Shorts That Are Not Pants – October 2012

Last week, Toronto filmgoers were given a very special treat courtesy of James McNally and his labor of love since late 2009, Shorts That Are Not Pants. The latest edition of the screening series, which is exclusively devoted to short films and occurs at various points throughout the year, was held in a brand new venue for the first time: the newly renovated Carlton Cinema, located in the heart of Toronto near Yonge-Dundas Square. With the closing of the series’ previous home, the NFB Cinematheque, and the recent announcement of the Worldwide Short Film Festival’s indefinite hiatus, such events devoted to independent and short films are more important than ever in a city that seems to be becoming increasingly problematic for film programmers and festival curators outside of established players like TIFF and Hot Docs. But thankfully, all the signs point to Shorts That Are Not Pants only continuing to thrive, as not only did last week’s screening get a great turnout, but all seven films shown were very well-made and enjoyable and the whole program clocked in at just under seventy minutes, a perfect running time for a shorts program. There’s no doubt that James has cultivated a real knack for preparing these marvelous events, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll have planned for the program’s next edition, which will hit Toronto in January 2013. Until then, here are some of my thoughts on the assorted gems I recently got to see.

The Secret Number (Colin Levy, 2011)

The opening film of the program was an impressively slick piece of filmmaking that recalls Darren Aronofsky’s Pi in its intriguing tale of a psychologist whose patient, an elderly professor, is convinced that he is on the verge of forming a mathematical equation for the phenomenon of blame. But as the film leads viewers through its artfully constructed maze of flashbacks and hallucinatory visions, the style it utilizes is less Aronofsky’s twitchy, paranoia-spiked variety and more along the lines of David Fincher’s coolly executed, quietly dazzling visual effects. Even though the film becomes a little muddled in its attempt to pull off the formulaic mind-bender twist ending, there is still no denying the technical excellence and engaging storytelling at work leading up to it.

Foxes (Lorcan Finnegan, 2012)

The moody, atmospheric tone of Irish filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan’s Foxes steadily builds as it observes a married couple who live in a seemingly deserted suburban neighborhood filled with rows of identical houses (a perfect setting that creates a genuine sense of claustrophobic dread). Amidst the empty streets and weed-choked yards, packs of wild foxes wander and scavenge. Ellen, the wife who runs a floundering photography business, sets out with her camera more and more frequently to shoot pictures of the captivating creatures, her behavior slowly becoming more unsettling. Foxes is arthouse horror done right – beautiful, eerie, and mesmerizing.

The Cub (Riley Stearns, 2012)

At just five minutes, The Cub is exactly as long as it needs to be, deploying a neat, succinct style for neat, succinct humor that pulls no punches with its cuckoo-bananas premise (a daughter being handed over to wild wolves by her parents to be given a superior upbringing), wonderfully deadpan delivery, and a finish that absolutely kills (no pun intended). A compact, winning delight.

Aftermath on Meadowlark Lane (David and Nathan Zellner, 2007)

A desolate spot by a road in the middle of nowhere is the setting for a post-accident confrontation between two bleeding, mariachi uniform-clad brothers and their mother. The key element that drives along this film is its rolling, rambling stream of amusing dialogue, but the real zinger comes along in the final scene, in which the real-life context behind the comical banter is revealed, adding an extra dose of humor and sincerity.

The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete (Adam Campbell, Elizabeth McMahill, and Uri Lotan, 2012)

This utterly charming animated offering tweaks the Western genre’s well-worn traits simply by making all of the characters talking pies. Oddly enough, it all works splendidly – amid the clear tributes to High Noon and Once Upon a Time in the West, there is a great comedic sensibility that comes through strong via a generous supply of snappy, smart gags. Whether you call it Life of Pies (as dubbed by James) or the start of a brand new genre – the Pastry Western! – The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete is undeniably sweet.

Edmond Was a Donkey (Franck Dion, 2012)

A significantly more melancholy animated work than Poisonberry Pete, Edmond Was a Donkey calmly unfolds within a blue- and grey-tinted fairy tale metropolis of the banality-infused Brazil and Play Time variety. The design and execution of the film’s visual style is nothing short of stunning, perfectly supporting the tale of an unusual little man who fearlessly embraces what he views as his true calling even at the risk of total alienation from his wife and co-workers.

Who Remembers How It Ends? (Matthew Brown, 2012)

That familiar feeling of awkwardness when a moment of recognition slowly turns out to have been a case of mistaken identity all along provided the inspiration for the program’s closing short, helmed by none other than Mamo’s own Matt Brown. His slim, solidly assembled film, set in an elevator following an unseen bachelor party, is cryptically linked to, where Matt and the website’s crew (who served as crucial contributors to the film’s production) have chronicled the project’s evolution while offering practical tips and advice for fellow independent filmmakers. Based on a real happening at a bash Matt attended, Who Remembers playfully dashes from remembered anecdote to imaginative head-trip territory within its bite-sized running time. Whether he continues to further expand on this eventful evening in future episodes (which he mentioned as a possibility in the post-screening discussion) or decides to try something different altogether, it will certainly be interesting to see where Matt goes next in his filmmaking adventures.

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Without hyperbole, that was one of the best blocks of shorts that I’ve seen in some time. Kudos to all involved, and in particularly to Cubs, which had an finely developed sense of deadpan.