Highlights from ‘Toronto Youth Shorts 2019’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Movies by - August 15, 2019
Highlights from ‘Toronto Youth Shorts 2019’

It’s another year, which means we get more short movies from the Toronto Youth Shorts. Some of the shorts in this festival seem like rough drafts, hinting towards better work. But more often that not, these little movies can show both scope and refined sensibilities.

The festival, spanning two days, have four distinct programs, the first being Self Reflections. One of the shorts in a program about complex young love is Rowan O’Brien’s Crushed. This one’s about the budding and the dissolution of a friendship. I should be an easy mark for stories like Nicki’s (Cynthia Ritchie) and Emma’s (Julia DeMola). The stilted dialogue ruins it, sadly enough.

Ava D Harness’ documentary Private-Parts is much better for this program. Don’t let the Kathleen Wynne promotional still fool you, because this is not just a puff piece on her. It’s a comprehensive look towards the sex ed debate in Ontario. This actually bothers to speak to the children who feel the harmful effects of Doug Ford’s ban. This short also does a lot for trans and bi visibility without turning these children into token spokespeople.

We move on to Kith and Kin, my favorite program of the festival. One of the shorts here is Jake Lee’s Karen Comes Home. This is, again, about the return of the titular prodigal daughter (Tabitha Tao). She’s just in time for her great aunt’s funeral and with that comes placating her divorced parents. This also provides insight into the rituals within Chinese culture. I can relate to how the dialogue bet switches between English and Chinese, that quality making this short a festival fave.

I just noticed that most of these shorts so far about about female and queer stories. Joshua Maikawa’s Lost Dogs veer from that. This instead takes a look at a man, Emmett, (Phillip Borg). He has to care for his son Caleb (Alexander Stevenson) and look for their missing dog. The shots here effectively delivers a sense of Emmett’s loneliness. But the editing between shots and the counter shots feel abrupt here. I can say the same about Borg’s emotional transitions within scenes.

Last year, Carol Nguyen’s Every Grain of Rice brought atmosphere. This year, her new work Tundra switches to a more naturalistic aesthetic. It’s also a fine tuned expression of the loneliness of losing a family member. There’s also the occasional swiftness to her camera work as she follows her protagonist. She casts her mother, Thao Nguyen Duong, as a mother missing a child. Nguyen Duong does her part, expressing that loss, utilizing every little tear and scream to her advantage.

The festival calls its last program Moving On which has through lines with the previous one. Family, however, is more tenuous in the shorts in this selection, which isn’t always a bad thing. One of the shorts is March Mercanti’s Clean Ice, about an old Zamboni driver. What it does well is making its audience feel about not being able to get used to the worst parts of a bad job. There is, unfortunately, an air there that makes it seem like a rough draft instead of a final product.

Liza Korotka’s documentary short My Country is Missing, which is about the young director, is much better. She shows her own reluctant journey of moving from the Ukraine to Canada and making a home here. This seems like an early work but it already shows the potential of a director who pays attention to detail. She turns the camera from herself to her new home, filling it with the reminders of her old one. She also does great work in reminding us of the political turmoil in the Ukraine.

Lastly, there’s Porkstrips, which is flawed. It does encapsulate the feeling we’ve all had when we’re in a club and we can see through its respectable patina. This time around, the protagonist is a pig, a patron in a club that wolves run. This animation short also oscillates between references towards Western and Chinese references. I’m not necessarily on board with the depiction of either culture. This isn’t a good enough spin on that yarn but that doesn’t take away from the fest’s other good selections.

Toronto Youth Shorts takes place between August 16th and 17th. For showtimes, tickets, and venue information go to https://www.torontoyouthshorts.ca/2019fest.html.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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