The Atlantic Film Festival is an annual festival that assembles a range of great short and feature films along with the filmmaking community in Halifax, Nova Scotia to celebrate cinema. This year was a very good one and I was able to take full advantage of the screenings and many of the parties. It's the one time of year when you can watch films and catch up with most of the filmmakers from the region. The other great thing is that it usually is the place where some of my favourite films of the year will be seen and today is no exception. Here are 10 of my favourite feature films from this year's festival in the order that I saw them.

The Disappeared

The Disappeared

Shandi Mitchell's feature directing and writing debut The Disappeared poses a challenge in terms of subject matter in that it tells the story of 6 men in two boats, lost at sea. She embraced the constraints and tells a compelling story that was shot on the water to create a moving look at men in an extreme situation that held me through the entire journey. With a solid cast, beautiful cinematography and immersive sound design, it's a timeless story of courage and friendship.

The Angels' Share

The Angels' Share

The opening film of the festival was Ken Loach's lighter drama The Angels' Share that brings his social realist approach to what ultimately becomes a heist film. With leisurely pace and a fantastic cast it has some challenging dramatic moments as well as a lot of humour. It is ultimately about redemption, friendship, community and how we deal with our past and those we care about as time passes. I saw it twice and loved it both times, especially for the audience reactions the second time.

Blackbird

Blackbird

Another promising debut feature at the festival was Jason Buxton's Blackbird which is built around some great performances by a younger cast. Set and shot in Nova Scotia, it is about a teen who faces challenges fitting in at school and in the small town where he lives. A series of misunderstandings lead to the 16 year old being incarcerated and it changes him. It was engrossing and a subtle more subtle and realistic look at growing up in extreme circumstances.

Holy Motors

Holy Motors

One of the films that I was looking forward to purely in terms of knowing that it would be different was Leos Carax's Holy Motors. The descriptions were vague and strange with the images I'd seen looking compelling and different. With his previous track record of visually and aurally stunning films that made up for thin stories with their cinematic beauty I was willing to go where he took me. What surprised me was how much fun the film was. It's an episodic film that really is about cinema and actors. One of the fascinating things about the film is how it reinforces that it is a film with actors, but then somehow managed to make me forget about that repeatedly. I would love to see it again on a big screen.

Beauty is Embarrassing

Beauty is Embarrassing

Wayne White is the fascinating subject of the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing. It's always wonderful to find out about someone whose work you know, but never realized where it came from. A grounded and genial person, White takes us through his life and art in a film that had me repeatedly laughing and smiling. From growing up in the south to an art school education that led to working in television with Pee Wee's Playhouse it's fun to follow along with an artist who has a unique voice and joyful perspective on life.

Wrong

Wrong

Not having seen the director's previous film Rubber, I didn't know what to expect and I took a chance and was very pleasantly surprised by Quentin Dupieux's Wrong which is a surreal and understated film about a man who loses his dog. Shot with bright colours and controlled frames, it has an odd tone that is just a bit off. It never really explains anything, but it was fun to go along for the ride in a slightly unsettling world that reminded me a bit of Visioneers in how it combined humour with a bit of melancholy. Unexpected fun for me.

Brooklyn Castle

Brooklyn Castle

Starting off a day with a documentary about chess players at a Brooklyn junior high is a pretty good day as far as I'm concerned. The key elements to a great documentary are interesting characters, a compelling story and some technical expertise in terms of filming the story. Brooklyn Castle has all of that and it takes a more understated tone and gives us a fascinating portrait of a range of students at the school who are united by playing chess and it gives us glimpses of the challenges that are faced by the school system in New York. A neat way to combine the personal and political in an entertaining way.

The Hunt

The Hunt

Thomas Vinterberg made a huge impression with the first Dogme 95 film, The Celebration, and while he hasn't been making films following the rules of Dogme, he has continued to create tense, dramatic works with solid casts and a more naturalistic shooting style. In The Hunt he builds the film around a great performance by Mads Mikkelsen as a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of sexually abusing a student. The dynamics of a small town and personal histories combine in a tense story that was utterly compelling. One of the highlights of the festival for me in a theatre that was packed and silent at the end of the amazing film.

Laurence Anyways

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan follows up his previous two Quebecois films with the slightly heavier, but still visually and sonically-ambitious film Laurence Anyways. Spanning 10 years in the 1990s, it's about a man who transitions to a woman and the relationship between him and the woman he loves. Melvil Poupaud is the man who transitions, but the real star of the film is Suzanne Clément who gives an amazing performance as his lover, Fred. Going in to the film at the end of the long day I was concerned with the longer running time, but the film had perfect pacing and held my interest for the entire time and it was a bit surprising when it was over as it didn't feel too long. With gorgeous colours and compositions in a narrower 1.33:1 aspect ratio accompanied by a great soundtrack, it's a lovely look at a complicated relationship.

Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone

It's always good to save the best for the last and the perfect way to end the festival for me was one of my most-anticipated films of the year, which was Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, which I knew very little about. Going in without a lot of knowledge is a good thing with Audiard as he usually takes things in unexpected directions. His usual themes of flawed characters in seedier worlds are here, but with Rust and Bone there is less of a criminal underworld and more character and personal struggle. Beautifully shot and acted with Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts as the leads, it's emotionally devastating while maintaining hope that carries us through the struggles that the characters face. Great, transcendent cinema that had the audience totally enraptured the entire time. One of my favourite films of the past year.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm, festivals

Every year there are so many films and so little time at the Atlantic Film Festival. Going through the schedule and trying to figure out what to see is a wonderful challenge to face. Do you try to see things that you've heard a lot about? Catch up with favourite directors or actors? Maybe explore some genres or nations that you like?

No matter how you choose the odds are that you will find a lot to like. The films in a festival have been vetted and selected and while there are a wide range of tastes in films, the overriding impetus for a film festival is to assemble a program that has something for everyone.

All that being said and in no particular order, here are the films that I am looking forward to in this year's Atlantic Film Festival.

Rust & Bone

I've loved every one of Jacques Audiard's films from the first one I saw which was Read My Lips which takes a naturalistic approach to material that is usually the domain of genre filmmaking. He followed that with The Beat That My Heart Skipped and then A Prophet. Each of the three films featured riveting performances by underrated actors with Emmanuelle Devos, Romain Duris and Tahir Rahim. So when I saw Rust & Bone on the schedule with Marion Cotillard as a killer whale instructor that was all I needed to know.

The Disappeared

The Atlantic feature film that I'm most looking forward to is Shandi Mitchell's The Disappeared. Working within the constraints of having six men in two dories in the North Atlantic Ocean trying to make it home, it has a great cast, crew, and director with a story that is set and was shot on the ocean (on film). It was a massive challenge and it will be great to see it on the big screen.

Holy Motors

Leos Carax is a talented and frustrating filmmakers with sporadic output and spectacular failures such as The Lovers on the Bridge. Visually stunning, Carax is one of the Cinema du Look filmmakers and while Luc Besson moved away from the art house, Carax defiantly went back to it, burned it down and then built a new theatre out of the ruins. Holy Motors looks like an art house dream with his charismatic muse Denis Lavant in the central roles and a cast filled with interesting choices such as Kylie Minogue, Eva Mendes, and Michel Piccoli. It looks strange and wonderful and that's enough for me.

The End of Time

Peter Mettler is a gifted cinematographer who creates indelible images and in The End of Time he will be exploring the perception of time, which is something that cinema should be perfectly qualified for. In Picture of Light he beautifully captured the northern lights on film through a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, so this should look great and be interesting too.

In The House

François Ozon creates stories that are unsettling and often visually beautiful usually within certain formal constraints. With oddly unsettling films such as Under the Sand, Swimming Pool, 5x2, and in Time to Leave he explores various aspects of relationships as well as obsession. With 8 Women he ventured into Cinemascope musical, and with Ricky he told a strange story of a couple with a child who is a demon. I haven't seen his costume drama Angel or his most recent comedy Potiche, but with In The House it looks as though the dramatic and obsessive traits are back with the story of a boy in a literature class who infiltrates the life of a classmate and writes about it in essays for his literature teacher and I suspect that all does not go well.

Love is All You Need

I've seen four films by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier and loved them all. The first one I saw was at the Atlantic Film Festival when I saw After the Wedding which was the melodramatic story of a man dealing with choices he made in his life and how it intersects with his work when he needs to make difficult choices. I loved that film and it made me seek out her other work including Brothers (which was remade into an American version) which is another naturalistic melodrama about moral choices. Then I saw Things We Lost in the Fire which was a beautiful story with Halle Berry and Benico del Toro in a more Hollywood version of the type of story she tells so well. Then she went back to Denmark with the Academy Award-winning In a Better World that raises the stakes and blends the melodrama with international relief work and childhood. Complex and beautiful, she gets great performances and brings depth to the stories that she tells. With Love is All You Need she teams up with screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Brothers, Adam's Apples, After the Wedding, In a Better World) again along with a Danish cast with Pierce Brosnan thrown in to a comedy. It should be fun to see what results.

Sleepwalk with Me

Mike Birbiglia is a standup comedian and contributor to This American Life. If you listen to the radio show, you probably have heard him and his debut feature film grows out of a show that he did drawn from the challenges that he faced sleepwalking. Fictionalizing his own life with a cast of actors and co-director Seth Barrish, Sleepwalk with Me looks like a funny and intriguing story with little nuggets of truth scattered through it. While it shouldn't be too difficult to see the film after the festival, sometimes it's nice to have some lighter and more mainstream fare to check out.

The Hunt

Thomas Vinterberg wrote and directed the powerhouse first Dogme 95 film, The Celebration and I unfortunately haven't seen his other films, but based on the strength of that one film and the cast, I'd say that The Hunt is going to be quite good with the always-great Mads Mikkelsen as a kindergarten teacher accused of child abuse. There seems to be a Danish skill in using melodrama to tell a story that increases the power of the story and I'm looking forward to seeing this.

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is a young director who created a startling debut with I Killed My Mother in that he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in it. When I first saw the film I thought it was an amazing performance and then in seeing the credits it was even more impressive to see someone do all that at the age of 19. He followed it up with the stunningly beautiful Heartbeats which was wonderful to watch on the big screen at the Atlantic Film Festival a couple of years ago. With Laurence Anyways he moves out of the central role as actor and tackles the love story of a man and a woman after the man decides to transition to a woman. With another one of my favourite actors, Melvil Poupaud in the lead, it should be interesting to see what Dolan does with the story.

Stories We Tell

I know very little about the documentary Stories We Tell other than it was directed by Sarah Polley who has created two confident, beautiful and challenging feature films with Away From Her and Take This Waltz. Based on the strength of those two films and reading in the description that Stories We Tell is a documentary about family, stories, truth and memory it should be similarly powerful and beautiful.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm, festivals