A few weeks ago, our city hosted its 20th international film festival, and this year, I attended 5 screenings. Last year, I stood in the rush line to see A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali…..You show up 10 minutes before showtime, you buy a ticket, and you stand in line, hoping that the usher will come out and say that you can go in. That was my first time at the film festival (I know, how embarrassing…..I’ve lived here most of my life, and I had never attended before. It’s like living in New York and never having gone to Central Park). I guess the reason I never went before was that I didn’t know how film festivals worked, I wasn’t sure how you went about seeing the films you wanted. But last year, when I saw that A Sunday in Kigali was having one showing, I found out that you could just buy one rush ticket, and hope you got in. So I bought my ticket, and I was one of 6 or 7 people who were able to get in after the savvy passholders. I had to sit in the second row, but I didn’t care. The film was powerful and made even more so by the fact that I was so close to the screen.
THIS year, I thought I’d wade out a little more in festival waters. I checked out the festival’s booklet that listed the 80+ films that were showing, I picked out the ones I really wanted to see, and as they were showing on the weekend that the kids were with their father, I bought myself a passbook to see those 5 films, and had the best time ever. Some people really get into this whole film festival and take a week’s vacation time, attending as many as two or three films per day in eight days. That’s hardcore filmfesting, which would be too much for me….after a while, I would think that the films just become a blur, one running into the next. Plus I’d get pancake-butt.
The film synopses below are what was published in the film festival booklet. The italics are my own observations.
LET HIM BE (Peter McNamee, 2008)
Cast: Kathleen Munroe, Sean Clement, Mark Staycer, Graham Wignall
LET HIM BE is the story of two undergrad students Tim Bennett (Clement) and Kathleen Joyce (Munroe) who discover, a long thought to be dead rock icon living in a remote part of Northern Ontario. It all begins when Tim discovers a clip of an old man playing guitar on a tape found jammed inside an old video camera his father gave him. The man in the video is older now but the resemblance to John Lennon is uncanny. Could it be him? It’s an absurd idea and one that Tim might have pushed aside were it not for the fact that the man also sounds so much like him. Was it possible that Lennon survived the assassination? Tim, along with the help of the sceptical Kathleen, decides to document the whole story as they set out on a remarkable journey of discovery.
As a huge John Lennon fan, this was my first choice, and the first film I saw. The producer, Peter McNamee was there to answer questions after the film, and he was so passionate about what he and his team created that he got all choked up! I loved that you could get a bigger sense of what goes into making a film, rather than just watching it and leaving or going on to the next film. This was the worldwide premiere of the film, so everyone was feeling pretty special to have been there. Apparently, it’ll be out on DVD, so watch out for it. I give this film a 5-star rating, for the original music, the storyline which is unique, for the constant double-takes that you do, and for the elements of surprise. Needless to say, this film was an experience. I left the theatre and drove home in a state of wonder…..just imagine.
Ingrid Veninger & Simon Reynolds
Cast: Elena Hudgins Lyle, Jacob Switzer
The first feature film from Canadian directors Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds, ONLY is a glimpse into the heightened impressions and dreams of two unlikely 12-year olds. Daniel (Switzer) lives in a motel managed by his parents in Northern Ontario. People come and people go — Daniel hardly notices. Until one day a girl arrives and changes his world. Over the course of a single day, they venture on a journey, exploring deep secrets, dark fears, and first love in a pure and powerful meeting of young hearts and minds.
This was a quiet, contemplative film that captures the isolation felt at that age. I thought back to when I was 13 and had met a boy while visiting my sister at a campsite. He was leaving that night, so we spent the day together jumping off the underside of the bridge into the river, walking in the forest and exploring the shoreline. His name was Mike and he lived about an hour away from me. We exchanged phone numbers and sweet kisses. We called each other in the week that followed, and the next week, his father drove him to my father’s store, and we took the bus with a few of my friends to go see a movie. I remember thinking that this was not the boy I remembered a week before; he seemed like a little boy, not as cool in his wide-cuffed jeans and with his blond hair parted on the side and carefully combed. I pretty much ignored him during the movie, and afterwards, I remember waiting for his ride with him on the steps of my dad’s store, anxious for him to be gone. He was very polite and kind, he smiled alot, and was probably nervous…..and I treated him like he was beneath me. To this day, I feel ashamed at my behaviour towards that sweet boy. So Mike F., wherever you may be, I apologize for having treated you so bad. Thank you for spending that magical summer day with me. The fact that I still remember it is a testimony to how nice of a kid you were.
Cast: Joshua Jackson, Liane Balaban
Ben Tyler (Jackson), a man in his mid-twenties, has been diagnosed with a virulent cancer. He has only a 10% chance of survival. Though it is imperative that he begin treatment immediately, Ben instead takes off on a road trip on an impulsively purchased motorcycle. What starts off as an ill-defined attempt to escape soon morphs into a cross-country odyssey from Toronto to Tofino, British Columbia. Against the immensity of the Canadian landscape and the enormity of his recent diagnosis, Ben re-examines his life. Samantha (Balaban), his fiancée, thinks the trip is reckless and refuses to accompany him, and Ben gradually comes to realize that something is lacking in their relationship that he has never before confronted. After a 4,000 kilometre journey, Ben has run out of west. Undeniably sick, he is unsure which way to turn.
This was a quintessential Canadian film…..as it was a gala presentation on the Saturday night, the producer, Michael McGowan, was there to answer questions afterwards. Listening to the Q&A, I was thinking that this film is a love letter to Canada. And what does the producer say as he’s summing up his reasons for making this film? That with this road trip journey, he wanted this to be a love letter to Canada, hence all the landmarks and music and nods to Canadianisms. It was all there, all that makes Canadians Canadian: funny, smart, sexy, impulsive enough but not too much, caring, loving, generous, yes polite, and yes sometimes we get ticked off. We live, work, dream, play and die in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I loved all of this film, the acting, the story, the narration, the music…..the Stanley Cup! What stays with me, however, is when the woman Ben meets in the B.C. forest begins to strum her guitar as they sit by a campfire, and she sings “Un Canadien errant”….. Ben sings along with her, as he remembers his mother singing that song to him every night as she tucked him in. “Un Canadien errant” , a classic French-Canadian song from the 1800s, was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007 . Its lyrics are sad, its melody haunting and poignant……..as I sang along with the actors on the big screen, I got all choked up with pride and memories of my own.
SURFWISE follows the odyssey of 85-year-old, legendary surfer Dr. Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and their nine children—all of whom were home-schooled on the beaches of Southern California, Hawaii, Mexico and Israel. They surfed every day of their lives, and were forced to adhere to a strict diet and lifestyle by their passionate and demanding, health-conscious father. In the mid-1950s Dorian Paskowitz was a successful doctor living in the territory of Hawaii, until two devastating divorces and the realization that he had no interest in money or status caused him to completely upend his life. Dorian dropped his practice and traveled to Israel for a year where he lived among the Bedouins. Returning to the States, he met his wife Juliette, and the rest was history. SURFWISE is the story of a man who pursued his dreams and dragged his family along for the wild ride.
If you ever get a chance to see this documentary, RUN TO IT, DON’T WALK! You think you’ve got Doc Paskowitz figured out, then BAM! Another element is thrown in, and what you thought 2 minutes ago is no longer valid. Highly entertaining, very thought-provoking, especially about leaving the rat race, being true to your beliefs, candid thoughts about marriage, sexuality, family, children’s education, living life on your own terms. You’re left with much food for thought about the impact parents have on their children, the consequences of and fallout from veering off too far, and the power of love and forgiveness.
Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (I’ve Loved You So Long)
Cast: Kristen Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein
Juliette (Scott Thomas) has been estranged from her family for 15 years. Although life once violently separated them, Lea (Zylberstein), her younger sister, takes her into her home which she shares with her husband Luc, his father, and their little girls. I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG is a film about the strength of women, their capacity to shine forth, reconstruct themselves and be reborn. A story about our secrets, about confinement, about the isolation we all share.
Kristen Scott Thomas is my new favourite actor. I saw her in the Horse Whisperer, and found her to be good, but not so good that I would want to see her in another movie. And so what happened was that I avoided Kristen Scott Thomas movies, which is what I do when I’m not fond of a certain actor. I know that sounds juvenile, however with the plethora of films out there, I figure why waste my time on films with actors I don’t like? And it’s not that I disliked Kristen Scott Thomas, I just never warmed up to her. In this film, her character is not one that you would warm up to. And yet…..The film itself is one of nuances and layers, much is expressed in small movements and gestures, facial expressions convey more in seconds than five-minute speeches ever could. Even the settings and especially the garments worn by the actors, the drab colours and patterns, are all instrumental in linking the melancholy and underlying frailty of each character with their surroundings. The role of Juliette could not have been an easy one to play…. Kristen Scott Thomas keeps her character cloaked in self-preservation, and by seeking that courage within herself and through others, she gently brings Juliette’s struggles and pain into the light. Yes, I cried (quietly) at this one, too.
When I selected the films I thought would interest me, they seemed unconnected, and yet, oddly enough, each had that common theme of living in the moment, doing what you need to do right now to live fully, not letting the past swallow you up.
P.S. If you’re in Vancouver, some of these are showing at the International Film Festival that’s going on this week.