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TIFF’s Instagram Shorts Festival: 8 Key 60-Second Films That Pack A Punch

TIFF Digital Director Jody Sugrue on the genesis of the first TIFF x Instagram shorts competition, with judges Ava Duvernay and James Franco.

“La Pasión Original”


This year marks the inaugural TIFF x Instagram Shorts Festival, a competition open to filmmakers across the globe to have their work seen by the likes of Ava Duvernay, James Franco, and the entire Toronto International Film Festival audience. TIFF will be screening three shorts a day on their Instagram account from now until August 18th, when they will announce the winning film and the audience favorite.

“When Instagram announced they were extending their videos to 60 seconds it seemed like a great time to collaborate with them to seek out new visual storytellers from around the globe,” TIFF Digital Director Jody Sugrue told IndieWire. “We were looking for filmmakers who leveraged the platform and time constraint in different and compelling ways.”

READ MORE: TIFF Announces Platform Titles, Including ‘Jackie,’ ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Daguerrotype’ and More

Of the 30 finalists, 37% are female filmmakers, the films span a diverse array of genres, and there is an almost even 1/3 split of North American, European, and African/South American/Asian films. “Instagram is making filmmaking accessible to a broad community of makers who ultimately only need a phone to tell a story,” Sugrue said.

The 60-second limit may sound short, but the story, imagery, and emotion that is so densely packed into the chosen films make many feel much longer. “It has been great to see filmmakers experiment within the given parameters and see how they can break the rules of traditional filmmaking,” said Sugrue. “These platforms are changing what we call a film, how we create films and then how we consume them.”

READ MORE: Leonardo DiCaprio, Netflix and Women: Hot Documentary Titles At The Toronto Film Festival

In addition to premiering on TIFF’s Instagram account, the 30 finalists will be screened on the atrium wall at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, all this week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. One winning film will be selected by an illustrious jury: Priyanka Chopra, Xavier Dolan, Ava Duvernay, Nabil Elderkin, James Franco, Ben Richardson and Rachel Ryle.

Here are IndieWire’s favorites:

Arshia Shakiba, “Wedding Guests”

Set in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, this documentary captures moments both mundane and joyful during a traditional wedding. The camera lingers on the couple, sitting placidly on a ratty couch, as guests dance and pose around them. The wind blows the bride’s veil, and two toddlers stumble barefoot down the road hand in hand. Life goes on.

A video posted by TIFF (@tiff_net) on

Francesca Pollak, “Lola”

Based on Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” this German drama’s rhythmic cuts tell the story of a young girl who lusts after an older man. The first half moves quickly from shot to shot of her world, but the film quiets itself at the end with a relatively “long” scene between Lola and an older man. The camera lingers on the actor, showing just a hint of a spark in his eyes as he says, “So that’s what you’re into.” 

A video posted by TIFF (@tiff_net) on

Dave Merson Hess, “Clara”

Using found audio in voiceover from BBC Radio DJ John Peel, this fun abstract documentary mixes crude line animation with what looks like found footage of an obscure woman. The colored lines dance across the scene like a page in a book, the industrial soundtrack swells behind the reading of a letter from a fourteen year-old girl. It’s a nostalgic little snapshot of adolescence in a different era.

A video posted by TIFF (@tiff_net) on

Ivan Herrera, “La Pasión Original”

The finalist films fall into two man categories: those that tell a story in the short time allotted, and those that forego story in order to evoke a feeling. This chilling drama from Dominican filmmaker Ivan Herrera does both. In washed out blues and grays, it times its cuts to audio of parade drums and whistles, as shirtless young men dance in tribute behind a funeral procession. The dreamy look of the film stands in stark contrast to the death at its center. Premieres 10/11.

Nadine Valcin, “Heartbreak”

Told in a child’s whispered voiceover, this ode to black motherhood reads as both love letter and prayer. The rhyming verse hovers over a slow modern jazz track, as the young boy muses on the safety of his mother’s arms, and the inevitability that one day they will no longer be able to protect him. In a world that must shout daily that black lives matter, “Heartbreak” is not only heartbreaking, but absolutely vital. Premieres 8/14.

Kuba Sobieski, “BUBBLE GUM SQUAD”

Classified by TIFF as an abstract film, “BUBBLE GUM SQUAD” is really a comedy wrapped in colorfully absurdist packaging. Shot in and around East London’s council flats, it introduces a gum-chewing, carefree girl gang who just want to blow up the establishment, one bubble at a time. Premieres 8/15.

"Paradise Lost"

“Paradise Lost”


Vince Hemingson, “Paradise Lost”

The joke at the center of this stop-motion comedy is so perfectly simple it’s a wonder no one thought of it before. A lush miniature forest of grass and trees on a female body is gruffly mowed away and chopped down by little bulldozers and excavators, their growling motors leaving only dirt in their wake. This playful visual joke is so well executed that it elevates its medium. Hemingson is all for bush and all for the earth, and we’re all for him. Premieres 8/16.

Dan Ramos, “U.S.Eh.”

Filipino-Canadian filmmaker Dan Ramos uses slow motion to deliver an outsider’s perspective on the U.S. Using footage from his time living in New York and Los Angeles and a futuristic electronic soundtrack he composed himself, Ramos presents an overly saturated and empty view of America. The final shot of packing peanuts floating down a New York street is enough to make any New Yorker feel at home. Premieres 8/17.

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