Tag Archives: Canada

VIFF 2017 Review: Forest Movie

ForestMovie

This year seems like the year I’ve seen more experimental film at the VIFF than ever before. The latest experimental feature I saw was Forest Movie. It was shot all in  Vancouver and it does a lot with the 65 minutes it has.

The film begins with images of a forest and then phases into a young woman sleeping. The young woman was actually dreaming of the forest. She sends a text message to her friend that she can’t meet up: she’s sick. The friend accepts.

What she does right after is put on a jacket and bring along her bag and portable chair. She simply leaves from her apartment suite near Powell St. and Nanaimo St. and walks to a forest inside the city. The visit is simple as she walks across the paved trails over the rocks and branches with her cellphone turned off. A complete getaway. There are times she takes breaks like for when she eats something or feels she needs to write poetry or prose in her notebook. Other than that, just simply walking through the forest.

Then she finds a grassy spot that’s open and surrounded by the trees. She uses that spot as a place to set up her chair and relax. There’s a twenty-minute shot of the area of the forest she witnesses from her chair. It just consists of that view, changes of sunshine or cloud, and the surrounding sounds of the outdoors or her dealing with her chair, bag or notebook.

Night soon falls. She actually fell asleep during her time sitting in the forest. Night approaches. She’s all alone in the dark relying on her cellphone as a flashlight. She rushes to find the exit to the forest, but is lost. Images of her attempt to exit consist of her cellphone light shining or complete darkness with nothing but sound. Morning breaks and we see her walking back to her apartment as if nothing dreadful happened.

No question this film can be defined as experimental. The film is what it is. It’s a story about a young woman seeking tranquility in a forest and is willing to deal with whatever comes to her. The director Matthew Taylor Blais was in the audience and would later hold a Q&A after. Before the film started, he said: “No two people will have the same impression of this film.”

I got what he was after in this film: he wanted us to create our own thoughts, impressions and opinions about this film. That explains why actress Ana Escorse is given no dialogue at all in this film. The film is all about what we see and what we hear. I was open to this. The film gives us images and scenes that try to get us to form our own opinions. For starters, I actually thought the woman really was sick from the texts she sent. I though she went to the forest possibly for natural healing therapy. That scene in her apartment that shows an Aboriginal dream catcher could may have made some, including myself,  believe she’s into Aboriginal spirituality and may see the forest as the medicine she needs. Even the scene where you see trees just outside a condo leads you to think this is an urban forest close to downtown Vancouver in Stanley Park, when it’s actually shot in Pacific Spirit Regional Park close to UBC.

Later shots add into the opinions we form about this film. The scenes where she takes out her notebook and writes or draws might get one to think she’s using the forest for creative inspiration. That twenty-minute shot of the forest’s view is an attempt to get us to rely on the background sounds to form our own opinions about what’s happening from this view. The end scene of her trying to leave the forest at night is also one that gets us to rely on our thoughts of what’s happening. The scene with the biggest impact is the scene where the camera makes like we see her escape through her eyes. It consists of the background sounds and the cellphone light cutting in and out. It’s actually the scene with the most drama as one would wonder will she make it? Will she get lost?

Matthew Taylor Blais does a very good job with this film. I was more welcoming with the experimentation in this film than I was in PROTOTYPE. I think Blais’ intro before it began helped me to be more welcoming.  It’s an experimental film that pays off and allows the audience to create their own impression. It allowed me to create mine. However it is to say that it does take some creative risks that would be questionable. I welcomed that twenty-minute shot of the forest scenery, but some were not so welcoming. In fact I saw a few people leave the theatre during that scene, including a group of four. That’s one of the risks of creating an experimental film like this. Not everyone is as welcoming as me to such experimentation.

Forest Movie is an experimental film that allows the audience to exercise their imagination and make their own judgements about what’s happening in the story. This is experimental film that pays off greatly.

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VIFF 2017 Shorts Segment: New Skins And Old Ceremonies

CinemaOne thing of the VIFF I consider to be a treat is whenever I attend a shorts segment. The segment I saw entitled New Skins And Old Ceremonies was a selection of seven shorts from Canadian directors. They were all unique in their own way.

Lost Paradise Lost: dir. Yan Groulx- Two people named Julie and Victor are out of love and find themselves boarding a bus full of strangers to anywhere. Where it takes them is a bizarre place for those out of love and rivals and threats to deal with. An eccentric short nonetheless, but it captures the feel well and makes sense in the end.

Flood: dir. Amanda Strong- It’s an animated short about an indigenous person and how the Canadian system did what it could to make them and their people feel inferior. It’s a story worth telling. The mix of stop-motion for modern images and traditional indigenous art adds to the story. The film ends with a renewed sense of pride.

Cherry Cola: dir. Joseph Amenta- Two drag queens are out on a night to dress up, have fun, and get revenge on an ex-boyfriend. It seems confusing at first, despite being intriguing to watch. You first think it’s a comedy, but the story ends on a dark note. It exposes an overlooked heartache some transvestites have.

The Good Fight: dir. Mintie Pardoe- A young woman goes into a sex toy shop to buy a toy. This woman is a nun about to be ordained. She struggles with her sworn commitment to celibacy, but the secret does get exposed. And with a surprising ending. Directed by a recent UBC graduate, the story is basically for the sake of shock value as it appears no actually research on the Catholic Church and vocations were done. Basically that’s all it is: entertainment for hedonists.

Sea Monster: dirs. Daniel Rocque and Kassandra Tomczyk- Tomczyk co-wrote, co-directed and stars in this short. Charley and Aria are a couple cooped up in a hotel madly in love, but both are coping with trauma. Aria dreams of a squid. Then the two make out on night in the fashion of a squid, followed by a bizarre aftermath. This is a film that’s nothing short of experimental. This film is good at getting creative in its time frame and setting.

Thug: dir. Daniel Boos- We first see how three friends– Eman, Simon and Josh– are shooting a low-budget gangsta film. Director Josh recommends to Eman that he creates a hold-up scene on Simon unexpectedly to make the film more ‘real.’ Eman agrees, despite the risk to their friendship. It does a lot more; it arouses suspicion from the local police. Later, Eman and Simon talk about roles they wish they could play before Eman auditions for a role as a gangster thug. This short film sends a message about how minorities in acting get the short end of the stick in terms of the roles they are offered and are often limited to racial stereotypes.

Let Your Heart Be Light: dirs. Deragh Campbell and Sophy Romvari- Both Deragh and Sophy write, direct and act in opposite names in this short. Sophy is confined to spend Christmas alone after a break-up. Deragh pays a visit and makes her Christmas. The film is slow and lacking in energy, but it does a good job of making use of its time and keeping with the Christmas vibe.

In summary, all seven were different in their own way it terms of both style and quality. There were a couple that were either inconsistent in story or lacking in energy. There were a couple that were eccentric, but the eccentricities worked for the film. There were also some films that made you think. The ones that made me think were my favorites as the messages came across very well and very effectively.

New Skins And Old Ceremonies makes for a unique array of seven shorts by Canadian directors. Some were good, some were bad, but all were an opportunity for the directors to make names for themselves.

VIFF 2017 Review: PROTOTYPE

Prototype

PROTOTYPE is a film by Blake Williams about the Galveston hurricane of 1900. It’s to be his depiction and his thoughts and images of the event.

The film begins with images of the aftermath if the Galveston hurricane of 1900: a disaster where 8000 people died. The film progresses into images depicting what happened during the storm, like waves in the water, various images of people and television screens, various images of color, all featured against disjointed music in the background. The film then focuses on what happens three weeks later with even further images of people, television screens, lucid colors and even computer images of automobiles. The film ends with images of Galveston today where natural images of the city and of the Gulf of Mexico are shown along with blended-in images.

When I first came to this film, I was told this would be a documentary. I was also understanding abut this since hurricanes have been big news in 2017 with two or three big-name hurricanes hitting North America. The film is less of a documentary and more of an experimental film. There’s no narrator and we get disjointed music as the score for the film. I will have to say that I admit that when I first came for this film, I didn’t know what to expect. When the film talked about the Galveston Hurricane, I had my own expectations about what this ‘documentary’ would be and it didn’t turn out that way. I was disappointed in this for a long time.

The biggest reason why I was disappointed was because this film didn’t make much sense. Sure, I know there are a lot of films that try to be experimental–this is an experimental 3D film– but its use of various film images in relating them to the Galveston hurricane didn’t make a lot of sense. Like I wondered what the computer graphics of an SUV had to do with what happened three weeks after a hurricane in 1900. I could understand pictures of strong waves shown at the beginning and the end of each film segment because of the Gulf Of Mexico. However other images like that of computer screens or of all these lucid colors did not make sense at all to why they’re in a film about this disaster in 1900.

We should not forget that here at the Vancouver Film Festival, we will be having a lot of experimental films. There will be a lot of films that will try to be different and eccentric for the sake of stretching the boundaries of artistry. It becomes evident that director Blake Williams is trying to stretch artistry or use artistic expression for his own detailing of this event. I have no objection to that; I’m welcoming to that. However I’m welcoming to  it as long as it’s done in a way that would make sense. I’m sure Blake would give his explanations for why all these images and why they relate to the events of that disaster, but most of it would not be made apparent to the audience.

I think at best, this film is a film that’s meant more for those who welcome different approaches to film and welcome all types of artistic eccentricities. Especially in art galleries where there are all sorts of films with all sorts of elements and imagery. However I don’t like things that give the impression that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. I’m sure it does know, but it doesn’t make it obvious enough. It gives the impression only Blake Williams knows what it is.

PROTOTYPE first appears to be a 3D documentary, but is actually more of an experimental film. This appears to be a film that would belong more in an art gallery.

It’s VIFF Time Again

Cinema

Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival is back for 2017. Today begins the 36th installment of the Film Festival. This year promises more excitement, more films and more events.

The biggest thing VIFF will have for this year is its Films+ talks. This is where there will be talks and lectures on film and its technicalities. The Creator Talk events promise big names and top experts in the field such as: Carlton Cuse, showrunner for Bates Motel; director Jeremy Podeswa and cinematographer Greg Middleton from Game Of Thrones; and costume designer Ane Crabtree from The Handmaid’s Tail. The festival also includes Industry Hub events which are full-day events focusing on industry activity and promoting film in the future. Such events include VR: Expanding frontiers In Storytelling, one day focused on the indie film industry, industry exchange events and a Buffer Festival.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1100 volunteers signing up. That is as big as it was during last year. Because of that, they’ve developed a new system for how volunteers can see a film for free. They would now have to wait in the rush line and wait until availability is know in order to get a seat for the film. Makes sense since it is quite common for volunteers to horde a lot of free showings during the fest. There is a plus: volunteers that serve their shift in its entirety can receive a voucher to get their own free ticket for certain films. It has to be done online. That makes better sense. I anticipate to see a lot of good films. I’m doing something new for volunteering. This year, I’ll be a driver. I am to drive people from the Sutton Hotel to the cinemas, the hotel to the airport, or pick people up from the airport to the Sutton Hotel or wherever they want to be dropped off. They will range from actors to directors to film crew to special guests. This is something new to look forward to. And I drive a Lexus SUV!

This year’s roster of films promises a lot of attractions This year’s VIFF claims to show over 300 shorts and feature films from 84 countries or regions. As of press time, 11 films are official submissions for the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. A footnote worth adding is Quit Staring At My Plate from last year’s VIFF is Croatia’s official entry in the category for this year. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals.

This year’s top sponsors include Telus, Telefilm Canada (which is celebrating its 50th year), Christie screens, Delta Airlines, Lexus and Creative BC. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards again.

As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:

  • OPENING GALA: Meditation park – Chinese Canadian director Mina Shum directs a live-action story set in Vancouver. Stars Sandra Oh..
  • CLOSING GALA:  Wonderstruck – Todd Haynes worked with Julianne Moore in 2002’s Far From Heaven. Here, Haynes and Moore return in a film that promises to be another delight.
  • Borg vs. McEnroe – A film starring Shia LaBeouf about one of the greatest tennis rivalries of all-time.
  • Breathe – Andy Serkis’ directorial debut about a young couple (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) whose young marriage is threatened by the husband’s sudden disability.
  • Call Me By Your Name – Stars Armie Hammer. A story about sexual awakening in the 1980’s.
  • A Fantastic Woman – A Spanish film of a trans woman dealing with life after losing the man she loves. won Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival
  • The Florida Project – Willem Dafoe stars in this film about a hotel manager with a hard heart who changes thanks to a six year-old girl.
  • Happy End – Michael Haneke is back! This is a story of a privileged family living alone in their estate with their fortunes threatened over time.
  • The Hidden Sword– Considered to be the biggest highlight of Asian film in the festival. This promises a lot of sword action.
  • Indian Horse– This is a Canadian story that’s far-reaching. It focuses on a boy who’s a victim of the Canadian Residential School System but finds an escape in dance.
  • The Killing Of A Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos, director of The Lobster,  is back along with Colin Farrell to create another dark comedy. This time Nicole Kidman joins in this bizarre dark story. won Best Screenplay at Cannes.
  • Loving Vincent – An animated film with a focus on the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh. More than 120 paintings are involved in this film.
  • Okja–  A South Korean drama about a young girl who develops a friendship with a giant animal in the mountains.
  • The Square – Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, this is a bizarre comedy about an artist who creates his own eccentric world and bounds.
  • The Party – British film about a politician (Kristin Scott Thomas) who holds a dinner for her contemporaries, only to wreak a lot of verbal havoc.

So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 28th and it all ends October 13th. Looking forward to it.

Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:

ANIMATED:

-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.

The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.

-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.

I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.

-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?

It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.

-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.

Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.

-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.

And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:

-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?

It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.

-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?

It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.

-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.

They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.

It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.

-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.

Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay?  Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.

-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.

At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.

And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.

With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.

 

VIFF 2016 Review: 1:54

154

Antoine-Olivier Pilon (left) plays a gay teen who wants to settle a score with his bully (Lou-Pascal Trembley; right) in a track meet in 1:54.

As I’ve said countless times, Quebec is the leader in Canadian cinema. 1:54 is one of the latest to come from la belle provence and this is not your typical teen story.

The film begins with 16 year-old Tim returning to high school. The first back-to-school moment comes from Jeff, who has taunted him since the age of 12, throwing food at him and later posting the video of it on YouTube. It’s not easy for Tim to make new friends. He’s a gifted student who’s great at chemistry but it doesn’t attract too much appreciation despite the chemistry teacher’s encouragement. Life at home is difficult for Tim as he has been distant with his father since his mother died four years ago.

If there’s one escape from Tim’s problems, it’s with his friend Francis. He’s able to share Francis his second-biggest secret: he’s able to create a bomb. However Tim’s unable to share with Francis his biggest secret that he’s gay and attracted to Francis. Francis has been developing more security in being gay himself but that all changes after Jeff bullied Francis into admitting he’s gay. It upsets him to the point he jumps off a bridge, right in front of Tim.

Francis’ death affects Tim into questioning why he was always embarrassed about his sexuality. And right while a girl named Jen is taking an interest in him. Tim wants to get even with Jeff. Sure, he’s become friends with Jen who actually rejected a pass from him months ago. Tim actually decides the best way to get even is to get him where it hurts: in running. Jeff is a stellar half-miler who dreams of of making the National Championships. Tim was also a talented runner who even rivaled Jeff in the 800m at aged 12 but quit just after his mother’s death. Through the encouragement of a coach who knew him back then, Tim returns to running and to be the one qualifying for the Nationals instead of Jeff.

Finally we see a more positive side from Tim as he has something to chase. However it’s not without its troubles. Jeff still bullies him questioning his sexuality and it bothers Tim into making Jen look like his girlfriend in front of everyone, much to Jen’s discomfort. Tim is still distant with his father and has even kept his return to running a secret even from him. On top of that, Tim goes to a party where he receives a fellatio from another male and Jeff has it on videocamera.

Jeff thinks he can use the video to threaten Tim’s goals of beating him and it works, but temporarily as Tim resumes running with top-secret training drills from his coach and Jen as his training partner. The running goals even rekindle the closeness between Tim and his father as he’s back to supporting Tim in his running and delighted to see Tim happy again.

At the Provincial Championships, Jeff and Tim run separate heats and they both qualify for the finals both with the fastest times of the heats and only .02 seconds between them. This sets up for excitement for the final as the winner qualifies for the nationals. At the second turn, Jeff notices Tim in front of him and tells him to look to his friend. Standing by the side is the friend with the video waiting to download it. Tim is undeterred but before the final turn, the friend downloads the video right with Tim watching. The trick works. Tim slows down in embarrassment with Jeff coming through to win.

While Jeff is celebrating his win, the whole school’s track team gets the video on their phones. No doubt Tim is humiliated. There’s no way out. Even his father finds out. The father may be shocked to learn Tim is gay but he promises to be supportive of him. Despite Tim’s father, Jen and the coach trying to be supportive, Tim feels there’s no way out. Not while the video’s on YouTube and all over social media where Tim constantly gets taunted by everyone at school, including Jeff. Tim decides there’s only one way to end this all and it’s at Jeff’s celebration party at a night club. Tim decides it’s the perfect place to set off the bomb he showed Francis. The story leads into a heavily climactic ending that’s a surprise to all.

No doubt this film is full of topics. It’s about teen peer pressure, teen sexuality, depression, teen violence, teen competitiveness, but most noticeably bullying. A lot packed into one film. Yan England has even mentioned that he hopes this film stimulates a lot of discussion of the topics. No doubt it’s worth talking about.

It’s definitely a film that can bring back bad memories of high school to many. Especially me. I struggled with learning disabilities which were also behavioral disabilities. The behavior I displayed in a lot of cases would be cause for fellow teens to easily single me out. It doesn’t upset me as much but I’m still not happy about my past. In fact years ago, one person got on the topic of bullying and asked those in her conversation, including me, if we were bullied. I responded: “I was a bully’s delight,” with a smile of disgust. The craziest thing about the film is that it brought back a lot of the anger and frustration I had when I was a teen. Memories I thought I resolved those many years ago. What can I say? All I can say is high school never changes. Teens still think that mocking others different from the will make them look cool. Problem is it does make them look cool in front of their peers. I like the end when Jeff tells the police of the video: “It was a joke.” That common response from teens: “It was a joke.” They think it’s that easy to get off.

The frustrations Tim goes through are a lot of frustrations teens go through. Being bullied by someone for years can be a frustration one can have. The frustration of learning of one’s homosexuality can definitely be a frustration, especially since many teens are known to respond with hostility. Trying to be someone is a frustration most feel. It’s obvious Tim wanted to be somebody other than Jeff’s victim. Francis’ death made him want to get even with Jeff and he thought he could do it in track. He had what it took. Then the race. This was to be Tim’s chance to get even with Jeff for the many years of bullying and for Antoine’s suicide. Instead it became the creme de la creme of Jeff’s bullying and the biggest humiliation of Tim’s life.

You could easily see and feel Tim’s frustration at that moment. Even with the support of people like his coach, his father and Jen after the incident, it just bothered Tim so much, he snapped. I can easily remember about frustrations I went through as a teen and feeling like my situation was hopeless. It’s easy to forget your parents’ love for you or even support from your friends when this happens. It’s easy to see why Tim would snap and do this.

As for the film itself, this comes across as a conventional story at first and you think you know the ending when you see the track competition. However it’s right there when it becomes a new movie. That’s the best thing about the film: it’s like three films in one. Yan England is taking a lot of unorthodox, if not all that creative, steps in creating a film that’s unpredictable. The victory over Jeff we all hoped for all of a sudden turns into a worse situation for Tim. A surprise to all of us in the audience. That scene at the beginning where Tim shows Francis his bomb seems to be an irrelevant scene as time goes on until the very end. Even the scene at the end when we don’t know what will happen to Tim’s bomb will have you at the edge of your seats. However, I will say if the movie had the right scenes at the end. I’m thinking it could have ended better.

This is a very good first feature-length film for writer/director Yan England. Yan used to be a young actor in Quebec with the teen variety show Watatatow back in the 90’s. He’s moved into directing and writing. In fact his short Henry was nominated for an Academy Award years ago. Here he delivers a film relevant to what’s happening with teens and the subject of bullying. He shows how much bullying has ‘progressed,’ if you can truly call it that, with cybertechnology. He also does a very good job in creating three movies in one.

Antoine-Olivier Pilon delivers again in a character completely different from the one he played in Mommy. Instead of an eccentric, he plays a down-to-earth teen filled with anger and hurt but ambition. He also played the frustration parts in the last part of the film very believably. Another accomplishment for him. Sophie Nelisse was very good on playing the supportive friend. She shows a maturity since Monsieur Lazhar. David Boutin was very good as the father trying to be supportive and Lou-Pascal Tremblay was very convincing as Jeff. You will end up hating him! The techno music score in the film added to both the excitement and the drama.

1:54 is not your typical teen movie. It deals with a lot of serious issues very well, if imperfectly. It has some technical glitches but it does engage the audience and is worth seeing.

VIFF 2016 Review: Tales Of Two Who Dreamt

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Tales Of Two Who Dreamt document the dreams of a Romani refugee family who dream of immigrating to Canada and hopefully doing a small film.

One thing about the VIFF is that it will show films done by Canadian directors or people close to home. In fact the VIFF credits itself as the film festival that shows the most Canadian films: shorts and feature-length. One example this year of a feature-length Canadian film shown at the VIFF was Tales Of Two Who Dreamt which was a unique documentary.

The film begins with a man, Sandor Laska, telling a story of a boy who turned into bird after a dream. Over time, we the director is planning to make a small film of this story. Even a makeup artists is seen putting a beak on the son Alexander.

What we get is something else. We hear the story of the father and the Laska family. They are refugees living in a tall apartment in Toronto specifically for refugees. They are Romani people from Hungary. They seek refuge in Canada because they are of an oppressed minority and often face discrimination.

As they live in the apartment awaiting approval of their status in Canada, we learn there are many Romani families also seeking refuge. Often they meet together and party together. The children play soccer on the apartment’s field together often with refugee kids from other countries.

Time passes as the family continues to pursue both dreams: the dream of doing the film and the dream of immigrating to Canada. In the end, neither happen. Their immigration case wasn’t approved and they have to return back to Hungary where they really have nothing to return to. The film that was to be made couldn’t be done. The family were deported back before it could be completed.

This film is a good eye opener to the Romani people that seek refuge. They are a people who number in the tens of millions spread across various countries of Europe. They are people whose lifestyle are considered questionable. They are a people who value their cultural roots in music and dance often to the point they neglect working a real job. They live their lives their own way; many of which are illiterate.

The Romanis are seen by the other people in the country as lazy, irresponsible or even the ‘scum of the earth.’ They are often referred to as ‘Bohemians’ or ‘gypsies’: the latter of which they consider to be a slur. They’ve had their discrimination over the decades and centuries. They were even one of the groups of people executed during the holocaust. Discrimination against them still continues today in various European countries. Some countries like Italy have passed anti-Romani laws. Some countries like Hungary let discrimination go freely. You can easily see why a family like the Laskas would try to seek refuge in Canada.

Sometimes when you see the struggle of the Laskas and other Romanis in the apartment as they seek their residency status, you sometimes think this film is about the refugee situation as a whole. What you see the Romanis struggling with is often what you see most refugees struggling with. That tall apartment with nets on the outside put on after the death of a six year-old boy who fell off his 19th floor balcony tells a lot about the place where refugees wait to hear their fates in Canada. At the end, you get thinking that the Laskas didn’t succeed in escaping what they attempted to escape. Sandor talks about how the interpreter didn’t state his case right to the judge and that had to be why his residency status was revoked. Sometimes it makes you sense could the interpreter have an anti-Romani attitude? Did he misinterpret purposefully so that the Laska did fail and then get sent back to Hungary to return to their discrimination? It does get you thinking.

Directors Nicolas Pareda and Andrea Bussmann turn the film into a docudrama. There are times when the film gets ready to film the ‘birdboy’ story, times when they focus on another family who are to be part of the skit, times when they focus on the apartment building as a whole, and times when they focus on the Laskas and their reality. It’s a mix of various shots from family struggles to kids playing to young adults holding a party. The two directors try to piece together the many stories. There are times when scenes are shown with a score of a Romani song sung a capella. There are even times when they include Timea’s scratchy violin-playing as score to a scene in the film. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses. There are times when the mixed organization appears to work and then there are times when the film feels disjointed. I think the film aimed to be creative in its documentation during times when it wasn’t supposed to be.

Despite the film’s noticeable imperfections, I would have to say the best thing about this film is that it gave a voice to a people. This was a chance for Romani refugees to tell their story of what they faced and why they came to Canada along with the hopes for their children. The adding in of the ‘birdboy’ story adds color to the film as it is a Romani tale. You can see why the film is called Tales Of Two Who Dreamt. The first dreamer was the ‘birdboy’ and the second dreamer was Sandor Laska. I’ll admit I was disappointed at the end to learn the ‘birdboy’ film was never finished. But it’s something that just happens and you saw why.

Tales Of Two Who Dreamt is a documentary that’s noticeably disjointed in a lot of areas. It is still very valuable as it gives an image of the refugee situation Canada is trying to deal with.

VIFF 2016 Shorts Segment: Teen Trouble

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One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:

-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.

The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.

-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.

This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.

-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.

Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.

-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.

No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.

-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.

This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.

-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.

This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.

-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.

This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.

In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.

Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.

 

VIFF 2016 Shorts Segment: Space And Time

CinemaShorts, shorts, shorts. Lots of them worth seeing at the VIFF. The next segment I saw this year Space And Time which consisted of nine shorts filmed by Canadian directors. They were all different but all shared something in common:

-24:24:24 dir. Daniel Dietzel- This is a film shot on a Montreal street corner facing the CCSE Maisonneuve over a 24-hour time period. What makes it amusing is that it shows the same corner with images of various hours at once. Sometimes all 24 simultaneously. The splitting of the various footage images in its sections along with the sounds mixed in will definitely make you curious during the whole thirteen minutes. The images of time and seeing the images of the Maisonneuve and the tower of the Olympic Stadium add to its charm. It’s surprisingly pleasant and enjoyable to watch. Quite the kaleidoscope.

-By The Pool dir. Karine Belanger- The film begins at an outdoor pool as a worker cleans the pool out in the spring just before it opens. He finds a small fish. Throughout the film, there are images of people doing aquarobics, swimming laps, swimming and playing, going off the diving board, late-night lifeguard parties and even a pool emergency. As summer ends, the diving board gets taken down and the pool gets drained. The man cleaning the drained pool finds a big fish! Funny how a film simply showing the summer of an outdoor pool can be amusing.

-Ranger dir. Sandra Ignagni- It’s a boat trip from a town in Labrador to an Arctic town. The long trip on the M. V. Norther Ranger is documented from boarding for deoarture to arrival. It focuses on everything from passengers to the captain directing to crewmen working to the waters it travels to passengers sleeping overnight to its arrival. It makes for a good simple unnarrated documentary film that tells a lot.

-Last Night dir. Joel Salaysay- Sarah is woken up by a phone call by her friend Jamie and tells her to come over. However the calls become more frightening over time as Jamie calls her back and doesn’t know where she is. Jamoe sounds like she’s lost or has lost her memory. As Sarah tries to get help, she tries to keep connection with Jamie. This is a good short as it keeps the audience intrigued not knowing what will happen next and hoping for the best for Jamie and Sarah.

-Late Night Drama dir. Patrice Laliberte- A young thug is in pursuit with a man he’s at odds with. He finds him at a night club and picks a fight with him. As he’s booted out, his girlfriend is angry at him and they get into a squabble in the car. After he throws a fit, she leaves him to drive off by himself.

This was all in French with the subtitles absent. Despite it, I could get a good sense of what’s happening. This is your typical night club drama you see all the time. What makes this film intriguing is its method of ‘follow-around’ cinrmatography. The audient follows the story wherever the young jerk goes keeping one in the thick of the drama

-Oh What A Wonderful Feeling dir. Francois Jaros- A woman deals with a truck-stop that’s normally a meeting place for those working their job, a spot for young people biking around and even a place of ill repute. She tries to make sense of the situation while also trying to solve a problem of her own. Even the paranormal comes into play. It doesn’t make for a lot of sense but it does tell the story well.

-Seven Stars dir. Sofia Banzhaf- A Vancouver woman visits Tokyo but struggles with her feelings of anxiety and alienation there. It’s a four-minute film that tells its situation. It’s more about the person in the place and their feelings rather than what happens.

-Stone Makers dir. Jean-Marc E. Roy- It’s just a four-minute film of a work day in a granite quarry but it’s more if you look close enough. The machines move around in almost a fluid motion like they’re dancing and the granite slabs look like works of art. It makes for an ‘oddly-satisfying’ film.

-Einst dir. Jessica Johnson- It starts with a view of a lone section of the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. Then a young woman comes to take off her clothes with nothing but a swimsuit on and swim in the Seymour River. As she goes under, she doesn’t re-emerge, leaving us to wonder. The quality of this short is its mix of natural beauty added with the mystery of the story. That’s what makes the film intriguing.

The nine shorts shown in this segment were all impressive. It was good to see them. There were some with stories to tell while some were more about focusing in on the scenery and the area around them. There were a few that turned out to be just footage and filmage of as-is situations. They remind you a lot of these ‘oddly satisfying’ videos on YouTube of everyday things that are somehow picturesque to look at and even tell its own story. Now you know why these ‘oddly satisfying’ videos are a hit.

Space And Time was an impressive selection of Canadian films. It was an hour and a half well-spent and was very enjoyable.

It’s VIFF Time Again

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Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival starts again. Today begins the 35th installment of the Film Festival. This year will not only be exciting because of what to see but also what new additions are happening.

This year’s theme is: “Expand the frame.” Part of the aim of this year’s VIFF is to make the Festival more accessible and more creative. One of the new additions is the VIFF Hub. The Hub and surrounding area will be the location for lectures and exhibitions surrounding film and art. There will even be art exhibitions, virtual reality exhibits and music performances from DJs, local performers and performers from around the world. Some events are free of charge as long as you’re a VIFF member while some may be ticketed events. The VIFF website will explain it all.

Film is still the centre of it all. There will not only be films shown but lectures from industry professionals as well. Directors, producers and actors will appear at some showings for Q&A’s including an appearance of Tatiana Maslany. Deal-making will also be included in the process. This year, for the first time, there will be an IMAX film shown over at the Telus World of Science for the Closing Gala.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1100 volunteers signing up. Way higher than the usual 800 that serve the required 32 hours of work. Because of that, volunteer seating will be limited during many films or not allotted at all. Nevertheless I should be able to get in to see a lot of good films. This year promises to have hundreds of shorts and feature films from 73 countries, including five ‘globetrotting’ films. As of press time, 13 films are official submissions for  the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. A footnote worth adding is A Flickering Truth from last year’s VIFF is New Zealand’s official entry in the category for this year. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals. This year’s top sponsor is no longer Rogers but a more local big name in telecommunications: Telus. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards.

As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:

  • OPENING GALA: Maudie – A biographic film of Canadian folk artist Maude Lewis starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.
  • CLOSING GALA:  Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience – An IMAX spectacle of the universe from the beginning of time to today. Written and directed by Terrence Malick and narrated by Brad Pitt.
  • American Honey – A drama about a teenage orphan trying to grow up. Directed by Andrea Arnold and stars Shia LaBeouf.
  • The Birth Of A Nation – This Sundance’s hot ticket and the hottest thing to come from the fest in years. Nate Parker writes, directs and stars in this drama of a slave rebellion that occurred decades before the Civil War.
  • Elle – The latest black comedy from controversy-causing director Paul Verhoeven. Isabelle Huppert plays a video game CEO with a lust for power and revenge.
  • The Girl With All The Gifts – A British zombie drama directed by Colm McCarthy and stars Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close.
  • Graduation – A Romanian drama of a doctor doing what he can to insure his daughter gets into a presigious university. Director Cristian Mungiu won Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Fest for this.
  • The Handmaiden – A Korean drama of a pickpocket who plays a Japanese maid of an heiress whose fortunes he plans to steal. Divided by chapters and loaded with sensuality.
  • Human – A documentary by French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It focuses on the world from on high from positive things like love to even negative things like murder.
  • I, Daniel Blake – This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, this film focuses on a man getting his disability status reassesses and denied benefits. Ken Loach’s look at one man rivaling the system.
  • Julieta – Pedro Almodovar is back! Spain’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Oscars, Almodovar returns to the heart-on-the sleeve melodramas with female lead characters he’s most famous for.
  • Manchester By The Sea – Another highlight from this year’s Sundance. Director Kenneth Lonergan showcases a story of a man (Casey Affleck) returning to his Massachusetts home after the death of his brother and trying to sort out his family’s past.
  • Milton’s Secret – A Canadian hot ticket directed by Barnet Bain, it’s a unique story of how a troubled 12 year-old teenager finds relief from the frustrations of his life through his grandfather. Stars Donald Sutherland and Michelle Rodriguez.
  • Moonlight – Director Barry Jenkins showcases a drama of an African-American man struggling to come out despite the past troubles that haunt him.
  • Toni Erdmann – Germany’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Oscars, the film tells the story of a woman frustrated with her conniving father and his female disguise that irritates her to the point of leaving him behind after her promotion.

So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 29th and it all ends October 14th. Lots of excitement to come.