Film Reviews

Short But Sweet: TIFF Short Docs

A trio of non-fiction films to see at the festival

No Crying at the Dinner Table
Courtesy of TIFF


The list of short docs at TIFF ’19 is short but sweet. Only five non-fiction works screen in this year’s Short Cuts programme, but they are unique films that highlight a diverse range of topics, stories, and voices. We’ll be featuring interviews with two of the filmmakers throughout the festival, but in the meantime, here’s a trio of short docs to add to your TIFF schedule:

No Crying at the Dinner Table
(Canada, 16 min.)
Dir. Carol Nguyen
Programme: Short Cuts 8

Films about family can be a trap for new filmmakers. Clichés often abound with awkward but “well-intentioned” family portraits with a filmmaker trucking out the subjects at his or her closest convenience. That’s not the case with Carol Nguyen’s No Crying at the Dinner Table. The conceit is simple but remarkably effective: Nguyen interviews her mother, father, and sister and then makes them listen to the audio recordings of their discussions. If the confessionals are cathartic, the family members’ reactions to their own stories are downright heartbreaking. This deeply personal film illustrates why Nguyen (Every Grain of Rice and This Home Is Not Empty) is quickly establishing herself as a voice to watch in the Canadian film scene.

Nguyen delicately probes subjects such as death, love, intimacy, connection, and cultural identity by asking her Vietnamese-Canadian parents about the lack of physical intimacy in their relationships with their parents. Nguyen’s mom, for example, recalls kissing her mother only once in her lifetime and admits she never embraced her father. The director’s dad, on the other hand, carries immense guilt over a decision that affected the family forever and her sister emits geysers of runny snot while recalling the deaths of their grandparents. Tears flow as Nguyen forces the conversation that her family refuses to have. The doc creates a beautifully intimate moment for the family through the mere act of Nguyen’s filmmaking. The family’s willingness to bear themselves and be vulnerable is remarkable.

This Ink Runs Deep
(Canada, 16)
Dir. Asia Youngman
Programme: Short Cuts 2

An important story of Indigenous culture, art, and identity fuels Asia Youngman’s This Ink Run Deep. The film offers a series of interviews with Indigenous tattoo artists, who share their craft and reflect upon the cultural legacy they embed into a customer each time they pierce skin with their ink. Youngman features a range of speakers from a diversity of Indigenous cultures who are united by a common message: each tattoo is an act of resilience and an affirmation of culture.

The doc highlight the nuances of tattoo culture that differ between tribes and nations, as well as the symbols of identity embedded within their designs. Youngman also tackles questions of cultural appropriation and asks the interviewees about how they feel when non-Indigenous people sport Indigenous tattoos (something of a controversy given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Haida tattoo). They see this celebration of Indigenous across cultures as a positive if done respectfully. Youngman’s film, while conventional in its delivery, is handsomely composed and valuable in its message.

All Cats Are Grey in the Dark
(Switzerland, 18 min.)
Dir. Lasse Linder
Programme: Short Cuts 3

Every cat person and animal lover simply must see All Cats Are Grey in the Dark at TIFF! Every doc fan too. This droll film from Lasse Linder is a delight of cat fancy. The film humorously observes Christian, a single middle-aged catman and his felines Marmalade and Katjuscha. Christian eagerly prepares to become a kitty grandfather after pampering his two furry friends.

The film observes the fine line between cute and strange as Christian travels with Marmalade and Katjuscha in tow. He might herd them on his back, bring them to a resort, or accompany them to a friend’s house. With neither judgement nor mockery, Linder’s film observes simple acts of devotion that are shared between humans and non-human animals for creatures in our care. Through simple compositions and an unhurried tempo, Linder creates a vivid human comedy as well as a touching, sincere portrait of the roles that animals play in our daily lives. Beyond mere companions, they can be family members and friends—particularly for those of us who are single and childless when other friends are having families of their own.

For more coverage of TIFF shorts, read more in our interview with Theodore Ushev on The Physics of Sorrow, Sandra Ignagni on Highway to Heaven: A Mosaic in One Mile, and Christopher Auchter on Now is the Time (coming soon!).

Visit the POV TIFF Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!