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Wolfville, Nova Scotia


36th Atlantic Film Festival Atlantic Program 2016

Chris Campbell

The 36th edition of the Atlantic Film Festival is coming up and the Atlantic Program was recently announced. It's filled with a mix of familiar names and emerging talent from the Atlantic region and it's the core of the festival and is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the stories that we make here. The bulk of the program are shorts with 10 separate programs with drama, animation, and documentary all present. There are also feature documentaries and a range of feature dramas as well.

The festival begins this year with the highly-anticipated drama Maudie, directed by Irish director Aisling Walsh, and telling the story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maude Lewis. The gala screening taking place in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on September 15 with the party at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia where her works are on display. It stars Sally Hawkins as Maude Lewis with Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis and written by Newfoundland's Sherry White who wrote and directed Crackie which played at the festival in 2009.

The Friday night gala on September 16 (with an encore screening the following day) is also an Atlantic film and marks a return to the big screen of the Oxford Theatre for festival galas with Bruce McDonald's Weirdos, written by Daniel MacIvor. McDonald and MacIvor were also the writing and directing team behind the great Trigger which played at the festival in 2010. Weirdos is set in 1976 in Nova Scotia and is in black and white and a road movie (like MacDonald's breakout feature Roadkill). Shot by Becky Parsons and featuring young leads, it looks like a quirky and fun film that I'm looking forward to seeing on the big screen.

Friday also features a range of other Atlantic features with Brigitte Berman's documentary about legendary Newfoundland actor Gordon Pinsent, The River of My Dreams playing in the early evening. Paco Arango's Nova Scotia film The Healer is also screening as part of Strategic Partners and it's the story of a man with the gift of healing who moves to Nova Scotia as he considers what his true purpose in life is. Justin Oakey's Newfoundland film Riverhead is playing later in the evening. Oakey's earlier film, the dramatic short Flankers played at the film festival in 2014 and Riverhead promises the same great performances and striking scenes on location.

In Saturday Atlantic documentaries there is Atlantic, which looks at fishing communities in Newfoundland, Ireland, and Norway and how the resources of fish and oil impact those communities. In the evening John Walker's documentary Quebec My Country Mon Pays has the local filmmaker turn his camera on his own story growing up in Montreal during the Quiet Revolution. Walker brings a perspective on the complex relationship and feelings people in Quebec have with each other and the rest of Canada.

There are also great Atlantic dramas playing Saturday night with Justin Simms' Away From Everywhere, an adaptation of Chad Pelley's acclaimed debut novel from Newfoundland. Starring Shawn Doyle, Jason Priestley, and Joanne Kelly (who was in last year's Closet Monster as Brin Madly) it should be another strong drama from Simms whose features Down to the Dirt and Hold Fast also played at the festival along with last year's NFB documentary Danny (that Simms co-directed with William D. MacGillivray). The gritty drama Hunting Pignut from Martine Blue rounds out the Atlantic films Saturday evening. Featuring Joel Thomas Hynes as the titular gutter punk, it tells the story of a 15 year old misfit played by Taylor Hickson, who goes on a quest to find Pignut after he steals her father's ashes out of his urn. Martine Blue's short dramedy Me2 played at the festival in 2014 and was shot by Stephanie Weber Biron, who was also the cinematographer for Hunting Pignut.



On Sunday, September 18, the Reel East Coast Shorts Gala plays at the Oxford (with an encore screening on Thursday, September 22) with the best Atlantic shorts. Including films from all 4 Atlantic Provinces it has animation, documentary, drama, and comedy. From Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nason's latest documentary Mabel, to Corey Bowles' satirical Black Cop, and Jillian Acreman's quirky Marigolds to name a few of the films, it's a program that shows the range of talent this part of the country has produced.

The 6 Reel East Coast Shorts, NextGen Shorts, and Viewfinders shorts programs play throughout the festival with more of the best of the region. An amazing collection of work including films from AFCOOP's outstanding FILM 5 program, graduates of NSCC's Screen Arts Program, and NSCAD University. There is something for everyone in the mix of films screening with those programs and they also provide an opportunity to meet and talk with the filmmakers after seeing them introduce their films.

Ashley McKenzie's feature film debut, Werewolf is screening on Sunday, September 18. It will be interesting to see her naturalistic and gritty vision after her outstanding series of shorts expanded into a feature about a couple in their 20s dealing with drug addiction. Shot in Cape Breton on a low budget and starring Andrew Gillis and Bhreagh MacNeil it is sure to be a highlight of the festival.

The Atlantic program also features four films from the 1K Wave Atlantic initiative from Women in Film and Television Atlantic and pUNK Films. Announced in March at the Women Making Waves Festival, the challenge was for five women make five feature film in five months. On Monday afternoon Nicole Steeves' feature directing debut, Head Space plays. Starring Struan Sutherland as an agoraphobic former comedian and tv pitch man who has to venture into the outside world, it should be both funny and heartwarming. On Tuesday, September 20th in the afternoon Harmony Wagner's PEI drama Singing to Myself tells the story of a disconnected young deaf woman who befriends a precocious musician. The followup to her feature debut Kooperman that Wagner codirected last year, Signing to Myself looks like it will be closer to her beautiful short film Queen of the Crows which played at the festival in 2013. self portrait in may (screening on Wednesday, September 21) is a contempletative look at self through the eyes and ears of an artist. It should be a unique and beautifully crafted film drawing on the Busierre's embrace of the contraints of the challenge . The final film screening from the 1K Wave Atlantic Challenge is Koumbie's drama Ariyah and Tristan’s Inevitable Breakup playing on Thursday, September 22nd. It tells the story of the ups and downs and modern romance as a couple deals with an unintended pregnancy.

Monday evening Neal Livingston's 100 Short Stories plays with his documentary cinematic collage covering a range of topics from Capitalism, fracking, to life in Atlantic Canada to name but a few.

Three Atlantic documentaries screen on Tuesday. Alan Collins' documentary My Life So Far tells the story a young Haitian Canadian woman who returns to the country of her birth after growing up in Canada with her adoptive parents. Rwanda & Juliet is Ben Proudfoot's film about the staging of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in Rwanda with a cast of students with Hutu and Tutsi backgrounds (and it also screens on Wednesday as part of the Viewfinders stream). Michael Fuller and Neil Rough's Myrtle Beach shows a range of characters from the vacation community on the coast.

The Wednesday night gala on September 21 is Michael Melski's documentary Perfume War. The story of two friends, war, recovery, and how perfume became a way to make a difference in Afghanistan, and their own lives as they face many challenges. The inspiring story is playing on the big screen at the Oxford. Another Atlantic documentary screening Wednesday is John Hopkins' NFB documentary Bluefin looks at the resurgence of Bluefin in "tuna capital of the world", North Lake, Prince Edward Island. Paul Kimball's thriller Exit Thread rounds out the films of the Atlantic program for Wednesday.

On the final day of the festival the feature documentary, Spectres of Shortwave from Amanda Dawn Christie explores the former magical and intriguing shortwave towers outside of Sackville, New Brunswick. Using innovative techniques to record sound and shooting on film, her documentary will provide an exploration of the iconic structures that have vanished from the landscape.

Even if the Atlantic Film Festival only consisted of the Atlantic Program, it would be almost overwhelming with something for everyone. But it's just the local heart of a much bigger festival that also features more films from the rest of Canada and around the world. I'll have some reflections on the rest of the films coming up at the festival this year soon.

On Set

Chris Campbell

There is a special feeling when you are on a film set. A balance of anticipation, excitement, and calm. It feels comfortable while also being in a state of mind where you are completely present. You're surrounded by talented and creative people helping to bring a story to life and it's some of the most fun that you can have. A few months ago I was on a film set in a supporting role, mixing sound. I'm on a set often as a teacher, but that's a much different role than the ones I filled while working on films. In recent years most of my film work has been on the editing side which is the (generally) calmer and quieter side of production. I love editing and working within the constraints of footage, but there is something magical about being on set.

It has been a long time since I'd been on set in a role other than an observer or supervisor, so when asked to record sound for one of the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative FILM 5 films, I was eager to do it. Sound is where I started to learn about film production at the New Brunswick Filmmakers' Co-operative when I just finished high school. Back then in the 80s we shot on 16mm film and recorded sound on magnetic tape using a Nagra sound recorder. It was beautiful.

Things have changed a lot since then and now not many people shoot on film, but the techniques and processes remain mostly the same even though everything is a lot more digital now. The key similarity is that many films still shoot "double-system", which is where the picture and sound are recorded separately and synchronized later. That's why you use a slate with clap sticks as the visual of the sticks coming together and the sound of them snapping is the reference point to have the picture and sound match up. In the old days we'd mark an X on the frame of film and the frame of magnetic stock and line them up, but now it's done within editing software.

The FILM 5 program combines experienced crew members with emerging filmmakers to provide a framework for learning and creativity. The films are short and the production schedule is tight with only a couple of days for shooting. It's a chance to mentor and practice while making a film out in the world. On this production, named "Black Guitar", I was working with many graduates of the NSCC Screen Arts program where I teach. The producer was Todd Fraser, and the writer/director was Devin Casario. Working with them outside of school was great and it was a nice to be in a role where I was only responsible for a small part of the whole film. I had the talented Dan Langlois who I was mentoring in the sound department as boom operator and he was invaluable in capturing the sound on this production that was shot all on location in Halifax.

A film crew is a finely-tuned machine with each person playing their role and the interaction of the parts on set all managed by the First Assistant Director. She keeps things focussed and running smoothly by controlling what happens when and always keeping safety and efficiency in mind. A good 1st AD sets the tone for the production and on this production Nicole Close did an amazing job keeping us safe and getting the shots that we needed in the most efficient way possible. The conditions were challenging at times as we were shooting over two evenings and there was rain (which gave the film a great look).

We were lucky to have one of the top cinematographers in the country, Christopher Ball, as director of photography. Being in the sound department meant that I was close to the camera most of the time as while it's important to be able to hear everything, the sound department and their equipment can't be visible in the shot at all, so you always have to be aware of where the camera is, what it is seeing, and any effect that you will have on the lighting or the movement of the actors or the camera. Christopher Ball and his team created some beautiful shots both inside and outside with understated lighting in challenging conditions in terms of time and weather. It's at times like that when the experience and professionalism of the crew makes it a wonderful experience in making a film.

One of the other crucial elements for a successful film production is food, and we had some great meals. For those outside of the industry, it may seem like a luxury to have snacks and food readily available on set, but when you have a group of people working twelve hour days with most of that time spent moving around, it's important to stay hydrated and fed to maintain your energy. It's physically and mentally demanding and not having to worry about what to eat is important. Having a warm meal is a wonderful thing especially when you've been outside in the rain working.

When you teach people you have a different relationship with them as you're a resource and you encourage people to do their best and to learn. As people get out into the world and working one of the best things to see is how they continue to learn as they work and help other people. On the set of the film during breaks I was able to catch up with many of the graduates who I had taught to find out how they were doing. Their range of experiences and future plans are inspiring and encouraging in the face of an industry that is going through some large challenges.

People don't go into the filmmaking world because it's a way to make a lot of money but because they love telling stories. Figuring out the balance between a career that pays the bills and one that sustains the soul is common for many people. Being able to work with talented people and to help them on that journey with great films being produced along the way is one of the best parts of my job. I'm so grateful that I was able to play a different role and immerse myself in this world again.

Black Guitar premieres at the 36th Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Friday, September 16 at 3:30 pm as part of the Reel East Coast Shorts Program 1.

CLMOOC 2016: An Introduction to Me

Chris Campbell

Trying to figure out what to do with CLMOOC is a challenge each time (here is how I started in 2015 and how I began in 2014. The easiest thing for me to is to write. It's a muscle that I exercise every day and I enjoy the practice and creating things by arranging words. The key is to get things done and to move on to the next thing without spending too much time getting caught up in what you are going to do. The key is to learn and connect, so that is what I will do.

I'm Chris Campbell and I teach at the Nova Scotia Community College in the Screen Arts program. My usual job is to help people make films with my focus mainly on the producing and postproduction aspects of making films. It's been a challenging year for the film industry in Nova Scotia with the important tax credit program dramatically reduced by the provincial government and a number of people leaving the province for work elsewhere as things shrunk. I was glad to be granted a year-long learning leave which gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the film industry, colleagues, graduates as well as to work on a number of films.

For the first time in long time (decades, actually) I wasn't teaching in a classroom in the fall. It was a strange feeling and every day I had the sense that I'd slept in or missed something. Setting my own schedule and filling my day with research and connecting with filmmakers has been a remarkable experience. It was also an opportunity to reflect on teaching without the daily pressure of being in the classroom and to exercise some other muscles without the structure of the semester or the daily commute (which is 100 km each way).

I was able to more deeply engage with the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax in September of 2015 with a guide to the festival and daily reviews (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, and Day 8) of pretty much everything I watched and a summary of the best of the festival. There were a lot of films to see and in the cycle that I established of watching and reviewing it was a more intense experience that left a more public record of my experience and allowed me to connect more with other people at the festival too.

I presented at the BlogJam conference in Halifax where I reflected on 13 years of blogging. It was a great one-day conference filled with creative people sharing their love of blogging. It was inspiring and energizing.

With the Silver Wave Film Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick I dove in completely as one of the programmers to help choose films for the festival. I was able to spend a few weeks working in the office preparing for the festival and during the festival to organize and help filmmakers get their work seen and to allow the public to share the love of film. Working with friends at the NB Filmmakers Co-op was a reconnection with where I started making films as well as teaching workshops which gave me valuable experience before I became a full-time teacher.

At the summit of Mount Carleton

I biked and walked a lot (with over 1400 kms of biking this season so far) as I was able to establish a nice routine with morning writing and work with getting outside part of every day. There was a lot less driving which I appreciate so much. There is a lot that you miss in a commute every day. With control of my own schedule I was also able to take a few trips and was able to take short excursions through New England (with stops in Vermont, Western Massachusetts, and Maine) and to hike up a couple of mountains in New Brunswick.

With the time saved from not commuting I was also able to cook a lot more and be healthier with the food that I cooked. My bread baking moved to the next level as I made some sourdough starter from scratch and started baking things with it. It's a lot more work to make bread in a more traditional way, but it tastes great and I enjoy the process. There is a sequence of steps that you follow all while paying attention to the details. An interaction between what you need to do every time and watching what happens as things progress. That's what teaching in and that's one of the best things to happen during my learning leave in having the opportunity to take a bit of time and be a bit more present to see what is around me and how things change and grow.

The Films of Arnaud Desplechin

Chris Campbell

Arnaud Desplechin creates complex, intellectual films that have a strong emotional core. They have melodramatic elements and are elaborately written, directed, and acted. They are films for cinephiles filled with other cinematic references, a collection of familiar creative partners, and increasingly honing the techniques and approaches as his career has progressed.

The first film that I saw was Kings and Queen which is probably his most intimidating film. I read a review on Salon that said it was "an emotional blockbuster" and in seeing the film it introduced me to his work (as well as Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric). It is an amazing film and I loved it all for the messiness and complexity surrounding some remarkable performances. At the core of the film are the relationships, but the main character played by Devos is an unreliable narrator and as the film goes on what she says and what we see diverge more. Amalric's character lacks self-awareness and causes chaos to those around him. The sprawling and dysfunctional relationships are shown with their own peculiar secrets.

Desplechin uses a cinematic and beautiful technique with a letter written by one character read by the actor who looks directly at the camera. (He also does this in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument, A Christmas Tale, and Jimmy P.) He is also deeply in love with cinema with references to other films throughout his own films (as well as scenes of characters watching films). Musically he uses the theme from Breakfast at Tiffany's in Kings and Queen while for a sequence in A Christmas Tale he uses the score from Vertigo to accompany a scene that is an homage to a similar scene in Hitchcock's film.

There are ghosts and dreams and visions throughout his films. In Kings and Queen a dead character appears in a dream and then reminsces about his life with the main character and then we go in to a flashback (or is it another dream?) which is a bit at odds with the other stories and glimpses of what happened. This pattern of memories, stories, and dreams weaves through other films by Desplechin as well. An earlier version shows up in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument (which also serves as an homage to Bergman's Wild Strawberries) with Mathieu Amalric's character of Paul Dédalus in a therapy session remembering his childhood. Then we see the present day Dédalus watching the younger version of himself.

In A Christmas Tale there is a younger character named Paul Dédalus who has a vision of a black dog moving through the house. (This Dédalus is the son of the Vuillard sister Elizabeth and Claude Dédalus). Several other names reappear in multiple films with the surname Vuillard in both Kings and Queen (including the character Abel Vuillard of Roubaix). Abel is played by the same actor (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and is Amalric's father in Kings and Queen (where he runs a convenience store) as well as in A Christmas Tale (where he dyes fabric). A father with a fabric dying business shows up My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument as well. Names such as Ivan, Simon, and Sylvia also appear in several films with slightly different family connections.

With A Christmas Tale Desplechin created the story of a large dysfunctional family told in a novellistic way. While in earlier films like My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument the sprawl distracted from the story, with A Christmas Tale he gets the balance right and adds a warmth to the story brought by the perfectly-balanced cast. It's one of my favourite films and features playful techniques along with some darkness and serious drama while assembling his usual team with many actors he worked with before.

The obsession with continuity in superhero franchises is missing here, but names and situations, characters and actors, relations and relationships, techniques and themes come up to echo and refract throughout Desplechin's work. Born in Roubaix, France, he has set one film there, and there are scenes and references to it in several of his films as well as other autobiographical elements. He even made a documentary about the selling of the ancestral family home. He constructs a loose cinematic universe growing out his background and cinematic influences.

He's an intellectual director who combines ideas on several levels with it working brilliantly at times and other times seeming a bit strained. Emmanuelle Devos is in all of his dramas (with the notable exceptions of Playing 'In the Company of Men', Jimmy P., and My Golden Years). Mathieu Amalric first appeared as a minor character in The Sentinel (a strange semi-thriller that touches on some of the family drama that dominates Desplechin's later films), and then in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument with a great chemistry with Devos. This led to them forming the heart of Kings and Queen with great chemistry as well.

Desplechin is part of the tradition of directors who value and work with the same actors often. The tension between Catherine Deneuve's psychiatric doctor in Kings and Queen and Amalric's character was probably a factor in her casting as Amalric's mother in A Christmas Tale where the two characters share a deep hatred of one another. The intense relationships between characters seems to be one of the things that is often explored by Desplechin and at the heart of what he thinks we take from films.

His more obscure film (and first in English) Esther Kahn (with a bold performance from Summer Phoenix and Ian Holm as an actor who teaches Phoenix) is an adaptation of an English story from the turn of the century. The film is a bit muddled, but the scenes between Holm and Phoenix are remarkable and serve as a condensed master class in the art of acting as Holm's character breaks down what it means to act for an actor and the audience. It also features a more explicit homage to Bergman's Wild Strawberries with a dream sequence that mirrors one from Bergman's original.

Therapists and psychoanalysis are also frequent and recurring themes with extracts from George Devereux's book Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian appearing in Kings and Queen (as well as Amalric's therapist's name being Devereux). We see Amalric in therapy in My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into an Argument, Kings and Queen, and A Christmas Tale. Later he plays psychoanalyst George Devereux in Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian in an adaptation of Devereux's book. Jimmy P. has memorable scenes where Jimmy (played by Benicio del Toro) describes dreams and Devereux is shown with Jimmy in his dream, watching while listening to the description.

Through the work of Desplechin I've been introduced to some of my favourite actors (Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuel Devos) as well as enjoying elements I love within French cinema. He creates new films that feel familiar and he tries a few different things each time. While it all may not work, it's always worth the effort with some memorable scenes and powerful stories that make me think about why I love watching films.

How I Watched Films in 2015

Chris Campbell

Films watched grouped in a word cloud generated from Jason Davies' site.

The days of physical media are going away. As I look through the data of how I watched films over the past few years it's clear that the future is digital and streaming. I buy hardly any DVDs now and my preferred way of owning films is now through iTunes. Most films that I watched last year were on Netflix with iTunes second. DVDs were the fifth most popular way I watched films last year, after streaming service MUBI and Turner Classic Movies on TV.

Atlantic Film Festival 23
Carbon Arc 1
Cineplex Rental 3
Crave TV 2
Download 5
Drive-in 1
DVD 52
iTunes 88
Netflix 112
No Budge 1
Reelhouse 1
Shout Factory TV 3
Silver Wave Film Festival 2
Turner Classic Movies 62
Theatre 35
Vimeo 24
YouTube 13

Last year I watched more films than I ever had in one year (512 films up from 438 the year before). The most popular screen for viewing things in the past year was my TV (with the Apple TV, a DVD player, and DVR hooked up to it), then my MacBook Pro followed by a big screen in a theatre or at a film festival. I used my iPad less for watching films (in 2014 I watched 96 films on it and in 2015 watched 51) and my MacBook Pro more (in 2014 I watched 18 films on it and in 2015 watched 148) probably due to the fact that my iPad (which I got in 2012) is older and a bit slower now (mainly for iTunes stuff since it's only a 16 GB iPad).

TV 178
MacBook Pro 148
Theatre or Festival 62
iPad 51

The data for this comes from Letterboxd and Your Flowing Data. With Letterboxd I log every film and try to write at least a short review for each film as well as tagging the films with where I got them from. With Your Flowing Data I also record the film along with a few more tags with the screens. I'm thinking that maybe I should simplify things a bit more and start adding more tags to my Letterboxd diary so I can crunch all the data there.

In terms of content my top five genres (according to Letterboxd) were Drama (266 films), Comedy (127 films), Thriller (84 films), Documentary (74 films), and Romance (58 films). This is mostly the same as last year with Documentary ahead of Thriller in 2014. In terms of the split between new films and rewatching films most of the films I watched were new with 64% of them films I hadn't seen before. My most watched director was Agnes Varda with 17 films, followed by Chantal Akerman with 10 films, and Claire Denis with 9.

The other effort I made in 2015 was to watch more films directed by women which resulted in me watching 143 different films by women (I watched some of them more than once). Late in the year I joined the 52 Films by Women project and starting picking a film a week to highlight (and I have a Letterboxd list of my 52 Films by Women). This is probably why the top three directors from last year are all women and I hope that I continue the trend into this year. As I write this I've watched 164 films with 59 of the films directed by women, so the pace is better than last year, but it would be good to keep going with the project. It's resulted in me watching better films which is a good thing as well as making me aware of directors who I hadn't watched before too.

In thinking about the data that I collect one of the other things that becomes interesting to me are the other patterns that can emerge if you dig a bit deeper in the data. Films directed by women is one part of that. Other things could be to look at the people who write the films, which films had the same cinematographer or editor. I'm hoping that Letterboxd publicly releases their API soon or makes other tools available to examine those data points with the films watched. I check my Year In Review page to see what patterns are there (and I added historical data from other sites and notebooks to have nine years of film logging on the site) and that is an influence on what I watch as well.

By thinking about the quantity and quality of what we watch, it can help to expand what we see and how we view things. There are so many films and so little time that it can help to have a method in diving in to the world of cinema to make the journey more enjoyable.