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Best of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival

Chris Campbell

In anticipation of a film festival you create impressions of films based on the past work of the directors and actors and don't know what to expect. When the films are first announced there are things that you have heard of and things you haven't and as you dig in to the details things emerge and the excitement builds. It's a challenge for a festival to secure a range of films that appeal to all audiences and this year at the 35th Atlantic Film Festival they did a great job. Now with a few days to reflect on a busy week here are the films that are sticking with me.

There were some great looking films. The development of digital imaging technology and the experience and development of techniques to use it is bearing some gorgeous fruit. When you combine better cameras and sensors with colour correction you have a wider palette of possibilities for the look and approach that you take with a film and that was clearly on display this year. Viewing a film on a large screen with an audience is a privilege and joy and that's always a highlight of any festival.


The film that I anticipated the most was Jacques Audiard's Dheepan which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. As with his other films it's about outsiders and crime and trying to fit in and have some sort of family relationship. With Dheepan and a new cast (including novelist Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, and Claudine Vinasithamby) and a new cinematographer (Éponine Momenceau) he does something that is recognizably Audiard, but feels a bit different. Moving outside of his regular collection of actors and collaborators makes for a film that is more vital and unpredictable.

Cemetery of Splendour

My favourite informal slot at the festival is the weekday afternoon slot with more esoteric foreign films. Last year it was the mesmerizing 3 hour plus Winter Sleep and this year it was Cemetery of Splendour. Apichatpong Weerasethakul crafts meditative and beautiful films combining Thai legends, geography, and people with his own cinematic techniques to create truly unique films. His Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is one of my favourite films and in his latest film he makes something similar, but with a distinctive internal logic. The best approach to take with his films is to be present and let the film wash over you. With minimal exposition and repetition the story and themes emerge over time as the film confidently moves forward. It encourages you to look and listen to follow details and see things. It's a transcendent cinematic experience.

The Lobster

I wasn't so sure if Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster would be part of the lineup for 2015 at the festival and was happy to see that it was. Lanthimos is an acquired taste with a deliberately alienating approach and use of violence to show the strange nature of relationships. In Dogtooth and Alps with a small cast and crew he crafted challenging and memorable films that I appreciated more after thinking about them and discussing them. With a bigger budget and bigger stars, The Lobster retains the power and challenge of his earlier films along with a higher profile. Tweaking and adjusting his approach (and improving it in many ways) makes for a film that is simultaneously more accessible and still deeply strange in terms of the mainstream.


Anti-comedy is a challenging thing as there is a meta level to what is going on. The jokes are not funny and that is why they are funny. It's elaborate and easy to misinterpret and shares a common thread with surrealism and the work of Luis Buñuel. I'm a big fan of that type of comedy from the surrealists to Andy Kaufman to Kids in the Hall to Alan Partridge to Garth Merenghi's Dark Place to name a few examples. Entertainment is almost the 2001: A Space Odyssey of anti-comedy with Gregg Turkington as Neil Hamburger, a bad stand-up comic on a tour across the American desert. It's definitely not for everyone as it blends pain and bad jokes with some stunningly beautiful photography to create a cool and depressing portrait of a man who is not happy in his life.

Early Winter

Speaking of unhappy people, one of the films that I didn't know much about at all was a pleasant surprise with Early Winter. With sparse frames, practical lighting, and unbroken takes, it's a story told through the things not said and things not seen. Michael Rowe's film is anchored by an understated performance from Paul Doucet with yet another complex acting turn from Suzanne Clément. It's a story about a marriage that isn't working. It's a voyeuristic film with key information missing and sparse exposition from dialogue. We start to piece things together in increments as time goes by and the spaces in the story start to fill in. It's bold and confident storytelling built around characters.

One Floor Below

Understated style and elliptical storytelling are the key features of the Romanian New Wave films and One Floor Below is a film about a murder that occurs off screen with two of the main characters knowing this from early in the film. We see the man who knows what happened and withholds what he heard from the police and how it eats at him. It's a slow-burn of a film that paints a portrait through the frame of everyday life and complex and idiosyncratic Romanian bureaucratic systems. Building in power as the film progresses, it's a delicate and powerful.

Closet Monster

A sometimes startling and beautiful feature debut from Stephen Dunn, Closet Monster has elements of magic realism in the story of a closeted young Newfoundland man who is coming to terms with who he is and what he wants. The witness to a horrific hate crime while young, this trauma makes him hide his sexuality as he grows up. It's a complicated portrait of a young man growing up shot in a beautiful way with a powerful central character created by Connor Jessup and a delightful voice performance from Isabella Rossellini as his pet hamster, Buffy. The winner of Best Canadian Feature at TIFF and Best Atlantic Director and Best Atlantic Screenwriting at the Atlantic Film Festival, Closet Monster should do well in the coming months.

Ninth Floor

Making some strong artistic choices to illustrate the story, in Mina Shum's debut feature documentary Ninth Floor, she adds visual and audio layers to a important moment in the development of Canadian society with the Sir George Williams Incident. Even if the film was average it would be worth seeing, but it's extraordinary with the approach that she takes. Shum makes the film even more moving as she connects the people and evokes the time vividly through filming locations in Montreal highlighting the distinctive architecture of the 60s as well as locations in the West Indies. Staging the interviews in abandoned rooms with occasional shots of surveillance cameras and tape machines adds a visual flair to the story. Skillfully weaving in music and a dramatic structure creates a memorable and emotional film that is immediate and inspiring.


With Frank Lenny Abrahamson made a film about creativity and depression that blended stories and history together and in adapting Room to the screen he takes a different approach in making a film that is much more subjective. With the heart of the film in the perceptions of the child Jack, born in a garden shed where he and his mother are imprisoned for half a decade, it's challenging, but works remarkably well. The film is immersive and manipulates time and space impressionistically in a way that made the nearly two hours fly by. Ultimately inspiring after a harrowing beginning, it's a film that manages to bridge the gap between the art house and mainstream cinema in a way that is refreshing.

Green Room

With Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier made a revenge drama that had a central character unsuited to the task and in Green Room, he takes a similar approach in a thriller about a punk band fighting neo-Nazis after witnessing a murder. With opening scenes that vividly and confidently establish the band and their milieu, it quickly takes a turn and increases the tension as the band is trapped and they fight for their lives. Subverting the conventions and expectations of the thriller adds a level of uncertainty and menace as things change quickly and unpredictably. Masterful genre filmmaking that pushes and changes the contours of the thriller in exciting ways.


Two strong-willed brothers who live side-by-side in Iceland without speaking to each other for 40 years face the prospect of losing their sheep herds in Rams. With a wry sense of humour and gorgeous cinematography we see the competitive brothers in their solitary environments surrounded by the spectacular Icelandic landscape. A strong character drama that carefully introduces the people before changing things, it becomes more and more engaging as it goes on and things become more complex.


A virtuoso film with no edits, Victoria shows what is possible with a strong ensemble and crew working with a great script. Shot around Berlin before dawn and into the early morning, it's a two hour plus roller coaster of a film that follows a woman (in a marathon performance from Laia Costa) as she meets a man (played by Frederick Lau) and becomes involved in a robbery. Brilliantly paced with a perfect balance between character-driven scenes and action, it's an immerse experience with the technique and cinematography perfectly suited to the story and never becoming a distraction. A singular cinematic achievement.

Day 1 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

The first day of the Atlantic Film Festival is a nice, easy day with only one film and a party, so it's a great way to get ready for the busy 8 days of films. After picking up my pass in the afternoon I enjoyed some sunshine and relaxed in the Public Gardens while rethinking what I was going to see. The machinery is in place with the staff and volunteers getting things ready, the films are loaded onto hard drives and the filmmakers nervously await the audience reaction.

It was off to the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium for the red carpet gala screening of Hyena Road, which Paul Gross wrote, directed, and acted in. Before the film were the speeches to launch the festival with Executive Director Wayne Carter giving a bigger picture of the importance of the movie screen that transports us to another world in a time with so many other screens. There were government officials and funders and producers who spoke of films and filmmakers. Paul Gross gave a warm speech and specifically mentioned the challenges we're facing due to provincial funding cuts, and the hope for a return to more support for the industry that earned some strong applause and cheers.

Hyena Road is sincere and tense with impressive battle scenes and strong performances. It's a well-shot story told more from the soldiers point of view of a murky series of military actions in Afghanistan. The world of the soldiers is created with respect and careful attention to detail. The film earned a standing ovation from the crowd which was warmly received by Gross and actor Allan Hawco after the screening.

The opening night party was at the Lord Nelson and it was a bit smaller than some other years, but a warm and wonderful gathering of people. The opening party is a great location to catch up with people in the industry. While the industry is smaller, there is no decrease in the energy and drive of those who make and watch films. It's encouraging and inspiring to talk with people about what they are doing and the stories that they are telling. I'm so glad to be part of such a great group of people and am so happy to spending the week immersed in films and with those who love them.

Guide to the 35th Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Today, Thursday, September 17, 2015 is the first day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It's an exciting day as 100 films will be shown over the next week. There is a lot to see and do and I hope to squeeze in as many films as possible and share things here and in various ways over the next week. It's a concentrated and exciting time and can be overwhelming, so I am here to help you with some of the blog posts from the past week.

How to Enjoy a Film Festival

If you haven't obsessively been planning out your days, putting them into your calendar, and figuring out which chargers and bags and snacks to bring, you can start with How to Enjoy a Film Festival. There are tips for planning things out and keeping track of what you've done. If you have the time and money, getting a pass is the best way to go as it gives you flexibility in being able to change your schedule as well as letting you in to parties and events and the Reel East Coast Lounge in the Lord Nelson Hotel. The pass also gets you into the Festival Music House Atlantic on Saturday night which includes Rose Cousins and Sloan playing at the Marquee Ballroom.

Galas and Events

The high-profile parts of the festival are the galas and parties and you can buy tickets for them individually (and your ticket will get you in to the party connected with the screening if there is one) or if you have a pass you are in. The first gala is tonight with Paul Gross' Hyena Road which is happening at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium with a red carpet gala followed by the opening party at the Lord Nelson. I've got my guide to the galas and events to give you an overview of what will be playing. I'm eagerly anticipating Stephen Dunn's Newfoundland coming-of-age story Closet Monster on Friday, and Jacques Audiard's French film Dheepan on Wednesday.


There are a ton of great short films playing and you could have a pretty amazing festival just seeing the shorts. With documentaries, drama, experimental, and animated films it is a concentrated blast of cinema spread out over the week. You can find out more in my guide to the shorts for 2015 which has some real gems. The shorts program also highlights established and emerging Atlantic filmmakers well, and it's always good to have some shorts in your schedule as you plan out your week.


Some of the best documentaries of the year are in the program and in my guide to the feature-length documentaries I go through the lineup of non-fiction films that screen over the next week. There is a strong Atlantic presence in the documentaries and Donna Davies documentary Fanarchy will have people in costumes from their favourite films as well as a photo booth at the screening, so that will be one not to miss.

Feature Dramas

There are feature-length dramas screening every day in the festival which make for many difficult choices as you try to figure out what to see. I broke down the schedule day by day and you can check out the individual days for my thoughts on the films that will be playing.

The feature dramas on Friday have the weird Entertainment and the harrowing The Keeping Room as highlights. On Saturday, there is the world premiere of the P.E.I. feature Kooperman, as well as the drama Fire Song, the local feature Undone, and the tense Green Room too. Sunday begins with the German one-shot film Victoria and ends with the adaptation of Room to name two of the choices. My highlight Monday will probably be the Thai drama Cemetery of Splendour, the odd drama The Lobster, and there is the world premiere of the N.B. feature Owl River Runners too. For Tuesday the local feature Noon Gun will be great to see. The biggest day and most challenging schedule-wise seems to be Wednesday with strange and wonderful films to pick from including Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room. The final day of the festival, Thursday, September 24 has great non-gala features playing throughout the day including the Holocaust drama Son of Saul as one of the films on a relatively full day of screenings.

Have a great festival and make sure that you share what you loved with the world. See you in the theatre!

35th Atlantic Film Festival - Feature Dramas - Thursday, September 24

Chris Campbell

James White

James White

The final day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival has humour and intense drama from Canada and the world to suit various moods. It's your last chance to squeeze some films in before the closing night party after a week of cinematic immersion.

Thursday, September 24

The last day of the festival gets underway with a mockumentary from Mark Sawers called No Men Beyond This Point. Set in a world where women started procreating asexually in 1953, it's about the last male born who is now 37 and is working for two women in Vancouver. Sawyers directed some episodes and film segments of Kids in the Hall as well as the 2012 comedy Camera Shy, so a satirical start to the final day of the festival could be fun.

The Québecois drama Paul à Québec is the final entry in the Cinéma en français s.v.p. series for this year. A drama about the everyday life of the Beaulieu family as they face the happy and sad moments in life. Director Franćois Bouvier has a strong background in directing acting ensembles in television so this should be a solid family melodrama.

If you want to see a darker Holocaust drama, Son of Saul (Saul fia) from Hungarian director László Nemes. His debut feature, it's a story set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 and it follows Saul, forced to assist the Nazis in the operation of the extermination camp. Discovering the body of a boy he takes to be his son, he resolves to give him a proper burial. Constructed out of longer takes in an intimate, immediate style, it promises to be an intense and powerful drama that has already won awards at Cannes and other film festivals.

David Bezmozgis adapts his short story Natasha into a feature film set in Toronto. The story of Russian-Jewish immigrants in the suburbs north of Toronto, it follows the summer romance between Mark and Natasha, the daughter of Mark's uncle through an arranged marriage. Starring Alex Ozerov (who was great in the Atlantic Film Festival favourite Blackbird) and Sasha K. Gordon, it should be a compelling drama with great performances.

The indie drama James White is the final fictional feature screening at the festival this year and Josh Mond's feature debut won the Audience Award at Sundance this year. Mond is an experienced indie producer who brought films such as Afterschool, Martha Macy May Marlene, and Simon Killer to the screen. This coming-of-age drama has received strong reviews for the performances and direction and with cinematography by Mátyás Erdély who also shot Son of Saul which is screening at the festival earlier in the day.


In the fast-moving world of a film festival things can change and since I wrote this there have been two additions to the schedule with Green Room moving to 10:30pm from earlier in the week and the Indian female buddy movie Angry Indian Goddesses at 7:15pm. This doesn't make choosing what to see any easier!

35th Atlantic Film Festival - Feature Dramas - Wednesday

Chris Campbell

In the penultimate day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival there is another collection of dramas from around the world and for all sorts of tastes in ways that are conventional, strange, and stylistically innovative from emerging and experienced directors.

Wednesday, September 23

The latest film from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary), adapted from a manga. Koreeda's previous film, Like Father, Like Son is a beautiful family drama that took some unexpected turns. Our Little Sister is about three young women whose father dies after being away from the family home for 15 years. They take a journey to the countryside for the funeral and meet their 13-year old half-sister and begin a new life of discovery.

The popular choice for Wednesday night is the drama Grandma starring Lily Tomlin. Written and directed by Paul Weitz it's a crowd-pleasing comedy drama with heart and a perfomance from Tomlin that is getting solid reviews.

Fans of Japanese animation have a treat with Mamoru Hosada's The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no ko). A coming of age story about a lonely boy, a beast, and an imaginary world, it's a big-screen adventure from the director of The Girl Who Lept Through Time and Wolf Children.

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson co-direct the sure to be strange and visually interesting The Forbidden Room – a sprawling epic with a story constructed out of scripts of lost silent films. Shot by Stéphanie Weber-Biron and Benjamin Kasulke, it should look gorgeous. With an eclectic cast playing many roles and featuring Udo Kier (who was around the film festival two years ago and enthusiastically told me about the strange and beautiful process of making the film), Mathieu Almaric, Geraldine Chaplin, Roy Dupuis, Maria de Medeiros, and Charlotte Rampling it's bound to be special.

The historical German drama Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) from Giulio Ricciarelli set in 1958 and tells the story of the prosecutor who started the prosecution of members of the SS. It's the feature directing debut of Ricciarelli and should be compelling.

Another low-budget local feature, North Mountain is playing Wednesday night. The feature writing and directing debut of Métis filmmaker Bretten Hannam, it's an action-thriller about the love between a young hunter and the older man he nurses back to health. With a cast including Justin Rain, Glen Gould, and Gary Levert, it's an ambitious way to wrap up your Wednesday night.

Wim Wenders' second 3D film (after the remarkable documentary Pina which also played at the film festival) and first drama in seven years is Every Thing Will Be Fine, starring James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rachel McAdams, Marie Josée-Croze, Peter Stormare, and Robert Naylor. The story is about novelist who accidentally kills a child in a car accident and the family of the boy over 12 years as the novelist struggles with his guilt.