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Closing night at the AFF was filled with some of the best films of the festival including the epic adventure film Tracks. The movie tells the true-life story of Robyn Davidson’s 2700km solo journey in 1977 through the western Australian desert with her four camels and faithful dog Diggity. Her journey is mesmerizing and powerful. Mia Wasikowska, known for her work in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, is outstanding as Davidson.
The audience goes along with Wasikowska as she goes through the struggles, triumphs, sadness and frustration along the way. Davidson had to learn how to train camels and get financing for the journey. Her stubbornness to complete the track on her own is constantly tested with the presence of Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a photographer from National Geographic, the publication which funded the project. The Aboriginals in the film, particularly the hilarious Mr. Eddie (Roly Mintuma), add a rich dimension and history to the scathing landscape. The gorgeous, breathtaking scenes of the harsh desert underscore the remarkable courage of Davidson to take this trip. Tracks is a rare film that speaks about a woman’s journey completed on her own terms. It is truly amazing.
The faithful AFF audience was in for a treat on Monday night with Michael Kohlhaas, an intensely moving film that shows the value of justice in society. Based on the novella by 16th century author Heinrich von Kleist, the film follows the improbable quest of horse breeder Michael Kohlhaas as he tries to get remuneration for his badly injured servant and two stolen horses. Set in the Middle Ages, the scenery and costumes are well done. Danish heartthrob Mads Mikkelsen as Michael Kohlhass is magnificent. Best known for his work in Casino Royale and as Hannibal Lecter in the American TV show Hannibal, Mikkelson is a classic character actor. His emotional range and commanding force on the screen is spot-on. Mikkelson’s on-screen daughter, Mélusine Mayance is equally strong.
The best supporting character of the film by far is the cinematography. The stillness in the fields, the snorting of the beautiful horses and the clanking of the metal swords gives the film richness and texture similar to the look and feel of Winter’s Bone. The slow, deliberate pace of the film allows the audience to fully appreciate the danger of Kohlhaas’ journey. Many of the violent scenes are done in almost absolute silence with blood and gore rarely seen. This makes the violence even more chilling and powerful. Michael Kohlhaas is not a typical big budget historical drama and it’s not meant to be. It is a quiet, powerful story about how much a person is willing to pay to find justice.
There are several scenes in Asghar Farhadi’s spectacular La Passé (The Past) framed with characters talking behind glass. Though their body language is visible, the words can’t be heard. It’s a delicate symbol for how we view past events. We can see the details, the lips moving, but what’s actually said is left impenetrable. Farhadi follows up his phenomenal A Separation with this vexing look at relationships. The story follows Ahmad, who returns to France from Iran to finalize his divorce from Marie. While staying in his old house, with his kids and her new fiancé Samir, Ahmad’s presence begins to unclog the debilitating truths everyone’s unwilling to face. After an uncomfortable first hour of feigned politeness, the film spins around a series of harrowing arguments born out of an enigmatic trauma. A final, purposefully vague shot underscores the ambiguity lingering on everyone's mind while giving audiences something to argue about. Everyone always says they want to move on, but what came before will just sort of sit there, comatose—unresolvable and refusing to die.
So ends another AFF, with a bunch of happy film fans and even happier filmmakers. Lowlife's win constituted a whopping two times their original budget and generous filmmakers Jason Buxton and Jeff Wheaton donated their prizes to Telefilm/Film Nova Scotia First Feature Project and the NSCAD Film Program, respectively. See how great the film business is?
Best Atlantic Feature
$8,000 in services, sponsored by The Postman
Winner: Blackbird - Jason Buxton
Honourable Mention: The Disappeared - Shandi Mitchell
***Buxton donated his award to the recipient of the Telefilm/Film Nova Scotia First Feature Project
Best Atlantic Short
$500 cash, $1,000 services, sponsored by 902 Post
Winner: Better People - Mark O'Brien
Best Atlantic Director
$10,000 in services, sponsored by Panavision Canada
Winner: Jason Buxton - Blackbird
***Buxton donated his award to the recipient of the Telefilm/Film Nova Scotia First Feature Project
Best Atlantic Emerging Director
$500 cash, sponsored by OUTeast Film Festival
Winner: Ashley McKenzie - When You Sleep
Best Atlantic Cinematographer
$5,000 in services, sponsored by SIM Digital
Winner: Jeff Wheaton - Gravity and Grace
***Wheaton donated his award to the NSCAD Film Program as a scholarship
Best Atlantic Original Score or Song
$5,000 services, sponsored by Hideout Studios
Winner: Claude Fournier - Last Chance
Best Atlantic Sound Design
$500 cash, sponsored by HHB Canada
Winner: Andrew MacCormack - Here and Away
Best Atlantic Screenwriter
$1,500 cash, sponsored by Michael Weir Foundation for the Arts
Winner: Jason Buxton - Blackbird
The First Feature Project
Production Financing of $105,000 towards a first feature length film, sponsored by Telefilm Canada & Film NS
Winner: Bunker 6 - Writer/Director: Greg Jackson, Producer: Rebecca Sharratt, Mentor: Bill Niven
Script Development Award
$10,000 in development financing from Astral, sponsored by Telefilm Canada & Astral Media The Harold Greenberg Fund
Winner: The Magic of Boxer Connor - Wanda Nolan
RBC 10 x 10 Emerging Artist Award
$10,000 to be split between filmmaker & artist, sponsored by RBC Foundation
Winner: Crows- Director: Scott Simpson, Band: The Divorcees
Audience Award for Best Feature
$10,000 in post production colour correction services, sponsored by Creative Post & Theatre D Digital
Audience Award for Best Documentary
$10,000 in post production audio services, sponsored by Creative Post & Theatre D Digital
Audience Award for Best Short
$10,000 in post production audio/video services, sponsored by Creative Post & Theatre D Digital
If you aren’t already madly in love with Charles Bradley (the man and the music), you will be after you see this brief, but insightful, doc. (For Bradley fans, this will make him seem even more endearing, if that’s possible.)
Director Poull Brien weaves Bradley’s story together very effectively, beginning with the lead-up to Bradley’s debut CD release (“No Time For Dreaming”) at age 62, and stepping back through his past, as a James Brown impersonator, and even further back to his troubled childhood. Bradley, who lives in the projects in Brooklyn, NY, spends most of his time caring for his mother. He’s stoic, accepting his status in life, but he’s clearly riddled with conflict.
Bradley is the anomaly, the underdog, who’s getting his big break when many people are thinking about retirement. It’s a feel-good story, but as his own life is indicates, anything can happen, be it good or bad. What makes Bradley such an immense person to listen to, both on and off stage, is his apparent inability to hate any being on the planet; he holds no resentment for his misfortunes, and is brimming over with love of the world upon his successes.
He’s so upfront about his life struggles, that it would be hard to make a bad documentary about him.
A little ditty, about Jack and Diane — two teenagers in New York who are also lesbians. Their blooming romance eclipses personality gulfs, but frightens Diane, who's also kind of a werewolf.
Mellencamp tributes aside, this off-kilter film is mostly comedy that seems to think it's heavy drama and sometimes falls into scenes of horror. In that respect, the movie's a perfect encapsulation of the awkward beauty and soul-crushing terror of first love.
Juno Temple and Riley Keough perform in a mumbly, airy haze that's full of hyperbole and selfishness. Which is largely irritating until you remember that's basically how teenagers are.
An atmospheric soundtrack and some typically gorgeous animation by the Brother Quay add to the film's dreaminess, while Kylie Minogue shows up for some reason as a tattoo artist.
Aside from a tremendously out-of-place rape scene, Jack & Diane skates admirably along as a silly, emotional romp through teenage romance. A trip that doesn't shy away from showing love as the bone-wrenching, blood sucking monster it can be.
This isn’t the kind of thriller that gets you all settled in a nice, familiar atmosphere before pulling out the carpet. Canadian feature Replicas (titled Into Their Skin in the version that screened at the AFF) is very, very strange from the get-go.
Grieving after the accidental death of their daughter, Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark (Joshua Close, who also wrote the script) decide to escape with their son to a remote family cottage. Once there, they encounter their neighbours, the Sakowskis, whose admiration of Mary and Mark’s “perfect family” turns violent.
At first, it’s hard to locate the tone first-time director Jeremy Regimbal is trying to establish, because all of the character’s interactions feel weird. Paired with the colour-drained appearance of the film, which lends a monochromatic bleakness to the picturesque woods and posh cottage, it seems the stilted conversations just play into Regimbal's desired atmosphere, favouring a sustained, drawn-out tension over sudden scares.
There’s never any illusion that the Zukowskis are just being neighbourly; all three of them seem utterly bananas from the moment they start forcing bowls of salad on the newcomers. The initial socializing between the two families is a little creepy but a lot awkward: there are many long silences, inappropriate questions, and puzzling comments. Expect to squirm in the dinner scenes, not from fear, but out of desperation for someone to just please make some small talk. This state of discomfort, though, creates suspense in itself: we know the plot is going to topple over into menace at some point, but we’re not sure when or how.
When the inevitable does hit the fan, James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner are very good, milking their roles as the Sakowski couple and clearly relishing some of their more demented lines. Ultimately, Replicas is absorbing in its commitment to oddness from start to finish.
Sleepwalk With Me is a trip into the brain of comedian Mike Birbiglia, who wrote, directed, and stars in this mostly-autobiographical romantic comedy. Adapted from Birbiglia’s book and off-Broadway show, the film tells the story of aspiring comedian Matt Pandamiglio, whose relationship begins to flounder in uncertainty just as his stand up career is blossoming. Meanwhile, his neuroses are manifesting as a rather alarming sleep disorder that causes him to physically enact his dreams.
Fans of Birbiglia will have heard these jokes before, but it’s fun to see his anecdotes coaxed into a narrative where characters are fleshed out and given room to breathe, while Birbiglia’s pet fixations remain intact (notably, pizza). Co-written by This American Life host Ira Glass, who appears in a quick cameo, Sleepwalk works as a feature because Birbiglia is as much a storyteller as he is a comedian, and the film has heart as well as big laughs.
It also doesn’t hurt that the supporting cast is a delight. Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose displays her comedic chops as Birbiglia’s voice coach girlfriend, while Kristen Schaal is perfectly deadpan as the host of a college lip sync contest, and Carol Kane has some hilarious moments as Birbiglia’s mom. If only all rom coms were as genuinely funny as this.
It's tempting to call The Disappeared a mixture of disaster porn melodrama The Perfect Storm and survival-horror one-note Open Water. Doing so would give you a sense of the unflinching way the film follows six fishermen adrift in the North Atlantic after their vessel sinks. But it would also be a disservice to the powerful and raw movie director Shandi Mitchell has made with her feature debut.
As the film begins, the six characters stranded between two lifeboats seem like obvious choices for those you'd most want to be lost at sea with. These are seafaring, saltwater-hardened men who are deceivingly practical in the face of disaster. The way they go about tying knots and bailing out water with casual detachment, one gets the sense that "lost at sea" is just a nuisance of the trade.
Time wears on, though. And it becomes clear how each man is clinging ever more desperately to their customs to avoid staring down the insanity of the indifferent ocean all around them.
An early scene where the men wildly yell and howl and scream at the world emphasizes the hopelessness they find themselves engulfed within.
Director of photography Christopher Porter embodies that environment well—filling the screen with the unending expanse of the sea. Its changing colours illustrating the passage of each day, but also trapping the men and their two yellow boats in a haunting canvas of greys and blues and blacks.
In its own way, The Disappeared is a film about purgatory. These weathered men who are stuck between life and death. With neither God, nor fate, or any other force to look out for them, all they can do is pick up their oars and keep rowing into the abyss.
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