An Apocalypse at Toronto Youth Shorts’ T24
By: Addison Wylie
The T24 project – a challenge in association with the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival – asks filmmakers to create, produce, edit, and hand in a short film within 24 hours. Teams are given a lengthy essay question about the chosen theme, and are then sent off into the city.
I remember the days of attending T24 screenings and feeling excited to tell others about the great shorts that screened. With prior screenings, teams have shown supreme amounts of creativity while impressing movie goers with their filmmaking techniques.
This time, I sat in the University of Toronto’s Innis Town Hall watching the disappointing collection of shorts and I felt disheartened. There’s something that’s been lost in translation between past teams and this new class of corner cutters.
The filmmaking wasn’t lazy. The audience could see these teams went the distance to find excellent locations and stay consistent to their atmospheres. Also, the shorts that really focused on the more technical side of their production impressed with special effects and funky lighting. This was evident with Adrienne Knott’s Hinterland and Maikol Pinto’s Futurity Lost. There were some really gorgeous shots in these two.
When it came to the overall finished product though, each short reeked of easy filmmaking – too easy.
The theme this year was “the end”, which meant lots of teams took advantage of shooting at night on the desolate streets of Toronto. This choice did make for a fairly effective post-apocalyptic mood and it also helped that on this particular day, there was a drizzle of ominous snow.
However, the shorts didn’t go any deeper than that regarding the doomed, end-of-the-world essence. For the most part, it felt as if I was watching lots of people shuffle around emptiness with “poetic” narration accompanying them.
The aforementioned Hinterland and Futurity Lost may have looked good, but the shorts were the equivalent of that hippity-dippity guy who brings his acoustic guitar to house parties. There was a level of self-proclaimed significance.
The filmmaker who executed the “walking around a silent purgatory” approach correctly was Greg Fox with his short Peaches. Fox was the only one who was able to bring development to his characters and to his narrative. It’s a bit too anti-climactic when everything quickly wraps up, but Hannah Gordon’s performance anchors each scene well.
Two other filmmakers that tried to bring emotion to their work but ended up slipping up were Anne Phitsanoukanh and Jacky Vuong.
Phitsanoukanh’s Stiffilis took on a fictitious pandemic causing people to freeze on all fours. It brought insight as to how social media would look at a situation like this, which was an interesting idea. However, these instances didn’t necessarily go anywhere other than being brief references to pop culture. And, was it Phitsanoukanh’s intention to make the overall message about this post-apocalyptic society sarcastic and cynical?
I like Vuong’s The Drought, but I wanted to love it. I think the mumblecore approach served the short and its actors well, but this film severely needed an editor or a multi-camera setup. As characters try and figure out a widespread libido disappearance, the scenes roll on with no end in sight; which triggers the scrambling performers to start talking like no person would. Hourmazd Farhadi made me giggle sporadically, but there’s no way anyone would talk to bedroom partners like he does.
Jamie McMillan, a T24 regular, returned with yet another strange short that’s a bit hard to fathom or embrace. With Gag, McMillan showed he still has skills regarding his shooting style and he certainly isn’t afraid to make the audience deliberately uncomfortable. I just wasn’t too hot on the script that was lacking a purpose, and the leading scientist character was too awkward to muster. It was also another short that left the audience with a cynical, off-putting aftertaste.
An example of a short film that suffered from way too much melodrama was Ryan Liu’s All We’ve Got. I thought some of the camera angles were well composed – including everyone in the lens without making the shot look crammed. However, Liu has his actors overacting and beating every hint of fear into the ground. I would like to see how leading man Paul Dods performs with different material and sensible direction. He’s got the goods!
I’ve left my least favourite short – Chelsea Chen’s Apocalypse Now? – for last because I don’t want to spend too much time on it. I’m pretty sure after juror Bern Euler’s public dismemberment of the film’s questionable title, Chen knows her short wasn’t exactly a winner.
To give the filmmaker the broad strokes of my criticisms: Apocalypse Now? was a silent film with title cards that needed more screen time, and the audience could never jive with the humour since the film never opened itself up to the notion of others finding it funny, other than to those involved with the project. As a filmmaker, Chen needs to apply more thought towards her audience. Maybe then she’ll find a way for her work to, well, work.
I’m being rough with the latest T24 challenge because I know what this project is capable of. It bothers me to see others pitch away an opportunity loaded with possible career growth and produce something that hardly qualifies.
Another thing that bugs me is when people use the 24 hour deadline as a crutch. I can understand if some of the continuity is choppy because of rushed scheduling, but it doesn’t take long for a filmmaker to add variety to their shot list or give an actor a bit more motivation. If these filmmakers realize how to think on their feet and nimbly expand their creative horizons, they’ll eventually see progress.
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