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VIFF’s Future//Present expands its view of what Canadian cinema can be

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Shot in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, director Igor Drljača's The Stone Speakers is set to play as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival's 2018 Future//Present series. Photo courtesy Timelapse Pictures
Shot in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, director Igor Drljača's The Stone Speakers is set to play as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival's 2018 Future//Present series. Photo courtesy Timelapse Pictures

Anyone who has been paying attention to Canadian cinema in recent years will have noticed a major shift in where the attention is going. Over the last half-decade, Canada has developed (or redeveloped) a new definition for its art cinema, often dubbed the New Canadian Cinema. Though this movement has existed for some years, its main festival support system has only emerged recently.

Now entering its third year, the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Future//Present has become the annual hotbed for what is most exciting in Canadian cinema that year. In its brief existence, the section has helped launch new works by some of the most impressive talent ever to come out of this country: Sofia Bohdanowicz, Ashley McKenzie and Antoine Bourges, to name a few. This time around, Future//Present aims to expand its view of what Canadian cinema can be.

Two prime examples in redefining Canadian cinema come in the form of The Stone Speakers and The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs, a pair of films that both approach the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina in distinct ways. The Stone Speakers comes from director Igor Drljaca, making his documentary debut after a pair of narrative features. In the film, Drljaca pairs images of the nation’s burgeoning tourist industry with various voiceover narrations that recount the history of the country through these landmarks. Through these two devices, modern images and detailed history, Drljaca finds a way to bridge the past with the present, while also examining the nation’s conflicts between religion, politics and economics.

In The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs, Bojan Bodružić takes a more intimate and personal approach to the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ostensibly a documentary about his grandparents spanning a decade and a half, Bodružić uses their stories to paint a portrait of a nation that has gone through turmoil. Essential to the film is the manner in which Bodružić makes the viewer aware of and comfortable in the family living space, the space where most of the film is set. Images of a nation ravished by war are paired with recollections and memories, setting the context for the film that follows. Though much of the film can be seen in relation to the nation it takes place, the scope of the film extends beyond just a history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The film also operates as a mediation on the passing of time, seen through the slowly aging subjects, as well as the various mediums used for recording. In the end, Bodružić returns to the images of the house, a house that carries the weight of history, presenting the intrinsic connection between the personal and the national.

Continuing on the documentary front, first-time director Aïda Maigre-Touchet’s Song of a Seer proves one of the greatest artistic statements in this year’s Future//Present section. Shot with great intimacy, Song of a Seer is a portrait of Haitian artist and intellectual Dominique Batraville. In its early scenes, Song of a Seer bears a striking resemblance to the films of Straub-Huillet, as Maigre-Touchet films Batraville reciting a series of texts and songs. As the film progresses, Maigre-Touchet finds her own voice in making the film. Much attention is given to Batraville’s home, a tight space brimming with knowledge, as books clutter every corner and pour out of the shelves. Despite the film’s tight focus on Batraville as the subject, there is a a strong sense of universality to the film, especially in its meditation on the self. Eschewing any traditional documentary traditions, Maigre-Touchet’s minimalist glimpse into the mind and life of Batraville is as artistically exhilarating as it is pensive.

The only director to make their return to Future//Present this year, Andrea Bussmann, makes her solo directorial debut with Fausto, following 2016’s collaboration with Nicolás Pereda, Tales of Two Who Dreamt. Taking her camera to the Oaxacan coast, Bussmann presents a dreamlike story of ghosts and myths, all shot on video transferred to 16mm. Arguably the most dense and difficult work to screen in Future//Present yet, Fausto feels like a series of unsolvable riddles, a layered meditation on history through a series of tales that feel as if they have been passed down for generations. Fausto is a modestly ambitious film that demands a lot from its viewers, but those who can find the film’s rhythm will be rewarded tenfold.

Olivier Godin, arguably the only “veteran” filmmaker in this year’s Future//Present section, makes his first entry in the section with his fourth feature, Waiting for April. Much like his last work, 2016’s The Art of Speech, Waiting for April is once again an abstract cop comedy. Waiting for April is essentially a fantasy planted in the real world, replete with assassins, barbarians, a man with a gorilla arm and a much coveted singing bone. In the film’s emphasis on the use of shadows and the makeshift irises, Waiting for April is as much-rooted in the traditions of early cinema as it is looking forward to the future of the medium. While The Art of Speech appeared to take direct cues from the later works of Jean-Luc Godard, Waiting for April is far less alienating, while retaining the core absurdity that helped make the former feature a rousing success. Much like Fausto, Waiting for April requires patience and a suspension of belief, but the simple pleasures of the film’s brutal absurdity make it one of the most instantly pleasurable films in this year’s Future//Present lineup.

Mangoshake marks the biggest risk to ever be taken by the Future//Present programmers. The first feature from director Terry Chiu embodies the spirit and aesthetic of lo-fi/DIY cinema like few films to ever play a major festival.  Telling the story of two rival food/beverage carts over the course of one summer, Mangoshake is a surreal and unpredictable consideration of suburban ennui. While the characters and their exploits in Mangoshake fully rest in the realm of suburban ennui, even the film itself feels birthed out of this concept; a group of bored suburban young adults coming together to make a low-budget film to occupy themselves. While this may not be the truth of the film’s genesis, everything about the film feels born out of this. Despite its rough around the edges look, the film is oddly poetic, allowing characters to reflect on their place in their community and the world at large. Above all of this, Mangoshake is side-splittingly hilarious. In the way it plays with expectations (if you can even have any with a film like this), in the characterization, in the physical comedy, Mangoshake is brimming with hilarity and sincerity.

The finest film to play this year’s Future//Present selection comes in the form of M/M, the feature debut from Drew Lint. What initially appears as a fairly innocuous tale of a man isolated in a new country quickly shifts into a a wild psychosexual thriller. M/M chronicles a tale of deep obsession through sleek, cool style. The film feels at once both cold and clinical as well as brimming with life. Lint’s style plays directly into the tense energy and unease of the film, building and exhibiting the characteristics of the characters at the centre of it. M/M is a terse, glossy peek into the world of love and infatuation, marking Drew Lint as perhaps the most exciting new filmmaker to emerge in 2018.

Another film dealing with obsession in its own right is Spice It Up, a collaboration between Lev Lewis and directing duo Yonah Lewis & Calvin Thomas. The film tracks a young film student working on a feature-length project. Through interaction with others, she receives the feedbacks and criticisms that drive her to obsessively tinker with her project. The film is largely built on an aspect of cringe, which is honed to elevate both the drama and the humour of the film. Spice It Up is equally an observation of the artistic process and a consideration of feeling alone and dejected in the world. The end result is a film that is both beguiling and bizarre, a truly singular work unlike anything to ever emerge within Canadian cinema.

As Future//Present has shifted its focus away from films confined within Canadian borders, the program has become all the richer for it. Every film laid out in the 2018 lineup feels significant in its own right, while the program is also using this year as an opportunity to help redefine what Canadian cinema is and can be. If the first two instalments marked the introduction of a slew of new English language Canadian directors, this year is largely about diversifying the voices on display in this platform. It marks the riskiest selection that has been curated yet, but the rewards are largely bigger and more exciting than ever.

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Calgary Underground Film Festival

CUFF 2019: Director Rob Grant on the tension (and dark comedy) of HARPOON

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From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF
From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 28. Photo courtesy CUFF

Adrift on the seas on a luxury yacht, three friends find themselves stranded without food or supplies and quickly realize their survival is less than assured. An official selection at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019, Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) April 28. 

The Mutt spoke with director Rob Grant prior to the film’s screening at CUFF. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of Harpoon?

ROB GRANT: I had a great relationship with my producers (Knuckleball director Michael Peterson and Kurtis Harder) from a film called Fake Blood. I pitched Mr. Peterson on this idea that was a mix between Polanski’s Knife on the Water but by way of Seinfeld characters on the boat. I grew up in Vancouver, and the original idea was, “Well, I spent a lot of time on a boat, we could go take a boat out to the ocean and try to isolate ourselves out there.” Once a budget came into play and the idea grew, suddenly we were shooting the interiors of the boat in a set in the middle of freezing winter in Calgary, and shooting the exteriors on a boat in tropical Belize down south.

TM: Was it difficult for you to balance those comedic elements and still find a way to ratchet up the tension?

RG: It was very difficult, and there were a lot of discussions about that. When you have to give the elevator pitch, you have to say: “This is the genre and this is what it means.” But I subscribe to the logic that in life you can feel in one moment that you’re in a love story and the next minute in a horror movie, and that’s the way real life actually works. But it seems a little more rigid in movies. We were aware of potentially disrupting viewers’ experiences of watching the movie. (We thought) a movie could, or should, be multiple things at once. We’re willing to accept that there’s going to be some audience members that are going to reject that as a movie experience, but we wanted to try it.

Harpoon director Rob Grant said premiering the film at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019 was a very validating experience. Photo courtesy CUFF

Harpoon director Rob Grant said premiering the film at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019 was a very validating experience. Photo courtesy CUFF

TM: Can you tell me more about those influences you mentioned? I’m curious about how you mixed something like Seinfeld with more traditional thriller elements.

RG: Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was definitely in there, as well as Polanski’s Knife in the Water. But I had to still find the dark humour in it, and Seinfeld came up specifically because as much as we all find the Seinfeld characters enduring, they’re very much in it for themselves. They’re worried about their own outcomes. So I tried to use a lot of that. As much as these people like to say they’re looking out for each other, the second it becomes a survival story they’re all kind of in it for themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia was another one, not only for mixing drama and humour, but definitely because the narration was less focused. It sets up what’s going to happen without speaking to much on the nose about what you’re about to see.

TM: I understand there’s some great gore and effects in Harpoon. What was your approach to that, and what effect do you think that has? 

RG: I’ve explored the effects of violence in cinema with Fake Blood, and this was an extension of that. The entire movie, these people speak very casually and aloof about the things that potentially will need to be done without actually considering what that entails until suddenly when it happens. I felt like it would be a good idea to make sure that was extremely violent and horrible, not only because we’ve been teasing up to this moment, but I do believe there’s a certain element that people do not consider the actual realities of having to do something like that. So it’s very shocking, very brutal, it’s like, “ha ha ha this was all funny to discuss” and now that it’s happened it sucks the wind out of you. That was a very intentional decision.

TM: What do you think Harpoon does in a unique way when compared to other similar films? What do you hope the audience walks away with?

RG: I hope when people leave the cinema that it wasn’t the movie they were expecting, that it was a little bit of a different take. I do think it’ll challenge them depending what their expectations are. I just hope they’re expecting something interesting in the genre, and that they’re along for the ride.

Harpoon makes its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 28. For tickets, click here

Click here to read our roundup of 9 Canadian films playing at CUFF 2019.

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Calgary Underground Film Festival

CUFF 2019: The story behind Uwe Boll, the so-called “worst filmmaker” ever

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F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story dives into the background of the notorious filmmaker, featuring a number of interviews with colleagues, critics and with Boll himself. Photo courtesy CUFF
F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story dives into the background of the notorious filmmaker, featuring a number of interviews with colleagues, critics and with Boll himself. Photo courtesy CUFF

Director of the critically-maligned video game adaptations Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and BloodRayne, Uwe Boll has long held a unfavourable reputation in the film industry not only due to the perceived quality of his films, but also due to his antagonistic response to his online “haters.” 

But a new documentary, F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story, seeks to better understand the firebrand filmmaker, diving into Boll’s past through a series of interviews with colleagues, critics and Boll himself. 

The Mutt spoke with F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul prior to the film’s Alberta premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 27. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: How did you first become acquainted with Uwe Boll?

SEAN PATRICK SHAUL: I first met Uwe Boll on the set of Assault on Wall Street. I worked as a crew member with him. Seeing him work was so fascinating. The way he directed was like no one I had ever seen before. He was such an interesting guy. That was almost 10 years ago and I ended up working on a TV show that was shooting in his restaurant. That was how I came across the idea for the documentary. The idea was to look at someone who is widely known as the world’s worst director. It was more asking, “Why was he considered that? How did he get that title, and whether or not he was.”

TM: As his persona on the internet developed, did that mesh with what you knew of him? Did you feel he was being portrayed in a way that was inaccurate?

SPS: I had seen some of his movies and I understood the reputation he had. He also fuelled that himself through the internet, engaging with all of these trolls and these critics. He takes it head on, which is fun to watch. But I had no idea what he would say when I pitched the documentary to him. Within five minutes, I realized we had a lot in common. He was excited about the documentary, excited to have that side told of it.

Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul first encountered Uwe Boll on the set of the 2013 action thriller Assault on Wall Street. Photo courtesy CUFF

Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul first encountered Uwe Boll on the set of the 2013 action thriller Assault on Wall Street. Photo courtesy CUFF

TM: How does Boll feel about being referred to as the “world’s worst director”?

SPS: He thinks it’s very unfair, which I guess I would agree with. Art is subjective, so it’s hard to say whether something is good or bad. But I think he’s also aware of the type of movies he was making. He didn’t think he was making The Godfather. He knew these were video game adaptations movies, so his expectations were low with those. But he has made more personal films (since then), but he already had this black cloud following him around. It stalled his career in that way. I thought that was really interesting – he made 32 movies, but by his fifth movie, people had already written him off.

TM: Why do you think Boll feels the need to respond to his trolls and his critics online?

SPS: I think he’s a very proud guy. He’s aware of his accomplishments and I don’t think he can let a comment like that go. If someone has the motivation to go after him online, he has the equivalent motivation to fire back at them. He hasn’t really calmed down on that too much. I think he’s currently banned from Twitter for going after trolls. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek for him when he goes after these people. He enjoys it, he likes engaging with them. It became part of his personality. As much as it hurt his career, it also helped his career in a way.

TM: In spending time with Boll, what surprised you about him as you got to know him better?

SPS: Before, I thought he was kind of an asshole, from his online persona, I thought he was just kind of a jerk. Through meeting him, I realized he’s a super sweet guy, he’s a really, really genuinely nice guy. He cares about films, he’s a real film guy. He knows all of the classics, he’s seen all these foreign films – he’s a real cinephile. But there’s something about him not being able to pull that off. All his favourite movies are the classics, but for some reason he can’t make those films himself. He was kind of handcuffed by all these tax loopholes and funding schedules, that he would have to pump these films out in a certain timeframe to get the tax credit. There’s a lot of reasons his earlier films turned out the way they did. They didn’t turn out the way he envisioned.

TM: Given that he knew the documentary wasn’t going to be all positive, why did Boll want to participate?

SPS: I think he just wanted someone who was looking at the larger picture instead of comparing him to a Tommy Wiseau or a Ed Wood. He wanted to explain himself a bit. The articles and the small kinds of podcast interviews don’t really give him enough time to explain himself, or they ask the same five questions. Almost every headline is “world’s worst director” – I think he wanted to look at something deeper. But he wasn’t shying away from that title. I told him early on in production that we’d be definitely looking at that angle and talking about it. He was more than happy to look at it. Most people would want this buried, but he looked at it head on. “I have that title, but let’s look at why.”

F*** You All: The Uwe Boll story plays April 27 at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. For tickets, click here.

Click here to read our roundup of 9 Canadian films playing at CUFF 2019.

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Acquainted takes a raw and honest look at modern love

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Acquainted stars Giacomo Gianniotti and Laysla De Oliveria as Drew and Emma, two high school classmates who discover sparks between them upon reuniting, despite the two both being involved in committed relationships. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media
Acquainted stars Giacomo Gianniotti and Laysla De Oliveria as Drew and Emma, two high school classmates who discover sparks between them upon reuniting, despite the two both being involved in committed relationships. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media

In Acquainted, a new romantic drama from Toronto-based director Natty Zavitz, high school classmates Drew (Giacomo Gianniotti of Grey’s Anatomy) and Emma (Laysla De Oliveria of The Gifted) reunite with each other at a bar and instantly connect, discovering they share some serious chemistry. Problem is, the pair are both in serious, long-term relationships.

The script for the film was partly inspired by the deterioration of Zavitz’s last major relationship, said producer Jonathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), who also plays Allan in the film.

“(Zavitz) sent me the script almost four years ago and I just connected so deeply and was so blown away by his script,” Keltz said. “(I was blown away) by how defined his voice was. I was completely moved by it.”

Inspired by films such as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset trilogy, Acquainted is an honest look at relationships and adulthood, exploring the subject matter with introspection. Keltz said the film examines fidelity and infidelity from a judgement-free place.

Alongside Gianniotti and De Oliveria, Acquainted also stars Johnathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), Rachel Skarsten and Parveen Kaur. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media

Alongside Gianniotti and De Oliveria, Acquainted also stars Johnathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), Rachel Skarsten and Parveen Kaur. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media

“The characters are not villains or victims. It’s a raw and honest look at being in relationships, to have these type of things happen and how to deal with that,” he said. “The relationship with the self and the seeking to find out who you really are is really what’s crucial to the building of a relationship with somebody else.

“It’s about taking the time to do that work that puts you in the best position to be a partner with somebody and to be an adult in this world.”

Many of the cast and crew on Acquainted have worked in Toronto’s film community for years, making the set of the film a reunion of its own. 

“In front of the camera and behind the camera, (the film involves all) kinds of amazing artists. It’s really a Canadian film and a Toronto film,” Keltz said. “It’s not trying to either hide that or beat you over the head with that.

“I think that’s done in a very unique way, and in a way that is both Torontonian and Canadian but also universally and commercially viable.”

Keltz said he thought the film would be emotionally affecting to audiences, offering perspective that could help to contextualize modern love and relationship.

“I think this is a really raw and honest and beautiful film about what it means to be in love, to be heartbroken, to be devastated, to be inspired and to try and build a life for yourself and figure out what that means,” Keltz said.

Acquainted is now playing at Cineplex Movies Yonge and Dundas in Toronto, International Village in Vancouver and at Landmark Cinemas nationwide.

Next up on The Mutt: With maturity and depth, An Audience of Chairs reflects on mental illness

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