Whistler Film Festival Day 2: Stray and Shorts In Danger

Day 2 of the virtual #WFF20 is upon us. Normally this is the day that I would wake up in my hotel room after the opening night party, fully exhausted after covering the opening night gala and party, fully ready to brew an entire pot of coffee and continue live-blogging. Alas, I am sitting at my home in Victoria with my own coffee and breakfast burritos as I continue to watch movies from the comfort of my own home theater.

The more that I screen films virtually, the more I am loving this concept and how it can be used as a vehicle to screen more films. Naturally I want to be in-person interacting with everyone, but getting to also test-drive a pretty solid online screening system…I am shocked to admit how well this all works. I am hoping this gives me the opportunity to check out more festivals in the future.

But again, it’s Day 2 and we still have many premiere days to go. Did you screen SUGAR DADDY yet? No? Now would be the time to do so, as lead actress Kelly McCormack along with co-star Colm Feore will be participating in a talk streaming today through the site. For now, let’s take a look at the Day 2 additions which are now available on the Virtual page.

Stray (Turkey, dir. Elizabeth Lo) 

Also set in Istanbul just as in the landmark cat documentary KEDI from a few years ago, STRAY is absolutely effective in exactly what it wants to do and what all great documentaries should aspire to be; that it just simply follows its subjects and watches them. In this case, it’s stray dogs which seem to be a bit of an epidemic in the city after stray dog euthanasia has long been outlawed. 

Our hero of the story is an adorable large dog named Zeytin who also bounces off two other main subjects, Nazar and Kartal. Zeytin is certainly a character; very confident and can put up a good fight if needed, he is also very friendly to strangers and will absolutely accept a treat from you. At some point the movie bounces off of Zeytin and over to Nazar and Kartal who are in their own battles; Kartal especially as part of a larger litter who winds up befriending some street people. 

The key word to this documentary is “careful”. It is remarkable to witness the footage seen on screen without having too many bystanders look at the camera or interact with the likely small crew. I don’t know how filmmaker Elizabeth Lo did it, but she somehow manages to let her camera linger through what I am assuming are hidden cameras, Go-Pro portable devices and various forms of unique smaller camera tech to simply study its subjects and the world of the city. Human interactions are kept to a minimum and mostly in the background, adding to the majestic beauty of witnessing something in a way that only the documentary format can capture. 

I also have rarely ever just FELT the city landscape in the way that STRAY portrays it. It catches that feeling of a chilly evening city and all of the sounds within with cars, trucks, crossing signals and people in the background. Some sequences defy description, including an unforgettable shot of the ever-confident Zeytin who decides to lounge right in the middle of a busy city intersection and all of the surrounding cars simply drive around him. 

If I only had one wish for STRAY is that it was LONGER. Barely breaking feature length at only 72 minutes, I could have had an extra reel or two of Zeytin simply wandering around the city and getting into adventures, and even more footage . Still, a huge congratulations to Lo and her team for a miraculous documentary and again, one that can hopefully be seen theatrically in 2021. 

Rating: ***½ out of ****

SHORTWORK SHOWCASE

Another reason of my love for Whistler Film Festival is that I fell in love with short films here. Typically these do not get covered on film sites and I really am blown away as to

A huge shoutout to the mega-talented Kristyn Stilling for yet another outstanding year of short film programming with her Shortwork Showcase. As always, it’s a terrific mix of Canadian content and foreign work with an emphasis on new filmmakers and ideas. Over the daily coverage we will feature all of the shorts in the festival, starting with Shortwork 1 which begins streaming today on the virtual screening site.

Shortwork 1: 

The Bath (France/Tunisia, dir. Anissa Daoud)

From Tunisia, THE BATH has incredible metaphors of water and food and family in the slow-burn story of the dark side of a father who is about to care for his son, alone, for the first time after his wife is about to leave on a business trip. But something is really gnawing at the father from his past. Using careful editing and sometimes extreme close-ups and hand held to suggest something is boiling underneath the surface, Anissa Doud’s well shot, acted and engaging family drama is very effective.

Benjamin, Benny, Ben (Canada, dir. Paul Shkordoff)

Mostly filmed in extreme close-up, the short opens on Benjamin, or Benny, Or Ben, who is very anxious about an upcoming interview. Suddenly something happens, a thing that can pretty much upend interaction that may or may not allow him to do a job interview he is VERY anxious about. You hear the rehearsed conversations, the interactions with strangers and finally that moment where you stand up to your fears. 

What I really liked about BENJAMIN, BENNY, BEN and its concept is that I feel like we have all been there prior to an interview; you do NOT want a particular thing to happen, it does, and the key is how we deal with it. In Paul Shkordoff’s brisk 8 minute take showing all of the nervousness that I am sure we can all identify with, and it helps with a hand held drive that pushes the intensity to the forefront. 

 

The Danger In Front  (Quebec, dir. Alexis Chartrand)

Review: This movie almost defies description, but it’s a complete original from Quebec that kept making me look for a kitchen sink…everything is here! I would love to tell you that it’s about a barber (Bruno Marcil, aiming for an 11 out of 10 here)  in an undisclosed French town who believes he has an assassin after him, and the way he reacts is nothing short of crazy town. Director Alexis Chartrand goes for broke here and includes, but is not limited to (according to my notes):

  • A great animated opening shot that reveals it will be in Black & White with splashes of color. 
  • Using hand-drawn props, paper sets, confetti and mixed use paper as exit wounds
  • Avant-garde, almost Kabuki-like acting from its lovable mix of original characters
  • Sudden, unexplained character dressed as an astronaut. 

I could go on, but I would spoil the joy of this hellz-a-poppin, bizarre as all get out 19 minute lark. It deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible but during this pandemic, just your most high-definition device will do. 

Inuit Languages in the 21st Century (Canada, dir. Ulivia Uviluk)

A very common question these days is just how much we rely on online communications, and in the case of this light and fun doc INUIT LANGUAGES IN THE 21ST CENTURY, the main focus is a young girl named Ulivia (also the director here), living in Montreal, who is trying to find out what is available online for the complex Inuktitut language. Showing Google Maps, Skype and online conversations with a pink-haired girl Ulivia’s age along with an older woman whose dialect differs, we get to see a little corner of an issue with language and communication, all set to modern digital communications. I especially liked a final moment that suggests while we have come a long way, things still aren’t 100% perfect, and in (director) likeable 10 minute topic it finalized with a joke that made me laugh. Even with the different backgrounds, there is still something here we can all connect with. 

The Lighthouse Man (Canada, dir. Matt Walton)

A total charmer with a lead character that oddly enough reminded me of the oversized lead in THE IRON GIANT, director Matt Waldron has designed a lovely hand-drawn, five-minute quickie about a massively oversized lighthouse who loves nothing more than help out his fellow townsfolk, but when the town turns into a city and gets bigger and bigger, things get a bit more challenging for our adorable lead. This is such a fun idea told in just a few quick minutes, and I really loved Waldron’s adorable hand-drawn animation along with a fun, violin heavy score by Matt Coldwell. And if you remember when family movies used to have short films play prior to the feature, THE LIGHTHOUSE MAN would absolutely be a perfect fit.

The Quieting (British Columbia, dir. Ali Liebert)

Full disclosure; this was a short out of the Vancouver-based Crazy 8’s Film Society presentation earlier this year, which is one of my employers. So less than a “review” but more of a strong mention that this, along with the entire Crazy 8s program, is worth seeking out as it fully supports independent filmmakers getting their work out there. The inclusion of any of these shorts in the WFF Shortwork is always welcome, however. It stars MANY familiar faces I have worked with in the past including Julia Sarah Stone, Sara Canning and director Ali Liebert (no stranger to WFF herself including Michelle Ouellet’s AFTERPARTY which premiered here all the way back in 2013) in a story of self-identity and a younger version of oneself coming to embrace her sexuality. 

You Win USA Vacation Resort (United States, dir. Georgia Fu)

It is truly awesome to see a short from the American Film Institute’s directing workshop for women about race relations and immigration in California included in this shorts package. This slight but pretty effective story of an young female illegal immigrant named Mei who comes across another younger boy while an ICE raid is in progress, winds up caring for him and befriends a store clerk in the middle of all the action. This short has a few rough spots (for one, I don’t see the store clerk suddenly becoming incredibly involved in finding someone with a person that he just met) but that’s also understandable for its low budget and student-level approach. There is some pretty solid direction including long takes to suggest isolation and good performances from its actors making for quite a bit to admire.

#WFF20 is here! Join us in celebrating cinematic excellence with 97 fresh films, including 30 features and 67 shorts, starting from December 1 to 20 and available to national audiences online until December 31. Once you order a film, you have 24 hours to watch it. (We at Get Reel Movies stand by our Streamer Box of choice, Apple TV through the Eventival app) Plus, WFF has pledged to share net online proceeds on a 50/50 basis directly with the filmmakers or Canadian rights holders.

Additional thanks to screening and promo partner Mongrel Media for sending along an advance copy of STRAY, and to Jive PR for sending along advance screening copies of the Shortwork Showcase for this article. Day 2 films are now available to stream virtually.

For more information on screening instructions, point your browser to the official site!

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