The six-episode “Reelside” documentary series explores the mythology and making of television and film, and features Canadian creators, mentors and actors, including Stephen Amell, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, Don McKellar and Bruce McDonald, Michael Hogan and Graeme Manson, and Sarah Gadon.
Coming soon:CanScreen’s video interviews with “Reelside” creators Matthew Lochner (episode 6, “Superheroes”) and Raj Panikkar (series producer, including episode 4, “Science Fiction”) and a profile on Mathew Hannam (episode 5, “Don McKellar and Bruce McDonald”).
“Reelside” premieres in Western Canada beginning Thursday, September 3 at 9 PM on Movie Central and is available on TMN GO and On Demand.
For more information, check out the “Reelside” website.
A still from Sophie Deraspe’s “The Amina Profile”Courtesy of GAT PR
“The Amina Profile” fittingly makes its way into the spotlight at a time when many Internet users indulge in “catfishing,” a term referring to the act of using a fictitious online persona to lure an individual into a relationship.
Just as MTV’s “Catfish” tracks its participants from initial skepticism all the way to a big reveal, Sophie Deraspe’s compelling documentary follows the same movements. However, “The Amina Profile” brings more depth, including touching upon the rushed truth behind online journalism and the power that the right words can have to manipulate.
It all starts with a friendship between a Montrealer, Sandra Bagaria, and a spirited Syrian-American, Amina Arraf. The women’s relationship gradually grows into a passionate online romance, leading Amina to propose a plan to publicly out herself as a lesbian and to lay out her anti-regime opinions during the Arab Spring in on-the-ground dispatches in her blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus.”
Arraf’s popular blog made national headlines. It was her writing that sparked conversation and controversy until she suddenly went missing. Then the discussions turned to her whereabouts, her safety and to locating her contacts. As more people came forward to confess they could not pinpoint specific information about Arraf, suspicions arose over the credibility of her writing and whether Amina Arraf was – in fact – a real person.
A still from “The Amina Profile” Courtesy of GAT PR
Deraspe relays much of the story by displaying text messages and e-mail on the screen and the writing becomes increasingly unclear following Arraf’s purported arrest. Textual conversations are superimposed on blurred footage of an alluring woman, often walking down narrow streets or reclining in the nude and frequently filmed from the back. Deraspe is also very careful to maintain the sense of unknown identity, often filming the figure from the back. These ingenious decisions not only drive home the points about the indeterminacy of the blogger in question, but also paint a sensual picture of how Bagaria might have envisioned Arraf.
As the viewer travels down the rabbit hole and tries to solve the mystery behind Arraf’s identity, Deraspe never loses her grip on the politics that provide a substantial part of the groundwork for the film. The footage can be graphic, but the filmmaker uses her tricks wisely; she obscures the visual to maintain the seriousness of the film, while skipping over unnecessary gore.
Deraspe worked closely with Bagaria to make “The Amina Profile.” Their collaboration, and Bagaria’s willingness to relive her grief through her participation in the film – a process that has earned her closure on this phase of her life – has paid off in an outstanding piece of work.
“The Amina Profile” opens in Toronto today, August 21, at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West).
Director Sophie Deraspe will participate in a Q&A at the August 22 screening.
Emily Piggford and Pat Mills in “Guidance”Courtesy of Search Engine Films
Most leap to the never-ending strand of “Bad Santa” copycats starring Billy Bob Thornton when they think of movies featuring a surly adult abusing his power and stature. However, for me, the strongest comparison with writer-director-star Pat Mills’ “Guidance” is Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult” – another movie in which a self-centred burnout living in the past proceeds to steamroll those who dare to criticize.
That said, “Guidance” improves and delights in places where “Young Adult” angered me. Reitman’s dark comedy didn’t work for me because too many bystanders enabled bratty princess Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) for no good reason. The people who enable “Guidance’s” main character David Gold (Mills) are inspired by his frank carelessness, and thus are persuaded through to give their head a shake.
Pat Mills in “Guidance” Courtesy of Search Engine Films
In reality, Gold (under the pseudonym “Roland Brown”) is “winging it” – as he does with most things in his life. He can’t hold a job, simmers on his former success as a onetime child actor, fibs his way around an irritated landlord, and cheats his way into a job for which he has zero experience. He’s also apathetic towards his family (showing no pain when he dramatically scribbles out faces on family portraits) and has developed an alcohol addiction that serves as his best friend.
A character like David Gold is a difficult creature to tame. But Pat Mills does so flawlessly, while also serving as the film’s director and screenwriter. He does a helluva great job showing how well he can spin multiple plates on a film production.
Mills knows how to set up awkward conversations and run-ins, but he also knows that irresponsible people eventually have to take ownership of their missteps. When “Roland Brown” is caught in a lie, he doesn’t continue to spin his web. He denies, and is almost too lazy to bend the truth even further. The filmmaker has crafted David exceptionally well and provides enough conviction behind why he manipulates and how easily he can fool himself. One example: David records affirmation phrases during his fleeting day gigs, and these gradually help him gain confidence in all the wrong ways.
Around Mills’ stellar performance is a collection of funny, supporting characters. The students all hold their own, and their affection for David as their new off-kilter guidance councellor is very amusing. Meanwhile, the eccentric teachers don’t know whether to be impressed over his progress or scared that students actually like him.
”Guidance” is hilarious and earnestly clever. The third act has the appearance of a tangent-laced dream, as a new-found interest and concern between Gold and a troubled student spirals out of control. But Mills – always persistent in balancing tragedy with comedy – recognizes the repercussions, and isn’t afraid to allow the film’s maturing characters to face them head-on, leading “Guidance” towards a satisfying bittersweet conclusion.
Jeff Roop in Adam MacDonald’s “Backcountry” Courtesy of backcountryfilm.com
Based on a true story, Adam MacDonald’s “Backcountry” is a survival thriller about a couple lost in the Canadian wilderness – and in the territory of a predatory black bear. The film stars Missy Peregrym (“Rookie Blue”), Jeff Roop (“Heartland”) and Eric Balfour (“Haven”), with Nicholas Campbell (“Republic of Doyle,” “Da Vinci’s Inquest”).
The Toronto premiere of “Backcountry” takes place on August 12 at 7 PM at the Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond Street West).
Didn’t score tickets to the premiere? See it in Canadian theatres from August 28!
I’m always willing to throw support towards the Toronto Youth Shorts for good reason. The festival offers an accessible platform for aspiring filmmakers to screen their work, and to engage the audience through a stimulating Q&A.
Toronto Youth Shorts stands out as an exceptional film festival because it rarely hits rough patches. Then again, it’s to no surprise, considering that the selection process and the overall festival presentation are handled with coordinated grace, courtesy of festival director Henry Wong and his staff – all of whom are equally as passionate to screen inspired work and give hopeful voices a new opportunity to be heard.
In the past, I’ve offered pre-coverage and reflections on the festival, and I’ve often admitted that I’m inclined to remove my critic hat because I become so enwrapped in what I’m watching. The same case can be made for the selections I’ve watched this year out of the 30 titles from the Greater Toronto Area and Southern Ontario.
“A New Reflection” Courtesy of TYS
Toronto Youth Shorts usually hosts some documentaries. It’s no different this time around. I was enlightened and exhilarated by Pauline Beal and Lindsay Fontaine’s “A New Reflection.” The delicate doc primarily focuses on Katie Atkinson – a student with multiple facial differences – and her recollection of how she learned to use her vibrant personality to overcome critical and nosy comments. Atkinson is an inspiration, but the scenes featuring her optimistic and curious mother – who also shares some of her daughter’s traits – are evenly enriching.
“A Woman Departed” Courtesy of TYS
Then there’s Steven Czikk’s “A Woman Departed,” which tugged at my heartstrings and caused a lump in my throat. Czikk showcases how love can both empower and exhaust, as a grippingly emotional interviewee explains. A forlorn man pours his heart out about his relationship to his wife which has now become similar to that between a caregiver and a patient. The documentarian respects his subject, and gives viewers a bittersweet intimate film.
Of the films that that I screened, Abdul Malik’s “Blue Eyed Drunks” presented the strongest scripted narrative and an impressive style. Malik’s coming-of-age short is akin to Danny Boyle directing “Superbad” – under all of the flash are concrete characters who we can empathize with. Two high-school students discuss the struggle to keep their original Pakistani grassroots alive in their new, western-civilization living conditions. It’s gripping, smart, and a very attractive film.
“Tanabata” Courtesy of TYS
Animation fans will be whisked away by Annie Amaya’s lovely “Tanabata.” A parental epiphany is explained in Alicia Harris’ “Fatherhood.” And confident women steal the show in Dan Laera’s exciting wrestling doc “Pretty Dangerous” and in Joy Webster’s poignant “In the Weeds.”
If these selections represent the quality of this year’s Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival, then we have a hit on our hands. Moviegoers have a bright future ahead of them if these featured filmmakers decide to further carry out their craft.
The seventh annual Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival takes place on August 8, 2015 at Innis Town Hall. For tickets and more information, hop on over to the Toronto Youth Shorts’ website.
Eve Ringuette in Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s “Le Dep”Courtesy of Silversalt PR
Genre films are often driven by polarities between the lead characters: good versus evil, strong versus weak, new versus old. This offers instant conflict and resolves dramatic tension by answering key questions for audiences. And if an auteur director can get viewers to see more than simple human discord, they can also be left with a message of hope and renewal.
That’s a lesson that director Sonia Bonspille Boileau learned with her first feature, “Le Dep,” a character-driven crime thriller set in a rural Quebec community riven in two by the collateral damage of Canada’s residential-school era. By the climax of this heist pic, hero and anti-hero alike are allowed to heal and move on with their lives.
“The characters are based on people in my life. I won’t say who. But I wrote them with people in my life and my circle, and the storylines are based on situations that I know of, and everything has to do with how the store runs is based on (Eve Ringuette’s) experience, who worked as a store clerk,” Bonspille Boileau told CanScreen at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where “Le Dep” had its world premiere.
In this moody, theatrical drama, Quebec actress Ringuette plays a young Innu woman named Lydia who works the cashier at her father’s convenience store. One night, just as Lydia is about to close up shop, a masked robber (played by Charles Buckell-Robertson), holds her up at gunpoint. The danger is compounded when she discovers the identity of her attacker, forcing her to decide the fate of those closest to her.
But the intense interplay between characters in “Le Dep” occurs amid community polarities of parent against child, criminal against police and outsider against establishment. The result is no simple crime thriller. Bonspille Boileau has instead created a multi-layered drama in an aboriginal context about a community in turmoil, and yet a film in which the characters convey universal themes of family bonds, failure and retribution.
“There’s family dynamics that go way beyond whether you’re aboriginal or not. I didn’t want it to be this very narrow, only aboriginal film. It could be about anyone,” the director explained.
In this French-language movie, what at first seems a simple corner-store robbery-gone-wrong becomes a far more complex hostage situation. As Lydia attempts to keep her gun-toting kidnapper at bay through a cat-and-mouse storyline, “Le Dep,” with pace and precision, deals with questions of family betrayal and revenge.
Bonspille Boileau’s decision to depict in her film some of the tragic polarities in Canada’s First Nations communities even involved whether the robber, a drug addict desperate to pay off a debt, should eventually be killed off.
“I was still in the (film) treatment phase and I had the robber die. He was shot by the police officer that came back. But my script editor said, ‘If you do that, your main character has no hope whatsoever because her boyfriend kills him. You’re leaving her in despair,” Bonspille Boileau recalled.
The director was being told not to leave her audience without hope.
“He put doubt in my mind. I’m the first aboriginal female filmmaker out of Quebec to make this type of film. This is what I’d be setting,” Bonspille Boileau explained.
The solution to the scene was instead to hand agency back to Lydia.
“I wanted to make sure she remained the person in control of the situation, right to the very end. It’s a power shift. (The robber) has control at the beginning. But as the story goes on, (Lydia) slowly takes control, loses it at one point, and then regains control and has the power in the end,” Bonspille Boileau said.
The director explained that putting Lydia in the driver’s seat was no easy task.
“I don’t want to sound like a feminist, but I had mainly men giving me feedback, and it was really hard to tell them, ‘No, (Lydia’s) the lead, he’s not.’ They would have control shift to him. After all, he’s holding the gun,” Bonspille Boileau said.
“Action films always have a man with a gun and we’re going to follow him. I wanted (“Le Dep”) to be from her perspective,” she added.
As it happens, Ringuette plays Lydia stoically for most of the film. But her coolness shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of anger. In the movie’s final scene, Lydia erupts emotionally, as she finally takes command of events.
“I wanted to build up for this scene,” Ringuette said. “I knew I would find it hard to play the last scene, where I pop out. I just wanted her to look like she was still calm, and that she wanted to have control.”
Bonspille Boileau added that Lydia is not so much passive as not willing to show her fright or stress, as “Le Dep” slowly reveals a surprising bond between robber and captive. The film diverts Lydia’s anger away from aggression and towards constructive engagement and healing.
“When we were rehearsing, it was important that the characters have balance. (The robber’s) over the top. He’s yelling and bouncing around. So (Lydia’s) thoughts and emotions are more interior, so it didn’t turn into a shouting match,” she explained.
“And I wanted her to not show the robber that she was afraid. You can feel her stress, but also she’s trying to remain calm. And at the end, I said, let it all out,” Bonspille Boileau added.
“Le Dep” producer Jason Brennan of Nish Media explained that Lydia’s stoic nature for most of the film reflects the reality of many aboriginal women.
“They’ve seen so much crap, so they’ve built this stoic character. Having dealt with so many emotions, it takes a lot to push them over the edge. So the last scene is (Lydia’s) breaking point,” he said.
The final scene also ties into the ravages of substance abuse and violence faced by the residential-school generations.
“These people grew up not knowing how to parent their own kids. They have all this anger built up, and turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve their pain,” Bonspille Boileau said of the backdrop to “Le Dep.”
But despite being held at gunpoint by a desperate robber, Lydia wants to be the glue that holds a family and a community together.
“At the end, even when I was writing, I knew the final scene would work if she became the child that saw the dad beat the mom. That’s what we discussed – (Lydia) going into that little girl zone, going back to being the innocent kid,” the director explained.
The end of “Le Dep” holds a surprise for those Canadians who have long assumed that this country’s First Nations can never overcome the ravages of poverty, violence and substance abuse to reach a place where all is reversed and the damned can be saved.
The return from Karlovy Vary to Canada of “Le Dep,” which also stars Yan England and Robert-Pierre Cote, is timely as it comes during a political thaw. The residential-school era, where cultural genocide was disguised as Christian charity, is at long last being talked about by Canadians.
“Suddenly there’s more of an openness. So our film arrives at a good time,” Brennan said.
But as much as the film was well received in Karlovy Vary, Bonspille Boileau is wary about how Canadians will respond to “Le Dep.”
“We don’t really want to see it (the impact of residential schools) because it’s our backyard. The relationship between First Nations and Canada is still fragile,” the director said.
“Le Dep” has its Canadian theatrical release on August 7 and is distributed by K-Films Amerique in Quebec. For more information, check out the “Le Dep” website.
Roy Dupuis and Antoine L’Ecuyer in “The Sound of Trees”Christian Mouzard/Courtesy of Silversalt PR
In “The Sound of Trees” (“Le bruit des arbres”), writer-director Francois Peloquin portrays rural Quebec’s dramatic shift to unbridled economic and ecological change via a coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old teenager seeking more out of life than taking over his father’s sawmill.
“The way I think about Quebec’s culture is it’s in an adolescent state because it’s turning its back on its regions. If you don’t like where you’re from, you turn your back,” Peloquin told CanScreen, as his debut feature had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
The atmospheric drama, now on release in Quebec and headed to the festival circuit elsewhere in Canada, challenges our understanding not only of the forest’s place in the Quebecois imagination, but also of the environmental and economic dilemmas confronting the French-speaking province.
Peloquin’s script, co-written with Sarah Levesque, unleashes two forces struggling for the hearts and minds of the Gaspesie region – big timber conglomerates looking to buy up smaller sawmills, and local farmers and foresters who are keen to retain their traditional ways.
In the middle of rural Quebec’s cultural rupture and transition is Jeremie, a teenager played by newcomer Antoine L’Ecuyer. Over one summer, he finds himself caught between the forest that sustains a small sawmill run by his father, Regis, (Roy Dupuis) and the road, which promises a better life in Quebec City.
Rather than be content to work in the forest, Jeremie is drawn to fast cars, women and hip-hop culture, a lifestyle his frustrated father blames on a local drug dealer.
Jeremie and Regis represent a dual personality, two conflicting halves of a seemingly doomed Quebecois regional culture that strain in opposite directions. Regis wants to stay, while Jeremie wants to leave.
To develop his coming-of-age storyline, Peloquin selected lead actors with the exceptional skills and talent necessary to animate their characters through body language and movement.
“I didn’t have to cast Roy (Dupuis). He was the best choice for the role,” Peloquin explained.
“I knew I had a lot to say through action and movement, without dialogue. And when I cast Antoine (L’Ecuyer), I was also looking for that, a really intense body that can tell a lot,” he added.
Dupuis said he relished playing an intense and rough character through movement, while also sensitively conveying emotions using sparse dialogue.
“As an actor, and also someone who watches movies as an audience, I tend to feel if you can show it, rather than say it, it’s a plus. Cinema for me is imagery first, and photography,” he explained.
The “Sound of Trees” has ample dialogue, but it’s peripheral to the dramatic action. The audience is encouraged to follow the body movements and facial expressions of the main characters: stir-crazy Jeremie and his father, Regis, who sees his family sawmill business under threat from an encroaching multinational.
In one sawmill scene, Regis repeatedly cuts planks of wood while a representative of a giant timber company promises him a quiet desk job if he agrees to sell his family business.
“I like that Regis is playing with the noisy saw to shock the salesman,” Peloquin explained.
Dupuis added that the scene suggests key information about the implied confrontation and the tension in the film between the big sawmills and the smaller players that they are buying up and taking over.
“The important thing is (Regis is) making wood, in the right way, for my character,” Dupuis said. “He’s using what he does best, and what he believes is the way to do things, to shut the other guy down.”
“I won’t have anything to do (without the sawmill business). I’ll be with people who don’t know the difference between wood types,” he added. “I love the wood. So you you’ll never buy me.”
Dupuis’ character conveys all that in silence.
For Regis, it’s also about keeping faith as a free-spirited father with a traditional way of life in the Gaspesie.
“Regis has the responsibility of taking care of a kid, but he, like most of those men in the region,” Dupuis explained, “has some freedom because they don’t have to wear suits and ties. More than most people in the cities, or that work in offices, and that’s probably why I wanted him to be more free in his movement.”
Peloquin also uses long takes in “The Sound of Trees” for dramatic and narrative effect.
“We were often shooting long scenes,” he said. “I had to rely on what the actors feel through all of the scene, and what we are all listening to in terms of chunks of information that inform feelings and movements and a direction.”
In one extended take, Jeremie gets out of his car, takes a beer from a friend, walks away and joins another friend amid well-choreographed chaos.
Then there’s a close-up of kids, followed by a medium shot, a long shot down a bridge to establish the wider summer night setting, and finally a close-up of Jeremie before he leaps off the bridge and into the water, to whoops and cheers.
As his friends become increasingly impressed with Jeremie’s energy and aggressiveness, so does the viewer.
Fabrice Gaetan/Courtesy of Silversalt PR
“I always think of the shot in a way that it provides its own editing. So sometimes I have to start wide, then come closer and closer. Sometimes I come closer, I pan away, give other information, and then come back. And other times the actors move around to give me close-ups one at a time,” Peloquin said.
For the Quebec director, screening his debut feature in Karlovy Vary is a dream come true.
“It’s unexpected. It’s a chance and I feel honoured. I didn’t dream of doing cinema when I was a kid. This thing came up later when I was more mature, and felt confident I could do it. Now I’m very pleased with the result,” Peloquin said.
Gabrielle Rose and Gavin Crawford in “Two 4 One” Courtesy of Strut Entertainment
Maureen Bradley’s “Two 4 One” is centred around a transgender male who is in the final stages of transitioning. After a recent story in the news and on television that followed a high-profile gender reassignment, one might be tempted to describe Bradley’s feature film debut as “timely.” I would, but for the filmmaker’s sophisticated approach towards her characters. Bradley refuses to use a current, much talked-about topic as a gimmick to elicit knee-jerk responses.
“Two 4 One” is highly original with a cast full of great performers. At the core is actor Gavin Crawford, taking a break from semi-blue comedy to play the role of Adam – formally known as “Melanie.” The support Adam receives is positive, but his world feels interrupted when Miriam – a past flame – enters the picture.
Miriam (Naomi Snieckus) is a bit of a wild card, and she knows this. Her choice to become a mother has Adam raising an eyebrow. However, she’s dedicated and, after much reluctance, Adam agrees to assist with her artificial insemination. But the simple procedure takes a turn when proper precautions are tossed away during the heat of the moment, leaving Adam to be unexpectedly expecting.
“Two 4 One” has a plot with indirect people dodging the obvious answer to all of their problems: if everyone had honest conversations with each other, there would be hardly any complications. But then “Two 4 One” would also be a ten-minute short.
Bradley’s film gets away with these contrivances mostly because of the dedication of the cast and the sweetness of the story. But “Two 4 One” is honest in other ways, as we see Adam attempt to prove to himself that he’s more masculine than before – and Crawford’s performance is particularly strong during these scenes in which he appears alone and his body language convincingly relays his internal struggle.
“Two 4 One” is a good movie that isn’t light on beauty shots of Victoria, BC. However, Bradley deserves to be applauded for knowing where she wants to take her film and for understanding the level of intensity it would require to venture down those untravelled roads. She knows that providing deep focus to certain themes means having to make compromises and critical changes to the story’s atmosphere.
“Two 4 One’s” time-leaping, shortcutting final third could be compared to the neat wrap-up of an after-school special, but I understand Bradley’s sensibility. Moviegoers, too, should be able to recognize her skillful touch as a filmmaker who keeps her lovely film light-hearted, while also revealing the gravity of difficult issues.
Beginning July 17, “Two 4 One” will be in Toronto cinemas and available on iTunes everywhere.