The night sky becomes a path back into the past for a woman with Alzheimer's disease in Leah Johnson's fourth short film.
Ingrid and the Black Hole, one of nine films screening Sunday in the Reel East Coast Shorts Gala, is a magical seven-minute film about an older woman who imagines a black hole in the sky that allows her to travel to her fondest memories of childhood, love, marriage and child-rearing.
Johnston, now writing the sci-fi feature film CreatureHe, was inspired by caring for her grandmother Connie, who has Alzheimer's and is now in a nursing home.
When Johnston, a New York-trained actor, photographer and filmmaker, moved back to Truro in 2013, she spent two years caring for her grandmother part time.
“She would sometimes think she was a child and the next moment she was an old woman," says Johnston. "She was a time traveller in her own mind.
“Most films about Alzheimer's disease have a grim perspective, the outside looking in. From my grandmother's perspective, she is blissfully ignorant of what is happening. I wanted to make something dreamy and going back to these beautiful moments of her life.”
Rena Kossatz plays the aging woman with Molly Dunsworth as the younger version in a film that Johnston shot in Halifax in June after she won the 35K WIFT Bravofact Pitch. Her New York friend Christopher Barnett wrote an enchanting score and Nova Scotia cinematographer Christopher Ball with Johnston is responsible for the film's beautiful imagery.
Ingrid and the Black Hole premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival in July, was in Telefilm's Not Short on Talent program at Cannes and is having a "great festival run."
Cory Bowles brings his new short Black Cop to the gala. “It's quite an honour. I'm really excited the Atlantic Film Festival took a chance on it,” says the filmmaker, director, actor and choreographer.
The film is a satire told through a POV “cop cam” and a radio call-in show. A black cop, never seen until the end, goes on a spree of attacking white people for apparently no reason as he listens to a radio call-in show where people justify cops' actions in killing black people.
Bowles got the idea two years ago before this summer's heightened racial violence of police officers killing black people in the United States. “Most of my films in the last few years have been exploring racial tension and racial topics," he says.
“As frightening as Black Cop seems, I also find a lot of humour in it. In my mind it's a comedy, for some people who watch it it's intense.
Black Cop “is not a revenge film, it's just a question," says Bowles. “Films are always questions.”
Sunday is the film's premiere, then it goes to other festivals including ones in Vancouver, Cleveland, Baltimore and Atlanta before being released online.
Bowles received a Telefilm Canada micro-budget to shoot Black Cop as a feature film in Halifax in early November. “It's a very different film, it's part surreal, part narrative and part footage. It's a very genre-bending satire."
To make the film he's pulling everything out of his “tool box,” he says. “It's a mix of everything I've ever done. It could be really out there. I'm excited.”
Struan Sutherland not only has a short film in the festival, he is also the star of Nicole Steeves' hour-long feature Head Space, screening Monday.
On Sunday he shows his animated short, Rubbed the Wrong Way, co-written with Bill Corkum, in which a couple in a store accidentally release a genie and won't believe in him.
“This idea occurred to me: wouldn't it be funny to have a genie trying really hard to give someone anything they want to have and have that person be thinking too small? If something makes me laugh when I think of it, that's the starting point for me.
“Everything I've written has been comedy,” says Sutherland, who is also a standup comic and performing at this year's Halifax Pop Explosion. “I'm not a very serious person.”
Sutherland, who always loved art class and had a web comic in high school, is influenced by Monty Python's animation style.
His characters talk to the camera, not to each other, out of laziness, he laughs. “If I do everything from a single angle it takes less time and it's a style I think works with my sense of humour. I've always been focused on dialogue. I think that being simple visually brings people's attention more to the dialogue.”
He's made 14 animated films so far as a way “to make shorts alone” but since moving to Halifax five years ago he's found a team of filmmakers to work with on live-action shorts and features.
Growing up in Cambridge, Ont., there was no film scene and he knew it'd be hard to break into Toronto's film industry.
“I'd visited here and I knew people were pretty friendly and that to work your way into the industry was easier and a better experience.”
That's turned out to be true. “I did Film 5 and that was a huge thing for me,” he says.”It's really good here.”
Head Space is about an agoraphobic who must face his demons when he is both summoned for jury duty and harassed by a pizza delivery guy (Stoo Metz).
“Nicole had seen me do a socially awkward, weird character before and while she was writing it she was talking to me about doing it. I haven't done a lot of acting but it was a great experience,” says Sutherland, who plans to shoot a short with this team and also work on a feature film that is a yoga horror comedy.
Other films Sunday include Jay Dahl's smart, polished, fun and funny 21-minute drama Throw Rock, an epic tale with a comic-book energy about a gang of kids forced to take a military-style action after a dweeby new neighbour antagonizes each child and perhaps even kills one member's dog; Mabel, a film by Teresea MacInnes and Kent Nason about an independent 89-year-old hairdresser; Mike Fardy's Moving On, winner of CBC's 2016 Short Film Face Off; Marigolds by Jillian Acreman; September in Toronto by Millefiore Clarkes and The Tour by Jenina MacGillivray.
The shorts gala presented by CBC will be held Sunday, 7 p.m., at the Oxford Theatre with an encore Thursday, 9:30 p.m., at Park Lane. This shorts program is one of many in the Atlantic Film Festival.