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Dreams and political strife collide in the Afghanistan-set Black Kite

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Black Kite, directed by Tarique Qayumi, is set against the backdrop of a changing Afghanistan.
Black Kite, directed by Vancouver-based filmmaker Tarique Qayumi, is set across 50 years of Afghanistan history. Photo courtesy Tarique Qayumi.

Director Tarique Qayumi’s Black Kite pulls off a rare balancing act: the film is a well-observed character study that is both defined by and serves to help illustrate a setting of complex political and cultural strife. Filmed “guerilla-style” in Kabul, Afghanistan over a period of 14 days, the production of Black Kite was challenging and often risky.

“It’s like an overly ambitious project. There’s like five different storylines going on,” Qayumi said. “Of course it’s a personal small story, but it has an expansive, epic backdrop. It’s kind of a miracle the way it all came together.”

The movie follows Arian (Haji Gul), a young Afghan boy born in the late 1950s. As he grows up over the decades, Arian’s love of kite-flying is outlawed by the various authoritarian regimes that control the country – so years later, when his young daughter expresses a desire to learn how to fly a kite, he risks severe penalty to fulfill her wish.

“After those chaotic 50 years, it all changed. The Afghans were living diaspora for the first time ever and all their dreams, all their dreams are unachievable,” Qayumi said. “The last 50 years, they lost their whole land, a lot of them had died or were living in diaspora around the world. All those people living inside Afghanistan, they all couldn’t achieve their aims, their goals, their dreams.

“John Lennon said, ‘Life happens while you’re making plans.’ But this is that on a huge scale. My parents didn’t imagine they’d end up as refugees in Canada. It’s amazing. All their dreams are dashed. So it’s a symbol for all those Afghans who lost that.”

Born in Kabul, Qayumi grew up in Vancouver and attended the UBC Creative Writing program. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA, and went on to direct Targeting (2014) before moving to Afghanistan to become executive producer of the country’s version of Sesame Street. There, he began work on Black Kite.

“We didn’t know if it was going to work out. When we first shot it, there was an intense security situation in Kabul,” Qayumi said.

At the time of shooting, Ashraf Ghani had just been elected and the Taliban had vowed to remove him in retribution for a security arrangement Ghani had committed to with the United States government. Qayumi said the production crew suffered many close calls, including when lead actress Leena Alam nearly died in a bombing.

According to Qayumi, the crew was invited to a show about suicide bombings at the French Cultural Centre, though only Alam attended. During the show, a bomb smuggled in by a young boy went off near the actress. Though she was not hurt, she was shell-shocked – but still insisted on continuing with the shoot the next day.

“(She said) we can’t let these people do this – if we stop then they win! We continued an intense day of shooting. I’ll never forget that,” Qayumi said in an email.

Unable to afford a camera operator, Qayumi was forced to shoot the film himself – something he hadn’t done before. After returning to Vancouver in 2015, his wife and collaborator Tajana Prka edited the first cut and sent it to the Canada Council for the Arts. The council awarded the film the full amount – a huge milestone and moment of validation, Qayumi said, considering he had felt the film hadn’t initially emerged the way he had envisioned.

Soon, Black Kite was accepted into the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), playing at subsequent festivals following that. Though the film took shape slowly with parts being added throughout the post-production process, Qayumi said being accepted into TIFF was a big moment.

“As an artist, I think you never think you have enough time, enough money, enough experience,” he said. “Things come together like a child playing in a sandbox. It’s like, ‘What are you making?’ and you say, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t finished yet.'”

Qayumi said the film’s executive producer, Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo, was instrumental in polishing the film and getting it festival-ready. “She took a big chance with us,” Qayumi said in an email, adding Del Sorbo called their film a “diamond in the rough.”

Black Kite premiered at TIFF in 2018 and is scheduled to play until June 7. Qayumi said the film could help Canadians better understand the conflict and history of Afghanistan.

“There are complexities around the world in different regions, and a lot of times you don’t fully understand them because it’s hard to decipher all the different ethnic and tribal things that are going on. But we have spent a lot of Canadian treasure and lives in that country. For some people, it can be very confusing,” Qayumi said. “But if you come and see Black Kite – it’s 90 minutes – I guarantee it’ll give you perspective.”

“And those aren’t my words. Someone came up to me at TIFF and said that. (They said), ‘We spent so much of our treasure and lives in this country, we had no idea. We saw this film and it gives me perspective. It gives me scope.'”

Black Kite plays at the Toronto International Film Festival June 1 to 7. For more information on the film, visit Tarique Qayumi’s website.

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Schitt’s Creek to conclude after next season

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The popular CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek will conclude with its sixth and final season, star and co-creator Dan Levy announced in a statement today. Photo courtesy CBC.
The popular CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek will conclude with its sixth and final season, star and co-creator Dan Levy announced in a statement today. Photo courtesy CBC.

The popular CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek will end at the conclusion of its sixth season, series co-creator and star Dan Levy announced March 21.

“We are so grateful to have been given the time and creative freedom to tell this story in its totality, concluding with a final chapter that we had envisioned from the very beginning,” Levy said in a statement. “It’s not lost on us what a rare privilege it is in this industry to get to decide when your show should take its final bow.”

Schitt’s Creek premiered on CBC in 2015, becoming one of the network’s most successful half-hour comedies ever. The show follows the fish-out-of-water Rose family, forced to assimilate into a small town after they lose their family fortune.

Though the show’s first season received mixed reviews, it grew in regard with both fans and critics over subsequent iterations. Schitt’s Creek’s fifth season, which premiered on January 8, 2019, scored a 100 per cent “Fresh” ranking on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

The show is also among select company among Canadian sitcoms, drawing strong viewership in the United States and elsewhere thanks to distribution on Netflix and the American Pop network. Critics have reacted favourably to recent episodes, with TV Guide’s Megan Vick writing that each season of Schitt’s Creek has “gotten better and better.”

Read Levy’s full statement below.

New episodes of Schitt’s Creek air Tuesday nights at 9/9:30 NT on CBC.

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Watch the Oscar-nominated Canadian short “Animal Behaviour”

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The National Film Board of Canada is offering Canadians the opportunity to watch the Oscar-nominated Canadian short film "Animal Behaviour" until the end of today. Photo courtesy NFB
The National Film Board of Canada is offering Canadians the opportunity to watch the Oscar-nominated Canadian short film "Animal Behaviour" until the end of today. Photo courtesy NFB

To get prepped for the 91st Academy Awards, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is offering Canadians the chance to check out Animal Behaviour, nominated tonight in the Best Animated Short Film category.

Animal Behaviour is a new short from Alison Snowden and David Fine, who previously won an Oscar in 1994 for Bob’s Birthday. The short is the 75th Oscar nomination for the NFB, and the first short film for Snowden and Fine since Bob’s Birthday. The 91st Oscars air tonight at 8 Eastern on ABC and CTV.

Watch Animal Behaviour below (expires tonight).

Next up on The Mutt: Wynonna Earp future in doubt as Season 4 delayed

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Wynonna Earp future in doubt as Season 4 delayed

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Wynonna Earp Season 3 Episode 11/12 - "Daddy Lessons/War Paint". Photo courtesy Bell Media
Wynonna Earp Season 4 is in jeopardy, according to the The Hollywood Reporter, due to financial difficulties. Photo courtesy Space

All of a sudden, Wynonna Earp is in Purgatory.

Earpers were stunned Thursday night when executive producer and showrunner Emily Andras posted (and subsequently deleted) a tweet suggesting that fans of the show may soon have to fight for it. Another tweet, posted shortly later, took a decidedly more straight-forward approach.

Andras appeared to be responding to the news that funding for the fourth season of Wynonna Earp appeared to be on shaky ground, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter. According to THR, financial challenges faced by IDW Entertainment have stalled production on Season 4, despite the company being contractually obligated to deliver the show to Syfy.

In response to the news, Earpers took to Twitter with the hashtag #FightForWynonna, which at the time of publication was one of the top Twitter trends in Canada. Though Season 4 has yet to be officially cancelled, IDW has yet to commit to a start date for the new season.

“IDW is committed to continuing to tell the Wynonna Earp story,” the company said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Much like the fans, we are passionate about not only the series, but the comics, the characters and the overall message that the Wynonna Earp franchise carries. We are in the process of working out the details for how the Wynonna story will continue and will share new details very soon.”

Our resident Earper, Ghezal Amiri, was a big fan of Season 3, writing that the show’s season finale, entitled “War Paint”, was a “wildly emotional conclusion.” Read her recap here.

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