Winter! We’re certainly in the ick of it. For some, the cold weather makes it an ideal time to stay inside, keep warm, and watch something good (perhaps a slate of short films?). For others, that retreat inwards can be precisely what makes it feel so stifling, as the temperature insists the season is a time to bide — a chance to think about what we’ll do once the world outdoors warms up a little. Call it emotional hibernation.
Good thing every season is different, then. While winter isn’t my favourite season, I’m still grateful for the perspective it provides when summer finally arrives. Taken together, these seasons, these changes, give the year a sense of structure, and I don’t think I could do away with that.
But what’s remarkable is how the nine short films of this year’s Not Short on Talent selection at Clermont-Ferrand 2023 are a perfect example of this framework for change.
The programme begins with a visual arrangement: Four seasons bouquet, Emma Roufs’ experimental document of a garden, one alive with flora and birds and insects. Darting to and fro as if it were one of the many dragonflies, Roufs’ camera captures the busyness, the sheer entropy, of an ecosystem over a year, all in under four wordless minutes.
There’s a scene in Simon Paluck’s Insta Gay, the next short, where Michael, a thirty-something millennial disaffected by the anti-social aspects of online culture, walks a chilly Toronto street with his roommate. They’re both bundled in winter gear. A jogger, also an influencer, runs by without a shirt on, and it’s as if summer itself showed up just to rub it in. A tease, then; one kind of like the short itself, which closes on Michael prepping for a new chapter in his life: It’s time to fight fire emoji with fire emoji. It’s time… to go blond.
Simon Garez is a filmmaker, but he’s also a beekeeper. In Gentle Hum of Spring, he mixes both passions for a thoughtful narrative study on the family profession. The snow is thawing in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, and as life begins (and needs) to buzz again, the colonies of one sleepy apiary, tended by a young man, lie motionless on the floor. Dedicated to his father, Garez’ short is a special type of personal.
Little bits of colour spring back in Blue Garden, Natalie Murao’s return to the Not Short on Talent programme (No More Parties played Clermont-Ferrand in 2021). In this animation / documentary hybrid, Murao digs into the history of her grandfather, her ojiichan, a Japanese man interned at Solsqua, British Columbia, during the Second World War. Through this investigation, equal parts thoughtful and open, Murao gains insight into why she’s never liked tomatoes.
You have to appreciate a title like Making Babies. Frankly, it doesn’t shy away from what it’s all about. But that’s the overall vibe of Éric K. Boulianne’s real and hilarious dramedy, which plays its story of a couple desperately trying to procreate — window after window, week after week — straight up. I won’t spoil what’s made of the situation by the end, but I’m happy to report: What begins in winter ends warmly in summer.
Street skateboarding. It’s a reclaiming of the urban environment. Really, it’s the freedom to do what you want, where you want, when you want to do it. In the short documentary Summer Nights, Virgile Ratelle follows a group of teenage skaters busy maximizing their time before they face the realities of adulthood, which they’re rapidly kick-pushing towards. Tricks are landed, sunrises are watched, decisions to go blond — there it is again — are made.
Summer Nights is chased by Ryan Steel’s Late Summer, an equally rad coming-of-age comedy that brings old-timey analog weirdness to a summer camp setting. Did I mention the camp is haunted? The camp is haunted. A legendary ghost is just one of Steel’s creative surprises as he follows a mute loner navigating the awkwardness of pre-adolescence, and the richness of this oddity is a truly memorable end to the season.
On the subject of ghosts, the house central to Antoine Foley-Dupont’s Paper Stairs is also haunted. Not literally, but… possibly. Maybe it depends on your definition of “haunted.” Either way, this autumnal short is an ode to the indelible memories families leave on a home, which, in the case of Paper Stairs, is about to be sold on the market. That this film is set in fall feels inspired; fall, naturally, being an end of bounty. A time to give thanks and celebrate the good times before the cold arrives.
Finally, “Seasons, Change” culminates with Brielle LeBlanc’s The Year Long Boulder, a poetic ode to living with a weighty question for a full 365 or so. Billy, a poet, isn’t sure if the person they’ve been spending time with is moving towards romance. Are things strictly platonic? With the help of their roommate, Dylan, Billy’s way of addressing these feelings is to sit with them, to write about them. In doing so, Billy evokes a seaside boulder through reflective poetry, and as summer rolls around, they’re determined to say what’s on their mind — rejection be damned.
For more on this work, check out Emotional Rocks, an in-depth interview with LeBlanc on the making of their debut short. As for Clermont-Ferrand ‘23, because it runs through late January to early February, the event can feel like the beginning of an exciting year of shorts. It’s my hope that each of the filmmakers behind these nine amazing works, in addition to digging into the event itself, have wonderful seasons ahead of them.
Not Short on Talent is powered by Telefilm Canada. This programme screens at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Market, Wednesday February 1, 2 p.m. CEST – Georges-Conchon Theatre. The programme aims to increase the visibility of new Canadian short films, and to promote talent to professionals from international markets, including buyers and festival programmers. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jake Howell is a Toronto-based writer and freelance film programmer.