Making the Grade

National Diploma (Examen d'état)
(France/Congo, 92 min.)
Dir. Dieudo Hamadi
Programme: TIFF Docs (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
A good observational documentary is sometimes hard to find. Interesting subjects might fall victim to formless fly-on-the-wall efforts, which can be effective if the fly observes them just right, but a better observational doc usually finds a voice and rhythm to match the urgency of its subject. Dieudo Hamadi’s National Diploma is a good example of a swell doc that does the latter. This rare and personal film gets close with its subject all the while maintaining enough of a distance to interrogate the system of which they are a part.


Canuck Co-Pro 'The Wanted 18' is Palestine's Oscar Bid

Three moos to a great choice! The Arab Press reports that The Wanted 18 is Palestine's official submission in the race for Best Foreign Language Film. The film is a co-production between Palestine, Canada, and France and is co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The Wanted 18 is an ingenious documentary about some unsung crusaders, dairy cows, in Palestine's fight for independence. The film, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan, features interviews with farmers and rebels as well as animated episodes that let the cows tell their own story in an amusing--and unexpectedly moving--caper. The film gives an empowering story through the parable of self-sustainability and agency afforded by the cows. The Wanted 18 premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (review for Point of View) and previously made this blog's list of the Top 10 Canadian films of 2014. This unconventional film is an inspired choice for the race, since documentaries often struggle against dramas in the foreign film field, but it's a great one to root for alongside Canada's own official bid whenever it's announced.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Mountain Men
(Canada, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Cameron Labine
Starring: Chace Crawford, Tyler Labine
Tyler Labine and Chace Crawford star in Mountain Men.
Pacific Northwest Pictures.

“I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of these mountains,” my sister once said as our family drove through the Rockies on our first ski trip out west. Her oft-quoted (and oft-maligned) bit of rental car poetry perfectly captures that bizarre power of the mountains that transforms people into new beings. (The altitude and thin mountain probably help, too.) Sibling follies meet the magnitude of the mountains in the coming-of-age comedy Mountain Men starring Chace Crawford and Tyler Labine as two very different brothers who bond when a cabin trip gone awry inspires them to answer the call of the wild. They grow up to be the men their father always wanted them to be, and it’s hard not to feel a little moved—overwhelmed, say—by Mountain’s end.


'We're Moving.'

Learning to Drive
(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Isabel Coixet, Writ. Sarah Kernochan
Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Sarita Choudhury, Grace Gummer, Jake Weber

Ben Kingsley stars as Darwan and Patricia Clarkson as Wendy in Broad Green Pictures' Learning to Drive.
Linda Kallerus/Broad Green Pictures

“What happened?”
“We’re moving.”


'He Hated Pigeons' Trailer

A trailer's out for Ingrid Veninger's latest film He Hated Pigeons. Toronto's DIY indie queen does a Chilean romp in this intimate lo-fi odyssey starring Cristobal Tapia Montt, which features live scores by local artists on the screening circuit. The film looks promising, especially for some lovely landscape shots  that are Antonioni-eque, according to the trailer. (I'm paraphrasing.)  Festival and screening dates are still TBA. Flock to it, people!

TIFF Adds Discovery, 'Zoom', Moore, and More!

Zoom. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The Toronto International Film Festival’s final announcement of its gargantuanly good 2015 line-up includes a last-minute addition of Zoom to the Vanguard programme (Zoom was one of ten films on this year’s “Canadian Film Wish List”), plus a host of first features in Discovery, and the A-list of the In Conversation With… programme. This year’s In Conversation With… (formerly Mavericks) features extended convos with Julianne Moore, Salma Hayek, Sarah Silverman, and Matthew Weiner. Check out the new additions below:


'Electric Boogaloo' Delivers Trash and Treasures

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
(Australia, 106 min.)
Dir. Mark Hartley
Programme: Midnight Madness (International Premiere)
Found footage films might employ one of the most tired devices in filmmaking, but the aesthetic works wonders for coaxing a mainstream audience into appreciating documentary form. These mockumentary shriek-fests have been a staple of the horror genre long since the days of Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, so it is fitting move for a full-fledged documentary to illuminate the history behind the rambunctious beach ball throwing of B-movie fans. The madness of the midnight crowd, however, surely provides the ideal audience for the zany history chronicled in the off-the-wall doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, which comes to theatres this September after having its International Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. If you love hunkering down in the basement with a pile of old VHS tapes at two in the morning, this one’s for you!


Ottawa's One World Film Festival Announces Line-up

Hot Docs champ Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World screens OWFF
Ottawa’s One World Film Festival offers a slew of docs n’ stuff to engage audiences in the 613 just in time for the election. The film fest, which runs Sept. 24-27, includes a spread of short, mid, and feature-length documentaries that tackle a variety of topical subjects from Canada and around the world. OWFF kicks off its festivities with a programming preview on September 10th with the Ottawa premiere of the Canadian doc Chameleon at The ByTowne.

Bosnian Oscar Bid 'Our Everyday Life' is Subtle and Symbolic

Our Everyday Life (Naša svakodnevna priča)
(Bosnia and Herzegovina, 89 min.)
Written and directed by Ines Tanović
Starring: Uliks Fehmiu, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Jasna Ornela Bery, Vedrana Seksan
Bosnia and Herzegovina enters the Oscar race with the country’s official selection to compete for Best Foreign Language Film, Our Everyday Life. This quietly observed slice-of-life drama offers a contemporary snapshot of one family and their-day-today life in Sarajevo. Small dramatic acts shape and twist the characters, and their destinies largely mirror by the contemporary history of the city. As the lives of the four family members converge, the subtle and symbolic Our Everyday Life uses poetic realism and compelling characters to create a collective act of healing.


'Bang Bang Baby' is Out of this World

Bang Bang Baby
(Canada, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Jeffrey St. Jules
Starring: Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin, Peter Stormare, David Reale
Justin Chatwin and Jane Levy star in Bang Bang Baby.
Search Engine Films.

What the actual heck?

Bang Bang Baby sings a song from space as writer/director Jeffrey St. Jules (Let the Daylight Into the Swamp) creates one of the strangest and most delightful trips to the lunatic fringe you’ll ever see. The film comes to theatres after scooping the prize for Best Canadian First Feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and the Claude Jutra Award for Best First Feature at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards, and it’s easy to see the merit in these prizes. Bang Bang Baby is a bizarre anomaly in a summer of mostly indistinguishable movies: this is wild, original, and audacious filmmaking.


Contest: Win a DVD of 'Miss Julie'!

The stage is set for high drama in Miss Julie. Academy award nominee (and Cinemablographer favourite) Jessica Chastain gives a ravishing performance as the titular Miss Julie in this adaptation of the classic play by August Strindberg. (Her co-stars Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton are equally splendid.) Miss Julie comes to DVD on August 25th from Pacific Northwest Pictures, and we have a few DVDs to give away to lucky readers. If you want to add a DVD of Miss Julie to your collection, answer the trivia below for a chance to win!


Funky Beats and Tired Notes

(France, 131 min.)
Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, Writ. Mia Hansen-Løve, Sven Hansen-Løve
Starring: Félix de Givry, Pauline Ethienne, Greta Gerwig, Arsinée Khanjian
The Butabi brothers meet Llewyn Davis in the EDM drama Eden, and co-writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve spins a broken record with this film about music lovers who can’t quite keep the beat. Like folksman Llewyn, electronic dance music DJ Paul (a forgettable Félix de Givry) is that unfortunate artist who falls short of fame. Whereas Llewyn plays just a set before Bob Dylan and barely becomes an afterthought in music history, Paul struggles in the shadows of hit EDM guys Daft Punk and never spins to the top. Like the Butabis, however, Paul’s a loser who thinks the party keeps going long after it’s stopped. So too does Hansen-Løve, as Eden spins a serpent on its turntable that swallows itself.

CFI Invites Ottawa Film Buffs to Cut the Cake on its 80th B-Day

The Canadian Film Institute invites local film lovers to come cut the cake in celebration of Canada’s longest running film club. The CFI turns 80 this year, which makes it the oldest non-profit and non-government cultural organization devoted to film, and cinephiles from Ottawa (or elsewhere, if they want to join the party) can come cut the cake on Thursday, August 27 at Jean Pigott Place, Ottawa City Hall from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm. “We are proud to have been supported by receptive, generous, and sophisticated Ottawa cinema audiences,” said Executive Director Tom McSorley in a release from the CFI. “It’s a way of saying thank you to the city, our sponsors and embassy partners, and all who come to our events. It's also a moment to look ahead to, hopefully, another 80 years.”

Win Run of Engagement Passes to 'Mistress America'!

Get ready for more Gerwigian goodness with Mistress America! Greta Gerwig reteams with Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach for the contemporary comedy Mistress America. Mistress America opens in Toronto this Friday from Fox Searchlight Pictures and expands in the weeks to come. If you want a chance to catch GG’s latest in theatres, answer the trivia below to win a run of engagement pass to see Mistress America!

First Trailer for 'The Witch'

Photo courtesy of TIFF
A24 just released the first trailer for the upcoming horror film  The Witch! This Canada-US co-production is set to make its Canadian debut at TIFF this fall after premiering at Sundance where it won Best Director (Dramatic). This Mattawa-shot film is making waves!