New film series celebrates shorts

· The Pulse

The organizer of the new short-film series Cold Cuts, which takes place at The Aviary on Jan. 18, said he hopes to put more shorts in front of more audiences.

"Short film is an awesome format and it gets left by the wayside all the time," Dustin Chok, the organizer and curator of Cold Cuts, told Taproot. "There's almost no venue for people to watch short films."

Chok is a part-time filmmaker, house dancer, and city employee who has made three shorts. His work has screened at more than 10 festivals and has won two awards, including Best Editor (Documentary Under 30 Minutes) at the 2023 Rosie Awards held by the Alberta Media Production Industries Association.

Part of his love for the format comes from time spent at The Film and Video Arts Society, better known as FAVA. "I had an archiving job with FAVA a number of years ago and there's just hundreds of films that just sit there," he said. "If you just put them together we'll come and watch and support, and that's the whole point of film — for people to watch them."

Shorts are often the way filmmakers gain a foothold in the competitive film industry. They can offer the first hints of an artist's potential.

"I think short film is a nuanced format that gives us a raw insight into the filmmakers," Chok said in an email. "I believe you can get a close sense of who the filmmakers are and the direction they want to take their art through their short films."

Chok selected mentors and collaborators to showcase work at the inaugural Cold Cuts. All are men based in Edmonton.

"I wanted more diversity, for sure," Chok said. "It just kind of came together quickly and these were basically the people who were available." Future events will prioritize gender diversity and include films from beyond city limits, Chok said.

Planning for the event started after the Edmonton premiere of Chok's Wave Rider, a documentary about house dance culture, at CO*LAB on Nov. 11. The event included DJs playing house music and dance tutorials.

Three people pose seated on a square stool. The person on the left holds a camera.

(From left) Crew member Colin Waugh, director Dustin Chok, and subject Sekou "Mr. Kou" Sonko-Boisclair behind the scenes during filming for the short documentary Wave Rider. (Supplied)

The program

Cold Cuts takes place at The Aviary on Jan. 18 at 7pm. Tickets are $12 at the door. Five films will be screened, and a Q&A with the filmmakers will follow.

Films that will be screened are:

  • Ryan Leedu's No Bedroom, a drama about a woman showing her apartment to prospective renters.
  • Anthony Goertz's Apocalypse Book Club, a narrative about a relationship filmed at Route 99 Diner.
  • Jonathan Balazs's The Mars Project, a documentary about rapper Khari "Conspiracy" Stewart and his outlook on his schizophrenia diagnosis.
  • Conor McNally's Very Present, a documentary about how confinement shaped his brother's sense of time.
  • Dustin Chok's Wave Rider, a documentary exploring house dance culture.

Chok's Wave Rider examines the history of house dance, a form of dance born out of disco-era house parties and eventually informed by the electronic music genre of the same name. The film traces connections between dancers in the United States and Canada, including here in Edmonton.

Today, house dance is associated with street dance but traces back to clubs and house parties in the late '70s and early '80s. DJs created house music when they made live edits to disco records at nightclubs in Chicago and New York City. House was pioneered within racialized and queer communities. Frankie Knuckles is credited as one of the creators of the music genre.

"The thing about that music is it was inclusive," Chok said. "These were spaces for people to find a release from their weekly grind or trauma or stress or whatever. But it's not only open just to underground, queer and Black people. It was open to anybody who was into the music."

You can recognize house dance based on some of its signature steps, though "there's a lot of debate on what the names are or how to do the steps," Chok said. Two fundamental moves are the jack and the chase.

"What (the jack) does is it helps you to keep the rhythm of the music or the groove," Chok said. "In house music it's really important to get your feet off the ground, just because the music is so quick. You have to have really light feet. And so it's a basic step that helps beginners to start to get their feet off the ground."

Part of the raison d'être of Wave Rider is to explore the connection between dancers in the U.S. and Canada. To this end, Chok flew in New York City-based Future, a three-time winner of the House Dance International competition and instructor at the Broadway Dance Center. In the film, Future is prominently featured alongside local dancer Sekou "Mr. Kou" Sonko-Boisclair, who Chok called "one of the best house dancers in Canada." Chok practices house dance himself, and Mr. Kou was one of his first teachers.

"One of the most important things is passing knowledge from generation to generation," Chok said. "That's what a lot of these people really believe."

If you want to experience house music and house dance, Chok suggests visiting The Bower when Blair Junior is behind the decks. For more opportunities to see short films, keep up with the Edmonton Short Film Festival and Gotta Minute Film Festival.