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Canuck-flavored shorts

Helmers fashion personal efforts

TORONTO — A silver anniversary is a great excuse for some naval gazing, and the Toronto Intl. Film Festival is taking full advantage with a celebratory program of custom-made short films called Preludes.

Fest organizers approached 10 well-respected Canuck filmmakers about a year ago and asked them to put together a short in honor of the fest’s 25th anniversary. The 10 — David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Mike Jones, Jean Pierre Lefebvre, Guy Maddin, Don McKellar, Jeremy Podeswa, Patricia Rozema, Michael Snow and Anne Wheeler — represent “a very interesting cross-section of the state of cinema in this country,” according to producer Niv Fichman.

Fichman’s job was to coordinate the films and make sure there wasn’t any duplication. “But I didn’t have to deal with that at all because everyone came up with such unique ideas,” he says. “Some of the shorts are more specifically about the festival, the experiences these filmmakers have had, while some are much broader — about cinema and the effect that cinema has on them.”

One of the filmmakers that Fichman singles out is the enigmatic local artist Snow. “It’s a wonderful experimental artwork,” opines Fichman of the short. “He plays with image and sound, it’s delightful and tricky.”

It’s very different from the slicker and more linear short that came from Rozema that the filmmaker herself describes as “a gentle, loving little sketch” about a fictional film premiere, starring fellow helmer McKellar, Sarah Polley, Mark McKinney and fest director Piers Handling, debuting as himself.

McKellar’s own film is about audiences and comes from his own time working at the festival.

Maddin’s film, from Winnipeg, has 480 shots in five minutes. “It’s pretty fast moving,” says Fichman. “It’s in his style in that it looks like he found the footage in some garbage can somewhere … but it’s all originally shot.”

Egoyan’s film is “one elegant shot, with no editing at all. It’s about waiting in line at the festival”; something with which most Toronto film fest regulars can identify.

The offering from Jones, along with siblings Andy and Cathy Jones, who spring from the old CODCO comedy group, is an out-and-out comedy. “It’s very funny and irreverent,” says Fichman.

Podeswa’s is a personal work about the 1945 classic “Les Enfants du Paradis,” the first film that moved him deeply.

Cronenberg’s short is a characteristically layered work about the death and re-emergence of cinema. “It’s dark, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” says Fichman.

Auds will have plenty of opportunity to see the Preludes individually or all together. “These shorts,” notes Fichman, “are going to be everywhere.”

Each Prelude will premiere before a gala feature and the following day will run before each of the films. On Sept. 13, the shorts will be shown together in a screening that will be open to the public with all of the filmmakers in attendance.

After the fest wraps, they’ll run on Canuck specialty TV (as part of a special that will include the making of the films) and the shorts will be available on the festival Web site (www.bell.ca/filmfest) for downloading.

Ultimately, Preludes will hit the festival circuit as well. With any luck, says Fichman, Toronto’s 25th anniversary shorts series will become a popular ambassador to other film festivals worldwide.

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