The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second day was unusually specific in its program, devoting itself to short films that explored “innocence being encroached upon by outside forces” and a pair of horror-thriller features set around the sex industry. It was an impressive night of screenings, but also one that certainly made demands of its audience.
The “Paradise Lost” block of shorts was long on atmosphere and scares but slim on explication. Most films chose to grab their shocks and get out rather than flesh out their worlds. Faye Jackson’s The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs (2018) recalled Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse (part of SFFF’s program from 2016 and now titled simply The Cleanse). The short considers the situation of its title character who extracts her sense of anxiety of herself, hides it in a tin, and faces down some dark, ominous threat that stalks her outside her home. Jackson’s film is wonderfully constructed, full of humour and dreadful tension, and its quality therefore demands more of itself, needing to unpack its conflict and its resolution before letting its credits roll. And the same could be said of other shorts in the block. Milk (Santiago Menghini, 2018) is a chilling tale of a boy trapped between two unsettling maternal figures and choses aesthetics over explanation. Wild (Morgana McKenzie, 2018) is a pastoral fantasy about a girl’s encounter with a magical, deadly, and ultimately unresolved female figure in her uncle’s cornfield. Saturn Through the Telescope (Dídac Gimeno, 2018) follows a boy’s efforts to watch a scary movie at home and is a slickly made and energetic short, while Make a Stand (Camille Aigloz, Lucy Vallin, Michiru Baudet, Simon Anding Malandin, Diane Tran Duc, and Margo Roguelaure, 2017) is a gorgeously animated film set in pre-Columbian Mexico and that seems to tease a supernatural spectacle that never arrives. Uncertainty is a great tool of the macabre, but its best used as a lacuna where meaningful questions spring forth. These shorts are uniformly affective and expertly fashioned, sure to be enjoyed by viewers. My only wish is that these films more fully met their narrative challenges as well as the aesthetic ones.
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival has upgraded the apparatus with its 2018 edition. That means fewer midnight screenings in favour of an extra day of programming, a 3-hour cartoon and cereal party, a snazzy new booklet, new voting ballots, some clever bumpers running before the screenings, sponsorships and promotions from Vinegar Syndrome and Shudder, and even an after party with cast and crew of Supergrid. And with turnout for Day 1 looking robust, Festival Director John Allison and his team must be feeling positive about the prospects for this year. There’s always a desire to find a theme to a given day’s program but finding a common thread between Anna and the Apocalypse (John McPhail, 2018), Rock Steady Row (Trevor Stevens, 2018), Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983), and their supporting short films is something of a challenge. At best, it might be said that most of these films attend to breakdowns in community and some very unlikely ways to reassemble them.
Merry Christmas from MMC!
This year, MMC! brings you good tidings of great joy by way of the Film Junk short, A Very Gerry X-Mas! (Jay Cheel, 2010). Starring Reed Harrington, made by Jay Cheel (director of another MMC! favourite – Beauty Day), and featuring a brilliant opening sequence by Rob Niosi, A Very Gerry X-Mas! provides a quirky, awkward take on traditional holiday television programming. Part cooking show, part instructional video, part video confessional, part dream sequence, part fireside reading, this is all tongue-in-cheek, holiday goodness.
Happy holidays to everyone out there! Stay safe!
(And our next post will go up before the end of the year … and this time I mean it!)
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day was even more massive than expected. With a packed program and an extra short film (moved from the previous day due to a technical issue), there was little downtime between screenings and the Festival’s final midnight show started late and wrapped well past 2:30 a.m. Those that saw the marathon day of screenings to its bleary end enjoyed without question the SFFF’s best block of films (plus some welcome giveaways for lucky attendees).
There’s a running joke in Bill Watterson’s Dave Made a Maze (2017), a film about a man who builds a massive cardboard maze (bigger inside than out) and then gets trapped within it. As Dave’s friend Gordon (Adam Busch) repeatedly points out, the maze is full of traps, making it, in fact, a labyrinth. Day 3 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival offered a disparate collection of films – a comedy recounting a slacker’s epic quest in a DIY fortress; a trippy, coming-of-age, prom night parable; a genre-mixing, science fiction blockbuster; and a dreamy descent into a housewife’s trauma and a cult’s terrifying prophecy. Each offers its own twists and turns, finding new dangers as they progress through corrugated caverns, genre conventions, and layered realities. In fact, they’re all labyrinths in their own ways.
Even before I arrived in Saskatoon, I felt like Fantastic Film Festival-action was meeting me like a herald of things to come. It had something to do with the man waiting at my flight’s gate conspicuously wearing a black eyepatch that threatened spy movie villainy. It also had something to do with the man behind me in security and his laptop that tested positive for “explosive residue.” Fortunately for me, action-thrillers weren’t slated until Day 2 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival and my flight proceeded without complication, bringing me to Day 1 of SFFF and a block of films featuring some disturbed title characters.