Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best of BAFICI 2012

This is the first guest contribution by Moen Mohamed. – D.D. The Top Five of BAFICI 2012:

BLOOD OF MY BLOOD (Joao Canijo, Portugal) The best film I saw at the festival and a major discovery. In fact the 2 best films of the festival just happen to be Portuguese. Blood of my Blood is 193m long and feels much shorter. It is about a Lisbon family from the ghetto and their many, many family issues. Label it Kitchen Sink Portuguese style, soap opera, melodrama or any other facsimile, I think this film is inventive, original and unforgettable. And then we have the performances. These actors own their roles. It is hard to believe that all these people are not actually playing themselves. One of the best films I have seen in a long time.
IT'S ON EARTH, NOT ON THE MOON (Goncalo Tocha, Portugal) A song for the soul. A poem of nostalgia for the human spirit. Goncalo Tocha's 194m documentary about the island of Corvo in the Azores, is to be felt and not watched. It is that kind of film. You will find this film with its incorrectly translated title of It's The Earth, not the Moon. The original title is about the location of the island, as people over the centuries seem to have forgotten it exists.
NOSILATIAJ (BEAUTY) (Daniela Seggiaro, Argentina) A young indigenous girl, works as a maid for a white family. No, she is not abused or anything like that, but what happens to her paints a broad and provoking picture of the loss of identity and the effects of colonialisation. The one thing she cherishes is her memories of her grandparents and mother, as she recalls their stories of her ancestors. Her hair plays an important role in her persona as an indigenous woman, as she has been told by her grandmother. The single words that flash across the screen in the closing of the film pack an emotional and ethical punch.  
FRANCINE (Brian Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky, USA) A woman is released from prison and tries to re-assimilate into society. I know we have seen this story many times before, but I doubt you have seen anything like this. Melissa Leo's tour-de-force performance is incredible. From the directors of The Patron Saints, which played last year at TIFF.  
CORTA (Felipe Guerrero, Colombia) Featuring various tableaux of Colombian men as they harvest sugar-cane, this film is observational with a stationary camera as we experience their cutting, burning, clearing, cleaning, singing and food-breaks. Punctuated with interludes of music, it is one of the best visual experiences I have had in a long time. A sugarcane burning sequence is brilliantly shot on a pitch-black night and it is my favorite of the sequences. The best of the rest in alphabetic order:
THE ATOMIC AGE (Helena Klotz, France) A wonderful companion piece to Four Nights and a Dreamer. The odyssey of two young men into the Parisian night is modern and yet Bressonian at the same time. BARBARA (Christian Petzold, Germany) A doctor is transferred to the provinces of East Germany to work after being incarcerated for what, we do not know. She is constantly under surveillance and may or may not be guilty of something. Wonderful. BEST INTENTIONS (Adrian Sitaru, Romania) A neurotic son worries about his mother after she has been admitted to the hospital. Filmed in long takes with a slow and gliding camera, this film is also very funny, Romanian dry-humour style. BESTIAIRE (Denis Cote, Canada) I think this is his best film. A wordless, observational documentary about the animals who serve as entertainment on a Quebec safari. The doc captures their moments of imprisonment and our shame. EL DIFFICIL ARTE DEL PASEO (Ivan Garcia, Spain) A delight. This collage of scenes from films and newsreels from the 20s and 30s focuses on 5 places, in 5 different chapters. Translated as The Difficult Art of Strolling, this film is for every cinephile, especially if you love films from the 20s and 30s - like me. Starting in Shanghai, then Berlin, Paris, Ulan Bator to Moscow and finally it ends Japan. Full Disclosure: I realized I loved this film in the Ulan Bator to Moscow segment, the Japan segment that features clips from about 20 films of Mizoguchi, Ozu and Kinoshita are not the reason I loved the film. Just wanted to be clear that these clips did not influence me, these clips were an added bonus. EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY (Radu Jude, Romania) A man goes to pick up his daughter for a court-appointed vacation. This film is unintentionally funny, and when you realize that you are laughing, it may be too late because it is not really a laughing matter. FOR ELLEN (So Yong Kim, USA) A superb performance by Paul Dano anchors this subtle and restrained film from the director of Treeless Mountain. A man makes a long trip to sign his divorce papers. What entails is truly revelatory and heart-rending. GERMANIA (Maximiliano Schonfeld, Argentina) Set in a small German village in the Argentine countryside, a family faces financial troubles as the chickens on their farm are all inexplicably dying, as if the family has been struck by a plague. Very slow and meditative, this film is not about plot or big discoveries. It is about people from another culture living in a land they have adopted as their own and now have to start all over again. There is the chance that if they move they may never speak their German dialect again. And no, it is not like Silent Light or tries to be. HEMEL (Sacha Polak, Netherlands) The young director said at the screening that Maurice Pialat's A NOS AMOURS heavily influenced her film. And she was right. Just when you would think that this is yet another European film about a young woman and her sexual encounters told in a bleak fashion, layers are peeled away to reveal much more underneath, so to speak. INDIA (Armando Bo, Argentina) This lost 1960 classic from Argentina is a thing of its time and epoque. It is about a white man who is lost in the wilderness and rescued by the Maca tribe, and he falls in love with a Maca woman (played with a white woman, a former Miss Argentina). Yes, it is behind its time in terms of tolerance, but it is told and filmed with such sincerity and honesty, one cannot help but being carried away with the romance and being completely entertained by the not-so good acting. I give the film-makers full credit for having the original tribal language spoken for the first time on screen in a big-budget studio film. But our lead, the princess of the tribe speaks with a perfect Argentine accent. You have to smile. L'ENFANT D'EN HAUT (Ursula Meier, France) A distinct voice in cinema, Ms. Meier may be compared to many but I think she is an original. A young boy makes his living stealing from a ski resort in the mountains. That is all you need to know. PAPIROSEN (Gaston Solnicki, Argentina) A stunning documentary about a Polish family who sought refuge in Argentina after during the war. It is a family portrait, but this one is told with such honesty and proximity as the director is the brother/son of the family. Caught between their heritage, past, present and future of the family, all of us could relate to this film. STATELESS THINGS (Kim Kyung-mook, South Korea) Three young North Korean teenagers struggle to make a living in South Korea. We have seen this film told before, but what makes it different here is the way it is told. Are there three teenagers, or two or one? And Apichatpong may need to see this film because the title of the film shows up on the screen a full 91m after the film has started. VIENTO SUR (Paz Encina, Paraguay) After waiting for another film from this director after her enchanting Hamaca Paraguaya, her stunning 23m short film was worth the wait. Two brothers who are fishermen, contemplate their future and their existence, whether to leave their village and move to the city. The images convey to us that these brothers may not exist anymore, they may have disappeared, the images also keep appearing and disappearing on the screen. Set in the 1970s dictatorship, this film poetically echoes the Paraguayan (and many countries in Latin American) experience. Moen Mohamed

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hot Docs 2012: Yuri Ancarani's "Platform Moon"

For a capsule review of Yuri Ancarani's Platform Moon see Eli Horwatt's notes on the Hot Docs website.

Screening information: Sat, Apr 28 4:00 PM (The ROM Theatre), Sun, Apr 29 9:30 PM (Innis Town Hall), Sun, May 6 4:00 PM (TIFF Bell Lightbox 4).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You’re supposed to build the city, not deconstruct it. (The films of Antoine Bourges)

The Canadian filmmaker Antoine Bourges’ first short film Hello Goodbye (2008) follows the foreign exchange student Park (Joshua Pak) on his first and final day of university. At the beginning Park has trouble making friends and then, on his last day, he has trouble saying goodbye. “All good things come to an end,” he murmurs. In this fifteen-minute short film, like in life, everything goes by too quickly. What stands out in Hello Goodbye is how Bourges films the first and last day. The different time periods are filmed as if it was the same scene with the transition shot between them being seamless: you see Park arrive in his classroom where he meets a girl and starts to unpack his things and, in the same shot after she leaves the frame, Park starts putting his things away in the box as the girl returns, now wearing winter clothes, talking about how quickly the year went by and she returns to him a couple of DVDs that he leant her. Park sees his student organizer, who he will present his final architecture project as a gift, and has one last game of foosball with a friend. The ambient score by Patrick Beechinor is trance-like and Beechinor, who is also the cinematographer, shoots in a style that is geometrically composed where Vancouver is presented as a bustling metropolis - a dynamic background to this somber story.

This invisible transition from ‘Hello’ to ‘Goodbye’ might be the key to look at Bourges next couple of films: Woman Waiting (2010) and now in his latest pharmaceutical hybrid-fiction East Hastings Pharmacy (2012). Where in Hello Goodbye the year at the University of British Columbia (which Bourges also attended) is passed over. In his next two films Bourges takes this ‘in-between’ time and makes it the focus. As he captures people that are in search of something whether it is when they are between homes and searching for a new apartment or during their daily visit to a methadone clinic. What Bourges seems to be doing is trying to find action within inaction. Where Bourges' Hello Goodbye resembled the photo-conceptualist work of a Jeff Wall which emphasized long takes and open spaces, his more recent works are micro-narratives of people in institutions, like the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman and Allan King, with a Pedro Costa-like sense of hybridizing fiction and non-fiction through documenting grim social realities.
To describe Bourges filmmaking process on East Hasting Pharmacy here are my translations of Bourges’ answers from a Cinéma du Réel interview between him and Stéphane Gérard.

On these methadone pharmacies:
“They interest me because they are ideal places of observation on the everyday life of the neighborhood [East Hastings, Vancouver], one of the poorest in North America, with a high rate of criminality and prostitution. Everything is organized for these residents: the neighborhood is isolated, the people don’t leave and the pharmacies are the only place they check into everyday.”
On how Bourges filmed East Hastings Pharmacy:
“I decided to create a replica of a real pharmacy and to have my own space, so now I had the possibility to work with a tripod, and I no longer had to follow people or hide, because I could control the place. At the beginning I wanted to film in long-shots a bit like Depardon but I realized that I couldn’t because of this glass window. I could not get between it and that you are either on one side or the other, and that because of this you inevitably have to pick a side. The shot / reverse-shot formula was functional. It wasn’t so much a demanding condition instead it was the default.”
On the actors:
“The visitors are all patients of the neighborhood, I met them in the pre-production of the film. I asked them to go to the counter where they would ask for their dose of methadone and to act as they are used to. It was them that guided things because it is them that have the experience, I relied on them.”
“When a patient is prescribed methadone, he or she must attend a pharmacy that is open every day of the week. In most cases, the directions on the prescription will indicate that the dose is to be dispensed daily, and that the consumption should be witnessed by the pharmacist.” – Pharmacy Methadone Maintenance Guide, College of Pharmacists British Columbia.

This inter-title that opens East Hastings Pharmacy is a good enough starting point to discus what goes on at a methadone clinic. Some further information (though I’m not passing myself as an expert): methadone, or dolophine as it’s also known, is a designed psychoactive chemical to be used medically as a painkiller as substitute for harder drugs, like heroin. Although it perpetuates physical dependence, the goal is to provide a clinically supervised, stable dose of a particular opioid in order to provide a measure of control to both pain and cravings.

In East Hastings Pharmacy you see a varied group of patients coming in, on several different days, for their daily dose of methadone. The young, plain-faced pharmacist (Shauna Hansen) works with the older pharmacy technician (Luis Figueroa) who provides her with the properly measured quantity of pills and liquid. The film begins in the morning as you see Shauna on her cell phone sitting behind the counter as you hear the door rattling and the people outdoors laughing. The pharmacy is a site of rituals and procedures, repeated interactions and slight differences, things going smoothly and confrontations. One patient says to the pharmacist regarding the television that plays cartoons and the news, “You seem to watch the same show every day?” And the pharmacist responds, “Well, we don’t have too many options here, unfortunately.” Some of the events that happen include: one woman, who wants to have her medicine to go (“carries”) so that she can spend more time with her son, is told again that the pharmacy can’t do that as she has lost that privilege. Another patient, who appears to be of upper-middle class, easily picks up ‘carries' and then he goes out to enjoy the nice weather. Another patient is bargaining for some methadone, as her prescription didn’t account for one day. While another patient gives the pharmacist a hard time to use the phone, which she does not have permission to share.

The cinematographer Lindsay George creates succinct images: that of close-ups of hands picking up pills and drinking from a cup, and shot / revere-shots of the patients and the pharmacist. The pharmacy is a medium-sized open white room, which is a little scuffed. It includes a few plastic-and-steel chairs and a water-tank. The people that come through it are varied and include men, women, first nations etc. The visitors are given the space to speak for themselves, which gives this unscripted film a level of authenticity. You can hear one of the guys sharing his life philosophies: “Or you can say, you know what, I had enough, I want to do something positive.” And no one is ever identified, except for during the credits, which gives the film a universality, as if this is happening all of the time in most urban centers.

What East Hastings Pharmacy achieves is a clear-eyed and objective look at a methadone clinic. As Mel Hurtig brings up in The Truth About Canada there are problems in Canadian national healthcare. And as Rachel Giese brings up in her article The Errors of Their Ways (The Walrus, April 2012), on the death toll of medical mistakes (“Yet as the tools for healing proliferate, so do the difficulties in determining and executing correct diagnoses and treatments; each discovery creates new opportunities for mistakes, side effects, and dangers.”); there is much to be gained from improved protocols, teachings, and decisive action. There are people’s quality of life and lives depending on it.

East Hastings Pharmacy will have its Canadian premiere on Monday April 16, 7PM at Jackman Hall as part of the program A Place in the World at the Images Festival. And can be seen online at the mubi website during the festival.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Images Festival 2012 (April 12-21)

“Here’s to you! Keep up the good work!” so says Jonas Mekas, from the Anthology Film Archives in New York, to the Images Festival in their new program guide. This cheer and delight seems like the general attitude felt towards Images, especially now since they are celebrating their 25th anniversary and that their program is consistently great, as it engages with the most contemporary avant-garde and activist work. The festival includes Images On Screen, so film and video. There are Images Off Screen which consists of installations at galleries spread out across the city. There are Live Images which embraces different performance traditions that are related to the moving images. There is going to be a Mediatheque and bookstore at Urbanscape Gallery and their festival space will be at 204 Spadina Avenue. As well there is going to be an online archive of Canadian video art set up at the iFpod section of their website, which sounds interesting (but whose url isn’t up and running, yet).

Some other things that's good about Images includes, as Scott Miller Berry mentions in his welcome, that the festival has generous programming fees to artists, and that it takes a stand against the reigning festival “premiere policies”. The program guide also has a great essay Expanding Moving Pictures by Andrew “Andy” James Paterson, who has been attending the festival since it’s inception in 1988 (and who also, which I recently discovered, plays an angry journalist in John Greyson's Zero Patience), on the history and development of the festival. Some interesting comments from it include how Images grew out of the New Works Video Show (84-86) and Paterson seems very interested in the labels the festival has used to identify itself as it evolved, and how the festival grew and expanded over time, alternating venues, programmers and Artistic Directors.

To only scratch the surface of the rich work being programmed, I have compiled a list of work that I think will be well worth attending:

Talk To The Pie (Urbanspace Gallery):
- Defining Cinema Space (Friday, April 13, 3PM), Eric Veillette discuss what exactly constitutes a cinema. As well Veillette will also have an exhibition Toronto: Cinema City at the Images Hub on the history of the different movie theaters and repertories in this city.
- People and Places (Tuesday April 17, 3PM), Antoine Bourges, Lina Rodriguez and Myrium Yates discuss their filmmaking, the people they've met and the places they've been.
On Screen + Live Images:
- Marielle Nitoslawska’s documentary Breaking the Frame on the avant-garde artist Carolle Schneemann. Wednesday April 4, 7PM. The Royal Cinema.
- Lewis Klahr’s pop art dreamscape The Pettifogger. Wednesday April 11, 7PM. In collaboration with The Free Screen at the TIFF.Bell Lightbox.
- John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses, which uses Homer’s Odyssey as a point of departure to explore the journey of Caribbean and African migrants of the 50s and 60s. Thursday April 12, 6:45pm. The Royal Cinema.
- Images 25th Anniversary 1998 Screening Part 1, which consists of Richard Kerr’s Last Days of Contrition, Jan Peacock’s Sirensong, and Frances Leeming’s Orientation Express. I am especially curious about Peacock’s Sirensong, after recently discovering her work at The Free Screen program Using Clouds for Words. Peacock in therethere is great at catching figures on a journey and creating a captivating motion in the changing background. While in Reader by the Window the malleable distortions of the landscape are a pleasure to behold. And the two of them seem to be fore-runners for what Blake Williams seems to be doing in his Coorow-Latham Road. Friday April 13, 8PM. Jackman Hall.
- Images 25th Anniversary 1988 Screening Part 2, which includes Marc Glassman presenting Vera Frenkel’s Censored:The Business of Frightened Desires (or the Making of a Pornographer). Thursday April 19, 9PM, Images at 204.
- The program Right Ascension, which is recent film and video from Toronto, curated by Selena Lee and Carly Whitefield, looks good, which includes Blake Williams' Depart, a transition work from his early performance based videos that also anticipates his digital road-trip masterwork Coorow-Latham Road; Clint Enns’ Connecting with Nature and Chris Kennedy’s Towards a Vanishing Point. Saturday April 14, 9:30PM. Jackman Hall.
- Ben Rivers, whose previous work is the meditative and lyrical Slow Action, returns with Two Years at Sea. Sunday April 15th, 9PM. Jackman Hall.
- The program A Place in the World is described as “These four films all reflect on distinct structures and environments drawing out qualities of space, time, architecture and weather.” In it Antoine Bourges (Woman Waiting) will have the Canadian premiere of his first medium-length film East Hastings Pharmacy which documents the routines between the pharmacists and clients of a methadone clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Expect a longer review here on East Hasting Pharmacy closer to the screening date. Monday April 16, 7PM. Jackman Hall.
- James Benning’s look at Thoreau’s cabins and ideas in Two Cabins which is going to be in the program Two Movies, along with a piece by Elke Marhofer. Tuesday April 17, 9PM. Jackman Hall.
- Keren Cytter’s performance I Eat Pickles At Your Funeral (whose work is also showing at the Oakville Galleries). Thursday April 19, 7PM. Al Green Theatre.
- In the program Sidewalk Stories there are two shorts that look promising: Lina Rodriguez 75 seconds Protocol, a glimpse of a fortress wall in Cartagena, Columbia; and Kevin Jerome Everson’s Century which is a video of automobiles being destroyed that kind-of sounds like Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fresh Kill. Friday April 20, 9PM. Jackman Hall.
- Lav Diaz’s 360 minutes Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, which is a Philippine Dickensian portrait of poverty and suffering rooted in colonial trauma, which makes a great accompaniment to last year’s Vapor Trail (Clark) by John Gianvito.
- Yo La Tengo scoring an early silent film by Jean Painlevé of Jellyfishes and seahorses. Mantler will have an opening performance. Saturday April 21, 8PM. Toronto Underground Cinema.
All of the Off Screen works looks interesting but to only mention a few of them briefly there is Annie MacDonell’s The Fortune Teller (AGO), Deborah Stratman’s Tactital Uses of a Belief in the Unseen (2) (Mercer Union), Twinning Cities: AVALON (Bangalore and Toronto) (OCAD U), Kerry Tribe: Speak, Memory (The Power Plant), Gary Kibbins’s Girl Sitting on Blue Chair and Cop Out and A Short History of Water (Trinity Square Video), and Joshua Bonnetta’s Strange Lines and Distances (YYZ).

Tickets can be purchased online at or at the appropriate venue starting one hour before the event. Cheaper tickets for members.