The 2022 Vancouver Short Film Festival will feature a work by a Sunshine Coast puppeteer who used the COVID-19 lockdown to turn an ancient Greek myth into a modern parable about the perils of self-isolation.
The VSFF opens on Jan. 28, in its second year as a virtual festival. The event will highlight 51 films from artists across Canada.
Born in Belgium and now living in Gibsons, Kris Fleerackers channeled a lifetime of storytelling experience—a theatrical career in Europe, 14 years as an editor with the CBC—into his deceptively-simple retelling of the Pygmalian myth through a live-action puppet film titled Idol. Fleerackers is the film’s director and sole performer.
The story was originally transcribed by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphosis collection. Pygmalian is a misanthropic sculptor who withdraws from society. He carves a statue of the ideal woman, only to fall in love with his creation.
“I was very much into puppets when I was a kid, not just like most kids, but I made them,” said Fleerackers. “So I think this idea of bringing inanimate things to life is deeply rooted somehow in my own psyche.”
As the founder of Fallada Puppetworks, he had long been planning a live puppet show based on Pygmalian. Suddenly, due to the pandemic and its compulsory seclusion, Fleerackers needed to do an abrupt about-face: “There was nothing I could do, really, other than try to think ahead of the future. And then I thought I could make a little film.”
For four months, his kitchen table became his studio. To create his puppets, Fleerackers uses recycled materials—corrugated cardboard from Amazon boxes, cloth scraps and glass shards. Idol came into focus as a 14-minute drama about acquisitiveness, formed from the residue of consumerism.
Fleerackers also saw parallels with the image-obsessed culture of the Internet. “We live in a highly technological society which allows us to surround ourselves, and to interact with, these images that are basically fantasy projections—whether or not they are actually attached to a real person. You know, [with] Facebook, nobody’s faces are actually in that book. It’s a construct.”
Taken to an extreme, Fleerackers said, social isolation—especially among young males—is producing real-life hermits known as hikikomori. The term originated in Japan, whose government in 2019 estimated that over a million of its citizens had withdrawn from society.
Idol is saturated with imagery of solitude, punctuated by flashes of wry humour. Using shallow depth of field, Fleerackers’s lens amplifies the distance between characters. Spoken dialogue is limited to a litany of sighs, groans and murmurs. Its landscape is—by the nature of its construction—paper-thin.
According to Emily Weldon, co-director of the VSFF, the film’s austerity reflects the unique challenges of the short film medium. Movies at the festival generally run between five and 30 minutes.
“[Filmmakers] have to know exactly what they want to say, and they have to know exactly how they want to say it,” said Weldon. “Idol is a perfect example of that. It’s an opportunity to take the power of narrative and really distill it.”
Since being shortlisted for the VSFF, Idol was also accepted by the Powell River Film Festival (scheduled for March) and the Calgary Animated Objects Society’s CAOS Festival, which takes place in November.
Note: Idol contains puppet nudity and a suggestive scene probably not appropriate for younger viewers.
Tickets for the virtual Vancouver Short Film Festival are available for purchase at www.vsff.com.