Short films are shocking by nature. With a running time of only a few minutes, they need to make an immediate and lasting impression on audiences in order to stick in viewers minds and give the film and its makers longevity. This is something we have come to expect from the format, but not all need to be like this. Some succeed by showcasing succinct storytelling skills or a high level of art.
The wide selection of shorts shown at the 2021 Fantasia Festival have many examples of such films with their share of sensationalist content. However, there are two stand outs that contain what some may see as shock value, but are not memorable for their more salacious elements. They are just well-made, professional productions.
The French-Belgian co-production Hold Me Tight, directed by Mélanie Robert-Tourneur, could be seen to some as sensational, but others would find it a beautifully drawn, unique interpretation of the traditional human romance story. The film substitutes more familiar forms of communication and interaction with a more animalistic aspect to show how love and desire – the feelings and acts of each – within reason are not to be thought of as poor shows of character. They are in fact natural.
By use of its exemplary artwork, which is reason enough alone to see it, the film seems to make a stark comment on changing attitudes towards sex. The use of many different animal and plant imagery show us how something which has been taboo for so many for so long is in fact a part of nature. Hold Me Tight is open to interpretation and may be viewed in a completely different way by each audience member.
Conversely, Nicole Bazuin’s Last Night at the Strip Club is neither fiction nor animation, but a true-life story from author and exotic performer Andrea Werhun. Whereas this one could have also been fuelled by provocation in order to attract attention, instead it is a far more thoughtful and engaging short.
When working as a stripper in Toronto when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Werhun at first felt uncomfortable there when her club was slow to close down, but when it did found herself thrown into doubt for what it meant for her livelihood. Her line of work is hard to do when not in person, or as she puts it, “How am I supposed to give a guy a lap dance when I can’t even shake his hand?”
Down-to-earth, funny, open and honest about what she thinks and feels as well as highly articulate and expressive, Werhun offers amusing and interesting insights to her line of work and is uninhibited when detailing the personalised services she now offers, no longer able to work in person any more. This ranges from sending standard nudes to more imaginative fare, such as reading Dr Seuss books topless. She also re-creates the last interaction she had with a club patron, playing both parts.
Most illuminating about the film is how it challenges the stigma of what sex industry workers do. It is an assumption Werhun had before entering the industry herself, but quickly found the girls who work in strip clubs wanting to be there. (Of course it should be noted that is not a universal truth.) She seems happy with her life and unashamed of what she does, while also giving us a brief insight into what the men who visit her are really like and what they are looking for. That may be obvious to some, but its surprising to see how sincerely it is portrayed.
It is through superior storytelling, unique premises and a high level of craft that makes these two films stand out in a crowded, hard-to-navigate space that is short film. Their many merits make both Hold Me Tight and Last Night at the Strip Club worth seeking out.
The Best Short Films To See At Fantasia Fest 2021