In addition to screening hundreds of feature films every year, the Toronto International Film Festival (kicking off on Thursday, September 7th and running to the 17th) boasts an exceptionally strong line-up of shorts. The Short Cuts Programme has become one of the most prominent showcases of short filmmaking in the world, but films functioning outside of the sexier, long-form norm can be found popping up throughout the festival in various sections, perhaps most notably in the daring, boundary pushing Wavelengths program. Sometimes feature films in many of TIFF’s other programs will be accompanied by like-minded shorts as a sort of appetizer for things to come. The array of short films and filmmakers is just as varied and diverse as the features that tend to overshadow these smaller cinematic accomplishments.

With that in mind, here’s a look at 40 shorts at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (listed in alphabetical order) that viewers won’t want to miss. For a full list of short films and programmes playing at TIFF, check out the TIFF website.

Airport

Airport

If one were to close their eyes while watching Swiss filmmaker Michaela Müller’s animated short, Airport, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they were actually in a bustling, functional, chaotic airport. Open your eyes, however, and be dazzled by the gorgeous paint-on-glass splendour that naturally captures key details, anxieties, and motions instantly recognizable in any airport experience. It’s a lovely slice of life.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 7

The Argument (with annotations)

Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cockburn (Weakend, You Are Here) returns to TIFF with this witty blending of semantics and melodrama. Starting off with a cinematic discussion on the nature of metaphor and intention (covering everything from The Big Lebowski to Alive to The Shining), Cockburn’s latest finds an unhappy professor utilizing her teachings in her own life (via the titular annotations serving as a running internal monologue). Not only a discussion about the use of metaphor in a literary and cinematic sense, Cockburn has also created a short that’s dripping with visual metaphor in its own right, building to a sumptuous, layered film.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 2

Bickford Park

Ambiguity and charm are two feelings that are hard to blend together, but filmmakers Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart have done just that with the black and white relationship comedy Bickford Park. A likable Liane Balaban stars as a young wife growing further apart from her garage rocker husband and finding companionship in a young man who’s teaching her how to skateboard. The underlying relationship issues contained within Bickford Park’s narrative are obvious, but the conflicted feelings of the film’s protagonist are realistically rendered and malleable thanks to astute plotting and Balaban’s dynamic performance.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 1

Bird

The directorial debut of actress Molly Parker, Bird casts Amanda Plummer as a transient woman returning home to visit her stressed out elderly mother and increasingly senile former marathon runner father. When the beloved family bird flies out the front door and dad goes walkabout, the returning daughter springs into action. Full of subtle nuances, great performances, and a wholly original story, Bird is an assured and confident first film from Parker, and one hopes she’ll make another one soon.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 3

Blue Christmas

Set in Scotland in the late 1960s, Charlotte Wells’ Blue Christmas spins the not so joyful yuletide tale of a tenacious debt collector (Jamie Robson) going from door to door on Christmas Eve to shake people down when he knows they’ll be home. While that could sustain a film fine enough on its own, Wells’ work travels closer into Ken Loach territory (which makes sense seeing that her film was shot by Loach’s frequent cinematographer) that casts her unlikable protagonist in the light of his crumbling home life, with a wife (Michelle Duncan) suffering from undiagnosed and unchecked mental illness and a young son (Lewis McGowan) pushed to the breaking point by both his parents. It’s the kind of film one wished would go on longer, but it says exactly what it needs to in a succinct and lovely manner.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 4

The Burden

The Burden

Singing sardines, soft-shoe dancing rats, and self-loathing call centre employees are just a few of the things viewers will see in the captivating, toe-tapping, and beautifully empathetic stop-motion animated musical The Burden. Swedish filmmaker Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s ode to loneliness told through the eyes of folks trying to work or sleep through another solitary or unfulfilling night is packed to bursting with great music, original visuals, and humane insights. Did I mention it was a musical? Did I mention the singing fish?

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

Catastrophe

This lightning paced and visually and narratively elaborate animated set piece from Dutch filmmaker Jamille Van Wijngaarden finds a housecat desperately trying to not get blamed for the apparent natural causes death of the family bird. It goes by quickly, but Wijngaarden packs a lot of laughs and flash into just a couple of minutes.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

Creatura Dada

One of the shortest, but most visually powerful shorts to make this list, Caroline Monnet’s Creatura Dada casts indigenous women (including legendary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin) as attendees of an opulent dinner party. A striking portrait of empowerment and femininity, Monnet’s percussive short leaves a visual and emotional impression on the viewer greater than its short running time might suggest.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 3

Crème de menthe

This tragicomic Canadian short from filmmakers Philippe David Gagné and Jean-Marc E. Roy might take its name from one of the most nausea inducing liqueurs ever created (you know this is true and there’s no telling me otherwise), but the film built around it is eminently likable and moving. A woman (a wonderful Charlotte Aubin) travels back to her hometown for the funeral of her semi-estranged Rush worshiping father, only to find that her dad’s former landlord wants his former tenant’s unit to be emptied out by the end of the week. It’s a task easier said than done considering that mom is very little help and it turned out that dad was a bit of a hoarder. But through this frustrated hero’s journey, a catharsis comes, and it’s quite lovely. This one is guaranteed to make you smile.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

The Crying Conch

Canadian filmmaker Vincent Toi’s ambitious and artistically fascinating reimagining of Creole history and myth takes a lot of different storytelling techniques, mixes them up, and comes up with something timeless. Set against the backdrop of Guinea slaves being sent to work in Haiti in the 18th century, but played out by performers working with modern sensibilities and told from the overarching perspective of an orated history, The Crying Conch is insightful, intelligent, playful, and entertaining.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 5

Dislocation Blues

Dislocation Blues

Sky Hopkina’s innovative documentary look at the 2016 Standing Rock protests eschews big picture significance to tell smaller, more intimate stories of the First Nations resistance from perspectives within the movement that are often ignored. Dislocation Blues expertly shows how the personal is almost always political, but it also functions as a well constructed text that dives deeply, but subtly into media manipulation and the double edged sword of nostalgia. There’s a lot to process here, but it’s worth it.

Where to find it:

Wavelengths 1: Appetite for Destruction

Drop by Drop

Inhabitants of a dying community with a dwindling population talk about life on the margins and their plans for the future in Portuguese animator Xá and documentarian Laura Gonçalves’ artful and poignant blending of gorgeous, hand drawn black and white illustration and real life interviews. The community being described by the recordings of these people is never glimpsed, but it sounds appropriately surreal, making the marriage of animation and documentary technique a perfect fit for Drop by Drop.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 3

The Drop In

Up and coming writer-director Naledi Jackson’s The Drop In (featured in the image at the top of the page) is an assured work that’s best viewed by knowing as little as possible about how the plot works outside of saying that it starts when a beauty salon worker is stopped from closing up by a woman begging to get her braids fixed. Outside of saying that, The Drop In is revolutionary in this year’s short selection for several reasons: it plays out entirely between two black female leads (Mouna Traoré and Oluniké Adeliyi), it’s the only subtle sci-fi short in this year’s line-up (with echoes of Blade Runner), and it’s the only short this year (that I’ve seen) to feature a full on action sequence. It’s great, but that’s all I want to tell you outside of a parting word to say that I can’t wait to see what Jackson does next.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 7

A Drowning Man

A Palestinian refugee living on the streets of Athens struggles, hustles, and desperately attempts to scrounge up enough food for a comfortable meal and some smokes in Mahdi Fleifel’s kinetic and heart-wrenching drama A Drowning Man. Effectively placing the viewer into the shoes of someone in a bad situation driven to worse places by desperate, but basic human needs, Fleifel has created a tragic, bracing commentary for our times.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 5

For Nonna Anna

A raw, but moving familial portrait, Luis de Filippis’ For Nonna Anna concerns a teenage transwoman (YouTube star Maya Henry) caring for her frail, Italian speaking grandmother during what feels like a time of need for both women. Delicate and easily identifiable to anyone who has ever had to care for an elderly loved on, For Nonna Anna builds to a moment of great tenderness and recognition that builds a bridge between generations with a single glance.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 3

A Gentle Night

A Gentle Night

Qiu Yang picked up the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes this year for his riveting and immediate look at a Chinese mother trying desperately to locate her missing daughter. Fed up with what she sees as police inaction, she sets out on an all night journey for answers. Played out in sprawling, expertly choreographed shots from atypical perspectives, A Gentle Night flips the script on a genre staple that was in danger of growing stale. We’ve all seen plenty of films where grieving parents search for missing children, but never one like this.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Program 7

Grandmother (?Etsu)

The latest short film from Trevor Mack, Grandmother finds a young indigenous child fascinated by his grandmother’s old VHS camcorder. Seeing the camera not only as an escape from a life dominated by a less than exemplary or understanding surrogate father figure, but also as a way to reconnect to his beloved grandmother, the boy’s journey starts off poignant, but builds to a grand tragedy with stark, timely relevance. It’s moving, gutting, must-see filmmaking.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 3

Great Choice

“At Red Lobster, for a limited time, enjoy 30 shrimp for just $10.99, with our famous fried shrimp, succulent scampi, lemon pepper shrimp, and our delicious grilled shrimp. That’s four different kinds! That’s 30 shrimp on one plate for $10.99, and only at one place…”

Where to find it:

Screening as part of Midnight Madness before the feature Mom and Dad

homer_b

If the description for the short just above this one seems inscrutable to you, then I can’t even try to explain or contextualize the latest creepy, weirdly comic offering from Astron-6 members Milos Mitrovic and Connor Sweeney. It’s, um, related to The Simpsons… uh… somewhat… and… well, it might be the strangest thing I have seen since that guy dressed up as a cut rate Max Headroom and pirated a TV broadcast.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 7

An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking

Another oddball that almost defies rational explanation, Sol Friedman’s animated and wholly hypothetical vision of a bro-down on the beach between rap’s biggest mouthpiece and the world’s most renowned cosmologist might push the boundaries of good taste for some, but there’s no denying that this short contains some huge belly laughs. Growing stranger and more ridiculous as it goes along, Friedman’s tête-à-tête between two of pop culture’s most instantly recognizable figureheads throws whatever it comes up with at the wall, and shockingly almost all of it sticks. At any rate, viewers will never be able to look at Drake or Bryan Cranston the same way again.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 1

Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month

Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month

At a gas station in The Philippines on the verge of going out of business, a once dedicated employee stops giving any sort of a shit in Carlo Francisco Manatad’s black comedy Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month. Sometimes in gleefully bad taste and filmed with a gritty, grimy visual sensibility, but always riveting and relatable, it’s a spectacularly realized yarn based around a good employee gone hilariously bad.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

La Libertad

The latest project from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnographic Lab (Leviathan, Manakamana), La Libertad finds Laura Huertas Millán observing female weavers plying their trade in Mexico. An unfiltered look at craftsmanship, the creative process, and even consumer culture on a subtextual level, La Libertad is just as entrancing and potentially hypnotic as other offerings in the Ethnographic Lab’s filmography, but astute viewers will be thinking longer and harder about what’s happening outside the margins of this observational documentary than some of their other offerings rather than dwelling exclusively on what’s happening within the frame.

Where to find it:

Wavelengths 4: As above, so below

Latched

A dancer and single mother brings her still breast feeding toddler away on a retreat to a cabin in the woods to focus on her next gig as a choreographer and wean her son onto the bottle. What could have been comic in its own right takes an inspired, creative, and bonkers horror movie twist in Canadian filmmakers Justin Hardin and Rob Brunner’s Latched when a mysterious, monstrous creature is awakened to turn the woman’s life into a nightmare. It’s a strange one, but certainly memorable and entertaining.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

Lira’s Forest

Although the still incredibly young and immeasurably talented Canadian artist Connor Jessup might be known best to festival audiences as the break-out star of feature films Blackbird and Closet Monster, he has amassed quite a C.V. of directorial efforts worth noting. The fantastical and austere Lira’s Forest is a great addition to Jessup’s filmmaking career. Playing out like a live action sequence from a Miyazaki film, Lira’s Forest is a simple encounter between an elderly woman with emphysema sitting on her porch and a child-like, silent creature in a cat mask. A poignant look at staying young, growing old, and the power of wonder, Lira’s Forest is a quiet little marvel.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 8

Midnight Confessions

Midnight Confessions, the latest off-the-wall comedy from director, star, and co-writer Maxwell McCabe Lokos (someone I hope has a film at the festival every year until he gets tired of making them), is the side-splitting and more than slightly pathetic tale of a pathological liar calling up former friends in the middle of the night from his West Berlin shithole apartment circa 1989. The caller wants to rebuild burned bridges and let those he aggrieved say how they really feel about him, but things don’t go so well. A fascinating and funny look at the nature of guilt, Midnight Confessions is a grimy delight.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 7

Möbius

Möbius

One of the most haunting and best written films in this year’s shorts programme is Sam Kuhn’s mash-up of noir, teen movies, and transcendental cinema, Möbius. Told largely from the inner monologue of a teenager trying to piece together the disappearance of her boyfriend, Kuhn’s film starts in a place of visual splendour and narrative delicacy before exploding outward in surprising, elegant fashion. It’s stylish, unnerving, playful, and not to be missed.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

Mother (Madre)

Not to be confused with the latest feature from Darren Aronofsky that’s also playing this year’s festival, Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s intense, largely single take thriller focuses on a single Spanish mother (Marta Nieto) who gets a call from her young son from a French beach. The boy’s father has seemingly disappeared, the battery on the child’s phone is dying, and the young man has no idea the name of the beach. Tapping into a primal, unimaginable fear to great effect, Mother is one of the most thrilling shorts of the festival.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 2

Nuuca

Canadian filmmaker and documentarian Michelle Latimer returns to the festival with Nucca, a haunting, stripped down look at the alarming and unacceptable number of missing and endangered indigenous women. Over shots of a North Dakota reservation that has become a hotbed for oil drilling, a young woman talks about the day her community stopped feeling like a safe place to live. Nuuca takes a vital, often overlooked issue and strips it back to its painful, harrowing essence.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 5

Onward Lossless Follows

Filmmaker Michael Robinson’s avant garde short begins with the sounds of a preacher talking about predestination and temperament, but this entrancing, moving, and unnerving work of cinematic art evolves into something unexpected. Expertly blending strobing effects, text, subtext, slowed down stock footage, audio cues, and music to almost symphonic effect, Robinson has crafted one of the best (and hard to explain) art films of the year.

Where to find it:

Wavelengths 1: Appetite for Destruction

The President’s Visit

Providing the biggest number of hearty belly laughs of any film on this list, Cyril Aris’ The President’s Visit concerns a small Lebanese fishing village that’s whipped into a frenzy when a local soap maker lets it slip that the country’s leader is buying some of his artisanal soaps for his “cleansing” of the country’s corrupt political landscape. What was supposed to be a secret trip to the town turns into an all out frenzy with people going out of their way (and in some cases, outright lying) in an effort to impress the president. Aris’ cast is comedically gifted across the board, and the director can get just as much mileage out of a well timed sound effect happening in the distance as he can from the film’s sharply written dialogue and message.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 3

Rose Gold

Rose Gold

Canadian filmmaker Sara Cwynar’s purposefully colourful and vibrant Rose Gold unfolds at a blistering pace, painting a picture of consumerism as a form of near mania. Expertly edited, Cwynar looks at vanishing ways of life, branding, nostalgia, and how many rabid consumers give in to objectification in such an accomplished fashion that it never feels overwhelming. This is smart filmmaking made for smart people.

Where to find it:

Wavelengths 3: Figures in a Landscape

Rupture

The children of Syrian refugees now living in Canada attempt to adjust to cultural and language shifts in filmmaker Yassmina Karajah’s heartbreaking and profound second short. A cautious young man and his sister (Assad al Arid and Salam al Marzouqi, who like the rest of the primary cast are non-actors) set out with some more adventurous friends to find a local swimming pool and shopping mall to pass the time. Gradually, a secret will be revealed that the brother has been hiding from his sister, but even prior to Rupture’s big reveal, Karajah’s film functions as a timely and perceptive look at struggles into integrate into a new culture after leaving tragic circumstances behind.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 1

Scaffold

Toronto filmmaker Kazik Radwanski (Tower, How Heavy This Hammer) returns to the festival this year in the Wavelengths programme with this deceptively simple look at a pair of contractors (Jasmin Geljo and Igor Drljaca) as they work on a home in Toronto’s Danforth area. Never showing the faces of anyone involved with the renovation (but curiously showing those of people across the laneway and street) Scaffold seems experimental and almost banal at first, but gradually stories begin to form and emotions are stirred thanks to Radwanski’s unique method of placing viewers at an almost waist-level view of the action. It’s a fascinating work from one of Canada’s best working filmmakers.

Where to find it:

Screening before Denis Côté observational documentary feature, A Skin so Soft (Ta peau si lisse)

Shadow Nettes

A great performative piece full of movement and surreal delights should be able to tell a viewer any number of stories without bombarding them with too much unecessary detail, and that’s precisely what Phillip Barker’s black-and-white-and-nearly-wordless short Shadow Nettes does splendidly. Depicting fishermen who like to capture shadows, it’s a film so expertly designed and choreographed that almost no explanation is needed to get attuned to its singular wavelength.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 8

Signature

The definition of a slow-burn, this patient, but worthwhile film from Japanese filmmaker Kei Chikaura starts out by following a skittish, ear-bud wearing Chinese tourist as he attempts to navigate a bustling Tokyo commercial centre. What begins as a low-key fish out of water story and observational drama quickly turns into something humane and moving following a key revelation about this young man’s journey. It’s a revelation worth waiting around for.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 8

The Tesla World Light

The Tesla World Light

One of the world’s greatest and unrecognized inventors contemplates his life and research in a letter penned to one of his greatest funders – J.P. Morgan – in Canadian filmmaker Matthew Rankin’s visually dazzling blend of documentary, fictional filmmaking, outsider art, and animation. The Tesla World Light creatively blends a lot of dissimilar techniques with such unique precision that it becomes a lovely reflection of its titular historical figurehead.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 6

The Treehouse

Latin American filmmaker Juan Sebastián Quebrada’s The Treehouse would be hilarious if it didn’t feel so realistic and lived in that it almost becomes uncomfortable. In The Treehouse, a woman moves into a new apartment with her long term lover, but in the process of getting settled in she starts to learn that her boyfriend isn’t who she first thought he was. A picture perfect look at falling in and out of love and the remorse people feel when they learn the truth about someone, The Treehouse is complex and understanding in ways that few shorts about doomed relationships could ever achieve.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 4

Turtles Are Always Home

At turns eerie and calming, Rawane Nassif’s observational film travels to the seemingly deserted and quiet Qanat Quarter of Doha, Qatar. Paying close attention to the tackily fabricated facades of storefronts and buildings that are designed to look like visitors are anywhere but Qatar, Nassif has crafted something that runs counter to filmmaking convention. By looking at the glossy artifice straight on and remaining silent, Nassif’s film is the rare example where reflections in a pane of glass are more telling and honest than the actual foreground image.

Where to find it:

Wavelengths 2: Fluid Frontiers

We Forgot to Break Up

Writer, journalist filmmaker, and music video director Chandler Levack’s adaptation of Kayt Burgess’ novel Heidegger’s Stairwell concerns, Evan (Jesse Todd), a former manager for a band that’s reached the big time following his acrimonious, sudden, but emotionally understandable split from the group. Returning out of nowhere after four years to tell his former clients that he has written a tell-all book about the band and his life stirs up plenty of mixed feelings. Levack, who still has quite the career ahead of her, has proven to be a master of characterization, creating deeper personalities and connections in a short film than many accomplished filmmakers could over an entire feature. Add to Levack’s talents a top notch cast (including Grace Glowicki, Cara Gee, Dov Tiefenbach, and co-writer Stephen McCarthy) and one ends up with an exceptionally moving backstage drama.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 5

We Love Moses

A story of young people crushing on each other with a twist, British filmmaker Dionne Edwards We Love Moses is a smart and witty look at how teenage girls can experiment and explore their sexuality while their male peers are often too consumed by proving their masculinity at the same age. Grade eight student Ella (a wonderful Danaë Jean Marie) develops a crush for her big brother’s best friend, Moses (Jerome Holder), but the relationship between the two men isn’t what Ella initially expected. Edwards’ thoughtfully assembled script and direction offers up a multi-layered look at the pressures faced by teens when they try to subscribe to pre-determined, rigid societal norms.

Where to find it:

Short Cuts Programme 5

For a full list of shorts, features, events, tickets, and all other things TIFF related, please visit the TIFF website.

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