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Short Cuts: Making Every Second Count

The filmmakers behind the five longest and five briefest short-film selections at TIFF ’17 talk tight run times, tough decisions, and what ends up on the cutting room floor

by Danis Goulet
Sep 14, 2017

All shorts are eligible for the IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film. Canadian titles are also eligible for the IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film.

The 59 selections in this year’s Short Cuts programme range in length from two to 23 minutes. If there’s one thing that those films have in common, it’s their directors’ drive to make every second of runtime count. To find out what they did and how they did it, we checked in with the makers of Short Cuts’ five longest and five shortest films.

Here’s what they had to say.

Crème De Menthe (2017)

THE LONGEST

Crème de menthe
23 minutes
dirs. Philippe David Gagné and Jean-Marc E. Roy

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

Crème de menthe is about death and memory. It tells the story of a young woman and how she deals with her father’s legacy, which goes from a burden to some kind of solace.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

We always have trouble with length! We thought it would be 15 minutes but quickly realized that the story needed more time. If you try to squeeze a film into a fixed length, it can hurt the story.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

When we saw Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux in 2012, we weren’t familiar with his work. It was a strange experience: we were captivated while also wondering and doubting if we liked it or not. It was sort of a back and forth between watching the movie and analyzing our stance on it. Reflecting on this, the length of the scenes created that space where you could both analyze and appreciate it at the same time. It was a couple days later when we really settled it: we liked it. And then we loved it.

Pre-Drink
23 minutes
dir. Marc-Antoine Lemire

Your film, in 30 seconds:

It’s with an intimate, realistic, and raw approach that we closely follow Alexe, a trans woman, and her best friend, Carl, who’ll be confronted with the thin and sometimes blurry boundaries between friendship and love.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

I wanted to explore the internal feelings of these two characters. My goal above all was to focus on Alexe’s psychology and her subtle evolution during that unique evening. The main challenge was to keep the film as short as possible. It ended up 23 minutes. From a certain perspective that might seem long, but there were so many layers to explore. Writing the scenario, I fell in love with my two characters and I wrote a lot of extra scenes between them that I knew wouldn’t even be shot. We also worked hard in rehearsals to develop what we see on screen. The audience has to understand immediately the subtleties of this special relationship.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) is very inspirational. She creates strong female characters, often marginal as well, full of nuances and imperfections. She goes beyond judgment and makes us see true humanity. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, and the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night are other great inspirations for similar reasons. I like movies where we follow characters’ emotions closely in the moment, with no need to say too much to understand the complexity. It can’t be described with words, only with cinema. Short or long, I could always take more of that feeling.

Lower Heaven
22 minutes
dir. Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

It is essentially a revenge narrative. The story is set in Tehran and is about two undocumented Afghan brothers just arrived to Iran. Their destiny takes a turn after an unexpected event.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

This is a story that imposed its own length of time. I knew how to start and end each scene, but there was no dialogue written and most of the lines are improvised. The actors were non-professional, so most of the time I put them into the situation and waited until “it” happened.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

My film’s aesthetics were inspired by the fiction and animation films I watched on TV when I was a child at the end of the 1980s, when Iran was at war with Iraq and censorship had reached its peak. At that time, in order to continue working, many Iranian artists and directors turned to making movies for children or with children as the main characters. We therefore enjoyed great-quality films and animations, such as the early works of Kiarostami. In addition we watched animation films from Japan and Eastern Europe, based in particular on the books of Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, in which the characters are kids who lived adventures that made us dream.

Lower Heaven (2017)

The Argument (with annotations)
20 minutes
dir. Daniel Cockburn

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

I’m in a funny sort of bind where to tell that it’s about anything (or at least anybody) is a de facto spoiler. I like to say “it’s a video essay about how metaphor might operate in moving images compared to in language… until it becomes something else.” If pressed, I say “and then it suddenly turns into a short film about a woman who has a shitty dinner date with her husband.” (I really liked Norm Wilner’s description of the husband character as “kind of a tool.” Nailed it.)

The challenges of working in a short time span:

Originally I thought the film was going to be not even a film, but rather another lecture-performance, like my All the Mistakes I’ve Made parts 1 and 2. As I worked on it I realized I’d prefer to make it a short film, and to cast someone else in the speaking role. Because it is essentially two films back-to-back, I needed to give the first one time to develop, for the audience to sink into it; then I needed the second half to be of a pretty similar duration. As the edit progressed, “get it under 20” became a goal in the back of my mind — mainly psychological: “19” feels way less than “20”, the way 99 cents feels way less than a dollar. And I’m also conscious of not wanting to scare off festival programmers. So I’m happy I ended up at 19:55. Although usually it gets rounded up anyway.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

This might be a curious choice, but I’d cite this eight-minute YouTube video, Dreamhome, by someone who goes by the moniker “George Lazenby” on Twitter. For a while it seems like hardly anything is happening, but by the time I get to the end (and I’ve watched it many times) I am convinced that every moment was a necessary part of its temporal arc.

The Crying Conch
20 minutes
dir. Vincent Toi

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

The Crying Conch is a modern fable where the path of two men, separated by centuries, folds accounts of the past with the resilience of the present.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

The genesis of the project started when I was in Haiti teaching at the Artist Institute. I set out the make a film with my students as a way to teach, and a way to learn more about the Haitian culture. It was always going to be a short film, but little did I know that the production process would take over 10 weekends over a four-month span. Shooting in Haiti was the main challenge. We encountered multiple obstacles during the production of the film. One anecdote: when we scheduled a shoot at Seguin, the last pine forest in Haiti, situated 2680 metres above sea level. We rented a beat-up 4x4 and the inevitable happened: we broke down and got stuck for nine hours in the boonies. We turned the incident into a scene in the film.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

Some of the films that inspired me for The Crying Conch was Sans Soleil (Chris Marker), Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax), and Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers) — but inspiration comes from everywhere.

Magic Moments
20 minutes
dir. Martina Buchelova

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

This two-sentence dialogue between the two sisters in the film sums it up best for me: "Why do we walk on the grass?" "So that we step into dog shit and are lucky."

Girls don’t have it easy, but they can laugh about it and make it, thanks to each other. And they really need luck.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

Magic Moments was my bachelor thesis film at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava (FTF VŠMU), so from the beginning I knew it would be longer and the dramaturgy more complicated than my earlier shorts. I’d read Kurt Vonnegut’s seven suggestions for short-story writers, which I think are also adaptable to short films. One suggestion was cut everything that can be cut. I really like this suggestion. It helps focus on the core of things. Sometimes it hurts: beautiful shots, funny scenes — if they weren’t crucial to the story, to character, if they weren’t moving the film piece forward, I cut them.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

My favourite film, Pictures of the Old World by Slovak director Dušan Hanák; Miloš Forman’s Loves of a Blonde and Firemen’s Ball; and Boxer and Death by Peter Solan, another Slovak director. I also like Akira Kurosawa’s films, some by the Coen brothers, but also Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. And I really like Kiarostami’s Where Is the Friend’s Home? For short films I was amazed by Xavier Legrand’s Just Before Losing Everything and Without Snow by Magnus von Horn.

Magic Moments (2017)

THE SHORTEST

Catastrophe (2017)

Catastrophe
2 minutes
dir. Jamille van Wjingaarden

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

When a seemingly innocent little bird suddenly drops dead in its cage, all fingers point in the direction of the cat. Desperately he tries to make everything right again, but all goes catastrophically wrong.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

When writing the story for Catastrophe, I visualized a high-octane and fast-paced animation that instantly grabs your attention and would never allow for a dull moment. I believe that keeping the story up-tempo really supports the humour. It’s exactly that high-energy rollercoaster effect that drives this film and showcases that you can tell a lot in a very short amount of time.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

I really love the Oscar-nominated animation short A Single Life (2014), made by the Dutch animators Job, Joris & Marieke. It effectively tells a simple story in only two minutes and it doesn’t leave a moment unused. It’s funny and compelling at the same time, a style that really appeals to me.

homer_B
3 minutes
dirs. Milos Mitrovic and Conor Sweeney

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

Milos: A short found-footage film, set in a Simpsons nightmare world. Conor: A cryptic segment from a variety show that only exists on a long-forgotten cable access station.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

Milos: We did not set out to make the film with a fixed length. In fact, we created a series of vignettes and homer_b is one of those. Because we didn't have a fixed length in mind, we were able to freely film everything that we wanted.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

Milos: David Lynch’s films are a big inspiration — Eraserhead in particular. Although slow in pace, it makes the most of every moment because the mood and tone transport the audience into an alternate world. Conor: Eraserhead exists in the perfect cinematic universe. That movie, more than any other, made me realize the power of world-building as a filmmaker. It exists in a place without time. It’s oppressively dark and industrial, yet you enjoy spending time there. I want my movies to establish a fully formed world in the same way.

homer_b (2017)

Creatura Dada
4 minutes
dir. Caroline Monnet

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

Six powerful Indigenous women gather to celebrate a new beginning and the end of the world as we know it. Or: A trippy gargantuesque surrealist feast for the eyes.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

This film was a commissioned carte blanche from Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montréal, where it would play several times prior to other films, and I didn’t want audiences to get bored watching it over and over again. I wanted to create an experience, something energetic that would feel like a punch. The concept behind the film was to show Indigenous women in a totally different light than they are portrayed in the media. I wanted them to be proud, elegant, fashionable, having a wonderful time. The editing process was the most challenging, but doing an experimental short allows you to play around very freely. Once I had decided to invert everything, starting with the end, I found the proper rhythm.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

I recently watched Revanche by Austrian director Götz Spielmann and I believe every moment in this film is necessary. I was really impressed with how every detail brings the story further. Not one single moment is filler. This applies to Eastern European cinema in general. Like the films of Cristian Mungiu or Ralitza Petrova, each movement, dialogue and breath is necessary to the story — all done with pure elegance.

CREATURE DADA (2017)

Long Distance Relationship
5 minutes
dir. Carolina Markowicz

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

It’s a crazy tale about a guy who is obsessed about having sex with extraterrestrials. Only in Brazil — the country where everything is possible — does he find people with similar interest.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

I was interested in telling a complex story in a very short time, straight to the point. The biggest challenge is how to create a universe, an atmosphere, and make people feel something and understand an unusual character in such a short time.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

My guess is that in the best movies the filmmakers weren’t thinking about how short or long it would end up. It’s a matter of story, of rhythm. It’s so specific according to what is going to be seen or felt that there can be no rule. But I do believe that’s possible to achieve good pieces in both ways, whether it’s very short without being insufficient or very long without being boring. An example of the former is Kirsten Lepore’s Hi, Stranger, which is less than three minutes and really has the ability to drag you someplace else.

Long Distance Relationship (2017)

An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking
7 minutes
dir. Sol Friedman

Your film, in 30 seconds or less:

An imagined conversation between two unrelated public figures... and also an animated biopic that takes one of the world’s smartest men down a peg.

The challenges of working in a short time span:

Seven minutes seems like a pretty good target to make sure it didn’t drag. The challenge is always that if a scene, joke, or drawing is just there for me and isn’t advancing the story, it has to be cut. That always stings a bit.

Cinematic inspirations that make the most of every moment:

A favourite movie moment for me is the bike-riding scene in The Great Muppet Caper. It’s three of the best minutes of film ever captured.

You can still see the Short Cuts programmes in their second runs between Thursday and Sunday:

Short Cuts Programme 1 Featuring Rupture, Threads, Together Alone, Everlasting Mom, An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking, Bickford Park, Magic Moments
Sept. 14, 6:30pm Scotiabank 14

Short Cuts Programme 2 Featuring The Argument (with annotations), Stay, I Don't Want to Be Alone, Wicked Girl, Waiting, Push It, Milk, Mother
Sept. 14, 9:30pm Scotiabank 10

Short Cuts Programme 3 Featuring Fifteen, For Nonna Anna, Still Waters Run Deep, Creature Dada, Bird, Grandmother, Drop by Drop, The President's Visit
Sept. 15, 6:30pm Scotiabank 10

Short Cuts Programme 4 Featuring The Treehouse, Blue Christmas, Charles, Mon amour mon ami, Long-Distance Relationship, Five Minutes, Pre-Drink
Sept. 15, 9:30pm Scotiabank 10

Short Cuts Programme 5 Featuring The Crying Conch, Nuuca, Damiana, We Love Moses, We Forgot to Break Up, I Didn't Shoot Jesse James, A Drowning Man
Sept. 16, 3pm Scotiabank 10

Short Cuts Programme 6 Featuring Latched, Catastrophe, Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month, The Tesla World Light, Möbius, Roadside Attraction, The Burden, Crème de menthe
Sept. 16, 6:45pm Scotiabank 8

Short Cuts Programme 7 Featuring A Gentle Night, Preparation, Airport, Shinaab, Midnight Confession, homer_b, The Drop In, Lower Heaven
Sept. 17, 1pm Scotiabank 10

Short Cuts Programme 8 Featuring Signature, Shadow Nettes, Bonboné, The Death, Dad & Son, Lira's Forest, Waiting for Hassana, Marlon
Sept. 17, 4pm Scotiabank 10