VSFF 2023: Program One Capsule Reviews

One of the last pre-pandemic events I attended was the 2020 edition of the Vancouver Short Film Film Festival (VSFF). While the larger and better-known VIFF does boast ample short film offerings, VSFF is a chance to truly focus the spotlight on short-form content and its filmmakers. The festival continued in virtual form during the pandemic years, but it suffered from that lack of community spirit that is now fortunately alive and well as the festival returns to its first in-person edition in three-and-a-half years!

Hollywood North Magazine editor Nick Wangersky and I were in attendance for night one of the festival and while the former can provide a more detailed account of the night’s events here, I myself have taken on the challenging task of reviewing a bevy of diverse short films by both BC and Canadian filmmakers. Bring on the capsules!

MAUNDY (d. Adrianna Marchand)

This esoteric tale of a dry cleaner (Jesse Irving) mining his traumatic past via quirky interactions with a pair of mischievous preteen boys and their mom succeeds in style if not exactly narrative consistency. Irving capably plays the awkward man-child at the film’s centre and director Marchand capably balances the serious and playful tones. But the film never manages to shake its film school aesthetic or the nagging feeling that another script revision before shooting would’ve helped.



A MAR (d. Danilo Sanchez & Juan David León)

This delightful animated slice of seafaring life proves charming with its musical retelling of a sea captain’s encounters with true love over the years in both corporeal and more spiritual forms. The animation and music move in perfect concert to serve the story and at a tidy seven minute runtime, A Mar reminds us of the slick storytelling and visual thrills that the theatrical shorts of yesteryear used to do so well.



SANDBOX (d. Riley Davis)

The shortest film in the program (clocking in at under three minutes) is also the most existential as two children playing in the eponymous sandbox innocently ponder whether life can pass one by at even the most tender of ages. Proof positive that even the shortest of screen stories can make a strong impact.



MY NAME IS ARNOLD (d. Arnold Lim)

A timely companion piece to last year’s Riceboy Sleeps, director Arnold Lim’s semi-autobiographical tale depicts young Korean Canadian Arnold (Ju Hwan Kim) as the apple of his working class mother’s eye and the target of bullying at school. As he oscillates between sobering reality and comforting fantasy, he finds that the solution to life problems don’t always lie in a straight line and that every victory has a trade off. But then again, so do the defeats. Solid character study and recommended.



WE WENT OUT (d. Ian Kamau)

The sole documentary in the bunch, this film reflects on the 90-era teenhoods of a group of black friends in Toronto who poetically reconcile their analog memories of a bygone era with an increasingly globalised and gentrified present. One of those films that make you nostalgic for an upbringing you didn’t even experience.



WOMAN MEETS GIRL (d. Murray Peeters)

Director Peeters remarked during the post-screening Q&A that this was merely one sequence in the tapestry of a soon-to-be-produced feature. Even with that knowledge, this snapshot of an intense relationship between a streetwise young woman (Chelsea Russell) and an older suburban one (Enuka Okuma) positively crackles with generational and even sexual tension that will keep you glued to the screen. Proof positive that the best drama can be spawned from two people in one room.




DEBUTANTE (d. Clara Salameh)

It ain’t easy being an older sibling; living up to your parents hopes and trying to set a good example for the younger ones. Real-life sisters Zakiah and Abrielle Dumansky seamlessly inhabit the space of two siblings whose relationship threatens to fracture when the older one heads off to college and can no longer serve as a guiding influence on the younger. Despite some film-school trappings, the drama is held together in the capable hands of the two leads and shows that sibling relationships are meant to evolve and not remain in some childhood stasis.




I actually reviewed this one back in 2021 when it screened (virtually, appropriately enough) at the Nashville film Festival. But even the distance of a couple years can alter one’s perception of a film and I’d say that the march of time has already rendered O’Byrne’s screen capture symphony a bit of a time capsule. We have since learned that living virtually is not all it’s cracked up to be and that a carefully curated immaculate lens of the world is no substitute for the more messy, but more rewarding real one.



9/10 (that’s the rating I gave last time and I’m sticking to it!)


Easily the source of biggest laughs from the entire festival, this stripped-down tale of a lonely office drone’s stubborn quest to see a bench installed along his favourite parkway is deceptively simple in concept and positively brilliant in execution. If you only see one film this year about Winnipeg parks and rec, make it this winning little gem!



The preceding shorts from the program one block of the 2023 VSFF and can be viewed virtually here until June 11

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