By Anne Brodie
Canada, drop everything and see Beans in theatres. This heart-tugging drama about a little girl caught up in a vicious cycle of racism and struggle is all too true. Images from July to September 1990, in Oka, Quebec, a standoff between police and Mohawk protesters defending their burial grounds against golf club encroachment, are seared into Canadian memory. Violent confrontations highlighted the deep racism of local whites, the federal government and businesses towards Canada’s First Nations. The armed confrontation made international headlines and marked a desperate low in our history. Filmmaker Tracey Deer looks at Oka through the eyes of 12-year-old Beans (Kiawentiio), a happy-go-lucky kid, smiling and open and living on the reservation. She’s just been accepted into a prestigious academy in Montreal. Returning home from a visit to the school, Beans, her mother and sister are threatened as battling First Nations and white crowds surround them. Tensions are palpable, and violence is open and fierce, as the military comes in. The family finally gets through and goes to get groceries, but are told the store, their only store no longer serves Indians. They’re attacked by racist thugs and all of it comes as a horrendous shock to Beans and marks the end of her innocence. She acts out with friends, as her mother asks her to show respect but can’t answer why they and their community aren’t being respected. It’s profoundly sad but reminds us of the political, law enforcement, racist and social stain on Canadian history and bridges to the present catastrophe of thousands of unmarked indigenous graves at residential schools in Canada and the legacy of pain settlers left. Kiawentiio is a gem and Deer’s beautifully, lovingly made and dignified film has won hearts and high praise all year on the film festival circuit.
Ava DuVernay’s Peabody Award-winning arts and social impact collective ARRAY releases a powerful film called Cousins from New Zealand about indigenousMāoriscoping with the effects of their residential school system. As in Canada and the US churches, English settlers had a church policy of stealing indigenous children from their parents, “for their own good” to anglicise them. They were schooled as English, made to speak only English, to look and dress English or face physical and mental abuse by nuns and teachers. Cousins Mata, Missy andMakareta, played as adults by Briar Grace-Smith, (who also directs alongside Ainsley Gardiner), Rachel House and Chelsie Preston Crayford have experienced three different outcomes following their years at school; homeless Mata struggles with life, while sensible and loving Missy becomes a guardian of the land and the family lynchpin, while Makareta runs away from an arranged marriage to become a lawyer. The opening sequence shows the cousins in their natural state, as free Māori girls speaking their language, in their native, beautiful unspoiled world. The contrast with what lies ahead is heartbreaking and a universal heartbreak for many indigenous people. Mata has been missing for decades. But one day, Makareta notices her barefoot and homeless in the city. Their journeys are vastly different, but the love and history that binds them give the film its shape and meaning. Top-notch performance brings these cousins to life with intensity and heart. There’s a dreamlike quality in certain chapters and hard edges in other, in lifelike ways as we follow their journeys. Riveting and richly rewarding. On Netflix now.
A heroic girl in Wyatt Rockefeller’s Settlers In theatres and TVOD, today continues our look at feminine strength. The film imagines what we might face if, one day in the distant future, humans find a way to live on Mars. A couple, Reza (Jonny LeeMiller) and Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) and their daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince) are the sole inhabitants of the blazing, merciless planet. They’re pioneers with pigs, chickens, vegetables, their water created and some comforts of home, including Steve, a sentient playmate robot, electronic games and a power source. It’s a hard, isolated life but apparently preferable to what they left behind on Earth, not that they have a choice anymore. One day, soldiers appear on the horizon, shooting, but Reza and Ilsa kill them. Soon after, they awake to find LEAVE written in pig’s blood on the window. Remmy’s questions about how they got there are half answered, as the tension rises. Reza’s dispatched in a violent firefight, leaving Ilsa and Remmy alone when a man calling himself Jerry appears to claim their homestead. He says he was born and raised there; they stole it and killed his parents but he will get the place on its feet and protect them. When things get tough between Ilsa and Jerry, Remmy’s told to go out and play with Steve, who is observing carefully what’s unfolding. Ilsa is being dominated, sexually and physically harmed and enslaved, and there’s nowhere for her to go. Cut to years later and Jerry and Remmy (Nell Tiger Free) are alone; she is being groomed for abuse and but again, no place to go. The setting and the family’s circumstances and history on Mars are intriguingly unexplained, as is Jerry’s backstory, but the thing that holds everything together is love. A risky and fascinating first feature from Rockefeller, that women will especially appreciate, and at a time when many eyes are on Mars.
M. Night Shyamalan’s unsettling thriller Old has its faults, including attention-sucking reverse anachronisms but if you’d like to see holidaymakers squirm, manipulated by unseen forces and lose their collective minds, here it is. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps play Guy and Prisca a couple about to separate, on a final island vacation with their children. Their young son finds a playmate in the resort manager’s lonely son who will later prove to be a lifeline. But in the here and now Rufus Sewell is a doctor, who with his brassy young wife (Abbey Lee) is in for some r and r – he’s stressed. The resort manager suggests they visit a secret, impossible-to-find beach and arranges a driver (director Shyamalan) for them and other hotel guests – a nurse, a psychiatrist, an elderly woman and children and a famous rapper (Aaron Pierre) who is bleeding and dazed and was not at the hotel. Guy and Prisca inadvertently set the tone “You are always thinking about the future”. Each is stricken with physical and mental ailments and bad luck and disturbingly, the children are ageing right before their eyes. Why? is it the geographic physical makeup of the beach, water, rocks that surround them? Is it group psychosis? In an afternoon a toddler grows and gives birth to a stillborn baby. There is much afoot, some of it clunky, a fulsome amount of stabbing and worse. Shocking, provocative, and despite all, a bit of creepy, aerated fun. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle. In theatres.
Mark Wahlberg plays anti-bullying activist Joe Bell in a film of that title, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, a story with which people are fairly familiar. Bell and his son Jarid (Reid Miller) made headlines when they hit the road, walking across the country to raise awareness and tolerance for LGBTQI2 youth. Jarid was his school’s only openly gay student and was attacked relentlessly; Joe was angry and unbelieving when Jarid came out, as they lived in a remote country town in Oregon and that just wasn’t going to go well. Eventually, Joe came around and they walked together. The bullying continued and Jarid hung himself. Joe rushed to act, determined to walk to Washington to speak on his behalf. Along the way, he’s met with intense jingoism, but also with empathy and those who would help him along the way. A farmer brings him a wagon when his is stolen, and a supply of food and water and a local sheriff (Gary Sinise) shares his story about this own son. It might have been a better film had the writing been less sentimental, which totally waters down the story’s built-in impact. Audiences can be trusted to experience a film without telegraphing. In theatres.
Holy Beasts starring Geraldine Chaplin as an elegantly hip avant-garde actor turned filmmaker, positively exudes dark seventies kitsch but is set in the here and now. A group of international filmmakers, students at UCLA in the late seventies reunite at the behest of Chaplin’s Vera/Madam. She brings them to Santa Domingo to shoot The Palace, the unfinished film of their late beloved colleague, real-life underground filmmaker Jean-Louis Jorge. They’re in their seventies and eighties, but only a handful survives; this is the last chance to complete the project they shared all those years ago. Here’s a quote on Jorge “His assistant Gabriel D. Mena said that “no one like Jean-Louis knew how to explore, present and bear witness to this kitsch substrate of the good Dominican. His soul was always very creative, wayward, passionate more for images than for words, more for black and white than for plays of light, more focused on the gesture of a Valentino than for the jumps of anyZorro”. The Palace is a gender-fluid, stylised camp, pan-sexual outing barely surviving in VHS fragments. The reshoot begins, just as Madam is getting to know the young dancer Yony (actor/actress Jackie Ludueña Koslovitch) who she believes is her long-estranged daughter’s son. There’s a rush to finish and Madam insists they do a dance sequence in a water tank as a tropical thunderstorm approaches. It’s amusing, outré an and takes many risks, and Chaplin is worth every second. Holy Beasts, from filmmakers Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas makes its North American premiere as a tribute to Chaplin’s 77th birthday on July 31st, exclusively on Film MovementPlus.
A real, royal treat it was forty years ago, July 29th the day Prince Charles and Diana Spencer married. Their relationship changed over the years, they divorced and Diana was killed tragically as the paparazzi chased her car in Paris in 1997. Theirs was a story of tremendous ups and downs, inspiring a constant media frenzy, but a happy result is Prince William and Prince Harry. The “fairytale” wedding remains a powerful memory, as 750 million TV viewers watched them exchange vows at St. Paul’s Cathedral. BritBox releases its original production The Wedding of the Century on day and date. Only British Movietone shot the ceremony, not on VHS but on 35mm film, a format that can be easily upgraded to 4K resolution. Archive specialists Touchdown restored the film footage, rendering it in stunning detail. Not only is it clear as a bell, but there are also new revelations and anecdotes from those close to the event including the chief royal florist, David Longman, musical director Barry Rose, Royal Navy head baker David Avery and royal photographer Kent Gavin who Diana chose to photograph Prince William’s christening. Create some special time for yourself and friends and family to watch and experience that historic event. Much water under the bridge since then, but this moment endures in beauty and dignity, aside from that dress.
Pioneering Australian scuba divers Valerie and Ron Taylor were enthusiastic spearfishers in the ’60s; their favourite prey was sharks. But as we learn in writer-director Sally Aitken’s Playing with Sharks that after numerous awards and showing off dead catches, they made a complete philosophical turnabout. It was wrong, they decided. They ceased and began a decades-long campaign to understand and preserve shark life. The Taylors acted as advisors on the film version of their friend and fellow scuba diver Peter Benchley’s bestseller Jaws. It was the first summer blockbuster but it had a deeply negative effect. Suddenly people were terrified of sharks due to Steven Spielberg’s inauthentic presentation of them as predators of humans, and shark hunting became a billion-dollar pastime. The Taylors upped their whistleblowing – that Jaws got it wrong and of the 400 known species of sharks, only 4 or 5 are killers. Dogs are more dangerous than sharks. Valerie, now widowed, still campaigns and has won protection successes around the world. At 86, she’s still at it and still swims and plays with sharks and still lives with regret about her early killing sprees. A fascinating ecological and moral study. On Disney+ National Geographic now.
All the Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997) is a deeply nostalgic look at the early days of New York hip hop, graffiti and skateboarding subcultures as they grew and bonded. From the outer boroughs to the white heat of Manhattan’s street scene, wonderful archival footage of some of today’s biggest stars as kids provides a being-there then experience. Manhattan was recovering from devastating bankruptcy a decade earlier, and the kids had had enough. They took to the streets, and let loose what shaped the hip hop era – anger, lawlessness, cultural revolution, and a great sense of community. Jeremy Elkin’s doc, narrated by skater/hip hop influencer Eli Morgan Gesner, examines the seeds that grew into the dominant street scene culture, and in time, straight into the mainstream. You’ll get chills looking at handheld amateur footage of basement recording sessions when Busta Rhymes, Ghostface Killah, or Big Daddy Kane drop by. Meet the Young Turks of the day – Rosario Dawson, Jefferson Pang, Clark Kent, Moby, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Tony Hawke, Kid Capri, Yuki Watanabe, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, a young Madonna, Club Mars bouncers Vin Deisel and Ben Stiller, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Puff Daddy, Russell Simmons, Method Man, Wu-Tang Clan. Filmmaker Harmonie Korine came by to make the film Kids, based on and using some of the skaters and musicians, and personalities like Chloe Sevigny and Dawson. What a blast! Money and mainstream beckoned; these days skateboarding is an Olympic sport and the kid’s merch store Supreme sold for $2B. July 23, online via Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema, Vancouver’s The Cinematheque and in-person July 30th.
Woodstock 99: Peace Love and Rage the latest documentary feature from HBO’s Music Box Series is available now, on the 22nd anniversary of the doomed peace love and music festival. It looked nothing like th3 original 1969 Woodstock festival painfully highlighting a new and troubling social reality. Gone were the gentle days of hippiedom, and their ideals of love and peace and gently sticking it to the man. The re-upped fest, in 1999 was a shitshow. Literally, symbolically and historically. The fabric of society had changed by then and kids, young men there were abundantly angry, violent and deeply misogynistic. Setting the fest in an old air force base paved to hell and back was a bad idea, as, through four live days, 350k guests and 10k staff sweltered dangerously. The blazing sun reflected off the pavement onto parched kids who couldn’t pay four dollars for a bottle of water. The worst problem at Woodstock 1994 was kids tearing the fences down, costing the promoters ticket sales. At Woodstock 99, lives were endangered, and one man died, baked and unable to find water. There were eight reported rapes and a stageside gang rape, and an estimated hundred more. The theme of the fest was “show your tits”, as young girls who didn’t know any better were pressured into it, and the men were encouraged or not discouraged by onstage acts (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock, big surprise, Limp Bizkit) took advantage. The Peace Patrol security team of amateurs simply stopped working and joined the crowds. Cell phones or landlines weren’t available and kids were lost. Moby says he could feel the dark vibe- “everyone was angry and hot six hours in”. The toilets overflowed on the first day and that chunky water flooding the site ankle deep over four days wasn’t rain. This is only halfway, but I’ve had enough, I watched but don’t want to think about it anymore. On Crave.
Jolt on Amazon Prime today is one of those films you wonder why? What is Kate Beckinsale doing in a downmarket portrait of a violent, unimprisoned psychopath in a not especially well-told exploitation flick? Maybe it was good on paper lifted with wishful thinking but here we have Lindy, an unlikeable loose cannon doing despicable things but because she is a beautiful woman, and she had a rough upbringing, she’s off the hook. A mediocre vehicle for her, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale and the UK’s veteran wonder David Bradley, granted, but not so Laverne Cox who wrings every ounce out of her gritty, witty detective who wants nothing more than to righteously slam Lindy in a cell so she doesn’t murder someone because they raised an eyebrow at her. So, what’s Lindy’s problem? Impulse control issues usually result in maiming or killing, and yet she walks the streets, her only treatment being an electrode-lined vest to shock herself down. She falls for a nice guy, the best guy she’s met and she’s suddenly overflowing with feelings of love and not so much mayhem. He’sgoing to make halibut for her tonight, awww. There’s a murder, drug cartel plot but the real meat is in Lindy’s ups and downs. and then she discovers Mr. Nice is not. Look out world. It ends with the suggestion of a franchise, but they need to think that through.
Tig Notaro Drawn, HBO‘s uniquely original standup comedy special – completely animated – breaks new ground. Various artists contribute their talents to chapters of the comedienne’s one-nighter. The animation styles are varied and strong, and Notaro’s appearance is ever-changing – not so her instantly recognisable voice. I’d know that laid-back delivery anywhere; its monotonal nature, to me so Valley Girl, adds to the humour quotient, because in and of itself, it’s funny, virtually expressionless as she fires off one comic story after another. And she clearly has no use for strong voices giving an audience member what-for, for “trying out a new laugh” at her concert, a real horse laugh. That’s funny. Not so much the never-ending Kool-Aid Man bit but that’s just me. Fun stuff on a long road trip and stopover at Aunt Myrtle’s where she’s exhausted and fed to death but must take Myrtle to emergency. Notaro confesses she pees a lot, not necessarily in the proper receptacle, she loves the late Eddie Van Halen, Dolly Parton, and Ellen DeGeneres, the stories are underwhelming overall but her delivery, so lazy and tonal, works. The animations of Notaro run the gamut from Pixar hyper to impressionism, angularity, heaviness, and Claymation.
imagineNATIVE in partnership with the City of Toronto and DriveInTO presents Darlene Naponse’s powerful, award-winning drama Falls Around Her at Ontario Place, for free!
It’s a great chance to see our revered Canadian actor Tantoo Cardinal shine in this exceptionally challenging part. She plays a world-renowned singer-songwriter heading home to her northern reservation for a breather. She wants to be alone, to drink in nature and heal from heavy touring. But she’s met with no peace, everyone wants a part of her and a stalker’s lurking around her cabin. The film screens Tuesday night at 9:30, gates open at 8:00. Drive-in spots are first come first served, ticket-holders arrive by 9:15 and remaining spots will open up to the rush line. Free of charge! An opportunity not to be missed! Here is my 2019 TIFF interview with Cardinal on Falls Around Her: