Has it been five years since I last saw the Reel Youth Film Festival? It’s been a long time. Nevertheless having VIFF online gave me the chance to see it again.
This year’s films were a mix of films that looked like they were done by youth and films that were obviously directed by 20+. Some looked very professionally done while some make the amateurishness obvious. All of them did have themes and messages that appeared to be directed to the youth or would be of youth interest.
This year, there were eighteen films. There were five Canadian films, but only two local. Film entries for this year came from the United States, Brazil, India, Bulgaria, Spain, Australia, Romania, China, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Iraq and the UK. Films were a mix of animation, documentary to live-action fiction. They ranged from drama to comedy to informative.
Topics were of a wide range. Even with this pandemic, there was one Canadian film by a teen girl about the struggles of physical isolation and only being able to reach out through a computer. There was another from India of a woman using her creativity to work from home. There were other themes of focus like breaking social barriers, generation gaps, regaining silence in a world full of noise, choices that can change one’s life, a future of pollution, overcoming loneliness with your passion, dealing with post-war trauma, and dealing with autism. There were also some light-hearted films like an animated film about monkeys and baby aliens.
The two themes that most stood out among the short films were themes involving racism and racial identity, and sexuality. With racism being a hot topic in 2020, the Fest didn’t stray away from it this year. One film was about a black girl admitted into an all-white private school and made to feel inferior. Another is of a Mexican-American girl and how she deals with the identity of herself and her people at a time with calls of ‘build the wall’ from Trump and his supporters. There were two films of Inuit people. One was of an elder from Nunavut who passes down to the younger generation hunting skills, cultural traditions and the language. Another film focuses on Inuit youth and what culture means to them. The film ends with them doing traditional throat singing.
As for films about sexuality, there were three. One was a documentary about a Vancouver drag performer who performs by the rule “Don’t do drag for free.” Another was a drama of a girl from China returning home after her grandmother’s death; a grandmother who rejected her after she spoke of her orientation. The third was a comedy about a girl who never had a first kiss from a boy. She realizes she’s a lesbian and gets her first kiss from a girl during the first snowfall.
They again had the ballot for the three favorite films of this year. This year’s ballot was completely online. I had lots of problems trying to access the online ballot. So it looks like I will have to post the picks of my Top 3 here:
- Monochrome – The story of Essence, a 17 year-old girl who’s the only black student in an all-white private school. The teens and students don’t hesitate to make her feel like a misfit. She feels like the only way to fit in is to assimilate herself. It’s a very powerful message about the racism we don’t always notice.
- Little Swallow Coming Home – A Chinese film about a young girl who returns home after her grandmother died. The memories of how her grandmother rejected her when she came out as a lesbian flood her mind and make her nervous. Then she notices a photo with a message from her grandmother saying she always loved her. It’s a reminder that LGBT struggles are universal. Not just at home.
- Dayo – A man named Dayo is lonely at home. But when he walks into the kitchen, he’s an artist and beloved for his culinary confections by the customers and his co-workers. It’s a brief three-minute animated film, but it packs in the charm in its time.
This year’s Reel Youth Film Festival didn’t offer too much in terms of local film. Nevertheless the Festival was very good at providing a wide variety of films from around the world with common themes relating to young people.
One of the first features I saw at the VIFF this year was the Indian film In The Shadows. I left with a lot of mixed feelings about it that I still have.
The film begins with Khuddoos: a storekeeper and a loner in Old Delhi. He is distant from other people but prefers getting whatever closeness he can from them through surveillance cameras he has put up through the neighborhood. His only friend Ganeshi visits him on a daily basis. One day, he catches something of his interest. Next door lives a family with a 14 year-old boy named Idris or ‘Idu.’ He lives with his family consisting of his mother Saira, currently expecting her third child, and his father Liakat who owns a butcher shop. Liakat expects Idu to help with the business and do deliveries. However he wants to spend time talking with his friend Ginny who is lucky to attend school. When Saira learns he didn’t do the delivery expected and saw Ginny, she gives him money for Liakat to cover it up. When Liakat comes home, he eventually learns the truth and reacts violently to Idu. Khuddoos hears it through the wall. He is shocked from what he hears.
Both try to move on from that incident. Liakat apologizes to Idu and says he won’t do it again, but Idu doesn’t believe it. Meanwhile Khudoos can’t get the incident out of his mind. He tells Ganeshi about it. He knows how lax the police are about dealing with cases of abused children, but he’s determined to help. Life continues on for the two. Idu spends more time with Ginny and tells of his dream of escaping his father. Khuddoos manages his shop and tries to do business as usual. However the incident doesn’t leave Khuddoos’ mind. He even misses meet up with Idu by a few second.
Then it happens. Saira needs to give birth and Idu and his younger brother are the only ones there. But Liakat isn’t there. Idu has to do all the work. The doctors arrive too late. The baby dies. Both the father and the mother take it hard. However Idu feels it’s Liakats fault and isn’t afraid to say it in his face. Liakat reacts violently to which Idu responds back with violence. That leads Liakat to become even more violent. Khuddoos hears it and tries getting the police after the situation. The police are too slow to respond.
Idu has had it. He wants to run away. He’s fully convinced his father’s a monster. He tells Ginny, but Ginny mentions that he will miss him. Meanwhile Khuddoos does what he normally does; goes to the same restaurant to eat and gets drunk. The manager tries to boot him out for good because of his constant drunkenness, but Khuddoos tries to state his case, that he is hungry. Khuddoos knows he has to leave his seclusion behind. Soon Idu makes a break for the train station to finally leave Liakat behind, but the father spots him at the station. Upon returning home, Liakat says neither he nor Saira will be out of his sight.
Enough is enough. On a quiet night, Idu sees Liakat asleep. Idu smothers him. As he does, Khuddoos breaks through the walls. Liakat is dead. And Khuddoos goes into the room. Witnessing a photo, he wipes the dust off and sees the image of the boy. The others come across Khuddoos’ cameras in his hideout.
The film is intended to be a psychological drama. It’s a case of a man who’s cut himself off from the world but slowly comes back in once a domestic disturbance happens. I get how writer/director is trying to draw a connection with a man in self-seclusion, but the overall film didn’t make too much sense. It may be because of my expectations. I was expecting Khuddoos and Idu to meet, that Khuddoos would be the one who rescues Idu from any further harm. I’m sure most were expecting the same result. Somehow I can’t see the point of Khuddoos not meeting face to face with the boy as the ending drama unfolds. I’m sure the director had his reasons for having the story that way– that the two never meet — but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Jain could’ve simply made two films, or left the story of Idu on its own.
Despite the story being confusing, I do give credit for Manoj Bajpayee for portraying a character with a lot of personal demons who’s trying to break free from his own personal exile. I also give high marks for Om Singh portraying a boy who wants to break free from his own prison which isn’t in his mind. It’s at home. Shahana Goswami was also very good at portraying the mother in between it all.
In The Shadows is a psychological thriller that attempts to tell a two-in-one story, but it doesn’t entirely make too much sense in the end.
Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.
Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.
We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.
Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.
This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.
Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.
It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.
The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.
The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.
This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.
Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.
One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.
One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.
This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother Toby who’s smart, tries to play it cool and possibly the one person in the world who could see redeeming qualities in brother Tanner. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.
Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?
That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.
After the VIFF ended on October 9th, I managed to take in a few film festival repeats immediately after. The day after, I saw Umrika and I thought it was an amusing story.
The film begins with Udai, a young adult from India in the 1970’s, leaving his family and younger brother Ramakant for a better life in the USA. The whole village says their goodbyes to him. The family wait a long agonizing time for his first letter. When it comes, the whole village is excited. It’s a letter with pictures of how life is in ‘Umrika.’ The letters with pictures keep coming for years and they’re filled with more exciting stories and pictures. It gets the whole village dreaming. Then suddenly in 1985, Ramakant’s father is electrocuted to death. Shortly after, Rama learns that the letters are all forgeries created by his father and uncle to keep his mother from agonizing. The truth is Udai vanished without a trace in the port city of Mumbai. Ramakant is determined to find him, even if it means his own trip to Umrika.
Rama learns the best person who would have knowledge of the whereabouts of his brother is the man in charge of illegal immigration. However to reach him, one would have to be like a delivery driver or messenger. Rama is opportunistic enough to steal a bike belonging to a delivery driver of a sweets bakery. Rama is the new driver. He’s able to deliver as well as win the favoritism of the man with each delivery he makes. Rama also learns of the dark secret of him, that he’s involved in a crime ring. One deliver Rama made was of a gun used by one of his men to shoot wrongdoers.
Soon Rama finds himself living in an area owned by a restaurateur and his family. The youngest daughter who’s a waitress takes a big liking to Rama. Soon Rama’s friend Lalu comes to visit Mumbai to catch up with him. Lalu has been concerned with Rama since he left. Lalu agrees to help despite film making ambitions of his own. Soon Udai is discovered. He’s a barber working in Mumbai and married to the Himalayan girl of the village, something his mother never would have approved of. Udai revealed he never would have left because of how much it would break his mother’s heart. But the truth cannot be revealed to their mother as it would cause disgrace to the whole family and the village. In the end, Rama, Udai and Lalu devise a scheme to ‘make things right.’ It gives the impression the story ends on the right note.
The film is an impressive comedy-drama. It captures a lot of moments in the right sense. In the first half, it captures the essence of the excitement upon reading the ‘letters’ and it giving American dreams to the village children. It even captures some light humor as they insist on believing the wieners in the hot dogs are actually barbecued carrots. The film switches to drama at the right moment starting with the father’s death and then the truth revealed. I feel the film made good choices in setting the stage for the pursuit when the mother says: “It hurts me to know your brother wasn’t here to light the flame. It should be the oldest.” Despite switching to drama, it does keep the viewer intrigued with Rama’s each move from taking on a delivery job to trying to find his brother. At the same time, it highlights what it is to be young and full of dreams even when it’s faced with stiff opposition and challenges.
I don’t think the film was trying to make too huge of social commentary. However I do feel it did a good job of displaying the corruption and the shadiness happening in the big cities of India like Mumbai. I also found the time setting for the story interesting. Writer/director Prashant Nair starts the story in the 1970’s and then moves to 1985-1986. I thought that was intriguing and wondered why he chose that time period. One thing I especially noticed was the scene inside the restaurant where Rama and all the others saw images of the Space Shuttle Explosion as it happened. Looking back I think Nair was trying to say even devastating moments for the US like this doesn’t stop people from India from having their American dreams.
I feel this is an excellent comedy-drama from Prashant Nair. This is only his second feature-length film and it was very entertaining. It kept your hopes up but ended not how one would expect but on the right note. It’s unique as it becomes a story where Rama doesn’t just search for his brother but chart a path of his own. Suraj Sharma was excellent as the protagonist Ramakant. I will admit it’s not as good as his performance in the Life Of Pi but he played his part well and very believable. Tony Revolori was also good as Lalu and made a great supporting player.
Umrika has had impressive results since it debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. At that Festival, it won the Audience Award for dramas and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the world Cinema categories. Shortly after its premiere, the film was sold by Beta Cinema to a wide variety of countries and became the most widely distributed Indian movie ever.
Umrika is a delightful Indian film that mixes both comedy and drama well. It captures a positive essence and even keeps it alive during its negative moments.