Places can either make us who we are, or we can strive to change ourselves despite our situations. The first part of that sounds passive but we can learn so much from where we are. That’s the connective tissue that I can see in Block 3-6 of this year’s Shorts Not Pants.
The stop motion animation in Ritchie Hemphill and Ryan Hache’s Tiny is nothing short of amazing. Viewers can feel things like the wind of people’s faces just by how it craves the characters’ expressions. This short, by the way, also played Shorts Not Pants’ Indigenous program last month. I’m happy to see it play again this month because I missed it last time. Accompanying these visuals is the narration of Hemphill’s mother Colleen. She’s a ‘Nakwaxda’xw elder who discusses identity and tells her story as a member of a family of swimmers living in a West Coast float house. She talks about her brother and father like they’re mythological beings. And it’s nice to hear someone love their family this much. This is subtle Indigenous storytelling that still touches on bigger themes.
Speaking of big, the longest short on Block 3 that’s available for preview for press is Morad Mostafa’s I Promise You Paradise, a short that expresses the scale of the world in which these characters inhabit. The scenes with the churches alone, monumental in a country full of monuments like Egypt, are breathtaking. The short’s protagonist is Eissa, a member of a Christian sub-Saharan African diaspora living in Egypt temporarily with dreams of moving to Europe.
Eissa has one major setback as a young man who committed a violent crime within his community. The pace kills the short a bit, even for its 25 minute running time, but repeat viewing are rewarding as it exposes the details of the community that’s relatively obscure to Western viewers. It also gives its protagonist nuance, the kind that we need to remind ourselves. People do bad things sometimes but that doesn’t make them inherently bad. Besides, you can’t fault a protagonist who does anything for their family.
This piece is also the second time, at least, that I’m quoting Roger Ebert in that cinema is an empathy machine, and I keep this in mind while watching Jungwoo Choi’s 3 minute animation short, The Pest. Because here, they’re asking us to empathise with Toronto’s least favourite animal – the raccoon. This classic battle of man versus nature has the titular animal trying to dig through garbage, much to the dismay of some bespectacled white collar homeowner. Simple colour contrasts help make this a fun short at the end of the third programme.
Only one of the shorts in the fifth block of this year’s Shorts Not Pants fest is apocalyptic, but that quote still applies to the shorts that approach relatively micro issues. At least three of the shorts in this block have filmmakers looking at the past or at least referencing it. One of the shorts here, Laura Goncalves’ The Garbage Man, is a repeat. To recap, it’s about the filmmaker’s Uncle Botao, whose story reflects the past and present brain drain in Europe, fitting the arbitrary theme I just made up. But then, just because I made it up doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit. Let’s continue.
The first new-to-me short in the fifth programme is The Sprayer, by Farnoosh Abedi. There’s a lot of Nazi imagery in this animation short, as it imagines a post-apocalyptic Iran that illegalizes plant life. I’d say that this is a metaphor for a specific country living under a dictatorship but apparently three out of four people live under a dictatorship today. Grim. Anyway, one of the Gestapo sees a plant and decides to disobey authority and take care of the plant and two of the city’s oppressed green thumbs. The short makes no sense – how are these people still alive? As I write that though, I forgive it for beautifully depicting contrasts and textures. Also, this short tells us that it’s ok to punch Nazis, and I agree.
Next up is Steen Starr’s This is What the Looks Like When You’re Gone, a documentary short where Starr meditates on her relationship with her sister. There’s some archive photos here, where Starr narrates how she chose politics while her sister chose love and happiness. My gallows humour sees a meme as well as the differences that my own sister and I have. Guess which is which. Anyway, the short also captures her sister progressing into a mental disorder that she doesn’t have to disclose. She approaches that topic with sensitivity and intersectionality with her use of captioning. Both sisters also grew up with a father who is a pastor, and the short depicts Christianity in a refreshingly positive way. My favourite of the block.
The last short that I have preview access for that’s in this block is Joe Lycett’s Linda, tangentially a British postal worker, Tarik (Ali Ariaie). He slowly starts to dislike his new coworker whose name shares the short’s title. The reason for him disliking her is because she’s the kind of person who tells tall tales about herself. The short’s ending is a bit predictable but I’m Team Linda here. People don’t already believe half of the things I say and people live full lives in between meeting other people. Let Linda live.
The first short of the sixth block is Liam Thrush’s Skin. Here, two fashion students take a break from their big assignment to do their nails. One of them, Sierra (Alyssa Whitmell) hurts the other, Liz (Jade Graham). Sierra’s reason is that this is normal for getting acrylics. She did, inadvertently, cause further harm to Liz. Specifically, she introduces Liz to a worse self harm practice than the one she was already doing before. There’s an amateurish feel here, using a camera to depict tropes that I’ve seen in art films for the past 15 years. But I give it a pass for its balanced approach to its triggering subject matter.
The other short in this block available for press reviews is The History of the World According to Getty Images. This short reminds me of what my dad once said about how either one second or the history of the universe can fit within any film’s running time. He probably wasn’t the first person to say that, which plays into this short’s message. This short depicts the last hundred or so years twice – the first time in five minutes and the second using ten or more, that time around with context.
Specifically, the context here is that the clips that this film shows is in public domain, but after that happens, Getty Images acquires them to sell at any price. The short reflects on history and recent academic thinking into questioning any history. I bring up the academic side to admit that what the short is saying isn’t new, but its intentions make it one of the best shorts in the festival.
Torontonians – find out how you can watch Shorts Not Pants here.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Animation, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Horror, Thriller
- Release Date: 11/18/2023
- Directed by: Farnoosh Abedi, Laura Gonçalves, Liam Hoban Thrush, Murad Mustafa, Richard Misek, Ritchie Hemphill, Ryan Haché
- Starring: Ali Ariaie, Alyssa Whitmell, Carina Salajan, Jade Graham
- Produced by: Ana Dias, Liam Hoban Thrush, Safie Eddeen Mahmoud, Stephanie McKenzie, Thorvald Nilsen
- Written by: Farnoosh Abedi, Joe Lycett, Murad Mustafa
- Studio: Bando à Parte, Destined Pictures, Eye for it productions, Negative Art Studio