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Confessions of a Festival Juror: Raves and Faves from Toronto’s Premier Short Fest

Confessions of a Festival Juror: Raves and Faves from Toronto's Premier Short Fest

The jury had no trouble deciding that director Greg Spottiswood‘s Genie-nominated short “Noise” should take home the award for Best Canadian Short Film at the 2006 Canadian Film Centre‘s Worldwide Short Film Festival, which took place June 13th -18th in Toronto, Ontario. It was the Jackson-Triggs Award for Best Emerging Canadian Filmmaker that proved to be the more difficult pick, resulting in a first in the festival’s twelve-year history: a tie, with directors Maxime Giroux (“Le Rouge au Sol“) and Chris Nash (“Day of John“) splitting the prize.

As a member of the jury, I can attest that there was an abundance of excellent filmmaking at the international festival, which showcased 250 films from more than 30 countries. My fellow jurors (Kasia Brzezinska of Canal+, George Eldred of Aspen Shortsfest, Tory Jennings of Alliance Atlantis, Canadian filmmaker Jeffrey St. Jules) and I came to the jury deliberations with our personal “top three” choices for each prize, but we often found ourselves crying “Oh, I loved that film, too!” when another juror presented their recommendations.

“Noise” was the rare film that was on everyone’s list. The showdown between a Dennis the Menace-type kid who locks his easily aggravated father out of the car is so gripping that the film seems much shorter than its seventeen-minute running time. “Day of John” was a more typical situation, with some jurors adamant in their whole-hearted appreciation for the low-budget comic horror flick (which is rumored to have earned the student filmmaker a failing grade at his university), others admitting they liked the film “despite the demons,” and others dismissing it as a genre piece. Knowing that I’m a huge fan of “Shaun of the Dead,” you can guess where I stood in the debate.

The category that proved to be almost too bountiful was Best Live-Action Short. While we jurors came to an agreement that director Hisham Zaman‘s father-son immigration saga “Bawke” would be given the award, we also wanted to recognize Charles Williams‘ Australian farm drama “The Cow Thief” (which world premiered at the festival) with an honorable mention.

Torill Kove‘s “The Danish Poet” racked up another prize by winning the C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures Award for Best Animated Short, while the Kodak Award for Best Cinematography in a Canadian Short went to director/cinematographer Tess Girard for her $800 experimental student film “Benediction.” Maciej Adamek‘s thirty-minute portrait of a homeless couple, “On The Road,” was honored as Best Documentary Short while Osbert Parker‘s multi-layered manipulation of images in “Film Noir” took home the Best Experimental Short Award.

In my official capacity as a juror, I endorse all of our award selections. Yet there were many films on my “top three” lists that were equally loved by some of the other jurors but ultimately didn’t make the final cut. Renuka Jeyapalan‘s “Big Girl,” which also screened at Berlin and Tribeca, is a terrific live action Canadian short about a nine-year-old girl who challenges her mother’s new boyfriend to a series of competitions before she’ll accept him into the family. Jamie Travis‘ extremely stylish “Patterns” would easily have won a Best Art Direction Award if the festival had such a category. But the “also-ran” that I most wish we could have given an award to is Marcal Fores‘ “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!,” a quirky high school comedy from Spain.

The festival-goers also proved to be fans of Spanish cinema, voting Marco Besas‘ animated “The Legend of the Scarecrow” (La leyenda del espantapajaros) as the winner of the Audience Choice Award.

Not in competition but of extreme interest were the festival’s celebrity shorts, which were grouped together in a special program. Guy Maddin was on-hand to present “My Dad is 100 Years Old,” the piece he made with Isabella Rossellini. Nick Childs‘ “The Shovel,” starring David Strathairn as a neighborhood busybody, previously won Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. The program concluded with a four-minute piece called “The Director,” in which Ron Howard pisses off Mike Piazza as he tries to make Major League Baseball more cinematic.

Other non-competition festival highlights included a program spotlighting German short filmmaking, a retrospective of classic National Film Board animation pieces, and an in-depth demonstration of the desktop art of Machinima (the creation of original short films utilizing the graphics and characters in video games).

“You’ll be amazed at the quality, variety and sheer range of shorts that are being made today,” declared festival director Shane Smith in his introduction to the event. My fellow jurors and I were indeed amazed. If only we could have given away more awards…

[Kim Adelman is the author of “The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films.”]

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