Sunday, 30 May 2010

Shorter is Better @ Worldwide Short Film Festival (June 1 - 6)

The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival (WWSFF) kicks off on Tuesday, June 1 and runs until June 6. The best thing about this festival? Shorter is Better. With short films, if you like something it will make you yearn for more, and if you don't like what you are seeing you only have to wait a few minutes before it's on to the next one. Lucky for you, the programmers at WWSFF do an excellent job of bringing you short films from around the world that spark the imagination, generate humour, and creep you out. There is something for everyone at this festival with the programme book divided into sections with headings and brief descriptions that will help you decide whether or not that section of films will suit your taste--Slap 'N Tickle anyone? WSFF even has an iphone app to help you organize your schedule.

AWARD WINNERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD. Tuesday, June 1st, 7PM, Bloor Cinema. Sunday, June 6th, 9:30PM. Cumberland Cinema.
is just one of the films screening at the Opening Night Gala. This Canadian film takes you deep into the arctic with throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, providing the unique musical accompaniment to this shape-shifting story. Another featured Canadian is Genie Award-winner, Cordel Baker (The Cat Came Back) with the riotous RUNAWAY. Short films from France (It's Sunday/C'est Dimanche), Sweden (Seeds of the Fall/Slitage), and New Zealand (The Six Dollar Fifty Man) rounds out the program.

THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL. Wednesday, June 2, 3:15PM. Friday, June 4, 8:30PM. Cumberland Cinema. THE APOSTLES is a sacrilegious scream. Gathered together for the last supper, the 12 disciples argue about the bill after Jesus leaves the table, but don't worry, the love shines through the bickering in this Canadian film. Aspects of love are explored with sensitivity, kookiness, poignancy, grief and eroticism in this selection of films from Canada (Swiftly, 5 Hole:Tales of Hockey Erotica ), Denmark (Mirror, Megaheavy), France (Nude/Nue), New Zealand (Poppy), USA (The Poodle Trainer) and the UK (Believe).

WHO'S THE BOSS. Wednesday, June 2, 2:00PM. Saturday, June 5, 12:30PM. Cumberland Cinema. WINTER'S BEGINNING (Le DÉBUT DE L'HIVER) is a tale worth telling, and the dark truth of this French film may be disturbing to some, but abuse of power is an evil that can happen in our midst without us being conscious of its appearance. Not everything in this program is as unsettling as that short, and films such as the hilarious Dutch film, Drop Dead/Val Dood, the touchingly funny Swimming Lesson (Singapore) and Canadian entries Don't Walk Out That Door and The Orange bring levity to this section. The German, Painting Paradise, the Israeli, Bus, and the French film Jean François provide a good balance of drama. The Finnish, Over the Fence/Viiko Ennen Vappua broke through my bias of longer short films (it's 30 minutes) with its evenly-paced direction, well-written storyline, and the incredibly realness the actors bring to their roles.

DORIS. Wednesday, June 3, 4:15PM. Cumberland Cinema. ATTACHED TO YOU does in 9 minutes what usually takes years to unfold. From conception to birth, adolescent and adulthood, this stop-motion animation uses clay figures to tell the story of motherhood and the strength and endurance of the mother-child bond. Thanks to Sweden's Doris Manifesto, we are able to see the result of the manifesto's aim to increase the number of films made by women with contributions by women in key creative roles in front of and behind the camera. Included in this section are The Frog (why can't a girl be a princess and wield a sword?), Rehearsal (sexuality blooms in such strange places), Mon 3 (girls sticking together), Fish (love taken to new heights amidst brilliant cinematography), Susanne Goes Single (camping can be a dangerous thing for abusive husbands), and Shoot Me (intergenerational law-breaking). Don't be fooled; this section will appeal to both men and women.

NOT JUST FROM VENUS. Friday, June 4, 1:00PM. Saturday, June 5, 9:45PM. Cumberland Cinema. BIRTHDAY is a Swedish film about impending motherhood, retribution and love all in the span of 18 minutes--it's wickedly funny as women behave badly but honestly. Canadian entries in this section include the artful fantasy, Sometimes I Dream of Reindeer, the body-conscious, Slip, and the disturbing horror, Chloe and Attie. The Polish, Real and the UK's The Space You Leave, roots us in the present, while the Czech Republic's Homeland, bonds us to this world and beyond.

MIDNIGHT MANIA: CREEPY. Friday, June 4, 11:59PM. Cumberland Cinema. BATTENBERG sums up the feeling of this section--it's not scary but it is creepy. When an injured bird is asked to tea with a red squirrel there is murder afoot. Who wins? Who loses? You'll have to be at the Cumberland just before midnight to find out. The short film Jack about pumpkin revenge is just wrong! as is 5 Minute Dating, the twisted Chloe and Attie, and the demon sex short, Jardin Dead End--what is it with us Canadians? The UK's Off Season and The Elemental makes you want to rethink theft and stairwells respectively. Eveybody (USA) is off the wall while Mrdrchain is a fleshy, fascinating surrealist short that slice and dices.

SHORTS FOR SHORTIES: THE GREAT CHASE. Saturday, June 5, 12:00PM. AGO(Art Gallery of Ontario). THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER OLIVE.You have got to see what Great Grandmother gets up to in this age-empowering short. Always the best section of the festival. You can never go wrong with short films for children, and the best are always selected by this festival's programmers, who I'm sure must enjoy every minute putting this section together. Eight other selections round out this program that at 61 minutes is perfect for shorter attention spans. Age recommendation 6+. FREE FOR CHILDREN UNDER AGE 12. Don't forget to sign up for the Workshop with Jon Izen.

DRAWING WORKSHOP: CREATE CARTOONS! with award-winning artist, JON IZEN. Saturday, June 5, 1:30PM - 3:30PM. AGO(Art Gallery of Ontario). Age recommendation 8+. Maximum participants 15. First come-First served. $10 dollar with ticket stub from SHORTS FOR SHORTIES. Izen's work, Yam Roll screens as part of the Shorties program.

LUNAFEST. Sunday, June 6, 2:15PM. Cumberland Cinema. A VIDA POLITICA. Black is beautiful, and if you don't think so then what do you know. This is the attitude of the Brazilian hair salon owner in this too short (3 minutes) film about social activism and hairdressing. Exploring girlhood (Israeli entry, A Summer Rain) to elderhood (US entry, The McCombie Way) this selection of films are all made by women, but don't let that stop you male readers from attending. You don't want to miss The Kinda Sutra where adults recount how they were told where babies came from, or Courtney Cox's film, Monday Before Thanksgiving, which stars her friend, Laura Dern. Other fabulous films include the comic Australian first date film, Plastic, the touching drama, Roz (and Joshua) and the revealing Anjali (both American entries) and the Bulgarian, Omelette. Warning: don't blink or you will miss the one-minute statement about the bicycle. A fantastic section of films.

The above films are just a sample of what WWSFF has to offer, there are hundreds of shorts on offer, and other aspects of the festival that (the symposiums for one) to check out. Buy tickets and get all the information you need on their website.

CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival
June 1 - 6


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Last Chance Weekend for These Gems

Some great events are wrapping up this weekend. Here are some links to consider.
LA SAGOUINE (English Version) of the best performances I have seen--ever! If you are a refugee, live in a country that doesn't recognize your culture/language, your are poor, and politicians don't really count your vote then this is the play for you. Oh, and if you have a gandmother or an elder in your life whose stories you love(d) this play is for you, too. Viola Leger is indeed a treasure in this one woman show about a scrub woman reflecting humourously and seriously about her life as an Acadian. Berkeley Street Theatre. 8pm. Until May 29th. French Version May 31-June 5th.

DANCE IMMERSION SHOWCASE variety of dance companies take to the stage to showcase their talents in this celebration of dance immersion's 16th year of supporting dances from the African Diaspora. Until May 29th. 8pm Fleck Dance Theatre (inside Harbourfront Terminal Building.

INSIDE OUT FILM FESTIVAL May 30th. Various venues.

WHERE'S MY MONEY fun evening with friends will be had at this ascerbic, witty film about marriage, infidelity, love and ghosts. After your exposure on the patios along Queen Street West, head west of Dufferin past the Gladstone and north of Queen to 6 Noble Street and the Pia Bouman Studio Theatre. Tickets are only $20. 8PM Show. Ends May 30th.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Inside Out: Thank you for LEONERA

It's been a couple of days since I saw Lion's Den (LEONERA) at Inside Out and I still cannot get the film out of my mind. I was going to write a review of the film, but while looking on line for additional material I found this review from the film's screening at Cannes in 2008. Reading it, I felt as if I reporter James Rocchi had invaded my mind. Read on and be sure to check out some of the other stellar films that Inside Out has to offer during it's 20th year celebration.

CANNES REVIEW: Leonera (Lion's Den) by James Rocchi, May 17, 2008

Julia (Martina Guzman) wakes up, and it's clear things aren't right; there's blood on her hand, bruises on her body. She showers, dresses, goes to school, comes back home ... and realizes just how wrong things are, with a dead man on the floor of her kitchen and another badly-wounded man near death. She's arrested. Taken to prison. The charge is murder. She's alone. She's frightened. She's pregnant. She'll be kept in the special ward for pregnant prisoners or mothers who already have had their children, incarcerated along with them. Julia stands in her cell, in shock and in silence; on the wall behind her, you can see a child has drawn a house in crayon, bright red on the grey cinderblocks.

Directed by Argentina's Pablo Trapero, Lion's Den (Leonera) is an impressively yet quietly assured film, one that takes its time and makes us live along with its characters. There's a rough-hewn realism in Lion's Den, but there's also a subtle lyrical quality to it; the performances are impressive but unforced, the camerawork contemplated without being showy. Julia is helped through her early days in prison by fellow prisoner Marta (Laura Garcia), who's resigned to her imprisonment; asked how she got there, Marta shrugs: "I was poor, and I was a fool." Julia has her child -- a boy, Tomas -- and soon her mother Sophia (Ellie Medieros), who's been living abroad for the past 13 years, is back in the equation. We quickly get a sense of who Julia is; she's an ordinary girl, a little sheltered, who's made a very large and completely irrevocable mistake. We get a sense of Sofia even more quickly; with her elegantly casual clothes and a tattoo of a star on the back of her hand, Sofia's a bohemian who became a bourgeois.

And that clumsy explanation of the plot makes Lion's Den sound far more rushed, and far more obvious, than it actually is. Trapero isn't afraid of silence, or of space; the film simply unfolds, with time passing as it does in prison, empty hours becoming lost days. We're told that Julia will have possession of Tomas until he's four, and then he'll be placed with a relative or with the court. Julia and Sofia have to figure out a hard-edged problem: Prison is no place for a child to grow up; prison is where his mother is. When Julia realizes that her mother's pulling strings to gain custody of Tomas, she's heartsick, furious, broken: "My child is all I have." But is that reason enough for him to grow up in a jail?

Guzman (who is not only director Trapero's partner but was also actually pregnant during some of the shooting of Lion's Den) makes Julia come alive for us. Lion's Den could have been much more talky, much more "dramatic," much more obvious ... and that film wouldn't be nearly as good as the film we're given here. A scene of Tomas playing in the only world he knows, using prison bars as a child in the outside world would monkeybars, is quiet and sad and gentle and haunting. There's four credited writers on Lion's Den, including Trapero, but the finished film is never over-written or too carefully considered; there's something fresh and vulgar and vital to the film, and it's, for the most part, refreshingly unsentimental. (For example, it's worth noting that Julia's most successful, grown-up romantic relationship in her life ... happens in prison.) Many of the film's scenes aren't conveyed in the dialogue but in smaller physical performance moments: A touch of a hand, a tilt of the head.

Some press members at Cannes were suggesting that the film's finale felt out-of-place with the rest of the film, and suggested that producer Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) may have influenced the tone and tenor of the last few scenes. But I didn't find the final scenes incongruous or fake in light of what had gone before, and the film's ambiguous enough about what happens next to let you imagine what the next stage in Julia's life is going to be like -- and good enough throughout so that you actually do think about her future. It's hard to imagine Lion's Den getting picked up for distribution in America -- it's a little too raw and flat for any audience but the most devoted foreign film art house crowd -- but, it's early in the festival, and Gusman's performance is so strong and impressive that it guarantees people will be speaking about it as one of the standouts of this year's fest.

20 Years of Queers
Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film & Video Festival
May 20-30th

Review Source:

Monday, 24 May 2010

Inside Out 2010: A Piece of Work

A Frozen Flower (Ssang-hwa-jeom) was my first film at Inside Out 2010, and I couldn't have chosen a better film to kick of the festival. Written and directed by Ha Yu, this sumptuous soap opera about a King (Jin-mo Joo), his Queen (Ji-hyo Song) and his lover (In-sung Jo) features stunningly decorated imperial sets and sword-slashing action. Set in Korea's Goryeo Dynasty amidst a backdrop of political intrigue, A Frozen Flower, depicts a love triangle of epic proportions. Unable to touch a woman intimately, and threatened by the takeover of his kingdom for lack of an heir, the King wields his power over his lover, Hong Lim, and demands that he impregnate the Queen. The royal heir must be of the same complexion as the King, and Hong Lim is the King's trusted companion as well as the Chief of his body guards. The Queen and Hong Lim, both of whom have no choice in the matter, perform the consummation acts with little pleasure until a spark is lit and the two find themselves in love. The King becomes increasingly suspicious of the Queen and Hong Lim and plots to find out the depth of their relationship even as he struggles to maintain control of his kingdom. I know I was supposed to root for the young Queen and her lover, but I sided with the King. Firstly, Jin-mo Joo is hot! hot! hot! and his performance as the King is commanding and captivating. I couldn't take my eyes off him, plus I agreed with his royal decrees about the running of his kingdom, and empathized with the pain he felt at his lover's betrayal. I even understood that some of his pain came from the fact that his imperial pride is also singed by Hong Lim's actions. Ji-Hyo Song gives a strong performance as the Queen and In-sung Jo plays the heterosexually awakened head guard, Hong Lim with credible vulnerability and vicious strength. My only criticism of the film is the lack of screen time given to Hong Lim's confusion about his sexuality; he just went straight a little too fast for me, and time should have spent on the confusion he must have felt over his love for both a man whom he has grown up with, and his discovery of his love for the queen.

My second screening at Inside Out was Joan Rivers-A Piece of Work (Oy Vey! My Son is Gay! was my third-see review). This documentary is an honest portrait of perseverance and endurance. The title sums it up: Joan is a "piece of work" in the sense that she is different and edgy, and she is a work-a-holic. Her daughter, Melissa spells it out in the documentary when she says that all the comics she knows has a sense of insecurity that they never seem to lose no matter how famous they become. They all seem to long for the validation and attention they get from their audience. The film shows Joan stressing about empty calendar dates, working on her play, dealing with the business of being Joan Rivers, and, of course, doing her stand up. Her stand up is coarse, frank and extremely funny. This is the way she was back in her twenties, and this is how she continues to perform on stage in her seventies. Seeing her amidst the all-boys network at a George Carlin tribute, I couldn't help but wonder why, she has still not gained the accolades she deserves. She has paid her dues, and continues to do so, and dammit, I want more for her while she is still alive. I don't to hear about her accomplishments after she dies. Let's hope this film will bring her the attention and and prestige she deserves.

So, what's next? Maybe one of Inside Out's Latin American spotlight films.

Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film & Video Festival
20 Years of Queers
Box Office: 416-967-1528

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Inside Out 2010: Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!

Oy Vey! My Son is Gay! opens with a clever animation that establishes the plot: parents Shirley and Martin (Lainie Kazan and Saul Rubinek) trying to fix up their son Nelson (John Lloyd Young), with a nice Jewish girl. Little do they know though, that Nelson is gay and in a relationship with Angelo (Jai Rodriguez), and complications arise when Shirley misinterprets a situation and thinks that her son is involved with his neighbour Sybil (Carmen Electra).

Nelson eventually comes out to his parents sending them into shock and acceptance (of sorts). In an attempt to understand their son, Shirley urges Martin to go to a gay bar, they both go see an “expert” on homosexuality, Shirley invites a couple from a gay organization home to learn about their lives…all of this sounds extremely funny, but the scenes were frustratingly stilted. The inclusions of mock television news commentary on gay life were baffling and contrived, and the story wrapped so quickly that I couldn’t understand the way time was supposed to pass in the film.

Shirley (Kazan) can accept the thought that her son is engaged to a non-Jewish, centerfold, but not the thought of him marrying a “schwarze” (black woman). I don’t understand why this line of thinking is even included in the movie. If the film was going to be edgy and push boundaries, I could understand the bigotry; I’m not offended by a character’s expression of their true selves. The problem I have with the line is the problem I have with the whole film: there doesn’t seem to be a clear comic focus. The film is not fast-paced enough to be a farce, the dialogue is not clever enough to be a social satire, and it’s written like an extended sit-com instead of a light, energetic comedy.

I smiled watching the film, but I didn’t laugh and this film's premise should have had me rolling on the floor. I appreciated the fresh idea of depicting the “coming out” story from the parents' perspective, and Kazan and Rubinek have great chemistry but first-time director, Evgeny Afineevsky (also one of the writers) just didn't seem to know how to pace the film to show off his amazingly cast. He couldn't have asked Emmy Award-winning comic writer, Bruce Villanch (Uncle Max) to help doctor the script? And how can you have “Big Pussy” (Vincent Pastore) from the Sopranos in a gay film and not camp it up as much as possible? Argh!

Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!
Monday, May 24th, 2:30 pm
Isabel Bader Theatre
Box Office: 416-967-1528

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Inside Out 2010: So What's a Straight Girl Like You...

So, what’s a straight girl like me doing at a gay and lesbian film festival? Seeing some great films and some not so great films, the way I do at all other film festivals. With Inside Out though, I get to see films with a particular audience culture that you can’t get at any other festivals. Since I tend to go. to a lot of male-oriented films at Inside Out, I’m usually with a lot of gay men. With gay men, you always get cruising. Necks swivel at a pace that would put Wimbledon to shame! So, I check out who’s cruising whom, and I also check to see who’s on a first date—the young ones are so cute together, holding hands (because they can! —they’re in a safe environment) and trying to act like they have been together forever instead of just two days. Then there are the older men, who are there with long time partners. They’re the ones that barely talk to each other in line (why should they, they see each other everyday), except when they run into other couples, then they spark up like nobody’s business, talking about vacations and mutual friends. Finally, there are women like me: straight gals with their gay boyfriends. Standing in line, I always spot the women like me, especially the black ones with their white boyfriends—we’re so common!

Like other film festivals, you can chat with anybody in line. Just ask: “So what have you seen so far” or “Is this your first film?” and the conversation is off and running. Besides running into friends, I always meet nice strangers. My first night at Inside Out I had a great conversation with another film festival lover. When you meet a film lover the question then becomes: “So, do you go to other festival?” Turns out this gentleman goes to the biggies, Hot Docs and TIFF. Next year, he is going to try and get his grandkids involved in Sprockets: The Toronto International Film Festival for Children. When he said that, I had to tell him about the World Wide Short Film Festival's popular children’s program, Shorts for Shorties. In my opinion, it’s always the best section of WWSFF because films for children are story-oriented and are usually visually appealing with colours and images that filmmakers think grown-folks don’t need. They are also usually very funny!

When I go to Caribbean plays/films, the audience is not shy in sharing their reactions to what’s unfolding in front of them. Well, let me tell you, it’s the same at Inside Out. There is no holding back of emotions when things heat up, or get outrageously funny on screen. I love it! No Canadian reserve in play here. As an audience member, you are free to be yourself!

As for the films, the last time I checked there weren’t many cinemas in Toronto playing LGBTTQ films, so this is my chance to expand my horizons, and not have to cringe when a same-sex kiss happens on screen and the majority straight audience makes comments. Yeah, I am so tired of that, aren’t you?

20 Years of Queers
Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film & Video Festival
May 20-30th

Monday, 17 May 2010

Where's My Money, Frankenstein?

I'm no theatre snob; I'll go see a play in someone's apartment, sitting on mismatched chairs and be just as engrossed as I would sitting in a permanent theatre house. It's the strength of the writing and the skills of the actors that make a play worth seeing in any venue. Well, last week I had the chance to see two plays that were at opposite ends of the theatre scale and both were equally refreshing and satisfying: WHERE'S MY MONEY and FRANKENSTEIN.

Written by Academy Award-winner, John Patrick Shanley (MOONSTRUCK—he also wrote DOUBT), and directed by Dora Award-winner David Perry (THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT), Where’s My Money deconstructs marital relationships while asking the question, “Do you believe in ghosts?” The dialogue is funny, ugly, and ironic, a feast for actors, and a delight for audiences.

You can read this play and enjoy the experience on your own, but it takes a strong cast to speak lines that with the wrong timing and delivery would be excruciating to hear. When actress (read secretarial temp) Celeste (Ingrid Rae Doucet) runs into old friend Natalie (Anna Jane Hardwick) in a café, the women catch up on what’s happening in their lives. When Natalie (an accountant married to a lawyer) finds out that Celeste is cheating on her boyfriend with a married man, Natalie bluntly tells Celeste, ”I don’t know any other way to put this. You’re a whore.” Tactless? Yes. But how do you take this same brutal line when Natalie admits that she, too, was a “whore”? And what will you make of Tommy, the Ghost (Christian Bellsmith), who is haunting Natalie; Natalie’s husband Henry (John Clelland) who is tired of Natalie’s demand for a joint checking account; Henry’s friend and idol, Sydney (Michael Kash) a divorce lawyer who thinks cheating is natural part of marriage, and Sydney’s wife, Marcia Marie (Mary Francis Moore) who may not agree with Sydney’s view of their marriage.

With talented cast, interesting staging and lighting, and music (including live piano playing), Where’s My Money is delightful way to spend 80 minutes. You may or may not leave believing in ghosts, but you will leave with some very memorable lines: “Monogamy is like a 40-watt bulb. It works but it’s not enough.”

Until May 30th
Pia Bouman Studio Theatre
6 Noble Street (West of Dufferin, north of Queen--past the Gladstone)
Box Office: 416-504-7529
Tix: $20
adult content

For those of you who have only seen movie versions of Frankenstein, clear your heads of what you know; for those of you who have only read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, clear your heads of your the way you pictured those words. The Frankenstein that is presented by Edmonton-based Catalyst Theatre is imaginative, gothic, poetic, and musical. Yes, I said "musical". Think Charles Addams meets Edward Gorey meets Tim Burton with music by Sondheim (okay, Sondheim light). Don’t know who those people are? IT DOESN’T MATTER. GO SEE THIS PLAY.

Writer, director, composer, Jonathon Christenson, and production designer Bretta Gerecke have birthed an adult fairy tale that echo the opening refrain of “These are strange times, full of strange signs. Bathed in black and white, swaddled in paper costumes, with paper sets, this new conceptualization of Frankenstein is a wonder, a marvel. What a fantastic way to tell Shelley’s story of a man playing God, and the grotesque, innocently dangerous creature he brings to life. Linking the past with the present are the lines “We cover our ears, we close our eyes” which demands that we think about modern society and the things it creates, sometimes thoughtlessly. What are the consequences of our own actions? Dolly the Sheep, anyone?

The multi-talented cast is a cohesive delight as the Chorus that leads us through the tale, and is just as splendid in the multiple roles they adopt in the play. I especially enjoyed the performances of Tracy Penner (left) and Nancy McAlear. Penner’s warbled vibrato, brings just the right note of delicacy to her main character of Lucy Lavenza, while McAlear, brings a humour and strength to her ill-fated character of Justine Moritz. Poor, poor Justine.

The second act begins with a bit too much exposition, but I have yet to see a play where the second act isn’t slightly weaker than the first. Still, this is where the pathos of the piece comes to life as we feel the desperate need of The Creature (George Szilagyi) to find what we all crave: friendship and love.

To be honest, I noticed that those who might have been expecting the movie version of Frankenstein, or a more traditional rendition of the story, did not stay for the second act. To that, I say, we can’t all like everything. Besides, the house was still very full for the second act. As we left the Bluma Apel theatre, my friends and I were wondering who would go and see this new version of an old story. Our conclusion: people who are curious about life and get excited when they see something new and refreshing different. That's you, isn't it?

Until May 29th
Bluma Apel Theatre
27 Front Street East (click here for directions)
Box Office: 416-368-3110
Tix: $20 and up

Frankenstein photos by JACKSON HINTON

Monday, 10 May 2010

Hot Docs Audience Award Goes To...

A MESSAGE FROM HOT DOCS: "After the final screening yesterday, votes were tallied for the Hot Docs Audience Award. The winner is THUNDER SOUL (D: Mark Landsman, USA), chronicling the reunion of the Kashmere High School Band – 35 years after their initial success – in honour of their mentor, Conrad "Prof" Johnson."

The top ten audience favourites as determined by audience vote are:

1.THUNDER SOUL (D: Mark Landsman; USA)

2.A DRUMMER'S DREAM (D: John Walker; Canada)

3.MY LIFE WITH CARLOS (D: German Berger; Chile, Spain, Germany)

4.AUTUMN GOLD (D: Jan Tenhaven; Austria, Germany)

5.LEAVE THEM LAUGHING (D: John Zaritsky; Canada, USA)

6.RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE (D: Scot McFadyen, Sam Dunn; Canada)

7.LISTEN TO THIS (D: Juan Baquero; Canada)

8.A SMALL ACT (D: Jennifer Arnold; USA)

9.WASTE LAND (D: Lucy Walker; UK, Brazil)

10.MARWENCOL (D: Jeff Malmberg; USA)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Hot Docs 2010 Award Winners


Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival capped off a week of industry programming and film screenings with its 2010 Awards Presentation, held Friday, May 7, at the Isabel Bader Theatre in downtown Toronto. Ten awards and over $72,000 in cash prizes were presented to local and international filmmakers, including awards for Festival films in competition and those recognizing emerging and established filmmakers. The Hot Docs Awards Presentation was hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q on CBC Radio One.

The Festival's top honour for international films in competition, the Best International Feature Award was presented to A FILM UNFINISHED (D: Yael Hersonski; P: Noemi Schory, Itay Ken Tor; Israel), a haunting visual essay that masterfully deconstructs a now-infamous, unfinished Nazi propaganda film about Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Jury statement: "Yael Hersonski’s film is a profound exploration of the testimonial value of the cinematic image, based on found footage of a Nazi propaganda film shot in a Warsaw Ghetto. This is a film for the ages." The award includes a $10,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs.

The Special Jury Prize - International Feature was awarded to THE OATH (D: Laura Poitras; P: Laura Poitras, Nasser Arrabyee, Aliza Kaplan, Jonathan Oppenheim; USA, Yemen), a complex, mysterious portrait of Abu Jandal, a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden. Jury statement: "Filmmaker Laura Poitras has made a daring and unique film about a complex character, Bin Laden’s driver, as well as the United States government’s case against his brother who was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, which challenges our preconceived notions about radical Islam. The jury salutes the personal and artistic risk that the filmmaker has taken in dealing with this controversial subject matter." Sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the award includes a $5,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs.

The top honour for Canadian films in competition, Best Canadian Feature Award was presented to Toronto filmmaker Shelley Saywell for In the Name of the Family (P: Shelley Saywell, Deborah Parks; Canada), a powerful and sensitive investigation into the killing of young girls in the name of family honour in North America. Jury statement: "The best Canadian feature offers an intimate take on the challenges of immigration for young people, and generational conflicts that can go terribly wrong. We were all moved by the young teenage Muslim women struggling to figure out their own identities, caught between two opposing worlds, to whom it gave voice. It is an effective and intense contribution to an important discussion that needs to be explored further, we look forward to hearing more voices of young Muslim men as well." Sponsored by the Documentary Organization of Canada, the award includes a $15,000 prize courtesy of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.

The Special Jury Prize - Canadian Feature was presented to Vancouver-based Academy Award-winning filmmaker John Zaritsky for LEAVE THEM LAUGHING (P: Montana Berg, Canada/USA), which follows mother, performer, and darkly funny smart-ass Carla Zilbersmith in her battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Jury statement: "The Special Jury Prize goes to a film about an unimaginably horrifying disease that draws us in rather than making us turn away. The subject is someone approaching death, but the film is about how to live. We admire it most for bringing us into an intimate relationship between a mother and son without feeling voyeuristic or manipulative." Sponsored by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, the award features a $10,000 prize courtesy of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.

The Best Mid-Length Documentary Award was presented to I SHOT MY LOVE (D: Tomer Haymann; P: Barak Haymann, Tomer Haymann, Carl Ludwig Rettinger; Israel, Germany), an intimate portrait of two lovers, one German and one Israeli, as they confront the challenges posed by their families, their national histories, and their own emotions. Jury statement: "I SHOT MY LOVE contains beautiful use of homemade footage. The film covers many territories – geographical, religious, political, linguistic – while following a love story conceived at the Berlin Film Festival. The film focuses on the meaning of love and the universality of suffering." Sponsored by Canada Council for the Arts, the award includes a $3,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs.

Best Short Documentary Award was presented to Tussilago (D: Jonas Odell; Sweden), the story of a young girl swept up in the high drama life of bank robberies and kidnapping plans due to her relationship with West German terrorist Norbert Krocher in 1977. Jury statement: "This is an innovative and ever-evolving use of animation to recreate a historical era. The correlation between the characters and the art form in which they are depicted reinforces the power of aesthetics." Sponsored by Playback, the award includes a $3,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs.

The HBO Documentary Films Emerging Artist Award was presented to Jeff Malmberg, director of Marwencol (USA), in which Mark Hogencamp, seeking solace after a brutal beating, constructs a miniature WW II-era town in his backyard. Jury statement: "(A) beautifully-crafted film about redemption through art. Mark Hogencamp, robbed of his memory, creates a fantasy world through which he rediscovers his identity and realizes his true self." The Emerging Artist Award is sponsored by HBO Documentary Films.

The Hot Docs Board of Directors presented the 2010 Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award to celebrated UK filmmaker Kim Longinotto (left). A retrospective of Longinotto's work is being show as part of this year's Festival.

Documentary's Don Haig Award, presented annually to an emerging Canadian documentary filmmaker, was awarded to Toronto's Philip Lyall and Vancouver's Nimisha Mukerji, the directors of Hot Docs 2009 official selection and audience top ten favourite, 65_REDROSES. Awarded by the Don Haig Foundation, the prize includes a $20,000 cash prize generously sponsored by documentary.

The Lindalee Tracey Award, which honours an emerging Canadian filmmaker with a passionate point of view, a strong sense of social justice and a sense of humour, was presented to 20-year-old filmmaker Ayanie Mohamed of Toronto. As part of the award, Mohamed will receive a $6,000 cash prize and $3,000 in film stock donated by Kodak Canada.

The 2010 awards were determined by three juries, each consisting of three jury members.

The Canadian features jury was made up of Alice Klein (CEO, Now Magazine); Liz Mermin (Director, HORSES), and Martijn te Pas (IDFA). The international features jury was made up of Gonzalo Arijón (Director, Eyes Wide Open - Exploring Today's South America); Sturla Gunnarsson (President of the Directors Guild of Canada), and Chris Hegedus ( Co-Director, KINGS OF PASTRY). The short and mid-length films jury was made up of Tine Fischer (CPH:DOX); Judy Gladstone (BravoFACT), and Alberto Ramos Ruiz (Havana Film Festival).

Source: VK & Associates (press release), Hot Docs (photos)

Friday, 7 May 2010

Negro Girl Withdrawn From UT Opera Cast

The above headline was from 1956, and the subject is Barbara Smith Conrad. I had the pleasure of learning more about the mezzo-soprano in Mat Hames' documentary WHEN I RISE. An added bonus for us in the audience tonight was being introduced to the woman who, as a girl, stood steadfast in the midst of blatant racism and later became a respected Opera star on the world stage. Let me just say that we went "nuts" when she took the stage to answer questions about the film that documents a very trying moment in her life. Please tune in at 1PM on CIUT 89.5 FM or listen live to my interview with Mat Hames and Barbara Smith Conrad.

Final Screening at Hot Docs 2010: WHEN I RISE, Sunday, May 9, 4:00pm, Cumberland Cinemas
Click Here for details

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A SMALL ACT: My Favourite Film at Hot Docs 2010

In the '70s Hilde Back sent $15 a month to sponsor a child in Kenya. That child, Chris Mburu, would not have been able to afford secondary school without this money. Even though he was a brilliant student, his family was just too poor to afford this dream. Thanks to that small amount of money, Chris was able to go on to Harvard, and a job at the United Nations. Wanting to help other bright children in his village, Chris began a fund in Kenya to provide scholarships to local children who were smart but poor.

Education is the key to a future in Kenya, and an educated population will not be easily swayed by corrupt influences. Chris named the fund after Hilde Back, a Swedish woman, who did not have much, but shared what little she could. As Chris' sister says in the film, when you are in need there is no such thing a "too little". My favourite film of the festival. Please go see this. It will inspire you and reinforce the value of education as you watch 3 children attempt to win a scholarship so that they can provide for their families. Chris search for Hilde will also touche your heart.
Sun, May 09 8:15 pm Bloor Cinema

These Film Wasted My Time:
Anne Perry-Interiors. So boring! I had conversations with people as we left the theatre and we all agreed that the highlight was seeing the dog play with the ball. A wondeful story ruined by lack of editing.

Space Tourist. Great idea, but not well-realized. Poorly written script reduces this film to a plodding exercise with interesting details that lack focus.

Feel free to agree/disagree with me. Leave a comment.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Are Finnish Men Sissies? FREETIME MACHOS (Hot Docs 2010) Director Answers the Question

FREETIME MACHOS director, Mika Ronkainen (left) wasn't able to make it to Hot Docs 2010 for the screening of his film, but he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the film with me via email. As you know, I love this film (see review).

donna g: Was the Oulu rugby team the inspiration for the film or were you looking for a way to explore Finnish masculinity and decided to use the team as your subject?

Mika: The team was definitely the inspiration for me. I heard about the team, went to see them play, and fell in love with them. Of course, I'd been interested in this modern phenomena of machismo which had become mainstream in Finland. But I didn't have that in mind when I went to see them. Things just connected.

donna g: How pervasive is this feeling of "castration" among hetorosexual Finnish males? Are you able to comment on how homosexual men feel? Are they confused by their "public" roles as well? I ask because on of the characters in the film is gay.

Mika: I can't talk on behalf of all the Finnish men, straight or gay. But it's there, people talk about it. Some men talk about it, and some women agree to it. There are women who think that men are too sissies. And vice versa.

donna g: I'm curious about the term "aijyys". How long has it been in use?

Mika: I guess it's been there forever. It comes from an old word "äijä" which means "a man", but originally it has meant "god", too. I mean in the really old Finnish. But lately it's been used as a way to underline that you really are a man. It's as if some men feel that they've turned into a subculture, you know. In any subculture people underline their special qualities because it unites the people who want to be part of it. In gay culture it's cool to underline your feminine qualities. Straight men who don't want to seem gay underline their masculine qualities in the same way.

donna g: In North America there is a term "bromance" meaning a non-sexual, deep friendship between men--like Matti and Mikko in your film. I really want to thank you for expressing the feelings of loss that men feel when their closest friend gets married, has children and can no longer be a "party boy". I don't think I have seen this in film before. What has been the response from Matti and Mikko after seeing their friendship displayed so publically?

Mika: Well, first of all thank you. I think the film is ultimately a love story of two heretosexual guys. Matti and Mikko say they love the film. They say it's exactly how things happened. And what's best their wives say that now they understand their men better.

donna g: What is going on at Nokia? Could you describe the economic impact that is alluded to in the film?

Mika: The so-called Nokia miracle was a really big thing when it happened. It saved the Finnish economy, more or less. But we got dependant on Nokia and many young men devoted their lives to the company working their loyal asses off 24/7. Nowadays these guys are realising in their 40s that the company is not as loyal to them as they've been to it.

donna g: Your bio states that you have "no physical hobby". After spending so much time with the rugby team, did you have any urge to take up the sport?

Mika: I wouldn't dare to do anything as physical as rugby. I'm a sissy, in that respect. I did crosscountry skiing as I child, though, but that's it for me. But I am putting my hope on the next generation: I went to see a rugby match last summer with my two sons, and they started tackling each other immediately.

donna g: How has the film been received in Finland? Has it been shown in other countries? If so, were the responses the similar/different?

Mika: The response in Finland has been good. There's one funny thing which I've noticed here: older men don't seem to appreciate the film whereas women love it. I think this is because the image of Finnish man in my film does not exactly fit the older generation's traditional view. Personally I don't think there is such a thing as "Finnish man". It's a romantic myth. Today the concept of Finnish man should include men of all sorts: straight, gay, whatever ethnic background. That's how the world is today, and that's the Finnish man I am portraying in the film. Finland is not just the quiet blond white heterosexual man who talks about his emotions only when drunk, beats up his family, and then drinks himself to death.

For women, I think they love the film cos it gives a window to something that they've never seen before. And it might also be because the guys in film may cause motherly feelings... In other countries the reaction has been pretty similar, I think.

donna g: This documentary would make a wonderful feature film. Have you been in talks with anyone about making this into a fiction feature?

Mika: No, no-one's contacted me yet. Actually, there were some talks already about my previous feature length documentary Screaming Men, but nothing came out of that after all.

donna g: You are currently working on Finnish Blood/Swedish Heart; can you give us a hint about what that is about?

Mika: It's supposed to be a musical-documentary about how music is more important to your identity than your nationality, but let's see how it turns out.

Wednesday, May 5, 6:30pm, Cumberland Cinema.
Saturday, May 8, 6:45pm, Royal Cinema.

For more info:

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Finnish Reserve @ Hot Docs 2010

We've heard of "British Reserve", but "Finnish Reserve"? Well, with Finnish documentaries STEAM OF LIFE and FREETIME MACHOS screening at Hot Docs 2010, I'm finding out that men in Finland really have a hard time expressing their feelings. STEAM LIFE directorsJoonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen think this reserve is a consequence of the war years (see interview). I'm glad that the Finnish males are breaking their silence and expressing their feelings the way women did during the Feminist revolution.

With FREETIME MACHOS I expected locker room scenes, bawdy man talk, and beer, and that's half of what I got; the other half were scenes of men in various stages of life talking about parenthood and marriage, friendship, being rejected by their workplace (Nokia plays a big role here), and poetic thoughts about manhood and its frustrating, sometimes contradictory expectations (especially expectations from women). Men aren't supposed to lose at rugby and the Oulu team (the subject of the film) are are trying desperately to save face by avoiding being downgraded to a lower league. This documentary is funny, touching and rough. Stay tuned for my interview with director, Mika Ronkainen. Coming Soon!

Wednesday, May 3, 6:30pm, Cumberland 3
Saturday, May 8, 6:45pm, The Royal Cinema

Sunday, 2 May 2010

"Steam of Life" Exposes Finnish Men @ Hot Docs 2010

Below is my interview with STEAM OF LIFE directors, Joonas Berghäll(right) and Mika Hotakainen(left). The documentary is part of the Breaking The Machismo Myth series of films that are screening at Hot Docs 2010. Other films in the series are Ito-Diary of an Urban Priest, Freetime Machos, and Portrait of a Man. STEAM OF LIFE documents intimate life stories told by men as they sit in a variety of saunas throughout Finland. Men are often praised for their physical strength, but I want to praise the men in this film for having the courage to share their emotions with us. I love this film. Monday, May 3, 7:00pm, Isabel Bader Theatre. Wednesday, May 5, 4:00pm, The ROM Theatre.

donna g: The title “Steam of Life” probably refers to more than one element of the film, but I am curious to know if one of the reasons behind the title is the fact that Finnish women used to give birth in saunas.

Joonas and Mika: It is true that Finnish women used to give birth in saunas and, of course, the name "Steam Of Life" fits into that event, but in this case the idea is also much more. We feel that the name represents more closely to the content of he film. This film reveals turning points from several men's lives. We are all the time dealing with strong issues of human life in the warm steam of sauna. Therefore, the English name refers more to the content of the film in our perspective.

donna g: In many documentaries when people are introduced there is a caption that shows their name. Why did you choose not to identify your subjects?

Joonas and Mika: We thought that despite the many characters and different stories this film talks about life. From that perspective, it seemed pointless to underline the characters with their names. What they are telling is more important than what their names are.

donna g: For the most part, each sauna scene seems to have a Speaker that reveals a very personal story and a Listener that reacts to what he is being told. How were these scenes set up? How much was revealed to the Listener about what he would be hearing?

Joonas and Mika: Nothing was revealed to the "listeners". We shot conversations from which we selected the most suitable stories for the film. Many of the stories shot, were surprises even for us and surely to the men listening as well. Of course, in many cases we knew what kind of stuff would be coming, but still surprises occurred.

donna g: The theme of the documentary touches on how difficult it is for Finnish men (and men in general, I think) to talk about their feelings. One man mentions the fact that he didn’t know how to act when something emotional occurred because he had never been taught how. You are much younger than the men in the film, could you relate to this way of thinking or have things changed for your generation?

Joonas:Yes, they have changed a lot in general, but I have to say that for me it is difficult to talk about my feelings to women. I can send deep and emotional letters or sms messages or prepare a romantic dinner, but talking about my feelings is difficult for me. There are many ways to show your emotions to your loved ones, I'd prefer more deeds than words—like the scene where the Samí man tells how his grandfather showed his love to his wife by chopping wood.

Mika:I think the attitudes are slowly getting better in terms of Finnish men showing their emotions. Finnish men have had to carry the burden of being strong and not to show emotions or tenderness for a very long time. I believe one reason for that has been our bloody history with civil war and the Second World War, which traumatized that whole generation of men.

Movements for women’s rights have been very strong in Finland for a long time and it has influenced strongly the way the media has treated men, and also the way men have behaved. I believe that my generation has been the first where girls and boys have actually been friends from a very young age and see each other as equals. When I watch today's teenagers, I can see the development going further all the time. I strongly believe that the Finnish men today are brought up to confront their emotions, sad and happy.

donna g: I expected to be taken from sauna to sauna (and there appears to be saunas everywhere is Finland!), but I did not expect to see such beautifully framed landscapes. Why did you decide to include these scenes, and how did you select the music that accompanies these wonderful vistas?

Joonas and Mika:We thought it would be necessary to create so-called breath-taking breaks between the saunas. For that purpose we wanted to make these landscape sequences which are not only landscapes, but act as a symbolic reference to the stories heard and emotions experienced.

All the music in the film is composed precisely for it. The music plays an important role in the film. It slowly develops during the film towards the end climax, which we don't want to reveal.

donna g: I couldn’t help wondering about shooting a film in a hot sauna. How did you deal with this technical aspect of your film?

Joonas and Mika:It was necessary to prepare filming carefully. The movie was shot on s16 mm Kodak stock. Digital cameras wouldn't have worked in 75-85 Celsius degrees saunas. Camera equipment with lenses were warmed up on a lower bench of the sauna. Then after 20 minutes (when the equipment was heated up enough) we put it on the upper bench, until the camera and lenses were as warm as sauna itself—about 85 Celsius degrees (185 Fahrenheit). We had to heat up the camera and lenses as warm as the sauna was, to avoid mist condensing the lens. After that, we were ready to start filming. Sometimes we were filming 4 hours in the hot sauna; our cinematographer almost fainted twice, because of the heat. Filming was a tough but still a great experience.

donna g: The story about the man who took in the orphan is quite original and I wish I could ask you to comment, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t yet seen the film. I do want to ask you about the Santas. Where did you find them?

Joonas and Mika:The orphan scene is already been titled by Finnish Film Foundation as a part of Finnish film history. But let's not reveal anything else about it. We found all the Santas in one place; they all worked for the same Santa rental agency. The scene with the Santas was shot on Christmas Eve (right after the Santas' work day ended) in the oldest working public sauna in Finland.

donna g: What has been the reaction to “Steam of Life” in Finland?

Joonas and Mika:The reaction has been just great. With the film showing in only 6 theatres we have sold over 17, 000 tickets in five weeks and it's doing very well in cinemas still. Also, winning the Risto Jarva prize and audience awards in March at the Tampere Film Festival in Finland means a lot to us. We received a 15 minute standing ovation after our premiere. It was a great experience for us, young directors.

Breaking the Machismo Myth: Finnish Films at Hot Docs

The Y-Chromosome Exposed. Several films out of Finland are revealing men in ways we don't often see in film. The films are screening at Hot Docs 2010 (April 29th - May 9th)

ITO-DIARY OF AN URBAN PRIEST is the story of Fujioka, a young boxer turned Buddhist priest and bar owner. This Japanese film by award-winning Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo is a contemplative study of Fujioka's search for meaning in his life, even as he councils those in his role as priest. Being a Pure Land Buddhist in Japan, Fujioka sometimes encounters those who do not recognize him as a "real" priest. He also has to deal with living in a society that follows some religious traditions (the funereal, for example) but seems to have no mass religious consciousness. A serious eye injury seems to have sparked Fujioka's personal journey of loss, leading him to consider the impact of a mother absent from his childhood and the death of the grandmother who raised him. I enjoyed most of this documentary because Fujioka is an interesting young man, but the pervasive, meditative scenes of the cityscape tried my patience. The film gets a passing grade from me, but, boy did I wish I had a pair of scissors handy to cut some scenes not out but shorter. Even good scenes can linger way too long.
Sunday, May 2, 9:00pm, Cumberland Cinemas
Wednesday, May 5, 4:00pm, Cumberland Cinemas

Kudos to directors, Joonas Berghall and Mika Hotakainen for making STEAM OF LIFE. This documentary is an act of bravery in that it exposes the thoughts and feelings of Finnish men to each other and, through the distribution of this film, to the world. The setting for each revelation is the ubiquitous sauna that is such an integral part of Finnish life. The small, steamy space of the sauna adds to the intimacy of each man's story as they sit naked in these "confessionals". The film allows men to talk openly about love and life, and I really thank them for sharing their thoughts. Stay tuned for my blog interview with the directors. Coming Soon!

Monday, May 3, 7:00pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, May 5, 4:00pm, The ROM Theatre

PORTRAIT OF A MAN is the third is Koiso-Kanttila's trilogy about manhood. The other films are FATHER AND SON and A WINTER'S JOURNEY. Since the other two films also played at Hot Docs, there is a good chance that this might be worth seeing.
Monday, May 3, 9:45pm, Cumberland Cinemas
Thursday, May 6, 2:00pm, Innis Town Hall

FREETIME MACHO. I'm looking forward to seeing this comedy about the third worst rugby team in northern Finland: how they play (or try to) and how they deal with their relationships (gay and straight).
Wednesday, May 5, 6:30pm, Cumberland Cinemas
Saturday, May 8, 6:45pm, The Royal Cinema

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...