I don’t know about you, but for me that summer went by waaay too quickly. The arrival of September does come with a consolation—the film festival. As I always say, it’s Christmas for film lovers.
This year’s a little different for me. From the full-disclosure department: I am one of the fortunate few to be part of The Script Development Program. I’m working on a screenplay that I’ll soon submit (too soon), and will pitch that sucker to a panel of producers on the Sunday of the festival. It’s one of four projects in the program, and one of those four will be chosen to receive $10,000 in development money. I want to wish all my fellow workshoppers luck, and many, many thanks to our mentor, Michael Melski, and to FIN. Whether my project is chosen or not, I’ve gotten a lot out of this process, and I feel fortunate to be included amongst these talented writers.
A few days ago I posted about some films I think look promising at this year’s festival. (Here are my advance reviews from The Coast of a few international titles showing at FIN, including Ash Is the Purest White, Gurrumul, Transit, 3 Faces, and Climax.)
That was just a start, with more reviews below and many more coming soon. Please check back regularly as I’ll be posting as often as I can with reviews of what I’m seeing.
The return of Halifax’s own Thom Fitzgerald to feature filmmaking, his first film since the excellent lesbian road movie Cloudburst in 2011. Here he adapts Lee-Anne Poole’s play about a prodigal daughter, Belle (Sofia Banzhaf), coming home—shades of Fitzgerald’s debut, The Hanging Garden—to the Annapolis Valley ranch and apple orchard where her father (Hugh Thompson) has just died and her taciturn mother, Nancy (Shelley Thompson, terrific), is left bereft. When Belle’s boyfriend Rob (Callum Dunphy) shows up unexpectedly, Nancy is thrilled that her daughter has said goodbye to her previously established gay lifestyle, but not so fast, folks. This is a weekend-in-the-country story, less concerned with plot than a meditative series of scenes as characters work out their grief and identity, all in the most gorgeous of settings—the Valley in late summer has never looked better. Click here to read my interview with Thom Fitzgerald at The Coast. Thursday, September 13, 7pm, Rebecca Cohn
An Audience of Chairs
From the Joan Clark novel, shot in Newfoundland, Deanne Foley’s new drama is an honest and sometimes frightening portrait of a woman’s struggle with mental illness. Maura (Carolina Bartczak) is a concert pianist spending the summer at a remote cottage with her two daughters. She’s obsessive and distracted, but she seems to be holding it together until one afternoon she does something that genuinely endangers the kids. It becomes clear Maura is a threat at least to herself and probably people around her. Bartczak is totally magnetic in the lead—if we had real stars in cinema in Canada, this role would surely do the trick—with solid support from Gord Rand and Peter MacNeill. If the conclusion is a tearjerker, it feels like the earned sort. Friday, September 14, 6:30pm, PL7 and 8
The Song and The Sorrow
A wintry NFB documentary about PEI musician Catherine MacLellan and her father, the legendary Gene MacLellan. It’s about his talent, his depression, and his suicide, and how Catherine has tried to make peace with all of it. Through Gene’s friends and collaborators—including Lennny Gallant, Ron Hynes, and, yes, Anne Murray—the film provides a wonderfully intimate look at the man and the artist. Catherine’s courage before the camera is remarkable, sharing both her own struggles with mood disorder and the details of her father’s illness. “That’s where he is, he’s in the music, and I never feel that he’s not there,” she says. Sadly beautiful. Saturday, September 15, 4pm, PL 7
The Girls Of Meru
Andrea Dorfman did spend this summer shooting a new comedic feature in Halifax, Spinster, due in 2019, but this is something else entirely—a documentary she’s been working on since 2010 when she was invited to go to Kenya and shoot footage of efforts to improve the lives of women and children who’d been the victims of sexual assault. It’s powerful work, narrated by Dorfman herself, detailing multiple incidents of children attacked by men who behave without fear of prosecution in the Kenyan judicial system or from lawmen who don’t feel responsibility to do anything. A group of Canadian and Kenyan lawyers and social workers got together to advocate for these people, and Dorfman was there to document their efforts to get justice. Dorfman uses her signature animation to help tell the story in surprising and affecting ways, and preserves their dignity and anonymity by never showing the faces of the children. Essential, and moving. Sunday, September 16, 1:30pm, PL 4
Bernie Langille Wants To Know… Who Killed Bernie Langille
A 20 minute murder mystery, done with miniatures. Bernie Langille died in February 1968. His grandson, also named Bernie, is the other guy from the title. He uncovers a possible conspiracy that could’ve led to the death of his grandfather, who was a military man at Gagetown, involving Agent Orange, a fall down the stairs, boots put away properly (and improperly), and an ambulance struck by a train. The miniatures are wonderfully detailed, right down to the cans of Labatt 50, but the mystery remains. Hope there’s a sequel. Reel East Coast Shorts Gala, Sunday, September 16, 6:30pm, PL 7 and 8
A documentary by Laura Marie Wayne about her dear friend, Scott Jones. He’s the New Glasgow man who was attacked one night in 2013, stabbed, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Though his attacker plead guilty and was sentenced to 10 years for attempted murder, Jones believes it was a hate crime, that he was targeted for being gay. At its heart the film’s an intimate and solemn portrait of a young man forever changed by an act of violence. Wayne’s insider access delivers fascinating moments, like when Jones’ mother tells of having met a gay politician, who remarked he thought maybe Jones was being naive that he could walk out at night in New Glasgow and not be harassed. Nova Scotians won’t have trouble guessing who she might have been talking to. It’s a film with a gorgeous, woozy look, the autumnal colour sets off Jones’ beard, and the aqueous, blurry countryside his eyes. The music by Sigur Ros is perfectly chosen. You can read my interview with Wayne and Jones here at The Coast. Monday, September 17, 6:30pm, PL7 and 8
Carmine Street Guitars
The newest offering from that documentary master of subculture, Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential, Grass, Go Further). He turns his attention here to a legendary guitar store in Greenwich Village, where luthier Rick Kelly makes custom guitars out of reclaimed New York City building wood, with the help of Cindy Hulej and his mother, Dorothy Kelly. Mann sets up the tableau, the stillness in the store, a sanctuary of craft and music, visited by random appreciators such as the brothers Good (from The Sadies, who also contribute the score), Bill Frisell, Eszter Balint, Captain Kirk Douglas of The Roots, Nels Cline of Wilco, Marc Ribot, and Jim Jarmusch, of many great films and Sqürl. It occasionally feels a little scripted, but not in a bad way. The storytelling from all involved is as fine as the instruments. Monday, September 17, 6:50pm, PL 3
This has to be the year’s most bonkers revenge exploitation picture, and that’s saying something in a year that also features Revenge. Directed by Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), Mandy looks like animated van art or a collection of NWOBHM album covers come to life, with skies on fire and the longest chainsaw you’ll ever see. Nicolas Cage is Red, who works as a logger, and his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is an illustrator. They run afoul of religious cultists who operate with LSD-powered demon bikers on speed dial. The MVP here is the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose doom-laden soundscapes will leave scars on your subconscious, but big props to Cage—it’s hard to call this camp when he’s so damn committed, even to a brilliant knock-knock joke. And Riseborough, who’s never made a dull choice in her career, is so good. The only demerit in an otherwise astonishing work is that Mandy gets fridged. It’s too bad, with so many other original touches, they couldn’t have solved that old chestnut. Monday, September 17, 10pm, PL 4
Nothing Like A Dame
Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins are four legendary British thesps who get together regularly to shoot the breeze. Here’s a documentary about them hanging out and telling stories, If that sounds like an utter delight, the kind of thing where you’d pay any money to be a fly on the wall, you’ll find plenty here to enjoy. It also carries with it a streak of melancholy as these grand ladies recall their greatest days while also managing the toll of age, failing health, and loved ones who’ve passed away before them. Still, it’s an absolute blast to hear them ramble, and tease Dench for grabbing up all the best roles. Tuesday, September 18, 4pm, PL 3
Belle de Jour
The 4k restoration of Luis Buñuel’s erotic classic is perfectly programmed in the early afternoon, something you can get excited about stealing away from work to enjoy in the dark. And there is so much to enjoy—the incredibly crisp digital image, the perfectly poised performers rocking the best of ’60s Parisienne haute couture, and Buñuel’s skewering of the privileged class, though he saves his sympathies for his lead, the statuesque Catherine Deneuve. It must’ve seemed shocking at the time, the depiction of a well-bred women with fantasies that involved humiliation and BDSM, but the armchair psychology suggesting she was abused as a child, which lead to this “perversion” feels a little glib. Still, the film’s pleasures are manifest. Wednesday, September 19, 1:30pm, PL 5
En Liberté aka The Trouble With You
A broad, French farce, the kind of thing they seem to be able toss off at the drop of a chapeau as mainstream entertainment while Hollywood can barely muster it. Yvonne (Adele Haenel) is a cop and the widow of the recently deceased police chief in a French Riviera town, who spends her evenings telling tall tales of her husband’s heroism to their young son. Turns out Dad was crooked, and sent an innocent man, Antoine (Pio Marmai) to jail during a jewellery store robbery years before. When Antoine gets out, he’s not the man he was, which his girlfriend (Audrey Tautou) realizes immediately, but Yvonne, driven by guilt, is fixated on trying to help him—this while another police officer (Damien Bonnard) has the hots for her. It’s all totally ridiculous and about as substantial as a macaron, but the performers are so game they sell the scenario, and it’s just refreshing to see a comedy like this done so effortlessly. Wednesday, September 19, 4:10pm, PL 3