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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
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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.

Day 3 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

window horses.jpg

Day 3 of the Atlantic Film Festival this year was another great one filled with films and conversations. The images and sounds and conversations start to blend together in your mind as you settle in to the routine of watching so many films in a concentrated period of time. There were great moments all through the day as the screens were with images and the theatres filled with people who came to immerse themselves in these worlds.

First up for me was the shorts program Courts Métrages which had a range of great films from Québec. In an eclectic collection of shorts that had some drama, some comedy, animation of various types, and even a film set in industrial Québec that was also a musical featuring wrestling the range of talent was the perfect way to begin the day.

The Tibetan film Tharlo was the next film on my schedule. A black and white film from Tibet about sheep herder who needs to come to town for an ID photo, it's slow, deliberate, and beautiful. With static frames carefully composed by director Pema Tseden the structure slowly begins to emerge. The particular context of life in contemporary Tibet is established as the scenes progress. Above all it's a character study as we watch the characters move and interact in the scenes that are sometimes shot directly but more often captured from a distance or within mirrors or through windows. There are some truly stunning images and compositions that seem accidental suddenly reveal careful planning as a character comes to rest. It's a demanding film that operates as a meditation that ended as being rewarding for me as we follow the story that provided a small perspective into a different culture.

In sharp contrast to the black and white of the Tharlo, Ann Marie Fleming's colourful animated film Window Horses was the next film I saw. With a simple animation style providing a delightful contrast to an intricately constructed story with many other stories embedded within it, Window Horses was is a gentle delight to see on the big screen. The story moves along briskly while the characters are quickly established and details about their lives and journeys begin to fill in the spaces on the screen. With different animation styles from guest directors seamlessly blended in, the film takes our poet heroine from her fast food day job to a poetry festival in Iran where she encounters fascinating people along the way. The lovely images are combined with the distinctive voices of a cast that includes Sandra Oh as Rosie along with the great Shohreh Aghdashloo to name but two, it's a journey of discovery and identity that warmed my heart.

My final film of the day was the gala screening at the Oxford of Andrea Arnold's American Honey. With elements of her previous films appearing from time to time, American Honey is more of an improvisational experiment with Andrea Arnold assembling a young cast who go on a road trip. At the centre of the film is Sasha Lane as Star, a young woman figuring out who she is. It's familiar territory for Arnold that she explored remarkably in Fish Tank, but this time it's set within an American context. It's the process that is interesting with the film as it takes on a bit of ambient quality as I felt I could have left the film at several points and it would have worked. Unlike Red Road or Fish Tank, things don't build to a much of a conclusion, but maintain a level of uncertainty and slight dread throughout which made it feel a bit long. Beautifully shot by Robbie Ryan who also shot Arnold's other features, it's stunning to look at and interesting to watch, but the echoes of her earlier, more bracing films made me miss the stakes and control that she had with those films.

Day 2 - Atlantic Film Festival 2016

Chris Campbell

Moonlight

Moonlight

The second official day and the first full day of screenings at the 36th Atlantic Film Festival wrapped up yesterday and it had great films and tough choices as the screens of Park Lane and the Oxford showed some of the best films in the world to appreciative audiences. The days are long but with a great film it soothes the soul and energizes you to leave you wanting more. Here is some of what I saw on Friday, September 16th.

The day began with the first possible screening with the documentary With This Ring. A film about women who box in India, With This Ring was introduced by co-director Ameesha Joshi and it was a look at the stories of three remarkable women whose lives take different paths in their boxing careers. A decade in the making, we see the challenges that they face as well as the rewards with the story taking place over six years as we watch the women from India dominate the sport. With interesting characters and skillful editing, we get a glimpse into the world that they struggled to be part of and how it has changed them.

Then it was time for the first of many Reel Atlantic Shorts programs with many of the filmmakers present to introduce their films. While the screening was in the afternoon on a Friday there was a great audience to enjoy the films. After the films played there was a Q&A session with the filmmakers as well. It was nice to see the film Black Guitar on the big screen too as I was lucky to be on set to help with making that film.

When you know nothing about a film going in it can be a truly wonderful experience. Without expectations you need to be open to the film and deal with it on different terms than when you have read and thought about it. A late addition to the festival, Moonlight is a remarkable coming of age story. Set in Florida and stunningly shot by James Laxton, the film is directed and written by Barry Jenkins from a story by Tarrel McCraney. Divided into three chapters, we watch as Chiron grows up by seeing him at three pivotal moments in his life. We are immersed into his world and the superb cast draw you into their lives in a film that is gentle and beautiful as we see small and gentle moments of grace in lives that are lonely. A unique and powerful film, I saw echoes at times of other great films such as Killer of Sheep and The 400 Blows. This is a film I definitely want to see again on a big screen.

I can't think of a better way to end a full day at a film festival than by watching a 2 hour and 42 minute German deadpan comedy. Toni Erdmann is directed by Maren Ade and it is not so accidentally set largely in Romania. With echoes of Romanian New Wave films, but with a unique approach, it blends awkward moments, slapstick, and some emotional moments together over the long (but enjoyable) running time. It's about the relationship between a daughter and her father as they struggle to connect with each other. Her father constantly plays practical jokes and that provides a stark contrast with her professional life as a consultant. As she makes her living and works within the absurd and sexist world of business, the over-the-top antics of her father don't seem as extreme as they do at first. It's a strange and wonderful film with some truly memorable set pieces as the absurdity builds to a climax and then brings it all back together with a skillful hand.

This full day of the festival also gave me with the impetus to continue on with new energy with my #52FilmsByWomen goal by ramping things up with challenging myself to see at least one feature film a day directed by a woman. That hasn't been a problem so far and it looks as though there are some other great films directed by women that I'll be seeing too. So many more films from around the world to see as the festival gets underway!