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Day 8 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin in Green Room

In the midst of a cold and with the final day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival before me, I was able to take my time, fortify myself with oatmeal and coffee and drive in to the city a little bit later for more films. With a great documentary in the morning and a thriller to finishing things off with shorts in the middle, it was a fun end to a festival that had many highlights.

Ninth Floor

When I first heard that Mina Shum was making a documentary about the Sir George Williams Event for the NFB and produced by Selwyn Jacob, I was intrigued. Shum makes great character-based dramas and moving into documentary was sure to be something interesting and Ninth Floor was. Carefully setting up the context with archival footage and staging the interviews in a visually interesting way with stylized angles and screens, the film never loses sight that every story is about people. With beautiful shots of Montreal and the subjects of the film exploring the architecture of 1960s Montreal, it's a visually lush film about racism, prejudice, and the struggle for rights. It's powerful, important, and moving and one of my favourite documentaries of the year.

With my focus on feature dramas this year it became obvious on the final day of the festival that if I was going to see more shorts I needed to dive in, so I went for it with two of the Canada and the World programs in the final evening which was a good choice.

Shorts Canada and the World 3

A more experimental and intense program at times with an understated introduction by Greg Jackson and filmmaker Darcy Van Poelgeest introducing his short The Orchard. From a noisy and ambitious Russian film called The Noise, the enigmatic The Test, the tense crime short The Orchard, the funny Open 24 Hours, the post-apocalyptic Eva, the surreal Unknown Unknown, it was a program a bit more on the edge which was just right for me.

Shorts Canada and the World 4

A program that featured stunning animation and understated drama, the fourth shorts program was introduced by Jessica Murwin who brought up filmmaker Matthew Rankin whose Mynarski Death Plummet was a highlight of the collection of shorts. The stop-motion animation Indigo was a beautiful hand-crafted animation inspired by First Nations stories with a spider constructed out of gears and metal and beautiful, flowing cloth around the heroine. 1000 Plateaus (2004 - 2014) was a stunning, colourful hand-scratched abstract animation created by Steven Woloshen in the front seat of his car over a decade. Partiu followed partying teens in Brazil on a late night filled with tragedy. Crazy House featured another strong performance from Connor Jessup in a stylized look at love and loss. The Québécois dramas Plage de Sable and Chelem featured young women and men dealing with each other in beautifully shot, impressionistic films. Mynarski Death Plummet was a full-screen historical celluloid animation with stylized colourful patterns in an intense recreation of the last minutes of the life of a World War II hero.

Green Room

The final film of the festival and my final film seen was Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room which rescheduled from earlier in the week. The only other film by Saulnier that I'd seen was Blue Ruin which is a mournful and intense revenge drama that constantly subverted expectations. With Green Room he boldly establishes the world of the characters with gorgeous overhead landscape shots and intimate close-up. Shot by Sean Porter (who also was cinematographer of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) and edited with a bold and precise style by Julia Bloch (who cut Blue Ruin as well), it shows the characters before becoming more and more intense. With horrific violence and constantly shifting situations that subvert the expectations of a thriller, it's gripping entertainment done with precision and dark sense of humour.

Feeling good about the films, but in the midst of a cold and sleep deprivation, I skipped the final party to head home. What a great day and a great festival it was, thanks again to the wonderful folks at the Atlantic Film Festival who once again brought the world of cinema to Halifax for us to enjoy.

Day 7 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan

Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan

The penultimate day of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival was also the longest day of the film festival for me with an early start and being able to make it to 4 screenings. From a political comedy from Quebec to a Japanese master to a French auteur and a German experimenter, it was another fascinating cinematic day. A festival is complex and large and we're so lucky to have the Atlantic Film Festival which is thanks to a dedicated staff and volunteers who manage the moving parts in rapidly changing situations so we can be transfixed by cinema for 8 days.

My Internship in Canada (Guibord s'en va-t-en guerre)

From the first frame I was enjoying this with a old map of Canada on a wall and a faux-serious disclaimer. The camera glides in, revealing the location of the story in northern Québec helpfully indicated by a finger that moves into the frame and then slowly moves out. This establishes the tone and with skillful visual storytelling Philippe Falardeau introduces the main character, the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes, a former hockey star and local hero. Our entry to the story is through Souverain, an idealistic Haitian intern who becomes Guibord's assistant. The MP is faced with a deadlocked parliament and a bill before the House of Commons about Canada going to war with Guibord holding the deciding vote. It's a razor-sharp satire with a thread of idealism running through it. Unexpectedly the film has some gorgeous cinematography of northern Quebec as the MP travels around the riding to consult with constituents. Great fun and timely as well.

Our Little Sister

In his introduction, festival programming director Jason Beaudry aptly set up Our Little Sister as a bit like Ozu adapting Little Women, and it was a great comparison. Using Ozu's carefully composed frames with faces in the centre and a slightly lowered camera position, the story of 3 sisters who live together and discover a fourth sister is the type of family melodrama that Koreeda embraces and excels at. Beginning with a funeral for their absent father, the empty space in the frames is filled with the absent characters. Koreeda fascinatingly adds a dynamism to the frames by always having the camera gently moving, not altering the frame, but moving slightly, almost imperceptibly. It's a film filled with memories and food with patterns and repetition as we see the relationships and how the characters relate to each other.


One of France's most confident filmmakers who tells stories of people on the margins of society, with Dheepan, Jacques Audiard reworks elements of his other films into something a bit different and new. As with his other films there is an element of crime in France and people who don't fit into that world. But with Dheepan it's about a family that is a lie with three refugees from Sri Lanka who pretend to be a family in order to escape from their homes where they have lost their families. With nuanced and complex performances from Jesuthasan Antonythasan (in his second film) and Kalieaswari Srinivasan (in her first) as the couple, the use of actors that aren't recognizable adds another level to the film.

Thematically similar (and with a great homage through one shot) to Mathieu Kassovitz's brilliant La Haine (who acted in Audiard's A Self-Made Hero) also set in the housing projects outside of Paris, it's vital and beautiful. Along with the largely unknown cast, Audiard also boldly chose Éponine Momenceau as his cinematographer after seeing a short film she shot. An impressive feature debut for Momenceau, she creates some gorgeous lighting and memorable images for Audiard. Told efficiently and in an impressionistic style, it's visual and beautiful, moving in unexpected ways that are surprising, but inevitable. Audiard is a master stylist and the Palme d'Or that it won this year was well-deserved.

Every Thing Will Be Fine

An interesting exercise in 3D from Wim Wenders that uses locations in Quebec effectively, but hampered by a simplistic script and leaden performances, Every Thing Will Be Fine is an oddity. Without the 3D I'm not sure if it would work on any level, and I don't know what was going on, but there is a deliberate, slow pace to the film that had to have been intentional. But it didn't work for me and while immersed in the physical space of the film, there is never any depth added by the characters or the dialogue.

While I'm tired and had a bit of disappointment with one film, overall it's been a great festival with another day that will be sure to have some more great films as this celebration of stories on screen moves towards the conclusion.

Day 6 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Paul Doucet in Early Winter

Paul Doucet in Early Winter

In the midst of a cold, the soothing balm of great cinema makes everything much better and on day 6 of the festival I was still coasting from the visions of the previous day. Taking it a bit easier I only went to two films, but having a bit more time to sleep and reflect was a good thing to build up energy for the final push with a couple of packed days still to go in the Atlantic Film Festival.

She's Beautiful When She's Angry

A solid documentary with a conventional approach and a vital and important topic, which is the history of the women's movement in America from the late 60s to early 70s. Interviewing key members of the movement and making connections between the other social justice movements at the time, it's a powerful reminder that rights are fought for and that things today may not be as different as it seems. Progress is incremental and hard-fought, and remembering our history is critical so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Early Winter

A small, but engaged audience saw what I believe was the Canadian premiere of Australian director Michael Rowe's Early Winter. The Canadian / Australian coproduction stars Suzanne Clément (who is consistently bold and remarkable as an actor) and Paul Doucet as a couple in a marriage that isn't working. (Clément and Doucet take different comedic roles in the Québec comedy My Internship in Canada also playing in the festival this year). In Early Winter Rowe locks down the camera with long takes that confine the actors to the frame as they are trapped by their lives. Beginning with a relatively explicit sex scene that encapsulates many of the problems in their relationship, it deliberately reveals the details of their lives, relationships, and history through subtle gestures and sparse dialogue. Using natural light and precise framing, there are some fantastic shots where we can see both characters, but they can't see each other and we see the reactions between them with a different perspective. Great drama with a different approach that is powerful and effective in a quiet way.

While watching Early Winter I thought about some of the amazing cinematography that has been on display at the festival this year. Many films are shot in low light and in changing lighting conditions with technology making some incredible images possible. From the lower-budget Fire Song to Early Winter to Into the Forest to Rams to Cemetery of Splendour to Victoria, they're using small amounts of light to push the limits of filmmaking. This is a great time for cinema when artists use technology and tools to expand the world of storytelling.

Day 5 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

The fifth day of the Atlantic Film Festival was a lighter day for me as I am fighting a cold, but it was a day filled with subtle beauty, peace, brutality, violence, and challenging relationships. Those are the worlds and emotions that washed over me Monday with another perfectly programmed day with three international films to fill my day with strange, complex worlds created by three masterful directors.

Cemetery of Splendour

Sometimes we think too much.

The films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul are subtle and beautiful and enigmatic with a sense of play to them. At times they are almost trance-inducing and he takes bold steps in taking a mundane approach to magic realism where you are not sure what is real and what is not. His previous feature, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, was an amazing journey through the past lives of a man as he was dying. Filled with subtle beauty and an elaborate structure that blended various genres and styles of Thai cinema and culture, it's dense and challenging at times, but rewarding.

His earlier film Tropical Malady is more subtle and tells the love story of two soldiers with a stunning transformation in style and tone in the middle of the film. In his 2006 film Syndromes and a Century he sets the action in a hospital in telling the story of two doctors (based on his parents). With Cemetery of Splendour he has a more accessible film featuring Jenjira Pongpas in the lead (who appeared in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives as well as Weerasethakul's earlier features) and the two soldiers from Tropical Malady.

Weerasethakul brings many of his elements together to create a story built around Pongpas as a volunteer in a makeshift hospital in a former school that is also was the site of a cemetery and former palace. Jen went to the school, so she has her memories of the school before it was a hospital. The hospital's patients are soldiers suffering from a sleeping sickness where they rarely wake. The spirits from the past are around the area and a local temple providing another set of memories.

The film is meditative with long takes and delicately composed frames and at one point even features some guided meditation. Slowly creating a world and a rhythm, the film is peaceful and beautiful moving into abstraction at times with different colours filling the world as we return to locations and notice small and strange and wonderful things. Transcendent and beautiful cinema from a confident and unique voice.

The Lobster

At the opposite end of the comfort, immediacy, and presence of Cemetery of Splendour is The Lobster. Yorgos Lanthimos brings his idiosyncratic and deeply-disturbing stylized world into the English language with the Lobster featuring an international cast. I suspect that most of the people in the audience at the sold-out screening at the Atlantic Film Festival weren't there to see Lanthimos' film after Alps, but to see Colin Farrel, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Olivia Coleman, and Ben Whishaw. The experience reminded me of a similar reaction when I was lucky to see the world premiere of David Lynch's Blue Velvet in Montreal in 1986. People laughed a lot at the beginning, but then as things became more horrifying it got quieter and quieter in the theatre.

Opening with a shocking scene of a woman getting out of a car and shooting a donkey, The Lobster builds a disturbing surreal world through gradually revealed details of the need for individuals to have partners or be transformed into an animal of their choosing. All the elements (and some of the actors) from Lanthimos' two previous films, Alps and Dogtooth are there, but all helpfully surrounded by the frame of more explicitly-explained rules for the world. The stylized dialogue and flat acting style is embraced by the cast, most effectively and surprisingly by Colin Farrel and Rachel Weisz (whose often redundant, ironic voiceover gives another level of distance replacing many of the long, awkward silences of Dogtooth and Alps).

The distance provided by the acting and dialogue are shattered by the shock and immediacy of violence onscreen that is bloody and visceral. It creates a disturbing tension with the possibility violent change always possible. It's a dark drama with surreal comedic elements (at one point I noticed characters walking together always were in lockstep) that highlights the challenges in connecting with people and societal expectations by changing the rules in arbitrary ways. It's bold and brutal cinema from Lanthimos who is creating a strange and complex surreal cinematic world through his past three films.


An Icelandic story of two brothers who have herds of sheep, live next to each other, but haven't spoken for 40 years, Rams is a world of quiet beauty and tragedy. The brothers are played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson (who was great in the 2011 Icelandic film Volcano) with a skill that made me wonder if they had found two shepherds since they were remarkably comfortable with the sheep on screen. Directed skillfully and subtly by Grímur Hákonarson and shot by Danish cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who brilliantly shot Victoria) it's visually stunning and quiet. With subtle camera movements and carefully designed frames it's great visual storytelling with a wonderful level of ambiguity.

It was another great day filled with challenging and reassuring visions from around the world.

Day 4 - Atlantic Film Festival 2015

Chris Campbell

Brittany Amos and Iain MacLeod introduce Your Money or Your Wife

Brittany Amos and Iain MacLeod introduce Your Money or Your Wife

For me, Day 4 of the 35th Atlantic Film Festival was a perfect day. The films I saw manipulated time and space masterfully and made me laugh and cry with talented filmmakers from all around the world and right here at home. I'm surrounded with great films that made the day disappear as I sat in a dark theatre immersed in other worlds.


Victoria is a German film that follows a woman from Spain who is in Berlin and goes from a club on a non-stop adventure around the city with people she met. By having her from Spain and the other characters from Germany, they end up speaking English for the most part, which is clever. The film and acting are great with direction by Sebastian Schipper and the story is engrossing, but to that you add that the entire film, all 2 hours and 15 minutes are one continuous shot. It's not a trick, but a challenging way of shooting using Berlin as the set and the remarkable Sturla Brandth Grøvlen deservedly receiving the first credit at the end of the film. It's breathtaking and superb cinema that almost doesn't seem possible.

One Floor Below

Another solid Romanian New Wave film from Radu Muntean, One Floor Below follows the traditional form of a slow, meditative focus on mundane details of the bureaucratic nightmare that seems to be Romanian life to create a tragedy that happens outside of the frame. The genius is in the details as the characters go about their day and things change as a woman is murdered in an apartment building and one man withholds a crucial bit of information slowly lets it eat away at him.

Your Money or Your Wife

The world premiere of Iain MacLeod's Your Money or Your Wife was a lot of fun with a fantastic script and great ensemble cast. With an introduction from producer Brittany Amos and writer/director Iain MacLeod which was also preceded by Marc Almon of Screen Nova Scotia giving a passionate call to action for our vital but shaken, industry, it added a layer of poignancy to the evening. A film that follows our hero after a drunken binge that results in him waking up in a garage that accidentally gets him heading up a home invasion and robbery, it moves briskly along. The film is smart and self-aware with one of the best jokes related to the Bechdel-Wallace Test that received spontaneous applause from the audience. I'm so glad that I got to see it with an audience and can't wait to see it again.


One of my favourite films of the past few years is Lenny Abrahamson's Frank, which deals with the difficult subject matter of depression and creativity in a transcendent way. When I heard that he was directing the adaptation of the novel Room, I was excited as I thought that he could bring sensitivity and genius to the challenging source material which is about a woman and her son confined to a garden shed for 7 years. Room is quite a remarkable film in how it manipulates time and perspective. The film zipped by and I was totally immersed in it with all the other films and conversations of the day melting away. There are so many emotional moments in the film which create a strange sense of wonder and beauty that grows out of the fantastic chemistry between Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack.

A fantastic fourth day of the Atlantic Film Festival that filled my soul and my brain with wonder with more great films still to come. What's not to love about this?