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Review: Canada’s Top Ten Student Shorts Programme

January 14, 2017


By Erin Corrado

As part of Canada’s Top 10, the Student Shorts Programme plays today at 1pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.  Filmmakers will be in attendance, and the Student Short Film Prizes will be announced following the screening.

Each film was made as part of a university program by students, and while there may be minor technical flaws here or there, they each show the potential storytelling abilities of the next generation of filmmakers and actors.  The total program is 79 minutes in length, and was programmed by Lisa Haller.

I had the opportunity to screen the films in advance, and you can find my thoughts on each of them below.  The reviews are in alphabetical order by title:

Boys Will Be

19 mins., 36 secs.

The longest film in the set, Boys Will Be is also one of the strongest, thanks to the performance from its lead Nick Serino (Sleeping Giant).  While his character is similar to what he has played before, Serino embodies the character well, giving us depth to an otherwise troubled kid.  When the film takes a darker turn, it raises interesting questions surrounding moral codes and the right way to grow up.  The film uses a square aspect ratio for most of the film, expanding out at key points, which provides another layer to the storytelling.  While the short does feel like the scenes are cut slightly brief or choppy at times, it also feels as though the filmmakers may be intending (or at least leaving the option open) for an expansion to a feature-length version should the short play well.  Boys Will Be was written and directed by Teryl Brouillette of Ryerson University in Toronto.

Bumby the Barely Witch

3 mins., 21 secs.

A very short animated piece directed by Jessica Tai (Emily Carr University), Bumby the Barely Witch is a charming little story of a young witch who comes home with an F in wand work, but inadvertently ends up helping a traveler who crosses her path.  The animation-style is appealing, and the simple story is told in just the right amount of time.  Feels very much like a short you would see in a theatre before an animated feature.

Ceci n’est pas une Animation

5 mins., 14 secs.

An English language film with a French title Ceci nest pas une Animation (This is not an Animation) is a Sheridan College thesis film directed by Federico Kempke.  Utilizing different animation styles to show mock interviews with a group of animators trying to make their project, the film felt overly self-referential and personally was not my favourite out of this line-up.  Then again, it is a short that opens with the dictionary definition of ‘pretentious’ on screen, and perhaps that pretty much sums it up.


10 mins., 18 secs.

Directed by Olivia Lindren from the Langara College Film Arts Production program, Drifter is a Western following a female bounty hunter (Marissa Burton) as she crosses paths with the man she is trying to take in.  While it was obviously an ambitious production, the acting is not the strongest compared to other films in the shorts program, and there is nothing inherently unique to the film other than it being a Western and shot as period piece.


6 mins., 02 secs.

A film by a group of nine stop-motion animation students from Sheridan College, Feathers is a collectively-directed effort.  In the vein of classic animation, the story is sort of strange and fantastical – telling the story of a little girl who is turning into a bird, and her mother coming to terms with it (likely a metaphor for growing up and ‘leaving the nest’).  The film harkens back to classic animated shorts that suspended reality to tell a story, and uses only music and no dialogue while accomplishing this.

Les Beiges (w/ Engl. Sub.)

10 mins., 52 secs.

A 10 minute short documentary from Quebec, Les Beiges gives us a brief glimpse into a group of people who drift old fixed up cars on a race track.  It is a mostly visual film and is well shot, acting as a simple observation of the people who inhabit the track.  The film is directed by Étienne Lacelle, and is French with English subtitles.

My Invisible Mother

3 mins., 21 secs.

Directed by Pascal Huynh and made by the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in a Montréal/Melbourne co-production, My Invisible Mother is a very brief documentary where a man describes being given up for adoption by his mother whom he never met.  The first half is told in stylized stop-motion animation, the second where we see the speaker.  It feels like it could be a slightly longer film, but what is there is interesting and opens a discussion about adoption.

Nothing Grows Here

16 mins., 31 secs.

Directed by Lauren Belanger from Ryerson University, Nothing Grows Here is a dry comedic short film about an 11-year-old girl who discovers she no longer has a heartbeat.  With the help of another kid in her class, Charlie, she has to figure out what she is missing in her life in order to get her heartbeat back.  It is a strange premise, but strange premises often work as short films, as this one does here.  The two kid actors (TJ McGibbon as Rachel, and Nicolas Aqui as Charlie) are both good as are the other cast members (in particular the mother – Joanne Latimer), with all involved delivering the lines with just the right level of straight comedy to make the film work.


6 mins.

Using original video from 2006 and parts reshot in 2016, director Ella Mikkola (a Finnish filmmaker studying at the University of Regina) has created a film that plays like memory fragments.  The experimental film of the bunch, SAARI to me felt like the longest 6 minutes in the program.  I’m sure it’s well done for an experimental film, but I must be honest that the style is not really my cup of tea.

The Land of Nod

15 mins., 41 secs.

Directed by Ivan Ramin Radnik from Humber College, The Land of Nod is an assured piece carried by the performance its main actor.  The quiet short film follows a young man named Nicholas (Ryan Rosery) who is bullied by classmates, and spends much of his time alone or with a seemingly single friend.  Over the course of the piece we discover his father’s violent past and Nicholas’ own fears that he may end up like him.  The film is well shot and realized, telling its story in a simple, human way.

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