Monday, February 11, 2013

Simon Ennis' Lunarcy! (+ Toronto DIY Filmmakers)

Simon Ennis might be the most accomplished Toronto do-it-yourself filmmaker. His credits include two feature-films, which is more than any of other filmmakers in this young and up-and-coming group. There is the madcap adventure of Robert Mutt (Joshua Peace) in You Might as Well Live (available to rent at Bay Street video) and the moon documentary Lunarcy! (now playing at the Bloor).

The title of Ennis' debut-feature best captures the impetus and drive shared amongst this group of loosely tied filmmakers: you might as well live. This existential crisis and desire to live life to its fullest is what propels Christ in Lunarcy! to pursue his dreams of going to the moon, Derek in Tower to make animation, Jesse in Amy George to work on his photography project, and Poopsie in Poopsie Dries Out to give up drinking. You might as well put yourself out there.

The varied filmmakers that form the core of the Toronto DIY are similar in their desire to approach filmmaking as a youthful creative endeavor and by being resourceful with their budgets. In the last few months their works have raised in visibility: Ennis' Lunarcy! is going to have its American premiere at South by South West, Cabot McNenly launched his web-series Poopsie Dries Out on Funny or Die! and he is preparing for a short film, Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis are looking for a festival to premiere to their new film that is sure to be a landmark The Oxbow Cure,  Igor Drljaca had a retrospective and a two-week theatrical run of Krivina at the Royal that also had its international premiere at Rotterdam, there is going to be a MDFF short-film program at The Royal on February 13th that will include work by Kazik Radwanski and Antoine Bourges (who was recently interviewed in Cinema Scope) and Tower opens on February 22nd, and to accompany one of the screenings they will also show Blake Williams' Many a Swan.

In the article What do you say, Simon Ennis? in The Grid, Jason Anderson writes, "It’s not hyperbole to suggest Simon Ennis was born to make movies," and brings up how he worked at the the Bloor Cinema and the Revue Video on the Danforth (where also once worked Radwanski and Stacey Donen, who now runs The Royal and College Street Pictures). It wouldn't be hyperbole either to say that the other Toronto DIY filmmakers were born to make movies, too. They can be regularly seen out at the local repertories and the cinematheque, and their recently compiled greatest films lists includes some very interesting choices. There is a social element to the community as well and they share amongst them technicians, and they give each other feedback, and they socialize. There is also crossover with the other growing film-scene the First Generation filmmakers.

But what makes the work of the Toronto DIY director so important is that the films add up to more than just film references. In the films there might be some scenes that look familiar but what make them so rich is the people that they are about and the experiences that they are going through. For example, the scenes of Jesse in Amy George suffering in silence as his parents openly doubt his social skills is just sad, or when his next door neighbor Amy George doesn’t want to see him any more his hurt feelings are palpable.
Lunarcy! is not the science-fiction film like the conceptual Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames’  or the emotional metaphor of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. but instead is like that of Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida. With Lunarcy! Ennis uses the documentary format to re-invent its capabilities and, in a style similar to Morris, is able to change the familiar into the unfamiliar. Along with an expressionistic use of framing (every shot is packed with insightful character detail), what makes Lunarcy! so subversive is how it is able to present these idiosyncratic characters as the norm and also suggesting that we are all searching for our moon.

There are four principal subjects in Lunarcy!: Dennis Hope from the Lunar Embassy Corporation (he sells property on the moon), Peter Kokh from the Moon Miners’ Manifesto, Al Bean who is famous for being the fourth man to walk on the moon but who now paints, and the hero of the story Christopher Carson who is part of many prestigious space-related clubs as well he is responsible for the Luna Project.

There is a troubling scene in Lunarcy! when Carson is asked why he would want to leave earth and go to the moon? He begins a rant where he complains about people who go about their lives starting their day with a breakfast sandwich and drinking five coffees. He has point, there is something wrong there. It is like the David Foster Wallace lecture This is Water where he describes the boringness of routine and its accompanying unfulfillment. If Chris is so inspiring, in real life and in Lunarcy!, it is because he is able to embody social change. All you need is just one person: you might as well live. 

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