MIFF Coverage Part 2 - A Double-Bill and Some Shorts

 

On Saturday, MIFF started the day with an unorthodox matinee -- a series of short films.  The films, all G-to PG-rated family-friendly fare, dealt with such diverse subjects as piracy (Pirates are Bad People by Ian Tuason), lonely dinosaurs surviving the extinction of their race (Hide and Seek by Aminder Dhaliwal), misunderstandings in laudromats (Laundry Day by Thayer Radic), and robots socializing with screws (Scrap Metal by Anthony Straus).

Later on that afternoon, the shorts took a turn for the slightly more adult. Some notable mini-films featured attractive, over-achieving students attempting to seduce teachers to secure good grades (the impactful and well-acted Angela Wright by Mu Sun), a Jewish family preparing to embrace a same-sex relationship during the Seder (The Seder by Justin Kelly) and a young girl doing something decidedly adult before regaining her childhood with a warm piggy-back ride home (The Palace by Ruud Satijn).

Some of the more impressive films were web shorts, including the surprisingly hilarious and remarkably timely (well, timely if you consider how oddly ingenious it is to give white-collar stiffs some love in a post-bank bailout world) White Collar Poet (directed by Michael Grand).  Another stand-out short was Hitman 101, a meet-cute story turned super-hero crime tale (directed by Scott Staven). There was an element of polish in the web features that defied expectation. Perhaps some directors believe that web is the future of short film? If so, it seems some are well prepared to make the most of the medium.

After the shorts, some directors took questions at the front of the auditorium. As expected, most questions revolved around the the basic elements of filmmaking, with the word "budget" coming up almost as soon as MIFF organizer Matt Campagna began calling on audience members to ask away. Director Daegan McNeaney (Women Have it Easy) drew the most laughs when he revealed his film cost $120 and a lot of dinners to make.

In an unfortunate turn of events, director Metin Guler (The Man on the Cliff) collapsed mid-Q&A, triggering an abrupt auditorium evacuation in preparation for emergency crews. At press time, event organizers said Guler was reportedly doing well after being brought to hospital.  One member of the MIFF crew joked that it isn't a festival until someone faints from excitement -- so here's hoping Guler has recovered from what ailed him and is preparing more short (and perhaps long) films for more festivals.

Once the ambulances were gone and anxiety quelled, audience members poured in for the Saturday night grindhouse double-bill. For those who aren't aware, a double-bill is exactly what it sounds like -- two films for the price of one. The films on the marquee were Senthil Vinu's (as seen in cover picture above) Waiting for Summer (starring Caleb Verzyden and Virginia Wright) and Rob Heydon's Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy (starring Kristin Kreuk and Carlo Rota).

Waiting for Summer was a pleasantly quiet, understated family/romantic drama. It wasn't formulaic or predictable, nor was it boring or melodramatic (and melodrama can indeed be boring, ironically enough).  

The film's three main characters -- Zach, Chantal and Toronto (the city itself) -- don't have to emote much to tell their stories.  Toronto -- so seldom able to be itself in movies -- is a quiet canvas for the story to take shape on. The landmarks so familiar to us (Toronto Island, Chinatown, Front Street) are perfect in their colourlessness and wintery lack of aesthetic vibrancy (that may sound like an insult, but it isn't). The characters, a woman looking for her a father and a man running from his mother, pop into Spadina hotspots and ride their bikes around the city with a local's comfort and ease.

When Zach and Chantal meet, it becomes clear the story is more about them as individuals than a potential couple. Forgoing a formulaic or predictable approach, the film examines love, loss, mortality, disappointment, and uncertainty.  It posits that some things never change, you can't take anything back, and there's courage in confronting the unknown. A sweet story without too much sugar.

Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy, based on Welsh's (the author of Trainspotting) novel Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance, was the most festival's most Hollywood-esque offering.  Starring Scotsman Adam Sinclair as ecstasy runner Lloyd Buist, Ecstasy is a gritty, violent love story. It's as stylish as you'd expect a club drug movie to be, and the performances are fantastic. There's also a long sex scene with pounding trance music, quick cuts and generous nudity. It works well in the context of a film that revolves around characters losing their footing as their lives spin as out of the control as the disco balls that glitter above their heads.  

On the casting front, it was nice to see B.C.-born Kristin Kreuk (of Smallville fame) play Buist's more centered and "normal" love interest, Heather. It was just as nice to see Billy Boyd (probably best known as Peregrin "Pippin" Took from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) play high-flying, philosophy-spouting, mentally ill drug addict Woodsy.  A difficult role he tackled with verve and the perfect amount of obnoxious zealousness. As the film's imposing and dangerous drug kingpin (well, a few notches below the major kingpin), Carlo Rota (Little House on the Prairie) was perfect.

When Ecstasy (which was partially filmed in Kitchener) concluded, the cast and crew of Waiting for Summer took questions from the audience. Director Senthil Vinu, looking the perfect combination of artistic and professional with his wild hair and business-casual grey suit, candidly shared that the film was edited to death and, when asked about budget, laughed and said, "Don't worry about budget, camera or being scared. Make a movie with whatever you have."

And as far as distribution for Waiting for Summer goes, Vinu said the film -- which screened at another festival prior to MIFF -- is shopping for a Canadian distributor. Here's hoping it, at the very least, ends up on Netflix or The Movie Network soon.

 

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