Best of Alberta showcases some serious cinematic talent

When Calgarians think of the Alberta film industry it’s most likely in terms of outside productions cast with Hollywood talent and principal creative personal and shot in our locations with local crew and technicians. It’s relatively rare that Albertans are able to sample the fruit of some of our own creative producers and directors. Every year the Calgary International Film Festival mounts a showcase of short Alberta-made films and every year the bar is raised slightly higher.

Once again film critic Louis B. Hobson had the difficult task of paring down some 150-plus submissions into a program of 10 films which will compete before a jury to determine a single winner. This year the jury will not have an easy task as it’s facing a vast and varied smorgasbord. There’s drama; everything from period pieces ( Promise The Curse of the Piano ) to modern westerns ( Stolen Horses ) to reflections on interpersonal relationships ( In Translation ). There’s a tense claustrophobic thriller ( Boiler Room ) as well as some vignettes ( Wait Time and Postmark ). Animation also figures prominently with low-tech crowd-pleasing stop-motion ( The Secret Lives of Office Supplies ) colliding head-on with hi-tech computer animation techniques.

Mitch Barany’s video for local art rockers The Summerlad’s “City of Noise” combines live action and computer animation to spellbinding effect. Barany estimates he invested “well over 1000 man hours” of his time in the project and it shows. With such a labour-intensive project careful planning was critical. “From the last version of the storyboard to what you see in the video is pretty damn close” Barany says. “You don’t just shoot something like that and then throw it together in the editing.” Barany won an Eddie award for his Big Rock beer commercial in 2005 but this is his first foray into computer-generated territory. “You don’t see a lot of visual effects in independent films and when you do see a visual-effects-heavy film in the theatres there’s like a thousand names in the credits. I think I know why now” he says with a slight seasoned laugh.

Last year Cam Christiansen won all the marbles with his folk-rock video of Kris Demeanor’s “I Have Seen the Future.” This year Christiansen returns with The Real Place a National Film Board commission that commemorates playwright John Murrel’s Governor General’s Award for lifetime achievement. “It was quite a pleasure to get to know him and his work — he’s quite a legend in the theatre community.” As in his previous film Christiansen continues to explore motion capture technology. “The way it works is quite simple setting [the camera] up on a tripod shooting straight on video that you kind of map later on onto computer models and then you can manipulate it and work with it that way” Christiansen explains. The end result is textured and painterly with members of the One Yellow Rabbit theatre company standing in for Murrel’s literary heroes and inspirations.

Director Michael Peterson whose previous films focus on robots was so enamoured with Calgary’s Cantos Music Museum that he thought it deserved its own legend. The result is Curse of the Piano. “It’s sort of a made-up legend inspired by my first trip to the Cantos museum” he chuckles. “Something like a musical instrument is imbued with so much more [character] than say a chair or a block of wood. All these instruments essentially translate passion and I wanted to make something that captured that kind of mystique.” As in any good old-fashioned morality play the pursuit of passion leads to disastrous consequences.

Corey Lee differs from most of the other short film creators in that he already has that difficult first feature firmly under his belt ( Defining Edward 2003). In Translation is the final film in a trilogy of shorts based on stories from writer John Gould’s Giller Prize-nominated anthology Kilter: 55 Fictions . “Most of these stores are only two or three pages and they’re just perfect for short films” Lee says. Working on shorts after the arduous task of completing a feature was a nice change of pace. “It was very freeing and now I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve done this trilogy it’s been very successful and I think it helped me sharpen my skills as a filmmaker. I know what kind of stories I want to tell and I’m in the process of developing a visual style that will evolve on its own. There are so many great stories out there.”

While Lee is glad to be part of the showcase and looks forward to screening his film for a live audience he questions the randomness of the selection and packaging format. “The only problem I have with the whole Best of Alberta thing is it’s hard to lump all these films together and then pick the best one because they’re all so different. They’re all over the map. It’s just a really odd mix of stuff.”