Review: TIFF Short Docs

Michelle Latimer and Caroline Monnet offer festival highlights

6 mins read

There aren’t too many documentaries outside the TIFF Docs programme this year, but this observation doesn’t mean the festival comes up short. TIFF’s Short Cuts offers half a dozen short docs scattered around the line-up. These films are worth the hunt since they’re easily among the most original, and arguably best, selections TIFF has to offer.

Michelle Latimer’s Nuuca (Programme 5), for example, is a haunting and meditative essay film. Executive produced by Oscar winner Laura Poitras, along with filmmaker AJ Schnack and former Hot Docs programming director Charlotte Cooke, Nuuca is an impassioned work of art that brings Latimer to the oil fields of North Dakota. Rhythmic cuts offering images of the natural landscape contrast sharply with the violating bravado of industry as rigs churn and flames burn. The words of Indigenous women appear in voiceover atop the imagery as Nuuca voices the fears and concerns of the land’s original residents. The rhythm becomes more aggressive and the narration more powerful as Latimer intimately links the exploitation of the land with the violation of its inhabitants.

American politics receive an equally incisive take in Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’s Roadside Attraction (Programme 6), albeit with a much different tone. This drolly humorous observational film looks at a crowd that forms at the side of the Florida highway when Air Force One parks its butt on the runway of the Palm Beach International Airport. Selfies and smartphones galore turn this pit stop of the Presidential travelling circus into a gawker’s tea party. The film offers nary a word as it soaks up the obsessive frenzy of the fans (and, unfortunately, voters) who put the plane’s chief traveller into office. The party comes to a crashing end when the police arrive. The film’s final shot is a perfect image for the sitting President’s disdain for media one may find.

Trump’s call to drain the swamp probably isn’t too funny for the residents of Xá and Laura Gonçalves’s Drop by Drop / Água Mole (Programme 3). This beautifully realized film takes audio interviews with the last residents of a dying town and brings them to life through heartfelt and humorous animation. The film’s dry sense of humour is fitting as the inhabitants consider the fate of their parched village. The greyscale palette of the animation becomes increasingly buoyant as Drop by Drop finds hope through humour. Despite the concerns within the voices of the interviewees, the film’s optimistic images are truly refreshing.

Short Cuts shimmers with life in Elinor Nechemya’s poetic and beautiful Everlasting Mom / Ima Lanetzah (Programme 1). TIFF is doing its part to improve representation for female voices at the festival, and Everlasting Mom is a festival highlight with its loving portrait of a mother by her daughter. The film sees Nechemya’s mother Meira pose in various corners of her home in suburban Jerusalem as she proudly displays the legacy she leaves for her family. Voiceover snippets read and interpret the mother’s diaries throughout these tableaux shots as Nechemya unearths secretive and unsuspected layers of this woman who lives in suburban splendour. An offbeat dance closes the film and the hypnotic, whimsical sight of Meira waving her arms to the rhythms of a song about feminine legacy is a fine image of one generation passing the torch to another.

Finally, doc fans get a bonus treat with an experimental offering that features the mother of Canadian documentary, Alanis Obomsawin. Obomsawin stars alongside five Indigenous women—Swaneige Bertrand, Nahka Bertrand, Emilie Monnet, Nadia Myre and director Caroline Monnet—in Creatura Dada (Programme 3), a film commissioned by Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema that is revitalizing with its freshness and originality of vision. The tables turn as the women gorge themselves while a white guy serves them plate upon plate of mouth-watering bounty. The six women partake in an opulent feast in shimmering golden plates and platters which offer bring forth only the best delicacies: oysters, lobsters, and wonderfully ripe fruits. The women feast in an all- you- can- eat buffet that celebrates their shared legacy and the next harvest while also satirizing the excesses of consumer culture. Alternatively unsettling, peculiar, and sanguine, the film serves a heaping banquet filled withof lust for life before staring us in the eye and daring us to challenge the women to another bite. Their gaze is fierce.

Other documentaries in Short Cuts include Mon amour mon ami and Waiting for Hassana, which were unavailable for review, as well as several Wavelngths selections to be reviewed.

TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit for more info on this year’s festival.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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