• Small Guage Trauma - Fantasia Film Festival

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: 7/25/2006
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: 1997 - 2004
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    The Films:

    Short films don’t get much love in genre circles for some reason, which is a shame as there’s a lot of really interesting, unique, and well made short film material out there to discover. For the most part, they only tend to show up at festivals, and one of the best ‘short friendly’ film festivals out there is Montreal’s Fantasia who, in conjunction with Synapse Films, are doing their damnedest to spread the word about how good some of this stuff really is. Enter Small Gauge Trauma, a collection of thirteen shorts which comprise the best of the short films that have been screened at the festival over the last few years, a very eclectic assembly of different movies from different countries that touch on different themes. If variety is the spice of life, then this collection is spicy indeed.

    ABUELITOS a.k.a. GRANDFATHER (15 minutes, Directed by Paco Plaza)

    As much a science-fiction piece as a horror piece, the opening 35mm short, from the director of El Segundo Nombre, is a dark and moody little movie about some strange activity that occurs in a rest home for senior citizens. This one absolutely drips with macabre atmosphere and while it would be a stretch to catagorize this as straight horror, there are definitely some sinister elements at play here. The movie closes in on you as it plays out, you get a really nice sense of impending darkness towards the end and the deliberate pacing of the film makes for a genuinely claustrophobic experience. A very strong way to start off the collection!

    LOVE FROM MOTHER ONLY (21 minutes, Directed by Dennison Ramalho)

    From the atmospheric creepiness of the first film we then switch gears to a very different but no less effective 35mm piece about a man named Filho who is a rather miserable sort. When he’s not begrudingly looking after his bed-ridden mother, he’s lusting after the much younger Formosa. She tells him that if he wants to be with her he has to leave his mother for good, which he refuses to do. When he finds out that she’s been selling her body, he finally snaps but what he soon learns is that Formosa is involved in some wicked, wicked stuff and that her black magic is more powerful than any physical attraction or family bind that Filho can possibly imagine.

    Grueling and intense, this is a slick little movie that builds to a completely unnerving climax through skillfully buidling suspense and then hitting us with some very effective gore set pieces. While it doesn’t ever feel exploitative or cheap, it doesn’t pull any punches and when the film finally ends, it’s like a shot to the gut. According to the liner notes, Dennison Ramalho co-wrote this film with an actual Macumba priest who know resides in prison. The unique Brazilian locations give this one an interesting stage to play on, and the future could hold very big things in store for Dennison Ramalho is this short is anything to go on.

    CHAMBRE JAUNE (8 minutes, Directed by Helene Cattet and Brunco Forzani)

    The third film is a collage in that it deftly mixes still photographs with tripped out color film footage to interesting effect. Very obviously inspired by the Italian Giallo films of the sixties and seventies, this French movie follows the lives of two women who share an apartment together. It doesn’t take long before the nasty sadomasichistic elements come into play, however, and what we end up with is a truly shocking and ever so slick twisted little gem of a movie.

    FLAT-N-FLUFFY (7 minutes, Directed by Benoit Boucher)

    Written and directed by Quebecois director Benoit Boucher (who directed In The Belly Of The Beast, the Fantasia documentary that can be found on the two-disc Manson Family release from Dark Sky Films) is a quick 16mm cartoon wherein two revolutionary types named Guido and Skippy skrew up and inadvertantly shoot their neighbours dog to death. Rather than own up to what they’ve done, they instead try to figure out how best to get away with it, with horrible results.

    This short is more humorous than scary but the humor is of a very black variety. The animation is as goofy as you’d expect given the presmise of the story but there’s a delicious meanstreak in here that makes this one funny particuarly if your sense of humor leans towards the absurd.

    GORGONAS (15 minutes, Directed by Salvador Sanz)

    This digitally animated piece from Argentenia presents a bleak view of the end times where members of an insanely popular rock band turn out to be gorgons. From there, the turn the population of the Earth into stone. By far one of the strangest of the admittadly strange collection of shorts contained on this disc, Gorgonas is a trip and a half. The premise of a rock band bringing about the end of the world sounds quite ludicrous, and, well, it is but Sanz makes it work thanks to some clever little quirks and some truly bizarre visuals courtesy of the impressive digital animation used to create this rather horrid landscape.

    I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (20 minutes, Directed by Miguel Vivas)

    Apparantly this 35mm zombie film did well enough in its native Portugal that it was shown in front of Exorcist: The Beginning during its theatrical run – no small feat for a low budget short! All it takes is one watch to see why fans embraced this one, as it’s a fast paced and gory little movie about a man named Lucio who is tasked with keeping his small village from from the zombie hordes that periodically descend upon it. To make life even more difficult for the poor guy, his wife, Ana, has become one of the undead beasts he despises so intensely. Things start to look up when he meets a girl named Nancy but Ana hasn’t forgotten the vows that Lucio took and she intends to hold him to them. Shades of Dellamorte Dellamore in here, but this one manages to branch out enough and to be creative enough that it never feels like a rip off. The humor is effective and, when you take into account the low budget, the make up effects and performances are pretty decent as well. Not the best short on the disc, but a very enjoyable one none the less.

    INFINI a.k.a. INFINITY (9 minutes, Directed by Guillaume Fortin)

    This Canadian made movie gives us a look into the mind of a man who obsessively splices together super 8mm film that has recorded the memories of a drug addict who has overdosed. This causes the splicers life to flash before her eyes as if she were going to die. Experimental to a strong degree, and influenced by Stan Brakhage and to a lesser extent, possibly David Lynch, Fortin has crafted an almost surrealist piece that, while not particularly good as a linear narrative, works very well as one of those movies that you don’t watch so much as experience.

    L'ILYA (39 minutes, Directed by Tomoya Sato)

    The longest of the movies on the disc is this 16mm Japanese production from 2001. L’Ilya is a videographer who specializes in a rather taboo subject in that she records people as they commit suicide. She doesn’t interfere, she simply documents and then later shows the footage as background entertainment at a swanky nightclub where people drink and socialize.

    At just shy of forty minutes in length, this is too short to be a feature but too long to really be a short – that being said, it’s a seriously moving and very, very sombre piece of work. The suicides that are shown are grisly enough on their own but adding to the strangeness here is that the deaths are very personal in their exection. L’Ilya’s camera captures them and they are later exploited in a sense after they’re gone but at the time that they’re happening, we’re almost able to connect with the people for a second or two, to get a sense for what makes their lives so upsetting without really knowing what their reasons are. This is a very strange and very grim piece of work but it is very well made and one that will surely stick with you for some time afterwards.

    MISS GREENY (0:30 seconds, Directed by Tenkwaku Naniwa)

    Too short to really descrive without completely ruining the experience, let it suffice to say that this incredibly short little movie is pretty much bonkers.

    RUTA DESTROY! (15 minutes, Directed by Diego Abad)

    This short film from Spain is a sort of raver/club kids gone bad piece that blends digital video and 35mm footage into an interesting musical piece. Plenty of sex and drugs, as you’d expect from the counter culture scene that it represents, this is definintely more of an edgy comedy than the genre entry you might associate with this collection but it’s completely entertaining and the comedy works well. This is almost a demented rock opera.

    THE SEPARATION (10 minutes, Directed by Robert Morgan)

    This freaky little stop-motion animation piece, shot on 35mm, is sort of a cross between David Cronenberg and Jan Svenkmeyer. It tells the story of a man who is seperated from his Siamese twin and afterwards has trouble coming to terms with it – seperation anxiety, you might say. The twins work in a strange factory where they use steampunk inspired machinations to punch eye holes in the heads of plastic dolls. The twin who has the anxiety injures himself with one of the machines so that he’ll become dependant on his brother again, but it doesn’t go quite as he’d planned. Free of any dialogue, this one is weird, disturbing, and funny all at the same time. This short has one boatloads of awards at various festivals around the world, and for good reason, as it’s a very impressive and original piece of work.

    SISTER LULU (5 minutes, Directed by Philip John)

    This quick 35mm film follows a woman, The Novice, as she joins a convent only to be prodded, dunked and and chased by the sisters only to find that the head nun, Sister Lulu, has the ability to make people fall unconcious. With The Novice knocked out, the nuns bury her alive though later, before she can die, Lulu digs her up only for The Novice to try and kill herself by running into a wall. Lulu realizes at this point that The Novice wants out, but she’s not going to get there by traditional methods, she can’t just up and leave if she feels like it. Incredibly fast paced and cast with some attractive and often naked ladies, Sister Lulu is a little tough to get your head around at first but think on it for a bit and it all makes sense – once it does you’ll realize how clever it all is. The cinematogrpahy is quite striking and the performances are solid, making this one of the best on the disc.

    TEA BREAK (7 minutes, Directed by Sam Walker)

    The final short on the disc is a creepy one that follows a man inside a massive industrial complex who goes about his job as any normal person would, or so we think until we realize that his job involves lobbing the heads off of people as they move down a conveyor belt. His ‘tea break’ is coming up shortly but he seems really into his work – if he rests, will he be able to get back into it again? Twisted, funny and flat out gross, Tea Break is a pretty odd little look at the assembly line worker drone and an interesting comment on society as a whole.


    Synapse does their typically excellent job on the mastering and authoring of this release and while the picture quality varies a bit depending on what format or media the short was film on (some were shot on 8mm, others 35mm, others digital) there is really very little worth complaining about here.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also quite good with no problems in terms of hiss or distortion. Each of the thirteen shorts is presented in its original language and those that weren’t shot in English come with optional English subtitles that translate things nicely. Levels are balanced properly, sound effects never sound too powerful or bury the performers and when background music is used, it sounds quite good.

    The biggest of the extra features on this release are the audio commentaries that Synapse has recorded for almost all of the short films (the exception being). Aside from the commentaries, Synapse has also included a video for Moonspell’s I’ll See You In My Dreams. Closing out the supplements on the disc are a single deleted Scene from The Seperation, and last but not least, a fun video introduction from the one and only Coffin Joe!

    Not on the disc itself but included as an insert are some liner notes from Mitch Davis that detail the origins of the project as well as provide credits and synopsis inforamation for each of the films on the DVD.

    The Final Word:

    An awesome and original collection of truly fascinating short films, Small Guage Trauma gets a fine release from Synapse Films.