Monday, January 8, 2018

Fixing People's Hearts (On Rebeccah Love's Acres)

Rebeccah Love’s work takes place at the interstice between life and art. For the up-and-coming Toronto filmmaker reality is meant to be shaped and dramatized through narrative and mise en scène to get at the heart of human experiences. Love’s focus is on how people feel and how these emotions can have a lasting impact. Take Acres for example: Set at Love’s grandfather’s farm, where she spent childhood summers, the creation of the film becomes an opportunity to re-experience and build from both its real and affective geography. The result of this farm life energy is that of a slower pace and melancholy beauty, which is only accentuated by Thomas Hoys beautiful score. Its story revolves around the reunion of Yannick (Edmund Stapleton) and Harriet (Sarah Swire), a former couple, who haven’t seen each other for many years after he moved away from the city when his father died. The time that these two spend on the farm, after Yannick’s sister (Erica Hill) and her partner (Patrick Love) leave, is spent maintaining it and exploring its scenic surroundings – the gorgeous pastoral countryside and the warmth of its interiors are made especially striking by Love’s regular cinematographer Eric Rowe. The two finally get closer to each other and have a deep conversation about their recent lives, failures and desires while looking at Harriet’s old photographs from when they were still together. The idea of Acres is to use this space as a site of healing. Acres creates the idea of escaping an absorption of urban and social life to learn to experience nature anew, overcome regret and contemplate life to find inner peace. It’s this examination of the emotional lives of its characters that makes Acres so rich.
Acres is great new feat for the Toronto film community. After a boom of new directors in the city around 2010, some of whom grew in prominence and were able to define a Toronto DIY style (Kazik Radwanski, Matt Johnson), and then a wider explosion of fresh directors throughout the country there’s still been, outside of some burst of creativity, the slow solidifying of clichés, many of which are encouraged by public funding agencies and film programmers, that have reaffirmed many long-standing negative perceptions of English-language Canadian cinema. Such critiques of its most common forms includes inadequate dramaturgy and a reluctance towards narrative, bad acting and a televisual style, plots that revolve around trauma and unfunny comedies… But, happily, this sad state is changing! Just in 2017 there was the Québécois film All You Can Eat Buddha (probably my favourite Canadian feature in recent memory) and the Toronto feature-length films Sundowners, Dim the Fluorescents, Wexford Plaza and the short-films Sweet Yoyo and La chasse. There needs to be more works that challenge the stereotype of Canadian cinema, which is that it’s boring and miserabilist, for it to be able to move forward. There needs to be the desire to create mystery and instill wonder instead of submitting to the sad realities of society. For it to not be limited by maintained restrictions and instead to imagine new possibilities.
Rebeccah Love is perhaps one of the best new directors that symbolizes such hope for these developments. If Acres protests the inadequacies of the Canadian film industry it does so by eliding its drawbacks and clichés by being truthful to Love’s singular vision. Its message of care is solely lacking in our national cinema and its form – a hard to program twenty-six minute short film – is an example of just one of its traits that goes against the standardized norm. Love’s practice is also enriched by being a multi-disciplinary artist – she writes short fiction, illustrates and has a background in theater, among many other things – which enriches her works points of references while also enlarging the types and variety of media in her corpus, all of which are personal and made with care. The production of Acres was also a more intimate affair as it was crowd-funded by friends and family with perks including drawings and pies, which are also nice references to Love’s other short films Drawing Duncan Palmer and Circles, and made with some of the best peers from her film production program from when she studied at Ryerson.
Just like how Acres centers around Harriets photography and finding new ways to look at the surroundings and the world, so do Love’s images re-orient the spectators vision. Love’s work, and specifically Acres, creates a new way to see as it imagines a different way to look at cinema and the world. Acres fulfills everything and more than you would expect from Canadian cinema as it proposes something new, something from the heart, beautiful and melancholic. This is what makes it so vital. But perhaps it’s Love’s producer Aleksey Matviyenko that best describes her by saying that she should have been a doctor because what Love actually does is that she fixes people’s hearts. Something that the world desperately needs.

Rebeccah Love’s Acres will be premiering this Wednesday, January 10th at 7PM at the Carlton in a program that includes shy kids’ the middle and I feel like a failure, Union Duke’s Heavy Wind, Efehan Elbi’s Rainfall, Kazik Radwanski’s Scaffold and an introduction by Matt Johnson.

Short Film Recommendation : Rebeccah Love's Garden