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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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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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