’s directorial effort, Cutlass (5/8), which seems to equate love for your kids with buying them expensive things, and Occupations (4/8), director Lars von Trier’s bizarre and ultimately grotesque look at dealing with a chatty Cathy in a movie theater. Oh, and then there was the short that seemed to be funded by the Church of Scientology, given the fact that its entire cast was made up of B-list Scientologists. Kind of creepy.

Two comedies won me over, though. CTRL Z (6/8), features Tony Hale as a frustrated office worker who thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, and FCU: Fact Checkers Unit (7/8), which follows a pair of dedicated magazine staffers trying to check one final fact about Bill Murray (who co-stars as himself). You can actually watch the film in its entirety here. And one animated film, Descendants (6/8), proved surprisingly moving. It’s the story of two forest flowers (one voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and the need for love vs. revenge. I got a little choked up at the end.

As an aside: where is Myrocia Watamaniuk??? Five screenings so far and nary a sighting. Alas.

That was it for the day. Tomorrow: humidity and thunderstorms. Drat.

Total films screened today: 16


Linda said...

OMG, Death of Shula sounds TORTUROUS! As if losing pets in real life isn't bad enough, filming it??? I'll bet they were trying to do something edgy and controversial, but for most people that crosses a line. >:(

Vickie said...

Thing is, it's a dramatic film -- scripted and acted -- and it's supposed to be about the family, not the dog.

But the dog dying is so awful to watch that you forget there's even a family involved.

Linda said...

Ugh. :(

asaf said...

Hi there!

I am deeply sorry if my film offended you.

I am also really really sorry for not being able to visit Toronto and be part of the Q&A...
If any of you wish to address me with some questions you are more then welcome:


Asaf Korman.