No Shortage of Shorts at Hot Docs 2023
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(May 2, 2023 – Toronto, ON) Earlier today I spent about 90 minutes in the company of some filmmakers, some more experienced than others, some with an international story to tell, some with highly personal stories they wanted to share, some seemingly with the weight of the world pressing on their family and another dealing with the weight of a cop, a few cops, weighing down on an already immobilized subject. I was at the only screening of the Canadian Spectrum Shorts Program and four of the five directors on the schedule showed up.
If you get the chance at another festival, or on CBC Gem, or some other channel, these are the titles to look for:
By Director, left to right, The Butterfly Effect is from Toronto-based Kelly O’Brien, pictured with the subject of her film, daughter Willow. Using the rules of the effect, which asks us to consider a small movement in one place can ultimately cause a large movement somewhere else, in the film the first movement is when Willow learns a song to sing in front of her whole school. Her courage inspires her brother, who cannot walk unaided, to take steps for the first time in years. O’Brien received an MFA in film production at York University and this is not her first film. The Butterfly Effect runs all of 8 minutes.
Yasmine Mathurin is standing with the subject of her short documentary, Witness. Waseem Khan used his cellphone to record a man who had been forced to the ground and tased by Toronto Police Services. The footage goes viral. Acknowledging that he was exposed to a different reality growing up than his kids, he decides to share his experience and the reaction of his children tell the whole story of why police violence erodes our collective belief in a fair system of justice. Witness runs 17 minutes.
Cabbage is the nickname given to a young man, David, whose physical condition led scores of doctors to declare he would grow up to be a vegetable. Older now he is able to communicate thanks to eye tracking technology, which allows him to write using an onscreen keyboard. There are also whole phrases he can access. Like many young people he has hopes, dreams, ambitions. Unlike most, his creative outlet is poetry, concept poetry, telling words of a constricted life but a free and playful mind. Shot by his sister, Holly Marie Parnell, the backdrop is that the family is moving home to Ireland – a country they had to leave a decade earlier due to severe cuts in disability services. Touching, intimate, ultimately inspiring. At 28 minutes, it was the longest of the shorts in this program.
Filmmaker Taqralik Partridge wasn’t there when the animated 8-minute film Grape Soda in the Parking Lot screened. The oil-pastel animation of Megan Kyak-Monteith’s images tell the story of people who have through time and other reasons lost the use of their native language. In this case, Partridge’s grandmother’s Scottish Gaelic and her father’s Inutitut.On the right in the photo above and here is Myriam François. Her film is titled Finding Alaa and it is heartbreaking from almost the very first frame. Perhaps the most polished of these films, I asked the group what their next projects might be and learned François hopes to raise enough money to turn this 25-minute documentary into a feature-length film. Part of the official synopsis states “On 13th November 2015, Islamic State launched a series of coordinated attacks on the Bataclan Hall and other Paris venues, killing 130 people. Azdyne’s son, Samy Amimour, was one of the three Bataclan attackers; as police approached and fired at him, his suicide belt exploded. Samy left behind a daughter, Alaa, born in Syria just days after the terrible events. And now Azdyne feels he can’t move on with life until he finds her. He feels responsible for her fate, as an innocent child, caught up in the trail of harm caused by Samy’s actions.” This short exposes France’s reluctance to accept the value of family ties when terrorism lurks in their past, no matter how far removed from the present day, the present circumstances. Years go by when in July of 2022, Alaa is repatriated to France. She is safe, but her grandfather will still, for an indeterminate length of time, be unable to finally meet her,
Because of conflicts in my schedule, I was unable to attend another collection of Canadian shorts that was free to watch at the TIFF Bell Lightbox starting at 5:45PM. Titled “Roads to Regeneration,” eight Canadian or Canadian coproductions running between 9 and 15 minutes were screened. All of the films in this collection were Executive Produced by Hot Docs and like the shorts I have detailed above, these films will be streaming online between May 5 and 9.
Staying with shorts a moment longer, for the 2nd time Hot Docs will present a group of shorts enjoying their World Premiere in a program called Citizen Minutes. They screen only once at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and it is a free screening, this Thursday, May 4 at 7:45PM.
Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.