For the second straight year I had the pleasure of being a part of the Online Critics Panel at the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival. In its fifth year, the festival shows no signs of slowing down as it featured 42 short films covering a wide range of topics. The strong selection of films screening this year once again made it tough to narrow down our choices to just five films to honour with the Critic’s Choice Award. While I cannot divulge who we picked as our top five, you will have wait for the announcement at Sunday’s awards ceremony, I will very briefly highlight a few of the many films that stood out for me:

Dan Sprogis, Animation

Synopsis: A careless sorcerer flexes his powers and brews trouble for the local town.

Thoughts: Brilliantly animated, this film is gorgeous, Sprogis manages to squeeze in a fully realized story in a mere two minute span. It should also be noted that the score for the film is fantastic, which only helps to enhance the overall narrative.

These are the People in your Neighbourhood
Nicole Bazuin, Documentary

Synopsis: A group of elementary school students learn more about their community through interviewing local business owners.

Thoughts: It is hard not smile from ear to ear while watching this very well made documentary. Bazuin captures some great moments while out with this group of the candid students.

The Ties Between Us
Christer Harris, Drama

Synopsis: Jack is not doing so well. Amy invites him in. They realize their memories and pain are more prevalent than they thought.

Thoughts: While the performances are solid across the board, the real strength of this film is in its construction. Harris skillfully weaves between past and present to create a truly captivating film.

Dani Alon, Animation

Synopsis: Energy drinks are a helluva drug. An animated interpretation of a CBC Wiretap sketch.

Thoughts: One of the funniest films of the festival, Hyperquench is a sharp commentary on energy drink addiction. Alon’s film is reminiscent of witty animated shows like Home Movies and Dr. Katz.

Ghost Dating
Alison Rheaume, Documentary

Synopsis: Stacie Ikka runs Sitting In A Tree, a matchmaking service where she acts on behalf of her clients to find love online – literally.

Thoughts: Considering how common online dating is nowadays, I found the subject of Rheaume’s film to be extremely fascinating. Ghost Dating offered a balanced look at the pros and cons of having someone else do all the work of dating for you.

David Condotta and Shawna Steele, Drama

Synopsis: Mawusi, a young African woman trying to get refugee status in Canada, recounts the tragic events that brought her here.

Thoughts: Ambitious in both story and execution, Refuge could have easily been a disaster. Fortunately, the film effectively hits the right emotional beats needed to tell such a powerful story. Fans of the original Degrassi Junior High, or more recently L.A. Complex, will enjoy seeing Dayo Ade’s supporting role in the film.

Chemical Valley
Jennifer Robbins, Documentary

Synopsis: Sarnia, Ontario: a case study on how pollution threatens a community beyond environmental degradation.

Thoughts: While it seems that the documentary format has been oversaturated with environmental-themed films of late, there is no denying that Chemical Valley stuck with me. Robbins provides a well-rounded look at a problem that shows no signs of improving anytime soon.

I Love Rhonda
Tyler Schrieder, Comedy

Synopsis: Two elder men fight for the affections of the resident pretty lady in a retirement home.

Thoughts: Schrieder’s film may feature a familiar plot trope, but that does not mean it is any less effective. I Love Rhonda works so well because of the comedic timing by the principle actors, all of whom give very good performances.

Zach Silverstein, Drama

Synopsis: Our wrong-doings bring us down more and more with each sin.

Thoughts: It feels almost serendipitous that Weight comes out the same year as Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, as both are science fiction films that let the audience do most of the heavy lifting. Weight is one of those films that one gladly watches on repeat to decipher all the little nuances.

Zachary Garand, Documentary

Synopsis: A behind the scenes look-see at two stars of Toronto’s Underground Peepshow – Dr. Tease and Barely Legal Leelando.

Thoughts: Offering a look at two distinctly different male burlesque dancers, Boylesque! is a surprisingly engaging documentary. This is partly due to the fact that the two subjects, Dr. Tease and Barely Legal Leelando, are so charismatic on screen.