Trevor Anderson Shorts

A program of films by the Canadian auteur is a highlight of the 2012 Outburst Queer Arts Festival

Despite the best efforts of the art house cinema fraternity, short films are often sideshows, relegated to play second fiddle to their feature-length cousins.

Within the filmmaking industry, shorts are also all too often viewed as calling cards for emerging talent, steppingstones to feature film fame rather than bona fide art works in their own right. They allow directors to hone their craft, certainly, but few filmmakers stick to the form in the long run.

So it was a delight to see the short films of Trevor Anderson screened at Queen's Film Theatre as part of the 2012 Outburst Queer Arts Festival. Anderson proves, time and again, that short films can be daring, complex, funny, emotive and provocative.

Anderson was born in Canada and is a self-taught filmmaker who only began making short films in 2005. The program formed a retrospective of Anderson’s LGBTQ-themed work. His early oeuvre is varied, moving between voiceover-heavy autobiographical films and shorts with stronger narratives.

This formative portion of the program culminated in The Island, which was inspired – for want of a better word – by a piece of 'fan mail' that Anderson once received. The author of the letter was of the opinion that 'faggots' like Anderson should be rounded up and sent to an island where they can 'give each other AIDS'.

Far from taking offence, however, Anderson rather hilariously set out to discover such an island near Cold Lake Alberta, a landscape marked by snow drifts where the filmmaker treks alone, bundled into a parka and fur hat. Then, suddenly, out of the monochrome of the white vista burst forth palm trees and flowing rivers, waterfalls and cabanas. A volcano erupts in the distance.

The Island marries the two sides to Anderson’s dual aesthetic: the private, autobiographical leanings of Carpet Diem – which sees him suffering a midlife crisis at only 35 in the middle of a red carpet – and the imaginative satire of Dinx, in which a gay bar’s 'shooter boy' finds himself reliving the terrifying awkwardness of his youth, only to realize that he never really got away from it.

Anderson's confident but quirky vision is perhaps best realised in his latest piece, The Man That Got Away. It tells the story of Anderson's uncle, who left his prairie farm life to be a chorus boy on Broadway, only to fall prey to drugs and end up in rehab. There, however, he met Judy Garland and his life was changed forever.

This film is certainly the most ambitious of Anderson’s efforts, being not only a deeply personal short film, but also a musical, of sorts. It is a great step – a grand jeté – forward in both content and scope that is at turns funny, haunting, melancholic and celebratory, in addition to being a spectacle in the vein of campy musicals like Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game.

The film stumbles slightly toward the end, when the kitsch gives way to an unlikely contemporary dance section, yet it rights itself before the end through a painfully honest monologue delivered by Anderson before fading to black.

Anderson is remarkable for his ability to transform what others might perceive as the weakness of the short film medium into its strength – he takes no time in getting his message across, and does so with a keen eye for cinematography and characterisation.

As an artist working in a medium that doesn’t get the respect it deserves, he is no pioneer, perhaps, but he certainly deserves the many awards he has won at international film festivals such as Sundance over the years. Trevor Anderson’s oeuvre is a refreshing reminder of how satisfying short films can be. Seek out his work before Hollywood snaps him up.

The Outburst Queer Arts Festival continues until November 18.