2017 Films & Forum
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
This was a smash at Hot Docs this year, taking home the top prizes, and you will happily see why. Rumble is nothing less than a superbly produced documentary about the influence of native music on rock music. There is so much to discover in this lively, highly entertaining chronicle of a genre we thought we knew so much about. We not only hear iconic musicians like Buffy St Marie and Robbie Robertson talking about their struggle to locate their own identities in the emerging rock culture of their time but we also get to watch them and so many others performing the music that juiced a generation. You want to know where Hendrix was in all this? The film lets you in on a long masked truth about his own roots and influences. Same goes for the incomparable Mildred Bailey and The Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo, among others. This film will profoundly change the way you listen to rock music from now on.
We adore this doc about a group of wannabe Royal Canadian Air Cadets who are soaring for their wings. They’re just seventeen, if you know what we mean, but the way they dream is just beyond compare. Director Girard has transformed what might be a conventional aspirational story about reaching for the stars into something utterly charmed and magical. Her camera attends to these youngsters with admirable respect, allowing us to appreciate their unique personalities, hope and fears. Shortly into the film, you are dreaming right along with them, living out the drama of their potential. It doesn’t get any more feel-good than this loving, intimate portrait of some pretty wonderful young Canadians.
Festival darling, Ingrid Veninger returns to us with her reliably strong work, this time a coming-of-age story that pulls you right into its central drama. Veninger well understand the secrets of girlhood. Her two well-cast leads perform with an uncanny naturalism, suggestive of the trust they must have placed in the director, a hallmark of Veninger’s art. Fate brings two girls from disparate walks of life together one summer in Northern Ontario. The class and rural/urban divide informs their differences, but at heart the girls are more alike than at first appears. This is a remarkably candid portrait of the struggle for a secure sense of self. Told almost exclusively from the girls’ points of view, Porcupine Lake doesn’t dismiss adults so much as remind us how much of the margins they occupy when you’re busy trying to find yourself. As with all of Veninger’s films, this well-crafted feature is scrupulously devoted to the small stuff from which big transformation comes. It’s simply a pleasure to watch. Bring your daughters.
Everyone loves the flamenco. But it’s not just the fancy footwork that gives this film some pretty top audience awards at festivals: it’s the moving brilliance of its storytelling. This film shares with Chavela an intimate exploration of an exceptional older woman’s life, in this case the Catalan goddess known as La Chana. Antonia Santiago Amador lived a tough life of potential success, Hollywood offers, and the persistent undermining of these by a mean-spirited husband. Somehow, as we now all like to say now, she persisted. Flamenco is not just a flurry of hard stomps; it is deeply embedded in culture and the history of a people. The women who dance it are speaking their story, and no one expressed the struggle for identity and freedom better than La Chana. Ultimately, this film is itself evidence of the sheer endurance of personality and talent, testimony of the power of strong will, good bones, and an unwavering moral compass.
When the festival programmers keep talking about a film long after we’ve watched it we know we have to share it. A Better Man will get you talking. It’s a bold documentary that situates the filmmaker herself at the centre. Motivated by a need to close the loop, she engages the man who subjected her to violence, years after their troubled relationship had ended. For his own reasons, no doubt, Steve agrees to be the subject of this film, openly struggling to understand his own behaviour, straining to articulate what finally cannot be summarized. Steve is taciturn and almost uncomprehending at times, maddening the filmmaker and, in turn, the viewer who demands to hear more. But trauma works differently on both those who perpetuate and those who experience violence, and the film explores that spectrum of response and reflection as a slow, steady, and often painful reveal. It’s a fascinating piece of voyeurism, really, which is not to detract from the earnestness of the filmmaker’s mission. With Sarah Polley as executive director, A Better Man provocatively explores the fraught terrain of abuse and its aftermath.
Another 2017 Slamdance entry, this unconventional feature by Toronto-based Joyce Wong charmed the festival programmers for its deft handling of its subject—a painfully awkward encounter between a security guard and the guy who serves the drinks at the bar at a shopping plaza. This is Scarborough, Ontario, where nothing ever happens. But the people who inhabit that world have hopes and dreams, just like the rest of us. Betty and Danny are as ordinary as it gets, but the film fleshes out their emerging characters in steady, revealing ways, exposing a vein of humanity we all recognize in ourselves. This is no small achievement. One can only imagine the pitch session: “it’s a Canadian romcom, doofus boy meets lonely girl at a plaza and nothing goes quite right.” There’s so much more going on here, though. The film folds you into its sense of place, person, and purpose with a calm, confident ease. As Wong well shows us, there’s drama in even the most unlikely places, wherever life is being explored by a talented artist.
You are forgiven for possibly never having heard of Grammy-winning Mexican icon Chavela Vargas, but after seeing this glorious tribute you will never forget her. This is the kind of film our festival was born to showcase. An all-female crew scrutinizes the astonishing life of a cultural phenomenon. Chavela ran away from Costa Rica when she was just 14, but ended up being one of the most famous Latin artists of the century. She lived to narrate much of the documentary here, voicing a lucid, wry commentary on the challenges of becoming a lesbian superstar—in other words, being herself. No wonder the great passionate artist Frieda Kahlo was besotted with her. Indeed, among many revelations are the never seen before images of their relationship, well worth the ticket alone. Like Kahlo, Chavela was a magnet for both men and women, but ultimately she is a force of nature itself, uncannily persistent despite a judgemental society. Watch as Spanish director Pedro Almódavar talks of her power. Listen to the songs that made Chavela a household name. There’s a lot to absorb here in this new and exciting profile of a woman and the folk music she helped transform: indeed, you can go back to the ranchera again.
Set in Manhattan in 1995, Landline follows three women in one family having lots of sex, drugs, and Japanese food. Navigating monogamy, honesty, and a long-lost New York, the Jacobs family lives in the last days when people still didn't have cell phones and still did smoke inside. Teenage Ali discovers her dad's affair, her older sister Dana uncovers her own wild side, and their mother Pat grapples with the truth that she can't have it all, but her family still has each other. For a generation raised on divorce and wall-to-wall carpeting, Landline is an honest comedy about what happens when sisters become friends and parents become humans.
From Africa’s front lines to Asian markets to European zoos, this animal-rights thriller follows the conservationists, scientists and activists who are battling poachers and transnational trafficking syndicates to protect the last of the world’s elephants and rhinos from extinction. Acclaimed photojournalist Kate Brooks combines powerful investigative reportage and stunning cinematography to craft a moving and urgent call to action on behalf of these magnificent beasts pushed to the edge of extinction by the shameful ivory trade.
Suck It Up
Decidedly not a Thelma and Louise story, Suck It Up wisely pays tribute to the origination story about two women and a car but strikes out for fresh highways. Jordan Canning’s second feature premiered at Slamdance this year to affectionate reviews, and it’s easy to understand why. The film takes on some big topics, such as grief and betrayal, but it does so with a spunky combination of wit and attitude. The two female leads really own the wheel here. Ronnie is the hard-scrabbling sister of prematurely deceased Garrett. When the film opens, we are introduced to her state of mind, drowning itself in booze and self-pity. Her best friend Faye is called for an intervention, but she is also Garrett’s former girlfriend and therefore ambivalent about getting involved. The doctor didn’t really order a road trip but Garrett’s cool blue Mustang is screaming for possession, and so it is that the film becomes a journey through a few psychological landscapes. Canning is so admirably understated as a director, almost deceptively standing back to let her characters hog the screen. But rest assured that only a steady directorial hand and a keen sense of cinematic understatement could make this trip such a pleasure to watch. Highly entertaining and full of appealing diversions, the film reminds us that, yes, life is a highway. The festival is so proud to be showcasing Suck It Up as our opening feature, stunning evidence of a local filmmaker’s sheer homegrown talent.