On Feb. 1 and 2, audiences were treated to 14 creative, clever, and climactic short films featured in this year’s Vancouver Island Short Film Festival (VISFF). The 8th annual festival, which was held in the Malaspina Theatre, included films from Vancouver Island artists and from other parts of Canada. The films selected for the festival by a team of award-winning artists and filmmakers—Sarah Schwartz, Brendan Tang, and VIU Visual Art professor Gregory Ball—and each selection had something interesting to offer. Awards, determined by judges Terence Fitzgerald and VIU Media Studies professor Marian van der Zon, were distributed on the second night of the festival.

The night kicked off with A Warning, Graham Stark’s comedy that features what the title suggests—a comedic public service message cautioning the audience about a harmful film about to be “shown.” The progression of the irony and suspense is built cleverly through the writing, but the film caused some confusion, as after it ended it wasn’t clear if (and why) the second film, Stark’s Pocket Planes, was the alleged dreaded event I had been preparing for. Though it began in a puzzling anticlimax, Pocket Planes established itself as a unique addition to the VISFF lineup. The animated five-minute short offers a quirky comment on the annoyances a travel-ready couple face when trying to book a flight with a complicated airline. While the relationship between the two wasn’t clear to me, Stark’s films served to start the festival off on a promising note.

Ken Diewert and Linley Subryan’s The Mark of Cain uses short scenes, shaky camera action, and dramatic music to build suspense in a story about a man kidnapped and taken into the wilderness to be hunted by his hijacker. Through a series of dark flashbacks we learn that the prey has a connection with the hunter, and this relationship, revealed in snippets, is what kept me fixed on the screen. Though at times the chase scenes lacked intensity, this film told a dark story skillfully.

Amanda Sage’s Bliss introduced another genre into the festival. Sage’s romance-drama tells the story of a pair of lovers—a man and his mistress—and the complications that come with a dishonest relationship. The plot is broken up with flashbacks and artistic-shot sequences, which contrast feelings of happiness and despair. While the dialogue sometimes verges on cliché, Sage succeeds in using expressive images to share the truth about love and hurt that can exist between two people.

VIU professor Jay Ruzesky’s Carmanah: A Poem was the fifth film shown. The artistic short features, as the title suggests, Ruzesky’s poem about the Carmanah Valley, accompanied by beautiful nature shots of “ten-thousand shades of green” in the forest. The camera works in a raw and honest way, creating a first-person perspective—while watching I felt as if I was walking through the Carmanah trees, and though it was the most simplistic, it was my favourite art film.

In Gary Prendergast’s documentary-style piece Across The Way, Chief Tom Henderson leads an expedition northeast of Port Hardy to show a group of people from the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation their ancestors’ homeland. The film gives an incredible lesson in history and loss by juxtaposing original photographs of villages, some pictures over 100 years old, with the current, lonesome state of the coastline —a result of the Canadian government’s destruction of the villages over 50 years ago. Shots of original artwork, still visible on the rocky cliffs, are captivating, as are the stories Henderson shares about the places the group visits. Prendergast’s film shares, and sends, viewers on a journey.

Gary Hawes’s The Money Pet is a 10-minute comedy that employs a Dr. Suess-like rhyme to tell the story of a slacker and his productive dog, who is capable of consuming and multiplying money. Hawes’s film was one of the most professional-looking submissions, and the easy flow of the simple storyline, along with an admirable performance by Boomer the dog, won the People’s Choice award. Hawes was also awarded Best Writing and Best Film.

Matt West’s comedy The Kissing Booth, a witty and upbeat film about a boy who must choose between two girls at a kissing booth, and the effect his decision has on the rest of his life, was the shortest in the festival. Regardless of the length, the plot is refreshing and unpretentious, and the twists in the last few seconds are skillfully delivered, making it my favourite comedy of the night.

In Gem Chang-Kue’s art film Open, symbolic imagery, together with texture and sound, sensualize a careful routine of writing a poem and burying segments of it in individual jars. The film is poetic in itself, and invites interpretation.

Julia Hostetler’s drama Quiescence was the 11th film on the programme. The twelve-minute short tells the story of a young woman who experiences strange hallucinations after postponing a visit to her sick aunt. The majority of the film shows the main character’s solitary lifestyle routine and the disturbing dreams she has, but the pace changes when dialogue suddenly is used near the end to sum up the plot. While an interesting concept, the film attempts to tackle a wide-range of themes in one go (illness, suicide, guilt) and as a result the pace was unsteady, and it felt incomplete.

The festival moved back to comedy with Adam Doquiatan’s Games for Deadbeats. Doquiatan’s concept has potential—three nerdy college students have been playing the same board-game for four years straight—and the characters Doquiatan creates are humorous, but the plot falls apart with the random introduction of a zombie apocalypse, followed by more game playing, more zombies, some excessive profanity, and more zombies. This caused a witty comment on adults engaging in juvenile competition to die in a disappointing attempt at a supernatural-frat comedy.

John R. Taylor’s Says Who follows the unlikely new friendship between a young blind man and a crabby senior after the two sit across from each other on the bus. The film attempts, and generally succeeds, in commenting on several themes—age, loneliness, homosexuality, learning—and while the solution to the blind boy’s growing depression comes across as slightly rushed, Taylor’s short ends in a creative and unexpected way, allowing for further thought and consideration.

The Best Student Film and Best Technical awards went to Steff Gundling’s Year of the Living Dyingly, an art-film that captures the drama in a relationship. The beginning of the film shows clips of the couple’s awkward first date, contrasted with suggestive sexual shots, and the second half seems to demonstrate the deterioration of the relationship. There are some strong moments, such as the focus on tense feet, sweaty foreheads, unsure eye-contact during the date-scene, but other artistic clips, such as a repetitive shot of the man smoking a joint in reverse, seem to be included just for the sake of effect and add nothing to the story.

The final film of the night, and winner of Best Original Music and Best Performance awards, was Kyle Rideout’s Wait for Rain. The comedy highlights the social pressures a young office worker is challenged with in a workplace where it is trendy to wear plants as accessories. Though there are some questionable plot-holes, Rideout’s film comments on material (and environmental) values, and Haig Sutherland’s performance is worthy of the Best Performance award. By far the most polished film shown, Wait for Rain was the perfect way to close the festival.

In each film, from documentary to drama, at this year’s VISFF there is a great deal of talent and filmography skill. For more information on VISFF and the filmmakers featured, visit <www.visff.com>.

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