It seems oddly fitting to begin my VIFF coverage with a few shorts that hail from the country in which the festival is located. Though I saw many wonderful features, there is something congruous between these works and the low-key but still kinetic feel of the festival itself, a peculiar humble vitality that I haven’t truly seen elsewhere.
Kazik Radwanski’s “Scaffold,” which premiered at Locarno to large acclaim, exemplifies this mindset extremely well. Taking place over the course of a workday, it (narratively, not visually) depicts two Bosnian-Canadian laborers working on various jobs in and out of homes around Toronto. The shooting style takes many cues from Bresson in the almost exclusive focus on hands interacting with various objects, including the eponymous scaffold, and there is a quietly optimistic tone about the whole venture. There are small dramatic moments – a dropped phone and flower vase – and some themes of class and nationality hover around the edges, but on the whole the actions are extremely quotidian. The gestures are humble but always striking, and the short knows exactly when to end, which is always a pleasure in short-form works.
There are many films at this year’s VIFF, but I would wager a healthy sum of money that “Let Your Heart Be Light,” written, starring, and directed by Deragh Campbell and Sophy Romvari, is the only one to feature footage from a Vincente Minnelli movie. Said film is Meet Me in St. Louis, and as might be extrapolated the short deals with affairs of the heart during Christmastime. During the Q&A afterwards, Campbell mentioned that the use of the Minnelli, with its swooning, grand emotions, was meant to act as counterpoint, and much more influence can be found in terms of worldview, if not shooting style, in Akerman – who is visible on a coffee mug here. The principal character, Sophy (played by Campbell) is coming off of a recent breakup, the short invests much more interest in her simple desire to celebrate Christmas the best she can, listening to religious holiday songs and slowly decorating a tree. When Deragh (played by Romvari) arrives to comfort her friend, the short takes on additional resonance, emotion in a truly gentle and honest way; sometimes the most precious gift to have is a modest tree and a friend to hold, an idea which is executed with elegance and kindness. [Though I hadn’t seen the short before, it premiered last year as part of the omnibus film 🌲🌲🌲, and can be found here at 22:35.]