Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Scene from Strasbourg 1518 // courtesy CIFF

CIFF 2021 Reviews: Shorts Package

By Rachneet Randhawa and Ramiro Bustamante Torres, November 30 2021—

This year at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) 2021, shorts made a bold comeback with a diverse palette of screenings. Shorts are the short story version of a film — they are condensed films, usually a handful of minutes long, showcasing the entire story arc. This year’s shorts package was stellar, showcasing everything from social justice, self-motivation, date nights and romance, youth, LGBTQIA+ issues and even local Alberta-based films. They may be short, but boy they are savvy and pack a punch. Check out our top three picks for the shorts category. 

Category: Rainbow Country

Country: Multiple

This category of shorts was a collection from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, China and Italy that covered topics of identity, contemporary issues or just an artistic perspective of the most mundane. Our top three favourites from this shorts package are Homebird, Cromosoma X and Bad Seeds. At its Canadian premiere, Homebird is a short from the UK that tells the story of a young artist that struggles to find her place in the big city while reminiscing about her life back in the country. Her story is one many people have experienced, and I wish I could’ve seen when I was younger. 

Scene from Homebird // courtesy CIFF

The next short from Italy, Cromosoma X, starts out at an office where male co-workers make sexist comments about their new colleague while she is in the same room as them. The scene quickly changes when a feminist march ocurring outside throws a can that releases a pink smoke cloud which one of the men inhales and begins a journey through the nightmare world that women experience. This short was an amazing way of showing how there are people that don’t understand the hardships of others until they go through them and open their eyes to the consequences of giving in to a toxic status quo. The male and female co-worker come to understand each other at the end, which I believe is the hope of the film.

Scene from Cromosoma X // courtesy CIFF

The final pick from this shorts package is an award-winning, Canadian-made film called Bad Seeds (Mauvais Herbes). This short is a wacky fight between two shapeshifting, carnivorous plants as they try to one up each other by transforming into larger and scarier predators — all for a single fly. It was a very fun short to watch and the transformation the plants go through get very out of hand, which provides a good comedic relief moment. This film was the recipient of the 2021 Festival Jury Award: Best Animated Short Film. 

Artwork from Bad Seeds // courtesy CIFF

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5

Category: Youth by Youth

Country: Canada

This category celebrated youth talent with the amazing selection of short films made by kids aged 8 to 18, with submissions from Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Young people can see in the world by fostering their talents and raising awareness on inequalities and injustice their generation faces from the everyday struggles of schooling in the COVID quarantine to BIPOC rights.

Our top three picks include Running Through the Yellow Lights, which examines the homeschooling most grade-schoolers had to endure over the past year-and-a-half with the shift to online learning. It focuses on one young girl in particular, Risa Nakamura, who recounts the boringness and blandness of routine living during the COVID-19 pandemic. The best aspect of this short was the ability of the film to focus on everyday nuances in a reflective yet uplifting approach.

Scene from Running Through Yellow Lights // courtesy CIFF

Second, the film KʷƏNÁŊƏT NÉʔ focuses on a young Indigenous artist and musician who expresses the feeling of isolation during the pandemic by connecting to the community online. In the end, there’s a music video that recounts the hardships Indigenous communities face from intergenerational trauma and loss of identity, having to reclaim what was once lost. The best aspect was not only the poetic words of the dropped hip hop track, but the docu-series that gave us an insider look into alternative forms of artistic talent that often get overlooked.

Scene from KʷƏNÁŊƏT NÉʔ // courtesy CIFF

Lastly, In The Weeds was the Winner of the 2021 Festival Jury Award for Best Youth by Youth Canada Short Film. It tells the tale of a teenage girl who suspects a nearby neighbour and local gardener are involved in the unsolved disappearance of her childhood friend. I was surprised at the cinematography and plot — it stood out as a timeless short story thriller and you can tell the filmmaker has budding talent. The best aspect was the in-depth suspense of the narrative which we didn’t expect from a newbie youth filmmaker.

Scene from In The Weeds // courtesy CIFF

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5 

Category: It Hurts To Be Alone

Country: Multiple

This category examined the almost two years the world has faced dealing with the ups and downs of COVID and the worldwide quarantine. At this point, we all understand the laughter, the tears and the need for human contact. This category features selections from around the world.

Our top three picks include Marvin’s Never Had Coffee Before from the United States which recalls the everyday struggles we’ve had working virtually and remotely on Zoom during social distancing. It examines Marvin Wexlar who is desperately trying to connect to his coworkers at his new job on a virtual basis, including finding commonalities between them like enjoying a good cup of joe. But here’s the catch — Marvin has not only never had coffee before, but dislikes the awful taste. In the end, he realizes as corny as it sounds it’s best to just be yourself if you want acceptance.

Scene from Marvin’s Never Had Coffee // courtesy CIFF

Second, we had Bracha from Israel which is an intimate dialogue during the curfew many countries imposed. Bracha is wandering in the middle of the night with a mattress over her head, practically homeless, and decides to head back to her mother’s home for shelter. Her anxious mother, Nitzi, and her younger do-gooder sister have a hard time welcoming her into the home, let alone back into their lives. They are quickly dragged into an argument that brings up old baggage and wakes up the neighbours who also tag onto the conversation, making it an ironically amusing piece.

Scene from Bracha // courtesy CIFF

And lastly, we have Strasbourg 1518 from the United Kingdom. This was perhaps the most experimental of all the shorts. Strasbourg 1518  was inspired by a powerful involuntary mania that took hold of citizens in the city of Strasbourg, now in modern-day France, just over 500 years ago. This event was also known as the mass hysteria and the dancing plague of 1518, in which people danced uncontrollably for days until they fell unconscious. 

Scene from Strasbourg 1518 // courtesy CIFF

Rating:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5


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