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.
I was interested in seeing Mr. Jones at the VIFF as it’s based on a topic of my interest: the Holodomor or Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. It’s an intriguing story with a relevant message for today’s world.
In 1933, Gareth Jones is a 28 year-old Welsh journalist who is very good at getting stories. He was the first foreign journalist to fly with Hitler and Goebbels at the start of Hitler’s regime while working as an advisor for British statesman Herman Lloyd George. During the time, he discovered of Hitler’s intentions to wage war. His story fell to deaf ears in the press and his job as advisor is dropped due to budget cuts. Despite being dropped, George gave Jones a letter of recommendation. He hopes to use it to go to the USSR to find an investigative journalist. Before he does, he gets a phone call from a friend named Paul Kleb in the USSR. He talks of how the economy is booming in Russia, but he is about to tell of something terrible happening in Ukraine… and then he gets disconnected.
Jones arrives in Moscow. His trip is regulated from start to finish: what he does, how long he stays and where he goes. That’s how things are in the USSR. In fact his job as a foreign journalist is under heavy scrutiny by national officials during his stay and no foreign journalist is allowed outside of Moscow. He arrives at the hotel in Moscow of New York Times bureau chief Walter Duranty. Duranty welcomes him and introduces him to his assistant Ada Brooks. Jones is expected to be in the USSR for seven days but he can only stay at the hotel for two days. Duranty offers Jones to stay and partake in the late-night partying. At the parties is all kinds of debauchery from prostitutes to heroin shooting to even homosexual advances. Jones wants none of this as he knows Paul Kleb was killed in Ukraine and has to find out why.
Jones finds a train headed to Eastern Ukraine. He breezes past security to stow away on it. When he arrives in Ukraine, he steps off to see the farmed grains loaded onto trucks by the Soviet army, but people dead in the snow and farmers starving. He tries to get answers. He goes to soldiers putting the bagged grain in a truck. He asks in English where it’s going, but is suspected as a spy. Soldiers go out chasing and shooting after him. Fortunately, Jones is able to evade the pursuit. He comes across some children who sing a haunting song to him of the death and starvation happening around him. He goes to a house which is in a photograph he holds, but sees the residents dead in their beds. Jones goes into a town where he sees the Soviet army take the dead bodies in the snow and pile them in a sled to be buried in a mass grave. They even take a baby that’s alive and still crying. Jones goes into a house where he is able to find living residents. They give him something to eat, which appears to be meat, and from Kolya. He soon learns they’re staying alive by cannibalism, and Kolya is a famine fatality.
Soon Jones is captured by Soviet forces. The Communist government commands him to be silent by using the lives of six British auto workers as hostages. Jones tries to plead with Walter Duranty to expose the truth of what’s happening, but Duranty is ‘in bed’ with the Soviet regime. Duranty has a habit of writing of the ‘Worker’s Revolution’ in the USSR like he romanticizing it. In fact Duranty has the reputation of being known as ‘Our Man In Moscow.’ Ada however is more supportive towards Jones and believes he has to get the story out. This can’t be hidden and knowing that Jones is to be sent back to the UK, she encourages him to make the truth known.
Back in the UK, Jones can’t get any British paper to buy into his revelations of a man-made famine. The government either doesn’t want to believe it, or fear it will jeopardize diplomatic relations with the USSR. This upsets Jones as he knows this must be stopped. The events upset him so much, he can’t stop himself from breaking down in tears in his hometown. However he has an opportunity to talk to William Randolph Hearst while at a newspaper office. Hearst, however is extremely busy and will only allow Jones thirty seconds to state his case. However when he mentions of the death of Paul Kleb, that grabs Hearst’s ear and makes Hearst want to hear everything Jones saw. Finally the story ‘Famine In Ukraine’ makes the front page of the New York Times. Jones is defamed. He is not allowed in the USSR again. Duranty is also defamed, but never had his Pulitzer Prize rescinded. Nevertheless George Orwell is caught in the intrigue of Jones’ pursuits and it inspires him to write ‘Animal Farm’ published ten years after Jones was shot to death.
I’ll admit any story about the Holodomor catches my interest. I’m of Ukrainian ancestry. My great-grandparents arrived in Canada around the 1890’s-early 1900’s. They came here long before World War I even started, before Ukrainian land was annexed as part of the USSR and before the Holodomor. This film showcases the Holodomor and is possibly one of the best cinematic depictions of it, but the Holodomor is not the biggest theme of the film. The biggest theme of the film is about censorship in the USSR at the time. All the censorship that happened in the film is an example of the censorship that happened in the USSR since it began after World War II until it broke down in the mid-80’s to when it dissolved in 1991. All news was censored. Nothing but good news was to be published in Soviet newspapers and whatever negative news could not hit either Soviet news nor news to the outside world. Phone wires were tapped and letters were opened and investigated by authorities before it reached the mailboxes of the citizens or outsiders. Even speaking negative words of the Communist government would get one a jail sentence. The Soviet media promoted propaganda to glorify itself and its Communist system and vilify the capitalist system in the United States.
As seen through Gareth, the Soviet system was also restrictive to outsiders. The system decided if a person from an outside country could visit, where they could go and stay and for how long. There were already six British autoworkers who were treated like hostages at the time and threatened with death to have the UK comply to their demands. You can understand just what Jones had to face in order to get the truth out.
Gareth had good reason to pursue the story. It’s not just trying to find out why Paul Kleb died, but Ukraine had personal interest to him as his mother taught English in Ukraine in the 1890’s. Gareth even had barriers in journalism to overcome once he had his story. He had top journalist Walter Duranty to deal with. Duranty had a big reputation at stake and kept insisting that the Holodomor isn’t happening. It isn’t until Jones meets with William Randolph Hearst that he finally gets a willing ear. The big feud between Duranty and Jones shows how even in what is supposed to be the ‘free world,’ there is still a lot of truths that are suppressed or even denied. Seeing all that goes on can make one wonder if this is happening today in what is supposed to be free countries. If we are really getting this freedom of speech or if we’re getting a lot of concocted stories.
This film is great in making a point about journalism and getting the truth out. There are a lot of truth even in today’s world that need to be exposed, but are covered up. The film does a good job in making a moment of past history, and the journalistic feuding surrounding it, make for a relevant message for today. Even the fact that Gareth was shot to death in 1935 while investigating a story in Chinese territory bordering Russia (which many consider to be a Soviet plot of revenge) reminds us of how many journalists risk their lives to uncover truths.
The film was very good at making its point. However the story didn’t seem to be heading on a straight path. There were times when moments that only deserved a certain time, like all the debauchery at Duranty’s hotel party, was slowed down and given more screen time than necessary. Even the moments of the journalistic feuding and political feuding appeared to take too long. The moments involving Jones witnessing the Holodomor in Ukraine were given the best screen time and the best on-screen depiction. It showed a lot of brutal honesty of the Holodomor, including that of cannibalism. It may have taken over less than half the screen-time, but it was done in excellent detail and gave the right haunting feel to this moment of tragedy.
Veteran director Agnieszka Holland teams up with emerging writer Andrea Chalupa to bring this story to the big screen. The story is one of great personal interest to Holland as she is well-knowledged of the Holodomor. Holland also has renown for her depictions of the Holocaust in some of her films. She does a very good job in directing the story, even if there are some moments of irrelevance or moments drawn out longer than they should be. James Norton does a good job in his portrayal of journalist Gareth Jones, but his part could have been developed more. Most of the parts didn’t have too much development and could have had more done with it. Nevertheless, Peter Saarsgard was able to make Walter Duranty hateable on the big screen. Vanessa Kirby was able to make her role of Ada gain more dimension over time.
Mr. Jones is about more than just about the Holodomor. It’s also about the topic of censorship that is just as relevant now with the ‘freedom of speech’ we’re led to believe we have in the ‘free world.’
“We must dare to invent the Future”
Judging by the title, you’ll think The Great Green Wall is about something environmental. You are mostly right. However this film is about something more, just like the wall.
Before I get into the film, I need to explain what the Great Green Wall is. It’s official name is The Great Green Wall Of The Sahara And The Sahel. The Great Green Wall is an environmental project and initiative meant to protect Africa against climate change and desertification. Those most vulnerable to desertification are the lands and people around the areas where the Sahara ends off known as the Sahel. This environmental wall of reforestation is to be done across twelve African countries around the Sahel. The main goal is to prevent the spread of the Sahara that has desertified a lot of green space in the past, strengthen regional resilience and natural systems for a sound ecosystem, and also maintain better living conditions and a better quality of life and even a future for the people’s of Africa around this area.
The idea of a ‘great green wall’ to contain the Sahara was first imagined by a British botanist in 1954, but was never taken seriously. The idea was brought up again in 2002 at an international meeting of the Community Of Sahel-Saharan States and approved in 2005. The African Union endorsed it in 2007 and the first plantings occurred in 2008. Eleven of the countries involved created the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW) as well as a harmonized strategy to plant out the Wall was adopted by African nations and implemented by the UN in 2012. However by 2016, only 15% of the acreage has been planted. Although many countries have been successful in planting, many of their plans are threatened by civil war.
The film is the Wall as seen through the eyes of Malian singer Inna Modja. She was born Inna Boccum but was called Ina Modja by her mother as a child as Modja is ‘bad girl’ in her native Malian language. Inna grew up in a musical family and was heavily influenced by both the traditional sounds of African pop music and American hip-hop and R&B of her teen years as well as the jazz records owned by her father. When she broke into the music world in 2009, she settled for a pop/soul sound. Her music ranges from themes of common pop songs to songs with strong political messages. Her music is not only big in Africa but also popular in France and Belgium.
Right at the start of the film, Inna talks of her own identity having elements with the Sahel. She grew up around the Malian area of the Sahel. The Great Green Wall is a project she is heavily dedicated to. She states the biggest elements the Wall is meant to combat: desertification, climate-change, poverty and even war. She also talks of her planned trip to visit areas around the Sahel where the Wall is vital to. It’s a trip that will take almost a year and will face the interruptions of her music schedule.
Before she embarks on her trip, she shows areas of Mali where forestation has occurred. She talks of her own childhood growing up on the Sahel. The first country she visits is Senegal. There she learns of the common belief shared by many young Africans: ‘flee to Europe or die trying.’ There’s a common belief in most of the young of Africa that there’s no future here in Africa. That their future is in Europe. Inna sees the importance of the wall as a way to keep the young in their African countries. It’s critical as it’s projected that 60 million young Africans are anticipated to migrate or attempt to migrate to Europe within the next 20 years.
Inna goes into more countries over time. She goes into Burkina Faso. One of her favorite leaders is Thomas Sankara: former president of Burkina Faso. She admires him and also hold dear to his saying ‘we must dare to invent the future.’ She then travels to Chad: a country that has suffered the most environmental damage. We learn of Lake Chad of how it used to be a big lake and it’s dissolved almost into nothing. She tells of the poverty and wars that have come from Chad’s environmental devadtation, including war children.
She then travels to Nigeria: the most populative country in Africa. She meets up with singer Waje who is a top singing star in Nigeria. She uses her fame for good and is just as supportive of the wall. Over in Nigeria she learns of many ugly truths that are common in Africa. The biggest one being children turned into soldiers. She even talks to two former child soldiers that tell their story. She then goes to Niger which has the highest birthing rate in the world: more than seven per mother. She meets with mothers who talk about the hope for their children, including one mother who just gave birth.
Her last trip is to Ethiopia. There she meets with singer Betty G., but she also sees the biggest ray of hope. For most the biggest image of Ethiopia is the famine of 1984. During the famine, hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation. Much of the areas of land that was dry dirt during the famine have seen forestry and horticulture replanted and developed. The area where there was mass starvation and death is now full of plant life. After Ethiopia, Inna returns back to Mali with a new outlook on Africa and ready to send the message out in her performances.
The film is an informative film as it’s a documentary about the wall and how much it means to a singer. We should also know that Inna is also a political activist. She has not only spoken about the Great Green Wall bit also spoken out against violence against women and female genital mutilation, which she herself was against her parents’ will. Inna is not afraid to include these topics in her music.
The film shows how Inna is passionate about the topic and wants to go to many parts of the Sahel to learn more of the issues surrounding the Sahel and to remind all of us why this Wall is important. Especially since only 15% has been planted and grown. We’re reminded of the Wall’s importance. It’s not just to prevent desertification. It’s not only to bring back an ecoculture in Africa. It’s also for the future of these African countries. It’s to give them a livelihood. It’s to prevent or end wars. It’s to give future generation of Africa a future there instead of Europe.
The film, which is co-produced by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, shows how this Wall is about African countries coming together to make this wall happen. One thing about this Wall is that many treaties and organizations have come about this. This involved many times of leaders of African nations coming together. However through Inna’s eyes we also see musicians coming together to help make this wall a reality and help make for a better Africa. We see as she meets with Malian band Songhoy Blues, we see as she meets with Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi, as she meets with Nigerian singer Waje and as she meets with Ethiopian singer Betty C. In each case, the musicians are people that put messages in their music. We see them bonding with Inna for a common cause as they also share the same concerns. The Wall means a lot to them, and here we see how music unites people for a common cause.
The Great Green Wall is about an ambitious environmental project, but the film shows this wall is a lot more. It’s for the future and liveliness of Africa, to prevent the spread of the world’s biggest desert and for the future people of Africa to have a life of promise. The film, and Inna Modja, do an excellent job in delivering this message.
WIKIPEDIA: Great Green Wall. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019.<Great Green Wall>
WIKIPEDIA: Inna Modja. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019. <Inna Modja>
Many people will consider the Falkland Islands War of 1982 a ‘forgotten war.’ Theatre Of War will show you six men who can’t forget it: the soldiers.
First off, I’ll answer what most of you are already asking; What are the Falkland Islands and why was a war fought over them in 1982? The Falkland Islands are a set of islands 300 miles east of the coast of Argentina. They’re 4,700 square miles wide and the population is almost 3,400. The islands were discovered by Europeans starting in the 16th century and were thought to be uninhabited. It was in the 18th century when Europeans started making the islands inhabitable with the French inhabiting the east island and the British inhabiting the west island. France eventually surrendered its ownership to Spain years later. The British captured the east island a year later, but a war was never started. Over time, the Spanish took over and the Argentineans, who refer to the islands as the Malvinas, attempted a garrison in the 19th century. Over time, the British asserted their rule over the land in 1832.
It would continue to be under British rule even though the Germans sought to own it in 1912. Naval conflict abounded with the British winning. However the Argentineans started another garrison in 1982: 150 years after British rule was declared. It was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started what would be remembered as the Falkland Island War. The war lasted 10 1/2 weeks and left over 900 dead. The UK won the war and British rule was reasserted.
In this documentary, we are introduced to six men: three British, three Argentinian. On the British side is Lou Armour: marine corporal, David Jackson: a young soldier at the time, and Sukrim Rai: a Nepalese immigrant who fought for the UK. On the Argentinean side is Gabriel Sagastume, Marcello, Marcelo Vallejo and Ruben Otero. Throughout the film, they tell of their experiences of what it was like to go to war at such a young age. Lou Armour actually led the British Marines. They also talk of the struggles they’ve had with their lives in the years that followed. A lot of them tell of their stories of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when it came into their lives quite late.
The unique thing about this documentary is that they don’t just talk about their stories. Very often, they act out their stories. We see all six at the pool and one talks of an incident in 2004 when he nearly drowned himself. We see two at an empty discotheque as one tells of his story of loneliness in a bar. We see one British and one Argentinean soldier showing copies of magazines published around the time of the war. It’s interesting what each magazine had to say. We see one Argentinean use tiny plastic army men to tell the story of how Argentinean soldiers first claimed the Falkland Islands and the battle that started the war. We see the six in a rock band as one ‘singer’ shouts out “Have you ever…” and tells of instances only a soldier can ever experience both in battle and in post-battle life.
However this wasn’t just simply a vanity effort what they were doing. The six also visited Argentina to tell their stories. There were times the six went to schools together telling children their stories of the war. There were times they even had to answer questions from the children. However the most interesting moment came near the end. The soldiers had six 18 year-old Argentinean men dress up like them to re-enact a moment from the war. As the soldiers were dressing them up in their war uniforms or applying scar make-up, they were telling their stories. One even showed another what it was like to wield a knife in battle. It’s interesting as they told their stories to the boys, it showed the luxury these 18 year-old boys of today have. They don’t have to be called up for battle. They can live their care free life. That was made evident just as it led to the end scene where the young men re-enacted the battle at the former soldiers’ directions.
The unique thing about this documentary is that it shows the foolish side of war. We have six men from both sides and they tell their stories. They made to be made to look like heroes in their own country but they don’t feel like heroes. They even made spoof of the political situation behind it. One scene includes soldiers in face masks of Margaret Thatcher and the Argentinean president locking lips. The film even showed that this is of a war in which the opposite sides can have a peaceful disagreement. We see that in one scene where an Argentinean and a Brit talk of the history of the Falklands/Malvinas. Both feel strongly that those islands belong to their country, but they’re able to disagree peacefully without enmity or even a fistfight.
The interesting thing is that these six soldiers did this documentary just as they were about to perform in an onstage docudrama called ‘Minefield.’ Before they performed in the play, they had the opportunity to do all this. The soldiers reunited and sorted out their differences. They went to places where they experienced these traumatic events in their lives to recreate the moment. They went to schools to educate the young children of Argentina. They even met with six young Argentinean men to give them the experience of what it is to fight in a war about a set of islands none of them really knew. This is an important docudrama worth seeing because it does tell you a lot of how a simple war that lasted three months can change lives forever, most for the worse. The film doesn’t simply show how foolish fighting over a small set of islands are, but makes other wars of past look foolish too.
Lola Arias did a very good job in creating a meaningfully documentary of what many consider a meaningless battle. Lola takes a lot of incidents from the school visits, the meeting with the young actors, the on-stage work, and various scenes solely for the documentary and brings it all together. It’s pieced together in a mixed way that may seem like it doesn’t go in a straight pattern. Maybe Arias had her reasons for doing so. She does however include a lot of important scenes and a lot of poignant moments throughout the documentary. It may not appear to have ended in a solid manner but the whole documentary tells a lot.
Theatre Of War isn’t just about six soldiers coming together, settling their differences and making peace. It’s an important reminder of that war and it shows how war is something you can’t leave behind. Even long after you’ve dropped your guns.
Can you imagine a party where everything that could go wrong does? The British comedy The Party is a film that shows exactly that!
The film begins with Janet waiting for her party to begin. She just won a seat in parliament. The party is expected to be a private one with her husband Bill, best friend April and her husband Gottfried, close couple Martha and Jinny and her son Tom. Bill is frail and not in the most pleasant of moods. April has a very blunt mouth and isn’t afraid to say what she believes to be true, no matter how spiteful. Gottfried appears not to be with his wits. Tom is trying to keep his cocaine habit a secret. The couple of Martha and Jinny appear to be the only guests who have it together. Of course, they’re happy as they’re expecting triplets.
The party is supposed to go smooth, but April appears to be saying something to start a spat anytime soon. Gottfried is always embarrassing April. Tom’s frustrations about his marriage are becoming obvious. Nevertheless Janet is toasted by all.
Then the chaos begins. Janet first receives a text from a man wanting her back in her life, to which she declines. Bill announces he’s dying to all. Janet is broken, but he’s vague on what his condition is. Only Gottfried appears to believe him and is willing to help him. Then unfaithfulness has been revealed about both Martha and Jinny and it threatens not just their relationship, but the birth of their children. Then Bill admits to Janet, he’s been seeing another woman. Janet is infuriated. Only Gottfried stands by his side. Tom does more coke and contemplates hosting himself, but later throws the gun in the garbage. Janet is upset by the whole thing with no one but April to give her words of comfort. However Janet soon finds Tom’s gun in the garbage. Then Bill reveals to Tom the ‘other woman’ is his wife. Tom responds by punching Bill. Bill appears dead on the floor and is being resuscitated. Martha and Jinny try to look like the happy couple they were. Then Janet goes to the door after hearing the doorbell. It’s the other man. To which, she points the gun at him: “You said you loved me. You liar!”
At first, I thought The Party would be a political film. I was tempted to think that at first glance. Instead it became the perfect location for a single-location film. It does a very good job in packing in just about anything and everything that can destroy all seven involved in the story. One thing does lead to another and the results are crazy. However a story like this about a party where everything goes wrong for everybody has to have situations that don’t come across as ridiculous. You have enough slapstick movies doing that.
To make a party where everything goes wrong, but still look intelligent takes a lot of effort in writing. It succeeds in doing that. The characters in which the actors adapt had to make the comedic situations work. The situations looked quite believable, despite the banality of all of them happening at once. Even the most bizarre situations didn’t come across as looking stupid. This is one of the best over-the-top comedies I’ve seen in a long time. The over-the-top elements aren’t even physical or slapstick; it’s all about the story and characters. Even filming this comedy in black and white added to the film.
The biggest accolades in making this bizarre story work goes to writer/director Sally Potter. This story packs in a lot of comedic punch that appears to work every time and does not cross over the line into stupidity and ridiculous. It takes a lot of effort to create something like that and make it work, and Potter made it work. Everyone who saw it the same time I saw it was laughing a lot. It’s hard to pick who the biggest performer was. Kristin Scott Thomas was definitely the protagonist, but Patricia Clarkson was able to steal the show with whatever she said each time. Bruno Ganz and Timothy Spall owned their moments by playing their characters well. Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer also grabbed their moments, and Cillian Murphy knew how to come out of nowhere to get his moments too. Basically it’s not on the strength of a single actor, but of all seven in the ensemble. They all made this comedy work with whatever they did or said.
The Party is 71 minutes of tragicomedy energy of the best kind. It’s a reminder of how writing rather than cheap one-liners is what works best in comedy. I guarantee you will be laughing.
One of the objectives of the VIFF is to show films each year that take us to another dimension or the supernatural. That’s shown in their Altered States film category/ The first Altered States film I saw was Under The Shadow which showcases a supernatural occurrence during a moment in world history.
This takes place in Tehran during the later 1980’s during the Iran/Iraq war. The war has been going on since 1980 with lots of lives lost, everyone in Iran threatened, and no end in sight. Shideh, just recently expelled from her law school for participating in a protest, has returned to her apartment as a housewife. Only she learns her husband has been drafted in the War. She’s left to tend to her daughter Dorsa alone. Her workout tape to Jane Fonda– forbidden under her country’s religious law along with the VCR hidden in a locked box– becomes her one escape from the stresses in her life.
One night, an Iraqi missile hits the apartment but doesn’t explode. There’s only one fatality but he dies of a heart attack. Mysteriously Dorsa won’t stop crying for her doll until she has it despite the wreckage to the apartment building.
Shideh decides to stay with Dorsa despite other tenant leaving the building for a safer place to live one by one. Dorsa mentions of a mysterious man, or djinn, and that’s what keeps her there. It’s not easy for Shideh to deal with this as she’s constantly being left behind by the tenants, worrying about her husband constantly, looking after Dorsa all alone and dealing with authorities in a country under strict religious law. Things take a turn for the worse as this djinn causes things to move out of place. It even rips up her Jane Fonda tape.
Soon the last of the other tenants– the daughter of the man who died in the missile hit– leaves the apartment with Shideh and Dorsa on their own. Nevertheless Shideh is determined to face the djinn before she leaves and despite the threat of a collapsing roof. Shideh does have her moment to finally confront the djinn and deal with it.
There are a lot of stories about the supernatural in the past. The unique thing about this film is that it features a supernatural character traditional to Arabic literature: the Djinn. The djinn are common in ancient Arabic mythology and are even mentioned in the Qu’ran. The most common form of the djinn in entertainment is the ‘genie in a bottle’ or the ‘genie in a lamp’ that’s common in the most popular Arabic stories. Yes, the genie we all commonly know originates from the djinn myth. However the djinn goes beyond the genie most of us commonly know. The djinn can be either good, evil or neutrally benevolent possessing the same free will of humans. In fact the word djinn comes from the primary meaning ‘to hide.’ It’s the ‘shaytan djinn’ that are the most demonic.
Here the djinn Shideh is dealing with is far from a genie that will grant you three wishes. It’s obvious that this djinn has something to do with Shideh’s personal issues. And she has a lot of them as seen in her life. Her education was cut short because she participated in something that’s a right in most other countries. Her husband has to fight in the war. She’s now on her own looking after her daughter. The only place she appears to find relief in is in her Jane Fonda workout tape which is banned by the government along with her VCR. However this is a djinn that goes beyond just appearing to Shideh. It also carries a sense that it’s present in Dorsa’s doll, too. It’s apparent Shideh has to deal with this djinn to the point she refuses to vacate the apartment with her daughter like all the others until she’s finished.
It’s interesting how this story intertwines with both the supernatural and both a moment in world history. You can notice how there are so many things mixed in with this story that tells of the times in Iran during the war. There’s the forbidden Jane Fonda tape, there’s Shideh punished for being in a demonstration, there’s the police threatening to arrest Shideh for not being in a hijab. You even hear it echoed by the police there: “This is not the same country. We now have our values back. We have men fighting for those values.” Sometimes you wonder if the times of Iran have a lot of influence in the djinn Shideh has to deal with. I often feel that’s what the filmmaker is trying to do here.
I will say one of the top things of the film is that it often succeeds at adding horror elements to the film. The djinn is a mysterious spirit but it does a good job at scaring Shideh in her dreams. It also does a good job in scaring the crowds. I know the film succeeded in scaring me a few times.
It may seem odd for the United Kingdom to submit a film in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars but it can be done since Iranian-born director Babak Anvari lives in London. Anvari was actually born during the Iran/Iraq war so this is an incident in history that really touches upon him and has a lot to do with why he prefers to live in the UK. This is his first feature-length film and it’s an impressive work as it does a good job in capturing a moment in history and incorporating the supernatural into it. It was also successful in scaring me too at times. Narges Rashidi did a very good job of playing Shideh: a woman who’s both scared and angry. Rashidi herself was born in Iran and is familiar with the Iran/ Iraq war she had to endure with before escaping to Turkey. Young actress Avin Manshadi was also very good as Dorsa.
Under The Shadow is an intriguing story of a mysterious spirit that comes to a woman during wartime. It also makes for a fitting scary movie too.
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.
Just recently I published my review of the live-action shorts nominees of this year. Now’s my chance to publish my thoughts on the nominated animated shorts of this year. They range in variety from 2D artistic to primitive 2D to common 3D computer animated to 3D with a unique style. All five are excellent and unique in their unique way but who deserves to win?
–Bear Story (Chile): dirs. Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart – It’s a story of a bear who misses his wife and son dearly. Every day he goes out on the street and shows a diorama show to those of the story of how he was abducted from them both and taken away to be part of the circus. The show also ends showing his hope that one day he will be reunited with them both.
The film is a sad story that touches your heart without trying to mess with it. It’s 3D animation but instead of the characters looking human, it comes looking like toy soldiers. I’m not too sure of the creative purpose of that. Nevertheless it does make for an entertaining short film.
–Prologue (UK): dirs. Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton – This is one film where there was a viewer discretion warning and advised minors to leave the theatre before it was shown. The film takes part 2,400 years in the past. A child watches a brutal war between two teams of Spartan and Athenian warriors.
This is the rawest nominated short I’ve ever seen ever since they’ve shown the shorts in theatres. The art is simplistic as it consists mostly of pencil drawings with very little coloring. However it merits a lot in terms of its artistry. It also tells a story in brutally relentless fashion even depicting the battles in gory manner. It’s very rare to see a short animated film that’s strictly adults only. It also made it refreshing to see such a short.
–Sanjay’s Super Team (USA): dirs: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Paradis Grindle – Sanjay loves watching the Super Team on television but his father is very insistent on a religious prayer habit, even at Sanjay’s young age. Right during the prayer ritual, Sanjay’s imagination comes alive. The gods he’s praying to form a Super Team of his own and they join Sanjay in the battle against a nemesis.
This is from Pixar and was the short before The Good Dinosaur. Director Sanjay Patel has an impressive resume working as an animator for Pixar in films like A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, the two Monsters movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. This film in which he co-directs is his directing debut. The film shows similar imagination to that of the Pixar team while also taking us into a brief but memorable time into an incredible fantasy world. Very good from start to finish. I predict it as my Should Win pick and Will Win pick.
–We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia): dir. Konstantin Bronzit – Two childhood friends train to be cosmonauts in space. Only one will go off into space. The other will be the alternate or next in line if something bad happens to the first. One friend got picked. The other friend wishes him well on his voyage. However shortly after blast off, the friend disappears. The friend down on earth is unhappy. He can’t even adjust well to his alternate whom he doesn’t get along with at all. Actually the alternate can’t get along with anyone. The friend makes a decision to the surprise of many, and to us. It’s a decision we’re glad he made.
It’s a 2D film with a story that doesn’t need dialogue for us to get the messages. Over time we learn the story isn’t about trying to make it into space but about just how close the friendship is. The two train together and dream together. When his friend is lost into oblivion, his ambition to be the next in space disappears just like that. You can easily see why he made the decision to do what he did.
–World Of Tomorrow (UK) dir. Don Hirtzfeldt – The story begins with a toddler named Emily in a room. Out of nowhere comes a clone also named Emily who came from 227 years into the future back to the present. The adult Emily, ‘Emily Clone,’ tells the child Emily, ‘Emily Prime,’ of the human’s attempts to achieve immortality through cloning and showcasing the various worlds including the ‘Outernet’ and the various memories of the clone Emily. Very different and very unique.
This is another 2D short. The drawing is very simplistic. However it’s the story that’s the top quality of the film. We see a bizarre but unique story of Emily Clone and Emily Prime the future world and the future of Emily. The funniest element of the short is Emily Clone keeps on talking in her highly scientific speech and all Emily Prime does is just respond back in her childish gibberish. That adds to the humor of the short.
In conclusion I know I picked Sanjay’s Super Team as both my Should Win and Will Win choice. Normally I wouldn’t pick such a film to win but I find it hard to see any of the other four films try to top it. All five are excellent but I think Sanjay stands alone. I know World Of Tomorrow won the Annie Award but I have my feeling about Oscars voters. Mind you the shorts categories are some of the least predictable categories of the Oscars.
And there you go. My thoughts on the Oscar nominated Animated Shorts. Winner to be decided in two weeks.
The Oscar-nominated short films were back in theatres again. However this year I only had the chances to see the live-action one day and the animated another. I have no problem writing separate reviews for both. So here’s my take on the live-action shorts:
–Ave Maria (Palestine/France/Germany): dirs. Eric Dupont and Basil Khalil – Five nuns pray at a convent in a ‘war-zone’ area of Palestine. Then they hear what sounds like an explosive car crash. One tries to help despite the fact they are under a vow of silence. What happened was a car driven by Jewish residents accidentally crashed into the Virgin Mary statue. They try to help but there are conflicts with the nuns’ vows of silence and the family’s strict adherence to the Sabbath and with kosherisms. Not to mention they don’t want to be noticed by Arab residents in the area.
The film does focus on the religious tensions in Palestine but in a humorous way. All of this takes place in the area of the convent. However it’s funny how something as little as a car crash and people trying to seek out help can lead to such religious conflicts. That may have been the least of problems in Palestine but even then it just shows the humor of the whole situation and of how in the end it’s all about doing the right thing. I feel the film’s mix of humor while conveying a social message is why I predict it Will Win the Oscar.
–Shok (Kosovo/UK): dir. Jamie Donoughue – A car driving on a Kosovo road stops at an abandoned child’s bicycle. But why would a grown male from the car leave the car to look at the bicycle? And why would he ride it soon after?
The answer flashes back to the mid-90’s. Two Kosovar Albanian boys Petrit and Oki are the closest of friends. They frequently go to school riding on the bicycle Oki bought after a year of selling almonds. Petrit wants a bike of his own but feels he can get it by selling drugs and rolling papers to Serbian soldiers who’ve taken over the area. He feels it could also prevent them invading their village despite news stories of other areas of Kosovo being invaded. He even tells Oki he’s safe with him.
However Petrit’s promise and ‘business’ is put under heavy question during one of his ‘deals’ as a Serbian soldier wants Oki’s bicycle. It’s not the lost bicycle Oki’s angry about but the fact Petrit is willing to do something dangerous and dishonest for money and it threatens their friendship. They reconcile after Petrit is willing to take an assault from a soldier after Albanian books are found in Oki’s bag and Petrit claims them as his own. Unfortunately the invasion of their village eventually comes and with it the tragic end of the friendship of Oki and Petrit.
Of all five shorts, this is the one that still stayed with me long after I left the theatre. This is a story based on true events. I easily remember the war in the Balkans, especially the bloodshed in Bosnia, back in the 90’s. It dominated the news that decade. The war in Kosovo just years after the war in Bosnia ended was another example of the tyranny and I remember that as well. It does leave you feeling it was unfair of what happened to Oki. He was the smart one. He was the one who kept Petrit’s head on straight. But he was the one killed. Also that end scene where we see a grown-up Petrit still haunted by the war more that fifteen years later reminds you that war still haunts even as time passes and even if Kosovo did get its independence. My cousin once said: “No country’s freedom came without some amount of bloodshed.” True, but the bloodshed still leaves people with a trauma not even independence can solve. That’s why I pick Shok to be my Should Win pick.
–Eveything Will Be Okay (Austria/Germany): dir. Patrick Vollrath – The film starts on a simple note. A man named Michael goes to see his daughter Lea for visitation. His ex-wife and new boyfriend don’t have a problem with that at all so we think it will just be a fun day of the two of them without incident. It starts on a fun note as he buys her a big Playmobil toy and promises to taker her to the fair afterwards. However things get a bit suspicious as the two go to a photo booth where he gets Lea to have a photo of her own and takes to a passport office for rush processing. Things get even fishier when Michael sells his car and they take a cab to the airport. Soon we get what’s going on. It’s a miracle the flight to Dubai was cancelled but they have a replacement flight the next morning. Despite Lea wanting to go home, Michael is insistent on taking her and for her to cooperate. It’s by the luck of Lea making a phone call to her mother overnight that they’re able to prevent an abduction from happening. But not without a struggle.
This is a film of a scenario that happens all too often. A broken marriage and children caught in the middle even to the point of them being abducted. This is something that happens all over the world. However the story is not just about the child caught in the middle but the parent who’s hurting and feels that the child is being taken away from him. The film leaves you wondering if Michael suffers from a mental illness or if he’s just a hurting person. It leaves you feeling that way of a lot of parents from failed marriages. Is that why they abduct their children? The film also leaves you relieved that the flight was cancelled and that Lea was able to make that phone call to her mother in the early morning. Not as many children are as lucky.
The best quality of the film is that it helps the audience live the moment. We don’t know what’s really happening at first but we soon get a better understanding of what’s happening as time goes on. Even as they go to the fair and ride the bumper cars, we still can’t take our mind off of what we suspect will happen. And as time moves on, what we suspect is exactly what’s happening. In addition that scene which we think is the end where the police, Lea’s mother and the hotel personnel try to stop the heist ends up being a scene where a new conflict begins. Michael still struggle to hang onto Lea. That’s another quality of the film where right where we think it’s all over, it’s not and a new struggle begins. On top of that the film’s story is shown without any musical score which adds to the intensity of the drama.
This is a film of a story of an incident that happens all too often in our world. The film’s best qualities are the story unfolding quietly as time unfolds and the unexpected twists in the drama.
-Stutterer (UK/Ireland): dirs. Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage – Greenwood, a twentysomething London male with a stutter finds life difficult. His stutter is so severe, it causes problems when calling customer service. He has a job as a typographer but his social life is limited to him with his father. Often he fakes himself as death to try and avoid conversation. His thoughts however are perfectly coherent.
Despite his social flaws and his speech problem, he has developed an online relationship with a woman named Ellie. That works excellently and they keep the relationship going for six months despite never meeting face to face. However the day comes when Ellie would like to meet Greenwood for the first time. He’s in a crisis of what to do and abandons her at first but agrees to do so the next day despite being nervous as hell. The ending will surprise you.
This is a charming story. It takes you into the person’s feelings as well as their insecurities. You learn of Greenwood’s stutter and of what he’s really thinking and easily see the barriers he has to face. You learn about Greenwood the person and hope that in the end he does win Ellie. The ending will delight you. Very clever short film.
–Day One (USA): dir. Henry Hughes – Feda is a young woman just hired by the U.S. Army to act as interpreter. She’s in her 30’s and admits to her colleague who also speaks Arabic that she’s never been married and has no children. Her operation on Day One involves dealing with an enemy bomb maker the army is about to arrest. The operation involves a lot more. It also involves bring his fatherless niece to safety. It also involves dealing with his wife who’s about to give birth.
As if trying to deliver the baby isn’t stressful enough, there’s the fact the baby’s hand is hanging out. The doctor tests for a pulse from the baby and assumes there isn’t one. Feda is given orders to cut the deceased baby’s limbs so that the mother doesn’t bleed to death. Even before Feda attempts the first cut, she notices the hand move. The baby’s alive. There is a sigh of relief but there’s the new stress of making sure the baby’s born right and the mother not bleeding to death. The film ends on a sad but hopeful note.
Just like Everything Will Be Okay, it captures the drama of the moment and allows the audience to capture the intensity as the events are slowly unfolding. The various twists and turns in the story also adds to the continuous drama. The happy ending we all hope for doesn’t happen but it does end with a moment of hope, especially for Feda.
In conclusion, I feel Shok should win the Oscar because of how it’s a story that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It was creative and it told a story that will touch you deep down inside. I still remember hearing a couple of people in tears after Oki was shot. However I don’t know if the Academy will pick a short that’s all too serious. I think they might want to go for a story leading more to the humorous side. I think Ave Maria with its mix of humor and social awareness will take the Oscar. I think the Academy would prefer a film like that.
And there are my thoughts for this year’s five nominees in the category of Best Live Action Short Film. Winners to be decided on the big night. Also click here for my reviews of the animated shorts.