Contact Me

Use the form on the right to get in touch with Chris.

 


Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada

blog

Filtering by Tag: aff2012

Favourite Films of the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival

Chris Campbell

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.

Preparing for the Atlantic Film Festival

Chris Campbell

Transient

Every year there is a wonderful sense of anticipation in the fall as school starts up again and I begin a new term of teaching. But the greatest anticipation is for the Atlantic Film Festival which is a wonderful opportunity to see great films and spend time with friends talking about films we've seen and to network with the people who tell stories on the screen in our region. But to get the most out of the film festival you need to be prepared to take care of yourself, to have a plan for what you want to see, and to keep track of what you've seen. So much happens over any festival and if you have a film fan pass or a delegate badge there is a whole lot to do and by the time it ends you will have forgotten many things. Here are some of the ways that I get ready for the Atlantic Film Festival (but the tips will help for any festival) and the systems that I use to track what is happening.

Choosing Films

This year the Atlantic Film Festival runs for a week with films every day. Assuming that you don't go to the press / delegate screenings there are roughly about 2 - 3 slots every day with feature films and shorts playing. Your first task is to figure out which of those films in each slot you want to see. Sometimes you'll have about 4 or 5 different choices. Depending on how many films you are going to see, take some chances on films you haven't heard anything about. The programmers have watched a lot of films and you'll be seeing the best of what they've seen. Everyone doesn't share the same taste, but it's great to take a chance and see something new. If you've heard a lot about something it probably will be easier to see it later, so seek out the more obscure titles. There are some films that take years to be released on DVD, but you can see them on a big screen and not have to wait. Do a bit of research on the films, directors, writers and actors in those films. When making up your schedule (and you'll need to get the guide or go to the web site) try to have some things that you are sure about balanced off with surprises.

A Bag

When you assemble the stuff you need for the festival, you need a place to keep it, so a good bag is important. The bag will be with you and will hold all of your stuff. Some clothes and food and the paper version of the guide as well as pens, notebooks, and maybe even your own printed schedule for the festival. If you're from out of town it may also be good to have a list of places to get stuff (food, drink, and other supplies) in your bag too. If you have a smart phone you can bring an extra battery or charger along and maybe even a laptop (for quick blog posts or updates at coffee shops). My bag of choice is a Manhattan Portage Manhattan bag that is simple and big enough to hold a bunch of stuff like a water bottle, energy bars, a light jacket, notebooks, pens, a USB battery charger, cables and an iPad. If I'm riding my bike I may use my Knog briefcase-style bag that hooks on to the back of my bike.

A Notebook

While you can take notes on a smart phone, you don't want to be the person who has a phone on during a film. Don't be that person. So then you'll need to have some way of taking notes and a notebook is ideal for that. It's hard to see, but I'll scribble down quotes sometimes during a film. It's not the easiest thing to read, but it's good for reminding me when the film is done. As the lights come up at the end and people start going out you usually have a bit of time to write some stuff down. Sometimes I've bought a small, softcover Moleskine Cahier notebook to write in. Most of the time I use a standard Moleskine Pocket Notebook that will fit in my pocket and write down the names of the film after the number of the film. I start at 1 and then go up from there. I keep track of the feature films and the short films. This is where the guide comes in handy as you can get the title right and also add some notes about the actors or director by finding the names in the guide if you forget about them.

Social Media / Web Sites

Twitter is great for staying in touch with people, finding out about films, and sharing what you've seen or asking advice on what to see. But some of us feel a need to keep track of more things and there are other tools to use for that. My favourite private tool for keeping track of all of the films that I watch is Nathan Yau's powerful tool that combines Twitter with the collection of personal data. It's called Your Flowing Data and I use it to keep track of all of the films I watch. You add YFD to your Twitter contacts and then send direct messages with the data that you want to track. While I track films as well as lots of other data, for films it's simple with the "watched" part being revelant and then I add hash tags to keep track of where I've seen the film (#theatre, #netflix, #dvd, or #aff2012 for the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival). As I write this I can tell you that in 2012 so far I've watched 194 films, which means that at some point during the festival this year there is a good chance that I will break the 200 film mark. If you want to share more of what you're watching a new site that I quite like is the New Zealand-based film community called Letterboxd. It lets you share a profile, what you've watched, as well as being able to review, rate and create lists of films. So I'll probably create a list of films I've seen at the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival to be able to share that with other people. You can also do some similar things with IMDb, but I really like the look and community that grown up around Letterboxd. You can also use Festival Genius online and on your smart phone to check the schedule, create your own schedule and rate films. On the site you can also see what is popular and rate the films that you've watched. Sometimes this is a good way to get an idea of things that you want to see and keep track of things as well.

Food

Think about what you are going to eat and when. Get some protein and energy bars to bring with you in case the food plans fall through. Pack a lunch and some snacks. Popcorn is great, but after 2 or 3 days you will probably have sore lips, so spread out the treats over the length of the festival. It can also get expensive to buy snacks and meals every day, so packing at least one meal for each day will make a big difference.

Drink

Bring a water bottle and keep it filled. While there may not be a lot of water fountains around, it's good to stay hydrated. Juice is good too and occaisional soft drinks from the theatre can be nice, but the cost can add up quickly. In a pinch there is the combo that was introduced for the film festival a few years ago with a bottle of water along with popcorn.

Clothes

Wear comfortable clothes. If you're taking advantage of the festival with a pass you'll be spending a lot of time in the dark, so the look doesn't really matter. With parties or galas you will want to dress up a bit, so finding the right balance is a personal challenge that you'll need to face. For guys the classic combo is a blazer and t-shirt with jeans, but the imporant things to watch are up on the screen, so opt for comfort over style if you're not sure. Keep in mind that while it may be warm outside that it will probably be cooler in the theatre, so finding the right balance will make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

Exercise

Sitting in a theatre for hours at a time is a lot of fun on one level, but on another level it can make you stiff and sore. Moving around and stretching between films is imporant. Being deep within Park Lane means that you won't see much sunshine or breathe fresh air, so take advantage of breaks to get outside and walk around. Even just walking around the block outside can clear your mind and give you a bit of energy for the other upcoming films.

Talk With People

Being socially awkward makes it difficult to meet and talk to people, but the great thing about a film festival and the people in the theatres is that we're all there for the same reason – we love films – so you have a head-start on conversation as it's different from the standard multiplex crowd. Share your thoughts and talk with people. The theatres are filled with filmmakers and actors, producers, and directors so let them know if you liked their work. Thank programmers for their choices and chat with staff and volunteers and let them know that you appreciate the work they do to share films with us. We get to enjoy their hard work and see the films they've picked and brought to us.

Enjoy the festival and have fun!

My 10 Most Anticipated Films for the Atlantic Film Festival 2012

Chris Campbell

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.