The 13th annual Vancouver Island Short Film Festival kicks off on Feb. 2 and three Nanaimo productions – a comedy sketch, a music video and a cell phone film – have made the cut.
Princess Syndrome by Zachary Tannar, Happy Thoughts by John Gardiner and Small World by Raymond Knight were selected from 127 entries to make the 18-film roster at this year’s festival, which features 18 productions from North America, Europe and Australia.
Last year Gardiner was the lone local accepted into the festival and this year he’s returning to the screen with Happy Thoughts, a one-minute film shot entirely on his smartphone as part of a filmmaker’s challenge put on by the Hub City Cinema Society. It follows a man who has one minute left to live and is trying to reflect on his happy thoughts so he can die peacefully. However, as the director explained, “He struggles to come up with things that are his real happy thoughts.”
“It really is quite a challenge because you’re a bit limited in obviously what you can do in terms of how it looks, but at the same time it’s also quite freeing,” Gardiner, a VISFF co-founder, said of filming on his phone.
“You don’t have all the complicated settings that come with one of the bigger, more elaborate cameras so you can just focus on what’s on screen and focus a little more on the story.”
He said he’s excited that his film will be screened before a festival audience for the first time.
“My goal, whenever I make a short film, is always the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival first because it’s the big local festival, it sells out almost every single year and it’s something that’s just very close to my heart,” he said.
It’s been a few years since Knight had a film qualify for the festival but this year he’s back and once again showing a music video. His submission, Small World, is a video for a song by local folk pop singer Milad Kassiri.
“It’s basically like a short film with using the song as a score to it but there’s no audio or anything except for the song,” Knight said.
The film depicts a dancer dreaming to follow in her deceased mother’s footsteps and builds up to a scene where she dances alone on the stage of the Port Theatre.
“We came up with some ideas, but in the end he just kind of basically said, ‘Do what you want to.’ It’s nice when somebody trusts you that much,” he said.
“We weren’t really planning on submitting it to any festivals so the release was just mainly for the musician’s sake. And then afterwards I was like, ‘Well, it’s a pretty dang good video, I should start submitting it to things.’”
This year Tannar is making his VISFF debut with Princess Syndrome, a film he describes as a “short comedy sketch.” In it a pair of concerned parents have their daughter examined by a doctor for exhibiting Disney princess-like symptoms.
“I have submitted to it many years before, so to finally get in this year, I’m pretty happy about that,” Tannar said.
“I’ve grown into it. I understand my stuff I’ve done in the past years wasn’t good enough and now it’s like, ‘OK, yes, I’ve got something good enough now.”
He said he feels he was successful this time due to his improved writing and higher production quality, despite the fact that he edited the film a week before the festival submission deadline.
Tannar has seen the festival grow from a purely local showcase to an international event and he said the larger competition pool is pushing Nanaimo filmmakers to perform.
“It’s grown to the point where they’re getting films from all over the world, and really high quality, so it’s almost like as local guys we have to step up our level of filmmaking to compete now, which is, I think, a good thing,” he said.
“I’m quite pleased that three of us got in.”
VISFF is giving away a pair of tickets for each of the three screenings. Those tickets will go to the first three people to email email@example.com with the subject line “film festival ticket giveaway.”
WHAT’S ON … The 13th annual Vancouver Island Short Film Festival takes place at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre on Friday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.