Power In Brevity: Our Review of Shorts Not Pants September 2023: Indigenous Shorts

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - September 28, 2023
Power In Brevity: Our Review of Shorts Not Pants September 2023: Indigenous Shorts

Just when I thought I was out with film, they pull me back in. After TIFF, I was planning on taking a sabbatical from film, but great short films are reason enough to break that sabbatical. James McNally’s Shorts Not Pants series are a great source for said great shorts. And this Friday, he’s screening a slate of shorts capturing the past hurts and hopefully happier futures of Indigenous people. This programme is also a collaboration with imagiNATIVE, one of my favourite festivals in this city. The oldest short here is from 2015 so what are we waiting for? Let’s begin.

Amar Chebib’s Joe Buffalo begins the programme. The Canadian government kidnapped generations of Cree and other First Nations children. And Buffalo belongs to the last generation of children who survived this crime against humanity. Children who experienced such horrors expectedly get addiction issues. But Buffalo narrates how he got out of that intergenerational cycle through skateboarding. Through Buffalo’s narration, viewers learn the different times skateboarding entered his life, showing that recovery isn’t a straight line. The short breathes. It juxtaposes rural and urban visuals to show how Indigenous people are reclaiming this land and their freedom. I like the digital polish here too. The score complements these elements, mixing regular synth music with Indigenous styles. This short is the best one so far and it’s going to be hard to top this one. Tony Hawk serves as an executive producer. The short comes to us courtesy of The New Yorker.

Viewers go from digital polish to what looks like raw 16mm in Caroline Monnet’s Mobilize. We’re two shorts deep and I already can see a connective tissue between this and Joe Buffalo in that both present binaries present within Turtle Island (that’s North America for us settlers) and how First Nations people seamlessly fit into both. The switch from the wintry Mohawk territory to 1960s Toronto feels like a whiplash.

However, repeat viewings remind me that this four minute short’s climax is what looks like a filtered GoPro footage man navigating a river with a canoe he builds with his own hands. The jump between places make sense in that regard. I also love how this short both has a Tanya Tagaq soundtrack and shows a Mohawk girl in 60s mod, and I only make friends with people who like mod. This short comes to us courtesy of ONF | NFB.

Mobilize feels celebratory when it comes to depicting a sense of place. Meanwhile, Roxann Whitebean’s Rose takes the other approach and depicts a more conventional feeling of displacement. “How can I have no rights to my own baby,” asks the titular character (Passion Diabo), directing this question to a fellow Mohawk woman, Liz. Liz manipulates Rose, an expecting teenage mother. She makes Rose sign the latter’s baby away for adoption in what we now call the 60s scoop. Viewers can see the budget on screen, but I like the occasional campy delivery line. One of Rose’s aunties tell Michael, Rose’s boyfriend “We’re gonna have to go steal your baby”. The short also comes with a content warning and resources to deal with such content, and more films, regardless of length, need to do this.

It’s always funny when a kids’ production has better polish than one with adults, but that’s where we’re at with Barry Bilinsky’s Kikino Kids. In fairness, Tantoo Cardinal serves as an executive producer here which is probably why the budget here seems bigger, even if it’s telling simples stories, emphasis on stories.

Out of the 400 shorts I’ve seen, and I counted them, this is the only one to my memory that has vignettes that weave into each other, and it works as a cohesive whole. A gang of Metis girls buy mac and cheese. A girl, Rose (Lexyn Quintal-Thompson) becomes a hopeless romantic. And two kids go into a haunted trailer. There’s a genre mashup here where the mac and cheese bit turns into a cooking scene which duh. And the short is still age appropriate even with that subversive closing line.

A summer camp is the setting for this programme’s second Barry Bilinsky short, Obscheenies. It’s a short depicting prospective camp employees with the least amount of qualifications. But then again ther emay be a reason why these Gen-Z employees are not in the game. It’s because they get visions at night that mess with their sleep. I like the first Bilinsky joint better because the actors here need to try harder. Otherwise, it tries to reach for elevated horror, and it makes that subgenre tolerable. Also, kudos to both Bilinsky shorts for having subtle non binary representation.

A camp also serves as a setting for the last short, Tank Standing Buffalo’s SAVJ. At one point, it seems like it uses a pre-contact setting, as Indigenous children tell each other a campfire story about a skin eater that ends up killing all of them. Yes, that’s a spoiler, but I reveal that because there’s another reveal that makes adds a poignancy to this genre mashup of animation and horror. Corey Feldman’s narration captures both a youthfulness and tragedy that the short is aiming for. Same goes for the short’s use of bold colours and lines. A great way to end a programme that’s worth leaving the apartment for.

These shorts screen this coming Friday Sept. 29th at the Carlton Cinema here in Downtown Toronto.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches 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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