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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
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Day 8 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

Spectres of Shortwave

Spectres of Shortwave

The final day of the 36th Atlantic Film Festival was a good one after a great week. It's the point where the long days start to catch up, but there is a burst of energy as you realize that you're seeing the last of the films for this year. One of my goals this year has been to see more films directed by women, and on the final day of the festival all three of the films that I saw were directed by women.

First up was a documentary from the NFB called Angry Inuk. Written and directed byAlethea Arnaquq-Baril it's a look at the role that the seal hunt plays in the lives of Inuit who live in the north. It's an important perspective and a personal documentary that provides context as we follow the struggle to explain and resolve a complex issue. We meet people trying to make a living and how boycotts have had a detrimental effect on the economy of communities who rely on seals for food, clothing, and their economy.

The final film that was part of the 1KWAVEATLANTIC initiative films screening at the festival this year was Koumbie's film Ariyah & Tristan’s Inevitable Breakup. A film that embraces constraints by relying on strong lead actors and clever use of a location, it's a great story that captures the essence of a relationship from start to finish. With the script cowritten by the leads and with a crew that uses the confined space of an apartment as a challenge to tell the story in an interesting way, it doesn't feel gimmicky and has some real heart of depth. While the charismatic leads could carry the story as a play, it's the clever construction of the shots and the action that elevate the film even more. It's a great example of how to make an interesting film by assembling a talented team and telling a story that feels grounded in the truth.

One of the films I had been anticipating the most and the film I chose to end the festival with as Amanda Dawn Christie's experimental documentary Spectres of Shortwave. Right from the beginning it is intriguing with a crisp and mysterious sound design and gorgeous images shot on 35mm film. It explores the idea and place where 13 shortwave transmission towers stood on the Tantramar Marshes close to Sackville, New Brunswick. With the soundtrack simulcast to the airwaves on Wave Farm Radio while the film screened, it was a magical evening exploring a vanishing broadcast method.

The towers have always fascinated me and I was lucky to visit them when they were standing. My final visit to the towers was with Amanda Dawn Christie, years before decommissioning. In her documentary she assembles stories from those who worked and lived around the towers and the strange and wonderful things that connect with them. The images, sound, and interviews are all blended together in a mesmerizing way as you are immersed in a unique world. Using contact microphones that she built herself, Christie fills the soundtrack with the sounds created by the towers. It's haunting and beautiful to have the voices of the towers accompany the images and it's emotional and heartbreaking as we see the towers falling. It's a powerful work of art that made me see that part of the world differently and transported me away from my concerns into a world between memory, history, and geography.

The festival is done for another year and I'm full of images and sounds from the films and conversations shared during the week. It's a great filmmaking and film watching community that we have here and always so great to be surrounded by it for a week every September.

Day 7 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

Paterson

Paterson

On the penultimate day of the festival I was able to fill the afternoon and evening with screenings. So much good work up on the screen this year. In conversations before and after the films you find out about what you've missed and can share thoughts on the films you loved with others. It's good when friends see different films than you as it gives you a broader view of the films the programmers have assembled and helps in building up the list of films that you need to check out when they are available again.

My seventh day at the Atlantic Film Festival began with the New Zealand adaptation of Eleanor Catton's novel directed by Canadian Alison MacLean with the screenplay cowritten by her and Emily Perkins. Starring James Rolleston (who memorably debuted in Taika Waititi's Boy) as an acting student who chooses personal material for an acting project. It's a film about process and growing up that skillfully avoids cliches with a mainly light touch throughout. The process of becoming an actor is at the core of the film with some great scenes with the young cast interacting with established actors including New Zealand's Kerry Fox as the head of the acting school. But overall it's a drama with greater depth and more complex characters than many films that deal with similar topics. The cast shines and it's beautifully shot and edited and was a pleasant surprise as I was expecting something good and saw something that was great.

Another day and another world premiere of a 1KWAVEATLANTIC film with Self Portrait in May. Catherine Bussiere's personal and beautiful documentary was filmed in a compressed period of time (the month of May) with the entire project from conception to completion happening within five months. A meditation on life with a strong sense of place and family, it shows what is possible with talent and thoughtful contemplation. She shares her life and family and friends with us and it made me think about the topics as it also soothed my soul.

Jim Jarmusch is great at finding a structure for his films and then working within that to combine diverse casts and elements together to create films that are unique and beautiful. One of the most musical of directors in how he uses repetition and patterns visually, thematically, and in editing. With Paterson he adopts the formal structure of a week in the life of a bus driver and poet played to subtle perfection by Adam Driver. The glimpses of daily routine reminded me of Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels in the repetition with changes, but Jarmusch takes it in his own direction.

For Jarmusch plot is just a way to assemble memorable characters together in memorable places. This time I learned a wealth of information about Paterson, New Jersey. The film is packed with great and distinctive performances with a standout being Golshifteh Farahani as Paterson's partner Laura, a woman whose style is black and white along with a love of country music. Everyone has got their thing and as we meet the residents of Paterson we learn a bit more as we go through the routine. There are the usual connections with music and other films including a delightful reunion of the leads of Moonrise Kingdom and of one of the leads from the "Far From Yokohama" segment of Mystery Train. Jarmusch's films always start me on a journey to find out more about what he shares and now I need to explore the poetry William Carlos Williams and rewatch more of his films.

The final screening of the day for me was the Nextgen Shorts program which is a showcase of upcoming filmmakers. It's great to see work from students on the big screen and the audience enjoyed the work and the filmmakers introduced their films to an appreciative crowd.

The festival is coming to an end for another year and I also now have a lot of new films on my "Best of 2016" list along with more films that I need to see based on recommendations from friends. It's my favourite time of the year.

Day 6 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

Juste la fin du monde

Juste la fin du monde

The Atlantic Film Festival this year has been solid with a range of films and styles and approaches. It can be tiring, but seeing a great film manages to restore my energy and leaves me wanting more. So while I dove in heavily for the first part of the festival, now in the home stretch I slowed down a bit and only saw three things on Day 6, but they were good.

Up first for me was Alan Collins' short documentary My Life So Far, which was about his remarkable daughter and the journey that he and Violet Rosengarten took when they adopted Cassandre Collins in Haiti. It zips along and has footage from over a decade, so we get to see Cassandre as a child and moments with her growing up. With humour and heart we get a small glimpse into the lives of some people and how they came to be a family.

The second of the films screening that came out of the 1KWAVEATLANTIC initiative from WIFT Atlantic for female writer/directors, Singing to Myself is written and directed by Harmony Wagner. Set in PEI, it tells the story of a woman who is deaf and a developing friendship with another young woman. Taking full advantage of locations on the island, the strong cast grounds the story that has a broad dramatic range as we spend time with the characters and some of the struggles that they face. There are some lovely moments between the characters and some solid visuals as well that show a great deal of ingenuity in working on an ultra-low-budget film.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes in the Tuesday night gala at the Oxford. Xavier Dolan continues to hone his style and create compelling and deeply cinematic films. With It's Only The End of the World he makes a shorter film, but one that concentrates the power of his other films in the adaptation of a play about a dysfunctional family. With relentless closeups of the actors that recall Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, it increases the intensity of the experience.

His approach suits the material perfectly and it takes a few minutes to adjust to it, but it's not unending and Dolan gives us some small, strategic breaks in the form of flashbacks accompanied by more popular music. In the dramatic sequences the score is more traditional film music which soothes us while the faces filling the screen increase our anxiety. It's Dolan also working with an fantastic cast of French actors all doing amazing and often understated work. A remarkable achievement, it's Dolan showing restraint in trimming things down to what is essential, which increases the power of what is shared with us. It was a bit exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

With only two days left, there are still many films to see and worlds to explore. I'm going to miss the days filled with films and conversations next week as I reflect on what I've seen and heard.

Day 5 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

Julieta

Julieta

Another full day of films at the 36th Atlantic Film Festival with literary adaptations with different approaches bookending the day. So many films and it all starts to blend together after a while, but some lovely moments on and off screen as so many people share experiences during the festival.

A solid adaptation of a Carol Shields novel with a great performance from Catherine Keener at the core as well as a strong supporting cast. Adaptations can be challenging and I wish that there was less narration as that tended to take me out of the film. But it was a good translation from the page to the screen of a story that was challenging at times. Overall it doesn't take too many chances and tells the story in a straightforward way that suited the material well.

The first of the 1KWAVEATLANTIC films to screen as part of the initiative from Women in Film and Television Atlantic was Nicole Steeves' Head Space which played to a packed house in the afternoon. The challenge for the filmmaker was to pitch, write, shoot, and complete a film within 5 months and for $1000. Writer / Director Steeves embraced the constraints of the initiative with a comedy about an agoraphobic actor and standup comedian starring (and edited by) Struan Sutherland. It establishes the premise well and then fleshes out the characters a bit more and reveals a gentle and somewhat sweet core underneath the humour.

Transpecos is a crime thriller about US Border Patrol agents that starts slowly and takes us on a journey as things start to go wrong. Unfolding largely in real time and taking full advantage of the locations, it's a character drama that keeps you guessing about where it's going, but you know that it's not going to end well. Solid action and strong performances carry us through the compact running time in a film that maintains a focus on the characters without going over the top and not straying too far into commentary on the complex situation along the border.

Pedro Almodovar adapts 3 Alice Munro short stories into the gorgeously shot and designed Julieta. With Almodovar's melodramatic touch and beautiful art direction, it washes over you like a warm bath. One of the great things about a film by Almodovar is his sense of humour with strange little touches throughout the film. It's a story of love and loss, mothers and daughters, mystery and secrets. With most of his films I need to watch it more than once as the first time it's a challenge to read the subtitles as the images constantly draw your attention away from the words.

We're in the final stretch of the festival with a schedule that is a bit more open with more time for discussions and food and drink. It's the best time of the year as we get to see the best cinema from here and around the world.

Day 4 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

Breagh MacNeil in Werewolf

Breagh MacNeil in Werewolf

Sunday was a full day at the Atlantic Film Festival with films from noon until midnight with filmmakers and audiences filling the theatres with great films. So many great and rushed conversations about films and filmmakers as well. Part of the fun at a festival is when friends go to different films and you compare notes on what you have seen and what you have missed. With a packed schedule it's a challenge to figure out how to navigate it as you decide what to see.

First up for me on Sunday was the New York indie Women Who Kill. The story of a Park Slope podcasting duo, Morgan and Jean, who have a show about female serial killers. The women are exes who share an apartment in addition to the podcast and writer / director / actor Ingrid Jungermann builds the world with skill and humour. A comedy with murder mystery elements, it's primarily a character piece that moves along quickly as it looks as though Morgan's new girlfriend could be a serial killer. Strong and deadpan leads are complemented by an equally solid cast in a film that pokes fun at the setting and situations of the world of Park Slope.

A virtuoso adaptation of a play, King Dave, uses the one shot framework to create a great experiment in storytelling. After a few edits at the beginning, we dive into Dave's story with him directly addressing the camera for the entire film, narrating the story while we see it. With scenes and locations blended skillfully together and with a combination of practical effects, it's a skillfull merging of theatrical and cinematic techniques. While the main character isn't completely sympathetic, the raw energy of the performance and unbroken takes make the whole enterprise thrilling as we're taken on a journey around Montreal. Writer and lead actor Alexandre Goyette represented the film at the festival screening and provided some great insight into the process and challenges of making the film.

An understated character study with Isabelle Huppert at the core, L'Avenir (Things to Come), stubbornly resists melodrama as writer / director Mia Hansen-Løve maintains a distance and discretion in how she tells the story. Cinematically she moves the camera often, circling the characters or having the camera follow the characters as they circle around. Intellectual with small moments of drama and a wealth of information conveyed through Isabelle Huppert's expressions, it's a slow burn of a film that chooses to keep things small and subtle and grounded in reality.

The debut feature from writer / director Ashley McKenzie, Werewolf tells the story of a couple who are struggling to live in Cape Breton while on a Methadone program. Pared down to the essential elements and with many closeups, the extraordinary leads Andrew Gillis and Breagh MacNeil are heartbreaking to watch. Bringing her naturalistic and intuitive style from her shorts to a feature works incredibly well as we dive deeply into a world that feels real and free of the tired cliches of other films about those challenging with addiction. It is a haunting look into the lives of quiet desperation of those who make it and those who don't.

A full day of films that will stay with me for a long time and with more films still to come, it's a great festival this year and I'm so glad that I've been able to see so much. Time to dive back in for some more as we move past the halfway point of the festival.