Canadian Film Festival: Short Films Review

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Rosie Takes The Train

Directed by Stephen Philip Scott

Written by Stephen Philip Scott

Canada, 2011

Set in the 1930’s, Rosie Takes The Train tells the story of young girl who embarks on a train journey by herself. As the voyage unfolds, so to does her life, as we see her in various stages of maturity. Through her interactions with other passengers, we learn about Rosie’s life, her losses, regrets, and aspirations.

With a running time of only 10-minutes, Rosie Takes The Train uses this otherwise obstructive time constraint as a clever storytelling device, emphasizing the fleeting, ephemeral nature of life.

Consequently, life itself is embodied in the train journey. As the world around her changes, for better or for worse, the train becomes a permanent fixture in her life, the only tangible constant. The final destination and purpose of the journey, and by extension life, is unknown, or more appropriately, unknowable. As the short narrative comes full circle, you’ll find the result quietly poignant. Rosie Takes The Train is a moving take on life.

Everybody Wing Chun Tonight

Directed by Karen Suzuki

Canada, 2011

As a woman is walking home through a park, she is heckled and verbally harassed by three men. As one approaches, and lays a hand on her shoulder, time slows down, and the environment changes. We are presented a step-by-step tutorial for defending yourself via the art of Wing Chun, followed by visual demonstrations by the aforementioned group of people.

Although Everybody Wing Chun Tonight can, on the surface, be seen as a PSA against sexual harassment, there is more than meets the eye. As we get to the end, at the woman’s house, we are presented with two objects, representing the two different ways women could live like in a male-dominated world. The choice that she picks reinforces the main idea of Everybody Wing Chun Tonight, which is that, although important, women should take more than just defensive stance in society.

Onion Skin

Directed by Joseph Procopio

Written by Joseph Procopio

Canada, 2011

Dear Onion Skin,

There are some crucial concerns that should be addressed regarding your central narrative. Although it’s about a high school Romeo defying peer pressure to write a love letter to his prospective Juliet, the film’s ensuing implications feel disingenuous. While trying to espouse the values of traditional romanticism, the film engages in teenage character assassination. In order to denounce the contemporary teenage stance towards romance, the film intentionally over-exaggerates their characters (most teenagers are not so anal retentive that they would refuse to lick a stamp). By making them over the top, and the defiant protagonist overly sentimental, it is clear that they film is trying to manipulate the viewer towards a certain ideological stance. The pathos is artificial. The message is therefore, because it’s based on false pretexts, empty. Because the film tries to instill an assertion without any concrete support, and because the film is peppered with irrelevant, ostentatious imagery, the film can essentially be defined by one word: pretentious.


Concerned Critic


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  1. Michael Ryan says

    Hi Justin

    Clearly, I disagree with you since I run a film festival – – which features a section for teen filmmakers. We don’t pick bad films for that section of the festival, but we do consider the context of the films.

    What you consider affectation, I think of as critical context. At least when the film is good. I have a stack of the DVDs that you are talking about somewhere – rejected because the age is irrelevant when the film is terrible.

    “Write what you know” or “Film what you know” and obviously Joseph knows the experiences of teenagers in high school. He is obviously working within a film that elevates the emotional stakes for the characters through exaggeration, but I have no problem with that.

    “When judging any film, the director’s age, along with his or her gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, should be put aside.”

    That sentence would pretty much be the exact opposite of every thing that I believe in. Context is EVERYTHING. You can (it’s true) disappear too far down the rabbit hole in the search of meaning, but to ignore context is for me completely impossible.

  2. Michael Ryan says

    A few quick point in defence of Onion Skin.

    The writer/director of Onion Skin Joseph Procopio is still a teenager. I know this because as Festival Director for the YoungCuts Film Festival, I have been seeing films that Joseph has made since he was 8. To be fair, Onion Skin was the first of his films we liked enough to play, but it has been fun to track his progress as a filmmaker. I should also say that we liked Onion Skin enough to nominate it for for Best Teen film.

    By comparison, the directors of the other two films are at least a decade older than Joseph.

    None of this is to say that your criticisms of his film aren’t valid and to a certain extent they explain why we gave the award for Best Teen film to a different movie…

    But, I took the over-reaction to the note as a deliberate over-reaction by her friends, partly out of typical cruel teenage rejection of the uncool and partly as a form of competition to see who could come up with the most ridiculous reason to hate on the letter.

    At the very least, Joseph Procopio is a very exciting young filmmaker. If he can write and direct Onion Skin at the age of 16, I am a bit terrified to think of what he can come up with at 30.

    1. Justin Li says

      Hey Michael,

      I fully understand your points, but I would like to add one of my own. As you probably didn’t know, I didn’t actually go to the screening of ‘Onion Skin’, instead, I got a DVD screener to watch instead. On the cover, under the title, it said, ‘A Film By Joseph Procopio (Age 16)”. The inclusion of his age is something I have a problem with.

      It’s clear that his age is conspicuously presented as a form of affectation. If you liked the film, then you’re supposed to be doubly impressed because of his young age, and if you didn’t like the film, then the poor showing can be excused for the very same reason. Clearly, this is what you seem to feel (at least for the later part). It’s an artificial win-win situation that didn’t sit well with me.

      Either way, I didn’t critique the film based on auteur theory, rather, on the film itself, which I still feel was over-exaggerated to for the sake of making a point. When judging any film, the director’s age, along with his or her gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, should be put aside. A film should be judged by its artistic merit. It’s only fair. When critiquing the previous two film, the director’s age’s didn’t come into play, so why should it for ‘Onion Skin’?

      If Mr. Procorpio wants to be taken as a serious filmmaker, he, or whoever included the age on the cover, should not rely on age-related excuses to justify a film that, for me, wasn’t very good. If he were 26, 36, 46, or even 86, my review would be unchanged. That’s how film criticism should work.

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