On Saturday August 8, 2015 the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival will be showcasing a whole new crop of exciting films from the next generation of filmmakers. One of the premier outlets for young filmmakers in the Greater Toronto and Southern Ontario Area, the annual series continually raises the bar in terms of uncovering and highlighting creative new talents. Screening thirty short films, that span numerous genres and subject matters, there is more than enough selection to satisfy every taste. In preparation for the event, the wonderful folks at Toronto Youth Shorts were kind enough to allow us to get a sneak peek of some of the films screening. Here are a few of the films we recommend seeing at Toronto Youth Shorts this year:
Transporting audiences back to the horrific terrain that was the Bosnian War, Kejd Kuqo’s Bosniak is a tour–de-force of acting and emotion. The premise involves a woman, Nadzija, still haunted by the events of the past. Told primarily through flashbacks, Bosniak is a harrowing tale of Nadzija’s continuous fight for survival within a brutal war-torn landscape. Kuqo’s film is filled with a tension that builds almost to the point of suffocation. Even when the noose is loosened, the audience is still left with the same feeling of dread as Nadzija. This is achieved in large part to the brilliant and moving performances by Lauren Saarimaki and Aleksandra Maslennikova, who play young Nadzija and Vesna, a mother Nadzija meets, respectively. An emotional punch to the gut, Bosniak is a gripping portrayal of the limits humans will go to when survival becomes their only option.
There is something both beautiful and poignant about Dan Laera’s documentary Pretty Dangerous. Laera’s crisp film focuses on Seleziya “Sparx” Esho, a 22-year-old professional Canadian wrestler trying to make her mark in a male-dominated industry. Though Esho is living her dream, she cannot escape the haunting truth that the thing she loves the most is taking a severe toll on her both physically and mentally. The constant threat of tragedy hangs in the air with a dense pungency. The fact that her family disapproves of her career only adds further emotional weight on her conscious. Laera really strikes gold by choosing Esho for the subject of his film. She conveys a complex mixture of inspirational drive and tragic melancholy that lingers with the audience long after the film ends.
A New Reflection
Born with multiple facial differences, it has not been an easy road for Katie Atkinson and her family. In a society where “selfies” and obsessing over people’s looks are the norm, those who do not conform to a certain image are often met with ridicule and cruelty. Thankfully A New Reflection’s co-directors Pauline Beal and Lindsay Fontatine aim to show that our true beauty lies in the differences that make us who we are. Atkinson is not a victim, but rather a well-adjusted and intelligent young woman who is living her life to the fullest. She is a beacon of inspiration for all those who have endured struggles simply due to biological elements beyond their control. Shining a light on individuals like Atkinson, and helpful organizations such as About Face, Beal and Fontatine succeed in educating viewers on a topic not often discussed in film.
Blue Eyed Drunks
Tackling issues of cultural identity, Abdul Malik’s Blue Eyed Drunks is an intriguing examination of a teenager torn between two worlds. Ali is a young Pakistani who is eager to embrace everything that the Western lifestyle has to offer, including possibly striking up a romance with Sam. Though clearly attracted to Sam, the fact that she is white and likes to drink at parties does not sit well with Ali’s best friend. Blue Eyed Drunks raises important questions about nationalism and identity that have no easy answers. Malik constantly forces the viewer to contemplate whether or not Ali’s actions are of his own design or part of the conformity that comes with associating with the “other.” While Malik’s creative use of subtitles is treat to watch, he does occasionally overindulge in some of the stylistic choices he makes in the film. Fortunately Ali’s dilemma is interesting enough to ensure audiences are not detracted by the minor shortcomings in an otherwise solid film.
In the Weeds
Every once a while a film comes along that manages to makes me feel embarrassed for my gender, Joy Webster’s In the Weeds is the latest addition to that canon. Webster’s stirring drama is a sobering look at a culture that still perpetuates the sexualization and victimization of women on an almost daily. The film focuses on Sloane, a woman struggling to quell the building rage associated with having a lecherous boss, who requests her to wear make-up, and a co-worker who feels a drunken night out is an excuse to make unsolicited moves on her. After her roommate Jena is assaulted at a party, Sloane can no longer contain the emotions that have been festering for so long. Featuring strong performances and a script that refuses to take the easy route around the issues at its core, Webster’s film is a somber and timely wake-up call. In the Weeds reminds us all that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the quest for gender equality.
Honourable Mentions: Salwa Majoka and Christine Chung wonderful Hunger’s Core; Rebecca Gao’s charming Phoebe’s Declassified Guide to Unwanted Pickups; and Alicia Harris’s interesting, but far too brief, Fatherhood;
For the full slate of films playing, and ticket information, please visit the Toronto Youth Shorts website.