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FIN Atlantic International Film Festival 2018 Documentaries, Features, and Special Presentations

Chris Campbell

With almost 200 films screening over a week, the Atlantic International Film Festival presents a number of challenges every day in terms of deciding what to see. If you have a pass it's a bit easier to decide at the last minute, but the complex arithmetic of how all the times of the films fit together can make it complicated as you obsessively fill your calendar, or maybe that is just me and my friends who dive deeply into that particular rabbit hole. Here are 10 films in the Features, Documentaries, and Special Presentations programs that look intriguing to me.

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

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On Friday at 1:00 pm the documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening plays. It's an extraordinary documentary directed and shot by RaMell Ross that starts out casually and once you settle in to it the world and connections begin to emerge and strengthen. Not completely cinema verité, but deeply rooted in photography and empathy it's powerful and confident while sharing a similar approach to Chantal Akerman with her documentaries and Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his dramas. It's a different and long-overdue glimpse into the lives of black Americans without an agenda or prejudice.

The Wild Pear Tree

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Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest film comes to the festival on Saturday morning at 11:30 with The Wild Pear Tree. His previous film, Winter Sleep played at the festival in 2014 (and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes) and it was a deliberate, gorgeous and sprawling drama that connected a range of characters into a extraordinary film. The Wild Pear Tree explores similar themes with history, family, landscapes, and regret. I can't wait to immerse myself into his distinctive and compelling vision again.

The Girls of Meru

Andrea Dorfman brings her feature documentary The Girls of Meru to the festival on Sunday at 1:30. Years in the making, and filmed, written, and directed by Dorfman, it's the remarkable story of Kenyan girls and the multinational legal team who developed a legal strategy to help them. The shocking statistic of one in three Kenyan girls under 18 experiencing sexual violence with little police activity sparked the legal challenges as a way to combat what was happening.

An Elephant Sitting Still

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On Sunday night, at 7pm the only feature film from the late Chinese novelist and director Hu Bo (who took his own life after the completion of the film at the age of 29) plays. An Elephant Sitting Still is the story of a set of characters With a running time of 3 hours and 50 minutes, it's a film with the focus and approach recalling the work of Béla Tarr with long tracking shots and a focus on a single day within a Chinese context.

Lemonade

On Monday at 4:10 pm an interesting variation on the Romanian New Wave comes to the festival with co-writer and director Ioana Uricaru's film Lemonade. One of the directors and editors of the satirical Romanian film Tales From the Golden Age, it's her solo feature debut. Set in the U.S., it tells the story of a young Romanian woman who recently moved there with her young son and follows her through a day in her life.

Transit

German director Christian Petzold's latest film, Transit, plays on Monday at 6:10 pm. The final chapter in a trilogy that Petzold calls "Love in Times of Oppressive Systems" whose first two parts are the great Barbara and Phoenix, Transit is a wartime story of refugees, identity, impersonation, and desperation. Petzold films are deliberately constructed with complex characters in difficult situations that are memorable and devastating.

Shoplifters

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Winner of the 2018 Palme d'Or, Shoplifters, from Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda, is about a family who survives through petty crime who face challenges when they take in a young girl. Creator of complex and remarkable stories, Kore-Eda's impressive oeuvre includes After Life, Our Little Sister, and After the Storm. Any opportunity to see the work of the great Japanese director on a big screen is worth taking.

The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution

A documentary looking at the changes happening to kitchen culture as more women are owning restaurants, The Heat plays at 4pm. Directed by Maya Gallus, it's a look at the chefs and food they make and how they're making kitchens a more humane and better place to work.

Cold War

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Visually stunning and with a similar approach to his previous film, Ida, Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski's Cold War is a challenging love story set in post-war Poland. The film screens on Wednesday at 9:20. Shot in black and white with the same cinematographer who created the evocative images of Ida, it looks like a companion piece to that earlier film.

Under the Silver Lake

In 2010, David Robert Mitchell's debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover played at the festival and it was a gentle coming of age story with a great cast. Four years later he moved into the horror genre with the stylish and compelling It Follows. Now he returns with the strange Under the Silver Lake which stars Andrew Garfield trying to solve a mystery. Mitchell's earlier films have been carefully-crafted and clever riffs on genre conventions and Under the Silver Lake seems to be another interesting and challenging film.

FIN Atlantic International Film Festival 2018 Preview, Galas, Restored!, and Extreme

Chris Campbell

The latest edition of the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival is underway and there is another great range of films to see. With almost 200 films screening over a week it can be a challenge to figure out what to see but I hope that I can help highlight some of the films that should be worth seeing.

Passes or Tickets?

The first choice is how many films you are planning to see. To fully immerse yourself in the festival the "Big Binge" pass will get you in to everything except the opening night film for $175. If you are a senior (65+) or a student the passes are $135. If you want to just pick a day (other than the opening gala) you can get a "Binge on Us" day pass for $38 which gets you into everything (including the galas) for that day. Single tickets for the 6:30 galas are $22.50, the 9:30 galas are $17.50, Special Presentations are $15, and the other programs cost $12.50. The Opening Gala costs $50 and the Closing Gala costs $30.

Opening Gala

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Things get underway on Thursday, September 13 with the first of the Gala events with Thom Fitzgerald's Splinters, which is an adaptation of Lee-Anne Poole's 2010 play of the same name. It's the story of a woman in her 20s who returns home to the Annapolis Valley for the funeral of her father. She faces the challenge of hiding her relationship with a man after she coming out as a lesbian when she was a teenager which her mother never accepted. With an Atlantic Canadian cast and the beautiful backdrop of the Annapolis Valley, it's a welcome return to the festival for Fitzgerald whose first feature The Hanging Garden won the Audience, Canadian Feature, and Direction award with his most recent feature, Cloudburst winning the Audience Award. The film is screening at the Rebecca Cohn Theatre at 7pm with the opening night party happening this year at the Discovery Centre at 9pm.

The Galas

The daily Gala program has 11 features and one shorts program from September 14 to 19 with a 6:30 and 9:30 Gala every day.

Friday Galas

 Life Itself

Life Itself

Friday's Galas look to be some heartwarming dramas with things getting underway first with An Audience of Chairs, based on Joan Clark's novel of the same name. Directed by Deanne Foley, who also directed the delightful Relative Happiness, it's the story of a concert pianist under stress with an absent husband and two daughters at home. Exploring mental illness, the complexity of families, and the possibility of redemption it promises to be one of the highlights this year as the festival celebrates Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. The 9:30 gala is Dan Fogelman's Life Itself, which follows a New York couple through their relationship in college to their first child and beyond with an impressive ensemble cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac, Annette Bening, and Antonio Banderas.

Saturday Galas

 The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers

On Saturday night there is an anthology film that features 6 talented female directors working together on Hopeless Romantic, which shows different aspects of relationships through the stories of 6 women. The romantic comedy was filmed in Halifax by directors Deanne Foley, Megan Wennberg, Latonia Hartery, Stephanie Clattenburg, Martine Blue, and Ruth Lawrence. All have had impressive shorts and features that have screened in other editions of the festival. The 9:30 gala is Jacques Audiard's much-anticipated adaptation of The Sisters Brothers with festival favourite Audiard moving into more mainstream territory with a cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Rutger Hauer, Riz Ahmed, and Carol Kane. The western is the English language debut of Audiard whose stunning Rust and Bone, and Dheepan screened at the festival in previous years.

Sunday Galas

Sunday night the focus remains on Atlantic Canadian filmmakers with the shorts program Real East Coast Shorts Gala screening 9 films from 10 directors at 6:30pm. With dramas and documentaries in the program it provides a condensed and impressive glimpse of the filmmaking talent that we're so lucky to have in the region as we see the stories told with a range of approaches and styles.

The 9:30 Gala is the feature debut of Newfoundland writer / director G. Patrick Condon with his film Incredible Violence. Exploring the horror genre in a self-reflexive way it should be a treat for fans for the genre.

Monday Galas

On Monday the 6:30 Gala is the documentary Love, Scott, which tells the remarkable story of musician Scott Jones, paralyzed after a homophobic attack. Filmed over a number of years by a close friend, director Laura Marie Wayne it should be an intimate and inspiring documentary that shows what can happen when you choose love over fear. The 9:30 Gala is another feature debut of a writer / director with Elizabeth Chomko's ensemble drama What They Had, which looks at a family dealing with dementia and the difficult choices to make. The cast features Blythe Danner, Hillary Swank, Taissa Farmiga, Robert Forster, and Michael Shannon.

Tuesday Galas

 Le Grand Bain

Le Grand Bain

Tuesday's 6:30 Gala is the French / Belgian co-production Sink or Swim (Le Grand Bain), directed by Gilles Lellouche. With a cast of 40-something men facing mid-life crises who form a synchronized swimming team. The comedy has the great French actor Mathieu Amalric along with Leïla Bekhti, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Virginie Efira, and Guillaume Canet. Jim Stern's political documentary American Chaos is the 9:30 Gala and it's a look at red states and those who voted for Donald Trump in the 6 months before the 2016 American Presidential elections. The documentary should give insight into the lives, motivations, and issues that the election brought to the forefront of the daily news.

Wednesday Galas

 Sharkwater Extinction

Sharkwater Extinction

Conservationist and filmmaker Rob Stewart’s final film, Sharkwater Extinction is the 6:30 Gala on Wednesday. Looking at the illegal shark fin industry and the catastrophic effects that humans are having on the oceans, it should be a moving and important examination of the environment and what we can do. The final regular 9:30 Gala is the documentary Free Solo, co-directed by E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin whose earlier mountain documentary, Meru played at the festival in 2015.

Closing Gala

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The closing night gala is Björn Runge's drama, The Wife, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. The story of a woman who questions the choices she made in her life as she and her husband travel to Stockholm where he is to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Restored!

The Restored! program returns this year with three classic films that should look amazing on the big screen. It's a chance to revisit classic films in a new way. Last year the restoration of Stalker was remarkable to see.

Solaris

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Another Andrei Tarkovsky science fiction film gets the restored treatment with the screening on Tuesday at 1:30pm of Solaris. It's a visually stunning and philosophically complex story of a man who travels to a space station surrounding a planet to find out what is happening there. It's going to be amazing to see it on a big screen.

Belle de Jour

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The restored version Luis Buñuel’s strange and gorgeous 1967 surrealist film Belle de Jour plays on Wednesday at 1:30. The surreal French film is constructed around a great performance by the singular Catherine Deneuve.

Grave of the Fireflies

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The animated 1988 Japanese drama Grave of the Fireflies, plays on Thursday at 2:00. Isao Takahata’s film about two children after the end of World War II is often called one of the greatest animated films of all time.

Extreme

 Mandy

Mandy

The new Extreme program features three films that are not for the faint of heart. It’s a program that is provocative and challenging with films that are outside the mainstream and will be a treat for those who enjoy darker and stranger cinematic visions.

Mandy

On Monday night the Extreme program kicks off with Nicolas Cage letting loose in what appears to be a career triumph of his larger acting tendencies with the horror film Mandy. The revenge tale is directed by Panos Cosmatos and also features Andrea Riseborough and Bill Duke in the cast.

The House That Jack Built

Tuesday night Matt Dillon stars in Lars von Trier's notorious and intentionally offensive and deliberately provocative The House That Jack Built. It's way outside of the mainstream and features horrific violence and very disturbing subject matter. You already probably know if you are interested or not interested if you've seen von Trier's other work.

Climax

Gaspar Noé somewhat appropriately wraps up the Extreme program on Wednesday night with Climax. It's a film that is reportedly challenging on many levels with his use of colour, camera techniques, and sound along with subject matter. It's a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in something that has been describe as exhilarating and outside of more reassuring mainstream cinema.

Even if you just chose from the Galas, Restored, and Extreme programs you could have a great festival, but that's only a fraction of the films that are screening at the festival this year. Good luck with your choices and see you at Park Lane.

Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival 2018 Preview

Chris Campbell

HIFF

It is a challenging time for film festivals as the flattened distribution model makes it a bit less special to see something at a theatre, so festivals need to do a bit more to remain relevant. It's just about time for the boutique film festival that expands the horizons of the audience, showcase the best of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers, and to provide an opportunity to connect with the community of those who love cinema that challenges and inspires. The Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival or HIFF, launched by the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-op in 2007. It's a festival that shows carefully-curated new work and a gives local filmmakers a chance to learn and share with other filmmakers. Running from June 6 to June 9, it's a condensed and immersive experience with the films and the filmmakers present to provide context and an opportunity to connect with them and celebrate independent cinema.

Day 1 - Wednesday, June 6

All You Can Eat Buddha

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The festival begins with Ian Lagarde’s strangely compelling All You Can Eat Buddha playing at 7pm at the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre. Beautifully shot with an understated surrealism running through the film, it’s an odd reflection on life and meaning. The story is filtered through a grounded and mysterious performance by Ludovic Berthillot as Mike, a man who goes to an all-inclusive tropical resort and stays and stays. Within the carefully-composed frames and routines of the resort we watch as Mike connects with nature, other vacationers, the staff, and a giant squid in a world between day and night, waking and dreaming, solitude and community. Walking a fine line, the film treats the characters with respect which makes the film more than an absurd comedy, but a deeper and more profound reflection on the search for meaning and existence. Writer / director Ian Lagarde will be present for a Q&A following the film.

Atlantic Auteurs – Program One

 Martha Brook Falls

Martha Brook Falls

A collection of 11 short films from Atlantic directors that blend experience, experiments, nature, documentary, and introspection into a showcase of work from established and emerging filmmakers plays at 9pm at the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre. Using still photos, celluloid, animation, and digital video, the films will highlight a range of approaches to storytelling and truth. The program features the latest work from Ashley McKenzie with her short Martha Brooks Falls as a way for her to step back from her intimate character explorations and to step into nature. There are also shorts from New Brunswick’s Ryan O’Toole with his experimental video krotoplaxx diary disc 1.1, Todd Fraser’s hybrid celluloid / DV Newfoundland odyssey it's good to go see different areas, and the legendary James MacSwain’s Halifax explosion story, The Red Purse.

Day 2 - Thursday, June 7

In the Waves

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Jacquelyn Mills’ documentary In the Waves plays at 7pm at the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre. A personal documentary linking filmmaker granddaughter Jacquelyn with her 80 year old grandmother Joan who is coming to terms with the death of her younger sister it’s an intimate and sensual exploration of the natural world, time, and memory. The impressionistic and beautiful film was shot over several years in Cape Breton with Jacquelyn Mills serving as the crew. Mills will be present for a q&a following the film.

her silent life. + expanded cinema performance

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At 9pm on Thursday night at the Bus Stop Theatre, Lindsay McIntyre will screen her film her silent life. followed by a q&a and a live film performance. Working mainly in celluoid, and combining experimental and documentary techniques, she is a visiting artist at AFCOOP and has conducted a series of analogue film workshops over the past month. In her silent life. McIntyre explores her mixed Inuit heritage and the controversies surrounding it. The screening and performance should be memorable and engaging.

Day 3 - Friday, June 8

Team Hurricane

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Colourful and at times raw, Team Hurricane is an energetic and fragmented story of young women who meet through a youth club in Denmark. It screens Friday at 7pm at the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre. Blending their own experiences and creative expressions with those of director Annika Berg, it's filled with moments of pain, joy, connection, and friendship. Examining the complexity and challenges of youth and fitting in as you are figuring out who you are, it's a unique and at times overwhelming visual and sonic dive into the lives of young women. Director Berg cast the film through social media and gave her cast assignments to complete which allowed the women to create semi-fictionalized versions of themselves which grounds the film which doesn't feel like the view of an older person trying to understand youth, but of someone with a deep empathy who is allowing her collaborators to have a voice. In lesser hands it could become a chaotic mess, but Berg manages to blend it together into a film that is bold and powerful. Director Annika Berg will participate in a q&a following the film.

Matthew Rankin Retrospective

 Mynarsky Death Plummet

Mynarsky Death Plummet

Matthew Rankin’s films are very much products of his hands and mind. Using a variety of celluloid techniques that show the dazzling possibilities of analogue art they are eclectic and amazing. Friday night at 9pm at the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre you can see his work on the big screen.

imagineNATIVE Virtual Reality

 The Hunt by Danis Goulet

The Hunt by Danis Goulet

On Friday and Saturday in the lobby of the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre the imagineNATIVE Virtual Reality presentation will be available. Consisting of four interactive VR experiences within the framework of a world 150 years in the future, it's immersive and thought-provoking. I've seen two of the projects and they are quite amazing in providing perspective and a different way to view the complex history and future of Indigenous people. The guide for imagineNATIVE 2167 is filmmaker Judith Schuyler.

Day 4 - Saturday, June 9

Programmers Picks

 Rupture

Rupture

One of the great traditions of HIFF is to have programmers from other festivals bring some of the best work from their festivals to present in Halifax in the Programmers Picks screening. This year the programmers are Curtis Woloschuk of the Vancouver International Film Festival, Alejo Franzetti of Berlinale, Gabriela DiNobile of the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and Brennan Tilley the Calgary Underground Film Festival. They're presenting a range of films from their respective festivals and will be present to introduce the eight films that are experimental, documentary, dramatic, odd, and profound. The films screen at 3pm in the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre.

Atlantic Auteurs – Program Two

 The Importance of Dreaming

The Importance of Dreaming

The second of the Atlantic Auteurs program screens at 7pm at the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre with ten short films from a diverse range of filmmakers from the region. With documentary, comedy, animation, drama, and experimental work, it's another chance to see the best work from established and emerging filmmakers who push the boundaries of filmmaking. Featuring work from animator Tara Audibert with The Importance of Dreaming, the irrepressible Josh Owen with Billy's Behemoth Blast, Daniel Boos' Thug, and Seth Smith's surreal I'm Bad to highlight four of the films, it should be an emotional roller coaster with laughs, tears, and though provoking stories and approaches to narrative.

Mass For Shut-ins

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Feeling like a documentary with honest and unpolished performances, Winston DeGiobbi’s debut feature Mass For Shut-ins is an impressionistic look at the life of young man in his 20s trapped in a small community with an even smaller set of choices. It’s the final film of the festival, playing at 9pm in the Neptune Scotiabank Stage Theatre. A micro budget feature that explores similar territory to Ashley MacKenzie’s Werewolf while having a slightly different and distinctive voice. It’s raw and at times uncomfortable with much of the work of piecing together the history and narrative left up to the viewer. It’s bold and confident, haunting and unnerving as a story begins to emerge from the shadows.

HIFF is a treasure and a chance to connect with the community to celebrate and enjoy truly independent filmmaking by passionate filmmakers who create meaningful work that deserves a wider audience.

How and What I Watched in 2017

Chris Campbell

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Each year I watch a lot of films and to keep track of them can be a challenge, so the primary way that I log and remember films is through the wonderful service Letterboxd. It's an easy way that I can record what I see along with tags. One of the great things is that the data from each film allows you to see the directors and actors whose films you are watching, along with the countries that the films are from. When I watch a film I record it right away and then usually the next day I will add a review to the film. My goal for the last couple of years is to write at least a short review of each film.

52 Films by Women

The overarching goal of the year growing out of the challenge to watch more films by women is that instead of just watching a film a week as part of the 52 Films by Women Challenge I thought that maybe I could watch 50% films directed by women. It was a great experience, and I'm continuing it as the range and breadth of stories and filmmakers is a better way to watch films. In 2017 I logged 469 films on Letterboxd. I watched 3 of the films 3 times (Lady Bird, Logan Lucky, and Paterson) and watched 14 films twice, so that means I watched 449 different films last year. 235 of those films were directed by women, which is about 52% of the films I watched, so I met my goal and changed the challenge from 52 films to 52% of the films I watched.

In watching more films by women it's resulted in me seeing more new films and more new directors. I've watched and logged more short films as there is a much bigger pool of films directed by men than by women. It's great to see more diverse visions and stories and the challenge has changed my viewing habits now, so seeking out work directed by women is part of how I watch films now.

Places, People, and Directors

Letterboxd also breaks down stats by country, director, actor, and even the percentage of films that you've seen for the first time.

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My top 5 countries are USA (228 films), France (80), UK (48), Germany (27), and Canada (24). Looking at the map is a great way to visualize where you are viewing things from. It makes it obvious that I didn't watch much at all from Africa, but generally had the other continents covered well. So this year I've been making more of an effort to see things from Africa.

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My top 10 actors are Greta Gerwig (9 films), Tilda Swinton (6), Agnès Varda (6), Michelle Williams (6), Adam Driver (6), Laura Dern (5), Willem Dafoe (5), Riley Keough (5), Katherine Waterston (5), and Ewan McGregor (4).

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For directors I watched 15 directed by Agnès Varda, 6 by Kelly Reichardt, 5 by Chantal Akerman, 5 by Janicza Bravo, 5 by Steven Soderbergh, 5 by Sofia Bohdanowicz, 4 by Mia Hansen-Løve, 4 by Errol Morris, 4 by Aki Kaurismäki, and 4 by Alfred Hitchcock. Agnès Varda is one of my favourite directors, and she ends up at the top of the list just about every year. Chantal Akerman is also usually in the top five as well as I continue to rewatch and enjoy her films.

Old and New

Of the films watched in 2017 there were 23.7% of them that were from 2017 with the other 76.3% of them from earlier years. Films that were new to me made up 71.6% of what I saw with 28.4% of the films ones that I had watched before. That is a good sign as it's nice to discover new things.

Screens

My preferred way of seeing films is in a theatre on a big screen and for mainstream releases the only option are the theatres of Cineplex and I'll see a film in their theatres a few times every month. I'll also see films screened by the great film societies Carbon Arc in Halifax and Fundy Cinema in Wolfville. Right now I subscribe to a few services to watch films – Netflix, MUBI, Crave TV, Turner Classic Movies, Sundance Now, Hollywood Suite, and most recently Festival Scope Pro. In addition to these services I rent and purchase films from Apple's iTunes Store. So I have a lot of ways to watch films. I watch through my Apple TV 4K (and a new 4K TV which is fantastic), my iPad, and my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

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The majority of films I saw last year were on smaller screens at home divided between my Apple TV, iPad, and MacBook Pro. There were 37 films watched in Cineplex theatres and 30 films watched on the big screen of film festivals. I only got to Carbon Arc once and Fundy Cinema once last year.

There were 393 films that I watched via streaming services with MUBI the most popular with 88 films. iTunes and Netflix are tied at 70 films (with some of the iTunes films as rentals and some as purchases). There were 43 films watched on Vimeo, 28 on Sundance Now, 22 on YouTube, and 10 on Le Cinéma Club, with the rest on a handful of other services. I watched 14 films on Turner Classic Movies, which are the only films that I watched on a TV channel.

It was the beginning of the end of the DVD for me as I only watched 35 films on DVD. With the recent purchase of a 4K TV I only have an Apple TV 4K and the cable box hooked up to it, and I'm not sure if I will attach a DVD player. One of the projects I have to start is to rip the DVDs in my collection to make them easier to watch and future-proof.

Watching films is one of the things that I enjoy the most and being able to look and think about what you’ve watched is a great way to shape what to see next. While awards are nice to highlight and recognize work, there are so many films and so little time, so it’s good to seek out things that broaden your cinematic experience and open up new areas to explore in what you see.

Favourite Films of 2017

Chris Campbell

It was a good year for films and to make it easier for me I started my favourite films of 2017 list early in the year. It can be challenging to keep track of all the films when you watch a lot and last year I logged 468 films, up from 460 in 2016. My favourite film of 2017 was Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. I also made a conscious effort to watch more films directed by women based on the 52 Films By Women Challenge which resulted in me watching a lot of great films and women directed half the films I watched.

To be on my list of favourite films of the year I have to seen the film during the calendar year which means that many films won't appear on my list. Sometimes I miss films because they didn't play near me or I couldn't make it to them, so these are my favourite films that I saw without consideration of other lists or the silliness that is awards season.

Lady Bird

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A portrait of a young woman who is figuring out who she is, Lady Bird perfectly captures the shift in focussing on yourself to being aware of the feelings and needs of others. We see the change through how Lady Bird defines herself and how she relates to her family, friends, and teachers. She's different with everyone and we see how she rebalances and adjusts who she is as she starts to see herself a different way. It feels casual and confident, but is carefully-constructed with great performances throughout. Gerwig's script is episodic and understated as we follow a young woman in her last year of high school figuring out what she is doing next. The characters could have been stereotypical, but they have a surprising depth and complexity that revealed through the film. It's messy and beautiful. The cast is amazing with Saoirse Ronan creating a character who is prickly, but likeable as she struggles with her relationship with her mother played by Laurie Metcalf. Her patient and open-hearted best friend wonderfully played by Beanie Feldstein provides a model of a true friend who is patient and generous. Some of the best moments of the film occurr between Ronan and Feldstein. Tracy Letts plays Lady Bird’s father with an understated sense of humour that soothes the challenges and embarrassment he is facing in his own life. The supporting cast are all given small and large moments that deepen their characters and reveal them to be intricate people with their own thoughts and feelings. Shot by Sam Levy (cinematographer on Frances Ha and Mistress America), it has a gorgeous warm and textured look. Set in 2002 and capturing the feeling of the time perfectly though the art direction and the dialogue without feeling dated. Edited by Nick Houy, the film is perfectly paced with some truly inspired cross-cutting that links the different threads of the story together. In a way, Lady Bird could be the first part of a coming-of-age trilogy looking at high school, followed by Mistress America with college and life in the city, and ending with Frances Ha looking at working life. But Lady Bird also beautifully stands on its own as a truly delightful film.

Faces Places

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Whatever the topic, Agnès Varda can create a compelling film. In collaborating with artist JR she is able to blend his approach with hers in a magical way in Faces Places. Varda is great at finding connections between people, places, and images, so in exploring with JR she has a great narrative framework to work within. JR has a great ongoing project where he takes photos of people and prints huge versions of them and then displays them in the location where the people are from. This provides a chance for Varda to get to know them and there are some remarkable stories that emerge. The other thread running through the film is how JR and Varda talk about what they do and we delve more into Varda's past with some wonderful and emotional moments as she remembers people she has known and loved. Another magical film from the cinematic treasure who is Agnès Varda.

Baby Driver

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A musical disguised as a heist film, Baby Driver is fun and perfect from the first frames. Precisely choreographed and synchronized to the carefully-chosen songs, it moves along effortlessly with bold colours, memorable characters and an unabashedly sentimental storyline. In some ways it could be the spiritual heir to Elvis movies but in Edgar Wright’s hands it's a whole lot more. Ansel Elgort brings just the right amount of vulnerability and complexity to his performance and it is all kinds of fun and is yet another triumph for Wright.

T2 Trainspotting

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T2 Trainspotting is a sequel that revisits and revises the ideas from the original film all with Danny Boyle’s energy and Anthony Dod Mantle’s remarkable cinematography. Self-aware and cynical, the film is also strangely poignant at times as it confronts the challenges of aging, memory and the distance between what we want in life and what we get. It's wonderful to see the cast and especially gratifying to see the expanded role for Ewen Bremner who brings an added dose of reality to his portrayal within the magical realist world that Boyle immerses us within.

Logan Lucky

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Logan Lucky is Soderbergh’s triumphant and fun emergence from cinematic retirement and it allows him to apply the lessons from a career making films and embracing technology in a story that is timely and fun. The whole cast is game and it's a breezy heist film that looks great all while slipping in an implicit commentary on the challenges faced by the working class and a healthy cynicism and undermining of the stereotypes about rural America and their lives. At the heart of the film there is a refreshing optimism about working together, family, and loyalty that is unexpected and lovely to see.

The Square

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A more intellectual followup to Östlund’s earlier film Force Majeure, The Square has a similar structure with a series of increasingly uncomfortable situations emerging out of an incident where an art curator has his pocket picked. Cool and careful, the situations and characters are all clearly drawn and Claes Bang plays the curator as a man whose narcissism allows almost every interaction that he has to escalate to humorous and sometimes horrifying levels. Dominic West and Elisabeth Moss have small, but significant roles in scenes that are unnerving, funny, and deeply uncomfortable in a film that kept me thinking about the fragile nature of civility and social conventions.

The Shape of Water

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The final film I saw in 2017 was Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water and what a dark and beautiful treat it was. Luckily I hadn't researched it too much before seeing it, so it was a series of revelations from the beginning to the end. Beginning with a stunningly beautiful opening credit sequence, it's a film that built around Sally Hawkins’ remarkable performance as a mute woman who is a cleaner at a government research facility in the 1960s. With a loving attention to detail in the production design and a greater sense of humour and whimsy than I expected, it's a simple story filled with complicated characters. It's also great to see Richard Jenkins given a prominent role as Hawkins’ best friend who is a talented commercial artist who struggles to restart his career and with his own sexuality. Overall it's a slightly gentler film from Del Toro that still brings a sense of wonder and darkness to the world.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Last year I mostly avoided the big franchise films, but was cautiously optimistic about Star Wars: The Last Jedi as Rian Johnson as I’ve loved all of his other films. I was surprised by how much I liked The Last Jedi as it contained an implicit critique of continuity-obsessed fans and the studios who seek to fill in all the gaps in stories. A sense of humour and fun run throughout the film as the focus begins to shift away from the Skywalker family and on to newer and less regal characters. It's also filled with some fantastic and visually-stunning set pieces and moves the action around between the characters in a most delightful way. I wish that other blockbusters had such faith in the audience to take a few more chances and have a bit more fun.

Get Out

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One of the first films I added to my favourites of the year was Jordan Peele’s clever feature writing and directing debut, Get Out. A horror film that is also a comment on racism and society, it works as a psychological thriller flawlessly with wit and skill. Playing with expectations and having an almost 70s vibe to it, it's an impressive film that starts slowly with the characters who are established and then carefully deconstructs it all as it becomes increasingly unpredictable.

Maison du Bonheur

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A documentary that is small and simple and beautiful, Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Maison du Bonheur is portrait of a 77 year old Parisian woman. Shot on film and built around Juliane Sellam's daily routine, it blends interview audio and voice-over from the director with glimpses of Sellam's day as she remembers her life. It's a combination of the curiosity of Agnès Varda with the formalism of Chantal Akerman with an accessible approach, it’s a lovely documentary that is at once personal and universal.

The Beguiled

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Sofia Coppola goes back to the source novel for the creepy 1971 Don Siegel film starring Clint Eastwood, to rethink The Beguiled from the perspective of the women in the story. It's dark and deliberately paced with a sense of dread just below the surface. I'm so glad I first saw it on a big screen as it's gorgeous to look at and be immersed within it. The cast is solid with the slow burn dynamic between Kidman, Dunst, Farrell, and Fanning forming a uneasy and fascinating look at how people living in confined circumstances deal with each other. A solid psychological thriller that is another impressive entry in Coppola's body of work.

Wormwood

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Errol Morris comes to Netflix with a multi-part film that pushes the definition of documentary. Wormwood is divided into 6 parts, Morris tells the story of Frank Olson who fell from a hotel window in 1953 and the story about how he died changed during the decades after and became an obsession for his son Eric. Told precisely and stylishly, the film blends dramatizations and interviews to create a compelling and fascinating look at the night Frank Olson died, what lead to his death, and the stories told to cover up the truth. It's a virtuoso film that sees Morris embracing the episodic structure and returning to familiar themes in a new and interesting way.

World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts

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World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts is a beautiful sequel to the original World of Tomorrow from Don Hertzfeldt that expands upon the ideas of the original. Again using the voices of his niece and Julia Potts combined with a primitive and distinctive digital animation style, it's a remarkably powerful and profound film. You disappear into a unique world that is emotional and universal. Hertzfeldt is a singular and wonderful filmmaker.

The Other Side of Hope

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Darkly comedic, but deeply human, The Other Side of Hope sees Aki Kaurismaki linking his standard set of deadpan characters with outsiders in a way to make a commentary on the world. This time the story is formed around a Syrian refugee who tries to fit in to Finnish society. Cutting between his story and the story of a older man who seeks a new life by taking over a failing restaurant it's an idea that becomes so much more in the hands of Kaurismaki as the bright colours and stylized acting combine together into something that becomes moving and beautiful.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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With his second English-language film, Yorgos Lanthimos sticks with the uncomfortable and strange approach to society and questions of ethics and morality with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. His second film with Colin Farrell at the cold heart of the story, it's a stylized and bleak morality tale about a man lacking self-awareness and an ability to accept responsibility. Unsettling and stubbornly committed to the approach, it logically and carefully escalates things with moments and dark humour and we watch a family torn apart from hubris in a story that is a modern equivalent to traditional Greek drama.

BPM

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Stylistically daring and with a sprawling cast, BPM is a bold look at ACT UP Paris through the people and processes that they developed. Starting with a protest gone wrong and then carefully and exhaustively looking at the structures they work within, the film then lets the administrative structure fade away as the lives and emotions of the participants emerge. The film brilliantly inverts the traditional structure of the inspirational historical topical true story to tell an important and deeply human story. Subverting the familiar scenes and structures allows writer/director Robin Compillo to tell a familiar story in a different and more empathetic way that feels vital and almost joyful.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

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While the reception to How to Talk to Girls at Parties seems to be wildly mixed, I loved it. But I haven’t read the Neil Gaiman story that it is drawn from. John Cameron Mitchell has a lot of goofy fun with the film which perfectly captures the look and feeling of the late 70s in England. It's a strange and fun look at outsiders finding people they connect with surrounded by great music and colourful clothing. Good nostalgic fun.

Mudbound

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Dee Rees brings an American epic to Netflix and tells a complex story about two families in the southern US, one black, one white, and how they relate to each other. Mudbound is beautifully-shot, novellistic, and powerful. Weaving it all in with World War two and a remarkably nuanced work from the entire cast and crew, it's powerful, sad, and beautiful.

Landline

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A family drama laced with comedy or is it a comedy with a dark centre of drama? Landline is Gillian Robespierre’s worthy followup to Obvious Child that shows us a complicated family dealing with each other as they try to figure out their own lives. It's messy and funny and honest with solid acting all around and confident direction of a great script that manages to balance it all out well.

Wonderstruck

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A wildly ambitious and intricate adaptation of a graphic novel, Wonderstruck is Todd Haynes balancing his earlier experimental work with the sumptuous beauty of Carol. Weaving together two stories in a way that is not initially obvious, it's a film that rewards patience as the pieces begin to fit together as the two young protagonists continue their journeys. Shot brilliantly by Ed Lachman, it evokes the silent film era as well as the gritty world of 1970s New York in a shining example of how you can merge style and substance.

The Florida Project

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While it was promoted as feel-good coming of age film, The Florida Project is a lot more than that. Gorgeously shot with widescreen framing and brilliant colours and with naturalistic performances from the cast, there are many things going on just below the surface and outside the frame. Told almost defiantly from the point of view of the children, it's a look at living on the edge of society and finding fun in your life despite your circumstances.

Band Aid

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Starting out dark and bitter, Band Aid, takes a great premise and moves from comedy to drama as a couple on the edge of breaking up come up with a way to challenge their arguments into music. Starring, written, and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, it’s an impressive directorial debut. Striking a balance between the comedic and dramatic elements, it's fun and honest and carefully avoids clichés and expectations with some great moments given to the characters.

My Happy Family

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My Happy Family one of the later films of the year and an understated gem that assuredly shows us the life of a Georgian woman surrounded by her noisy family and expectations to take care of them. One day she decides to leave and she finds an apartment and moves out. This throws the family chaos as they try to figure out what is going on. A fascinating glimpse into a culture I knew little about in a film that is naturalistic, funny, and lovely.

A Fantastic Woman

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A Fantastic Woman is a Chilean film about a trans woman dealing with the death of her lover and his family who don't want to have anything to do with her. With an amazing performance by Daniela Vega it’s a powerful and beautiful drama with magical realist elements, sensitive direction, and some stunning set pieces.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women

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Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a historical drama with a sense of wit and style that explores the life and loves of a group of amazing people and how Wonder Woman was made. Focussing on the characters and their struggles to define their own lives in a way they choose, it's a gentle and inspiring look at how you can make things work in challenging situations even when society won't fully support or understand your love.