I’ve always believed that ground rules can breed creativity; give an artist unlimited resources and they could very well come back to you with something lovely. What happens though when their palette is limited, their guidelines specific, and you throw in the added pressure of a deadline? Some creative minds might come up short under such constraints while others may very well flourish within the structure.

Tonight, The Toronto Youth Short Film Festival will be presenting films submitted for their fourth annual T24 Project. The project is akin to a filmmaking 100M dash: filmmakers are given 24 hours to envision, write, shoot, edit, and deliver a short film. Films can be no shorter than 7 minutes, no longer than 10 minutes, and all team members must be between the ages of 18 and 28. Finally, the subject matter has to specifically address the challenge question: “What is Your Toronto?”

Like I said – ground rules.

In watching eight of the films that will be screened, I was struck by an unexpected commonality to the shorts. There seems to be a sense of unease to them – a sense that all is not well in this town we call home. There are suggestions that we are reluctant to change as the city evolves. There are theories that a sense of isolation has taken hold of citizens and that, while we are surrounded by people, we want nothing more than to keep to ourselves. There’s even the notion that the city itself doesn’t understand or celebrate beauty in its various forms. One film goes so far as to say “It’s tough not to think of yourself as a cog”, and I can’t say I disagree.

The films all have charm and tell very different stories. PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS for example, centres around the sort of person we see every day – a person who is down on his luck. The film points out that it is our habit not to stop and pay attention to these people even if we were paid to do it. On the flip side, there’s TRINITY – the film that delivers the quote about the cog. Much of it seems full of skepticism; worried that the white-collar economy that drives this city won’t have a place for them. In some ways, it’s worrisome seeing so much local angst and skepticism on one screen.

The interesting thing about the challenge is how tricky it can be to stay inside the lines. Three of the films I watched have been deemed ineligible for the festival’s Visible Thesis Award because they failed to meet one of the challenge’s criteria. Therefore some of the most interesting work submitted – like the dialogue-free JAN. 31 – is playing the festival out of competition. It’s unfortunate, especially given how well some of the ineligible films play out.

What’s unsurprising for films both in and out of competition, is how multi-faceted the stories are. Toronto has become a city that is diverse, with pace and attitude differing greatly from community to community. The culture uptown is not the same as the culture near The University of Toronto. The pace in The Beach is not the same as the pace at Yonge and Bloor. More and more, each neighbourhood is establishing its own taste, fashion, and standing within the greater whole. Appropriately so, the films submitted within the project reflect this. Another thing they all reflect is the lifeline that connects us all – as almost every film either shows or makes mention of the TTC.

The stories inspired by the T24 challenge are both engaging and worrisome. The unrest amongst its participants is evident, but so too is their desire to tell their story, and make their voice heard in the patchwork that Toronto has become.

Toronto Youth Shorts is screening the completed shorts tonight at Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave) at 7:00 pm. You can purchase tickets at the door for $12. For more information on the T24 challenge, check out the website here.