WSFF: Christmas in June

Margo Lily - the standout of "Christmas in June"
Still have the Christmas lights up? Well, you best turn them on and help make this event extra festive! (And it’s half way to Christmas, anyways, so there’s no point taking them down now.) Come celebrate Christmas in June with the aptly named “Christmas in June,” which is one of two pre-festival screenings to get you excited for the upcoming Worldwide Short Film Festival. (The other is "Shorts for Shorties: Flick-Nic".) Not only does this lineup of films screen amidst the stars and Christmas light pollution of Dufferin Park, but this event is FREE. So grab the leftover fruitcake and join in the Christmas cheer.

WSFF: Flick-Nic

Sid the Pike
Are you in Toronto this weekend and looking for something that the whole family can enjoy? Well, you’re in luck. To help kick off this year’s Worldwide Short Film Festival, the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) invites you to two FREE film screenings in Dufferin Grove Park. The first – and more family-oriented – programme is “Shorts for Shorties: Flick-Nic,” which screens at noon. The second programme, “Christmas in June” (reviewed here) is suitable for general audiences, but younger viewers might not appreciate the films as much. Everyone, though, will delight in how “Flick-Nic” shares the magic of movies and lets you be a kid again, even if it’s only for one day.


Familiar Faces Triumph at Cannes

The winners for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival were announced today. It was a celebration of old favourites as Michael Haneke, Matteo Garrone, Cristian Mungiu, and Ken Loach added more Cannes wins to their prizes from previous years. It's not too big of a surprise, since Cannes is very much the largest celebration of auteur filmmaking in cinema. As proof, 2009's winner for The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, won the Palme d'or for Amour. Amour was easily among the favourites to win (if not the top) since it presented the critical peak of the festival when it opened to near-unanimous praise in the middle of the fest. A story about an aging couple that is drawing much comparison to Sarah Polley's Away from Her, Amour supposedly represents a good departure from the difficult, often unflinching nature of Haneke's previous films.

The winners:

Palme d'or (Best Film): Amour (Love), Michael Haneke
Grand Prix (Runner-up): Reality, Matteo Garrone
Best Director: Carlos Reygadas for Post Tenebras Lux
Best Actor: Mads Mikkelsen in Jagten (The Hunt)
Best Actress: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur in Beyond the Hills
Best Screenplay: Beyond the Hills - Cristian Mungiu
Jury Prize: The Angels' Share - Ken Loach
Camera d'or (Best First Feature): Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin
Best Short Film: Silent, L. Rezan Yesilbas

Source: Live streamed

The awards were hosted by Berenice Bejo from The Artist. This year's jury for the Official Selection was comprised of Nanni Moretti (president), Diane Kruger, Ewan McGregor, Andrea Arnold, Hiam Abbas, Emmanuelle Devos, Jean-Paul Gauthier, Alexander Payne, and Raoul Peck. Presenters at the ceremony included Alec Baldwin, Audrey Tautou, Adrien Brody, and Gong Li.

It's sad that David Cronenberg was shut-out once again (his Cosmopolis opened to reviews that ranged from mixed to positive... it's Cronenberg, so that's to be expected), and that other favourites like Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone) went unacknowledged despite great notices. Cannes doesn't look to be the bellwether for Oscar fare that it was last year: remember that Tree of Life, The Artist, Drive, and Melancholia were the big winners at Cannes 2011. Some of these films will probably appear in the Foreign Language Film category, though, so we'll see where the year goes. Nevertheless, there's a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year: any festival that included Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron must be considered a success.


The Performance of a Lifetime

(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Erik Canuel, Writ. Erik Canuel (adaptation), William Luce (stage play)
Starring: Christopher Plummer, John Plumpis
If you thought that Christopher Plummer was great in Beginners, wait until you see him in Barrymore. It’s truly a treat to watch Canada’s greatest actor give the performance of a lifetime as John Barrymore. Plummer reprises his Tony-winning role in this piece of film-mediated drama by director Erik Canuel (Bon Cop, Bad Cop). Plummer performs Barrymore in Toronto’s Elgin Theatre (aka the Visa Screening Room during TIFF) and one sees quite easily how Plummer would be such a commanding force on stage. Now that Plummer receives the extra degrees of freedom and intimacy afforded by the camera, though, it looks like he takes his performance to another level. It’s like watching the history of acting performed in one 83-minute feat: from Shakespeare to Vaudeville, from stage to screen, Plummer does it all and he does it remarkably.


In the Shadows of Twilight

Dark Shadows
(USA, 113 min.)
Dir. Tim Burton, Writ. Seth Graham-Smith, John August.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Johnny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote.
Ah, vampiric love. The romance of the ill-fated night creature has been a running joy in horror films. Dracula loved Mina, Nosferatu liked Ellen, and Edward Cullen pined over Bella Swan. It’s true that the vampire film has descended from gothic unrequited love to emo-vacant-eyed staring, but star-crossed romance nevertheless continues to be the blood of the vampire movie.

TIFF Celebrates David Cronenberg with New Exhibition

Cronenberg filming A Dangerous Method. Photo courtesy of eOne Films
It's been a big week for David Cronenberg. He and his son Brandon are the first father/son duo to have films screening at the Cannes Film Festival at the same time. Brandon's Antiviral opened to positive notices earlier this week, while Cosmopolis doesn't screen until towards the end of the festival (and it opens in Canadian theatres on June 8). In the meantime, though, comes a very good announcement for Mr. Cronenberg (senior) courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival, which plans to celebrate the director's body of work through a major exhibition:

Days away from the hotly anticipated world premiere of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, Piers Handling, Director and CEO, TIFF and Noah Cowan, Artistic Director, TIFF Bell Lightbox, announced today that TIFF will mount a major exhibition related to the Canadian director, screenwriter and actor. The Cronenberg exhibition, set to launch in Fall 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, is co-curated by Handling and Cowan and will be accompanied by several additional elements, including a newly commissioned augmented reality game and a dedicated film programme. This marks the first time TIFF has curated an original exhibition of this magnitude, which will be packaged to tour beginning Summer 2014.


Marley: The Man and His Music

(UK/USA, 144 min.)
Dir. Kevin Macdonald
Featuring: Rita Marley, Ziggy Marley, Bunny Wailer, Cedella Marley, Cindy Breakspeare, Lee Perry.
This is how you capture the life and legacy of a man film! A sprawling musical-documentary epic, Marley makes the rare feat of depicting the life of an artist from birth to death, all the while offering a comprehensive report on the singer and the impact of his work. Sure to please devoted fans of the reggae superstar as well as viewers (like me) with little knowledge of the man save for the anecdotes that accompany his songs on the radio, Marley is a great film.


'Skyfall' Teaser

Bond is back! A teaser trailer landed today for the upcoming James Bond film Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig in his third outing as 007. Judi Dench is also back for what may be her final performance as M, as is hinted by the brief plot summary for the film: "Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost."
New to the series are Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Javier Bardem, with Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe in the signature 'Bond girl' roles. There's no sign of the controversial Heineken, though, but Skyfall sure looks good! The film is slated to be released on November 9.


The Lady from Rangoon

The Lady
(Frank/UK, 135 min.)
Dir. Luc Besson, Writ. Rebecca Frain
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse.
Photo Magali Bragard © 2011 EuropaCorp, Left Bank Pictures, France 2 Cinéma
Aung San Suu Kyi made headlines recently after achieving a victory that was over twenty years in the making. Suu Kyi spent fifteen years under house arrest for trying to bring democracy to the military-oppressed Burma and, following her release in 2010, she ran in a by-election for a seat in the lower house of parliament in April 2012. She won, as did 42 other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD), thus making her the official Leader of the Opposition. The recent headlines of Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarkable journey could therefore not make the release of The Lady any timelier. The film conveys the strength and philosophy of Suu Kyi, which should inspire those who have followed her journey or those who are discovering it only now. The story of Aung San Suu Kyi is arguably a great one; however, aside from the portrayal of The Lady herself, Suu Kyi’s story doesn’t quite achieve greatness in The Lady


CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival Announces Lineup

The new NFB short Big Mouth is one of 244 films playing at WSFF 201
The Canadian Film Centre (CFC) unveiled the programming and film selections for the 2012 edition of the annual Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) today! It looks like there are plenty of short little goodies headed to Toronto soon. Taking place June 5-10, WSFF offers 244 short films from 35 countries and a mix of live-action, animation, documentary, and experimental films alike. It’s a great chance to see some films that one might not have the chance to see otherwise; additionally, WSFF is a good way to get a head start on your award predictions for next year, since the festival is one of the few festivals where winners become eligible for Academy Awards and the awards formerly known as Genies. (It’s the shorts that usually make or break an Oscar score sheet!)

There is a mix of the old and the new in the programming of #wsff12. Back again is the opening night gala Award Winners From Around the World, which kicks off the festival with a handful of the most prestigious and acclaimed shorts of 2012. Date Night is also back after being one of the festival highlights in 2011 – see some movies with the one you love at the CN Tower and then discuss them over dessert! (How romantic!) Also returning is the music video series Scene Not Herd, which lets festival goers get their groove on before moseying on over to the best party in town. New this year is a pair of outdoor screenings, Christmas in June and Shorts for Shorties: Flick-Nic. The only thing better than enjoying some films in the warm summer air is the fact that these screenings are free – yes, FREE! And the only thing better than outdoor screenings is a Master Class with acclaimed filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée (Café de Flore) as part of the BIG Ideas Symposium.

Here is the full list of programmes for the 2012 Worldwide Short Film Festival:


'Canada First' exits TIFF?

Wetlands, one of the breakouts from 2011's Canada First series.
The Toronto International Film Festival released today its list of programmes for the 2012 edition of the festival. As always, it looks promising; however, one can’t help but notice the absence of the Canada First programme. The Canada First programme is an important component of the festival because it showcases first features by emerging Canadian filmmakers. While TIFF requires big hits like Moneyball or The Descendants (my favourite film from last year’s festival) to draw in the big stars, crowds, and money that help make the festival as strong as it is, the Canada First series offered a section that guaranteed a place for new Canadian talents. The big hits help create the audiences and the hope is always that festivalgoers will branch out from the hot tickets and discover something new.

"Bruce, You Knob"

Hard Core Logo 2
(Canada, 85 min.)
Dir. Bruce McDonald; Writ. Bruce McDonald, Dave Griffith
Starring: Bruce McDonald, Care Failure, Julian Richlings, Shannon Jardine, Adrien Dorval, Paul Shull
Well, it looks as if Bruce McDonald has finally smoked that big hunk of hash. Being under the influence is probably the only permissible excuse for this unnecessary bastardization of McDonald’s 1996 hit Hard Core Logo. It’s appreciative that McDonald’s opts not to follow the method of “wash, rinse, and repeat” that so many other filmmakers use when they revisit past successes; however, this new rockumentary bears more resemblance to Weekend at Bernie’s 2 than to the original Hard Core Logo.


Superheroes Unite!

The Avengers
(USA, 142 min.)
Dir. Joss Whedon; Writ. Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Is Marvel’s The Avengers the best superhero movie ever? Not quite, but it could have been. The Avengers is a powerhouse of popcorn movie escapism, but it has a sense of déjà vu to the fourth degree.


Hot Docs 2012: Best of the Fest & Festival Score Card

We Are Wisconsin

Another great festival has come to an end. I must congratulate the programmers at Hot Docs for serving up an excellent line-up of films this year. I attended twenty-six screenings during the festival and enjoyed almost every one of them. Furthermore, the screenings were consistently jam packed with audiences hungry for intelligent filmmaking. As several of the directors said while introducing their film, it’s amazing how Hot Docs can fill a theatre on a sunny weekday afternoon with people eager to see a documentary. So here’s a big thanks to all the staff, volunteers, filmmakers and fellow moviegoers for such a great festival!

When it comes to honouring one of these films with the title of ‘Best of the Fest’, though, I think it’s a tough call. (The programming was just so good.) It’s a toss-up between The Imposter and We Are Wisconsin for the number one spot. I staked my claim for The Imposter early on, calling it both the best film of the festival and the best film of the year so far after seeing it on the fifth day of the festival. I stand by those statements because it was the best film I’d seen up to that point. Then I saw We Are Wisconsin two days later and realized that I might have spoken too soon. It’s hard to choose between the two films because they’re extremely different. The Imposter is an impeccably crafted piece of story-telling that playfully describes a story almost too outrageous to believe. We Are Wisconsin, on the other hand, is a film that feels to have been made in the heat of a moment and is all the better for it, with how passionately it tells its story. So what do you choose, then?


Hot Docs Days 10 & 11: Theo Fleury Playing with Fire, Detropia, Peace, Out

Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire
(Canada, 91 min.)
Dir. Matt Embry, Larry Day
Photo courtesy Pyramid Productions
Hockey’s bad boy makes an act of atonement with Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire. Fleury unleashed a bombshell in 2009 with his autobiography Playing with Fire, which confessed that he was a victim of sexual abuse to his junior hockey coach Graham James. Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire adapts Fleury’s book and lets him speak out at how this abuse led to a ripple effect of alcohol, drugs, and strippers that ultimately compromised his career and personal life. Amidst f-bombs and cigarette breaks, the hockey player makes good by telling people that they are not alone. Through his words and actions, Fleury makes a genuine and impassioned effort to share his story with other people who have experienced abuse.


Hot Docs Day 9: Her Master's Voice, Smoke Traders, Pot Country

Her Master’s Voice
(UK, 61 min.)
Dir. Nina Conti
A funny piece of DIY filmmaking, comedian/ventriloquist Nina Conti puts herself as the centre of her own film when she finds her life at a crossroads. Conti has reached the tender age of twenty-six and she’s not sure how much longer she can continue a career that relies on gigs and puppets. Almost as an act of fate, however, Conti’s friend and mentor Ken Campbell passes away and leaves all his puppets and ventriloquist tools to Nina. Nina therefore decides to honour Ken’s legacy and bequeath one of his famous puppets to Vent Haven, which is a sort of museum/mausoleum for ventriloquist puppets in Kentucky.

Hot Docs Awards Top Honours to 'The World Before Her', 'Call Me Kuchu'

Renuka learns to use a rifle at the Durga Vahini camp in The World Before Her
Hot Docs is pleased to announce the winners of the Festival's 2012 awards. The Hot Docs Awards Presentation, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi (host, Q CBC Radio One), took place on Friday, May 4, at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. Ten awards and $71,000 in cash prizes were presented to Canadian and international filmmakers, including awards for Festival films in competition and those recognizing emerging and established filmmakers. The Best Canadian Feature, Best International Feature, and the Inspirit Foundation Pluralism Prize winners will have encore screenings on Sunday, May 6.

The award for Best Canadian Feature was presented to THE WORLD BEFORE HER (D: Nisha Pahuja; P: Cornelia Principe, Nisha Pahuja, Ed Barreveld), a revealing looking at the clash between modernity and tradition faced by young women in India. Sponsored by the Documentary Organization of Canada, the award includes a $10,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs. Jury statement: “For its brave and provocative exploration of the role of women at its two extremes in contemporary Indian society, the jury recognizes the exceptional storytelling of THE WORLD BEFORE HER. THE WORLD BEFORE HER will screen on Saturday, May 5, at 9:30 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West) and on Sunday, May 6, at 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West).


Hot Docs Day 8: Legend of a Warrior

Legend of a Warrior
(Canada, 78 min.)
Dir. Corey Lee
Who knew that kung fu could be so poignant? Legend of a Warrior is a surprisingly candid story of the bond between father and son. Estranged with his father for many years, filmmaker Corey Lee decides to repair their relationship and forgive what has passed. Corey’s father, Frank Lee, is a world-famous kung fu coach. As Corey explains, Frank was absent throughout Corey’s childhood as he was always nurturing his fighters, rather than his children. Corey decides to make amends with Frank in his own arena: the ring. Corey becomes Frank’s pupil, and his father teaches him the martial arts techniques that he learned as a boy, but has since forgotten.

Hot Docs Day 8: The Law in These Parts

The Law in These Parts
(Israel, 101 min.)
Dir. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz
Photo credit: Shark De Mayo
Perhaps the most frustrating film I’ve seen at Hot Docs this year, The Law in These Parts is a ballsy, handsomely made him that questions the rule of law and those who write it. The film features interviews with a handful of Israeli lawmakers who wrote, adapted, and enforced the law in the occupied territories of the Gaza strip since 1967. The film questions the authority of law and interrogates the inequity of the lawmakers’ decisions. The Law in These Parts is frequently powerful in its argument of how inhabitants of the Occupied Territories were subjected to laws made by people they did not elect. Moreover, with its close-up interviews, the film seizes the human element that was ignored by the lawmakers’ decisions by capturing split-seconds of lingering doubt on their faces as they twitch upon revisiting their past or freeze-up and/or stonewall the filmmaker. With an objective so important and an approach so provocative, it’s no wonder that The Law in These Parts was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema category for documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival


Hot Docs Day 7: We Are Wisconsin

We Are Wisconsin
(USA, 90 min)
Dir. Amie Williams
“This is what democracy looks like!” chants a crowd of protestors marching together at the Capitol Building of Madison, Wisconsin. The group is comprised primarily of public-service employees demonstrating their objection to the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill” (aka “The 2011 Wisconsin Act”) that was proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker’s Bill advised numerous amendments that would allegedly revamp Wisconsin’s budget; however, the Bill sought to do so at an expense of worker’s rights. Most problematic was the proposed amendment to limit collective bargaining, which would effectively end fifty years of progress made by workers who fought for their rights. Unwilling to let the Republican Governor take away their livelihood, the public took to the streets and marched to the Capitol to express their disapproval.

Hot Docs Day 7: Canned Dreams, China Heavyweight

Canned Dreams
(Finland, 81 min)
Dir. Katja Gauriloff
Polish butcher Andrzej Biskup on his cigarette break
Ever wanted to know the origins of the food you eat? Well, now you can. Canned Dreams traces the journey of all the ingredients that go into making one can of ravioli. As far as documentaries about the food industry go, however, Canned Dreams is hardly Food Inc.


Hot Docs Day 6: The Final Member

The Final Member
(Canada, 75 min.)
Dir. Jonah Bekhor, Zack Math
The Louvre. The Tate Modern. The Vatican. They’re all unique places to take the family while on vacation. How many families, though, include a trip to the Icelandic Phallogical Museum while having a stopover in Reykjavik? If Hot Docs has a prize for the most random story of the festival, it would certainly go to The Final Member.

Hot Docs Day 6: The Prophet, The Frog Princes, Petra's Poem

The Prophet
(UK, 75 min.)
Dir. Gary Tarn
Gary Tarn’s The Prophet is perhaps the most striking and cinematic film to screen so far at Hot Docs. Both an adaptation of and an homage to the 1923 prose poem The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Tarn’s film explores the longevity and universality of Gibran’s words. The Prophet is quite an abstract film, with the opening lines of Gibran’s poem read in voice-over by Thandie Newton beginning as the film offers a spanning vision of outer space. The film then cuts to some war-torn buildings, possibly in Lebanon, and Newton continues to read the poem.

NFB wins two Webby Awards!

Bla Bla
Good news for Canada's a/v industry today! It's top public producer, the National Film Board of Canada  has so far offered several quality films at Hot Docs and it just added two more laurels to its track record:
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has added to its track record of innovation in interactive productions with two more Webby Awards—the Internet’s highest honour— announced today. 

Vincent Morisset’s “film for computer” BLA BLA, produced by Hugues Sweeney for the NFB, received a Webby Award for Netart in the Websites category. From May 17 to June 3, 2012, the NFB will be showcasing BLA BLA as part of the first International Digital Arts Biennial and Parcours numérique in Montréal’s Quartier des spectacles, presented in co-operation with Mutek and Elektra. The open-air installation will be set up at the exit of the Saint-Laurent Metro station. BLA BLA is currently being featured in an installation at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris that ends on May 6.


Hot Docs Day 5: The Imposter

The Imposter
(UK, 95 min.)
Dir. Bart Layton
Imagine that you are a mother – or a sister – and your thirteen year old son/brother has gone missing from your neighbourhood in San Antonio, Texas. Over three years go by without so much as a word on his whereabouts. Then, out of the blue, you receive a telephone call from a friendly man who tells you that the boy has been found in a small town in the south of Spain. Overjoyed that the nightmare is over, you welcome the boy back into your life. He looks a little different and he acts a little different, but you remind yourself that growing boys change in their teenage years. He has also been through a traumatic experience, so he is bound to be a little strange. Then imagine that you learn the reason your son/brother is different is because he is actually an imposter.

Hot Docs Day 5: Boxing Girls of Kabul, Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, Radioman

Day 5 of Hot Docs began with a screening of The Imposter. The review can be found here.

The Boxing Girls of Kabul
(Canada, 52 min.)
Dir. Ariel J. Nasr
The Boxing Girls of Kabul is an inspiring story of three courageous girls in Afghanistan who fight for equal rights one punch at a time. In spite of the continued presence of a culture that places women in a submissive role, the three girls gain self-confidence and self-empowerment by training together in hopes of one day representing their country at the Olympics. Even though they cannot afford proper equipment (they don’t even have a ring), the girls work hard and train for competitions. Along with the help of their progressively-minded trainer, the girls demonstrate that women can succeed in roles presumed to be appropriate only for men.