Friday, June 8, 2018

Listening to Others: On Antoine Bourges’ Fail to Appear

It starts with a photocopier in a dimly lit supply room: a fax is slowly being printed out with the report of a young man Eric (Nathan Roder) who has been charged with theft and who’ll need a social worker. The fiction begins and throughout Fail to Appear it’ll continue onward through subtle visual details in a setting that’s actually the one that it’s exploring. Antoine Bourges’ project, just like it was in his earlier East Hastings Pharmacy, is to use fiction to better articulate some of the world’s realities. To not simply document but to slow things down, really focus to better see and to think with the changes occurring around us. It’s at this formal level that Fail to Appear is really interesting. It’s the story of a young social worker Isolde (Deragh Campbell) trying to help her patients while also learning the tasks and responsibilities that go with the job. The great idea here is to cast someone unfamiliar with the milieu so that you can see the struggle to keep up, that of a mixture of care and confusion, eagerness and awkwardness. The film’s exploration of the world of social workers and its client’s matches the beginner’s journey that Isolde is going through. Then there’s the opening of the film up to the real world: there are the clients and other practitioners, its offices and community centres, courtrooms and neighbourhood surroundings. The world keeps intruding onto its fiction so that the film never ends up being self-contained. Its style also adds to its contemplation as the long-take form allows for the scenes to play out for as long as it’s necessary – for a person to say what they need to say, and for them to properly represent themselves – and its framing and stillness distils an emotion into the people that it portrays. Fail to Appear perfectly blends art-house cinema techniques with observational documentary and conceptual photography. It imagines a new way to look at the relationships between people and how they interact with their surroundings. If the actors in Fail to Appear remain somewhat impenetrable, whose motivations are never really clear, it instead proposes a good first step on how to create positive changes in people: that of listening and caring about others. So it is only after Isolde, who had already helped Eric avoid his charge, sent him a kind email that he would start to participate more in his family’s life. The film proposes that change and affect takes place at the level of these small gestures and how these can have a lasting positive influence. And in a province that overnight, with the Ontario elections, became a majority conservative government it’s even more vital to have these reminders of the personal struggles of the already underappreciated health care and social worker professionals and the people that they serve. It’s time to not turn away.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

TFR Presents : Now It’s Dark

Not to be too glib, but one gets the feeling that if you’re a young Canadian filmmaker wanting to make a mark, there’s almost something of an algorithm to follow. Simply make a film in the mould of the Dardennes Brothers or Michael Haneke, then expect a few festival appearances followed by polite word from local press desperate for a thriving Canadian art cinema.

And this is not to say that many fine films aren’t being produced in this tradition, but is it not a little depressing to find a certain mix of naturalism and cynicism as the standard for Canadian film? That’s why with its latest screening, Toronto Film Review is shining a light on recent films (well, dating back to 2012 in some cases) that have shown a strong inclination towards a wholly different cinema.

While the eights films on display in this program wildly vary in scope and resources, they’re undeniably all exciting. Many of them taking place in less glamorous corners, be they cramped apartments, dank city streets or hellishly cold landscapes, the overriding theme of the works could seem like yet more variations on millennial despair. Yet they’re filtered through utterly unique visions that don’t rely on mundanity as a crutch. That being said, they render a Canada that’s highly recognizable to this writer, meaning quite fucking strange. - Ethan Vestby

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Springtime in Toronto

In Natty Zavitz’ Edging (now available on iTunes) a young man is in a period of transition in his life. Having just bought a house, he’s having a housewarming party with friends from throughout his life but where instead of hosting he’s stubbornly focused on a home maintenance problem in his garage. Edging is a tale of springtime in Toronto. Where the rest of the city, and the world too, is moving forward with confidence, after a harsh winter, in what should be a period of renewal, its protagonist Jordan (Shomari Downer) gets stuck on one of the immediate problems at hand: The garage door is broken. Throughout the film, old friends come and go, recollecting about their youth and current anxieties, while new acquaintances come through, enjoying themselves and getting into trouble, but for Jordan, to make sense of the confusion and chaos around him, he has to remove himself from the social center, contemplate and discuss, so that he can eventually regain self-confidence and grow.
            This narrative of anxiety and growth is a great metaphor for how I’m experiencing the Toronto film culture in the Spring of 2018. By all accounts it’s thriving: Every night there’s an exciting screening, on weekends a new festival and publications are putting forward relevant polemics. Some positive recent examples: There’s the publication of the new André Bazin’s Selected Writing, the film magazines Cahiers, Positif and Cinema Scope are on point, CBC’s new shows Workin’ Moms and Caught exceeded expectations, and there’s the upcoming What The Film Festival and Canadian Film Fest. Regardless of the problems in the world, the consensus seems to be that Toronto film folks are forming communities, pursuing goals and achieving results. All really great things.
            But sometimes it’s important to step back a little and figure out what you need to do before you can go out to join others.

Monday, March 19, 2018

100 Best Canadian Films – Seth Feldman

It was a good SCMS this year. In Toronto at the Sheraton there were hundreds of guests, panellists and academics, graduate students and senior professors, and the atmosphere was lively and congenial. There were some great panels on Canadian cinema, both by Canadians and Americans, along with stimulating ones on topics that synthetized the last year of scholarship, and which most likely will influence research to come. There was also socializing and events, where I got to chat with folks about this 100 Best Canadian Films project, and who were receptive towards it.
The first of these academics to have completed the request is my old documentary cinema professor Seth Feldman from my time at York University when I did my Masters there. Feldman is noteworthy in the Canadian film scholarship landscape for his academic practice at York University and his research on Canadian cinema and documentary. This includes a book on Allan King and a plethora of contributions to a myriad of anthologies on Canadian cinema and documentary, along with being a regular presence at conferences on these topics. Thanks again Seth!

Seth Feldman’s 100 Best Canadian Films

1. Back to God’s Country (David Hartford, Neil Shipman, 1919)
2. Carry On, Sergeant! (Bruce Bairnsfather, 1928)
3. Rhapsody in Two Languages (Gordon Sparling, 1934)
4. The Viking (George Melford, Varick Frissell, 1931)
5. Tit-Coq (René Delacroix, Gratien Gélinas, 1952)
6. Lest We Forget (Frank Badgley, 1935)

NFB (1939-1959)
1. Churchill’s Island (Stuart Legg, 1941)
2. The War for Men’s Minds (Stuart Legg, 1943)
3. Alexis Tremblay Habitant (Jane Marsh, 1943)
4. The Loon’s Necklace (F. R. Crawley, 1948)
5. Neighbours (Norman McLaren, 1952)
6. Corral (Colin Low, 1954)
7. City of Gold (Colin Low, Wolf Koenig, 1957)
8. Skid Row (Allan King, 1956)
9. Begone Dull Care (Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambart, 1949)
10. The Days Before Christmas (Wolf Koenig, Terence Macartney-Filgate, Stanley Jackson, 1958)
11. Back Breaking Leaf (Terence Macartney-Filgate, 1959)
12. A Chairy Tale (Norman McLaren, Claude Jutra, 1957)
13. Les Raquetteurs (Michel Brault, Gilles Groulx, 1958)

1960s – 1970s
1. Glenn Gould: On the Record (Wolf Koenig, Roman Kroitor, 1959)
2. Universe (Colin Low, Roman Kroitor, 1960)
3. Lonely Boy (Wolf Koenig, Roman Kroitor, 1962)
4. Warrendale (Allan King, 1967)
5. The Things I Cannot Change (Tanya Ballantyne, 1967)
6. In the Labyrinth (Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, Hugh O'Connor, 1967)
7. La Lutte (Michel Brault, Claude Jutra, Marcel Carrière, Claude Fournier, 1961)
8. À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre (Hubert Aquin, 1962)
9. Pour la suite du monde (Pierre Perrault, Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière, 1963)
10. À tout prendre (Claude Jutra, 1963)
11. The Cat in the Bag (Gilles Groulx, 1964)
12. Very Nice, Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett, 1961)
13. Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967)
14. Reason Over Passion (Joyce Wieland, 1969)
15. The Hart of  London (Jack Chambers, 1970)
16. La Région Centrale (Michael Snow, 1971)
17. The Far Shore (Joyce Wieland, 1976)
18. Tiger Child (Donald Brittain, 1970)
19. The Mills of the Gods (Beryl Fox, 1965)
20. Waiting for Fidel (Michael Rubbo, 1974)
21. La vie heureuse de Léopold Z (Gilles Carle, 1965)
22. The Death of a Lumberjack (Gilles Carle, 1973)
23. Les Ordres (Michel Brault, 1974)
24. Nobody Waved Good-bye (Don Owen, 1964)
25. Goin’ Down the Road (Donald Shebib, 1970)
26. Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra, 1971)
27. Paperback Hero (Peter Pearson, 1973)
28. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Ted Kotcheff, 1974)
29. The Old Country Where Rimbaud Died (Jean Pierre Lefebvre, 1977)

1980s – 1990s
1. The Grey Fox (Phillip Borsos, 1982)
2. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
3. The Wars (Robin Phillips, 1983)
4. Margaret Atwood: Once in August (Michael Rubbo, 1984)
5. Moose Jaw (Rick Hancox, 1992)
6. Canada’s Sweetheart (Donald Brittain, 1985)
7. My American Cousin (Sandy Wilson, 1985)
8. Decline of the American Empire (Denys Arcand, 1986)
9. Night Zoo (Jean-Claude Lauzon, 1987)
10. A Winter Tan (Jackie Burroughs, John Walker, John Frizzell, Louise Clark, Aerlyn Weissman, 1987)
11. Bye Bye Blues (Anne Wheeler, 1989)
12. The Company of Strangers (Cynthia Scott, 1990)
13. Black Robe (Bruce Beresford, 1991)
14. Naked Lunch (David Cronenberg, 1991)
15. Canal (Richard Kerr, 1981)
16. Illuminated Texts (R. Bruce Elder, 1982)
17. Lamentations (R. Bruce Elder, 1985)
18. ?O, Zoo! (Philip Hoffman, 1986)
19. Forbidden Love (Lynne Fernie, Aerlyn Weissman, 1992)
20. Kanehsatake (Alanis Obomsawin, 1993)
21. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (François Girard, 1993)
22. Le Confessional (Robert Lepage, 1995)
23. Rude (Clement Virgo, 1995)
24. A Place Called Chiapas (Nettie Wild, 1998)
25. Last Night (Don McKellar, 1998)

1. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
2. What These Ashes Wanted (Philip Hoffman, 2001)
3. Ararat (Atom Egoyan, 2002)
4. Le Confessional (Robert Lepage, 1995)
5. Ataranjuat: The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2002)
6. From the Journals of Knut Rasmussen (Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn, 2006)
7. Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)
8. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin, 2000)
9. Waydowntown (Gary Burns, 2000)
10. Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, 2006)
11. The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand, 2003)
12. Beowulf and Grendel (Sturla Gunnarsson, 2005)
13. C.R.A.Z.Y. (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2005)
14. Fire (Deepa Mehta, 1996)
15. Water (Deepa Mehta, 2005)
16. The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney, 2009)
17. Maelström (Denis Villeneuve, 2000)
18. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)
19. Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)

2010 –
1. Angry Inuk (Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, 2016)
2. Bear 71 (Jeremy Mendes, Leanne Allison, 2012)
3. High Rise (Katerina Cizek, 2009-2015)
4. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan, 2013)
5. Mommy (Xavier Dolan, 2014)
6. Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)
7. Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, 2011)
8. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)