Thursday, October 26, 2017

Southern Ontario's two other film festivals

There’s not only the Windsor International Film Festival getting underway over the coming week. There are two other film festivals – in Sarnia and London - taking place around the same time. Sarnia’s Southwestern Ontario International Film Festival (SWIFF) runs Nov. 2 – 5 while London’s Forest City Film Festival kicks off today and runs until Sunday. The Sarnia fest is in its third year and the London fest is in its second. The Sarnia festival is run by Ravi Srinivasan, who also happens to be a programmer with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) though he hails from Sarnia. SWIFF is screening 14 films, all at the 600-seat Imperial Theatre, a live arts centre in the city’s downtown. The Forest City fest, with 46 films, is run by Dorothy Downs, a filmmaker and TV producer with many ties to filmmakers throughout southern Ontario. And that’s a large reason why Forest City focuses only on films – local, national or international - in which there is a regional connection. For example, The Truth Is in the Stars features William Shatner speaking about the influence of Star Trek; it was written and produced by Stratford’s J. Craig Thompson. Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek, is produced by Aaron Gilbert, who grew up in London. There are even some Windsor filmmakers' works featured. The Ghost of Ed was shot in Walkerville by Charlie Conlon, and Love in the Age of Like  is by Windsor’s Theodore Bezaire, while Ashes was produced by Jake Raymond and stars Tanya Bevan – both from Windsor (with a third of the film shot here). Then there’s Bon Cop, Bad Cop 2, starring one of Canada’s best known actors, Colm Feore, originally from Windsor......Downs says her festival is designed to give a showcase to regional films that otherwise “are never going to have a chance to be seen by anybody locally.” The festival screens at two locations in one block downtown, and in its first year drew a “spectacular” number of people, she says. “We really believe in supporting the local artists, helping to build the industry, helping to encourage emerging filmmakers......” Meanwhile, back in Sarnia, SWIFF’s Srinivasan says the festival is held in early November – with some overlap with the Windsor festival - in part to “capitalize” on that city’s First Friday event, where stores stay open late to draw people downtown. He said for Friday and Saturday night screenings the draw has been about 500 people per night. (Only one film is screened at one time.) Despite working for the Toronto festival Srinivasan said he doesn’t book films through TIFF’s Film Circuit, which the Windsor festival uses. His fest contacts distributordirectly. SWIFF’s opening night film is Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. Other scheduled films include The Square and City of Ghosts – also being screened in Windsor.....The Forest City festival, registered as a charitable non-profit, receives $15,000 in municipal funding and $8,000 from Heritage Canada, and pays filmmakers for movies in competition. The Sarnia festival, a non-profit, receives $25,000 from the province and $15,000 from the municipality.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Iranian corruption, and a modern guys film

A couple more reviews from this year's Festival du nouveau cinéma in Montreal, which ended Sunday: 

A Man of Integrity (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran): This film’s story is meant to be a microcosm for the corruption in modern day Iranian society. It’s an underground film because Rasoulof is facing jail time and the movie was shot, undercover, in the country’s remote north. It also won this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard prize. The film concentrates on Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) who stands up against an unspecified local corporate entity that seems to run the local community, and which wants his land. His fish farm is destroyed, he is falsely jailed and forced to pay compensation to the town boss. His family’s downward spiral is sickening. This is a character-driven plot and Akhlaghirad is a good actor. But the film falters from its overwhelmingly melancholy, its slow pace, and an unrelenting bleak visual backdrop.  

Bernard and Huey (Dan Mirvish, USA): This film, from an unproduced screenplay by the cartoonist, screenwriter and playwright Jules Feiffer, is a little surprising for those of us who think Feiffer epitomizes the liberal sentiments of the New York’s Greenwich Village. After all, he drew the iconic cartoon strip the Village Voice newspaper for over 40 years. But these characters, Bernard and Huey, also inhabited that strip, at least in the 1950s. Bernard (Jim Rash) is the nerdish intellectual, Huey (David Koechner) the alpha male. Huey is an expert on women and sets Bernard up with women he’s dated. Twenty-five years later Huey shows up at Bernard’s apartment unexpectedly. The table is turned. Bernard scores with various women, Huey is fat and bald but as gregarious as ever. This is a male bonding lark. After all, what do men often spend their time talking about? Women and getting laid. The film is all New York, very contemporary, with interesting characters. But if you’re a woman offended by this sort of talk, stay away. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Move over Judge Judy, and Turkey's repression

More reviews from Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinéma 46th edition:

Ni juge, ni soumise (Jean Libon, Yves Hinant, Belgium-France): Move over Judge Judy. This film, featuring Brussels real life “examining magistrate” Anne Gruwez, is an up-close look at a judge meting out justice. This magistrate conducts business in her cluttered file-strewn office, with a couple of assistants, while lawyers and the accused, or witnesses, sit before her. Gruwez is matter of fact and no nonsense, nothing in the long litany of some pretty sordid cases seems to phase her. The film is a behind the scenes look at the criminal justice system by its participants, and nothing seems made up for the camera. Gruwez admonishes lawyers when they speak out of turn, cracks a joke if a defendant says something silly or insincere, warns one defendant it’s her head, not his, that will be on the block, if she frees him and he screws up. It’s all part of the day for the eccentric judge, who drives an old-fashioned Citroen, has a pet rat that tries to interfere with her typing, and quips with a police officer about how motorists must get out of their way when their have the police car siren on.  As she and a group of detectives go over a 20-year-old cold case, they laugh about whether a witness has dentures. They disinter a body from a grave and Gruwez says they should chip more bone off “to go with drinks.” But this individual is hardly belittling justice; instead she’s the personification of it. Crime, like life in general, is full of absurdities and Gruwez simply pays vocal heed to them. But life can be horrible too. The most disturbing case is an Islamic woman who has no guilt about strangling her baby because the child - "Satan" - was the offspring of a rape. Just when she thinks she has heard it all, the magistrate finds new surprises, like when a prostitute tells of what some of her johns want. “It’s funny, we learn stuff,” Gruwez says. “The thing with the pins.”  Ni juge, ni soumise is a tour de force of utterly candid observation, a film that deserves wide circulation.

Inflame (Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik, Turkey): This directorial debut which has had release at many film festivals including Berlin and SXSW has immediate resonance with what is going on in the increasingly authoritarian country of Turkey under President Racep Tayyip Erdoğan. It’s a metaphor for his slam down on civil liberties (170 journalists currently imprisoned, thousands of other professionals arrested and fired in mass sweeps after last year’s attempted coup) so it’s surprising the film actually got made. Ozcelik answered that questioned in a Q & A after the screening, saying that she received – surprisingly – state funding (along with crowdsourcing) in 2015, before the coup took place. The film – no surprise - currently can’t be shown in the country. In any Inflame (the Turkish title is Anxiety) is not about current events but an event that few in the West have likely heard of: the 1993 massacre of artists and intellectuals by Islamist terrorists in a hotel in the central Anatolian city of Sivas. It depicts a young TV news station editor (a fill-in for Ozcelik herself, who worked many years in television). Hasret (Algi Eke) increasingly finds herself subject to official dictates over how to edit film. Her news director says orders come from the state and are not to be questioned. She’s demoted from working on investigative documentaries to editing government minister speeches – to make them sound better, of course. These dictates so enrage and alienate Hasret she leaves her job and holes up in an abandoned apartment. This is where the “horror” part of the film, as Ozcelik described it, kicks in. Hasret imagines she’s in a burning building and the walls are getting hotter. She turns away an old friend who comes to check on her. She pulls panels off a wall which reveal a crude mural of people dying in a burning building. To her credit, Ozcelik’s message is right on and her use of surrealism is highly appropriate. But the movie falters by too much focus on Hasret’s angst and breakdown (we get it already), and the surreal touches aren’t executed well enough. This results in an at times boring narrative with an unintentionally diluted impact.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Nay and yay at Montreal's FNC

The 46th edition of the Festival du nouveau cinéma (FNC), the city’s longest running film festival – and there are many here – got underway last week. The last time I attended it was in 2014. It’s been my intermittent Montreal festival. For years, I didn’t miss the earlier in the year Montreal World Film Festival and the autumnal Festival du Nouveau Cinema was optional. Now, with the MWFF pretty well tanked due to lack of funding – and mismanagement? – the FNC is pretty much all I have left in the city where I was born, and love. Without further adieu, here’s two reviews from today’s offerings:

Samui Song (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand): This is a wannabee outrageous crime drama. A veteran filmmaker himself, Pen-Ek was obviously influenced by Quentin Tarintino, Brian De Palma, and others of the blood-soaked human – and humor - ilk, but this effort falls flat. Vi (Chermarn “Ploy” Boonyasak) is a bored soap opera actress married to a millionaire potter Frenchman Jerome (Stéphane Sednaoui), caught up in a spiritual Eastern cult. But he abuses her and in fact enables the “Holy One” cult leader (Vithaya Pansringarm) to rape her. She seeks revenge and conveniently meets the would-be assassin Guy Spencer (David Asavanond). He’s blood thirsty, alright, and there are some gruesome beating scenes including a joking one where Jerome is pummeled with one of his phallus sculptures. But the film takes a bizarre turn where a completely different woman (Palika Suwannarak) is raising a young son with her female lover. Guy shows up and tries to force her to eat offal. But he’s offed by a mysterious shooter, with unintentional hilarity – or maybe it isn’t, this film’s humor is so dry - showing just the gun’s muzzle poking through a cracked door. But is the final joke on us? It might be, since the last chase scene is being shot by a film crew. Finally, Vi is back to being her soap opera star self, and leaves the set arm in arm with the hated Holy One cult leader! But the obviously intended humor falls flat, ruined by a lack of script subtlety and on screen devices like an overmodulated menacing soundtrack.

Mon Ange (Harry Clevin, Belgium-France): This is one of the most inventive film stories I’ve seen in a while, and plays with the ideas of perception and reality, and is even philosophical. Beset by a trauma, a mother (Elina Löwensohn) gives birth to an invisible baby boy. The child grows and become infatuated with a little girl (Madeleine) next door, who is blind. She can sense and touch him but never can see him, not that she would be able to anyway. The years go by and she has an operation that allows her to see. Now she hopes to see her boy/friend (first platonic and then romantic) in the flesh. He sets a time to reveal himself but it turns out not to be what it might. The movie seems to be saying several things: would we judge people the same way if we didn’t see them? How important is physical beauty to a relationship? And how we “see” ourselves may be quite different from what we look like. Filmed at times through a foggy prism with a magic realist edge, and with plenty of close-ups of the beautiful Madeleine’s face as a child, teen, and adult (Hannah Boudreau, Maya Dory and Fleur Geffrier respectively), the film seems almost tactile, including with intimate shots of pinpoints on the skin during times of sexual arousal.