Don’t sell them short

Though many film-goers bemoan the deadening lack of originality in mainstream cinema, only a few bother to seek out alternatives. Sure, fare like the independent short film can sometimes seem too wildly experimental, arty or even downright intimidating to the uninitiated. But ask anyone involved with indie shorts about them, and you’ll encounter a surprising tone of accessibility.

“I think often people in Winnipeg feel like short films can’t be good, or maybe they feel like they don’t belong, or maybe they think the Cinematheque is elitist or something,” says Monica Lowe, distribution coordinator for the Winnipeg Film Group. “It’s so not like that. It’s just a great place in the Exchange to watch films, meet the filmmakers and go for a beer afterward.”

Local film (and/or beer) enthusiasts will have the opportunity to see what Lowe is talking about this weekend when the Cinematheque hosts “11 on the 12th,” the latest installment of the WFG’s bi-annual membership screenings. The program will showcase recent shorts from 10 local filmmakers alongside one Saskatchewan-produced offering (Terry Mialkowsky ‘s Belt Buckle/Quonset Hut).

The independent works — products of nothing other than a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the craft — run the stylistic gamut. As Cindy Murdoch, director of The Snow Bank: A Winnipeg Story, remarks, “the nice thing about WFG member screenings is that they are so diverse. It’s inevitable that you’ll end up liking something that you may have never seen otherwise.”

For instance, Murdoch’s own surreal, snow-obsessed short should appeal to the sensibilities of any true-blooded Winnipegger. Indeed, her film is an only-in-this-shithole tale of a sociopathic snowbank, stalking city streets with bad intentions.

“Who in Winnipeg hasn’t been ripped up by a snowbank on that long walk home? Sometime you slip and land in it, other times you lose you keys or cell phone to it,” Murdoch muses. “What if it was intentional and the snowbank was really out to get you, stalking you, waiting for the right moment to strike and take you down, a predator of Winnipeg winters?”

It’s unnerving, but undeniably humorous. It also compliments the unrestrained hilarium of another film included the program, Steven Kostanski’s Laser Ghosts 2: Return to Laser Cove. Produced by local film making collective ASTRON-6, the film pits a revenge-fueled dead Einstein’s ghost against cliche-and-laser-wielding action hero archetypes.

Kostanski rationalizes his film as “a tribute to the VHS era of film making that has all but disappeared in this modern age of Interwebs and Nintendo 64s [ . . . ] a time when you would go to the video store and marvel at the elaborate box art for gems like Nemesis 2 or Puppet Master 4 [ . . . ] LG2:RTLC is the summation of my childhood memories from this time, crammed into an action-packed and hilarious nine minutes.”

It’s an apt description. LG2:RTLC is as much a loving exercise in early ‘90s VHS formalism and it is a vehicle for laughs and oddly effective home-made special effects. It is also completely unlike another “11 on the 12th” selection — Cam Patterson’s Truce. A sombre character-driven World War II drama, Truce depicts the unexpected outcome of a face-to-face encounter between a Canadian Captain and German General.

“In war, people are pitted against each other as enemies, but a lot of them are just people who are the same. So I thought I’d put two enemies in the same room and show the similarity between them,” Patterson explains. “They both a have a love of piano, both have wives and both have lives they wish they were at instead of in that room [ . . . ] Their differences maybe aren’t personal, and if they weren’t in a war and weren’t in that room, would these guys be friends?”

Such an eclectic mix of theme and subject matter in the program should mean something for everyone. But it is also evidence of a vibrant film community at work in our city. Indeed, screenings “11 on the 12th” are an opportunity for filmmakers to get together and share. For instance, Cindy Murdoch says she “likes what Mike Maryniuk has done in the past, so I am looking forward to his latest creation. As well, Tyler Funk has done some pretty interesting work with photography so I am interested to see what he is bringing to the screen.”

Yet, as organizer Monica Lowe is keen to point out, screenings like “11 on the 12th“ aren’t just for those who are already involved.

“Hopefully the screening sparks dialogue between the creators and the audience,” she says. “Maybe there are some U of M-ers interested in working on short films. It’s a great way to meet the folks making the works and possibly getting involved. It’s a pretty cool scene, and everyone is welcome into it.”

It’s an inclusive sentiment that Cam Patterson echoes.

“We’re definitely starting to get more people involved, like more writers working and such,” he says. “Because there is a mainstream component that you have to hit if you want to keep doing this. You know? In that way, I think we’ve definitely come a long away in the last few years.”

“11 on the 12th: New Shorts from the WFG Catalogue” screens Friday, Feb. 12 and Saturday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. each evening.