National Canadian Film Day & Hot Docs

What a crazy four months it has been for me and At Shutter Speed. It is officially the new year for my blog, but I am already a third of the way through the year. So happy 1/3 third of the new year!!

I think it is the perfect day to blog because tomorrow is National Canadian Film Day and next week Hot Docs International Film Festival begins.

NATIONAL CANADIAN FILM DAY

If you are an avid movie goer, a film bluff, or a patriotic Canadian, then this day is meant for you!

What is this day you ask? All across Canada, theatres in select cities are screening only Canadian Film. Most screenings are free too!

SCHEDULE HERE.

Here are some in my hometown, Toronto, that I am most excited for:

  1. The Grand Seduction | CBC Atrium | April 20th | 7PM
  2. Ginger Snaps | Fox Theatre | April 20th | 7PM
  3. Corner Gas: The Movie | Brentwood Library | April 20th | 2PM
  4. Dr. Cabbie | York Memorial CI | April 20th | 9AM

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HOT DOCS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

North America's largest international documentary film festival is just around the corner and I could not be more excited.

Last year, I was able to watch 22 films (on top of working and attending all the parties and networking events). PHEW.

This year, I've been fortune enough to take advantage of film screeners, and will be telling you some of my festival favourites.

  1. How to Build a Time Machine | dir. Jay Cheel
  2. Holy Hell | dir. Will Allen
  3. Girls Don't Fly | dir. Monika Grassl
  4. Under the Sun | dir. Vitaly Mansky

Jay Cheel takes us on an extraordinary adventure between two characters obsessed with "time travel". One drawing inspiration from H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine, while the other, a professor of mathematics, wanting to find an equation that solves time travel.

Holy Hell is exactly as it sounds. Filmmaker Will Allen joins The Budhist Society in California with a hundred other members. What starts as an ideal retreat and community focused group turns into a nightmare. Watch as the leader of the group destroys each persons life in his own masochistic pursuits of an ideal society.

Girls Don't Fly drew my attention initially because of the title. I said to myself, what do you mean girls don't fly... of course we do. In a small Ghanaian town, a group of determined and strong willed young women attend a local flying academy. Their dreams of a better future for themselves and their families seem distant and far away, and they endure verbal abuse from the director of the academy. He is a British imperialist with archaic views of Ghanaian culture. At the heart of this sad story is white colonialism taking place today. Will the women prevail over the male white power? Watch and see!

Under the Sun is one of the most clever documentaries I have ever seen. Fighting strict filming limitations, the North Korean government and its control over the image, director Vitaly Mansky tells us a story and asks us to read in between the lines. In this case, I mean that he shows us footage in between each take - before the government official yells "ACTION". "WAIT," you say, "action?" "Is this not reality, is this not a documentary showing truth?" Truth for us is recognizing the lie in each scripted and practiced dramatizations. The government attempts to show us an ideal family through the perspective of an eight year old girl. However, there is nothing ideal about the situation or family or work environments. The horror unfolds and the pressure reaches its peak at the end, when the little girl is unable to contain her tears. We are left hearing the final words of the government official regulating the shoot, "tell her to stop crying. Think of something happy."


What am I most excited for? 

  1. Ovarian Psychos
  2. Mr. Gaga
  3. Ants on a Shrimp
  4. Sour Grapes
  5. Apology
  6. League of Exotique Dancers

The list really does go on but I had to hold back for the sake of making this a relatively short blog.

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There is so much film action going on in Toronto this month. I hope you have the chance to go out and share in the success of all our great Canadian filmmakers!

- Jenn

A Night with Jacob Tierney | Deanne Foley | Vic Sarin

After the 2015 DGC Awards Film Festival, TIFF hosted "Meet the Directors." This event featured three Canadian film directors: Jacob Tierney (Preggoland, 2014), Deanne Foley (Relative Happiness, 2014) and Vic Sarin (The Boy From Geita, 2014).

What delights me thoroughly at events such as this, is that they highlight Canadian talent, proving that we are indeed creative, strong, and innovative in the film industry.

Furthermore, when events ring FREE, industry people should flock to them... even if the Jays are in a playoff game.

What blows me away (still) with the three keynote speakers, is the diversity of talent on stage, and proving how creativity can play a major role in filming when the budget is small. Deane Foley admitted that they had 16 days to shoot the entire film.

I really felt attracted to each director in a different way. Jacob was at once personable, funny, and witty. Deanne was a major advocate for showing strong female characters in lead roles, and characters we don't normally see on screen. Vic Sarin was a WISE WISE man, offering philosophical advise that still resonates with me weeks later.

These are just a few of some of the words I heard:

"Gathering moments" in the editing room - Deanne Foley
"documentaries show, not tell" - Vic Sarin
"telling stories with unconventional female leads" - Deanne Foley
"documentary has to be as pure as possible. No narration. As is" - Vic Sarin
"I enjoy the journey of discovery. The idea has to grab me." - Vic Sarin
"each film takes me to a new place." - Vic Sarin

From dramedy, to strong female leads (who are flawed - yes, women ARE flawed too), to a powerful story, Canada sure seems to have it all.

Thank you DGC for organizing this event. I look forward to many more to come.

- Jenn

 

Beeba Boys, A Contemporary Toronto Gangster Film

Set and filmed in contemporary Toronto, Deepa Mehta's newest feature film Beeba Boys is a smash hit. It had its World Premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Some of her earlier films, Water, Earth, Fire, and Bollywood Hollywood, have placed her securely in Canada's canon of filmmakers. This feature however, is a bit different.

In an interview, Deepa was asked why she wanted to suddenly create a gangster themed film. Her reply: "I just want to create something that is bad ass."

Let's take a look at in greater detail:

1. Where does this film take us? Well it is actually a very familiar landscape. Toronto. Today. But there is something unique and cinematic about its approach. The contemporary film uses floating steadicam movements to tell the story. Its ideologies are presented using clashing images: vibrant suits of the gang members set against simple shaded backdrops, violent dialogue and beautiful scenery, city life (penthouse) and suburbia, gang loyalty and family love. 

2. How did the film make me feel? I was completed glued to my seat. I bought into the filmic world instantly and was taken on a whirlwind journey. Emotionally, there was some sympathy and admiration for the gang members, almost sadness when they died. Deepa's attention to detail, while drawing on a contemporary and clean aesthetic, was a pleasure to behold. 

3. How did this help me understand the world a little better? It was another window into a world very different from my own yet only next door and within reach. Deepa's subject matter always touches on her culture (Indian). Therefore, the film was a breath of fresh air because it features few male or female white leads. Further, it presents strong and intelligent men and women of colour. More films of this nature should be main stream to prove how diversity on screen can be equally successful at telling a compelling story. The main figures who are white were presented as empty caricatures. It's about time someone fought back against the prejudice on screen. Thank you Deepa for showcasing different perspectives and cultures.

4. Did it deliver fun and surprises? SURE. It was a gangster film. Maybe we all secretly wish we could evade the law like those characters on screen and live a high-risk life. Reckless behaviour, clubbing, romancing, brotherhood and sisterhood. Wealth, riches, and respect!

5. Was there a transformative experience? I think the film did a great job at delivering on the gangster genre. It set up a network of brotherhood. It contrasted this with several emotion scenes: several romances and family drama. Then, the main hero/villain has a moment of clarity and strays from his path of gangster-hood to do the right thing and dies for it. Therefore it met my fullest expectations.

A must see movie that is hitting theatres very shortly. And of course I got to see the whole cast at the Women in Film and Television gala night. Quite a handsome group!

- Jenn

The Toronto International Film Festival 2015

The city was alive last week with the International Toronto Film Festival.

King street was a buzzin' from University to John street. The Hyatt was full of industry delegates and filmmakers from all over the world.

Here I found a home amongst other cinephiles - dare I say cinefilles

From entertainment, to networking, dining out, and watching a selection of 300 hundred, it's no wonder why Cameron Bailey loves his job so much:

"I invite everybody to 300 birthday parties and show movies" - Cameron Bailey, Twitter.

As an industry member, I was fortunate enough to witness keynote speakers from across the creative spectrum: 

  1. Justin Benson (Director, Producer, & Filmmaker) and Aaron Moorhead (Writer, Producer, & Filmmaker), the creators of SPRING (2014)
  2. Stephen Frears, director of THE PROGRAM (2015)
  3. Jia Zhang-ke, director of Mountains May Depart (2015)
  4. Bianca Goodloe, legal concierge - state of financing and co-production
  5. Nicolas Chartier, producer of A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2015)
  6. Michael Moore, director of WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015)
  7. Barbara Twist (Art House Convergence), Mark Fishkin (California Film Institute), and John Vanco (IFC, NY)
  8. UPFRONT: Uncovering Unconscious Bias - Gender Issues
  9. David Garrett
  10. Phil Hunt (Producer), *thinks that MUFF is "brilliant"
  11. Asif Kapadia, director of AMY (2015)
  12. Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, directors of THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (2015)

Stay tuned the next few weeks where I will be highlighting the major speakers and my most memorable moments.

The movies were spectacular. At least the select few I was able to see (12). ANGRY INDIAN GODDESS shook the ground and wrenched out my heart. A movie everyone needs to see. LEGEND, a gritty tale based on the true story of the gangster Kray twins, East Enders in 1960s London. One close to home, BEEBA BOYS by the brilliant Deepa Mehta, also had be rivetted to my seat!

An unforgettable time with the best people!

- Jenn


A Night with Noah Bingham, The Secret Trial 5

In my final week Bootcamp Producer course with the DOC Institute, Toronto, I had the privilege to hear the story of Noah Bingham's extraordinary journey.

Noah Bingham is the producer of The Secret Trial 5, a documentary that had its festival premiere at Hot Docs 2014 and a theatre premiere the following year.

A quick snippet of the synopsis from the website:

"Imagine spending years in prison without being charged with a crime or knowing exactly what you're accused of. A film about the human impact of the “War on Terror,” The Secret Trial 5 is a sobering examination of the Canadian government’s use of security certificates, a Kafkaesque tool that allows for indefinite detention without charges, based on evidence not revealed to the accused or their lawyers ... Through the experience of the detainees and their families, the film raises poignant questions about the balance between security and liberty."

The journey started in 2009. Noah's school friend Amar Wala, director & producer, had just finished creating a short film about one of the families described above. The film was called The Good Son

Both were so excited by the intense story and were interested in developing the idea into a feature length doc. The project began with a "lean production" and an "out-of-their-pocket funding" model.

Both wanted to pitch to a broadcaster to source traditional funding for their feature. They were rejected and never back. Not willing to give up, they sourced other methods to raise money. This propelled them to create a kickstarter / crowdfunding campaign. The first campaign, largely supported by friends and family, raised enough for them to continue production and pay for the website and promo video. Noah Bingham showed us the video on their first crowd funding campaign and I was immediately pulled into the story and awed by the creativity and way the story was told. 

Production continued. Two years later, Noah and Amar launched another crowdfunding campaign. After building a community of followers and interested activists, this campaign grew to be very successful and they were able to pitch their idea at Hot Docs with the Cuban Hat. While not winning the final votes, they won over the industry and created enthusiasm.

This led to contacts which led to money being invested into their film. They got an office space, editing suite and continue the film into post.

Still no broadcaster and no solid investor that would have otherwise made their lives a lot easier. However, Noah did remark how grateful he was to have been allowed to see the full process from start to finish due to budget constraints, because everyone was wearing multiple hats.  

Three years into production, Arts Council Toronto came in and offered funding. Noah and the team headed to DOC Ignite (2013) and reached their goal, receiving more funding and reaching new audiences.

With a film in post and needing monetary support, Noah approached Telefilm Micro Budget. They were able to apply because

  1. Amar had only been out of school for three years, and
  2. they planned on carrying out a hybrid distribution strategy:
  • both in theatres and digitally online.

With the film done, The Secret Trial 5 became a Hot Docs 2014 Festival Selection and sold out all three nights. They successfully completed a deal with Blue Ice Docs, a distributor. The film was a greater hit in the festival than it was in theatres at the Bloor Cinema. There are no monetary assets given to the filmmakers at the Bloor.

Noah wanted to create an even greater buz and expand their thriving online community further. They launched a third successful crowdfunding campaign. This gave Noah and Amar enough to travel around the country touring their movie.

You can check out their movie online here, for one small payment of $9.00.

This story proved to me that through hard work, commitment, and dedication, you really can bring your ideas to life with support and creativity. 

Congratulations Noah, Amar, and the rest of the team! This is one story I will never forget and look forward to diving head first into your film.

Click HERE to purchase the film online.

- Jenn

Selma in Review before the Oscars

I am really excited to share this blog with everyone. I was fortunate to have guest blogger, Alessia Iani (Ba, and MA graduate), contribute this week right before the oscars. She watched Selma in theatres and has written a very in depth analysis below. It sent chills up my spine. 

Selma is an historical drama that recounts the events that occurred in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in particular those events surrounding Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure voting rights for Black Americans, and the march from Selma to Montgomery (both cities in the state of Alabama) in March of 1965.

Directed by Ava DuVernay and co-written by DuVernay and Paul Webb, Selma, which was released in theatres in December of 2014, is currently nominated for two 2015 Oscars: best picture and best original song (for "Glory" written by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn, performed by John Legend and Common).

  1. Where does the film take the viewer? The acting in Selma is absolutely on-point; the all-star cast, featuring David Oyelowo [Lee Daniel's The Butler (2013), and A Most Violent Year (2015)], Carmen Ejogo [The Purge: Anarchy (2014), and Zero Hour (2015)], Tom Wilkinson (The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)], Lorraine Toussaint [Orange is the New Black (TV, 2014)], Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, and Common, to name a few, share great chemistry, effectively transporting us into the tumultuous times their characters inhabited. Because the acting is so very flawless, as a viewer, I felt unable to look away, unable to not connect with this film. We are taken right into the tense atmosphere of the mid 1960s: we glimpse political tensions between President Lyndon B. Johnson (Wilkinson), Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo), and the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace (Roth), the individual obstacles faced by black Americans like Annie Lee Cooper (Winfrey), the involvement in the civil rights movement of organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the work of key individuals like Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), Diane Nash (Thompson), and James Orange (Dorsey), and the ongoing racial tensions / prejudice / violence between white and black Americans. The set design and costuming are the ribbons that tie together this historical drama, and despite some reviewers' criticism regarding the historical accuracy of certain character depictions, the characters / environments / circumstances shown work together cohesively to weave a story that pulls you deep into its beautiful and perturbing heart.
  2. What feelings does the film conjure? When I ventured out on a blustery Saturday evening to watch Selma, I did not expect to go home feeling simultaneously angered and hopeful. I was definitely not ready to find myself involuntarily weeping throughout the film. I did not notice I have been crying until the film ended. I was not alone: two young women seated next to me were trying very hard to contain their sobs, to no avail, and a group of middle aged men sitting at the front fumbled around for tissues only 20 minutes into the film. For all intents and purposes, this film was an emotional rollercoaster. I wavered between being uplifted and angered. I experienced feelings of intense frustration when faced with all the actions of racist white Americans. I felt joy and sorrow. The most powerful and unexpected response to the film was a feeling of familiarity. I felt this sense of familiarity during each of the riot scenes, in particular the first scene wherein police prevent peaceful protesters (sans King) from crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge out of Selma, onward to Montgomery, showering them with tear gas and brutally beating them down. This familiarity I can clearly trace to the countless times in the last six months when I have viewed media images in print / online of Ferguson riots, and peaceful protests across America in solidarity with Mike Brown and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
  3. Issues discussed? From the outset of the film we are shown the complex manifestation of various kinds of violence: systemic, physical, etc. We see prejudice and restrictions imposed on Black Americans. The first violent act we witness comes directly after the opening scene, which takes place in 1964, and shows King receiving his nobel peace prize: four black American girls walking down the stairs of a church are killed in a sudden explosion. Oyelowo's portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. is as careful and nuanced as the depictions of violence and prejudice: Most importantly, King is human - this is not a caricature. We do not only glimpse the vigour and passion with which King fought for the civil rights of black Americans, but the powerful emotional and psychological struggles he went through to bring his dream to fruition. He was deeply aware of the hurt he sometimes caused to those around him. The issues of race, human rights, and what constitutes political and social progress are approached carefully, though the film does play on our emotions to sway us to believe in the central characters - both the antagonists' and protagonists' values. It is a film that asks us to witness the past, and in doing so, consider what we are witnessing in our present moment. How far have we come from 1960? How much work is left to do?
  4. Are there surprises? Having studied the civil rights movement, we know what to expect: violence, reconciliation, and disappointment. However, the film gives us these situations and evokes emotion at unexpected times. This is done through careful cinematic direction: close-ups on faces and hands, on bodies rising and falling. The film captured moments of domestic joy and sorrow, a mix of anguish and terror during the riots, pure hatred in the faces of white folks, King's emotional struggle, Coretta King's difficulties in continuing to support a cause that greatly affected the man she loves, and fiery looks between President and King, activists Hosea Williams and John Lewis. When we revel in feelings a film conjures during its fleeting moments, it forces us to think again about a particular interaction or relationship or setting. That is the best surprise: one that requires attentiveness and careful interpretation.
  5. Transformative experience? For me, the centrepiece of the film, by which I mean not only the climax and turning point, but the most powerful moment, is the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, and King's speech at Jackson's funeral. "Who murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson?" proclaims King in a resolute and heartbroken tone. His answer is grim: we are all responsible. Brutally beaten by police, Jackson's death pushes the activists to complete the march to Montgomery. This transformation for the characters left alive is necessary for the action to continue. But how do we react? With anger and sadness, to be sure, I personally found myself unable to shake feelings of familiarity. And this is the heart of the film: Mike Brown, shot and killed in Ferguson by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th, 2014 IS Jimmie Jackson. HOW many black women and black men have been our Jimmie Lee Jacksons? Too many. If this film transforms us, it is because it brings us further into awareness of our current moment. A time when the vestiges of racial inequality and prejudiced ideologies and the attendant violence that comes along with these is being exposed and criticized. What we choose to do with this realization is up to us.

- Alessia

Fantastical: One More Time With Feeling Mr. Fox

This is about a movie that has been out for a while now but comes from one of my favourite directors, Wes Anderson. His first children's movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, came out in 2009. I only realized after the fact that this director created The Royal Tenenbaums, another favourite of mine. I had felt that same joy I had during The Tenenbaums as I did in Mr. Fox. Then a wondrous friend connected the two together and I became instantly an auteur fan. For indeed, Wes Anderson is an auteur.

Mr. Fox is a film about self realization. Each character is a wild animal with a unique personality. The narrative blooms into a story about individual discovery and character development. All the animals at times fight domesticity. They are bound my moral code. The conflict arises when Mr. Fox breaks from the mold, upsetting the entire community structure.

Mrs. Fox asks why Mr. Fox robbed Boggis, Bunce, & Beans. He reluctantly admits, "I am a wild animal." We know he is a fox from the beginning, even if he wears a domesticated suit and lives in a domesticated "human" environment. He hunts chickens, inhales his food savagely, and lives in a burrow.

Ash knows he is different but doesn't want to admit it. He wants everyone to see that he is an athlete. He has to convince his dad and mom that he has what it takes to uphold the family name. He is able to change Mr. Fox's opinion during the Kristofferson rescue. Mr. Fox says "you are an athlete. Here put on this bandit hat." What Ash originally lacked was the authorial voice (Mr. Fox) to authenticate his character. Ash had to believe he was an athlete before he could become one. 

The action is predicated on the characters discovering who they are and finding the words to describe their characters (or in the case of Kylie, he decides to express himself in gestures at the end). Mr. Fox intelligently refers to each of his community friends by their Latin name: vulpes vulpes, meles meles, lepus europaeus, etc. This is the major signifying moment in the film. They become wild animals with distinctive characteristics. Okay, maybe not the pyrotechnics and blowing up things (cough Badger). The characters are both familiar and unfamiliar. They are wild but tame. They cohabitate and think individually.

The brilliant banter between characters and the all to familiar voices behind the puppets gives this Roald Dahl classic new breath and meaning. Truly a brilliant film filled with brilliant sounds:

Mr. Fox: Pete's Song

Everything in the miniature world seems believable. In The Wes Anderson Collection, a book by Matt Zoller Seitz, Wes talks about using Rahl Dahl's actual house as a model for Mr. Fox's tree home, bringing the outside non-fictional world into the fictional world itself - linking author and character together. 

The major narrative conflicts are tired neatly together at the end, the pinnacle moment being a silent encounter between a lone Wolf and the Fox rescue team.

A brilliant film. In case I didn't say it before.

- Jenn