Aside from the centerpiece screening of Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe, the 5th Annual Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival will be screening a hefty selection of short films. Celebrating the diversity and challenges that impact the deaf community, there are films that will satisfy all types of film lovers. Here is a brief look at a couple of the short films playing TIDFAF this year.
Here & There
Jascha Blume’s documentary Here & There aims to show that, regardless of which part of the world they reside in, the deaf experience is universal. Blume’s lens focuses on three seventeen-year-old girls, twins from a slum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a girl from a village in the north of the Netherlands, as they go about their daily life. Detailing everything from the foods they eat to the schools they attend, and infusing a sense of style to the proceedings, Blume’s film effectively shows that the human experience transcends geographical boundaries.
Tales of the dashed dreams of wannabe starlets are common, but that does not make them any less fascinating. After arriving at an audition, where the casting agents are initially unaware that she is deaf, a young woman (Amber Zion) is surprised to hear that they would like her to return the following day. The woman’s moment of joy is fleeting though. Her Hollywood fairy tale is reduced to nothing more than a lingering dream. Martin Paves’ film quickly reveals itself to be a grim observation of one woman’s spiral. He opens up a world where theft and prostitution reluctantly become the woman’s only survival tactics. Much of the film’s strength hangs on the wonderful performance by Amber Zion. She really brings a rich dimension to the character and makes us wish that Paves had spent more time diving into what originally brought the woman to this point in her life.
Theodore Dorsette’s film focuses on a young man, Teddy (played by Doresette), caught between two worlds — hearing and deaf. Finding wearing a hearing aid to be cumbersome, Teddy struggles to navigate his interactions with those who can hear. Things are further complicated when Teddy falls for a hearing girl named Isabel (Arianna Hosinski). While he would like to believe that love conquers all, it becomes increasingly apparent that maintaining their relationship will be a tougher task than either of them anticipated. Dorsette brings a rather unique take to a subgenre that is sorely lacking representation – outside of Children of a Lesser God, very few films dealing with this type of romance come to mind. While the performances are solid, Silent Life does try to do too much at times. The film makes Isabel the villain rather swiftly and Teddy’s encounter with a cop does not have the impact it should. Still, there is much to enjoy in this film. Dorsette nicely captures the awkwardness and isolation that both Teddy and Isabel feel when immersed in the other’s world. While Silent Life presents the notion that Teddy will ultimately have to choose a side for his own happiness, Dorsette shows that such a decision is not an easy one to make.
If you are looking for a film to watch with the whole family, give Louis Neethling’s Tree Fairy a spin. The adorable and endearing tale follows nine-year-old Libby (Oliva Jordan-Caws) who, after her widowed father finally decides to remarry, finds it difficult to adjust to her new surroundings. Living with a selfish step-mother and seemingly uncaring older step-sister, Libby’s life is changed forever when a magical tree fairy shows up on Christmas Eve to grant her three wishes. Anchored by solid performances, Liz Wyatt is absolutely delightful as the step-mother, Tree Fairy is not shy about its uplifting be yourself message – at one point the fairy rebukes one of Libby’s wishes for new ears by saying “your ears are fine”. Tree Fairy is a reminder for us all that accepting ourselves is just as important as accepting the differences in others.
In these cynical times, having a genuinely sweet film is unfairly frowned upon. However I do not follow that train of thought. Sometimes we all need a film that simply brings a smile to our face. Take Will Bowes’ magical short, Chalk Dust, for example. The story finds a young woman who is deaf, Jenny (Abigail Winter), being transported to places where she can hear by physically touching a series of elaborate chalk drawings. Though the tale is rather straightforward, there is an undeniable charm that flows throughout the film. Bowes wisely leaves a sense of mystery regarding both the origins of the chalk and what will become of the growing bond between Jenny and the artist, Max (Simon Paluck), drawing the magical images. You will be reaching for your sidewalk chalk once this one is over.
Living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is engulfed in permanent warfare, is hard on the best of days. Now imagine being deaf in that politically and religiously charged climate. In his eye-opening documentary Silent Chaos, director Antonio Spano explores the hardships that deaf individuals endure at hands of both the Mai-Mai rebels and those who view anything different as evil. Some of the most heart-wrenching moments come when the subjects of the film recount tales of abuse at the hands of family members. A woman recalls being violently beaten by her father with club full of nails, one man comments on being deemed a curse – a karmic payback of sorts for his family’s past sins – from the day he was born, and another shares what is like to be in a family where one is automatically considered to be dumb simply for being deaf. Offering a well-rounded view of the struggles that deaf individuals encounter, it is easy to assume that Silent Chaos is all doom and gloom. However, even with the harsh circumstances on display, Spano manages to find hope and resilience in his subjects. Those who cannot hear, and as a result are not heard by their community, will one day find their solace. It will take time, but it will come.
The full list of short films playing at the Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival can be found at the festival’s website.