Friday, April 5, 2019

Fighting for Toronto

It’s a good time for young Toronto filmmakers. They’re making interesting work and it’s getting nicely distributed within the city. At Yonge and Dundas – of all places! – you can go out and see Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers and Natty Zavitz’s Acquainted, both of which I highly recommend. This feels new and exciting. The award-winning Firecrackers has such an intense energy: It’s the story of two young women (the incredible Michaela Kurimsky and Karena Evans) trying to leave their dead-end, small town lives to find something better in the big city. Think The Florida Project in rural Ontario. It’s an impressive debut feature for the energy of its actresses as they stop at nothing to get out of there, having to fight off some pretty god-awful men. There’s an adrenaline to Firecrackers as it’s always on the go, always scrappy. It feels like a really raw film (in the best sense of the term): as if it’s always on the brink of sweat, blood and tears.
If you’re looking for a film that’s explicitly set in Toronto (instead of pathetically substituting it for somewhere else) you need to see Acquainted. I think it deserves the highest of praise as I don’t think the city has ever looked so good: Think of a Toronto Now feature but with the most beautiful actors and actresses. Its story is of two relationships in crisis as three young adults need to figure out how to live and who to love. It’s a real step-up for Zavitz after his micro-budget first-feature EdgingHe’s a real actor’s director as, along with having such an impressive cast – Giacomo Gianniotti, Laysla De Oliveira and Rachel Skarsten –, the performances are all amazing. They express a surprising amount of depth just by their expressions, gestures and non-verbal scenes alone. But I think one of Acquainted’s real stars is its cinematographer Ian Macmillan who pulls off some astounding cinematography, which also resonates thematically with its story: The exhilaration of a first date is matched by a fifteen-minute tracking shot through Trinity Bellwoods, a melancholy confession is filmed entirely in shadows, and a reserved sexual encounter is filmed trough a doorway. Its pretty incredible.
            These two films are just the most recent examples of what’s exciting about Canadian cinema that is going on in the city, which I think is now starting to pay more attention to emerging directors and Canadian culture in film and television more broadly. It’s easy to be dismissive or jaded, but I actually think that these are positive signs. There needs to be people to believe in Canadian cinema for it to exist: Mozaffari and Zavits can be seen to be leading the way.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Les Cahiers Aujourd’hui : Le déssacord, les films et une communauté

There was an announcement on February 12ththat Richard Schlagman, the owner of Cahiers du Cinéma, would be selling the prestigious film magazine. Schlagman has had a relatively hands-off role there since purchasing Cahiers in 2008. As aside from helping decide its covers, my impression is that its chief-editor Stéphane Delorme had complete control of guiding the magazine over the last ten years. So the news about the sale leads to some speculation. What’s going to happen Cahiers? Is the current team going to stay? Will some of its earlier writers try to reacquire the magazine? Or will a new generation of younger writers try to take charge? And what legacy of the magazine will remain? 
It’s worth looking at Cahiers over the last year to see what image of itself it presents. What news of the world does it provide? What message in the bottle does it have to offer? After 2017’s emphasis on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, which amazingly received three covers, the following year seemed like a return to priorities. They published a special issue on exactly this topic: Pourquoi le Cinéma? There they reaffirmed their core beliefs.
Pourquoi le Cinéma? was sparked by their desire to reaffirm why choose and love films as the art that organizes their interests and relationship to the world. Delorme acknowledge their core beliefs, “Il faut donc réaffirmer ses points cardinaux: le montage, la mise en scène, le réalisme, l’émotion, le film, le spectateur passif, la salle (ou l’idée de la salle), la pensée.” All of these beliefs are in strict opposition to homogeneity, the social, neoliberalism, cognitive sciences, content, social media, alienation and thoughtlessness. Cinema, according to Cahiers, begins with subjectivity and emotions. Films are more than just the information that they present and reception is more interpretative than it is assumed. Delorme writes, “l’émotion est éblouissante et elle transmet une idée qui n’est réductible ni à un concept ni à une information. La communication est littéralement une anesthésie.” The desire to experience negates the foreseeable, algorithms anesthetize.  
The defining developmental experience of cinephilia, for Delorme, is the curiosity of an adolescent whose imagination is sparked by experiencing a temporality and world different than what their accustomed to. He recounts a quite touching anecdote about how he experienced this moment,
“Qu’est-ce qui fait qu’un enfant de 14 ans, fan du Grand Bleu et d’Empire du soleil, découvre soudain Gens de Dublin de John Huston et éprouve un choc au point d’accrocher l’affiche dans sa chambre? Qu’est-ce qui fait que cet enfant habitué au cinéma spectaculaire est bouleversée par ce cinéma de chambre? Qu’est-ce qui dans cette histoire de Dublinois de la bonne société, vieux et moins vieux, du début du siècle, qui passe un réveillon à ne presque rien faire, sinon chanter, danser et reciter des poèmes, peut toucher un enfant qui est à milles lieues de cela?
Je me souviens des pas des chevaux dans la neige, de l’ambiance chaleureuse et feutrée, de danses qui s’arrêtent et reprennent, de regards détourneés, à la fois d’un endroit où on veut être et en même temps d’un malaise diffuse, qui devient tristesse et désastre. Un trou noir loge au coeur même de la maison la plus chaude. La comprehension qu’un film peut être fait de ces petits riens, de ces sensations, de ces lumières, de ces danses, de ces chambres vides, de ces paysages déserts, de la tessiture d’une voix qui chante, que l’émotion peut être encore plus grande à partir de ces presque riens. Que le cinéma, ce peut être ça.”
            The opposition to this emotional and intellectual awakening – of experiencing John Huston’s The Dead as a teenager and being overwhelmed by it – appears later on in the Cahiers dossier on technological totalitarianism (“Dans quel monde entrons-nous?”). The enemy for them becomes a person’s relationship of co-dependence with hyper-mediated digital technologies that are fostered by neoliberal societies. Delorme writes,
“L’idée même que le cinéma est un art est en train de disparaître: avec l’informatique, c’est logique, tout n’est plus qu’information. Les ‘produits’ et ‘programmes’ suffisent amplement aux dispositifs. Et il ne faut jamais oublier ce que ce totalitarisme tech part d’une haine originelle: le monde n’est pas assez, il en faut un autre. L’homme n’est pas assez, il faut le modifier. Le geek ne veut qu’une chose: fuir. Réel et rêve que jadis certains opposaient se retrouvent ensemble main dans la main à lutter contre le monde virtuel standardisé, d’autant plus dangereux qu’il se prétend personnalisé.”
            Cahiers bring an urgency and vitalness to their critiques. When online social media platforms and streaming services become so common place – whether they be Facebook, Twitter, Netflix – they become habits that reorient behaviours and thoughts. Here the Cahiers team becomes really critical. Especially in regard to how these technologies are designing and changing minds, which create addictions to their operations due to their constant gratification whether they be momentary engagement or ‘likes’. They don’t operate through discovery and imagination, protest or challenge but through habit and routine. There’s a submission and policing through their ambivalent ‘neutral’ interface. Delorme writes,
“Si tout nous est donné immédiatement, pourquoi accorder encore du prix à la patience? À la persévérance? À l’obstination? Au gout de la découverte et de l’exploration? Et de fait beaucoup deviennent incapables d’admirer ce qui demande de la curiosité, de l’exigence, de l’invention. L’indépendance est traité d’individualisme, et l’audace devient une faute de goût. Les nouvelles vertus seront tout le contraire: la réactivité, la souplesse, la disponibilité… Des mots très en vogue dans la novlangue du moment qui ne désignent en rien des vertus et qui masquent une tout autre réalité: l’obéissance, la lâcheté, la soumission.”
Jean-Philippe Tessé nicely concludes his contribution, “Contre l’ordre algorithmique, la cinéphilie comme désordre.” It’s a call for adventures and disorder. To disrupt routine and to get folks out of their bubbles. To encounter and experience others – a film, a public, a community – not as a social formation but as part of larger human community. Delorme really hits this home after the suicide of Oxana Shashko – one of the creators of FEMEN – as he writes, “Elle n’a pas laissé de lettre, mais sur Instagram, son dernier post nous brave: “You are fake.” Qu’est-ce qui prouve que nous ne le sommes pas? Que faisons-nous pour ne pas l’être?”
            So Cahiers becomes a place to think differently – away from laptops and cellphones – and to think about the world, the larger human community that everyone is a part of, through films. And Cahiers does this really well, I think.
            The Cahiers project is unique: it works through the curation of a limited selection of films. For every issue, for every month of the year, these are ‘the films to see’. It’s an affirmation that these are Cahiers films. They showcase them through a pop iconography. For example, last year they had Dolan, Spielberg, Anderson, Varda, Dumont and von Trier on their covers. They create events around these films as they give them the time and space to be thought through over many pages. Their lengthy features become a way for them to assert their priorities. They make particular arguments for the appreciation of the works in relation to a longer Cahiers history. They feature historical personalities that have been important to its past while also supporting the new eccentrics of French cinema (Mandico, Gonzalez, Dupieux).
Cahiers is very international as they try to connect to the world and explore new cinematographic territories. By travelling the world they expand their geography. In 2018 it reached a culmination with their special travelling issue, which focused on real locations and the films that had been set there. How do particular films and filmmakers see the world? Some examples of them include Apichatpong on Thailand, Muratova on Ukraine and Chahine on Egypt.
Their reviews of the Spielberg, Dumont, Godard and interview with von Trier offer interesting examples of particular Cahiers arguments and how through films they have a particular political relationship to the world.
            Spielberg’s The Post was really important for Cahiers in 2018 (it would make its top ten list) for its portrait of a press outlet in crisis and what it’s like running a paper. The emphasis is not so much on bearing witness to the times but on acting upon it and changing it. The Post is about the decision-making moment. Delorme’s editorial seems almost like a veiled self-portrait of what it’s like being a chief-editor, 
 “Enfin pour qui travaille dans la presse, Pentagon Papers est un cadeau enchanté. Du stagiaire qui court à sa mission jusqu’à la mise en acte de l’impression, c’est toute une chaîne qui est montrée avec un amour presque nostalgique. ‘Presque’ parce que l’aventure de la presse n’est pas finie, même si on n’en est plus très loin. Quand on voit les difficultés financières du distributeur de presse français Presstalis, on se demande quand les pouvoirs publics prendront la mesure du désastre en cours… Avec ce film ils applaudiront à la démocratie, à la liberation des femmes, au quatrième pouvoir, et ils retourneront pianoter candidement sur Twitter. Or le film nous rappelle ceci: qu’il ne peut y avoir de collusion entre la presse et un milieu. C’est aux mondanités que doit dire adieu Meryl Streep, c’est le prix de son indépendance. Et ceci: que la presse, son souci de vérité, d’intelligence, et de partage, et le temps de sa fabrication, de sa gestation, de sa pensée, est la seule condition pour que la communication n’emporte pas le monde dans sa frénésie.”
In their review of Coincoin et les Z'inhumains they make a particular argument about Dumont’s representation of refugees – a relevant world concern – that it’s not instrumentalizing or mocking but its positioned as part of a relationship of equality of people shaken up by a world that is in flux. Vincent Malausa and Jean-Philippe Tessé write,
“Quand le cinéma cherche un moyen de prendre en charge, par le documentaire ou la fiction, la question des migrants, Dumont, lui, se contente de prendre puissamment acte de leur présence, ici et maintenant, dans les paysages du Nord… Dumont se prive bien de tout propos à leur égard, parcequ’ici comme ailleurs il n’y a rien à dire, rien à redire: ils sont là, et la série rappelle en sourdine cette vérité qu’il n’y pas d’acceuil possible qui ne commence par prendre acte d’une présence. C’est bien ce qui est fait ici au-delà, c’est un autre temps, ce sont d’autres considération, mais qui n’appartiennent pas à la série.”
            The major event at Cannes 2018 was Godard’s Le livre d’image. In anticipation for it Cahiers featured the ’68 disruption with Godard and Truffaut on cover. The anniversary of France imagining itself a better future becomes for Delorme an opportunity to write about the divide between both the past and the present,
“Rarement commémoration aura finalement été aussi obscene, entre d’un côté la mythologie euphorique et exsangue et de l’autre un serrage de boulons sourd à la moindre revindication. Entre le tout était permis, et le plus rien n’est possible… Il ne faut pas pour autant rejeter la commemoration. Car penser 68, c’est penser de nouvelles manières de resister, d’imaginer et d’être ensemble, mais aussi l’ouvertures de nouveaux espaces.”
            And on Le livre d’image after it had premiered,
“Et toute la mélancolie des Histoire(s) du cinéma, ce deuil d’un siècle centre sur la guerre, se transforme en un discours d’urgence et d’alarme, un cri. Il fallait ce brouhaha, ce chaos, cette complexité pour que soudain une main tendue vers nous surgisse de l’écran et nous donne tout le courage du monde. En sortant de la sale, notre gratitude était immense.”
To conclude, von Trier offers some interesting remarks about his film The House That Jack Built
“Ce que je tourne, ce sont les ‘films qui manquent’ (missing films). Si vous prenez tous les films du monde, il resque quelques trous sur des idées qui n’ont pas été débattues ou qui vont peut-être trop loin. J’essaye de remplir ces trous.”
I find the idea of the missing film interesting and I want to posit that Cahiers is like the missing film magazine. There isn’t anything else really like it. It’s an object to think about and to dissent with. It organizes one’s relationship to the world through films. It’s for cinephiles and its political in a way that’s different than what you would usually see on social media or in cultural organizations. It’s home base in Paris accentuates the diversity of the films that it features. And it feels like it is at the forefront of something.  
If I needed to pick two word to describe the Delorme editorship of 2018 it would be glorious and angry. The two terms work together. Cahiers is a beautiful object with admiring reviews, but its authority only comes across through the intelligence of its writing and its critiques. That’s where it gets its substance. And their critiques have a way to infiltrate the things that it admires. It’s a reminder of the old adage: that you can only love if you can really hate. 
All of these things kind-of sum up what I think about Cahiers today. And I like them. I don’t want it to change. So I’m concerned about its future sale.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Le secret Rivette

Included in Jean-Luc Godard’s palimpsest Le livre d’image are photographs of Jacques Rivette and the title of one of his ultimate interviews “Le secret et la loi”. Though it’s an elusive allusion, it’s an important instance of Godard acknowledging the passing of his friend in 2016 in his own work (aside from a brief note to the Cinémathèque). It’s a tender gesture – one of sorrow and pride – as it’s a sign of lack due to regret and the missing of a friend and an act of solidarity to what they experienced together and their long history. 
Speaking to Alain Bergala, Godard remembered highly the esteem he held for Rivette:
“Rivette, lui, représentait une sorte de terrorisme cinématographique… J’aimais beaucoup un film et si Rivette disait ‘c’est de la connerie’ je disais comme lui. Il y avait un côté stalinien dans ces rapports-là. Avec Rivette, c’était comme s’il avait détenu la vérité cinématographique, différente de celle des autres, et pendant un temps j’ai accepté ça.”
This form of memorialization is part of a longer tradition for Godard of eulogizing his nouvelle vague peers who he had been friends with in the fifties: both in an enigmatic fashion, he would express his conflicting feelings towards François Truffaut in a special Cahiers issue “Le roman de François Truffaut” and he would make a short video-essay for Éric Rohmer. Now Rivette has been assumed.
The idea of the complot – conspiracy – is strongly present in Rivette’s film and his mysterious aura. There’s the Balzacian secret society in Out 1 (1971). There’s the elusiveness to Céline et Julie Vont en Bateau (1974) and Le Pont du Nord (1981), which don’t follow standard dramatic arches and conclusive resolutions. Rivette does something different and his private persona and his reticence for interviews and reluctance to re-publish his writing has only heightened his mystery. All of this recalls how Bulle Ogier, who had worked with Rivette on numerous films, speaks of him in the documentary Le veilleur,
“It’s hard to talk about Jacques Rivette because he’s so secret that if you say something about him or about his films or the way he works or lives, you feel terribly indiscreet, impolite… It would be in bad taste. A betrayal almost.”
Because he was so private, the publishing after his death of an anthology of his writing (and the same thing could be said about the opening up of the Chris Marker archives) seems somewhat indiscreet as it provides such an easy access point to his film criticism that he wished to remain obscure, even though there are some privileges of having them all in one place. 
The French publisher post-éditions, under the editorship of Miguel Armas and Luc Chessel, has recently published Jacques Rivette: Textes Critiques where you can find for the first time in one book ‘all’ of Rivette’s published film writing from his first essays in Bulletin du ciné-club du Quartier latin and Gazette du cinéma to the majority of it from Cahiers du Cinéma and Arts. There are long reviews to short capsules, top ten lists to unpublished writing; a long group essay “Montage” with Jean Narboni and Sylvie Pierre (1969) and “Le Secret et la Loi” by Hélène Frappat (1999). In terms of what it doesn’t have, you can’t find many of his interviews or the plethora of material that still makes his archive at the Cinémathèque française such a treasure trove (though even this, I suspect, is still lacking material).
What can be gleaned now from being able to go over the entirety of Rivette’s writing all in one place? First off: the pleasure of being around such a legendary cinephile, film critic and filmmaker. It needs to be said: Serge Daney was right about Rivette and Rivette was right about the films that he wrote about. For anyone who grew up with the Cahiers politique des auteurs and watched the films of Hitchcock and Hawks through their eyes there’s a real pleasure of re-reading and discovering some of Rivette’s original arguments and hyperbole.
On Howard Hawks: “L’évidence est la marque du génie de Hawks; Monkey Business est un film génial et s’impose à l’esprit par l’évidence” (“Génie de Howard Hawks”).
On Alfred Hitchcock: “Les films d’Hitchcock relèvent du secret professionnel… seul le metteur en scène, j’entends celui qui s’est posé les vrais poblèmes de son art, peut en pressentir la beauté” (“L’art de la fugue”).
On Roberto Rossellini: “S’il est un cinéma modern, le voilà” (“Lettre sur Rossellini”).
On Josef von Sternberg: “Anatahan, couronnement logique de l’oeuvre de Sternberg, est également le meilleur film japonais.”
            But beneath these claims Rivette is situating himself within a larger context of French film theory and criticism. There are reoccurring concepts that are interspersed throughout his writing such as realism, mise-en-scène, genius, liberty and modernity. There’s an evolution to his thought from participating in debates around cinégénie along the lines of Louis Delluc and Jean Epstein; to debates around realism along the lines of André Bazin and Maurice Schérer (Rohmer); and finally, to debates around structuralism along the lines of Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss. All of the while implementing his own point of view. Rivette’s writing has the pointedness and authority of defining the films and filmmakers of his era. His film analyses are able to explain how these directors gives expression to an idea through their representation of the world. He would write on some of the most important filmmakers, dictating the Cahiers line as it was being conceived. I would highly suggest reading his pieces on Monsieur VerdouxUnder Capricorn and Les quatre cents coups.
Rivette’s first essay “Nous ne sommes plus innocents” (1950) is interesting for laying down many of his key theories that he would remain loyal to over time. In particular how through its focus on humans and their gestures there can be an existential position on the world that comes across. This is the réel and présence of a film, the focus on bodies and gestures, as opposed to conventional storytelling which is seen as superficial and formulaic. Rivettte described realism as:
“Inscrire simplement sur film les manifestations, le mode de vie et d’être, le comportement du petit cosmos individual… l’univers du créateur n’est que la manifestation, l’efflorescence concrète de son regard et de son mode d’apparaître.”
This idea, with some variation and adapting to specific refence points, reappears numerous times throughout his essays. For example, Rivette wrote on Jean Renoir’s use of improvisation,
“L’esprit d’improvisation anime en effet son oeuvre entière; mais se refuser à prévoir, filmer chaque plan suivant les seules nécessités de l’instant, ne sont pour lui qu’un moyen, pour appréhender le concret plus directement, sans intermédiaire, et dans toute sa spontanéité.”
            Though abstract, these excerpt from Rivette’s earliest texts read like a manifesto of what he would champion the most and bring to his own filmmaking practice: intimate behaviours of individuals, capturing the way of life of beings, an improvisational spirit, refusing preconceptions and the necessity of the instant in all of its spontaneity.
There’s an attempt in “Le Secret et la Loi” for Rivette to directly explain some of his ideas and what they mean for him. He presents his theory of film rather succinctly: narrative films circulate around laws and secrets. For Rivette la loi is,
“c’est-à-dire quelque chose qui est construit par la raison pour donner à l’homme ce qui va lui permettre de constituer, de prolonger, de faire survivre son humanité, c’est-à-dire, et là je continue à essayer de citer Legendre, ce qui va lui permettre de faire exister tant le sujet que la fiction, deux termes qu’il met sur le même plan.”
For Rivette le secret is,
“Mais secret au sens le plus fundamental: pour continuer à citer Paulhan qui dit qu’il ne faut jamais oublier que le propre du mystère est d’être mystérieux, ce secret-là est un secret de l’être, un secret que ne connaît pas le cinéaste, c’est un secret que le cinéaste porte sans le savoir, c’est le secret de choses très personnelles, très existentielles, très suggestives, et que le film se trouve porter: au-delà de ce que voulait consciemment le cinéaste, il dit des choses sur lui, et donc, à travers lui, sur l’humanité, choses qu’il n’avait pas la moindre intention de dire.”
            These points offer a way to re-read the anthology and Rivette’s body of work. He’s speaking about the symbolic and the super-ego to use Lacan’s terms. What social factors motivate behaviour in contrast to a subject’s most intimate and hidden desires. For the modern filmmakers that Rivette wrote about they were able to accomplish this. But what’s so great is that Rivette’s theory doesn’t leave you with anything tangible. This emphasis on the relation between both terms relies on the imposition of a point of view while simultaneously eluding mastery. It only leaves more questions unanswered, creates more thought and allows more mysteries to propagate. There are still new inquiries to be had. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Toronto on Film ! (Winter 2019 Season)

The idea behind the “Toronto on Film!” series is to share important and undervalued films that have been made in this country. It’s meant to be a cinémathèque for older films that aren’t necessarily recognized as classics but that are important historically, aesthetically and socially as a way to explore the richness and diversity of Canadian cinema and more specifically Toronto films. Instead of attempting any form of totalizing gesture to explain what Canadian cinema is (as per the tradition in many ‘official’ world cinema anthologies), this series begins with the specific: not only is its goal to introduce, show and discuss a ‘Toronto film’ but its project is quasi-archeological as the films that will be emphasized will ideally be outside of the public-domain, forgotten about and unearthed from the archives. By being specific, through starting the conversation around particular films and their directors, the aim of this series is to go against preconceived notions of Canadian cinema and to show its heterogeneity. Canadian film scholarship should be more than just the re-writing of twice-told clichés but instead it should be about bringing something out of the past to illuminate the present. It should involve showing the work and sharing it with others. It has to mean something for more than just one person.
The cinémathèque quality of the “Toronto on Film!” series comes from how it will program older work. As interesting as some new short- and feature-length films can be, there is a sense, in Toronto specifically and I reckon nation-wide too, that knowledge of Canadian film history is lacking and, if you’ve even gotten around to take a Canadian film course, too predicated on certain ‘mainstream’ titles. The idea that Canadian film history should be restricted to feature-length narrative films is also limiting. So instead “Toronto on Film!” will open itself towards alternative media objects: the short film, NFB documentaries and television. 
This is in response to a general apathy I see towards the topic of Canadian film history. It’s always sad to hear that folks don’t watch any Canadian films. It’s always sad to hear emerging Canadian filmmakers looking up to someone like Denis Villeneuve for inspiration or looking up to Netflix as a place for where they can make ‘universal’ content. This is how regional specificity gets loss and it erases such a rich and exciting film history to draw inspiration from. 

For example, last season we showed Glenn Gould’s Toronto (1979) with its filmmaker John McGreevy in attendance. In his best-known City Series, he would get famous guides to provide tours of the world’s urban metropolises: Elie Wiesel in Jerusalem, John Huston in Dublin and, in the work that we showed, Glenn Gould in Toronto. What makes the later so special is that Gould, who is known for his genius piano skills and reclusive temperament, opens himself up, with the help of McGreevy, to the simple pleasures and quotidian life of the city that he has always called home, while also expressing doubt and reticence towards its urban expansion. More people should be discussing McGreevy. His extensive filmography is well worth taking the time to explore. The archive for McGreevy Productions is available at Media Commons at the Robarts Library on the University of Toronto campus.

            The 2019 Winter Season of “Toronto on Film!” should be equally exciting as we’ll be focusing on the pioneering filmmakers Martin Defalco, Jennifer Hodge de Silva and Peter Lynch. 
Indigenous filmmaking in Canada is now more important and vital than ever. So I want to look back at one of the ground-breaking indigenous feature-length films: Martin Defalco’s 1975 NFB-produced narrative film, Cold Journey. It’s a film about the negative effects of colonialism and the violence of cultural erasure that took place through the federal residential school initiatives, which forced the separation of indigenous children from their parents and then punished them for holding on to their values and not assimilating. Martin Defalco has a unique approach that is noteworthy: he casted non-professional indigenous actors in the lead roles and remained steadfast to the necessity of bleakness to end the story. These traits would be held against the film at its initial release, along with a lack of a theatrical infrastructure, that led to it not reaching an audience. That Cold Journey was made back when it did is incredible. Defalco needs to be recognized as one of the master indigenous filmmakers alongside Gil Cardinal, Alanis Obomsawin and Zacharias Kunuk; and Cold Journey needs to be recognized as one of the masterpieces of Canadian cinema up there with Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964), La vie heureuse de Léopold Z (1965), Crime Wave (1985) and Loyalties (1987). 
Defalco’s work in general deserves a critical reappraisal for how it treated indigenous cultures and interests within the constraints of National Film Board projects. There are the more explicit works like The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson's Bay Company (1972) that was co-directed with Willie Dunn, which deals explicitly with how social welfare and trading shops exploited indigenous communities; and Trawler Fisherman (1966) about the negative effects of industry expansion in the Northern Saskatchewan countryside that spoiled the water with high mercury levels and prevented and reoriented traditional fishing lifestyles. Defalco’s work presents indigenous communities with a great deal of care and dignity along with a rage and resourcefulness in regard to their maltreatment. You can also see how this permeates through environmental themes that keep resurfacing in his other work like Northen Fisherman (1966) and Class Project: The Garbage Movie (1980).
The availability of these works on the NFB’s website is part of a larger project to promote indigenous cinema, which has only been growing in the last few years. They currently have five of Defalco’s films online, even though there is still a lot more of it to make public. I also want to highlight Donald Brittain’s Starblanket (1973), on the young indigenous chief Noel Starblanket, which is part of this larger project. Starblanket is particularly relevant in regard to the film Cold Journey as he was the one who suggested to Defalco to make the film and he would have a small role in it. Defalco’s work shows such a great respect for the documentary and its form while also having a faith in its advocacy potential to create real social change. For these reasons alone, it makes Defalco one of the best filmmakers to have worked at the NFB. 

The “Toronto on Film!” screening at 2:30PM on Sunday, February 10th  should not be missed. It will spotlight the pioneer African-Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Hodge de Silva. Her most famous work is Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (1983) that was co-directed with Roger McTair, which looks at the Jane and Finch community in Northern Toronto by focusing on the folks, most notably its Caribbean population, that are effected by structural injustices and police discrimination. Go watch this on the NFB’s website right now if you haven’t seen it yet. Cameron Bailey, who wrote the definitive essay on her writes, “Whether or not future histories of black filmmaking in Canada begin with Jennifer Hodge de Silva, they will have to acknowledge her importance.” It’s an injustice that not more of Hodge de Silva’s work is available. Luckily I found two works related to her at the Ryerson University Library: Toronto's Ethnic Police Squad (1979) and a documentary about her Jennifer Hodge: The Pain and The Glory (1992) by Roger McTair and Claire Prieto (both of whom are impressive filmmakers and authors in their own right). I’ll do my best to try to get a speaker to come. 

While for the March event we’ll look at two of Peter Lynch’s film: the Toronto-centric short-film Arrowhead (1994), which stars Don McKellar, and also his newest film, Birdland (2018). This screening is organized by fellow film studies graduate student Meghan McDonald. The director will there in attendance for this screening to give an introduction and participate in a post-screening discussion. It will be at 2:30PM on Sunday, March 3rd at the Theater in Media Commons at Robarts Library.

            If you haven’t heard of or seen any of these titles I wholeheartedly recommend you check out at least one of the screenings. It’s what a Canadian open fault should look like.