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.
The titular stars of ‘Jessica Jessica’ come of age in their 30s
One morning, two best friends both named Jessica wake up and find themselves having very different mornings – one, Jessica H (Jessica Hinkson) wakes up after a one-night stand while the other, Jessica G (Jessica Greco) finds herself despondent outside an ex’s house post-breakup. And though neither of them find themselves in traditional romantic partnerships, it’s clear the central grounding relationship in their lives is their deep friendship, one that persists throughout the humorous and often confusing time period that is one’s modern-era late-30s.
Jessica Jessica was written by Greco based on a “sort of mashup of anecdotes” she and Hinkson told each other over the course of their real-life friendship, often over brunch. These real-life escapades often made them laugh at (and with) each other, leading the pair to realize they wanted to work together and begin creating content out of their stories.
The resulting 12-minute short, which premiered on CBC’s Canadian Reflections Nov. 15, has gone on to take home a number of awards at a variety of festivals, including the Best Screenplay award at the 2018 Vancouver Short Film Fest. Greco spoke with The Mutt prior to the film’s CBC screening to discuss the origins of the short film, writing about one’s 30s and of the importance of female friendships. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
THE MUTT: Where did you and Jessica (Hinkson) meet, and why did you decide to start working together?
JESSICA GRECO: Jess and I met a million years ago in theatre school in New York. She was living on the west coast and I was living back in Toronto and we met in New York and after school we went our separate ways. It wasn’t until many years later when she moved to Toronto that we reconnected here. So we’ve known each other and became friends as adults, because we were kids when we went to theatre school. I think chemistry is a big thing. In this industry you always want to work with your friends but you’re at the mercy of being cast opposite your friends. It was the sheer desire to work together, knowing we probably wouldn’t get the shot if we waited around for someone else to do it. So we made it happen for ourselves.
TM: Who are your influences in comedy and what’s the aesthetic of this film?
JG: I mean, the aesthetic was really important. We wanted it to be beautiful, like Sofia Coppola dreamy visuals. We wanted to tell a coming of age story, but a coming of age can happen at any time. So we had this idea of making this beautiful watercolour sparkly coming of age story and snuck in all these dirty jokes that no one expected. It’s kind of subversive, this mashup of a sex comedy meets a beautiful auteur’s version of a female-driven short. As far as influences, there’s so many… like the first ones that come to mind, of course, are the Tina Fey, Amy Poehlers of the world. The first guy I found funny was Michael J. Fox. In terms of great standup, I think Iliza Shlesinger is amazing, John Mulaney. There’s all kinds of great sketch comedy out there. Even locally, the Baroness von Sketch Show. Aurora Browne, she’s amazing.
[Next to read on The Mutt: Our interview with Baroness von Sketch Show’s Aurora Browne]
TM: What unique and modern perspectives did you want to express in Jessica Jessica about being in your late 30s?
JG: I think there is a real parallel in terms of your late 30s and adolescence, for women specifically. I think your late 30s, you’re looked at by society to make some real serious decisions about your life. Whether you want to have kids, how you’re going to do that, where you are in your career, there’s a real sort of rollover that happens right before 40 for women. I think it happens in your late teens, leaving high school as well. If you haven’t got married and haven’t had 2.4 children and have a regular 9 to 5 job, there’s a whole segment of the population for women that are left out in terms of representation, who didn’t do the thing their mothers maybe did. That story doesn’t necessarily exist, and if it it does, it’s a punchline – unless it’s a side character’s arc of, ‘Ha, ha, she just never gets her shit together, she’s that funny aunt.’ It’s a stereotype, and we wanted to represent women in a different way, to say, ‘No, there’s a whole bunch of us out here. We’re not mothers, we’re not wives, but we’re not failures.’
TM: Humour that comes from an honest place tends to be the funniest stuff. Was that something you kept in mind in the writing process?
JG: Absolutely. It was a lot of fun to do, and it was kind of humiliating and terrifying when your character’s name is your real name.
Jessica Jessica is available to watch now via the CBC’s website.
‘Beauty’ follows the lives of five gender-creative kids
Beauty, a 23-minute documentary directed by Christina Willings, is an exploration into the lives of five gender-creative children as they grapple with and explore who they are and who they want to be. The doc took home audience awards at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and the 2018 Reel Pride Film Festival Winnipeg and is set to play in Calgary on November 18 at the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival.
The Mutt spoke with Williams prior to the Nov. 18 screening. The following interview has been edited for length.
THE MUTT: Do you think it’s easier in today’s climate for kids to express themselves as being gender-creative, as compared to perhaps 10 or 20 years ago?
CHRISTINA WILLINGS: The narrative that we’re more familiar with are trans and gender-creative people who are older but were never allowed that space as children to truly honour themselves. I think what’s really important about this film, if I may say so myself, the impetus of what I was trying to do was really make a stage for us to honour children expressing who they want to be and exploring who they want to be so that their lives can unfold in a smoother and more authentic way.
TM: And so how are kids allowed to explore being gender-creative today in ways they weren’t able to previously?
CW: I think in some ways there’s more space to talk about gender and play with gender than perhaps we’ve ever seen before. I think we have a window of opportunity to get our toes in the door and push this space open a little wider so that all of us have more room to move when we’re thinking about and feeling through how we want to show up in the world. Also there’s a layer of things becoming fashionable for a while and then going away. I think there’s a element of fashion that we’ll see go and someone else will come into favour and this particular type of exploration will fall out of favour. But I think we do have an opportunity right now to widen this space and keep this space open. Not just for kids, but for all of us to be more generous with and especially when we talk about how gender expression works.
TM: What do you hope people take away from the documentary?
CW: I hope that people take from it is, “Wow, these kids really have a deep and clear sense of self.” For whatever miraculous reason, they feel able to honour that no matter what. I think that it’s time to listen to kids when they say things so clearly. One of the phrases that is often used in these types of conversations is when kids are, “insistent, consistent and persistent,” you really need to pay attention and ask, where do we go from here?
TM: Did certain themes emerge out of each of the five kids’ stories? Or were their individual experiences mostly unique?
CW: Both are true. They all had very individual experiences and there were definitely common themes running through all of their stories. One of the common themes running through all of their stories was that each of them knew from a very, very young age, 2 or 3 years old, that they wanted to start expressing in a way that seemed different from what they saw around them or how they felt people might be expecting. So for me, when I realized that kids had known at the age of 2 or 3, and they start saying things to their parents like, “Something’s wrong. I just have to go back up there and come down in a different body,” that was stunning. That kind of clarity was incredible at such a young age.
TM: Why would you encourage people to see the film?
CW: I would say that it’s an aesthetically pleasing film. You can’t really call a film Beauty and not try to make a beautiful film. I think it’s fun to watch. It draws you in, slowly, into the lived realities of these really fascinating kids who are compelling in their clarity and their self-knowledge. It has an animated component, which takes us into the kids’ inner realm in a way that I think is really satisfying. So I think you really do get a sense of who these kids are, both aesthetically and through their dialogue.
Beauty plays at the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival at 2 p.m. at the River Park Church Auditorium. For tickets, click here.
“A poem for the planet”: Metamorphosis’ visual meditation on climate change
Metamorphosis, a feature-length documentary from filmmakers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper, takes a notably different approach in its examination of climate change when compared to features such as An Inconvenient Truth (2006) or Time To Choose (2015). Ami and Ripper sought to make a cinematic, “almost experimental” documentary, favouring sound and image over more conventional documentary components like talking heads.
“We aren’t putting a lot of tags or text on it. It gives you more stories and ideas,” Ripper said. “The solutions are intended to be design principles, and they’re all very visual as well. And then there’s a soundtrack that is very involved and layered. We make good use of the 7.1 audio space as well as it’s shot in 4K – so visually, it’s really punchy.”
Metamorphosis weaves the work of artists using ecological themes to further illustrate a sort of “visual language,” Ami said, that combined with drone shots and time-lapse footage helps to create a poetic feeling throughout the work.
“(That visual language) allowed us to explore some of those themes that are more conceptual. Like art, the film asks questions and (doesn’t) necessarily spell it out for you – there is room for your own interpretations and your own understanding to come into play,” Ripper said. “It’s a very reflective journey and we hope people will find it a transformative journey – and we are seeing that happen.”
Directors Nova Ami (left) and Velcrow Ripper (right) began developing Metamorphosis after witnessing the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Photo courtesy Grant Baldwin.
Ami and Ripper began developing the film just more than four years ago, around when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, killing at least 6,300.
“We were talking about making a film together and I had spent a lot of time in the Philippines and my family is from the Philippines, so that really weighed heavily on us. We talked about how an event like that could change a person,” Ami said. “That led to further conversations about how we deal with change in a time of climate crisis, how we resist change, how we move through change. That led to conversations about metamorphosis – the title came up and we decided to explore that theme and how that relates to us at this point in time.”
Four months before Ami and Ripper went into production, they had a child. Ripper said that experience further informed the development of Metamorphosis.
“I think choosing to have a child in this era is in itself a statement of hope. I think it really made us think, ‘What can we do to help create a world that is thriving as he comes of age?’” Ripper said. “So the hope we have is not so much optimistic based on the facts – I think the facts are very, very dire and we are in a time of emergency – it’s based on a kind of heroic hope that we want to do everything we can and making the film was one of our gestures.”
Making the film as two Canadians, Ami and Ripper found themselves approaching the content in a specific context when compared to major American features done on similar topics. Though the United States has received significant criticism for its recent action on climate – such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement – Ripper said Canada was still “not that well-regarded” on the international stage.
“I think it’s in our culture to want to be on the right side of history, but we’re not there yet. We have a big transition to make,” he said. “We have to do this in a way that protects workers and we shouldn’t be pitting jobs against the environment. That’s a false dichotomy. We have to transcend that dichotomy. We need to respect those fears and address those fears but we also have to create a future – literally.”
The film was co-produced by and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s Edmonton studio, the North West Studio. Thanks to the footage used and the way the film employs sound and music, Ami said Metamorphosis was an experience best suited to see in the theatre, on a big screen.
“It’s a really cinematic experience,” she said. “It’s a film that sparks the imagination in terms of what’s possible. It’s a climate change film you can go on a date with.”
Metamorphosis plays at the River Park Church Auditorium in Calgary on November 16 as part of the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival. For more information, click here.