VIFF 2021 Shorts Forum: Programme 3

I had already fulfilled one of my VIFF goals of seeing a segment of short films when I saw MODES 2. However I was hoping that for short films, I would see something less experimental and more in the lines of either documentaries or live-action storytelling. I had my opportunity when I saw the shorts segment entitled Programme 3. They were seven films by Canadian directors that were all unique in their films and their messages.

-Flower Boy (Canada – dir. Anya Chirkova): It’s summer. Nav is a musical dreamer. He plays music from piano to guitar to his analog synthesizer at parties. His girlfriend Sarah is a painter who has artistic dreams of her own. She even painted a portrait of Nav with a flower instead of a head. For summer income, Nav works at a laser tag ground where he does the typical duties and the co-workers talk of how much they hate the job and the boss. As the months pass, Nav grows further in love with Sarah, but knows summer will end and he will be heading to college in another province. Also during the job, the 60 year-old boss shows Nav that he had music dreams too, as a rock ‘n roll drummer. The boss shares with him his passion. As summer ends, he makes a decision that a surprise to all.

This is a nice picturesque story. The images do as much of the storytelling as the dialogue. The story is pretty much a celebration to any and all artistic dreamers. Even for those who eventually went on to pursue real jobs. Those who’ve had artistic dreams of their own when they were young can identify with this story of see themselves in some way somehow. This also works well for me because I had dreams of being an actor when I was younger and, well, I turn 50 next September. It’s a reminder of no matter how old you get or even how successful you are at your real job, the dream never dies. Even if it’s in an against-all-odds profession, it’s still worth it to chase the dream and never stop dreaming!

-Things We Feel But Do Not Say (Canada – dir. Lauren Grant): Genevieve is hurting, but does not make it obvious. Later we learn what’s been hurting her. The pregnancy that’s supposed to be, isn’t. It’s a miscarriage. She tries to keep it inside, even to her husband, but you know it’s going to come out. She goes with him to the doctor’s appointment and tries to keep a poker face about it, but you know it will come out. Then it does. She then returns back to her work, greeted warmly by her friend, and carries on with her day.

This isn’t just a story about a miscarriage and the hurt one feels. It’s also about trying to hide emotions and go about daily life, even though one is hurting inside. The body language actually does more telling about the story and Genevieve’s feelings than the dialogue. That’s what the film is for the most part. About unspoken feelings we hold deep inside.

-Tla-o-qui-aht Dugout Canoe (Canada – dir. Steven Davies): Joe martin is a 66 year-old man from the Tofino First Nation. His profession is making dugout canoes: canoes made from trees that are dug out from the trunk. He is skilled from teachings from his late father. The skills he uses to make the canoes, like the hand-carving and painting, are centuries-old traditions passed on from his people. The skills and canoes were scorned upon by the Canadian government decades ago who had a system to assimilate the Indigenous people, robbing them of their culture and language and sending them to Residential Schools where they were abused and neglected mercilessly. Joe is now free to make his canoes. His daughter Tsimka uses the canoes he made to take visitors on tours of Clayoquot Sound.

This is one of two documentaries that’s part of ‘indigiDOCS.’ This allows the canoe maker to tell his story of his craft and how it’s important to him and his people. At a time when Indigenous peoples are going through Truth And Reconciliation and working to take back what was stolen from them in the past, like their languages and cultural rites, this is an important documentary. You learn of the skill of how it’s important for the maker and his people and why it’s worth keeping alive and worth passing on to generations.

-News From Home (Canada – dir. Sara Wylie): It’s March 2020. A daughter makes a phone call to her mother. She has anxiety and she’s scared. She doesn’t know what to do. She wants to fly back to be with her mother, but her mother advises it’s not a smart idea. This breaks the daughter’s heart. She’s scared and frustrated to tears. She just doesn’t know what to do. Another phone call some days later. The daughter again calls the mother. The daughter doesn’t have the same frustration she had during the first phone call. She reassures her mother she’s calmed down, if imperfectly. The mother says things of reassurance. It ends with a friendly goodbye.

This is a film that consists of recorded phone calls, home movies, and the images of the rooms inside the hose where the calls took place. No actors or people present. One thing we should not forget is it’s in March 2020 when the COVID pandemic hit Canada and all these social restrictions and isolations started taking place. There was a lot of fear among people about what would be next. I too anticipated this could be the next Influenza. This film captures the moment. Even reminds us of our own first moments of dread when this all started. However it also shows the moment of relief and reassurance over time. It even shows the close bond of family. It’s that bond with someone who reminds us things will be fine that we all need.

-Indigenous Dads (Canada – dir. Peter Brass): The film is a documentary. It’s an interview of four Indigenous fathers from across Canada and of various Indigenous Nations including Brass himself. Two are fathers of two, one is a father of four, and one is a father of one. All of them share their feelings of what it was like when they became a father for the first time, both positive and negative. All four talk about how fatherhood made them grow and change as men. All talk of their love for their children. They also all talk of how they teach their children of what it is to be Indigenous and how they even remind them of the racism they can face. They also all talk about their hopes and dreams for their futures and what they want their children to grow us to be.

This is an important documentary short. It’s very inciteful. This shows a side of being both a father and being Indigenous that we rarely see. It’s an eye opener to this subject. It reminds you of the immense responsibilities these men have to face and are willing to face head-on, despite how hard it is. They speak their hopes, their joys and their fears. There are times of great emotion as well. I’m really glad I saw this.

-Srikandi (Indonesia/Canada – dir. Andrea Nirmala Widjajanto): Anjani, a young girl in Indonesia, is about to start college. This comes in the aftermath of the death of her father and as her mother is about to sell the house. Something her daughter is out protesting over. Soon, her daughter discovers something. She comes across her father’s puppet studio. Her father’s profession was the traditional Indonesian puppetry of Srikandi. She discovers she has been taught the skills of Srikandi by her father, even though Srikandi is traditionally forbidden o females. Anjani makes a decision about her career path to her mother. Her mother is not happy with it as it won’t guarantee a steady income, but Anjani is firm in her decision as he is days from leaving for Jakarta.

This is a student film from a Vancouver Film School student. Andrea Widjajanto is born and raised in Indonesia and came to Vancouver to study film. This is another film about artistic passions burning inside one’s self. This is also as she faces the heartache of the death of her father and the time in one’s life where she’s reached the college age and now preparing for a path she is to pursue for the rest of her life. This is a good film as it involves an artistic puppetry few people from outside Indonesia know about. It also reminds you that this desire to pursue your dream with the pressure from others to pursue something more bankable and steady is universal. It transcends cultures and borders. The dream to pursue one’s dream is universal. Despite the story taking place half a world away, one can relate to the story.

-Together (South Korea/Canada – dir. Albert Shin): It’s a seaside motel in South Korea. Two strangers who met online with fake names, a young-adult female who goes by the name Happy Virus and a middle-aged male who goes by Rabbit Doll X, are there. They are here for one reason: a suicide pact. Both have a cooking element and chemicals ready to do the job. During the time there, they talk about their lives and what they’ve been through. They take an interest in each other and even laugh and have a mini-party of just the two of them. It gets to the point the woman feels she can’t go through with this.

This is a story by Korean-Canadian director Albert Shin that treads on a serious subject matter. It’s of a common thing in South Korea of the type of suicide pact where two strangers with suicidal feelings meet online to commit their suicide together. Shin taps into human feelings as well as ethics and morals. In the end, he delivers a story that goes from potentially tragic to life-affirming in the end.

Overall these seven shorts have their differences, but they share a lot in common. All are from either Canadian directors or students in Canada. Some are documentaries or docudramas, while some are live-action. Most are in English while two are in different languages. All speak a message about the human spirit and human feeling.

Each of the seven films of the VIFF Shorts Segment Programme 3 either contain an aspect of life that we can all relate to or they will open our eyes. All of them are valuable to watch. I’m glad I had the chance.

VIFF 2018 Review: The Seen And Unseen (Sekala Niskala)

Seen Unseen
A young Indonesian girl uses myth and spirituality to deal with her dying twin brother in The Seen And The Unseen.

At film festivals, you often see a lot of cutting edge film. Very rarely do you see a film that’s family-friendly. The Seen And The Unseen is a film that should rightfully called family-friendly.

The film begins with a young Indonesian boy named Tantra being brought into a hospital bed. The mother is hurt. However the twin sister Tantri is naive and doesn’t know what’s really happening. You can tell by how she breaks the egg in her hand that it’s very serious. A flashback shows how the two were in more playful times.

The family live on a farm and the hospital Tantra is staying at is in the city. Unknown to her mother, Tantri takes trips to visit Tantra. She brings puppets, eggs, plants and a musical instrument. One day Tantra does a shadow-puppet show for Tantri where he tells of his illness. She returns to the hospital to play games, sing, dance and dress up in traditional costume. They even share time where they dress up as birds.

However the mother notices it and she’s not happy. Even though she understands, she advises Tantri not to do it anymore. Nevertheless Tantri feels the spirits of her brother in the farm fields. She even feels her own spirits in the animals and in the sky. Then the news comes. Tantra’s cancer is getting worse. She spends as much time as she can with him whether it’s in the hospital or in the dream world. In the dream world, he’s alive and well and active. Even as she goes with her parents with a temple crowded by monkeys, she can feel his spirit. Even as his death eventually comes.

The thing of the film is that it takes a stressful situation like a child sick and dying and it incorporates Balinese culture as a way to escape. Tantri is the twin of Tantra so of course she has a strong with him. The culture incorporated in the film is very much rooted in images of monkeys and birds. When he’s sick with a potentially fatal illness, she goes to elements of the Balinese culture to play with him and communicate with him. She even uses the elements to get into her own spirits. However for Tantra, the more serious and debilitating his illness gets, the more his imagination flies. It becomes evident that there’ something in the unseen. The mother doesn’t see it. I guess that was the point; a world seen only by the two children.

The culture in the film is also central in the relationship between two twins. It is there where in Tantri’s dreams, the two can act out their stories, or where they can become the spirits of animals. They share songs, dances, dress in animal costumes and play games. The two have a balance together. When Tantra is nearing death, Tantri senses something in his spirit. It’s this world of culture and animal imagery that help Tantri in dealing with her brother’s looming death.

If I have one complaint, it’s the ending. I felt like the ending was too brief. All the events led from his admission to the hospital up to his death. I was anticipating something post mortem whether it be Tantra’s spirit in the form of animals or imagery. It was not to be. I assume it was the director’s choice for the ending to be that way. However I felt it did take away from the film.

Top credits go to writer/director Kamila Andini. Childhood is an essential part of her filmmaking as she also wrote and directed The Mirror Never Lies. I know the subject of a child dying makes for something that would be tricky to make watchable, but Andini creates something beautiful. Through the imagery, the looming death of Tantra doesn’t look so harsh. The film even has spiritual elements and the focus of the soul living on. I admire Andini for having those elements in the film. In terms of acting, top credits go to Thaly Titi Kasih. She was the protagonist in the film and she did a very good job without getting manipulative or overbearing in emotions. Even though she’s the sister in between this, she’s not trying to be manipulative. Also goo din the film is Ida Mahijasena as the brother whose spirit comes alive at night when the body is fastly dying.

The film has won the Best Feature Award at the Adelaide Film Festival and won the Generation KPlus Award at the Berlin Festival. It was also a nominee for the Platform Prize at the Toronto Film Festival. The VIFF doesn’t have any special awards for family-related films. Here’s hoping in the future.

The Seen And The Unseen is a film that wouldn’t normally get children too interested, but it’s a beautiful film. One could even describe it as ‘spiritual.’ However it’s definitely cultural.