Inspiring SFU student film Saloon Doors featured at Vancouver Short Film Festival

Photo via IMDb
Photo via IMDb

by Ben McGuinness, Peak Associate

Each year, the Vancouver Short Film Festival shows off the power of short films and Vancouver’s up-and-coming filmmakers at the Vancity Theatre.

Amongst this year’s films was Saloon Doors, an exciting short by second year SFU film student Santiago Araujo Henderson who punches above his weight — as far as his cinematography is concerned. Not only did Henderson write this incredible short, but also directed and starred in it as well. From the very first shot of a bus blowing through Uruguay beaches to an upbeat Spanish song, the film is decidedly different from most shorts that take a safer, more measured approach to their settings and visuals.

The first scene is a vivid dream that protagonist Hank (Santiago Henderson) is having where, while he’s on a rickety bus tour, his girlfriend (Bonnie Louise Gaskin) is posed majestically amongst the boulders and dunes in the style of a Vogue photoshoot. Somehow he gleans that the dream is telling him their relationship is in trouble, and upon waking up he jeopardizes it by obsessing over their status on the night of her art gallery showing.

Despite the tension, they clearly try to keep it working as he brings the focus back to her show. The scene at the gallery is another loaded visual for the audience, featuring gorgeous paintings created by the actress herself. 

Meeting Henderson after the show, I’m not surprised to find he’s passionate and just a bit frenzied as he conveys his excitement describing the filmmaking process. The scene in Uruguay, I learn, was filmed by chance as he traveled to the country for a wedding. I come to realize the film is a delirious blend of autobiography, documentary, and just enough fiction that Hank can show his girlfriend what he sees in his dreams through a “dream machine” pillow covered in Christmas lights — though I’m sure Henderson would too if he could.

Or maybe Hank only dreamed about the dream machine. It’s hard to tell exactly what happened as the film flits between lush dreams and sluggish reality. It is shot in a style that especially reminds me of Satoshi Kon, with the camera following Hank’s girlfriend into their dark apartment as the footage of his dream interlaces itself into the scene. Somehow, I’m assured, it is recounting a time in the director’s life when his relationship was challenged by the commotion of two artists dating.

The audience might get a bit lost in the fever-dream ramblings of the protagonist and the surreal splicing of his visions with mundane reality. However, if Henderson revisits the concept, he might be able to better convey why his dream affected him so greatly that he turned it into an ambitious film project.

Short films are most exciting when they are the playground for what could one day be the elements of a director’s feature films. I certainly can’t wait to see Henderson’s next brainchild.

Catch the director’s upcoming co-directed piece at a showing of SCA student films coming up in April. Keep your eyes on the SCA Events page to stay posted.