Whistler Film Festival Day 17: You Can’t Eat Student Shortworks, But You Can Try Wheaties!

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Another big day for Whistler Film Festival! First up is a genuine Indie comedy that we rarely see anymore, supported by a terrific cast. Following this is the annual Student Shortwork, which features quick documentary and narrative shorts based out of the film departments of respective schools all through the province. Like with the Mountain Culture shortwork, I was simply blown away by the BC-origin creations in both of these series (note that in the title and director description that we have noted the school of origin these shorts were produced out of). There are so many unique film talents here, all cutting their teeth with these works and I am excited to see where they head next. 

Eat Wheaties!  (Canada, dir: Scott Abramovitch)

A true “underdog” comedy featuring well-known actor Tony Hale (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), EAT WHEATIES! Features Hale as Sid Shaw, a Scottsdale-based office worker who goes a little too out of his way when he beams that he went to school with actress Elizabeth Banks and wants to ensure she comes to her party. He tries getting ahold of her through her agent but is sent a smudged autographed picture. He then THINKS he found her on Facebook, which lead to even more comic shenanigans and even having his job and reputation ruined. But Sid will never give up! 

EAT WHEATIES’ title has to do with a catch-phrase that Banks allegedly told Sid in college, and it’s a funny joke that carries through this surprising indie that feels like it came out of another era where audiences use to see these types of movies in droves, yet here it is fighting its way through film festival life. What’s even MORE surprising is the wonderful supporting cast here to support Hale, and more than once I was having an “Oh YEAH, I remember THAT name” moment, especially when the likes of Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Chalke and even Alan Tudyk show up in pivotal roles. My personal favourite was Paul Walter Hauser (RICHARD JEWELL) as a lovable lawyer whose wife and kids have a playpen right in his “office”. Banks herself even has a cameo, but not in the way you’d think. 

Like with the earlier mentioned SMALL TOWN WISCONSIN, EAT WHEATIES! Is so good that you wonder why movies like this are trying to find a home in the film festival market. You wish for these movies to have bigger releases. Maybe they should start adding in Marvel characters to arouse mass market interest, perhaps? Either way, this movie is a delight, it’s a star-turn for Tony Hale and a perfect indie comedy for these strange times.

Rating: ***½ out of ****

Student Shortwork 1: 

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Baby Blue (UBC, Director: Cindy Hojung Hah)

BABY BLUE is about a young Korean immigrant (Minju Kim) now living in Vancouver with an ever-crying baby and a husband who does not seem to ever be there. The walls seem to really be closing in on this woman and enrages her landlords with all of the pain and anguish clearly seen on her face. Entirely set in a small rented room in an apartment, I immediately felt the claustrophobia in the situation, right down to a close-up of the mother as sits outside of a crib, as if to suggest the bars behind her are imprisoning her. The short takes a pretty chilling turn in its last moment and may enrage some viewers, but I also felt it was necessary to show the pains of women living with postpartum depression.

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The Day The Rocket Left (Capilano, Director: Benjamin McGregor)

A stunning quickie with some solid sci-fi vibes, THE DAY THE ROCKET LEFT is also a fitting title as we see a rocket leave a broken Earth as a young woman sends a recorded message to someone that she knows from her past. Even at just two-and-a-half-minutes long, filmmaker Benjamin McGregor gets a pretty powerful point across by using some jaw-dropping visual shots of a dead planet, an escaping rocket and a good music score, making us think about just how lucky we are to be here. 

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Detective Ultra (BC, Director: Elizabeth Ababio)

Opening in black & white with the title character, Detective Ultra, unable to solve the case of Dr. Lopez, who he admires. Then a shootout happens which leads to a funny reveal. There isn’t much to say about DETECTIVE ULTRA without spoiling the joke, but it DID make me laugh and made some of the weird, amateurish moments with gunplay make more sense. It’s a flawed short, but I did like a lot of filmmaker Elizabeth Ababio’s style and know that she will make more fun movies in the future. 

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Helen (UBC, Director: Emily-Anne Mikos)

A stunning take on family told through the perspective of a very wise young girl, HELEN is our title character (Sarah Houghton) who is learning Greek dance when all of a sudden her dad is admitted into the hospital. The two of them seem a bit disconnected but this interaction brings them closer. Most of the short’s running time focuses very closely on Helen’s sad reaction, and it’s a real strong performance by newcomer Sarah Houghton (she was here at WFF a few years ago with a small role in Veronika Kurz’ short 20 MINUTES TO LIFE), who has such an expressive face and interesting perspective on everything around her that it really makes for a memorable experience, along with filmmaker Emily-Anne Mikos’ assured direction and fun soundtrack that hits all of the right notes. 

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Rollerbladies (Simon Fraser University, Director: Rowan Landiache, Amber Nordstrand)

What a blast! Two girls (Rowan Landiache and Amber Nordstrand, also the directors) are two fun and likeable rollerbladers obsessed with Tony Hawk who suddenly get a pair of cool 90s sunglasses that changes everything. What I loved about ROLLERBLADIES is a simple idea with what looks like a few camera phones and wide angle lenses made by two very positive young women who had smiles on their faces the entire time and seem very passionate about skating, much in the same way these girls reminded me of all the leads in SKATE KITCHEN. There’s even a bunch of fun visual trickery, camera moves and you immediately see the bond between the two leads (even a shot of a text message has a hilarious “previous conversation” joke that made me burst out laughing) with no budget just that’s also a wink and a smile to blading on the streets of downtown Vancouver. 

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The Sunday Cycle (Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver, Director: Jane Bau)

A narrator (voiced by James Morrison) reflects on a laundromat that he would go to every Sunday and without fail, the same people would come by. He makes up stories about them along with the laundromat’s owner, who seems to have such a world unto himself. When he falls sick, suddenly all of the regulars come together. I loved the run-down, lived-in laundromat setting and it makes a great point of people who have to spend a lot of time there and watch the world go by. Jane Bau’s short has a very DIY, crazy-low-budget vibe that absolutely suits the material, and it also makes a great comment on places shutting down and the effects it has on patrons.

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33′ Lot (Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Director: Sarah Genge)

A “Vancouver Special” is a type of house mass-produced in the city through the 1960s to 1980s with big floor designs at lower construction costs. Sarah Genge’s quick but interesting doc features interviews with anonymous owners of these types of house from different cultural and financial backgrounds. I think this doc works especially well as I think deep down a lot of us always want to see the living situation of other people and how it compares to our own. But it also works as it shows different perspectives from big families to even a landlord who has a different take on things. Although I’m curious why they didn’t call this doc “Vancouver Special”? 

Student Shortwork 2: 

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Across The Bridge (Emily Carr, Director: Alisha Steinberger, Goody Wu)

A really sweet and fun animated short that features some truly awesome computer graphics and sound design in a fun idea about two siblings who appear to be disconnected find a way to reconnect in the video game of the same title, The short opens on what looks like a computerized version of stunning water-colours, and then moves into a CG-inspired video game simulation that is simply mind blowing to realize that this came from Emily Carr University. I am simply stunned that these types of animated features can be made in a school setting; as a kid of the 90s we could barely film flipping pages on a VHS camera and now the tools are there to let younger filmmakers show their artwork. I am happy to see that creations like this can happen in schools, and I am certain that directors Alisha Steinberger and Chao Wu have a bright future ahead of them. 

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Bottleneck (University Of Victoria, Director: James Weicker)

Set right in my home town of Victoria and made at the University of Victoria, the story is of Jess, a flat out party girl, drinker, drug user who is at odds with her boyfriend Scott. Things seem to be okay when partying happens but not when Jess is sober, which leads to a lot of personal depression and strife between the two. Director James Weicker has some pretty good visual style here and it DOES get the idea of excessive partying Victorians in their 20s right down to the noise of our nightclubs and also showcasing Mile Zero (and quite a few references to Terry Fox), but the tone is all over the place, and I suppose it’s realistic to say that none of these characters really learned anything or changed much, as Jess is still up to no good even at the end of the story, which doesn’t interest me much. I do admire a lot of the filmmakers and actors trying here, however, and I know they have a much better movie in them down the road. 

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Muscle Memory (Vancouer Film School, Director: Inda Macias Garcia)

This Vancouver Film School produced short is about a young man named Ezra who was paralyzed after a car accident that left him unable to move from the waist down. Now in a wheelchair, he tries to feel better through several physiotherapists and finds himself attracted to one in particular. Ezra now is coming to terms not just with moving forward but also his sexuality, and is his connection to this man something that he can be sure about? It’s an interesting premise helped by the concept of someone whose life is completely upended by and I admired how it didn’t end on an easy note but on a lesson that Ezra needed to learn the hard way. 

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Till Morning (Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver, Director: Taea Friesen)

Set during WWII, TILL MORNING opens on kids running away from their home city destroyed by war and find a cabin in the woods to stay in, but life has a few curveballs to throw at the group. Shot in stunning black & white (with a slight hint of color in one particular area), Taea Friesen has an absolute eye for placing the camera exactly where she needs to, knows her editing, and she’s also great with the use of her young actors. Friesen also narrates the entire short, almost poetically, and all of TILL MORNING showcases quite a bit of solid upcoming talent. 

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Unknown Being (Simon Fraser University, Director: Inanna Cusi)

A naked man comes out of the water and an enormous train passes by. Then the man is clothed and simply walking around Vancouver…until one of the craziest shots I have ever seen in a short film happens. The interaction here is worth watching this entire shorts package alone, in what leads to another unique connection that wonderfully comments on Vancouver homelessness. It’s a light idea but such a beautifully made one with long takes, dim lighting showcasing the overcast and raining streets of downtown and a really good, quiet performance from Bijan Karin. I noticed filmmaker Kathleen Hepburn was mentioned as thanks in the credits, which reminds me of her brilliant Vancouver drama THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN, which this short film would pair very well with as it has some great thematic connections. 

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The Walking Man (UBC, Director: Anaïsa Visser)

It’s like this was the short documentary I needed, a spirited and relatable look at Jan Visser who has been tracking his steps since 1994 and believes to have walked so many steps that he has technically circled the planet four times over. As a major walker myself in my hometown, I can absolutely relate to Jan and he’s especially inspiring when he talks about this as a passion and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Directed by her daughter Anaïsa in a lovely black and white picture window mixed with interviews, walking footage and some space footage, her own passion for telling the story also really shines through. Definitely one of the best out of all of the short films playing at Whistler this year. 

#WFF20 is here! Join in celebrating cinematic excellence with 97 fresh films, including 30 features and 67 shorts, premiering through December 20th and available to Canadian audiences online until December 31. Once you order a film, you have 24 hours to watch it. (We at Get Reel Movies recommend the TV streaming box Apple TV or even the Roku app, both of which I use to stream titles this year.) Plus, WFF has pledged to share net online proceeds on a 50/50 basis directly with the filmmakers or Canadian rights holders.

For more information, visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com!

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