The 2004 Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival was the tenth in this series of prestigious events. The festival was sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto that was dedicated to preparing future generations of filmmakers. Because the festival relied on government and corporate funding for its survival, growth from year to year was important. It was also important that the festival develop and maintain an identity separate from that of the noted Toronto International Film Festival, which was dedicated to feature-length films. Although they shared a home city, the two festivals were not connected.
The Canadian Film Centre worked with Taxi, a Toronto-based agency, to develop a campaign promoting the 2004 festival. Taxi did the work pro bono, continuing a relationship between the festival and the agency that dated to 2000. The campaign was built around a series of humorous television spots, broadcast on Canadian cable stations, that were designed to draw in a wide audience of moviegoers. Because the spots were done on behalf of a nonprofit center, they were considered public-service announcements, and the airtime, estimated to be worth about $3 million, was donated by the stations. One group of commercials featured a character named Ian Heidegger, a pretentious acting-teacher who demonstrated various techniques, which were invariably absurd, for performing in short films. One spot, titled ‘‘Special FX,’’ featured Heidegger walking around with a cigarette stuck to his pants as a ‘‘special effect’’ for generating smoke. Taxi also created spots that underscored the fact that the festival was devoted to short films. At the same time, the spots cited aspects in common between short films and full-length features, such as special effects, to emphasize the similarity between the two mediums.
Like previous campaigns created by Taxi on the behalf of the festival, the 2004 spots were considered to be a success. Attendance continued to climb at a consistent pace—it had risen about 25 percent every year since Taxi began working with the festival—and submissions continued to come in from around the world. The campaign was also a hit with critics, and the ‘‘Special FX’’ spot won a 2005 Gold Clio Award. This was, however, the last campaign created by Taxi for the festival. In 2005, citing other commitments, the agency declined an offer to continue the relationship.
The Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival was sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre, based in Toronto. The center was founded in 1988 by Norman Jewison, a Canadian native who had achieved success in Hollywood. It offered hands-on instruction to young Canadians who wanted to make a career in the film industry. The center typically took about 85 residents per year, all of whom received training from veterans of the film industry. The center’s residents also collaborated on short film projects. The center’s 2004 festival was held from May 11 through May 16. It was the tenth year for the festival, and it featured entrants from around the world. As with past festivals, the entrants were grouped in two separate competitions, one for Canadian filmmakers and another for international participants. Although the festival was primarily designed to celebrate short films, it also served to promote the center.
The festival included films that were not entered in the competition itself. In 2004, for example, there was a screening of a short film titled Destino, a joint creation of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali and the animation pioneer Walt Disney. The project was begun in 1946, but it had been abandoned soon after. The film was finally finished by the Walt Disney Company in 2003, using storyboards and animation that remained from the original effort. Both Dali and Disney, of course, had died several decades before the film’s completion. The festival also featured special programs, which in 2004 included a focus on Mexican films and a spotlight on music videos. The festival was important for the city of Toronto in a number of ways. Tourism had suffered after Toronto experienced a mild outbreak of sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, and the 2004 festival served to help boost tourism in the city. In addition, along with the Toronto International Film Festival, the festival of short films continued to build upon Toronto’s reputation as a major city for the art of film.
The campaign for the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival was specifically targeted at moviegoers, especially those who were thought to be inclined to go to film festivals. At the same time the campaign was broad based, aimed at attracting as large an audience as possible. Maintaining a solid attendance at festival events was important, since the Canadian Film Centre operated strictly on a nonprofit basis. This meant that much of the funding for both the center and the festival came from government grants and corporate donations. One way to ensure that grants and donations continued was to keep the festival growing. In addition, because those who attended were charged admission, higher attendance helped fund the festival and the center. All money raised went back into the festival budget, meaning that higher attendance offered the opportunity to screen more films in future festivals.
While there was no direct competition to the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival, since it was the only major event of its kind in the city, it was important that the festival try to prevent being eclipsed by the Toronto International Film Festival. Run by the Toronto International Film Festival Group, this latter event, which had begun in 1976, had over the years become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. In 1999, for example, the noted film critic Roger Ebert claimed that the Toronto International Film Festival was even more influential than the festival held in Cannes, France.
While the Toronto International Film Festival was held in the fall, after the festival of short films, it always threatened to overshadow the earlier event. For one thing full-length films had a greater hold on the public’s imagination. Although a short film like Destino, the Dali-Disney collaboration, might hold interest for filmmakers, it could never achieve the audience enjoyed by many full-length feature films. For example, the Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which had its North American premiere in Toronto in 2001, went on to gross more than $128 million in the United States and Canada. Thus, campaigns for the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival had to make the case for short films as an art form in their own right and help the festival define itself on its own terms.
Taxi, which had handled advertising for the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival since 2000, was a Canadian-based advertising agency with offices in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal, as well as in New York City. The festival was a nonprofit event, and Taxi offered its work pro bono. Because the festival was a nonprofit event and received government support, the advertising counted as public-service announcements. Hence, local cable stations donated airtime, which was estimated to be worth $3 million.
The main concern of Taxi was to show that short films were not all that different from longer features. In addition, the agency felt that the spots needed to be light in tone so as to project a sense of fun. The 2004 campaign included three 30-second television spots that featured the character Ian Heidegger, an acting teacher. They were titled ‘‘Special FX,’’ ‘‘Love Scene,’’ and ‘‘Good Cop, Bad Cop.’’
‘‘Special FX’’ began with a shot of a classroom in which ‘‘Short film workshop–Special F/X’’ was written on the blackboard. As smoke gathered around him, teacher Ian Heidegger walked around the room. He discussed various ways of producing smoke and the different characters he could play. A shot then let the viewer know that the smoke was coming from a cigarette the teacher had attached to the front of his pants. The lesson continued as the teacher asked his students who he could be, ‘‘a gorilla in the mist’’ perhaps. He ended the lesson by declaring, ‘‘You’re all wrong. It’s me, Ian Heidegger. I’m acting. Magic,’’ as his students looked on in consternation.
The spot than concluded with the Toronto
Worldwide Short Film Festival logo, as Ian repeated his self-assessment: ‘‘Magic.’’
In ‘‘Love Scene’’ the Ian Heidegger character gave another lesson. Here ‘‘Short film actor’s workshop–love scene’’ appeared on the blackboard. The spot began with the teacher, who this time was not named, standing at the front of the class with two students. After a moment he looked at them and gave the instruction, ‘‘Steve, John, make passionate love to each other.’’ Confused by their teacher, the two students hugged awkwardly. He then interrupted them and told them to sit down. After reminding the class that they were learning about short films, he called another student, Ron, to the front of the class. The teacher then took off his shirt and told the class he would teach them how to make love in ‘‘three seconds.’’ The spot closed with the instructor running full bore at his terrified pupil. Again, the spot concluded with the festival logo.
A third Heidegger spot was titled ‘‘Good Cop, Bad Cop.’’ In this spot ‘‘Short film workshop–Good Cop/ Bad Cop’’ appeared on the blackboard. Heidegger watched as three students enacted the Hollywood good cop/bad cop routine. In a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood action move, one ‘‘cop’’ was rude to the ‘‘suspect,’’ while another was friendlier. The teacher eventually interrupted and told the students that the scene was ‘‘too long’’ for a short film. He then showed them ‘‘the Heidegger method’’ for the good cop/bad cop routine. The teacher sat down next to the suspect and said, ‘‘Confess, bitch. Nice hair.’’ He nodded to the class, and the festival logo appeared.
The effect of the spots was to satirize pretentious Hollywood actors. The Ian Heidegger character was overthe-top in his mannerisms and voice, which served to make his special effect look even more ridiculous and his techniques seem all the more unhinged. Even his name, an echo of the noted twentieth-century philosopher Martin Heidegger, sounded pretentious. The tone of the spots was important to Taxi, which felt that humor would be more effective in getting people’s attention. Other commercials in the campaign centered on an imaginary short film titled Livid. These spots all made sport of how short the film was. A spot titled ‘‘Score,’’ for example, featured a performance of the film’s sound track, which was three notes long. Another spot, ‘‘Director,’’ summed up the plot of the film in one sentence. Again, humor was the key to the success of the spots.
NORMAN JEWISON: A NORTHERN STAR
The Canadian Film Centre was founded in 1986 by the noted director and producer Norman Jewison in an effort to foster the film community of his native Canada. Born in 1926, Jewison received his education at the University of Toronto before embarking on a career in Hollywood. He was especially interested in exploring racism and racial issues, inspired in part by a journey across the Deep South of the United States during the Jim Crow era.
Jewison’s best-known film, In the Heat of the Night (1967), dealt with America’s racial politics headon. The film starred Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger as police officers who had to work together to find a murderer. Poitier played Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia police detective who, while on vacation in the South, was accused of murder by a local police chief, played by Rod Steiger. Eventually, despite mutual distrust, the two learned to cooperate in order to find the real killer. Other Jewison movies, such as The Hurricane (1999), which starred Denzel Washington, had similar themes. In this film, based on the life of Rubin Carter, an African-American boxer was wrongly accused of murder.
Other well-known Jewison films included the screen adaptations of Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), as well as the 1968 hit The Thomas Crown Affair, which starred Steve McQueen. In recognition of his contributions to American film, Jewison received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony.
The campaign for the 2004 Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival was considered to be a success. Once again attendance rose, continuing a trend of roughly a 25 percent increase in every year between 2000 and 2004. The number of submissions also was up, with the festival in 2004 drawing more than double the number received in 2000.
The campaign, especially the Ian Heidegger spots, was also a hit creatively. ‘‘Special FX’’ was singled out for the 2005 Gold Clio Award in the television category. The 2004 campaign, however, was the last Taxi agreed to develop for the festival. In 2005, despite the Clio for their work on behalf of the 2004 festival, Taxi decided to stop offering pro bono work for the event. Because of an expanded client base, the agency felt that it could no longer give the attention the festival needed. Taxi continued, however, to do other projects for the Canadian Film Centre, including design work for its 2006 winter gala.