Review: Three Movies from TIFF 2017

TIFF had tons of movies. Here are brief thoughts on the three that stood out for us. 

Dee Rees’s Mudbound tells the story of intertwined lives of two American families in Mississippi in the ‘40s. On breaching with the past and setting out for a virgin future that is the American ideal self-portrait, Mudbound uncovers an inescapable palimpsest of social and political histories; the West may be expansive, but it is still on the same colored canvas. That race and racism, in its everyday and venial manifestations, haunt the first half of the film only to come out in the open in full violence in the second not only shows Rees’s narrative acumen, but is also a chilling parallel, in the wake of a Klan supported president and Charlottesville, to the current state of the U.S. following eight years of ostensible ‘hope and change.’ And on top of the underlying and, ultimately, the essential issue of racism that shape the tensions between the white McAllans and their black tenants, the Jacksons, Rees weaves together first-person perspectives on land and land ownership, fathers and sons, marriage, and traumas and friendships made by war. Though its tone and pace are quiet, the movie is ambitious. Perhaps its greatest success lies in its vivid and triumphant ending.

In Kazuya Shiraishi’s Birds Without Names, Towako (Yū Aoi) and Jinji (Sadao Abe), two protagonists described as ‘a rotten woman’ and ‘a slob’ respectively, live in a small apartment in Osaka and each indulge in their basest desires; Towako despises Jinji and finds him disgusting, but is entirely dependent on him as she pines after an ex-boyfriend who almost beat her to death; Jinji shamelessly submits to and lusts after Towako and sustains her unsustainable habits. Yet, the movie is less concerned with unrequited love than it is with the possibility and failures of empathy and romantic love. As the movie veers from melodrama to murder-mystery, Shiraishi explores the characters’ depravities as means of survival and cries for help. If so, ‘to whom?’ we may ask. When the movie nears its end, one is left to wonder if, having failed at Eros, the characters instead glimpsed at each other’s Psyche; shared something more enduring, if less beautiful, than desire. In classic Greek tragedies, catharsis comes from a sense of purgation and renewal; there’s none to be found in Birds Without Names — it leaves the audience feeling powerless, full of regret and questions about the possibilities and scarcity of redemption.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, is a coming of age story in set California. Though certain plot lines make a synopsis of the movie not necessarily redundant, suffice it to say that Christine, or Lady Bird, played by a charming and convivially rebellious Saoirse Ronan, goes to a new high school, suffers anxieties about her family, friends, college, and romance, and survives. That is not to say that if you’ve seen other coming of age movies, you should skip Lady Bird. The movie treads familiar grounds with candid humor and brilliant performances from Ronan and Marion McPherson (who plays the mother) that it seems fresh. If nothing else, it’s well worth watching for a gloriously awkward audition scene early in the movie.

Lady Bird and Mudbound are set to release on November 10th and 17th respectively. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Grey Goose Bloody Marys with the Rachels (McAdams and Weisz) et al.

Sebastián Lelio, Rachel Weisz, and Rachel McAdams at Grey Goose’s Cocktails and Conversation

It’s not everyday you get be within ten steps of some of Hollywood’s biggest names, like Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, for instance. With glee and anxiety, Novella took up Grey Goose’s invitation to be a part of its inaugural edition of Cocktails and Conversation, set against the backdrop of Lavelle rooftop’s stunning views. Continuing its decade-old tradition of celebrating and supporting the film industry, Grey Goose invited directors and stars of four highly anticipated films that were shown at TIFF 2017 — Woman Walks Ahead, The Current War, Disobedienceand In the Fade. Though the attendees and the location were epitomes of glamour and grandeur, with limited press presence and Grey Goose’s Bloody Caesars and Marys flowing, the three mornings of Cocktails and Conversation were arguably the most intimate and therefore worthwhile press event this year at TIFF. Moderated by Deadline Hollywood’s Joe Utichi, the panel discussed their visions and creative processes.

Jessica Chastain

The first set of Bloody Marys were had with Susana White, Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes, and Steven Knight, the cast of her latest film, Women Walks Ahead. The film, based on true events and friendship between Catherine Weldon and a leader of the Lakota in North Dakota in the 19th-century, delves into the relationship between two unlikely figures. “When I first read the script, it leapt off the page for me,” said White. “First of all, I’ve been looking for a film with a strong female lead. You know, I wanted to tell women’s stories. Catherine Weldon was such an extraordinary person to do what she did at that time. […] And then to see the other unheard voices of the western, the Native American voices…[Steven] turned them into real people, not cardboard cutouts who get shot. […] So it felt very special to me when I came across it and I knew it was a film I had to make.”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is coming back this year with a historical blockbuster, The Current War, which explores the relationship between Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), and Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), three creative geniuses of America’s burgeoning love affair with technology, science, and business. The conversation that begin with the actors’ descriptions of their characters soon became a discussion around the impact of personal greed and capitalism on the development and usage of technology and science. Though the film is ostensibly about three great men, the detailed and honest portrayal of them defy the Great Man theory of history and opens up questions about their/our inability see beyond the immediate future.

Alessandro Nivola, Sebastián Lelio (Writer/Director0, Rachel Weisz, and Rachel McAdams

Disobedience is Sebastián Lelio’s latest alongside his acclaimed A Fantastic Woman, which was also shown at TIFF this year. The movie revolves around the complex relationships between a hasidic couple, Esti (Rachel McAdams) and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), in London and their childhood friend, Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who’s left the community for New York. As Lelio’s first film set outside of Chile and that delves into three narrative points of view simultaneously, Disobedience is a previously unseen look into Lelio’s style and creative capacity. On what attracted him the script, which is loosely based on Naomi Alderman’s novel of the same name, Lelio said, “On a human level, I just loved the characters and what they are going through. This idea of confused human beings— which are almost like synonyms — trying to do their best, doing the wrong things for the right reasons, and operating against background of more or less fixed ideas and conceptions of the world… so there’s something relatively static in the background but [the characters] are vibrating, are closer to us, because they are changing and are in flux and are complex. I could immediately relate to the three of them.”

Fatih Akin, writer, director, producer, and Diane Kruger

Grey Goose’s Cocktails and Conversation was a unique opportunity to talk in earnest about specific films, the film industry at large, and what those involved think of films’ place in today’s cultural climate. Not to mention that it was a chance to nonchalantly sip cocktails with those the likes of TMZ would die to chase around.

You can recreate the Grey Goose Bloody Marys of the Cocktails and Conversation by getting the right ingredients and following the recipe hereContinue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Ronnie Rowe Jr. on Black Cop

Every September, Torontonians eagerly wait for the arrival of TIFF and its noteworthy films and spectacular talent. This year, TIFF mounted over 336 films through a range of genres and early releases. It’s my favourite time of year. Not only are stars brought in from all over the world, the festival is special in that it is a great place for new and emerging talent to shine in. Some are right from our own backyard. Ronnie Rowe Jr. is a Toronto native who is hot on our radar. He stars in his first feature film Black Cop, which premiered at TIFF, a spectacular feat for someone new to film.

I caught Ronnie Rowe Jr. on his way to a fitting for a TV show in Toronto that he can’t quite talk about yet, but something tells me that Black Cop won’t be the last we see of this talented individual.

Photo Credit: TIFF

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved in acting?

Ronnie Rowe Jr.: I was actually forced into acting funny enough, because of a grade six teacher. He was really into musical theatre so he forced all the grade sixes to audition for these plays. One of them was Oliver Twist, another one was Greece, and another one was the Sound of Music. Through this opportunity, that’s when I fell in love with acting. I got to play Danny Zuko, so I might have been the first black Danny Zucko. I got to play Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, I was the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

I thought it was amazing that I could remember the lines. It never felt like I was memorizing.

K: Did it feel like second nature to you?

RRJ: Yeah, I thought it was so much fun and the most fun I’ve had. I got to be free and do it in front of people and they enjoyed it.

The lights really helped. I got nervous at one point, and thought, “oh, I can’t even see anybody.”

Photo Credit: HO-Cylla von Tiedemann

K: What has it been like building your career in the Toronto film and theatre scene?

RRJ: I just came off a theatre tour with Soulpepper, we remounted Kim’s Convenience. We got to go Off Broadway because of it.

I started doing independent theatre about five or six years ago with Unit 102. Through that, more people in the theatre scene started to see me. I got invited to audition for Tarragon, which I booked, but funding fell through.

I did a play with Obsidian Theatre and over at Theatre Passe Muraille and from that, I got to tour Canada with Kim’s Convenience. I got to tour Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, and Off Broadway all this year. It’s been a great year so far.

K: You’ve hit all the major Toronto theatre venues.

RRJ: I love theatre so much. Every time I come off of a theatre run I become this different tool. You get to work the same material for so long and you can’t get bored with it, you have to become fascinated with it, dig deeper, find more things and keep it fresh. It’s a great teacher for me.

K: Do you feel as though it builds a different skill set as opposed to preparing for a film scene?

RRJ: I feel as though it sharpens my actor because of the repetitions. Anytime I’m doing a theatre run I’m always working that material. You discover so many things. The more you say something, the more it comes to life. I love the process of theatre because it’s pretty long.

I think film is like that as well. You get to draw out certain aspects, and you’re trying to find these within the character and the themes. Those processes feel very similar to me.

Photo Credit: @RILEYSMITHPHOTO

K: Does one feel more like home than the other?

RRJ: I feel very comfortable in both theatre and film, and I love them both for different reasons. With theatre, it’s the immediacy, and the intimacy. With film, it’s that it’s so character and story driven. It’s about those moments and that’s where the similarity lies. These moments are so key in theatre and in film.

It’s the same with TV, but I feel as though you get to flush out a bit more with those two mediums.

K: It’s nice to have that immediate connection with your audience through theatre.

RRJ: There’s nothing like it. Whenever there is that first joke in a play, to kind of catch the audience within that state of performance is amazing. Then, you just dance with it for the rest o it. 

K: So you’ve been a natural since the beginning?

RRJ: It just really makes me happy, being up there and expressive and vulnerable… I love it because it’s so scary. 

I found that within the journey of self-discovery and trying to find out who you are, I always needed art to be part of what I do, whether it’s poetry or acting, I need to be artistically expressive.

K: Do you write poetry as well? Did you start as a kid?

RRJ: I do. I’ve been doing it for awhile but it’s just now that I’ve started sharing my pieces more.

K: Do you remember the first time you showed someone a poem?

RRJ: For sure. I’m pretty sure it was a female. 

It’s always nice to get feedback and when people resonate with what you’re saying. Just like with acting or any other form of expression.

K: What is it like to have a film premiering in TIFF?

RRJ: I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, so the premier will be the first time I’m actually seeing it. It’s a weird thing, where I’m going to be judging myself…

I’m from Toronto and to have my first feature film premier at home. It’s pretty epic. I have such a great support base and family and friends that are so excited to see the film. I get to experience this first thing with them. It’s pretty awesome.

K: Tell us about Black Cop. How did this collaboration first begin?

RRJ: The movie is a satire/drama. It’s a man’s struggle between his duty and who he is as an individual. Through every day life, he experiences profiling, or being profiled by a police officer and it sets him over the edge to take things into his own hands and set out on a path of revenge.

K: What were your first thoughts on the script?

RRJ: I’ve worked with Cory Bowles (director) before on one of his short films called Free Throw. That was four years ago, and he always told me that we were going to work together again. Last year, I get a call and he says he has a script that he wants me to look at.

I read it and thought that it was dangerous. He asked me to come in and tape and to show the producers what I could do. Then they said they wanted me to do the damn thing.

We filmed it in twelve shooting days on a micro budget. I’m really happy with the things I’ve seen based on what we had to work with. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s a dream come true. Most actors I know want to be a lead, but a lead in a feature film and one that has life, a real story behind it. For it to be premiered at home… I couldn’t have wrote it any better.

K: How does it feel to be a leading man?

RRJ: It feels fantastic. It’s something that I was always capable of being and now I’m thankful for the opportunity to showcase that and for other people to see what I already believed.

K: What can Black Cop tell its audiences, especially considering the current political climate around the world and issues around profiling?

RRJ: I feel as though it’s a very timely film. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to tell you something, but what it does is allow you to observe a different perspective. A perspective that I’m sure that not everybody considers. Based on how things go down, you know that not everybody is considered, or else things would be different if they did.

This film will start conversations and open up conversations that you may have not started before.

Photo Credit: TIFF

K: Black Cop reveals its protagonist as “calculatingly taking control of terror rather than submitting to it.” Is that part of the revenge story you were talking about? What does this mean for your role?

RRJ: Definitely. It means that he begins to profile the profiler. We have heard or seen things through social media, and some of these things may be what you encounter with this gentleman, because he’s heard it. He’s thinking, “let’s see how it feels when you go through it.”

It may promote empathy. It’s easier to sympathize with something, when you see someone like you go through it. The film gives you this opportunity.

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A Conversation with Peter Kuplowsky on Midnight Madness 2017

Midnight Madness is certainly not for the weak of heart. But those who were feeling a little brave this year decided to take part in the Toronto International Film Festivals lineup of horror films, led by Peter Kuplowsky. No stranger to the festival circuit, Peter trained under Colin Geddes for four years before taking the reins himself.

At just 30 years old, Peter already has quite an impressive resume. He is not afraid to take risks and, because of his meticulous planning, creates a safe space for a memorable movie-watching experience for all to enjoy.

We had the opportunity to chat with Peter about this year’s lineup, and to see where we can find him next.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first become involved in film?

Peter Kuplowsky: I’ve always been interested in movies and I’ve always wanted to make film. When I was eleven years old my mom took me to the TIFF offices back when they were at 2 Carleton and I interviewed Steve Greystock, not realizing that over a decade later that I would be working with him. TIFF seemed in the cards for a long time.

I was an undergrad student at the University of Toronto specializing in Cinema Studies and at the same time I was helping out with an emerging festival called Toronto After Dark. I enthusiastically volunteered after just having come back from Montréal and experiencing the Fantasia Film Festival. It was an eye opening experience to me and was my first introduction to film festivals because back then Toronto was an 18+ festival and I couldn’t get into any screenings, although I definitely tried and was turned away.

U of T had a student union that had a very generous budget to rent movies so I became a programmer there, selecting films to the student union to show other undergrads. I heard that Colin Geddys, who used to run the midnight madness program, had a large kung fu film collection and I was really into Hong Kong cinema, I reached out to him and started renting prints from him and at the same time I was working at the Bloor cinema as a concessions jockey. I really wanted to start putting on movies there, specifically this one film, Troll 2, considered one of the worst films ever made. I found it so entertaining. I ended up booking the Bloor and putting on a screening of the film there, it was a big success and got Colin’s attention, and he referred to me as the “T2 kid.” We organically began to hang out in the same circle and he noticed my enthusiasm for film programming and putting on shows and eventually asked if I wanted to be an assistant and help him on some of his projects. Initially, it wasn’t Midnight Madness, we collaborated on a festival in South Carolina called Action Fest, I think it was sort of a trial run. We worked on the festival for two years and then after that, I had just finished another job and didn’t know what I was going to be doing and that’s when he suggest I start working with him on the Midnight Madness program.

For the last four years I was the the programming associate, working with Colin. In January he retired, and he generously passed the position to me, which I was completely thrilled about. As bittersweet as it was, I’ve been such a huge fan of this program since I first started attending, I’ve always felt that it was kind of a state of the union of genre films for the year because it was so tightly curated and it spans such a diverse array of different type of genre films, not just horror movies, but martial arts films, films from the around the world… it’s surreal to have that responsibility now but it’s something that I feel really privileged and excited about.

K: Your goal for Midnight Madness over the next five years is to create a lineup of not only horror films, but also a broader genre of films and to emphasize movies that discuss important hot topics. What does this mean to you?

PK: My favourite kinds of genre films or “movies to watch at midnight” are movies that really upset expectations because one of the attractions or appeals of great genre cinema are not really their generic properties, or the generic formulas you expect, it’s the stuff that you don’t expect and the fun is watching the movie that starts in a very familiar place, as many horror movies and action movies do, but it’s how those movies subvert the formula and subvert the expectation of what people are really looking for when they watch genres. They’re looking for something that’s recognizable and familiar but they’re looking for something to surprise them and I think the best genre films do that. I’m very interested and passionate about the films that go out on a limb and take those risks and try to challenge expectations and transgress those boundaries. In putting together this year’s lineup, I was really interested in finding a mix of film makers who had a history with the program and filmmakers that were brand new and trying new things. I think I achieved that with films like, Let the Corpses Tan and The Crescent, respectively, one is an action film and one is a horror film but they are told in very esoteric and eccentric ways. The style and form in which they articulate and express their story has it’s own identity and is not something you can compare easily to other films.

K: It’s great that you found films that deliver important messages and aren’t just there for their jump-scares. 

PK: It was important for me to deliver a wealth of different experiences. I have a film such as David Bruckner’s, The Ritual, which is a traditionally scary movie about campers getting lost in the woods, it’s also from an emerging filmmaker who has spent the last ten years has making a number of short films and anthology projects but he has yet to make a feature. He was someone I wanted to support but his film differently assumes a traditional trajectory, where as, a film like The Crescent is a lot more esoteric and psychedelic and unpredictable.

K: When putting together the line-up for this year, or previous years, is there a certain way in which you go about choosing your films?

PK: I think that a good programmer, especially one that is putting a section together that is as tightly packed as something like the Midnight Madness section, it’s something that I learned from Colin, you have to consider how they flow together. You don’t want a program of ten zombie films or ten martial arts films. You want to deliver a different experience each night and in putting this line up together I was thinking about how I wanted to start, what I want to do in the middle and how I wanted it to end. There is an audience that tries to come every single night so I’m very considerate of their experience each night so I want to change things up.

In terms of how I found these films, you watch a bunch of films that have been submitted to the festival and you’re watching films that you have been contacted about, sometimes by the filmmakers themselves, or their sales agents/distributors. We’re also going out in the world and looking for these movies. I have a background in short film programming, I programmed short films for the Toronto After Dark festival for eleven years and I currently do short film programming for Fantastic Fest. One of the other things that I do when I first started working on the Midnight Madness program was that I emailed a lot of short film makers that I had been a fan of to see if they were working on features and a few said they were, such as David Bruckner.

I try to be thoughtful in terms of putting things together. For instance, it was very important for me that the first film be something that would have a lot of impact, and the film that I chose, Joseph Kahn’s Bodied, is a movie that I thought wouldn’t make sense to have anywhere else but at the start of the festival because I think it’s a sort of film that can start a conversation that can carry through the festival.

I wanted to end the festival on a lighter and fun note, and Vampire Clay ended up being my choice because I really like the story behind the making of the film, it’s the first feature of a filmmaker who is in his late forties, and has worked in the industry of special effects and as a makeup artist on much lower budget productions and I have seen some of his short films and I was really impressed with them and excited to see what he would do with a feature. I found the film really resourceful and fun and unpretentious. I think it is a great counter note to some of the other films in the program where this is a fun way to end the festival experience, not a heavier way.

K: Do you have a particular film that you are most excited for audiences to see this year?

PK:  I’m excited to see how the audiences will react to Brawl in Cellblock 99, simply because I’ve broken the tradition. Historically, every Midnight Madness film begins at midnight, or 11:59 PM, but I’m starting this film at 10:45 PM. The reason is that I really feel that the first hour and seven minutes are not really delivering the Midnight Madness experience. It’s more of a gritty crime drama that’s rather sober and measured and deliberately paced, but about halfway into the movie, a big plot detail emerges that begins to escalate and bring a momentum to the story that makes it feel a bit more Midnight Madness oriented. When it finally gets to the climax and delivers a really brutal and bloody sequence, that I think is going to shock and satisfy the Midnight crowd. I’m looking forward to see how that plays in the room, the steady escalation where people aren’t going to be sure of where the movie is going and then what the movie will deliver in its final scene.

K: Are there any current trends in the horror genre that you were hoping to include or avoid within the lineup?

PK: It’s interesting, while watching the submissions this year, I did see a few trends emerge. I think that you can look at a number of films this year and see a lot of parables of broken masculinity taking place. At the same time, what I was hoping to see more of is women working in genre, and I did see a small, but a presence of women that is just great. A lot of this is a systemic problem where a lot of emerging female directors just aren’t getting a chance to make that jump from short films to feature films as quickly as their male peers are. Last year, we had the amazing film, Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, and this year we have Hélène Cattet returning for Let the Corpses Tan along with Coralie Fargeat’s debut, Revenge.

A really common genre that gets submitted to a genre festival is the rape-revenge film, or a sort of female-vengeance story, but the fact that this was directed by a woman had me really interested and I think Coralie gives you a really new perspective on how this story gets told, specifically in how she puts the scrutiny and the gaze of the film more centred on male bodies than female bodies. In a rape-revenge story, that’s a really substantial detail.

I’m hoping for the industry to allow more voices to tell stories, because I do think we are seeing the same story over and over again. The amount of times I’ve seen a horror movie or action movie hinge on a protagonist that just wanted to ask a girl out and the whole movie is just so that he can win that girl… it’s a trope and it’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and there’s nothing wrong with that type of story, but there’s more than that.

I’m encouraging filmmakers to think about their films and if it’s a story that’s already been heard before, then why do they feel they should tell it again? What do they want to add to the conversation? That’s something that I’m interested in finding in future editions of the program.

K: Along with your many years of experience as a festival programmer, you also have a lot of producing credits, such as: Manborg (2011), the concluding segment Z is for Zygote in the anthology film The ABCs of Death: Part 2 (2014), The Interior (2015), The Void (2016), and the short film adaptation of Dave Eggers short story Your Mother and I (2016). Do you see yourself more as a producer, or would you rather be programming festivals?

PK: Both roles I’ve stumbled into somewhat organically. I’ve always wanted to make movies but early on I found myself more preoccupied with showing other people’s movies. While doing that I’ve made a connection and friendships with short film makers and then those friendships eventually turned into collaborations where I asked a short film maker what they were working on and they would start talking about their process, and because I was gaining contacts and experience working alongside distributors and exhibitors and sales agents and financiers, I was able to parlay some of that experience and some of those contacts into helping some of these short filmmakers make new projects including features.

I found that in my desire to want to make movies I feel like I realized that maybe I’m better at other people make their movies. I really enjoy that sort of collaborative process. Career wise, I’m trying to see if I can balance programming for festivals six months of the year, and helping people get content and getting their films off the ground the other six months of the year.

The most valuable thing about programming is seeing what other people are making and the quality. A lot of the stuff I’m seeing, by objective or conventional standards, might not be up to snuff, or “great works”, but I feel like they’re always teaching me something or establishing trends, some to potentially follow or some to maybe avoid. They are also revealing filmmakers, actors, or cinematographers that I may want to work with. It’s one of the reasons why I want to continue programming other festivals because I feel by watching short films, it’s allowing me to see a couple years into the future because I’m looking at filmmakers that are starting out. I hope to notice them and put them in touch with people that can help them make their films.

K: You’re part of that process with them.

PK: A lot of programmers see a movie well before it’s finished. A few of the films I saw this year, in their assembly versions, or their first drafts. There was a back and forth between me and the filmmakers and their producers about what I thought was working and what I thought wasn’t. While I never intend to say, “I think you should do this,” I try to be candid in terms of what my reactions are. Sometimes it has an effect on someone and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a real feedback loop between festival programmers and filmmakers these days.

K: It’s always best to do what you love.

PK: Fortunately enough I still like movies. There’s always that period where I’m in the eye-of-the-storm watching stuff and maybe haven’t seen something in three weeks that I’ve liked, and that’s when you get worried because at that point if something good comes around you’re not sure if you’ll notice it because you feel so beaten down. The thing is, every time I’ve gotten that feeling, every time I do see something that I think is strong and good, you notice it within a few seconds. It can be the subtlest decision on the director’s part but I feel that it’s so apparent. As subjective as it may be, there is a way to direct a movie or a way to tell a story that can immediately convey to the viewer that someone is in control and steering the ship.

When someone asks me what I consider as constituting a good film, or what I look for as a programmer, it sounds like a simple thing, but I look for direction. I look for a film that I feel is articulating it’s ideas of clarity. Whether it’s the movements of the camera or the staging factors, I don’t feel like things are arbitrary or left to chance. Even if it’s a movie where things are improvised, or a documentary, the assembly or decisions that are made in putting the package together just feel like decisions.

I like hearing the voice of the filmmaker or the collective voice of the team that has made a certain movie.

K: It must be like a lightbulb that comes on when you do see something special.

PK: When I do see something I like, I have a tendency to stand up and start pacing a bit. I get rather excited when that lightbulb goes off.

K: It must be really exciting to be in the screening and to see the same reactions that you first had.

PK: I love watching the audience watch something in a program. Going to Fantasia in Montréal and then my first Midnight Madness in 2005… it’s the reason I do this. I love sitting in an audience that for ninety minutes or two hours there is a feeling of complete unity where everyone is in line or joining the wavelength of the story being told.

I think Midnight Madness is one of the programs that really delivers that because it often plays with big emotions and is able to create that feeling to get everyone as energized and charged.

K: What’s next for you?

PK: I go straight into Fantastic Fest where I do a shorts programme that is broken up into three sections. There is a horror section, a general comedy section and a section of more experimental, arthouse genre exercises.

After that, the machine sort of beings to start up again for next year but before it does, in earnest, I will likely be trying to work on my many projects with various filmmakers and it kind of depends on what is ready and what needs the help.

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“The World. In Short Form.” — On TIFF’s Short Cuts Program

Short film, like other mediums accompanied by the modifier, is often defined by its length, as though it is a curtailed version of what would have been, or a diminutive of an established medium. Indeed a short film is short(er) — the industry standard is something along the lines of ‘under 40 minutes’ —, especially when compared to Hollywood epics or trilogies. But it is a medium in its own right, by which I mean that the qualities that make great shorts are entirely different from those that make a feature length great. The slogan for TIFF’s Short Cuts program this year is “The World. In Short Form.” And indeed Short Cuts’s eight programs and sixty or so films in total are exemplars of the form’s ability to be broader than its length.

In Yang Qiu’s A Gentle Night, a mother searches for her missing daughter a few nights before the Lunar New Year. There is little dialogue, just enough to propel the story; we aren’t told who these people are; no establishing shots tell us where or even when we are; no thriller-genre watermarks that keep us on the edge. Yet, we are engulfed. A Gentle Night relies on the images and pacing to make immediate this removed and unnamed mother’s horror and despair. The movie ends as it begins with little explanations, yet it is difficult to escape the feeling that it is complete, that Qiu’s said all he wanted to say. Absence of specific details encourages the audience to engage with the film with sympathy and compassion, two refreshingly different emotional standpoints from empathy, the currency of usual feature lengths that involve a mother and a lost child. The audience cannot identify with the mother, is left in the emotional peripheries, just close enough to be bystanders to the horror that’s all her own. Charlotte Wells’s Blue Christmas is another example of this kind of storytelling. The story of Alec, a debt collector out on the job on Christmas Eve, hurtles forward — he has a son and a wife, who wants to burn down the family Christmas tree. Much of the film is occupied with Alec driving around town, collecting. Yet, when the film draws to a close and Alec returns home to his smoky living room, we cannot help but sympathize with this family we barely know or understand. Once again, the narrative is focused on the specific events and not on its origins or aftermath. The latter two, we are told, are Alec and his family’s, as Qiu’s mother’s is hers.

Kei Chikaura’s Signature takes a different approach. A man walks through Shibuya, Tokyo. He is unfamiliar with the city and does not seem to speak either Japanese nor English. He runs into a petition, passes by a row a row vending machines, walks into alleyways, and ends up in a dimly lit, disturbingly green hallway. The audience is kept in the dark until the subdued revelation that the man, Cheng Liang, is a ‘foreign worker’ trying to land a factory job. The film creates the illusion that we are, in real time, experiencing what Cheng is experiencing. It is immersive in that the audience’s not knowing is parallel to Cheng’s jarring and painful feeling of being uncertain, out of place, alone, in a foreign country. We find sure footing on the narrative just as Cheng finds his footing in his job interview.

Watching a number of these short films one after the other, one can’t help but feel that they are more truthful reflections of the way we live — not in grand narrative arcs, but in a series of indelible, meaningful periods of time — and of the way we interact with others, within liminal spaces between our points A and points B. That the beginnings and resolutions in many short films feel abrupt is perhaps the form’s greatest gift; our dealing with their absence is an exercise in compassion.

TIFF Short Cuts has eight programs, each with a loose theme ranging from relationships to survival. Details on each of the eight programs, times, and ticket information can be found here. I highly recommend the three mentioned above (‘A Gentle Night‘, ‘Blue Christmas‘, and ‘Signature‘) and the following: ‘Waiting‘ (Amberley Jo Aumua), ‘Magic Moments‘ (Martina Buchelová), and ‘Mother‘ (Rodrigo Sorogoyen). 

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