By contributor Spencer Wilson
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival (VISFF). The festival was created in 2005 by Johnny Blakeborough and John Gardiner with the goal of creating an event where local filmmakers would have a venue to showcase their films. This goal quickly spread to including films from all over the world, such as Ireland, Switzerland, Iran, the Netherlands, and France, but the focus has remained mostly local. This year, all 14 films being screened are from Canada: One from London, Ontario; three from Winnipeg; four from the mainland; and six from the Island. The VISFF is proud to welcome five returning filmmakers and nine new names this year.
Cameraman Mathieu Charest from London, Ontario has quite an impressive resume–featuring camera operating credits for major films such as Riddick (2013) and Warm Bodies (2013)– leading up to his second short film, “Crazy Love.” Charest teams up with actress Helena Marie (producer, writer, and lead female) to tell the chilling story of a woman who has to make the choice to stand up to her abusive partner. Marie’s aim was to create a film that asks the audience to question their stance on what is right and wrong.
The Winnipeg Film Group has been a consistent contributor of unique short films to the festival, and this year is no exception. Adam Bentley, previously known for his documentary on Luke’s Kitchen in Kingston, Ontario, gives us a coming-of-age story with the drama “Teenage Dress.”
First Nations activist Sam Vint gives us an eye-opening documentary on disabled people on the reserves with “Alice and Kevin.” Vint has been a prolific filmmaker in regards to tackling Canada’s aboriginal issues and even has a docudrama, We Were Children, that was created with the National Film Board.
Filmmaker Berny Hi is someone who celebrates the glitches and flaws brought on by hands-on work, leading to his continued use of analogue technologies for filmmaking. Hi will be exploring obsession and the desire to trick time in the documentary “George Bassler’s Perpetual Motion Machine,” where he shows us a man’s perpetual motion machine that echoes Johann Bessler’s 1712 invention, the Perpetuum Mobile.
Just across the water are four filmmakers based out of the Vancouver area. Quebec-born animator Laurence Fortin Gagnon will be showing her newest feature, “The Dreamer,” about a man’s desire to reach the moon. Gagnon has already won an award for this film, taking home the Jury Prize at the Festival du Film Étudiant de Quebec, and has had her animated features shown widely at Quebec film festivals.
Carol Phiniotis has had a long career as a screening coordinator for popular films such as The Heartbreakers (2001), but is now hoping to build a career as a director. “Smart Home” marks her first short film in 10 years and will tell the story of a man’s smart appliances and technology conspiring against him after his heating goes out.
Barehouse Productions’ Devon Kuziw teams up with his returning leading man, Maarten Bayliss, for a mysterious drama about a man’s journey through fear and cowardice.
Last from the mainland, we have Evan Britz with his first film, “Fingers Cutting Glass,” about two sisters caught in a storm.
Ed Carswell is a prolific filmmaker from Courtenay with films covering the environment of the Rocky Mountains, issues in African countries, and the history and culture of the K’omoks First Nations people. Carswell has won several national and international awards for his films, and his latest one, “Project Heart – Honouring Residential School Survivors,” is currently traveling across Canada with the Traveling World Community Film Festival. “Project Heart” features the stories of five First Nations’ people who survived the brutal and abusive residential schools created in Canada to eradicate First Nations culture in their youth.
Legendary Victoria-based comedy director Graham Stark returns again this year with his comedy, “The Pair.” Starring wife and LoadingReadyRun comedy troupe partner Kathleen de Vere, as well as LoadingReadyRun newcomer Missie Peters, Stark’s newest film is sure to rouse laughter with its embarrassing story about doing laundry. Stark has garnered eight awards from VISFF over the years and has had at least one film in every festival since it started in 2006.
VIU’s own Steff Gundling will be delving into addictions with her documentary “Habit.” Inspired by her own addiction to coffee (which she discusses in the film), Gundling follows a pot-smoker, a marathon runner, and a diet coke addict. Gundling is currently finishing her major in Digital Media at VIU and has previously won Best Student Film and Best Technical Award at the 2013 VISFF for her mesmerizing short film “Years of the Living Dyingly.”
Nanaimo filmmaker Linley Subryan has been making short films for 15 years now and has won several awards while working in front of and behind the camera. Many of these films are comedic, including his popular “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 60 Seconds.” Subryan is set to make us laugh again with his comedy, “Just Shoot Me,” about how a desperate man’s suicide attempt is interrupted by an unexpected phone call.
Also from Nanaimo is Shaw TV’s Todd Jones. Jones will be presenting another twisted comedy, not unlike Subryan’s, about a dead man trying to get back to Earth so he can go on his hot date. Jones is an appreciator of the low budget methodology behind classic horror films as well as the local acting talent here in Nanaimo.
Lastly, we have returning Nanaimo filmmaker Michael Chen. Chen previously won Best Writing at the 2012 VISFF for his animated short “Tartar Sauce” and has also won awards for his animation “The ABCs of Adam and Eve.” Chen premiered his first dramatic, live-action mystery short, “Greyscale,” at last year’s VISFF. “Greyscale” is being followed up with another mystery this year, entitled “Good Beastly, Bad.” The film is about a novelist being tormented by a killer in the motel room next door, and is sure to keep the audience guessing.
The festival premiers on February 6 at 7 pm with the performance by Nanaimo’s techno-dance group Top Men. February 7 at 2 pm will have a filmmakers Q&A at the end of the show, followed by another screening at 7 pm, where the seven Goldie awards will be handed out. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for everyone else. This will be Johnny Blakeborough’s final year hosting the VISFF, so come on out and support local filmmaking!
Visit the VISFF website to read event updates and interviews with selected local filmmakers.