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.
You may remember at last year’s VIFF, I saw the Reel Youth Film Festival. The Reel Youth Fest was back again at this year’s VIFF. Again it was entertaining and creative.
Last year the main focus was to get the works of a lot of young filmmakers on screen. It didn’t matter if the quality was amateurish or professional. Its focus was to get the filmmaking images of the youth–whether it was making a point or just having fun– and get them on the big screen. This year did feature a lot of films done by the young. However it also featured a lot of productions by professional companies with a message to give to the young.
One of the top themes of the short films was bullying. This was especially the case as the United Way showcased the top three anti-bullying films by students. It was also focused on in a short film by a young Scottish director. Environmentalism was also a top theme of focus. With the controversial subject of shipping LNG’s, that was reflected in a BC film of three girls who have what starts as an innocent water balloon fight. There was the theme of youth representation which was focused on in a film done by five Hamilton teens. There was also the theme of digital media overkill that was shown in one young man’s film. There was also the theme of pressures young people face today–both socially and academically–as seen through the eyes of a young teen girl. Even teen love triangles were also focused. The theme of sexuality was included in a few films too including one on the topic of transgenderism from Portugal of a girl who always felt she was a boy.
The standout theme amongst the short films was to do about the promise and hope of a better tomorrow. That was reflected in one short film from Mexico about a boy who has to vacate his home to a new home. Another film showing the daily life of a Mexican-American girl’s mother while the daughter narrates in the background shows hope for her family. It was also reflected in an Iranian film of a young boy who sees hope in a piece of trash. It was even focused creatively in one film of a Bengali boy doing pretend filming. There was even one film from ex-street youth from Sierra Leone who showed what happens when they get $2000 handed to them immediately. The outcome isn’t what they expected but they all learned from it. I felt the message of hope for the future was best reflected in a film about a Peruvian youth orchestra where the orchestra is their escape from the poverty and harsh lives.
Sometimes the films weren’t always thematic. Sometimes they were reflections of people. There were two films which were of two different elderly people living in Greater Vancouver. One was the first black quarterback in professional football. Another was of a woman who just turned 91. Both were nice stories to hear. There was even a film about children in a small town in the Northwest Territories. It was just them playing in the background as the stories they tell of themselves and their family are told. It was a simple film that’s a nice eye opener.
Then there were films that try to get creative. This is where the young directors started to have fun. One was a story of a hitman’s murder attempt with poisonous muffins gone wrong. Another of a toy car getting lost and going on an adventurous trip. Another an animated adventure of a polar bear. Even an animated story of a fish dinner gone awry. No major point to it. Just a chance to have some fun and even possibly make a future out of it.
The films either came from all over the world or were shot in many places around the world. It made for an eclectic look at the lives of young people from a global perspective. Needs and concerns differ from one place to the next but they all share that common desire for hope for the future. There were at least eight films from Canadian filmmakers. There were six of which that were done locally. There was even one that was done by New Westminster youth and shot in areas I frequently visit. That was the film where it appears they’re giving adults a glove. Then they show they’re spreading the love. It left me wondering when it was filmed and how I wasn’t there at the time. I’m sure if they gave me the glove at first, I too would think: “What on earth is this?”
Just like last year, they gave all the attendees a ballot to fill out of their Top 3 films and favorite local. It’s hard to play favorites but here’s what I voted for:
- Orchestra For A Dream – I rated it first because it had the best message of hope by showing a way out for disadvantaged youth.
- Sin Madre – The film of the young girls’ mother and the daughter’s admiration for her really made me like this a lot.
- What If There Was A Place? – Five Hamilton youth make their message heard that they demand to be taken seriously. Excellent two-minute film.
- Best Local: And That’s Remarkable – A creative film that sends the message that you can either let bullying comments hurt you or you can defy them.
And there you go. That was the Reel Youth Film festival for this year. If you want to learn more about the Reel Youth Fest coming to your town or if you want to book a showing of your own, just go to the Reel Youth website.
One thing about the Vancouver Film Fest is that they show a lot of films and shorts from upcoming filmmakers. They also show films made by youth or young filmmakers too. The Reel Youth Film Festival–which is a festival all it own and had its premiere at the VIFF on Sunday–showcases films from young filmmakers.
Most of the time whenever there’s a shorts segment show I see, I review all the shorts one by one. Now rather than review the shorts, I will just describe what I saw. Besides I wouldn’t consider it to be fair to critique student films.
The twenty-five films were chosen out of three-hundred entries. The films are from Canada and seven other countries and range from one minute to nine minutes. They consist of animation or live-action. They are filmed on typical motion picture format or typical run-of-the-mill video camera. They range from a played-out stories to music videos to animation exhibits to social messages. Some of the films appeared amateurish in quality, some appeared quite professional in quality. Most can be classified as G-rated works but two films in the festival were rated PG with one even including nudity and masturbation (non-explicit, of course). Three videos included were also part of the United Way’s contest to create a one-minute anti-bullying film. Two videos were from the UNIS student program including one of two girls growing up in a rural area of Vietnam.
The films show a lot through their eyes. A lot of it is often about school life, home life and even the work life they anticipate to have in the coming years. Sometimes they focus on other people such as gypsies, two sisters in Vietnam, a graffiti artist or an elderly man in the town. Sometimes they focus on social issues like bullying, corporate greed, homelessness or drugs. Sometimes they focus on fun aspects like dating, school irritations, social media and even the city they’re proud to call home. Sometimes they even focus on nonsense subjects like the death of a sandwich, being scared by a ghost, an office dork or a certain secret about Barbie we never knew.
The thing is that most of the students doing the filming may or may not want to take filmmaking to further directions in their life. Some–like the directors of Crack, Hank and Light Switch–appear to want to take filmmaking seriously in the future. Many others look like they prefer the direction of animation. Some are just amateurs doing it for fun. I guess that’s what the focus of the Reel Youth Film Festival is: more concerned about getting out their voice or creativity rather than the seriousness or professionalism of the craft.
The screening I saw Sunday evening was actually the World Premiere of the annual Reel Youth Film Festival. There will be one more showing at the VIFF on a Wednesday morning open for student groups. It will be showing at more locations to come and the Festival can act as a fundraiser for your community centre. If you’re interested in screenings or interested in showing it at a place you know, or even if you know a young filmmaker with dreams, just go to: http://www.reelyouth.ca/
One last thing. That evening I went had a ballot for all to fill out. The ballot was asking the voter of their three favorite films and their favorite local film. I don’t know if they will be doing it again in their next showings but I had a chance to pick my favorites:
- Being Ernest
- Fav Local: Too Old For Fairy Tales
The Reel Youth Film Festival is a good attraction at the VIFF. Who knows? Maybe one of the directors can make it big one day.
“You have five minutes of stage to prove why you deserve this chance.”
I went to see First Position a week or two back because I wanted to finally make use out of movie tickets for a certain cinema I won during an Oscar party. I’m glad I did. It’s a unique outlook on the art of ballet dancing, the children that aspire to excel, and the Youth America Grand Prix competition which is a potential ticket for many futures in the dance. It left me with a surprising outlook and I now know more.
Before I go into reviewing First Position, I’d like to explain the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) competition. The competition was created in 1999 by two former dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet. The competition is not just a top dance competition but a potential ticket to futures in dance. Many dancers are awarded scholarships to various renowned dance academies from around the world. The total value of scholarships are estimated to be $250,000 annually and they range from summer intensives to full-year schooling. Dancing jobs are also offered from renowned ballet ensembles worldwide. Many dance companies have considered this competition a ‘game-changer in dance’ or a ‘dancer’s marketplace’ ever since it began.
As for the YAGP competitions, they consist of semifinals contested in twelve American cities and five foreign cities and the finals in New York. The individual competitions are divided into three age divisions: pre-competitive (11 and under), junior (12-14) and senior (15-19). The junior and senior divisions have Grand Prix awards and the pre-competitive division has a Hope Award. Medals are awarded in each age division with men and women separately. There are also competitions in Pas de Deux and Ensembles with medals awarded. There are also special awards given out at the end.
The YAGP may start with an annual total of 5000 dancers competing in the semifinals and almost 300 dancers in the finals in New York City annually but the movie focuses specifically on six in the 2010 competition:
-Rebecca Houseknecht, 17: The Maryland teen is a self-described ‘princess’ and has an obsession with the color pink. She’s been dancing and competing her whole life. Now that she’s on the verge of graduating high school she wants to dance professionally. Competing at the YAGP could open the door for opportunity. Nevertheless she’s nervous since she knows chances are slim.
-Joan Sebastian Zamora, 16: A Colombian so good at dancing, he had to move to the renowned The Rock Dance Academy in Philadelphia to improve his skills. Ballet is his passion. He receives a lot of support from his family and frequently talks with them from thousands of miles away. He’s hoping to become a professional dancer but is now chasing a scholarship from a top academy.
-Michaela DePrince, 15: A refugee from Sierra Leone who was shunned in an orphanage as the ‘devil’s child’ for vitiligo discoloring her skin. She carried a picture of a ballerina with her during her days in the refugee camp and dreamed of being that woman. Adopted by a white American family at age 4 along with another girl from the refugee camp, she looks back at her past saying: “It’s a miracle I’m even here.” She’s come this far training at a top professional school but wants to take things further.
-Miko Fogarty, 12: The daughter of a Japanese mother and British father, her mother was a dancer in her native Japan and she took to the love of dance instantly. Unlike most children who are either influenced or forced into things by their parents, she shares the same love of dancing as her mother and a special bond with her.
-Aran Bell, 11: A real-life Billy Elliot. It’s a surprise that this ballet prodigy is the only dancer in his family. An American boy living in Naples, Italy where his military father is stationed, Aran trains at a renowned school in Rome. Being 11 doesn’t excuse him from training over 30 hours a week, but Aran loves ballet enough to commit himself to it.
-Jules “J.J.” Fogarty, 10: Miko’s younger brother. He too is very skilled of a dancer but he doesn’t seem to be the dancer type his sister and mother are. He lacks the passion shared by his mother and sister but will he continue on or give out?
Throughout the documentary, there are many factors about the life of a young ballet student. One starts when a judge says “Kids who are pursuing ballet as a career give up their childhood.” Even Michaela will acknowledge: “You’ve been working your body to death since five.” We see the childhoods of all six. All six may train an excruciating number of hours a week but they all have time for fun, even those that are home-schooled or take correspondence learning. Rebecca points out she has fun with friends and a boyfriend: “I feel I lead a pretty normal life”. We see Michaela talking and eating with her friends. We see Aran play catch and skate on his skateboard. He has a BB gun, toy cars and many teddy bears. Miko herself says: “I think I’ve had the right amount of childhood and the right amount of ballet.” Maybe children pursuing dancing do have a childhood. Just a different one than most of us.
Other themes about ballet enter the picture in the film too. One is the importance of the family dynamic in supporting the child chasing their dream of dancing. They may be lucky like Michaela and Rebecca to live near a top notch school or they may be like Joan Sebastian’s family whom Joan only sees a few times out of the year. Nevertheless the support is evident for all in an art that involves a lot of time and a lot of money. Another is the difference between loving dance and liking it. It becomes evident with J.J. as he admits that he likes dancing but doesn’t love it enough to devote the huge number of hours any longer. Viewers may have even sensed that at the beginning. Another element included is race and gender. Michaela talks about the flack she hears like: “blacks lack the grace to excel in ballet.” Joan Sebastian mentions of an African-Cuban ballet dancer as his idol and inspiration. Aran keeps his dancing private from his classmates: “A lot of men think ballet is not what it is.” On the other hand Joan Sebastian’s six year-old little brother wants to be a dancer just like Joan.
As the competition progresses from the semifinals to the finals, we also see other aspects of ballet come to light. One is highlighted in a conversation with Rebecca and her dancing friends about the competitiveness of the dancers. She mentions how when she gives a compliment, many react to her with suspicion. The funny thing is while many people believe ballerinas to have snobby catty personalities, all the dancers profiled in the movie have very likeable personalities. Another aspect is dancers and eating. To the surprise of many, all the dancers featured have big appetites and admit to eating a lot. There’s been a lot of talk about dancers and eating disorders but the dancers’ eating reminds us that a dancer with an eating disorder like anorexia won’t have the energy to train or perform well. So good eating is necessary. Another aspect is dancing injuries. They range from blisters to pulled muscles to inflamed toe joints to popped knees to the unspeakable. It shouldn’t surprise you with training 30 or more hours a week. What would surprise you is that dancers are expected to perform with the injuries and still make it look pretty. That could lead to further aggravation. Many dancing careers have been cut short because of injury. Surprising how watching ballet performances are beautiful but the training part has a lot of ugliness.
Yes, the film shows a lot of themes and aspects of ballet as it goes from showcasing the training to the home life to the competition. Competition has some aspects of its own. First is the semifinals held in the various cities. As I mentioned, a total of 5000 dancers try out in the semis to become amongst the 300 that qualify for the finals in New York. They show all six competing in their own semifinal competitions but the most eye-catching were that of Miko, J.J. and Aran. Miko falls during the first performance in her semifinal. Her mother always blames herself whenever Miko falls. Nevertheless we’re made aware that the judges like a good recovery. Miko performs well during the second performance and she qualifies. J.J. also qualifies as he’s given special consideration for his age. Even though Aran is American, he competes in the European semifinals. We’re also introduced to Aran’s friend from Israel. Her name is Gaya Bommer and she’s a dancer trained by her mother. They form a special friendship even though they’re miles apart and Gaya can’t speak any English.
One thing we should remember is that the semifinals are held anywhere from two to six months before the finals. A lot can happen within that time. That’s the time when J.J. decided to quit ballet. This breaks his mother’s heart as he quits before the finals. Miko and the other dancers continue on. Nevertheless some face their own pressures. Joan Sebastian returns to visit his family in Colombia. It’s a warm homecoming visit. The family is from modest means. They know dancers have a short career life but they encourage Joan to chase his dream. Rebecca still hopes for the YAGP to be her chance for a dancing job with a company but we hear from her mother that many companies have either hired less new dancers or let go of some existing ones. We’re even told by a judge at the beginning that there are many dancers but few will get good work dancing. Then Michaela faces an aggravated foot injury. It’s starting to flare up shortly before the Finals. She’s uncertain if she will perform well.
Then the 2010 YAGP finals take place. There are anywhere from 200 to 300 dancers from around the world competing in both individual and group competitions. The film focuses solely on the individual competitions. Two things the film showcases about the finals outside of the featured dancers’ performances is firstly how international the competition is. There are dancers from a multitude of countries competing here even though most of the semis were held in the US. Another is how even in a tight competition like this, bad steps, stumbles and falls do happen. Reactions from the dancers are not pleasant at all. One teen male was seen backstage walking silently angry over his fall. Another girl’s instructor reacts with frustration after her fall. Another young boy bursts into tears at the end of his performance. We’re also told by one of the dancers that hitting or missing at the YAGP could actually hurt one’s chances of getting their career. A reminder that while the YAGP has become a game-changer as a dancer marketplace, it’s also a game-changer for one’s reputation in the world of dance. Yes, the YAGP is a competition a lot like a sports competition but it included the same cruel unforgiving attitude of showbiz mixed in.
Then it’s time for the featured dancers to perform. Both Aran and Gaya are magnificent. Rebecca also dances well. Joan Sebastian flies brilliantly. However the performances with the biggest interest were Miko and Michaela. Miko displays the confidence and the flawlessness that was missing from the semifinals. And Michaela performs excellently and gracefully as if the injury wasn’t there. After the dancing is over, it’s time to award the prizes and the scholarships. You can find out the results of those over at the YAGP website. I’ll just say some were rewarded with prizes and some were rewarded with scholarships to renowned academies. Those with scholarships looked forward to a new life and for better things to come. Those that won prizes continued on dancing preparing for next year’s competition. J.J. had since been pushed into academics. His mother told him if he won’t shoot high in dancing, he’s left to shoot high in his schooling. As for Rebecca–SPOILER WARNING–she was the only one of the featured dancers who left the competition without a prize, scholarship or a job offer. We learn in the epilogue she was later offered a job at a Washington Dance Ensemble.
One of the best qualities of this documentary is that it doesn’t just simply take you into the lives of the participants but makes you want each of them to achieve. We see in front of our eyes how much dance means to them. It’s a given. If they’re born to do it and they love it enough to work hard at it, it’s natural for one to want them to excel at it. Even though we’re reminded of all the odds, we still want them to succeed in the end because we feel they deserve it. Director Bess Kargman is a former dancer herself so she has first-hand knowledge of all the odds and ends of training and competing in dance. The YAGP started long after her childhood ended but she still knows of all the right elements to place in the movie such as the training, the outside factors, the semifinal highlights, the time in between and the finals.
She succeeded in giving the audience a look at the struggles, the ugliness, the stresses and the triumphs from the dancers’ points of view. It will surely open a lot of people’s eyes about what it’s like to be a young dancer. Also it’s interesting how a lot of moviegoers got a perception of the ballet world after seeing Black Swan. The movie had some truth to it but not all of it is completely true. Even with the dancers shown here, none of them appeared to be as insecure as Nina. They all had their own issued but they were all likeable, confident and exhibited high self esteem. This documentary sure changed what I thought about kids in ballet. The film also got me interested in next year’s YAGP.
Another thing that’s unique about this documentary is that it’s one of few that one can bring their children to see. There were children in the audience when I attended and that’s a good thing. I feel any child who sees this will learn a lot about dance and competing. Most girls dream of being ballerinas. This will show them that to be successful in ballet you not only have to dance as light and pretty as a swan but have a body of steel and a will of iron to make it. Most girls dream of being it. Few are willing to put in the hours and years to achieve it. Also it shows that boys who want to make it not only have to have the same iron will but a thick skin to the common negative stigma associated with boys in ballet not just from other boys but some adults too. It’s the Billy Elliot story all too often. All the boys shown here love it too much to quit over any teasing. The father of The Rock dancer Derek Dunn, who’s a former YAGP winner, said: “I have to say I never expected my son to be a dancer but I couldn’t be prouder.” Here’s to those boys.
First Position is not only an eye-opener of a documentary but it’s engaging to the audience and even exciting especially when the audience shares the same passion as the dancers. Definitely a documentary worth seeing.
Also in case you’re interested in the Youth America Grand Prix itself, the official website is at: http://www.yagp.org/ YAGP 2013 semifinals have already started with the first semis, the South American semis, being held in Santos, Brazil as I speak. Also next year’s finals will be held in NYC on April 12th to 17th. A good chance to catch the future of dance.
DISCLAIMER: Hi. This is my second-last summer movie review where I’m playing catch-up on my reviews. When I give my review of Harry Potter, I will finally be all caught up. In the meantime enjoy yet another late summer movie review.
There should be a “Captain” in there somewhere.
As I said before, the summer movie season is usually about the tried-and-true making big box office results. It’s at the box office where we learn if it’s tried-and-true or tried-and-tired. Up for this summer is the fourth installment of the Pirates of The Caribbean series: On Stranger Tides. Returning is Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, his most popular role of all-time. The big questions are does Jack still have the winning charm at the box office? Also does the latest Pirates adventure still have what it takes to thrill and charm and keep the Pirates phenomenon active?
This time Jack’s quest is the Fountain Of Youth. King George wants Jack to guide it to beat the Spanish. The one surprise is that his nemesis from the first movie, Hector Barbossa, is now a privateer in the British navy and now heading it. Already the intrigue would start for the die-hard POTC fans. Another interesting thing that he would be foiled by an imposter of himself: former lover Angelica who is Blackbeard’s daughter.
The part of the mission involving capturing a mermaid’s tear and a captive falling in love with a mermaid is probably the only thing in the movie that’s even close to fresh. The tear being collected by Blackbeard starts the rivalry scenario all over again. The main rivalry in the movie is different, if not unique. This time Jack Sparrow and Barbossa join forces to defeat Blackbeard. Barbossa has a grudge match of his own against Blackbeard for his amputated leg. Meanwhile the Spanish battle the Pirates for the sake of killing the fountain because they believe it’s cursed. Often rivalry upon rivalry upon rivalry gets too confusing unless it makes sense. Not here..
One glimpse at the storyline is that you could easily see it was hatched together in an instant. We see the typical formulas of the Pirates movies: Jack being his flamboyant cocky self, rival pirates, lands to conquer, new nemeses and new loves. This has been common ever since the first Pirates movie burst on. Its winning formula is now starting to become stale and predictable. Even the character of Jack Sparrow has lost his charm over the years. When he first arrived, he was arrogant, eccentric but charismatic and was able to charm the audience. If it weren’t for Jack’s personality, the first Pirates of The Caribbean movie could have been seen as a joke. Now Jack looks like a rehash that’s getting tired out and only tries to be entertaining. Penelope Cruz plays the typical lover of Jack. Villains are practically predictable. Often when an action scene or a battle comes on, I often question “Who didn’t expect that?” The only things close to being fresh was the mermaids and the surprise of Barbossa being an ally of Jack instead of a rival. Outside of that, it remains formulaic.
As for the business, it’s already showing signs of waning. The first movie, Dead Man’s Chest is the biggest grosser with almost $425 million. The follow-up, The Curse Of The Black Pearl had a record-setting opening weekend but its overall gross failed to top Chest. On Stranger Tides is the lowest-grossing of the Pirates movies with only $240 million. The future of the Pirates franchise should make a lot of Disney execs think whether the fifth movie is worth it or not.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a movie that will only excite Pirates fans at the most. It offers little freshness or anything unpredictable. So unless you’re a fan of Jack Sparrow, I believe it’s not worth it.
Oh yeah, just to let you know you’ll only have one more summer movie review after this. Then I’m finally caught up.