By Adam Cook, Future//Present Programmer
Spice It Up, Canada, 2018, part of VIFF 2018’s Future//Present series
For its third edition, our spotlight on the boldest independent filmmakers emerging in Canada looks a little different. Out of the eight feature films selected, five are shot in another country (Mexico, Haiti, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany) and three of the directors were born outside of Canada. While this was not a deliberate concept from the outset, I am proud to have helped assemble a program that at once supports and nurtures the most talented filmmakers working from coast to coast while also not having rigid restrictions of what it means to be Canadian and what it means for a film to be Canadian. As we know, the nationalistic definitions of film—particularly today when co-productions with several countries attached are the new normal—are murky, and I’m personally not so interested in setting a set of rules on the subject. More now than ever in 2018, borders are meant to be crossed. So here is a program that literally does so while also crossing other borders: from reality to fiction, from our world to the next, between identities, between genres, between forms and that expand beyond what we expect from Canadian film—and cinema itself.
Dir. Andrea Bussmann
Director Andrea Bussmann (Tales of Two Who Dreamt) takes us on a perpetually surprising and sensual journey in her solo feature debut, shot on the Oaxacan coast. Set in a liminal space between our world and heaven and hell, Goethe’s version of the Faust legend is echoed in stories of colonization, greed and the limitations of human perception, revealing the illusory nature of the distinction between what we can and cannot see. Opening with three mysterious dimly lit shots at night, the viewer is inspired to call into question what they are looking at and what it means. Who is the narrator? Are we watching characters or people? What is real, what isn’t, and does that even matter? Fausto is a testament to cinema’s capability as a vessel through which to search for meaning—even as it mystifies the world around us. Tales of shape-shifters, telepathic animals, how a man stole the moon and the clash between humankind and the spirit world all collide in this mesmerizing blend of myth and reality.
Dir. Terry Chiu
An anarchic and altogether hilarious feature debut, Mangoshake is a shoestring-budgeted object of absurdity verging on outsider art that transcends its lo-fi production with brilliant staging and framing. Set amidst the boredom of suburban summertime when pals Ian (Ian Sheldon) and Philip (Philip Silverstein) open a mangoshake stand, the film tracks a group of young friends and their collective existential malaise in a series of episodes that range from laugh-out-loud to surreal to manic to downright touching. Embracing an endearing DIY rawness, the film’s rigorously directed, mannered comic style (think Roy Andersson) is leavened by its compassion and accumulating undercurrent of youthful pathos (think Gregg Araki). Either a backhanded ode to the coming-of-age film or its revisionist death rattle, Mangoshake is nevertheless a discreetly lyrical articulation of ennui, set in a milieu usually defined by characters who rebel against it but who, here, play within it instead—as does their director along with them. One of the most exciting new voices in Canadian cinema, Terry Chiu has the eye of a comic visionary, one that brings to mind masters of formalist comedy (Jacques Tati, Jerry Lewis). This may very well be the best thing ever born out of Canadian suburbia, and that’s even taking into consideration some of our greatest hockey players.
Dir. Drew Lint
A queer arthouse thriller, M/M explores oppositional notions of identity and sexuality—and the confusion that can emerge between them. Newly relocated from Canada, Matthew (Antoine Lahaie) is an outsider in Berlin, where he encounters the dark and mysterious Matthias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher). A gorgeous and confident marvel of gay masculinity, Matthias is a living fantasy who acts purely on animal impulse, representing both what Matthew desires to have and what he wishes to be—so when an opportunity to slip into Matthias’ shoes suddenly arises, he simply cannot resist, and the line between the two of them begins to blur. As Matthew’s dangerous obsession grows, his sense of self-diminishes with consequences that threaten to consume both men. With sparse dialogue and shot in a distinctly cool, precise style that emphasizes the lines and edges of the alienating urban environment in which its characters reside, director Drew Lint’s feature debut impressively commands its icy-hot mood. Tense, expressive and unpredictable, M/M ingeniously renders physical space into psychosexual geography not easily traversed.
The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs
Dir. Bojan Bodružić
Canada/Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Bosnian War took many lives and forced half of the population to search for a new place to call home, breaking apart numerous families in the process. As a child, Bojan Bodružić was evacuated from Sarajevo in 1992 and emigrated to British Columbia where he went on to become a filmmaker. It wasn’t until 2000 that he returned and began filming his grandparents, recording their incredible life stories over the course of the following 15 years. Charming and spirited, the elderly couple eagerly shares their experiences with their grandson, too long removed from their life, and his camera, even insisting he finish the film as they fall ill in their twilight years. The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs movingly bridges the gap between generations divided on either side of a traumatizing history. A first-hand account of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and its consequences, as well as a family portrait full of impressions of a country forever, changed, Bodružić’s (Immigrant) film collates an invaluable collection of memories—both personal and historical—into a deeply affecting work.
Song of a Seer
Dir. Aïda Maigre-Touchet
Haitian poet, critic and actor Dominique Batraville rummages through a seemingly endless library of literature and curiosities while drifting between recitations, musings and memories in a hypnotizing stream-of-consciousness mode. Something of an intellectual hoarder, Batraville has made his cramped Port-au-Prince home into a treasure trove of beautiful objects and beautiful ideas that he generously shares with director Aïda Maigre-Touchet, who in turn crafts an impressionistic filmic work of graceful minimalism. Navigating the limitations of the space, she lets small details take on their own power as Batraville’s past, the history he has lived through, and the essence of his spirit all come into view. From excerpts of poetry to intimate recollections to amusing anecdotes—including when Batraville travelled to the Cannes Film Festival with the Michelange Quay film L’évangile du cochon créole in 2004—Song of a Seer takes a refreshingly unusual approach to creating a portrait of an artist, an approach that conjures an entirely off-screen world. This delicate documentary reveals the immense and intangible qualities lurking beneath surfaces and points to the infinite space of the human mind.
Spice it Up
Dirs. Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas
Film student Rene (Jennifer Hardy) struggles to complete her thesis project in this unique tragicomedy. Harshly dismissed or ignored by everyone she shares it with, including her own professor (Adam Nayman), whose notes are less than inspiring, meek and awkward Rene is nevertheless determined to complete her movie, Spice It Up. Her passion project is a piece of straight-faced absurdity shot on GoPros in which seven female friends try to enlist in the Canadian army after they fail to graduate from high school. Jumping between the ensemble-based film-within-a-film about friendship and teamwork, and the framing story of the lonely plight of its creator, Spice It Up contracts a portrayal of bonding with a poignant narrative of creative solitude that cleverly aligns in a sly satire of institutionalized Canadiana. Made by three rising directors—Lev Lewis (whose feature debut The Intestine played at VIFF 16), Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas (co-directors of Amy George and The Oxbow Cure)—Spice It Up is a tongue-in-cheek parallel odyssey about the discouraging obstacles encountered by independent filmmakers and the drive to get something done no matter what—with or without help.
The Stone Speakers
Dir. Igor Drljača
Canada/Bosnia and Herzegovina
In present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country divided primarily between the Bosniak, Serb and Croat ethnic groups, economically depressed towns transform themselves into tourist destinations for their own survival, deliberately forming their own cultural narratives in the process. After the acclaimed films Krivina and The Waiting Room, Bosnian-Canadian director Igor Drljača shows how history can seize control of the present in the strangest of ways with his first documentary feature. Focusing on four different locations, The Stone Speakers incisively interrogates a divided nation’s contradictory memories and the thin lines between politics and folklore. Featuring off-screen interviews with a variety of citizens and tourists, the film is carried by the voices of those navigating these peculiar spaces. Leaving room for the viewer to peel away at the surface and consider both how things came to be what they are and the ill-fitted pieces that make up an unclear whole, Drljača challenges assumptions about heritage, nationhood and spirituality. Made with tactful distance and subtlety, Speakers cunningly allows the subtext of these sites to emerge indirectly, revealing the traumatic consequences of a country stuck in a post-war identity crisis.
Waiting for April
Dir. Olivier Godin
In a work of what its director Olivier Godin would label “artisanal cinema,” Waiting for April is a resourceful and whimsical detective-comedy made with sweet simplicity and no shortage of charm or surprise. Detective Haffigan is on the case and hot on the trail of a mystical singing bone. He has a clue that an actor with the arm of a gorilla might be in on it. And then there’s also the cashier from the Bank of Permanent Fog. Make sense? Well, Godin skirts narrative convention in this playful mix of the theatrical and cinematic inspired by eccentric tales from Québécois musician-storyteller Michel Faubert. A unique and defiantly independent comic fantasy graced with free-flowing quirky dialogue and beautiful gestures of filmic artifice (a recurring motif of an in-camera iris effect will make cinephiles swoon), this off-the-wall film is full of colour, romance and formal pleasure. Waiting for April is a lovingly made expression of the joy of storytelling and how we can be caught off guard by the tenderness behind some of the strange encounters that await us—and the potentially transformative power of the strangers we meet.
Series presenter Telefilm Canada.