KCFF screens local talent, but talent falls short

John Abrams’ The Ballad of Jack the Tenor rescues a cinematically lackluster evening

A still from Mickayla Pyke’s Invaluable.
Image supplied by: Supplied by Kingston Canadian Film Festival
A still from Mickayla Pyke’s Invaluable.

Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) shorts program ended on a high note with John Abram’s The Ballad of Jack the Tenor, which came as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise forgettable evening of cinema.

Last Friday evening, the KCFF screened seven locally produced short films for an event called the Local Shorts Program. When watching amateur films, it’s always best to remember that these films have essentially no budget and that filmmakers are forced to condense their artistic vision into roughly 10 minutes of runtime.

In other words, they’re not the blockbuster Hollywood flicks we’re used to.

That said, local film festivals have produced stellar work in the past. At this year’s Focus Film Festival, the student filmmakers used their time constraints and low budget to produce some truly creative and memorable films.

But I was disappointed to see that many of the films screened on Friday were forgettable and unoriginal.

As I sat among other patrons in the theatre, immersed in the sound of popcorn crunching, I felt as if I were merely going through the motions of a movie-going experience. I was barely impacted or moved by many of the films.

Joel George’s 177, a film about two friends trying to cover up a murder, was a mostly predictable homage to Christopher Nolan’s noir Memento. Despite a well-paced plot, the film was ultimately tanked by a confusing and heavy-handed twist ending that left audiences lost.

Mickayla Pyke’s Invaluable began with promise, but was executed poorly. The film — which follows a mother compromising the safety of her newborn child while racing to retrieve a valuable object — was poorly shot and the ending was seemingly designed only for shock value.

The most disappointing film of the night was Cody Bennett’s Duplicity. The film follows Lieutenant Warren Samuels, an operative recruit undergoing a psychological evaluation. Samuels must retrieve a code from an assailant, who turns out to be a duplicate of himself.

Confused? That seems about right. Watching this film was a bit like watching The Matrix, if The Room’s notoriously clumsy Tommy Wiseau directed the sci-fi classic instead of the Wachowski brothers. The film reached for philosophical depth only to result in pretention.

Despite the films that preceded it, the festival finished with an unexpectedly wonderful film — John Abrams’ The Ballad of Jack the Tenor. The musical, which focuses on a psychopathic and murderous tenor, soared far above expectations and put every other film to shame.

BALLAD OF JACK THE TENOR wins @SteamWhistle homebrew award! #kcff16

— kingcanfilmfest (@kingcanfilmfest) February 29, 2016

Jack, the protagonist, wants to be the lead in a recent production, but he’s only a reserve. In an effort to become the star, he begins to murder his co-stars while singing gleefully about the atrocious acts he’s committed.

Jack the Tenor was delightfully sadistic and stunningly witty. The film’s star, John Abrams, is a major talent and endlessly entertaining to watch in the lead role.

Unlike many of the other shorts, Jack the Tenor didn’t take itself too seriously. The filmmakers successfully delivered within the confines of a no-budget short and never ineffectually reached for a spot in the pantheon of cinematic masterpieces. Indeed, Tenor’s lighthearted self-awareness worked to the film’s advantage.

Ideally, film festivals are learning experiences for burgeoning filmmakers to improve and inspire each other along with their audience.

Student filmmakers shouldn’t take the elements that made Jack the Tenor a standout film and imitate them in future projects. They should, however, seek to emulate the same wit and lack of self-seriousness that made the film an enjoyable experience.


Kingston Canadian Film Festival, short films, student films

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