Memories, Past and Future: Chris Marker gets a mini retrospective at TIFF Bell Lightbox

April 26 marked the opening of Chris Marker: Memory of a Certain Time, an exhibition of the legendary French filmmaker’s photographs. To accompany the exhibition, TIFF Bell Lightbox is throwing Remembrance of Things to Come, a mini retrospective of Marker’s films, which includes classics such as La Jetée and Sans Soleil . Cinephiles, Francophiles, prepare to flock!

If you ever take (or have taken) a survey course on the French New Wave, you’ll spend a minute with Chris Marker. Well, probably 28 minutes, to be precise. In the tumultuous burst of expression that is post-war French film, Chris Marker gets a strange little rock along the line of milestones. Between obelisks of films like A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) and 400 Coups (400 Blows) Marker’s little boulder, La Jetée , sits; smaller in stature, yet immovable. There to stay.

La Jetée  is unique. I’ve never seen another film like it. How it goes: a post-nuclear-war civilization lives underground, sends its prisoners backwards and forwards in time to change fate for the better. An everyman, our protagonist, is chosen to be a time travel guinea pig because he has a vivid, single pre-war memory: seeing a woman’s beautiful face while watching planes take off at the Orly airport. During several unreal journeys to the past, he finds himself walking through parks and museums with the woman he remembers. But our protagonist soon finds out that it’s the future which is his destiny.

Complete with love interest and a masterful use of structural irony,  La Jetée does in 28 minutes what ensuing sci-fi films need two hours for, not to mention millions of dollars. Most singularly,  La Jetée has no moving images: photo after photo create a living storyboard. While this sounds one step more primitive than a proper movie, I get the feeling that  La Jetée is in some way a critique of lazy, glutted filmmaking. As such a complete, complex piece of work, Marker’s film seems to say that actual movement is gratuitous: montage is what makes a film. Plus, these images are brought to life by excellent sound design. As our protagonist, forced to go back in time, is being scrutinized by scientists, arcane german-sounding whispers creep through the harsh black and white images. A melancholy narrator’s voice all but betrays that he knows the end of this story. Heartbeats pound throughout.

A scene from La Jetée.
A scene from La Jetée, screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, May 17, 2013.

  La Jetée would be Marker’s calling card. I saw it years ago and then forgot about him, assumed without thought that he only made one great work. Then, a few days ago, I saw Sans Soleil , Marker’s essay film about a cameraman’s impressions of Japan and Guinea-Bissau in the 1980s. Essay film: neither documentary nor fiction, more of a semi-narrative film poem. Images move from Tokyo department stores to a shrine for cats while the narrator, a woman, reads letters from the cameraman. His observations, his feelings, what he understands, what mystifies him. Like La JetéeSans Soleil comprises a montage of (moving) images and a voice-over. Yet, apart from a shared feeling of profundity (if that means anything), the two films really differ in style. Where  La Jetée is a major idea distilled into just the suggestion of a whole world,  Sans Soleil takes its 100 minutes carefully and dwells on the details of its subject matter.  Sans Soleil begins from these details: how Guinean woman avoid the camera like it’s an evil eye, how the Japanese burn their broken dolls in a ceremony. And from such specific observations, it builds a poetic hybrid of two totally different peoples. While there’s no deep reason that Japan and Guinea-Bissau are being compared or dwelled upon as a pair, it doesn’t seem to matter. Marker’s eye looks upon any humanity with equal measure, finds the mystery and wonders aloud.

There’s something mature about Chris Marker’s work. While his films are often pretty singular, he has no gimmicks. No affectation – no acting, no action really – and yet he’s among the greatest. After La Jetée , what sci-fi can there be? Similarly,  Sans Soleil is so far beyond a mere travelogue: neither fiction, nor documentary, Sans Soleil takes truth to be poetic, where images exist as themselves and words are just interpretation.  La Jetée is a dream.  Sans Soleil is a witnessing.

Remembrance of Things to Come: Works by Chris Marker runs from May 16, 2013 to May 19, 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Screening times can be found here.

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Review: Kon-Tiki



In the age of Google Maps and computer nano calculations, it sounds quaint for a scientist to drift across the ocean on a wooden raft to prove a hypothesis. Only 66 years ago, however, a Norwegian explorer named Thor Heyerdahl built such a raft, named it Kon-Tiki, and cruised from Peru to Polynesia – across 6900 kilometres of ocean. Before 1947, the scientific community had decided that the Polynesian islands had been populated from Asia 1500 years earlier. Heyerdahl spent ten years in Polynesia, and from the locals’ folklore and a big hunch, he concluded that the accepted theory was wrong; these people came from South America. Kon-Tiki , a film about the ensuing expedition, shows just how far a guy will go to prove a point.

Historically, Kon-Tiki might easily have been a tragedy, a dark-night-of-the-soul tale of starvation or drowning. But this film, while carrying its share of drama and tribulation, gets the stamp of feel-good. In fact, as I watched these mirthful, hardy Norwegians buckle down and set off on adventure, I thought about how amazing Kon-Tiki would seem to a little kid. It would be so exciting to watch this movie at age seven or eight. That doesn’t take away from its adult appeal, but the goal, the history and the emotions here are simple . Not only does the plot almost literally scream ‘escapism,’ but Kon-Tiki is so friendly. Thor Heyerdahl laughs at the slightest provocation: while filming his buddies, talking about anthropology, after a near-deadly shark attack, laughter abounds. Crew mates start to get cranky and a few beefs spring up, but there’s ample room for camaraderie and heroism to repair friendships and create lifelong bonds. Kon-Tiki follows the formula that gives us just enough bad so that we can really enjoy the good.

While historical in its material, Kon-Tiki presents itself as a universal story, one of hope and courage and tenacity. Waves may come and rock the raft, but if there’s enough determination on deck, you’ll arrive at your destination. Of course, such is the message of hundreds of films about all kinds of things, but Kon-Tiki distinguishes itself because its story is exceptional. Forgive a few cliches and wonder (in wonder): wow – that happened?

Is Kon-Tiki Opening Weekend Worthy?

Sure, especially if you have a child to take along. The sharks, the adventure and the mild Norwegian accents will frighten and delight the young mind.

More About Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki  Trailer

Kon-Tiki Production Gallery

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Hot Docs Review: Eufrosina’s Revolution



Eufrosina’s Revolution is set in the impoverished Mexican state of Oaxaca, where many indigenous communities have scarcely been touched by modernity. Supposedly considered autonomous, these communities suffer from isolation as well as a backward legal and political anomaly: women cannot vote. In towns where poverty has been longstanding and feels normal, women find themselves with little agency.

Enter Eufrosina Mendoza, a sharp, tenacious and very likeable woman from Santa Maria Quiegolani, Oaxaca. Eufrosina decides to break the cycle which cajoles women into constant pregnancy and domestic poverty. Tireless in her pursuit of better governance, resources and equality for her communities, Eufrosina gradually reaches the ears of Mexico’s politicians – but it’s a difficult and trying process. To lobby for change is to make enemies, and Eufrosina finds herself slandered in anonymous pamphlets. There are moments, too, where cushy government jobs become available. Temptation to sell out and personal profit frequently crowd Eufrosina’s community-focused end goal.

I loved this documentary. Director Luciana Kaplan deftly mixes story and documentation with an ethnographic touch and a bit of poetry. Sometimes, as we watch seemingly insignificant images – for example, a woman living in a crude home making tortillas by hand – the camera rolls longer than is necessary for plot. But every extra moment offers depth and a feeling of reality which many documentary filmmakers skip in their haste to make a point. The real skill here comes in the editing. While Eufrosina narrates much of the film in interviews, her voice layers over meditative shots of the world she lives in and speaks of (and it helps that Eufrosina has a beautiful and wise voice). Kaplan manages to give a close look at one of Mexico’s less internationally known social issues: indigenous empowerment. When visions of ultra-violent drug wars cloud our perception of contemporary Mexico, it’s good to see a less sensational assessment of a country many of us tour in but know little about.

Is Eufrosina’s Revolution  Essential Hot Docs Viewing?

Yes. As someone who prefers films with feeling and artfulness to fact or plot-laden stories, I appreciated the artistic accomplishment of Eufrosina’s Revolution . It helps that Eufrosina is a naturally camera-friendly and likeable protagonist. I think I might have a bit of a crush on Eufrosina. Yes.

Eufrosina’s Revolution screening times

Eufrosina’s Revolution Trailer

TFS loves Hot Docs

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Hot Docs Review: The Defector: Escape from North Korea



Now that Kim Jong-un has disappointed the world by continuing his late father’s crushing leadership, it becomes tempting to write North Korea off as a lost cause. But its citizens don’t feel that way. Every year, defectors escape North Korea by surreptitiously crossing the border into eastern China. China, however, isn’t the end destination. If caught in The People’s Republic, defectors will be sent back to their homeland and punished.

In The Defector: Escape from North Korea , director Ann Shin follows a group of North Koreans who find themselves stuck in China. This state of purgatory is replete with insecurity and paranoia. Luckily, China is not-so-secretly a capitalist society; where there’s demand for a service, someone will meet this demand. In comes Tiger, a man who specializes in smuggling North Korean defectors out of China, through Laos’ jungles and into Thailand. He’s sort of shady and works for profit, but frequently declares himself to be a principled human rights activist. Shin (a Korean-Canadian from Toronto) tags along on one of Tiger’s high risk smuggling operations, bonding with his customers and worrying about the safety and morality of this branch of human trafficking.

The Defector mixes suspense with larger commentary on refugee issues and black market realities. Moments of tenseness alternate with factoids and anecdotes about the hardships of life in North Korea. By following a specific group of defectors – notably all women – Shin carves a personalized story out of a political issue. Also, The Defector is carefully and beautifully shot. For a guerilla documentary, major thought went into the desired aesthetic. As a result, The Defector is compelling as a movie and effective as a plea against human suffering.

Is The Defector: Escape from North Korea essential Hot Docs viewing?

The Defector exemplifies good, by-the-book documentary chops and gets kudos for its high-stakes filming circumstances. Those seeking insight into the lives of North Korea’s oppressed people will find what they are looking for.

The Defector: Escape from North Korea screening times

TFS loves Hot Docs

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Hot Docs Review: Before the Revolution



Before its Islamic revolution, Iran made friends with an unlikely neighbour. In the days of the Shah, Israel was not a hated enemy but a trade partner. Israel supplied guns and civic infrastructure to Iran, which traded oil in return. Today, when Israel is utterly convinced Iran wants to send a nuclear bomb its way, it’s hard to imagine such a cooperative relationship.

Sometimes it seems as though the enemy has always been the enemy. Before the Revolution offers proof of a different past. Director Dan Shadur’s own Isreali family lived in Iran during the pre-revolution era. Through original home videos and interviews with other Israeli ex-pats, Shadur weaves together the life that Israeli professionals enjoyed in Iran during the years right before 1979. This life was luxurious, naive and happy. And it didn’t last.

Pretty much all media coverage of Iran deals with the country as a rogue nation. An opening, if only a crack, to another perspective is the first step in a more diplomatic relationship. Before the Revolution is exactly that: a crack. Shadur’s story stays within the family and the community, one which appears to have been particularly ignorant of politics and history. We don’t get a lot of educated, political science perspectives here. But only a crack is required. While I admit that my knowledge of the Middle East is pretty limited, I was surprised by the very premise of Before the Revolution . I simply didn’t know about this segment of history. That fundamental surprise made Shadur’s documentary entirely interesting, especially at a time when movies like Argo portray mindless Iranian anger and hatred without any explanation. Although it doesn’t offer much of a political perspective of its own, Before the Revolution reminds us that diplomatic relations are not set in stone.

Is Before the Revolution essential Hot Docs viewing?

I’m mostly grateful to the film for its alternative perspective on the Iranian-Israeli conflict. Politically, this documentary is useful. As a Hot Docs experience, there are probably more sensational or essential docs. Before the Revolution will appeal particularly to those who care about politics and history.

Before the Revolution  screening times

TFS loves Hot Docs

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Hot Docs Review: Last Woman Standing



I duck out on the Olympics. Every two years, I fold my arms exaggeratedly and avoid watching what I see as pointless competition and world chauvinism. So naturally I did not know that humble, bronze-loving Canada houses the two greatest female boxers in the world. Last Woman Standing chronicles this ironic situation: Mary Spencer of Ontario and and Quebecoise Ariane Fortin are close friends, champions of various world competitions – and they have to fight for only one spot on the Canadian Olympic team. In one of the only athletic areas where Canada excels, it must destroy the hopes and dreams of one of its finest athletes. That seems typical and counter-productive to me, but world competitions – and their competitors – only like to crown one champion. And them’s the rules. So Mary and Ariane train with steel focus for years for a qualifier match, after which one woman will have to accept defeat and watch her friend throw uppercuts in Beijing on TV.

Last Woman Standing does its job well. We sympathize with both athletes, learn their backstory and care about who will win and represent Canada to the world. It’s also worthwhile to spend some time with the female category of an obviously masculinized sport. Intriguingly, the female aspect becomes a mere detail – these people can punch and punch good. Perhaps that’s Last Woman Standing’s best feature: the subtle erasure of gender bias in sports culture. Especially cool are moments when Ariane and Mary bro out with some incredibly muscular man boxers. Also it’s fun to look at both Windsor and Montreal’s respective boxing cultures. These are corners of Canada I otherwise wouldn’t find myself hanging around.

Is Last Woman Standing  Essential Hot Docs Viewing?

If you don’t care about punching (and I don’t) then you may not be able to relate to the single-minded pursuit of winning a fight. Above all, Last Woman Standing is a sports documentary about perseverance, discipline and dreams of victory. While I can relate to those ideas, I don’t find the sports competition very compelling as a narrative. But many people will and if you do, then I can heartily endorse Last Woman Standing .

Last Woman Standing S creening Times

TFS loves Hot Docs

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Proposing a Canadian Queen of Versailles



Last year’s sensational American documentary A Queen of Versailles felt like a reality TV era wink at Citizen Kane . The premises match nicely: a disgustingly rich American businessman builds himself a palatial estate in Florida. Similar ingredients: a lot of ambition, self-mythologizing, American super-sizing. A handful of decades later, things have changed a bit: Xanadu becomes Louis XIV’s palace; a newspaper fortune warps into the largest time-share real estate empire ever; and Kane’s second wife, a singer, gets replaced by David Siegel’s third wife, an engineer turned beauty queen. These differences are details, though. The myth of American excess has survived and thrived.

The Queen of Versailles just begs us to cringe and criticize this American extravagance. Oh my god, we might think , look at all that shit they have! Look how they spend, how they consume – and they’re so tacky! Having a Canadian perspective especially allows us to gloat. It’s them, not us. But we all know that Canada houses plenty of billionaires or eight-digit millionaires. Do we really imagine that our own super-rich citizens live a life of relative restraint? The private jet relinquished for a business class ticket? Modest Muskoka over the hedonistic Hamptons? Somebody only needs to turn on the camera to disprove any such idea.

Imagine these children as Inuits.
Imagine these children as Inuits.

My girlfriend used to serve at one of Toronto’s fanciest restaurants. Very rich patrons would regularly come in and find the restaurant a safe place to express their upper-echelon eccentricities. This restaurant, for example, provided special stools for a lady’s purse. When you pay several thousand dollars for a purse, you treat it like a child, not a thing. Children don’t sit on the floor at fine-dining establishments – and neither do Fendi handbags. One night, my girlfriend overheard some diners talking about a certain well-known billionaire couple. They said “I hear the _________s are bringing in their real Inuit tonight.” Such a sentence is almost meaningless as a snippet of eavesdropping. What could that possibly mean? Sure enough, a little later in the evening, said couple (this pair has university buildings named after them) arrived with an Inuit child in tow, a child fully decked out in traditional northern regalia. The kid ate with her hands, didn’t speak and kept her peaked hood on her head all night. Does wealth beget charity or something a little more deranged? The sight was, I’m told, very weird.

I imagine the Inuit story as proof that behind closed doors, in safe spaces, Canadians have their own stories of Orlando-Versailles absurdity and excess. It’s just that – to generalize, I know – Americans are more prone to flaunting wealth, while Canadians are a little more terrified of showing off. In a modest, slightly more Socially Democratic country, the financial royalty don’t invite the camera crew into their home. It would be obscene.

My question is: could or should there be a Canadian The Queen of Versailles ? Does it matter how the wealthiest citizens live? Would this project be an interesting cultural document? When watching The Queen of Versailles , I thought about capitalism, greed and so on, but I felt the same way as I did when watching Jersey Shore : it’s fun to laugh at people we consider to be idiots. In that sense,  The Queen of Versailles isn’t so much a critical documentary as an exploitation film. Do we need any more fodder for pop-culture mockery?

Or maybe that’s too harsh. Perhaps Versailles is the quality version of The Real Housewives reality TV series; like thinking about a Woody Allen New York film as a refinement of Seinfeld episodes. The Queen of Versailles does, I concede, distinguish itself from trash TV with a better aesthetic and careful treatment of grand themes – historic market crashes, consumerism – and maybe could be called art (I’m not saying Seinfeld is trash, by the way). Well, we’re on season two of The Real Housewives of Vancouver (I take back my above sentences about Canadian modesty and obscenity). Is it time for our own Canadian Queen of Versailles ?

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Review: Like Someone in Love



Mr. Watanabe, an elderly widowed sociology professor, orders a prostitute. A while later, a beautiful young lady named Akiko shows up at his apartment. Mr. Watanabe fancies himself a gentleman; he has prepared the regional soup of Akiko’s hometown and eagerly offers her a glass of wine. Although Watanabe’s intentions never evolve into anything resembling lechery, Akiko forecloses sexual possibility by abruptly falling asleep in his bedroom. The next day, the always-polite Watanabe offers Akiko a ride to school. After he drops her off, Akiko’s fiancé notices him waiting in his car. Herein comes the big ironic moment: the fiancé hops in the car and, assuming Watanabe is Akiko’s grandfather, asks permission to marry Akiko. Tension ensues.

Like Someone in Love begins unassumingly, with banal stationary shots, long takes and intermittent dialogue. Initially, I wondered if I was about to watch a film about nothing. But Abbas Kiarostami’s work seems to demand patience; when the end credits rolled, I almost stood up in disbelief. It’s not that Like Someone in Love contains a major twist; rather, I was surprised at how captivated I had become by the story and couldn’t believe it was over. Most films try to hook you at the first shot. Like Someone in Love is more akin to a novel which takes 50 pages to get into. Once you’re in, you don’t want to look away. Watanabe finds himself in an agonizingly ambiguous bind; both well-intentioned and evidently guilty, he can only do his best to stay afloat in an increasingly tense scenario.

Is Like Someone in Love Opening Weekend Worthy?

Yes. Kiarostami makes two great strokes here. One, all three leading characters are only somewhat sympathetic; either they’re likeable but fallible, or unlikable but justified. This ambiguity draws you in, makes you want to make choices that aren’t there to make. Two, as I said earlier, the pace is masterful. Kiarostami chucks traditional arc-based pacing for a steady, unnerving incline. Both unpredictable and very subtle, Like Someone in Love offers many rewards and would be best enjoyed in a cinema.

Like Someone in Love opens on Friday, April 12, 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check the website for screening info.

More About  Like Someone in Love

Like Someone in Love Trailer

Like Someone in Love Production Gallery

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Review: The Place Beyond the Pines



Ryan Gosling has sacrificed himself to his own heart-throbby blankness. Reprising a doppelganger version of his role in Drive , Gosling opens The Place Beyond the Pines in leather jacket and bleached blonde hair. Luke is his name, and stunt motorcycling is his game. When Luke finds out that he made a baby with local gal Romina (Eva Mendes), he decides to quit his traveling fair gig and settle down. But Romina already has a new man and Luke has no earning power without his wheels. So he starts robbing banks. A dumb idea to begin with, Luke’s crime spree gets riskier and riskier, and Romina only half condones his presence anyway. When he ends up in a life-or-death stand-off with officer Avery (Bradley Cooper), Driver’s – I mean Luke’s – good luck runs out.

That’s only the first third of the film – believers might call it chapter one of an epic. With an ensuing Cooper-led probe into police corruption, then a “15 years later” conflict between Gosling and Cooper’s sons, ‘epic’ is certainly what the film’s writers and director are going for. But too many thoughtless clichés and coincidences demote The Place Beyond the Pines from epochal to a tad crappy. Everything feels shallow. If act one of The Place Beyond the Pines feels like Drive , act two is Cop Land and act three, bizarrely, may be Larry Clark’s Kids and Bully combined. Add them up and what do you get? Epic confusion.

Is The Place Beyond the Pines Opening Weekend Worthy?

If you feel like it. As soon as the press screening’s lights turned back on, several critics hurriedly gathered right behind me and feverishly tore the movie apart. I know I’m not supposed to listen to other critics, but I overheard one of them say “It’s like Derek Cianfrance makes movies for people who have never seen a movie.” That’s sort of true. If this was the first movie I had ever seen, I might have been blown away, then gone and bought a motorcycle and robbed some banks for my sweetheart. But it’s just too cheesy. That said, I would almost recommend this film purely for the fun factor. Despite The Place Beyond the Pines’ A-list pretensions, it makes a satisfying B or C or D movie. Don’t expect too much here and there’s plenty of entertainment to be had.

More About  The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines Trailer

The Place Beyond the Pines Production Gallery

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Cinefranco Review: L’affaire Dumont



On an evening when Michel Dumont swears he was playing cards, Danielle Lechasseur claims she was violently sexually assaulted. Out of nowhere, Dumont, a quiet, mullet-rocking delivery man, is accused of rape. Dumont’s already precarious life – crazy ex-wife, crappy job, two kids – gets torn apart. From the get-go, Quebecois director Podz makes it clear that Dumont is innocent, bewildered and incapable of a violent act. As Danielle Lechasseur describes the wince-inducing details of her assault, Dumont is as horrified as anyone. Yet, through bad legal advice, dodgy eye witnesses and a merciless judge, an accusation without proof turns into a four-year sentence. Dumont goes to jail and we watch the tortured details of years spent fighting legal battles, getting beat up in prison and living separated from his family.

This really awful series of events is based on a true story – and biopics, in some ways, aren’t really movies. If L’affaire Dumont was the brainchild of some depressive writer-director, I would have had a few questions. Why is Michel Dumont portrayed so one-dimensionally? How exactly did Dumont get in this situation? Knowing something like this actually happened, however, I follow along, question the Canadian judicial system’s fairness and pray to the gods that such misfortune never befalls me. It’s like a really rich, detailed archive newspaper article. That said, L’affaire Dumont offers an easy, tightly-paced storytelling style which is helped by inspired cinematography and set design. Camera movement often directs the eye to ingenious details other films might not consider sharing. When Dumont’s wife has to sell some stuff to pay legal bills, for instance, we quietly see that the fancy new microwave he bought her is conspicuously missing from its original perch. Noting details like this, I found L’affaire Dumont a pleasure to watch – however unhappy the story.

Is L’affaire Dumont Essential Cinefranco Viewing?

Pourquoi pas? In terms of Frenchness , or should I say the Quebecois , there’s more than enough here to give you a good whiff of Montreal style and culture. And Podz’s focused direction will keep you interested for all 121 minutes. Lastly, if you’re a news or law junkie, you’ll be pleased to see such an exceptional true story told well.

L’affaire Dumont Screening Time

L’affaire Dumont Trailer

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Barbara Hammer: Queer politics and abstract experiments come together for The Free Screen

Barbara Hammer’s coming to town. Though not a household name, Hammer has carved herself a potentially immortal niche in cinema as a pioneer lesbian experimental filmmaker. Such a mouthful of a title, however, doesn’t do justice to Hammer’s totally diverse oeuvre: topic and styles range from abstract film exercises to historical documentaries. This week at TIFF Bell Lightbox, you have a chance to explore life through the Hammer lens with the Free Screen series. Six different screenings give you the chance to see everything from Tender Fictions , an autobiography which breaks both gender and narrative conventions to Pools , a nearly abstract poetic short with pools – yes, pools – as its subject. And it’s all free.

I’ll tell you, Hammer is worth checking out. I took a three day, eighteen hour seminar with Barbara last August for my degree in media and communications. I quickly learned that Hammer is herself and is her films and there’s very little difference between the two. In the first couple of hours of class, I had to tell her what I knew about Judith Butler and literally perform gender – I hastily spoke about how women close their legs on the bus, while men often spread their legs, presenting their groin to whoever wants it. Of course, then I was told to enact male and female body language. It was not an easy start – some students didn’t come back after lunch – but I stuck around and saw some films I now love.
While gender politics play a major role in Hammer’s work (and her teaching), her real virtue shines in how she takes the humanitarian sentiments which underpin queer politics and applies them to any subject – even pools. From the ’60s cultural revolution to Matisse’s life during World War Two, Hammer’s filmic inquiries are thoroughly moral and sympathetic toward her subjects.

Our class eventually settled into a reflective look at Hammer’s work and her approach to film and life. She showed us excerpts of Diving Women of Jeju-do , a documentary she made about a small society of Korean women who dive for seafloor edibles. Far from her irreverent Dyketactics aesthetic, Diving Women of Jeju-do unfolds slowly and carefully. This little society across the world, threatened by changing economics and the dangers of diving, benefits from Hammer’s creative yet simple storytelling style. Another meditative film, Resisting Paradise , explores the artist’s role in times of war. Hammer, who narrates, dwells almost obsessively on the moral implications of resistance or passivity in the face of fascism. This wide swath of films covers both the jubilant and the grave.

My personal favourites, however, are Hammer’s more formal abstract works. Yes, I’m talking about Pools . Before her digital period – digital is cheaper and easier to use – Hammer shot on film, and her experimental techniques are so beautiful. Literally scratching and painting on the film itself, works like Pools and Sanctus feel almost as though you could reach out and touch them. Pools is comprised of searching, stop-motion shots of what appears to be an outdoor Roman bath. It’s short, simple and feels like a moving painting. Sanctus might be my favourite. Composed of real x-ray footage of people drinking liquids, stretching, lifting weights, Sanctus is an artistic reinterpretation of images meant for the clinic or the lab. To my mind, Sanctus embodies the core of Hammer’s film project. Queer histories are crucial, but only because they’ve been repressed for so long. In a (hypothetical) world that has moved beyond intolerance, bigotry and conformist grand narratives, we should be able to focus on the human. The bodies in Sanctus might be of different genders, but it really doesn’t matter. We see bones, veins, skulls, hearts. We see the essence of human bodies and it’s emotional.

Brave New World: The Films of Barbara Hammer screens from Thursday, April 4 to Sunday, April 7, 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Also, if you’re a diehard Hammer fan, go to this dinner on April 5, 2013.

Free Screen Gallery

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Meet the TFS Writers: Harry Cepka

When my dad showed me Jan Svankmajer’s Faust at the tender age of nine, I think he messed me up. Svankmajer, a legendary Czech director, makes surreal, creepy, stop-motion animated art films. Faust is the story of a man who sells his soul to Mephistopheles in order to, what, learn more? Be smarter? Immortality? Something like that. In any case, nine-year-olds probably don’t have the faculties necessary to digest the macabre existential experience that is Faust .

Like most kids, I saw all the other stuff, too. Disney movies, Chevy Chase, Schwarzenegger, Mission Impossible . All the mainstream stuff everyone sees. I recall thinking for some time that Space Jam was my favourite movie. I also liked 8 Mile . But these films faded from my focus and I gradually gravitated towards weirder films: I guess that my experience with Faust planted a seed in my imagination – a seed that would grow into a morbid, artsy sapling.

Firstly, before we get to my Lars Von Trier period, I have to add another strain to my film history: comedy. In high school, I took a course called T.V. productions – TV Pro for short. The funny kids dominated a section of our high school’s social scene, so my friends and I tried to make funny movies. Around here I realized my giddy love for comedy film and TV. I watched the terrible, but sometimes brilliant Mad TV every Saturday (mysteriously avoiding SNL ) and saw most or all Will Ferrell movies – all that Anchorman stuff. Eventually, Apatow came out with a splash and dominated comedy with The 40 Year Old Virgin . I got into that as well.

Space Jam, a favourite from Harry Cepka's younger days.
Space Jam, a favourite from Harry Cepka’s younger days.

While my Svankmayer seed lay dormant, I watched comedies and thought I’d be a screenwriter. At age nineteen I even wrote, with a friend, the beginnings of a rompy movie about two high school kids trying to get laid. The idea also included two idiot cops and was set in Vancouver, my hometown. A week after my friend and I began our screenplay, Superbad came out – the similarities were uncanny – and we promptly gave up.

Comedy evolved into satire. I thought “man, I have a problem with society – it’s so messed up! – and so do these clever satirists. They speak my language.” Satire was a form of social criticism which I liked: funny, ironic and a bit brutal. It matched my sensibility, my sense of humour, my critical attitude. I saw Being There , starring Peter Sellers, and decided that it was the apex of art and philosophy.

Then I took some film studies classes at university. Satire, which seemed incisive and true, took a backseat to film criticism itself. I learned a slew of new highfalutin terms: social realism, fabula and syuzhet, ideology and so on. In a Chinese Cinema course, our professor handed out a photocopied essay by Slavoj Zizek, a spluttery Slovenian philosopher, film buff and occasional film subject. I read this essay, about the deep contradictions of Soviet Russia (don’t ask me about the connection to Chinese cinema now) and my eyes widened. The high level of social criticism going on through the lens of film made my love of satire seem tepid. With this sort of writing, I had the tools to point out the problems, hidden assumptions and contradictions of just about any piece of media. It was both liberating and inhibiting.

A scene from Gaspar Noé's Enter The Void.
A scene from Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void.

Movies became harder to enjoy. As a brash, overly-educated young man, I found it difficult to turn off my inner film critic. (You know that annoying guy who says something snide and brainy to ruin your fun? That guy wasn’t quite me, but I was dangerously close.) I started to think “comedy doesn’t go far enough. It always concludes the story with an artificially happy ending. Satire is a dead-end too. It’s too smug.” This is when I encountered a whole tribe of horrible, shocking, extreme Euro-American filmmakers. I couldn’t say it better than fellow TFS writer Jovana Jankovic in her own Meet the TFS Writers profile: “My taste eventually settled into a kind of Lynchian-Hanekesque dyad, a grouping of films composed predominantly of over-lit nightmarish campy fantasies and sombre European social criticism.” With Faust as my desensitizing kernel, I watched with fascination where most people turn away. Filmmakers like Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noé, Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke, David Lynch were making shocking, “nightmarish” films which appeared to show the horrors of the modern world in all their naked, umm, horror. Where other movies backed off or slowed down, movies like Caché  or Enter the Void went all the way.

I’m still wrestling with this phase, where I masochistically seek out a Gaspar Noé film, watch it and then get depressed. My big question, which asks whether these filmmakers are real social critics or just real sociopaths, remains unanswered. I don’t like liking such films, but what can I do? Faust , the original trauma, might be responsible, but I don’t know. Sometimes I hope my film taste moves to some place where I can claim, once again, that my favourite movie stars Michael Jordan and involves cartoon aliens dunking in space. Presently, though, I wander like a ghost from half-empty theatre to half-empty theatre, on a Faustian quest for the ultimate shock of truth – one that maybe only a strange Czech animator could give to an impressionable child.

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Human Rights Watch Review: The Patience Stone



To many Westerners, the burqa – a garment some Muslim women wear – holds an unsettling power. Covering the face and the body, the burqa can suggest oppression, misogyny, extremism. But I think that another word umbrellas all of these words: mystery. The Patience Stone , by Afghani expat and novelist-filmmaker Atiq Rahimi, unveils life behind the burqa. In Rahimi’s film, a young woman in a war-torn city tends to her unconscious husband. Unsure if he’ll recover from a gunshot wound, she begins to confide in him – something she never did in their ten-year marriage. As explosions rattle her home and soldiers threaten her, she recites an equally turbulent monologue of spousal abuse, helplessness and fear.

While The Patience Stone justifies our Western fear of the burqa, its access to the mystery behind the cloth feels rare and profound. This film looks beautiful – a startling fact, considering the heart-hurting content. Lead actress Golshifteh Farahani (who also happens to be beautiful) carries the film with melancholy eyes and an unselfconscious performance. Every time she lifts her burqa, I feel privy to something secret. Rahimi deftly balances beauty and horror. Amid the atrocities in the action and Farahani’s desolate confessions, I always found something alluring to watch. Such a balance can be confusing; why does such a terrible life look so pretty? But, as I write this, I willingly remember the film. Unlike, say, Zero Dark Thirty , the complete unpleasantness of which I’d like to forget, The Patience Stone  will stay with me – and so does the moving story of a beleaguered woman.

Is The Patience Stone Essential Human Rights Watch Viewing?

Yes, but for its cinematic efforts as much as its message. Although it screens as part of the Human Rights Watch Festival, The Patience Stone has just as much artistic ambition as political motivation.

The Patience Stone Screening Time

The Patience Stone Trailer

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

TIFF Bell Lightbox does the eighties, Japanese-style

We should all see more Japanese films – and TIFF Bell Lightbox’s massive Spotlight on Japan series of programmes makes this easy.  A few years ago, my brother broadly introduced me to Asian cinema. We watched violent Korean action movies like Old Boy , Chinese tragedies such as Farewell My Concubine . However, when we watched Japan’s vicious – yet sort of funny – Battle Royale and Visitor Q , I realized that something especially weird and wonderful happens on the Japanese screen.

You have a choice of alluring programs: Tokyo Drifters, Japanese Divas and The Catch: Masterworks of Eighties Japanese Cinema. I went for the latter – and now I know of a decade beyond the visions of John Hughes and John Rambo. That said, the films of The Catch may be from the same era, but they appear to lack any sort of thematic connection. These films are as diverse as any.

I initially thought I saw a pattern between The Family Game and the first half of Violent Cop . The Family Game is a hilarious deadpan comedy about a boy trying to get into a good middle school. He doesn’t study because all he cares about is roller coasters – reading about them, doodling them, building models. His frustrated middle class parents hire a tutor. This tutor beats the boy and intimidates him, but they develop an odd kind of partnership – if not a friendship. The Family Game’s underlying theme is repression. Everybody, from parents to tutor to kid, seems to have buried a volatile set of emotions. Whenever these feelings escape, disaster happens. Violent Cop , a film about a violent cop, initially looks like it might be funny. The titular cop, named Azuma, foregoes protocol in favour of beating the hell out of his suspects. He takes on a rookie who has a silly habit of shielding criminals from Azuma’s routine thrashings. At this point, Violent Cop enjoys a bit of slapstick charm – but the film gets increasingly violent. By the end, my smile had vanished.

Next comes Fall Guy , another film I found hard to categorize. Once again, I started out laughing – but often my laughter was disrupted by some bout of brutality. Fall Guy is a movie about movies. Egomaniac film star Gin-Chan plays heroic samurai characters and enjoys mistreating his grovelling entourage. Gin-Chan is upset though. His co-star has been stealing his scenes and he worries that his celebrity days are numbered. In order to steal back glory, he asks his crony, Yasu, to perform a stunt so dangerous he’ll almost certainly die: taking a hit from Gin-Chan’s sword and falling down a 30 foot staircase. The staircase is ridiculously big and Yasu’s admiration for Gin-Chan is manic; I’m ready to laugh. But then we see a despairing Yasu trash his entire house and almost beat his pregnant wife. Once again, my smile fades.

A scene from "Rikyu," screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, April 5, 2013.
A scene from “Rikyu,” screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, April 5, 2013.

Lastly, I watched Rikyu , one of the most austere movies I’ve ever seen. A historical film about warlords and tea ceremonies, Rikyu was directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. In his day, Mr. Teshigahara was also a master of Ikebana, the art of arranging flowers. To understand Rikyu , you have to approach it with that kind of zen perspective – something film in the West doesn’t know much about. Rikyu feels like a Tarkovsky film, where every second is supposed to be religiously deep, grave as can be, profound as art gets. Ironically, I sometimes found myself laughing when Rikyu, a tea master, super-seriously reveals the secrets of tea to his warlord master (yes, tea has secrets). Rikyu looks amazing and feels profound much of the time, but here the cultural barrier and the retro style often crossed the wires of humour and sadness.

What makes Japanese cinema so interesting is its evasion of labels. In every film I watched, I laughed and literally frowned, sometimes almost simultaneously. Hollywood or European cinema have developed as we have; we know the cues, when something should be laughed at – even when we don’t find it funny. Likewise, we know when a scene is supposed to be serious, whether its dramatic intentions succeed or not. With Japanese films I’m never quite as sure. There’s a back-and-forth of tension and explosion that seems to characterize a lot of the acting. When a character does let loose, I have no idea what will happen – hilarity or devastation. I really enjoy Japanese cinema for this reason. With such a strong tradition of cinema, Japan offers top-notch films. The bonus is that we get a whole new, unpredictable set of stories, problems, emotions and resolutions. The Catch: Japanese Cinema of the Eighties begins Tuesday, March 5th, 2013.

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Human Rights Watch Review: Camp 14 – Total Control Zone



Just about the worst life you can imagine has been lived by Shin Dong-Huyk. Born into Camp 14, a North Korean labour camp for political prisoners, Shin began slave labour at age six. He starved constantly, suffered daily beatings and feared death at any moment. Those who live in Camp 14 have been politically condemned; guards admit that they could torture or kill a prisoner at their whim. Having escaped across the Chinese border, Shin gives a rare look into a harsh world we know little about. This is a tough documentary to watch.

Camp 14 – Total Control Zone ’s power comes almost entirely from lengthy close-up shots of Shin being interviewed. In his bare, neat apartment, Shin sits on a staircase and slowly lets it all out. Frequent pauses and pleas to take a break are uncomfortable and revealing. His confessions go from bad to worse. In one shocking moment, the otherwise handsome young man shows us his arms, grotesquely bent out of shape from torture. Filmmaker Marc Wiese also interviews several ex-guards, who candidly confess to all kinds of terrible acts. In addition to interviews, Wiese throws in some flash-style animation to illustrate Shin’s narrative. Next to the raw confession, however, these sequences feel cartoonish and inadequate. What makes Camp 14 so compelling – beyond the unbelievable facts – is the behaviour of those interviewed. While sometimes Shin and the guards appear as devastated as their confessions would warrant, just as often they look expressionless. In one amazing turn, Shin even admits to having nostalgia for North Korea: South Korean life is money-driven and alienating.

Is Camp 14 – Total Control Zone Essential Human Rights Watch Viewing?

Although it might hurt, yes – especially because Shin Dong-Huyk himself will be attending tonight’s screening. After seeing endless satirical riffs in the media on Kim Jong-Il and his son, I’ve found myself laughing at North Korea more often than worrying about its totalitarianism. Camp 14 reminds us that there’s little to laugh about when people are seriously suffering.

Camp 14  Screening Time

Camp 14  Trailer

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Human Rights Watch Review: Putin’s Kiss



Don’t expect to see any soft caresses from Russia’s strong-armed leader in this political documentary. Screening as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Putin’s Kiss portrays a Russia where political naysayers get beat up and intimidated. We follow Masha, a young woman and devoted member of a political youth group called Nashi. Sounding uncannily like ‘Nazi,’ this state-sponsored club’s fanatical members rally and march, sing Putin’s authoritarian praises and intimidate anyone in their way. Capable and obedient, Masha rises through Nashi’s ranks quickly. But when she starts hanging out with some independent journalists, her loyalties become divided – and things get ugly.

Putin’s Kiss is character-driven, gripping, informative and pretty scary. Here in gentle Canada, I take it for granted that I can call our prime minister a shifty creep in public. Not so in the former U.S.S.R. – Putin’s Kiss shows footage of purported Nashi members pouring liquid all over an opposition leader, defecating on his car and disrupting every rally the opposition tries to organize. Stuck in the middle, Masha appears to be a well-intentioned but naive Russian nationalist, ignorant of politics’ dirty side. Director Lise Birk Pedersen avoids polemics, though. We see Putin’s success in lifting much of Russia out of post-Communist poverty. And even after leaving Nashi, Masha defends the group’s sense of community, structure and networking. However, Pedersen implies that whatever economic growth a leader can create, some things – namely, the film’s violent climax – are politically unforgivable.

Is Putin’s Kiss Essential Human Rights Watch Viewing?

Yes – Russia’s fascinating. Putin’s Kiss gives us a view of a delicate Russia – one that could just as easily slip back into a dictatorship as evolve into a free speech-friendly democracy. It’s eye-opening to see such a powerful country balancing so precariously: in the next couple of years, it will likely have to tip one way or another.

Putin’s Kiss Screening Time

Putin’s Kiss Trailer

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Review: Zero Dark Thirty



Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, recreates Osama Bin Laden’s ten-year manhunt. We watch CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) defy her superiors and give up sleep in her obsessive quest to pin down Bin Laden’s whereabouts. This mission involves espionage in Pakistan, satellite surveillance, phone tapping””and torture. Although we all know how this story ends, Zero Dark Thirty emphasizes the stress and and fear which haunted those involved in killing Osama Bin Laden.

Keyword: stress. Like Hurt Locker , Bigelow’s last war film, Zero Dark Thirty engages viewers’ bodies as much as their eyes. Set mostly in Pakistan, the film makes you feel as though you’re there with Maya and just as paranoid. Suicide bomb explosions and confrontations with locals in the street””these awful moments happen suddenly and violently. I jumped more than once. The opening scene gives us an extended visual lesson in torture: water boarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation. As a newcomer, Maya watches the torture with us, obviously uncomfortable. By the end of Zero Dark Thirty , though, she’s seen it all””including Bin Laden’s dead body.

Zero Dark Thirty made me feel uneasy. Lots of movies, horror or thriller, are meant to do just that. But Bigelow’s latest film hits so much closer to home. The turn around on Bin Laden’s slaying, from the real event to the feature film, was incredibly fast. This is no biopic or thriller. It’s like a mirror to a scary present reality””almost like a documentary. Bin Laden’s death gives no closure, because we know that the hostility embedded in the movie still exists.

Is Zero Dark Thirty Opening Weekend Worthy?

To enter the world of Zero dark Thirty is to feel paranoid, afraid and as shell-shocked as a moviegoer can get. While that means effective storytelling, I’m not sure I would wish this upon others.

Zero Dark Thirty trailer

Zero Dark Thirty Production Gallery

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Review: Promised Land



Promised Land is a Little Guys vs The Corporation story. Steve Butler (Matt Damon), a natural gas salesman, tries to make good with the locals of a small town so that Global, his corporate employer, can drill the gas reserves out from underneath their feet. A seasoned pro, Butler expects to grease a few palms, pitch a few half-truths and move on to the next town. But a few obstacles come up. At a public hearing, an old science teacher calls Butler out on his company’s environmentally dangerous “˜fracking’ technique. Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), an unshakeable environmentalist, also threatens to turn the town against Butler. And yes, there’s a love interest: Butler falls for Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), a school teacher who humanizes the town Butler’s supposed to conquer.

Directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and John Krasinski, Promised Land ‘s roster smacks of critical acclaim and political relevance. I expected some indie-artsy directing or an eye-opening real world story. But this is one of those movies which can’t make any of the commitments it seems to promise. Everything rolls along smoothly, with Damon doing his thing (playing Damon) and McDormand, who plays Damon’s colleague, putting forth a really true and likeable performance. The setting, rollicking hills and old farms, is rustic eye candy. But as Promised Land’ s expert pace dropped plot point after plot point like a movie machine, something felt a little too formulaic.

I pondered this uncanny feeling as I watched Damon try to infiltrate the town culture, meet a pretty local girl, connect with his humanity and wrestle with his conscience. Then I realized: Promised Land tells almost the exact same story as Avatar . Remember Avatar , anyone? The billion dollar blue alien blockbuster? Really, the only major difference between the two movies is the setting: Middle America versus Pandora. (Oh, and Promised Land ‘s action happens through conversations, not space battles.) Frankly, I couldn’t get over this similarity. Even with a major twist near the end, too many little cliches and recycled ideas turn this film into an exercise more than an authentic story.

Is Promised Land opening weekend worthy?

Not unless you’re a big Matt Damon fan. Aside from Frances McDormand’s very real single working mom character, Promised Land sticks too close to the tried-and-true to be remarkable.

More About Promised Land

Promised Land trailer

Promised Land Production Gallery

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

TIFF gets Victorian with Dickens on Screen



What the Dickens! It’s Christmas time, which means that cheesy and beloved Christmas film classics will be commandeering basic cable for the next few weeks. If you still have a TV, you might find yourself plopped in front of the boob tube with a glass of hot Nesquik cocoa, mindlessly guffawing to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation . You might spill that cocoa as your muscles atrophy, or fall into a coma from too much Chevy Chase chin. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This holiday season, TIFF Bell Lightbox offers us Dickens on Screen, a classy alternative to the Yuletide TV couch binge. Dickens is just about the epitome of the Christmas story – both in book and movie form. It’s hard to imagine someone who isn’t at least vaguely aware of the classic A Christmas Carol . This heartwarming novel gave me my lasting image of Christmas: cobblestone streets, snowy nights, a hint of the supernatural. That’s what I love about Dickens. When I’m feeling oppressed by a Coca Cola Santa or eight-year-olds getting iPads for presents, Dickens reminds me of something less Americanized and more authentic. Of course, you have to give America credit: The Muppet Christmas Carol might be the greatest novel-to-film adaptation of all time. I’m sad to notice that the Muppets might be a bit too pop for TIFF Bell Lightbox’s programming. You’re stuck with either Scrooge “” or Scrooged .

It’s news to me, but apparently our beloved Charles Dickens takes the cake for the most screen adaptations of a novelist. I’m not surprised. If you’ve read Dickens, you may remember his voluptuous descriptions of characters: their every physical feature, the way they walk, talk and act. His novels are like elaborate film notes. Not to mention the Dickensian narrative: crazy plot twists, ridiculous coincidences and usually a great finale. Sounds like the modern day film thriller.

Although the Muppets didn’t make the list, I still recommend checking out a few of these Victorian gems. How about, say, Great Expectations , 1946, from director David Lean? I was actually pretty stunned by this film. It’s beautiful. I won’t summarize it because these stories are all about the plot. You want to follow all the little details and figure out how they’ll wrap together in the end. But Great Expectations has the trappings: a rags-to-riches story, a London setting, criminals and gentlemen, secrets and back stabbings. I tend to avoid old, black-and-white movies but Great Expectations has such pretty cinematography. It’s a pleasure to watch.

To be honest, I’ve had to put more than one Dickens novel down before finishing. Bleak House defeated me with its endless page count, billion characters and incessant foreshadowing. And Hard Times made gritty class divisions way too silly. But the blessing of the film adaptation is that instead of slogging away for days (or months) by candlelight, you can get a beautiful two hour silver screen experience. It’s almost as if Dickens should have been on film to begin with.

For more information on the Dickens on Screen series at TIFF Bell Lightbox, check the TIFF site.

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

Review: Last Chance



Last Chance , a documentary by Paul-Émile d’Entremont, follows five people from different parts of the world who identify as LGBT and are as seeking asylum in Canada. In their escape from oppressive and intolerant communities, these five people have chosen Canada as a safe haven. Through extensive interviews, Last Chance tells stories of institutionalized family shame, imprisonment, rape and abuse abroad – and highlights Canada’s crucial role as a refuge for those who fear for their lives.

That all said, d’Entremont’s film has an urgent message for Canadians. He explains that Canada has long been a haven for those seeking asylum from homophobic countries. However, Canadian immigration has tightened its laws, threatening to turn away some of those who need Canada most. Next to worldwide homophobia, this legal threat is the antagonist in the film. Some of those in Last Chance make it to Canada and are granted legal right to stay. Others, tragically, are sent back home. Ironically, one of the main reasons given for a refusal is that judges don’t believe certain applicants are actually queer.

Last Chance’s issue is legal and political, but as a filmmaker, Paul-Emilie d’Entremont makes it personal. His intimate interviews reveal the emotional turmoil of persecution. We get to know Trudi from Jamaica, who feared every day for her life back home; Alvaro from Nicaragua, who knew when he was twelve that he had to leave; Zaki, from Egypt, who was jailed for months just for admitting he was gay; Jennifer from Lebanon, a trans woman who caused her family deep shame; and Carlos from Colombia, who hasn’t come out to his own son. Each of these interviewees holds very little back. Sometimes the details are shocking and tragic, but we also see what continues to give them hope. In each case, that motivator tends to come down to love and friendship. Canada, at its best, gives all people the right to hope. Last Chance reminds us that we need actively to uphold that right.

Is Last Chance Essential Viewing?

This film is an activist tool and shouldn’t be judged on entertainment value, but on the clarity, balance and importance of its message. A documentary like this needs to show truth, and Last Chance is raw. Ultimately, stories like these are about people who need help, and any such story deserves to be shared. Definitely essential.

Last Chance Screening Times

Last Chance will stream online for free from December 7-9 on the NFB website here.

You can also help promote the film by tweeting with the hashtag #lastchancedoc.

Last Chance Trailer

Last Chance Production Gallery

 

MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest