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VIFF Shorts Part 2: Greyhounds, Hostels, and Palestine

The weather’s getting chilly, people are getting flu-y, which means it’s time to get cozy. There’s nothing better than good films and hot coco when the October chill starts fogging your breath up. I’m back with three more short films from the 35th Vancouver International Film Fest! Today’s themes are Disquiet in ParadiseFragments of my Existence, and Teen Trouble. These films and the rest of the shorts are screening at the Cineplex Odeon International Village from October 2nd-8th.

Champion (dir. Andrés Passoni, Argentina), Disquiet in Paradise

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I was excited for this film if only for the promise of high resolution shots of dogs. Champion did not disappoint. In fact it went above and beyond.

Tension builds right off the bat with a series of frenetic shots detailing the intricate world of greyhound racing. You really feel the movement, focus, and dedication to the sport. (Also, it’s refreshing to see a film where dogs aren’t used as a plot device for angst). Most of the film builds up to the race, and the director does this well. The dogs are anxious to start. The people bustle around them. Make no mistake the main focus of this film is the dogs. The humans are secondary and really only there to let the dogs perform their best.

BANG, and the gates open.

We’re treated to this truly gorgeous, slow motion shot of the dogs sprinting across the track, single-minded and laser-focused. In the end, we see the eponymous Champion, and the pace slows. This director is a master of playing with shot composition and length. Although, at this point I was getting kind of tired of close-ups of dog parts.

The movements slow, even the dog’s panting. It feels kind of a somber note to end on. But then, a bright shot of a sunny new day and a bright-eyed new dog.

You don’t see many dialogue-free short films because writers tend to use dialogue to jam more development into an already cramped space. But Passoni manages to paint a really vibrant story with just seven minutes and a champion of a dog.

Eden Hostel (Hostel Eden, dir. Gonzaga Manso, Spain), Fragments of my Existence

What a surprise to see a humour film in such an existential sounding category!

We get the most interesting narrator so far, in the form of a little Virgin Mary statue mounted on the wall of a dingy hostel. Just from the music, you know this is going to be a fun fourteen minutes.

The setting is quirky and quaint. Dull walls, neon signs, and a quilt the shrill owner keeps meticulously clean. The characters are caricatures. A busty babe and a matchstick of a man walk into a hostel for some “tricky tricky” (if you understand a bit of Spanish, most of the dialogue is a lot funnier than the English subtitles make it out to be). But the man just isn’t in the mood, and the woman decides to talk about life, love, and her little angel of a dog (who frankly looked like a drowned rat, but hey it’s what’s on the inside that counts).

There’s a really nice montage of the people who came after this first couple. Of nuns and mothers and white suited business men. The little Virgin Mary on the wall watches all these people come and go. They’re different on the outside, but after so many they all seem the same. They’re all just human.

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Eden Hostel is a more traditional film. It’s got an easy to follow plot. There aren’t any tricky metaphors. Somewhere in the soundtrack I think there’s even a bit of accordion. It was nice to watch a film where I didn’t have to analyze too much, and the actors did all the showing and telling for me. At the end of the day we go to the movies to enjoy ourselves, and I dare you not to smile by the end of this film.

Three Minute Warning (dir. Iqbal Mohammed, Palestinian Territories/UK), Teen Trouble

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I deliberately picked Three Minute Warning because of its foreboding title and country of origin. It’s easy to share an article about a faraway war or flip past the news on an overseas conflict. But but it’s hard to ignore the deep empathy that stirs when this director drops you into the daily life of a mother and child in the Gaza Strip.

The shots are gritty and intimate. The setting is a small one room living space the two share. The characters move in the sort of routine comfort that only family can achieve. It’s a gentle start, the domestic part of war that big blockbusters always leave out.

When the climax comes, you’re expecting it. From the poster, to the setting, to the beginning text, you know what’s going to happen. Knowing doesn’t soften the blow, and the few minutes we get with these characters is enough to make your heart clench when the inevitable happens. We have the actresses to thank for that. They do an amazing job shifting through all the emotions daily life brings to us. And an even better job with the loss and hurt that wartime brings to civilians.

My favourite part of this film is the pacing. Everything happens right when it should and for exactly long enough it takes for you to feel what the director wants you to, no more no less. Iqbal Mohammed did a fantastic job writing, directing, and editing. Even the informative text was paced well!

Three Minute Warning is a definite must-see. It’s just the right amount of emotional to let you think rationally about the message Mohammed is trying to tell.

Head over to https://www.viff.org/Online/default.asp  for more information on the Vancouver International Film Festival and all they’re featuring this year!

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