Under Review

True North Shorts: Various Positions

Various Directors


If I were to be so bold as to characterize recurring tropes in Canadian cinema, some that come to mind include a suspicion of stable narratives, ironic sensibilities and an attention to intimacy. These all, more or less, exist in reaction to the grandstanding canvases that compel American cinema.

This is all to say that if a preview of three selections is any indication, VIFF’s Various Positions series, showcasing the work of new Canadian directors, is similarly compelled to look beyond the surface, and to wiggle outside the boundaries of genre. As part of the preview for Various Positions, I was able to view three films: an experimental documentary, a piece of pure cinema and a short fiction.

Hazel Isle, directed by Jessica Johnson, is a phenomenal piece of polyphonic documentary with art gallery tendencies that nonetheless land closer to familial than obscure. In warm analogue, Johnson documents a small community on the Scottish Isle of Coll. Local townspeople reminisce about old folk songs, and the incursion of Anglophonic chauvinism (colonization by way of phonetics). Conversations drift in and out of Hazel Isle, thick accents lingering in the backdrop, over picturesque shots of the oceanic landscape: green grass, pink skies and a sea-to-sky that melds together. It’s a quotidian slice of psychedelia that makes vivid the evocative power of the Gaelic landscape.

Norm Li’s Under the Viaduct, composed of one slow-take under the Georgia Viaduct, is a penetrating short of vision, purpose and serendipity. Despite its scant run time, the textures of Under the Viaduct are exemplary; the camera diverts from the height of the viaduct, to the horizon peeking underneath, and the neglected lots of land that give way to a surreal expression of violent currents underneath Vancouver’s polite surface. Li, who has worked on several films, including as Director of Photography for cult-classic Beyond the Black Rainbow, demonstrates a promising future at the helm of his own projects.

Brendan Prost, who focuses onHonest, earnest, character-driven Canadian cinema” (as characterized on his website), presents Loretta’s Flowers, a welcome expression of a kind of intimacy our national milieu celebrates. The short documents a day in the life of Loretta, as she bikes from spot to spot in Toronto. And it’s telling that despite the metropolitan setting, we’re ensconced at the ground-level suburbs and residential streets, lush with foliage. Loretta’s day is composed with three romantic encounters, each being of various closeness and intimacy. Despite the freedom these encounters and Loretta’s idle bike-rides entail, Prost is concerned with the implications of each scene— implications that simmer in a quietly emotional climax.


Image from Hazel IsleTrue North Shorts: Various Positions plays on Oct 10 at Vancouver International Film Festival.