Toronto might have its own short film extravaganza -- the Worldwide Short Film Festival -- a week rife with pithy pieces of cinema. But every year, just a few months later, there's a second serving at TIFF with the collection Short Cuts Canada.

This year, the NFB (National Film Board of Canada) had a bunch of shorts in the mix, and when I got a handful in the mail, it was like an Oscar-led explosion. Talent abounds in these films. That's not entirely surprising considering the fact that we've got the latest from Oscar-winner Chris Landreth and Oscar-nominee Cordell Barker, plus a slew of other notable talent. Talent, I must say, that's topped with Night Mayor, the short the NFB commissioned Guy Maddin to do as part of the board's 70th anniversary.

Read on for the details of Night Mayor, Vive the Rose, The Spine, and Runaway.

Night Mayor

To celebrate their 70th anniversary, the NFB turned to Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin to make a short. He scoured through the archives, and ultimately created a world that delves into the life of Nihad Ademi, a "Night Mayor" who harnesses the power of the aurora borealis to bring Canadians images of their own social identity.

As much a political commentary as it is an ode to the classic films in the NFB archives, Night Mayor is one of Maddin's more avant garde stories, anchored more in whimsy than lucidity. This is surely due to the fact that Maddin shot this as a documentary without a distinct, written script. But even without a clearly defined path, Night Mayor is a classic visual Maddin adventure, and one that gets to speak to a larger, and even modern, whole as Ademi's time as a Night Mayor turns into a, well, nightmare.

Stay tuned for an interview with Guy later this week!

Vive la Rose

With At the Quinte Hotel, Bruce Alcock used a poem by Al Purdy as inspiration for a short film, pulling together disparate images to bring Purdy's words to life. Following that tradition, this short takes a Newfoundland song, "Vive la Rose," and brings it to life.

Fast-forwarding scenes of a lake flow over to a small shack nearby. Inside the shack is a table, and that table has a drawer separated into three parts. The lower right offers an outline of the song, the upper right reveals animation, and the compartment to the left displays real images from the animation -- the knife used to cut some fruit, the splitting birch branch that the animated man chops down.

Quinte might have opened up a new world for displaying oral art, but Rose takes it to a whole new level. The three compartments play together beautifully, uniquely mixing found objects, song, and art into a wholly integrated and pleasing whole.

The Spine


In 1995 Chris Landreth earned an Oscar nomination for The End, but he didn't win until his second nomination for Ryan in 2004. The film detailed the recollections of animator Ryan Larkin -- a promising Oscar nominee whose addiction to cocaine spiraled him out of filmmaking and into homelessness. The film was a mixture of abstract ideas brought to life, and simple, Waking Life-esque discussion.

With The Spine, there is a simple premise, but its execution brings Landreth's particular visual style into the plot of the story. Quite simply, there is a man who gave up part of himself and becomes spineless to please his wife, only to become her emotional punching bag. But when she disappears and he gets a thriving, technicolor spine, everything begins to change.

The story is neat, both beautifully and strangely captured, but the big gems of the film live in the couples' therapy that the pair attends. In these moments, Landreth goes creatively wild, creating "normal" people in the most outlandish ways -- a man shaped like a hand, people whose skin falls off, and even a half-man/half-woman sewn together down the middle. It's almost too much of a distraction, making it easy to wish this was part of a series -- something where each of these lost people finds their spine, so to speak, and a way to thrive, rather than just being quirky, unexplored set pieces.

Runaway


The two-time short film Oscar nominee Cordell Barker is back. This time around, it's a darkly comic look at class systems and runaway trains -- something that seems like a strange mix, but works quite well. As a train speeds down the tracks, grooving to tunes from Triplets of Belleville composer Ben Charest, the captain gets distracted by an upper-class woman with a little dog, and leaves the coal-heaver on his own. As soon as he does, the train hits a cow and starts to speed out of control. The upper class car does despicable things to keep the train on-track, so to speak, while the lower class car does everything they can to help, and subsequently helping everyone but themselves.

It's short, it's biting, and it's cute -- the sort of combination that makes for an entertaining laugh with a little social satire thrown in for good measure.