Considering that a total of 38 Academy Awards nominations pending this Sunday (February 27) are for films that screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s no surprise that the bright lights programming the TIFF Bell Lightbox are hosting an Oscar party.
TIFF will be screening live CTV coverage of the awards beginning at 8pm with the proceedings projected on the atrium wall. Fans are invited to pull up a seat at the Blackberry Lounge and experience the main event in a centre dedicated to film.
Of course, venues around the country are staging similar events, some likely to be more irreverent than others. At Toronto’s most excellent repertory cinema the Bloor, celebrations of the 83 annual awards (!) are free to members and kick off at 7 pm. Count on crowd noise, especially if there are upsets.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is hosting what it calls a Little Black Dress Oscar Party, a marathon event kicking off at 3 pm and running until midnight with prizes, booze galore and all the glam you can manage. And at $25, it’s a steal… it’s also a benefit for Dress for Success Vancouver.
Those at Calgary’s Uptown Theatre also have their hearts in the right place. Proceeds from their Oscar Party - which kicks off at 5 pm and features drinks and finger foods - support the AIDS Calgary Awareness Association. Admittance is restricted to those 18 and over but hoo-ha it’s going to be fun. Tickets start at $15 for groups of 10 or more.
However you celebrate Oscar - out on the town or glued to the sofa - remember to have fun and keep it real. And be sure to check in with your pals at Sympatico who will have all the analysis and action... and maybe some gossip and red carpet commentary, too.
Most people shun personal grief. Toronto-based filmmaker Kathleen Mullen learned to embrace it.
When Mullen’s father Richard died in 2003 of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer that took root in his body while he was working in an unprotected environment in Aruba in the 1950s, Mullen knew she wanted to create a filmic tribute to him.
In the process of making her documentary Breathtaking - which premieres tonight (Thursday, February 24, 7 pm) at the Royal Ontario Museum - Mullen became something of an anti-asbestos activist and critic. She has since discovered it's a crowded field... and a frustrating one, at least in North America.
Here’s the back story on this most reviled yet weirdly tolerated substance:
Valued since pre-history and commercially mined since the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was nicknamed the 'magic mineral' for its fabric-like properties and its capacity to protect against fire, and was used in everything from home insulation to oven mitts.
Just one problem: asbestos is a proven carcinogen that has been banned by more than 40 countries including every member nation of the European Union - as early as 1992 in Italy and 1997 in France. Yet it continues to be legally mined here, primarily in Quebec and almost exclusively for export to Third World nations with less stringent legislation against toxic substances.
Canadian asbestos is not just mined; it’s essentially subsidized: each year, the feds and the Quebec provincial government give $500,000 to the Chrysotile Institute, a registered asbestos lobby group.
Breathtaking tracks asbestos from current-day mines in Thetford, QC to India and beyond, highlighting the work of anti-asbestos activists determined to ban the stuff universally. As the film points it, asbestos has a remarkably long latency period, so those suffering its affects today were likely exposed decades ago, as Mullen’s Dad was.
Sadly, Richard Mullen’s fate was hardly unique. The World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization put the current annual death toll from asbestos-related cancers at 90,000. Of the asbestos mined in Canada, fully 98 per cent is exported for use elsewhere, primarily Asia and India. The remaining two percent is mostly used in brake pads.
Mullen - who also serves as director of programming for Planet in Focus, Canada’s leading environmental media arts organization - spoke with Hollywood North prior to her film’s pay-what-you-can screening tonight, where she will lead a panel discussion following the film.
Hollywood North: I suspect a key challenge in making this film was finding that middle ground between creating a kind of Valentine for your Dad while exposing the menace of this industry?
Kathleen Mullen: Yes that’s absolutely the case. It was a kind of Valentine to my Dad as a worker, that he was exposed to this through his work. We have this idea that we go to work and we’ll be safe and we can trust our employers. Maybe that’s a naïve notion but most of us do trust that we are not going to be harmed by our work. And it was really important to me to tell that story. Even though my Dad lived a good and long life (he died at age 80), he still did die of this disease. So that was crucial. But at the same time, it was important to me to look globally: it was not only my Dad who got sick. It’s hundreds of thousands of people. Every time I would tell someone about this film, someone would say, ’Oh yeah, my Dad or my grandfather or whoever also had that.’ It was astounding.
HN: Making the film, were you surprised there hasn’t been more outrage directed against the asbestos industry and that the global community of activists and media hasn’t been more outspoken in condemning Canada’s continued involvement in the mining of asbestos?
KM: Yes. There have been campaigns staged, letters written, people speaking out about it, newspaper articles and TV but it doesn’t really seem to be having the effect people are hoping for which is that the asbestos industry is closed down in Canada. I feel like the issue is in the public consciousness, but the industry is still not being stopped.
HN: So where is the bright light on the horizon with this issue?
KM: I don’t know. But it is a dying industry - so many countries have banned the mining and use of asbestos including the EU, so I think Canada and the U.S. will eventually have to follow but it does seem to be taking longer than I think it should. As the film shows, in Quebec there is a long, complicated history between the government and the asbestos industry. It’s obviously a key component of the asbestos story in Canada. I mean, why is Quebec still mining asbestos? It’s a complicated question.
HN: Did anyone or any organizations put up roadblocks while you were making this film?
KM: I tried to get government officials in Quebec on camera but every time an interview was scheduled they kept cancelling. I think that happened, like, five times. In the end I said, ‘OK I’m just going to make this from my perspective.’ The sense I got from the officials was that I was just going to give asbestos a bad name. I think they have a party line and they didn’t want me to interview them because they felt I was going to slam them. I know what they say about why asbestos is mined but in the end, I remain unconvinced. I think you can easily poke holes in their argument.
HN: Obviously you hope to raise the profile about the dangers of asbestos but what are some of your other hopes for this film?
KM: Well, I am a filmmaker so I also wanted to present this from an artistic place. That’s why I use a lot of [family] photographs and Super-8 film. Films are made for many different reasons and while I hope activists will see it, I hope they’re not the only ones who see it. If I can do screenings across the country and it gets people talking and if I can get a TV broadcast and get the word out… that’s the ideal. Maybe we can shame Canada into changing but as a filmmaker it’s also a project I am proud of. This presents a family’s perspective on the asbestos issue. To that end there have been some victims groups that have contacted me to see the film because our story is like their story.
HN: What’s next after the screening in Toronto?
KM: We head to Ottawa, then to Sarnia, Hamilton, definitely Vancouver and Victoria and eventually the U.S. Dates are pending but we are in the planning process. I have been working with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization in the U.S. and they plan an annual conference, which I attend in the film in Detroit, so they hopefully will organize a webcast for sometime this fall.
You might call the next installment of the monthly Doc Soup series ‘appointment viewing.’
Getting its Canadian premiere March 2 at 6:30 pm and 9:15 pm a Toronto’s Bloor Cinema is The Arbor, a white-knuckle quasi-doc (it features both fictionalized and non-fiction passages) from the UK chronicling the incredible true-life story of late British playwright Andrea Dunbar and her daughter Lorraine.
To the official bumpf now: Hailed as "a genius straight from the slums," Andrea Dunbar wrote honestly and unflinchingly about her upbringing on the Buttershaw Estate. Her first play, "The Arbor," originally written as part of a school assignment, described the experiences of a pregnant teenager with an abusive drunken father. Andrea Dunbar died tragically at the age of 29 in 1990, leaving 10-year-old Lorraine with bitter childhood memories.
The Arbor catches up with Lorraine in rehab in the present day, also aged 29, and ostracized from her mother's family. Re-introduced to her mother's plays and letters, Lorraine reflects on her own life and begins to understand the struggles her mother faced. Through interviews with other members of the Dunbar family, we see a contrasting view of Andrea, in particular from Lorraine's younger sister Lisa, who idolizes Andrea to this day. A truly unique blend of non-fiction and dramatization, The Arbor is a captivating and celebrated piece from the documentary's new wave.
The film’s trailer (below) is all kinds of intriguing. It’s no surprise that The Arbor has netted multiple accolades: multiple prizes at the London Film Festival and Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the Tribeca Film Festival, and recently named winner of the Guardian First Film award.
Filmmaker Clio Barnard will be in attendance at the Bloor Cinema to introduce the film and answer audience questions following the screening. Single tickets are $12 and can be purchased in advance at www.hotdocs.ca or at the door on the night of the screening (subject to availability).
A limited number of free tickets for the 9:15 p.m. screening will be available to students with proper ID (subject to availability) at the door, on a first-come first-served basis beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Here’s a chance to get out and have fun this long weekend without spending a dime.
Organizers at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox are celebrating Family Day with two days of free, film-related programming this Sunday and Monday (February 20 and 21).
These include screenings of Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach; exhibitions featuring the lives and works of director Tim Burton and Toronto-born, silent-era Hollywood starlet Mary Pickford; and a performance by Toronto phonograph alchemists iNSiDEaMiND who have scored Buster Keaton's surreal slapstick classic Sherlock Jr.
Workshops and other films and performances are also slated with several Pickford classics on the sched. In the case of films, most are first-come, first-served admittance 30 minutes prior to screen time. Cool! Check out the Lightbox’s website for full details.
If you didn’t know it going in, you’d probably never guess that Canadian writer/director Penelope Buitenhuis’s taut mystery A Wake boasts a wildly usual claim - every bit of dialog is completely improvised by the actors.
If that sounds like an experimental nightmare, it’s not, thanks in large part to Buitenhuis, who logged many hours filming unscripted actors directing 100 episodes of oddball TV show Train 48, which ran on Global from 2003 to 2005.
Buitenhuis admits the problem with improv - which crops up more often in live theatre than on film - is that actors tend to talk too much. The benefit of improv, however, is that actors can draw from their own set of experiences to flesh out their characters, rather than relying on the words from one writer’s head.
The novel story at the root of A Wake - which was filmed in just over a week in Cambridge, ON - also gives the actors loads of room to move. The film tells the story of six former members of a once-renowned theatre company who come together for the wake of their infamous director, Gabor Zazlov (Nicholas Campbell).
His grieving widow welcomes them to their country house for a weekend, but soon loses control of the proceedings when old rivalries and jealousies erupt. The unexpected arrival of Gabor’s loafer son ratchets up the tension further. Just back from his travels in Europe, he knew nothing of his father’s death and accuses his stepmother of killing him. Not quite forgotten in the chaos is Gabor’s deathbed request to mount a final reading of Hamlet.
"When Gabor’s widow can’t continue to lead the charge," the official blurb goes, "his son Chad takes on the role of director, mining shocking truths from the actors. As secrets are revealed, the players must come clean: To thine own self be true. With morning hangovers, they all prepare to leave, altered by this tumultuous night. But there remains one last shocking truth to take centre stage.”
A Wake - which opens today (February 18) in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and contains a classic twist ending that few will see coming - has racked up much praise for Buitenhuis, who splits her time between Toronto and Vancouver.
(Buitenhuis will be in attendance at the AMC Yonge and Dundas tonight and tomorrow to introduce the first evening screenings and she’ll be available for a Q and A afterwards.)
She spoke to Hollywood North about why Clint Eastwood - who presented her film with a well-deserved award - really is a cowboy… and why Jason Priestly wasn’t up for a role in her movie.
Hollywood North: Completely improvised dialog - that’s crazy. How did that work exactly?
Penelope Buitenhuis: We rehearsed the big scenes - when you have six or seven people, it’s tricky figuring out when people should come in. The problem with improv is that people just talk their faces off and what you really want - what I really want - are authentic performances where you really felt like you are a fly on the wall. You don’t want people blabbing non-stop. When we talk normally, we withhold a lot.
HN: So which came first - the actual story or the concept of doing a movie with improvised-dialog?
PB: When Train 48 ended myself and (A Wake co-writer and actor) Krista Sutton decided we wanted to make a movie in improv so we basically sat down and made a list of requirements: shooting in one location so that we can shoot chronologically; we need to keep it contained in one house; we need it to be high-stakes, therefore a wake where someone has died. From there we wrote a 30-page treatment that had detailed descriptions about what happens in every scene. If there was a Shakespearean quote we might have inserted that in the treatment but otherwise it was pretty much dialog-free.
HN: What impact did this approach have on casting - did any actors turn you down?
PB: Yes. We originally wanted Jason Priestly to play the character of Tyler but he felt he wasn’t proficient enough at improve to do it. Quite a few actors we approached said, ‘I don’t know how to do improv.’ Most of the people in the film come from theatre backgrounds and most theatre training includes improv. Both Krista and (actor) Raoul Bhaneja had appeared on Train 48 and were proficient at improv. Tara Nicodemo, who plays the widow, had never done improv and never done film so that was a huge challenge for her but she was very prepared and her performance is fantastic.
HN: Given how usual this film is, it’s likely most of your actors will have this gig listed pretty high on the resume.
PB: You know I am always a bit nervous talking about the improv aspect because the perception is that they’re very blabby. I really wanted this movie to feel tightly cut and tightly told. We spent 10 days shooting it and four months editing it (laughs). But the great thing about editing improv is once you start narrowing down the dialog and story, you can go back and say ‘We need someone to say this’ and oftentimes they had. With a script, the actors are always saying the same thing, so in a way we had a lot more to choose from. But I say to reviewers: please emphasize that just because it’s improv doesn’t mean that it’s blabby! Really if you didn’t know it was improv going in you might not guess. When I have shown the film at festivals, the audience always gasps at the end when the credit reveal all the dialog was improvised.
HN: This film reminded me a bit of The Big Chill. Were you conscious of that film making this one?
PB: You know, it’s funny. When you make an ensemble movie like this people reach for comparisons but when you make an action movie, no one ever says ‘Hey that’s been done a million times before.’ I’m not sure why that is. But yes, I was conscious of The Big Chill and a Danish movie called Celebration (a.k.a. Festen from 1998). The improv allowed for really visceral performances that didn’t feel scripted. I really wanted people to believe what was going on. I’m one of those directors who wants things to be intensely real and I think that really comes with improv because people use their own language and personal history. So each actor could really go deep into their character using their own individual experiences.
PB: It was a total thrill. I met him backstage before we went onstage. Everyone had always told me he is a man of few words, which was quite true. But we talked about directing and he explained how he wanted to be part of the storytelling process as opposed to just the face on the screen. He really is like the still cowboy that he comes across as on screen. And he is 80 years old but so fit and positive and energetic… and a cowboy. He is a cowboy.
It premiered to some acclaim (and, admittedly, some disdain) at last year’s TIFF.
Now, Vancouver-based director Katrin Bowen’s unabashedly campy yet eerily watchable and rather sad drama Amazon Falls is set for its world theatrical premiere at the Magic Carlton Cinema 9 in Toronto the week of March 18.
The film will subsequently screen at select cities across Canada ending in Vancouver at the Denman Cinemas for the week of April 15. For what it’s worth, the bright lights here at Hollywood North quite liked the film, describing it thusly in our mini-review last fall:
"Hollywood is an ugly town full of beautiful people with blistered souls. And it’s uniquely capable of crushing expectations, friendships and especially dreams. That’s the sad, sad lesson learned by Jana (April Telek) a would-be movie star whose best role to date was as a B-movie Amazon and whose just-celebrated 40th birthday all but guarantees it will remain that way.
"Jana struggles to remain optimistic, acting as cheerleader to a much younger cocktail waitress co-worker with movie star dreams of her own. But the savagery of the business, combined with Jana’s stubborn refusal to scream uncle and give up the game, guarantees more pain ahead. Add in a mean, druggy boyfriend, a sharp-tempered boss and a weirdly smitten stranger with designs on our girl and the result is… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. This story has been told before, but seldom with such chilling, unadorned clarity. A cautionary tale for the ages."
Intriguing no? Adding to the potential appeal is this: Bowen was bestowed with the Women In Film & Television 16th Annual Artistic Achievement Award for her stunning vision and compelling direction. Her previous award winning films include: Almost Forgot my Bones, Sandcastle, Financially Strapped and Someone.
Last September, when former Friends star David Schwimmer unveiled his directorial feature Trust to audiences attending the Toronto International Film Festival, he divided critics into two camps: those who thought it was great and powered by exceptional performances, and those who thought it was OK, though powered by exceptional performances.
No doubt, leads Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are outstanding as the caring but vaguely clueless parents of a typically naïve teenage girl who meets what she thinks is the boy of her dreams (actually a child molester) online and begins an intense chat relationship that soon migrates offline with devastating consequences for all involved.
Trust - which is slated to open April 1 - hits a very timely nerve while raising all sorts of questions relevant to the age of the Internet: how much supervision should parents exert over their children’s online use? How explicit should they be in spelling out the potential dangers of chatting with (and ultimately meeting) strangers? Can chat rooms effectively police themselves?
Given that the film apparently will be slapped with an R-rating Stateside, it’s debatable whether any of those questions will reach the teen demo directly though you can bet parents of teens viewing this film will exit theatres feeling some combination of revulsion, terror and shock.
During a press conference for the film in Toronto last September, Owen - who has two kids - offered this observation: “I thought this [film] is a really strong examination of something that we could all be careful and a little worried about.
“I think the way children relate on the Internet is racing ahead so quickly that we have to take check that it’s healthy for our kids … The minute my oldest daughter joined Facebook, she got a number of messages from people she didn’t know to become friends, and this film examines that as a concern.”
Schwimmer, who is one of the board members of the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, added that he used to have a girlfriend who was a victim of sexual abuse.
“I think the issues of the subject matter are incredibly timely. The Internet is a great tool but there are a lot of dangers out there. Eighty-nine per cent of chat rooms are solicited sexually; there are 50,000 predators online at any given moment; MySpace just kicked off 90,000 registered sex offenders’ profiles. The facts speak for themselves.”
If there’s one thing that makes me and most everyone I know foam-at-the-mouth insane, it’s product advertisements at the movies. Especially rehashes of ads (Toyota, Coke, etc) originally made for TV.
Ads on TV are fair game. At the movies, anything other than a trailer for another film should be punishable by death… or worse. There is, however, one exception to this rule: award-winning ads that, taken together, become a feature attraction unto themselves.
Enter the 2010 Cannes Lions Ad Awards, essentially the world very best commercials as decided by a distinguished judging selection and presented collectively. Watching these ads - especially those from far-flung locales like Asia or South America or Africa - is like some crazy socio-political cultural voyage around the world.
Every year I make a point of checking them out and every year I am floored by the humour/horror/genius of these awesome commercials. And lucky Toronto residents have a chance to share the experience as rep cinema The Bloor presents the 2010 Cannes Lions Awards winners Thursday and Saturday (February 17 and 19) at 4:15 pm, Friday (February 18) at 7 pm and February 21 at 9:15 pm.
Prices range from $5 to $12 and it’s well worth it. Check out some examples above and below. After seeing these you’ll never feel the same way about commercials again… although you will be tempted to wonder why all ads can’t be this great.
Toronto and, uh, Edmonton residents already gazing longingly at the weekend - and why not since Mondays blow - should add a screening of understated but excellent film Small Town Murder Songs to the agenda.
Canuck director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s dark, stark modern gothic tale of crime and redemption stars Swedish actor Peter Stormare (Fargo, Armageddon, Prison Break) as Walter, an aging police officer from a small Ontario Mennonite town who hides a violent past until a local murder upsets the calm of his newly reformed life.
It also captures a small but strong performance from the late Jackie Burroughs and premiered last fall at TIFF. Lest movie-goers need more reason to make STMS appointment viewing, consider this: Variety Magazine last month feted Gass-Donnelly as one of “10 Directors to Watch” at a star-studded event at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, hosted by Mark Wahlberg no less.
The 16th annual award honored 10 directors from across the world for their outstanding creative achievements. Past recipients include Christopher Nolan, Fernando Meirelles, George Clooney, Peter Hedges and Canadians Sarah Polley and Jeremy Podeswa.
The film co-stars Aaron Poole (This Beautiful City) as Stormare’s partner Jim, Jill Hennessey (Crossing Jordan, Law and Order) as Walter’s ex-girlfriend Rita and Martha Plimpton (The Goonies, Running On Empty, I Shot Andy Warhol) as Walter’s girlfriend Sam.
On the heels of a novel series of by-demand screenings in small towns across Southwestern Ontario last fall, Small Town Murder Songs officially hits larger markets across Canada, starting on Friday (February 18) at the Royal Theatre in Toronto and the Metro in Edmonton.
It won’t get the kind of push propelling the new Jennifer Aniston/Adam Sandler film, Just Go With It or the Justin Bieber biopic, but Modra is every bit as worthwhile - actually maybe moreso - and is actually well-suited to a pre-Valentine’s Day weekend screening given the gentle teenage puppy love story at its core.
Here’s how we summed it up last fall:
Dubbing a film ridiculously charming may not seem like much of an endorsement but it is with Modra, especially considering the storyline is primarily shouldered by two unknown teens acting like actual, warts-and-all teens.
On the cusp of a brief summer vacation to Slovakia to hang with extended family, 17-year-old Lina (played by Veninger’s real-life daughter, Hallie Switzer) is dumped by boyfriend Tyler, who was set to come along. On a whim, Lina invites school acquaintance Leco to take Tyler’s place. That the pair doesn’t really know each other is secondary to the notion of just... like, you know, splitting.
The rural Slovakian town of Modra and Lina’s adoring family, who assume Leco is the boyfriend, push the action subtly forward. But it’s Lina and Leco’s discoveries and awakenings - of each other, of the parallel universe that is small-town European life, of the value of family – propelling the action. And, yup, it’s all really darn charming.
Nothing blows up in Modra, but Veninger sure knows how to capture the life-affirming essence of a teenage holiday overseas. In this case, that’s story enough. Rating: 8/10