Friday, May 10, 2013

Emerging Women Filmmakers: McKenzie, Goyette, Bohdanowicz, Litz, Supnet

Two of the following films When You Sleep and Le Futur Proche will be playing at 8:00PM on May 10th at the Innis Town Hall as part of the Breakthrough Film Festival, which is devoted exclusively to short films by emerging female artists. - D.D. 
The Nova Scotian filmmaker Ashley McKenzie has made two short-films and is currently in post-production on a new project Stray. Her films are made with her artistic collaborator Nelson Macdonald through their production company Grassfire Films.

McKenzie's short-film's Rhonda's Party and When You Sleep at first appear to be very different but a closer look reveals some similarities. Even though their settings are a world apart - a nursing home and a low-income apartment building - what is explored are women in moments of crisis. Both of these films center on a death - Margaret's and a rats - and how they effect the people around it.

In Rhonda's Party the principal leads are Rhonda, a reclusive nursing-home resident who is grieving over the death of her friend, and Amy, the inexperienced young nurse who needs to comfort Rhonda while still doing her job. In When You Sleep the principal leads are the young adults Jesse, whose messy apartment has a rat infestation, and her boyfriend Lee, who is being a jerk.

To better understand McKenzie's films a good point of comparison would be with the films of Mike Leigh. The two share an observational filming style that poetically presents bleak social realities. The hospital scenes in Rhonda's Party are reminiscent of the ones in All or Nothing. The gritty living conditions in When You Sleep are reminiscent of Leigh's kitchen sink realism. While the lead characters in McKenzie's films seem cut from the same cloth as Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky or Mary in Another Year.

In the Québécois film magazine 24 ImagesSophie Goyette’s newest short-film Le Futur Proche was included as one of the top ten Québécois films of 2012. Philippe Gajan writes about it
“Like in her previous short films (La Ronde, Manège), Goyette captures an intermediate state in the lives of her protagonists, an instant suspended between a before and an after, which are never really evoked. If this cinema appears at a first glance to be realistic or psychological, it is especially impressionistic.” 
The other films included in the 24 Images list are Rebelle, Tout ce que tu possède, Trente tableaux, Laurence Anyways, Pieces and Love All to Hell, La mise à l’aveugle, Le grand ailleurs et le petit ici, Camion and Sur le rivage du Monde. Helen Faradji would also include Sophie Dupuis' Faillir.

I would actually compare Le Futur Proche more to Denis Côté's Bestiaire, another great Québécois film from 2012, for how they blend documentary with fiction. In Côté's Bestiaire a narrative is created around a rural zoo through its filming style which blends a Wiseman institution overview with a Benning use of long-takes. In Goyette's fiction film Le Futur Proche the story of a pilot at an aerodrome is treated like a seventies NFB documentary of a professional at work.

The pilot of Le Futur Proche flies a small plane for industrial and personal customers. The pilot Robin describes the world as chaotic from the ground level but beautiful from his plane. What elevates Le Futur Proche to a higher level, in terms of quality, is its aerial subject and scope. The film is full of impressive aerial photography of the rural and urban, which is effective on an aesthetic and a character level.

Like in La Ronde, the protagonist of Le Futur Proche shows subtle signs of depression over the death of a parent. Robin's sorrowful underpinnings are illustrated through small visual cues. There is one screw on the plane that is loose and which needs tightening. There is a shot of a gyrating ceiling fan which is held for an extended duration. Robin is distant from his peers and he eats his lunches all by himself. His maintenance duties are performed with a silent authority that recalls some of Tony Scott's blue-collar heroes.

Robin perceives memories of his parents everywhere. Le Futur Proche ends with Robin taking an older couple over Montreal to celebrate their 40th anniversary. There is special moment experienced as Robin flies his plane over some fireworks with this nice and familiar couple. This scene seems to represent the character's optimism for the future that are paradoxically saddened by memories of the past. Or as Robin puts it, “Je suis en route pour quelque que chose d’autres, mes je ne sais pas encore quoi.

Sofia Bohdanowicz’s three credited short-films are Falling with Force, Dundas Street, and the newest Modlitwa. Her most famous short-film is Dundas Street which is inspired by Bohdanowicz's grandmother Zofia Bohdanowiczowa’s (1895-1965) poems. It is less a narrative than they a visual poem. There is also a religious quality to it that recalls the recent films of Terrence Malick.

Dundas Street, which is co-directed by Joanna Durkalec, is narrated by an elderly Polish woman who is unable to adapt to her new urban landscape. It follows her efforts to find meaning in a inhospitable and unfriendly city. She speaks fondly of the fruit merchant Cornelius. In one stunning shot as he is cashing out, the lighting brightens, and he sings a sorrowful song.

Modlitwa stars Maria Bohdanowicz (1930-2012), who the film is also dedicated too. Modlitwa builds upon the former through Bohdanowiczowa's poetry. Its Catholic wisdom is humbling: “Be Kind to those who suffer, oh good Lord. To those who labor through life toward death.” Maria's routine of taking care of her urban residence is contrasted with that of a dream of a nature and peace. Its imagery is as equally as touching and beautiful as that of Dundas Street.

The actress-turned-director Nadia Litz has an impressive resume. She has worked with Reginald Harkema (Monkey Warfare), Daniel Cockburn (You Are Here) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Fear X). Her first feature Hotel Congress, which she co-directed with Michel Kandinsky, was made as part of Ingrid Verninger's 1K Wave. Its setting offers one of its first surprises as it takes place at the real Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona. An American setting is surprising for any Canadian film but especially one with such a small budget.

Hotel Congress is described as "a romantic film for the unromantic," and as a study of women and men relations it belongs up there with the films Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen, and Eric Rohmer. The film beings with an intertitle that describes the story in short-form:
“A man and a woman meet at a hotel in Tucson. One of them believed in true love and found none. One of them didn’t believe true love was possible and found it. Both of them were stuck in the desert.”
The woman Sofia (Nadia Litz) and the man Francis (Philip Ricio) both have romantic partners but decide to test their love by escaping with one another to have an affair. What makes the plot interesting is how it isn't cynical and the two of them don't cheat. Instead they have many great conversations which has an emotional cathartic effect on them. The conversations include just about everything but most prominently romance, philosophy, and culture. The witty conversations and the great performances give life to a sophisticated script. In some ways Hotel Congress plays out like the reverse-shot and the missing dialogue track from Malick's To The Wonder.

Leslie Supnet makes these great short animated videos and super 8 films. The animated graphics are cute and simple. They're of these women characters that are working through their personal demons and there is a fantastic quality to them that is reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki. They are made in collaboration with Clint Enns who does the sound design and edits them.

Supnet has made over a dozen short videos, in varying lengths, but the ones that are the most visually stunning are: You Are Here, which was made as part of a Helen Hill tribute, and is full of cute imagery of death; Gains + Losses, which is full of situational vignettes of day-to-day anxieties; and Fair Trade of a girl sitting on a bench and where she scratches open her stomach and then all of her bad thoughts come out.

Supnet's newest projects are the collaborations with Glen Johnson, The Idea and A Time is a Terrible Thing to Waste.

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