Vancouver Island Short Film Festival celebrates its 18th year with a selection of films from across Canada and hailing from as far as Australia. Ten films are shown each night, April 21 and 22, along with a Q&A with featured filmmakers. On Saturday evening, the festival concludes with The Goldie Awards ceremony.
Having spent the last couple of years entirely online, this year VISFF takes the accessibility opportunities learned through the first years of the pandemic and offers an in-person screening at the Malaspina Theatre as well as online screenings. Tickets for both can be purchased on VISFF’s website.
Ranging from 37 seconds long to a maximum of fifteen minutes, the films are a blend of comedy, documentaries, dramas and more. The Discourse got a sneak peek at this year’s line-up of films and brings you a quick review of what to expect.
Related Vancouver Island short film festival reveals ‘complex, intimate portraits’ from the island and beyond
Vivian Cheung – Vancouver, BC
Pulling from the tale of the Thousand Paper Cranes, daughter Celeste rushes to complete a thousand origami cranes for her father in hospice. The film pivots back and forth between the half hearted attempts of comfort from distant connections and Celeste seeking ways to keep her father’s comfort close. A special shout out to actor Ciara Mandel for her portrayal of Celeste and the emotional depth shown.
Mike Palmer – Peterborogh, ON
This short documentary features artist Katrina Canedo (KC) and introduces the audience to Live Painting, an art competition where painters create in front of a live audience and compete to claim first prize. The film builds from the intimate close ups of KC working to the roaring crowds at a live painting show, all the while giving quick glimpses of the work. An echo to KC’s line, “I like to keep them on their toes, keep them coming around to my canvas.”
Amélia Simard – Vancouver, BC
This film focuses on a collection of polaroid film scenes of two friends trying to host their own neighborhood show while also dealing with younger siblings. Anyone who picked up a camera or a recorder and imagined themselves to be the next Rick Mercer Report will catch a glimpse of themselves in the stumbling sign offs, quick cuts, and attempts to remember what happened last “episode.” A ticking clock at times tries to create tension, but there’s no apparent pay off at the end.
En Dehors De Toi
Kajsa Eklund – Vancouver, BC
With the tagline: “Find courage to dance outside of yourself,” two lovers struggle to support each other amidst grueling trials for their troops’ performance. When one of them gets the lead role in the upcoming dance, she worries what parts of herself to keep hidden so as not to jeopardize the opportunity. In quick time, the film critiques key issues within current ballet culture, including emotional abuse, sexual assault and heteronormativity.
Johnny the Dime
Joseph Blake Menzel – United States
Mockumentary interview style, title character Johnny recounts how he deals with a Peeping Ttom creeping on his sister. Johnny’s caricature performance is entertaining, including his word mix-ups like, “I digest” in place of “I digress.” A couple of smaller off-topic twists and turns come to fruition at the end in a final reveal that brings a whole different flavor to the film. (I’ll be honest, this was my favorite one. I watched it… maybe five times.)
Joanna Makes a Friend
Jeremy Lutter – Victoria, BC
Joanna embodies the quirks of Wednesday Adams, without the benefit of her family support and supernatural edge. The young girl struggles to make friends and eventually makes her own out of VCR scraps at her father’s urging (Corner Gas fans will enjoy Port Moody’s Fred Ewanuick as stumbling single father to titular Joanna). Edgar Allen PoeBot is a fun Sci-Fi element in a film that does continuously hint at more Poe-style monsters and horrors. Audiences may feel a bit let down at the lack of things that go bump in the night.
Rashad Haughton – Japan
Editor’s note: Technical issues kept The Discourse from reviewing this Japanese ode to street fight movies and old style Westerns. While speaking to reviewer Matthew Toffolo, Haughton described his motivation to make this film: “I am a huge fan of Kozure Ookami (Lone Wolf and Cub) and the thematic parallels between the Hollywood Western and the Japanese samurai film. I wanted to shoot a cinematic love letter to them both, while at the same time, creating an original world and mythology.”
The Lovely Sky
Amir Mehran – Iran
The gorgeous animation helps the audience in the necessary state of suspended disbelief the story requires. A lack of dialogue keeps the audience focused on the animation to piece together the story, but it’s to the detriment of viewers attempting to figure out the series of events.
Jim Watson – Hamilton, Ontario
In a story that is becoming too familiar, an unhoused schizophrenic man tries to hold onto the few bits of clarity he gains. An encounter with a friendly stranger helps send him on a path back home. John Hannah gives a gripping performance as the lead and Laurence Leboeuf’s choice timidness presents a character conflicted between her own safety versus lending a hand. The ending is a solid note that both concludes the story while also leaving room for expansion.
Tessa Moult-Milewska – United Kingdom
Moments into Curiosa, some audience members might empathize with the anxiety in the film’s depiction of a relationship on the edge. The claymation style creates the slightest degree of separation, seeming to keep the tension from rising higher than the story needs. The sets grant another level of appreciation for the details contained in each set piece as Mary tries to figure out what her boyfriend is hiding. The whimsy of James’ inner world takes a turn as Mary pushes just a little harder to gain access to his past.
Ritchie Hemphill & Ryan Haché – Victoria, BC
The late elder Ida Smith tells the ‘Nakwax’daxw legend of the Mink in the Bak̓wamk̓ala language overtop claymation visuals. Ida’s narration keeps a steady plot and her translation of the story can be enjoyed by all. The claymation style and moral of the story will appeal to younger audience members.
Mike Daniel McKinlay – Vancouver, BC
Using Alan Watts’ Man and Nature lecture as the key audio, Birds Eye shifts between wildlife and seemingly hidden shots of downtown Vancouver. A pivotal scene will leave the audience wondering if it’s perhaps staged or a lucky shot at the right time. The editing of the two environments builds tension, but the film relies heavily on Watts’ narrative to deliver the final punch.
Zoe & Hannah Forever
Rachelle Younie – Vancouver, BC
A non-linear timeline keeps the tension up in this bittersweet “will they or won’t they” love story. The titular relationship shifts back and forth and subtle cues in each scene help lay out the series of events. A mirror shot to the beginning bookends the piece and brings whatever cute joy the audience might have felt to a screeching halt.
Pauline Gallinat – Victoria, BC
All introvert-extrovert relationships will be pointing at each other during this collage stop motion animation. At the end of a seemingly long day, two characters lie in bed — one with a book and one attempting to engage them in conversation. You will either feel drained from the barrage of words from one party or exhausted by the lack of acknowledgement from the other.
Shane Watt – Duncan, BC
What feels more like the opening minutes to a sitcom than a short film, Island Tradies introduces a contractor and his team trying to meet a deadline. A collection of trades jokes are open enough that those outside the industry might find a chuckle or two, but the film does seem directed towards a specific audience.
Hannah van Dijk – Vancouver, BC
Your childhood fear of those budget Easter rabbit costumes will be well founded in what at first appears to be a sinister mystery but evolves into a tale of imposter syndrome. Shot largely in a restaurant, the camera work helps push food prep and final dishes into their own character role, all while maybe sparking a craving or two. The script is tight, leaving little filler to distract from the story.
Alireza Kazemipour – Iran
Set in Iran, this critique of gender expectations and social roles feels even more poignant in the wake of the Mahsa Amini protests. Even with knowledge of what can happen to those who break moral laws in Iran, the film balances tension and humor to keep stakes from feeling too high. It pays off with an ending that provides a moment of laughter and a point of triumph. Also, a friendship made inside a Moral Security Police office is pretty endearing. (My second favorite. I will happily watch a couple hours of these two fighting injustices in their own way.)
What the Dirt Don’t Like
Jenn L Ashton – North Vancouver, BC
The shortest of the films this year, this quick (37-second) animation and spoken word poem feels particularly punchy for anyone living in earthquake territory. But brevity is an obstacle with this piece, with both the poem and animation having plenty of room to grow. Intended as a #LandBack statement, the message could be lost in a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment.
Greg Moran – Sydney, Australia
Darker humor and creeping anxiety set the tone in this single-shot film as a quadriplegic man tries to fight off a mosquito. The locked position of the camera keeps the audience as fixed as our protagonist as the incessant buzzing swirls around. The ending maybe takes the situation one step too far, but the overall battle is a unique showcase on how mosquitoes have shaped human behaviour.
Year of the Tortoise
Connor Gaston – Victoria, BC
Tying together grief, mental health and anger, Year of the Tortoise does a lot with seemingly little. Biting lines from both main characters help build a mother who isn’t there but whose overwhelming presence shapes the story. The first comment the sisters make about their mother leads to an assumption that is proven over and over in a tale of daughters trying to mourn a mother who caused so much grief.