Of the 397 films screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, 101 of them are shorts. The offerings contained within in the Short Cuts programme – which as of recent years has expanded beyond just Canadian shorts to include films from around the world – range just as wildly in tone, approach, genre, and content as the feature films. Often within the same programme viewers can delight to an animated feature, a documentary, a comedy, a thriller, and sometimes unclassifiable works of art.

With so many choices (and more if we include the shorts programmes showcased in the more avant garde Wavelengths program, all of which are quite the experience), reviewing all of the films on their own merits would take an entire team as large as the one that already programs shorts for the festival.

With that in mind, we highly recommend you check out some shorts programmes at the festival this year (since there are more than just 25 great shorts screening), but for those looking for specific recommendations, here IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER are the Top 25 Shorts to catch at TIFF 2016*.

(*- that we could see by press time)

 

3 Way

3-Way (Not Calling)

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 1

In Canadian filmmaker Molly McGlynn’s uproariously funny comedy, a middle aged couple (Emma Hunter and Kristian Bruun, showcasing fabulous chemistry and comic timing) try to spice up their sex life by trolling Craigslist for someone to have a threesome with. When that doesn’t pan out, they turn to a considerably younger barista (Emily Coutts) to be a part of their tryst. Things get awkward in this deftly written and performed look at sexual maturation and malaise.

 

All Rivers Run to the Sea

All Rivers Run to the Sea

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 4

Amid crippling grief following the death of his mother, Radu (Daniel Popa) struggles to suppress his anger towards family members and bureaucrats while planning her funeral in Romanian filmmaker Alexandru Badea’s sorrowful and purposefully angst ridden reflection on life, death, social status, and procedure. It’s highly recommended for those already interested in similarly minded TIFF ’16 features Manchester by the Sea and Old Stone.

 

Bargain

Bargain

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 6

I could tell about halfway through Korean filmmaker Lee Chung-hyun’s expertly composed, tough talking short exactly where this tale of a sex worker dressed as a school girl and her lecherous john was headed, but that didn’t dampen the fun of the reveal. Told in a single, sometimes complex 13 minute take, Bargain pulls a clever rope-a-dope with the audience, lulling them in with a lot of conversation and misdirection before a satisfying twist.

 

Because the World Never Stops

Because the World Never Stops

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 2

Cobbled together from B-roll filmed culled from the cameras of Sweden’s SVT newsroom, this quirky, consistently amusing documentary look at what news anchors do during video packages and weather reports from filmmakers Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson looks candidly at the artifice behind the supposedly controlled and stoic nature of the nightly news. They capture outtakes, goofs, people talking about their weekend plans, and possibly one of the most awkward sports reporters ever.

 

Black Head Cow

Black Head Cow

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 5

Although this short about a bright, studious young girl in a Massai village trying to come to terms with an unfair arranged marriage is brilliantly directed by Elizabeth Nichols, the real accomplishment is the detailed, emotional, and nuanced story and performances delivered by students at a school in Tanzania. These kids have come up with something few adults could ever hope to match, especially in their country, and Nichols does right by their material and experience.

 

Blind Vaysha

Blind Vaysha

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 2

Split screens are put to clever use in this NFB produced animated fable from Bulgarian-Canadian filmmaker Theodore Ushev. It’s a gorgeously rendered look at a young girl with a special, but less than convenient gift. One of her eyes can only see into the past, while the other can only see into the future. It’s a subtle plea for the virtues of living in the present, and one of the best looking animations in a festival packed with some great animated features and shorts.

 

Decorado copy

Decorado

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 9

Another animated feature is this silly and surreal entry from Spanish filmmaker Alberto Vázquez. Told via a series of increasingly bizarre, but increasingly hilarious and sad vignettes that act almost like episodes, a rodent questions if his existence is real or all part of some elaborate stage or television show. It’s a weird one, but a very funny and thoughtful one.

 

 

Gods Acre

 

Gods Acre

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 7

Veteran Canadian character actors Lorne Cardinal gets the leading role he always deserved in this debut short from Fort McMurray, Alberta filmmaker Kelton Stepanowich. Cardinal plays Frank, an obstinate old man who refuses to leave his Cree family’s ancestral home despite rising floodwaters, the urging of Crown authorities, and an increasingly harsh way of life. It’s a story of an increasingly depressed man who wants to die where he’s always lived, and Frank might just get his wish. It looks outstanding, and it’s the best performance of Cardinal’s exceptional career.

 

Green

Green

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 6

Mexican filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios creates a pressure cooker environment among the heavily armed security guards inside a flimsily fortified armoured car in this intense character study. It’s a thankless job, carting around money for wealthy businesses in such an impoverished country devoid of many opportunities, but the story kicks into high gear when the driver of the truck gets the notion that he might be able to make a run for it with a significant amount of cash. There isn’t a ton of action, but Ruizpalacios employs plenty of stylish tricks to make the film feel like an expertly crafted thriller.

 

Half a Man

Half a Man

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 4

Croatian filmmaker Kristina Kumric tells the story of Mia, age 10, and Lorena, age 12, sisters anxiously awaiting their father’s release from a POW camp in 1991. The callous Mia and the sorrowful Lorena (wonderfully played by Janja Avdagic and Leonarda Zivkovic) don’t know what to expect from the fateful day, but Kumric perfectly captures the scars left behind by great trauma on both those who experience it and the loved ones who have to deal with the repercussions.

 

The Hedonists

The Hedonists

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 8

Chinese master filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) returns to the festival this year (after serving on the inaugural Platform jury last year) with a short instead of a feature. In what might be his funniest film to date, a trio of out of work coal miners try their luck at becoming bodyguards and theme park actors with disastrous results. If The Three Stooges ditched slapstick for subtly witty, high minded, socially conscious satire, The Hedonists would be the result.

 

Late Night Drama copy

Late Night Drama

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 3

The second of two films on this list to be told in a single take, Canadian director Patrice Laliberté (winner of the Short Cuts prize for Best Canadian Short last year with Overpass) tells viscerally engaging and energetic tale of an irate young drug dealer trying to track down his girlfriend at a nightclub on a snowy night. It feels dangerous and unpredictable, but also boasts a lot of clever details, technical acumen, and subtle, yet deep characterization. Laliberté is definitely ready to make the jump to features if his shorts are this outstanding.

 

Last Leatherman of the Vale of Cashmere

The Last Leatherman of the Vale of Cashmere

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 8

Don’t let the animated, ejaculating penises over the opening titles fool you. While director Greg Loser’s look at an aging, leather clad cruiser still trying to score some action in a Brooklyn park no longer known for its rampant sexual activity is definitely hilarious, it’s also an elegiac character study and paean to a lost way of life. Not everyone likes progress, but even under what some people think of as less than ideal situations, there are still unexpected moments of brightness and hope, even for Loser’s delightfully curmudgeonly main character.

 

A New Home

A New Home

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 6

Solvenian director Ziga Virc crafts a sleek, sparse, and horrific suspense thriller set against the current refugee crisis. A woman (Nina Rakovec) takes an apartment in a an otherwise empty building that’s across from an equally unoccupied building soon to be housing refugees from a nearby tent community. Virc ratchets up the paranoia once the woman starts suspecting that there’s a mysterious figure in her supposedly empty building. It builds to a twist ending that’s both tragic and darkly satirical.

 

Oh What a Wonderful Feeling

Oh What a Wonderful Feeling

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 10

A stunning selection from Cannes’ critics week earlier this year, Canadian filmmaker François Jaros’ looks at the dream-like (often nightmarish) goings on at a rural Quebec truck stop through the eyes of a young sex worker whose pimp drops her and a bunch of other girls off there every night. Nearly wordless, purposefully chilly looking to match the wintry weather at night, and boasting the best cinematography of any short this year (courtesy of Olivier Gossot), Oh What a Wonderful Feeling is the best Canadian short at the festival this year. It’s as haunting as it is complex.

 

 

The Road to Webequie

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 9

This Canadian documentary from Ryan Noth and Tess Girard looks at two First Nations teens and a bright seven year old questioning just how much prosperity a proposed 500 km. mining road to Thunder Bay would bring to their economically depressed community. It’s often said about most major endeavours that people don’t ask the right questions when those with big wallets come around to talk about progress, but here Noth and Girard look at some exceptional young people who are asking not just tangible questions about their lives and community, but also larger existential ones that people with greater “maturity” often overlook. It’s a look at the fear brought on by years of false hope told through the eyes of those with the most to lose.

 

Romantik

Romantik

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 1

Mateusz Rakowicz looks at the dark side of human nature and prejudice towards outsiders with this tale of a Polish traveller Stanislav (Robert Wieckiewicz) attempting to take his girlfriend on a surprise trip to Paris. Things take a dark turn when a thief takes off with his cell phone, and upon returning from his chase to get it back, he notices his girlfriend has disappeared with the luggage that contains his passport, leading authorities, business owners, and passerby to think he’s either a refugee, an illegal immigrant, a pervert, or a con artist. Rakowicz’s look at what has become of human kindness isn’t easy to take, but certainly a pointed, well crafted discussion starter that will force viewers into looking inside themselves before passing judgment on a stranger.

 

Samedi Cinemas copy

Samedi Cinema

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 1

Filmmaker Mamadou Dia takes a look at a pair of Senegalese best friends who will do anything to score tickets to the final film showing at their soon to be shuttered local cinema: Malcolm X. They usually just peek in through a hold in the cinema wall to watch, much to the chagrin of the theatre’s owner. It’s a relaxed tale with the kind of life or death hyperbolic implications that most young people feel towards such matters at that point in their lives. It’s uplifting for the most part, and leads to a somewhat unexpected conclusion that will leave audiences thinking about what’s next for these young men. I mean that in a good way.

 

Second to None

Second to None

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 3

In this stop motion animated Irish import from filmmaker Vincent Gallagher, a pair of elderly twin brothers suffers from a strange case of sibling rivalry. In this darkly charming story, the younger of the two seeks to murder his more successful brother to claim the coveted title of being the world’s oldest living human. It’s all a good bit of silliness made even better by a spectacular twist ending.

 

Shahzad

Shahzad

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 5

Filmmaker Haya Waseem tells a different kind of immigrant experience story with this tale about the titular Pakistani boy who has no trouble finding friends and fitting in at his new school in Canada, but still has difficulties connection to his single, seemingly traumatized father. A tender story about understanding and feeling lost in the world, Wassem cleverly starts her film like she’s going to say one thing, but ends up saying something a lot more original and deeply profound.

 

SNIP

SNIP

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 4

Métis artist Terril Calder and award winning Canadian writer Joseph Boyden team up for this dazzlingly melancholic animated look at a young, privileged city dweller who can suddenly transport herself into Canada’s dark history of residential schooling whenever she experiences seizure-like symptoms. A blending of art, history, and savvy cultural criticism – delivered wonderfully by Boyden’s narration – it’s a nightmarish but inventive look at the things Canada as a country often chooses to ignore about its past misdeeds.

 

Standby

Standby

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 7

The shortest film on this list, British filmmaker Charlotte Regan’s Standby might also be the biggest crowd pleaser. It’s simple, but often gut-busting, sometimes tear-jerking look into the lives of Gary (Andrew Paul) and Jenny (Alexa Morden) across their career together as partners in the police department working out of the same squad car. It moves at a quick pace, but it distills the pair’s professional and friendly partnership so lovingly that nothing feels missing. It’s a great example of short filmmaking and a truly unassuming and moving surprise.

 

Submarine

Submarine

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 5

Set in the not-too-distant future amid a positively apocalyptic garbage crisis in Lebanon, one young woman (Yumna Marwan) stubbornly refuses evacuation amid acid rain, Cholera outbreaks, and trash piled so high it’s literally breaking through the windows of her home. Filmmaker Mounia Aki tackles a lot of heady subjects in just twenty minutes – the disposable nature of modern living, relationships between men and woman, migratory culture in a society at war with itself and others – but most intriguing of all and the glue that holds all the themes together is the constant questioning of the protagonist’s reasons for staying. It’s complex and possibly garners a lot more from repeat viewings.

 

Twisted

Twisted

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 7

Canadian documentarian Jay Cheel (Beauty Day, How to Build a Time Machine) takes a look at modern day mythmaking by way of an infamous story surrounding an ill timed screening of a major summer blockbuster in 1996. As legend would have it, a tornado broke out during a screening of Twister at a Thorold, Ontario drive-in. While most find such an anecdote amusing, it’s also a bending of the truth. Cheel brings his wit to a tale of how legends are seemingly created for the sake of having a good story to tell.

 

Your Mother and I

Your Mother and I

Where to find it: Short Cuts Programme 11

Anna Maguire adapts a tongue-in-cheek, stream-of-consciousness styled Dave Eggers story into one heck of a showcase for the acting talents of the indomitable Don McKellar, playing a father relating a longwinded story to his daughter (Julia Sarah Stone) about how he and her mother saved the world from its wasteful, violent ways. It’s a sweet, poignant story that will leave a mark on viewers who will puzzle over just how much of the father’s story was real, and how much of it was driven by a sense of loss.

About The Author

Andrew Parker
Senior Writer

Andrew Parker started fell in love with film growing up across the street from a movie theatre. He began writing professionally about film at the age of fourteen, and has been following his passions ever since. His writing has been showcased at various online outlets, as well as in The Globe and Mail, BeatRoute, and NOW Magazine. If he’s not watching something or reading something, he’s probably sleeping.

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