Founded by Henry Wong in 2009, the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival is an excellent programme. A short film festival geared towards the young and talented filmmakers from our great city of Toronto. Part of the festival is the T24 Project, a 24 hour film challenge. For this year’s competition, the various teams were given a theme, rather than the usual prop, shot, or line of dialogue. This year, contestants were asked to redefine “the end”, and paint their picture of a post-apocalyptic world. A done to death theme left in the hands of Toronto’s cinephile youth should offer an original eye on the concept.
Thirteen groups signed up, and only eight made the deadline. Those eight were the films shown at the final screening. Sadly, with only a few exceptions, it’s not talent, but timing, that made the cut.
Certain pieces had very clear potential. Hinterland by Adrienne Knott is about the last man on Earth desperately searching for someone. Anyone. The prospect of eternal solitude is terrifying, and an incredibly risky theme given the limited time available for filming. Jacky Vuong’s The Drought places the apocalypse in a comedic realm, suggesting our end of days could come about simply by a global onset of diminished libidos. Stiffilis attempts to pull cyber obsession into the mix, with an infectious meme that brings about our eventual global collapse.
Comedy is a delicate genre. It’s capable of immense power when used correctly. When misused, however, it becomes the veil lazy filmmakers pull over their audience’s eyes. Furthermore, improvisation is not an adequate substitute for well-written dialogue. Unless it’s in the hands of those who truly know how to wield it, it’s a disaster. The Drought and Stiffilis specifically suffered because the filmmakers didn’t take the time to properly craft an adequate script. They shortchanged their talent and truly excellent concepts, which, unfortunately, all a part of the learning process.
Some of the best advice given at the evening’s screening came from Canadian Film Festival Director Bern Euler, via the iconic wisdom of Alfred Hitchcock: “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” While many of these budding film enthusiasts enjoy, and some know quite well, how to use a camera and edit footage, it was clear that few of them have flexed their writing muscles. Writing is like any other skill. It takes time, energy, and dedication to hone that skill and build that muscle. Many of the teams still have much to learn, and a ways to go.
Some, however, delivered truly excellent work, even if by accident. Hinterland was captivating, with a droning soundtrack that mirrored the deafening silence of solitude. It successfully created a sense of dread, showcasing one man’s inevitable descent into madness. Though not a perfect film, it still delivered an original take on the end of the world: no bombs, no zombies, just silence.
Greg Fox’s clever Peaches used found footage properly. By blending the trope with standard filmmaking techniques, it became a plot device rather than a foothold. The piece avoids relying on clichés, and instead successfully adds a dash of humour to grim circumstance. With an excellent performance from Hannah Gordon, Peaches was one of the best of the bunch.
However, the true standout comes from tag team Maikol Pinto and Alexander Mann with Futurity Lost. Playing off of a clear Blade Runner, neo-noir vibe, the pair created an elegant and poignant short film about isolation at the end of the world. Beautifully shot and edited, the film barely made it into the competition. With two minutes to spare, Pinto managed to get the submission in. They used every second of their time wisely, and it shows. They daringly included surprisingly good CGI, on top of a well-crafted premise, minimal dialogue, and some beautiful shots of Toronto at night. It’s an exceptional work created with limited means, and it shines brightest of all the submissions, without question.
Some of the submissions were entertaining. Many of them were terribly flawed, and failed to showcase any real skill. But a very select few were golden examples of talent emerging. Such is the way of great art: it’s scarce. True talent is rare. The greatest screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, and editors of our time weren’t born gifted, they were born driven. They worked at it, and developed what would become an invaluable skill. If this challenge showcased anything, it’s that young filmmakers aren’t focusing enough on the right aspects of their craft. A keen eye must be turned towards the art of writing before the camera can be employed. If there is any advice I can give these young competitors, it would be to dedicate double the time to writing as they currently do to filming. Mastering the art of words is incredibly difficult. But once that process starts, everything else begins to fall into place.