Sunday, 28 June 2015

A lean art form, a robust festival-2015 Nickel Independent Film Festival

The memorable DAWG by Shelley Thompson tells
 the story of a busker who learns to deal with grief.

Was it gluttony or a sense of responsibility that compelled me to attend seven days-worth–or 44 short films– of the 2015 Nickel Independent Film Festival?  Perhaps I just got caught up in the air of jubilation around this year's events that celebrated 15 years of the little film festival that grew.  This year's offerings had a whopping 50% Newfoundland and Labrador content and also featured a healthy dose of films from mainland Canada plus a sprinkling from abroad (USA, UK, Hungary).  The Nickel also exchanges films with a sister festival in Kerry, Ireland.

Seeing so many short films in a concentrated series made me speculate about the genre's characteristics and how they are used.  The briefest films were about five minutes and the longest were a leisurely 28.  Several weighed in at around ten or 13 minutes and that's when it hits you what a lean and muscular art form the short film is.  These are in essence short stories with characters to introduce, plots to navigate, atmospheres to create and messages to deliver.  The Nickel's strength has always been showcasing emerging talent and the number of first time filmmakers who had never been to film school was striking.
And that is why programs like Picture Start, a partnership between Telefilm Canada and NIFCO, and First Time Filmmakers (NIFCO) are so important. 

This year the mentorship and collaboration of skills provided by the First Time program seemed to really pay off.  The light and funny Serenity Plow by Liam Small, based on real life events was one example.  But Catherine Adelaide by Andrew Tremblett was a real standout.  His characters had depth, the narrative had shading and Tremblett took risks with certain scenes–not to mention that it was shot during Dark NL, our infamous power outage. 
Examinations of Conscience by Andrew Harvey and James
 Harvey looks at how we rationalize our actions.

I doubt it was intended but I was really struck by the element of surprise that characterized a majority of the short films.  Whether it was Examination of Conscience with its bar booth confessional that torqued on the supposition that you could be a good Catholic but a bad person or Mr. Invisible where (spoiler alert) the mild mannered senior citizen turns out to be a hit man with explosives in his bundle buggy.  Expectations upended were the order of the festival.

This was evident in other ways too.  The dark, primal tale told in the Hungarian film Ol was an instance where you found yourself laughing and then questioning whether that was the appropriate response.  The feeling only deepens with the climax of the film.  It was like children's rhymes where the pox is cheerfully sung about or the Grimm's fairy tales.  Flankers also had the same universal feel where you are at one instant admiring the sea and being filled with dread in the next heartbeat.  Stories of feuding men and beasts are timeless and rarely end well. 

Coping with tragedy and uncertainty was a contrasting sub-theme of several of the shorts.  Humour that verged on the deliciously absurd popped up in at least two of the francophone films, while music, dance and dogs were featured in films from a variety of locations.  The point is that these films found their way to happy endings rather than more raw conclusions.  
Whether on panels or informally in corridors, talking to the filmmakers is a highlight for me at the Nickel.
(left to right)  Archaeologist turned filmmaker Latonia Hartery (Sadie), Liam Small
(Serenity Plow), and Andrew Tremblett (Catherine Adelaide) during a filmmakers panel hosted by Michael Hickey.

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