Canadian Films

Reviews by Lois Siegel


Canadian Film Institute
Ottawa, Canada


CANFILM

 


The National Film Board of Canada (NFB)


Cannes Festival
May 17 to 28, 2006

The Cannes Festival will be the site of the NFB’s official launch for the Norman McLaren Year
 a special celebration as part of the 65th anniversary of animation film at the NFB.


Northern Stars
Canadians in the Movies


Telefilm Canada

Animation

 

Glasses, by Brian Duchscherer, 22 minutes, 2001.

   Milo is a little boy who sees the world differently from other children. The films has charming characters and terrific special effects. "Glasses" premiered at The Montreal World Film Festival.


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Brian Duchscherer, 1997

Farzin Farzaneh
Lachrymosefilms

Montreal, Canada





Drat!
Is it a rat?
Is it a bat?
Is it a cat?
Drat!

Drat is a gothic tale of a woman living alone in a country house.
Her solitary routine is disrupted when she suspects
that some kind of animal is trying to invade her home.
Her suspicion turns into obsession as she tries in vain
to keep the creature out.


11 minutes, 2010, Canada

Farzin Farzaneh is an Iranian-born artist living and working in Montreal.

Technique
The images were created directly under the camera
and photographed on the animation stand.
 This technique is similar to painting-on-glass and sand animation.
 Farzin would erase and draw over the parts of the images
that he wanted to modify in the next frame.
Farzin used graphite and colour pencils on velum.

Winner
Best Animation
Queens World Film Festival
NYC
2011

 
The Hungry Squid by John Weldon, 14 minutes, 2002.

"The Hungry Squid," John Weldon's  tale about a little girl who is left alone to fend for herself, is full of great characters, strong colors and wonderful Celtic-sounding music composed by Chris Crilly. It's a very imaginative film using floppy puppets made by Lilian Kruip.

The puppets are filmed flat on their backs. "I'm a drawing animator, so they didn't need to stand up.  We used the lightest fabrics we could get," Weldon explains. The puppets were filled with aquarium grains, which make them feel like a light beanbag.  Most of the puppets have skeletons in them for support.  The right materials had to be designed to make them flexible.

 

Images were recorded directly into the computer and matted together with other materials, and the backgrounds were mostly photographs. The ocean was Lake St. Louis in Pointe Claire, Quebec. Weldon used Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Premiere for editing; it took him a year to do the animation.  "The Hungry Squid" premiered at The Montreal World Film Festival.

star Genie Award for Best Animated Short, The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, 2003


©Photo by Lois Siegel
John Weldon, 1997


Madame Tutli-Putli, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, 2007, 17 minutes

A fantastic voyage by train at night…an hallucination with an outstanding use of light, color, and startling sound effects; precise detail and intricate design. The stop-motion animation took more than five years to complete. Portrait artist Jason Walker created the technique of adding composited human eyes to the stop-motion puppets. Not a children’s film.

 

Academy Award Nomination Short Film Animated, 2008

  My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts by Torill Kove, 10 minutes, 1999.

“My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts” is based on a story told to Kove by her grandmother and is a co-production with Studio Magica in Norway where Kove was born.  “My grandmother was a bragger, and I later found out that not all the stories she told were true,” Kove explains. She once told me that my father was the first guy in Norway to own his own car.  I was only four or five and never questioned what she said.  Then I found out this wasn’t true. Maybe he was the first man on the block to own a car.”

Ironing is the focus of Kove’s film. “My grandmother lived with us, and everything had to be ironed, including our underwear.”  Norway was part of Sweden and before that part of Denmark. As the film opens, it’s 1905, and an independent Norway wants to have its own king, but they can’t find the rightful heir.  Unemployed royals apply.  “Grandmother” is full of humor as a new king, Prince Karl of Denmark, is elected.  He can’t ski, like most Danes, his wife can’t speak Norwegian, and neither of them can iron shirts. As well, there are no servants in Norway…so they are doomed.  We see an image of them in their un-ironed shirts greeting the public.

A solution has to be found.  The local, respectable clothing store solves the problem.   Then Kove’s grandmother, an employee of the store, discovers that she is ironing the King’s shirts, and she tells everyone.

 

When enemy soldiers invade the country, grandma becomes a hero. She leads the resistance with a nation-wide mobilization of shirt-ironers who, in many creative ways, sabotage the enemy’s shirts.

The technique used in the film is cel…and the cel painter, Anne Ashton, came to Norway for two weeks to walk around and do a color study before choosing the colors for the film. Specific details were added to the film. If you look closely, you will see that all the German soldiers look like Hitler.

Kove also had help with scriptwriting from her former Concordia University teacher, Stefan Anastasiu.

Sea and Stars by Anna Tchernakova and Georgine Strathy, 11 minutes, 2002.
Color against a black and white background makes this film outstanding.

  When the Day Breaks  by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, 9 minutes. 1999.

“When the Day Breaks” won the Palme d’Or for Best Short at the 1999 Cannes Film festival. It also took two prizes at the Annecy International Film Festival.
On a Roll: NFB Film Wins at Cannes

      
       ©Photo by Lois Siegel, 1997
     

Documentary


                           Mitch St. Pierre

Await The Freight, Directed by Mitch St. Pierre.

Intermode Media
CBC
Current TV (United States)

Produced by Intermode Media with the help of Story Editor Sue Stranks,
Director at the Canadian Film Television Production Association

Two daring travelers embark on the journey of a lifetime.

 
Mitch and Skot

Along the way they encounter countless difficulties and obstacles
 that come rolling with the wheelchair and living life off the beaten track.
Come along for the ride and see how they meet adversity and beat overwhelming odds.
Mitch, who has been diagnosed with a brittle bone disorder
sets out on this dangerous expedition in a wheelchair.



He faces unbelievable barriers when attempting freight train hops in the constraints of his chair. Accompanied by his best friend Skot the two document their story as they face the unknown in "Await the Freight."


The Boxing Girls of Kabul, Directed by Ariel Nasr, 52 minutes, 2011

Girls wearing boxing gloves is not a usual sight in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The Taliban are opposed to sports. The situation in Kabul is calm during the filming, but that can change.  If the current government loses control, there will be trouble.

We follow three young girls who love the challenge of competition. It helps them to forget their problems.   They want to be professional boxers. Their coach, Sabir Sharifi
, is an ex-boxer whose dream to compete in the  1984 Los Angeles Olympics was crushed when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. History is a harsh reminder.

Only a few years before, these same girls weren't allowed to leave their home or go to school.
Now they train in the National Stadium, where girls were once stoned by the Taliban. They don't have money for equipment, but they find ways around this.
Their instructor says, "Keep your body tight.... Breathe like you were blowing into a bottle." We see the girls hopping on one foot, moving up stairs.  They don't need fancy equipment.

For now, they are allowed to go out of the country to compete. Their first match was in Vietnam. One of the girls says, “It was the first time I had seen a ring, and there I was climbing into it.”

They also travel to Kazakhstan and China. It's an exciting time for them - exposure to other worlds.  Despite financial problems and threats, their father supports them - and they persevere.

Available through The National Film Board of Canada

Trailer
Interview with Ariel Nasr


David Peregrine

Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet - 40 Years of One Night Stands, Directed by Jeff McKay, 72 minutes, 2009

This film documents the legendary rise of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company - the first Canadian company to be granted a ‘Royal’ title. This was no small feat, especially given the remoteness of the city, both geographically and culturally. Winnipeg was surrounded by farmland. Eminent dance critic Clive Barnes called The Royal Winnipeg Ballet ‘prairie freshness.’

The story is an inspired look at The Royal Winnipeg Ballet provided by Winnipeg director Jeff McKay(Edgeland Films), and, surprisingly, one does not lose interest as the story progresses.  The statistics and historical facts, interspersed with striking dance images, keep the viewer riveted to the screen.

One Night Stands
by Reuben Tom Kee



"Chairman George," directed by Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin, 68 minutes, 2005

Introducing George Sapounidis, Greek/Canadian folk singer, who at 40 still lives with his parents. He has issues, but he also has a wonderful "joie de vivre."  And he doesn't give up easily when he wants to do something. In real life, he works as a statistician. He travels to Beijing to play bouzouki and guitar. And the girls flock around him as he bills himself: “the only Greek in the world who can sing in Chinese." The young ladies all find him charming.


His dream is to sing at the closing ceremonies at the Athens Olympics as
the Olympic torch is passed from Athens to Beijing, but his mother wants him to get married to a good Greek girl and make babies.


Chinese Restaurants, Cheuk Kwan, 13-part documentary series for television, 2005


©Photo by Lois Siegel


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Cheuk Kwan


Claude Jutra: An Unfinished Story, directed by Paule Baillargeon, 82 minutes, 2002

If you think you know Claude Jutra, you will discover after viewing this film that you knew very little about him, and his life remains a mystery even to those close to him.  Wonderful archival footage and photographs of Jutra's past, excellent interviews with his friends, especially with Saul Rubinek and Michel Brault.


©Photo by Lois Siegel, 1979

The Corporation  by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan (and about 200 other dedicated and talented friends and professionals), 145 minutes, 2003

The pathological nature of the corporation is explored in this film which zooms in on the greed of corporations to make a profit. Although the law regards the corporation as a 'person,' there is nothing ethical about the organization. There seems to be no concern for people or the environment.
Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan

Sundance Film Festival: Documentary Audience Award World Cinema; Vancouver International Film Festival: Most Popular Canadian Film.


Holiday Greeting from Dubai, 2004


Mike Disfarmer

Photos

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America
Trailer 2:30 minutes
by Dennis Mohr

In the small mountain town of Heber Springs, the Arkansas portrait photographer known as Mike Disfarmer captured the lives and emotions of the people of rural America during the two World Wars and the Great Depression. This documentary discovers an American master, his influence on the modern Manhattan art world, and the legacy he left behind in his hometown of Heber Springs.

“Disfarmer” is a documentary exploring the two insular communities of Heber Springs, Arkansas and the Modern Manhattan art world, and the long-dead misanthrope who has unwittingly brought the two together.

Richard Avedon referred to Disfarmer’s photography as “indispensable”; his own series of rural portraits, In the American West, published a decade later, reveals a kinship with - and likely the influence of - Disfarmer's unblinking eye.
- The New York Times

The documentary film is in production.

Dennis Mohr, Producer
Gizmo Films Incorporated (o/a Public Pictures)
220 Kenilworth Ave. • Toronto, Ontario • Canada M4L 3S4
c: 416-573-0265 • e: dmohr67@yahoo.com


Margaret & Evergon, Directed by Don Winker, 45 minutes, 2011

In 1999, the celebrated Montreal photographer Evergon took a remarkable series of nude portraits of his own mother, then 80-years-old: black and white images that embodied not the infirmities of old age, but a timeless strength, dignity, even majesty. Some ten years later filmmaker Donald Winkler embarked on a project that explored what lay behind that series of photographs, uncovering in the process a poignant family history, a woman's determination to be her own person, and a unique and inspiring relationship between mother and son.

Review Montreal Mirror by Matthew Hays

Interview with Don Winkler

Trailer


Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra
Directed by Barbara Willis Sweete, 72 minutes, 2005 (TV)
Produced by Rhombus Media

Rhombus Media is known for their films on the arts, especially music ("The Red Violin," "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," "Making Overtures"). "Five Days" follows the Toronto Symphony Orchestra during the first days of its new season (2004) with their new conductor Maestro Peter Oundjian.

Oundjian was first violinist with The Tokyo String Quartet until he
switched to conducting after he started having problems with a repetitive stress injury and had to stop performing.

What is interesting about the film is that musical footage is intercut with behind-the-scenes activities of the orchestra members and the administrators. We see a double-bass player expertly playing a lovely solo passage, then the screen is split in two, and we see this same musician, backstage, competing in some kind of finger hockey game with another member of the orchestra.

Oundjian's schedule is mind-boggling. He rushes around from a television to radio interviews, to orchestra rehearsals.  His energy is impressive. And the intricacies of such a hugh, complex organization, such as The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, are reveling as to the amount of work it takes to make this group succeed.

Cellist Yo Yo Mah, Soprano Renée Fleming, and Pianist Emanuel Ax  are featured artists in the film.
They all reveal an authentic passion for music.


Yo-Yo Ma

Gambling Boys
Directed by
Laura Turek, 45 minutes, Canada, 2010
CBC News Network "The Passionate Eye"

"Gambling Boys," a documentary produced by EyeSteelFilm, delves in to the world of teen gambling, a world that offers excitement, the potent allure of making big money, and as many are discovering,
the potential for serious addiction problems. 

With the barrage of marketing campaigns, television coverage of poker tournaments, and easy access to online gaming, it is no surprise that teens are increasingly affected. Experts are finding that the rate of problem gamblers among young people is two to four times higher than for adults. 



Photo by Lois Siegel

Gambling Boys features three youths ranging in age from 14 to 20 years old. These teens share their experiences with the thrill of gambling and the tragic consequences when the betting gets out of control.

Gambling Boys, offers a poignant and lively picture of teens’ fascination with gambling and the harsh consequences of getting hooked.

The film was produced by Sally Bochner and Tamara Lynch,  
and executive producers Mila Aung Thwin and Daniel Cross. 

Lois Siegel: Still Photography and Research

Gambling Boys: View Film

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

 

Photo by Peter Bregg
Copyright: 2009 White Pine Pictures Inc.

Directed by Michèle Hozer & Peter Raymont

Review by Lois Siegel

If you are interested in classical music, musicians, piano, or human nature, this documentary film is a must see. It’s excellent. There have been other films about eccentric pianist Glenn Gould, specifically “On the Record” and “Off the Record,” (National Film Board of Canada, 1959) and “Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould” (1993) - a series of vignettes about his life.  “Genius Within” is the most comprehensive film study to date. It follows Gould’s development as pianist from his early years until the day of his death in 1982 at the age of 50. 

Gould was only 22 when he made his American debut at Town Hall, New York City (1955). The following day, he was offered an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Records. His recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations received immediate critical acclaim. The rest is history.

And what an interesting character Gould was.  Draped in a long coat, scarf, and gloves in the middle of summer, he had his own way of dealing with the world.  He refused to shake hands with anyone, fearing injury.  As well, Gould was a nocturnal being, often rehearsing with others late at night.  He used a special rug and chair for recordings and performances. The chair looked like it had fallen off the back of a truck, and it had a tendency to squeak while he was playing.  Trying to eliminate these sounds from recordings, as well as Gould’s habit of singing while he was playing, drove Columbia recording technicans nuts.


Photo Courtesy of Sony
Glenn Gould

Eventually Gould refused to play concerts, preferring to edit his recordings meticulously instead. He was obsessed with having absolute control over every aspect of his work.

The film’s structure is masterful. The extensive research undertaken for over two years to create this production is impressive. Information about Gould is smoothly interwoven with stock footage from previous films about him, interviews with people with whom he worked, music critics, and former lovers - all providing a new insight into the private world of Glenn Gould.

The interesting aspect of the film are the personal interviews with people who knew him but had never spoken publically about their relationship with him.  Cornelia Foss, the wife of German born, American composer/conductor Lucas Foss, left her husband and took their two young children to live in Toronto.  The news about her four and a half year affair with Gould only broke two years ago.

Gould seemed to be happiest when he was playing the piano. Other aspects of his life were not so comforting. His hypochondriac and paranoid tendencies became more acute later in life - his dependence on pills more intense.  The positive and the dark side of genius is explored in the “Genius Within.”

  Haunts of the Black Masseur:  The Swimmer as Hero , Directed by Jeff McKay, 53 minutes, 2004

This is a fascinating documentary about water and the swimmers that are obsessed with entering water in all its forms. The film was inspired by Charles Sprawson's book of the same name (Pantheon, 1993).

  These swimmers go where other swimmers have never dared to go, they swim across vast expanses of seemingly thick, black masses of darkness. They conquer their fears. The culture of swimming is the focus of the film, and we wonder why these swimmers do what they do.


 Lynne Cox

Lois:  What makes these swimmers challenge themselves in the water like this?
Jeff McKay: It's very weird – as a prairie boy I am ‘auto-freaked’ by the sea.  I just immediately think of myself as the lunch buffet special as soon as I dive into water that is any distance off shore.  The sea is so alive!   Dolphins, fish, jellyfish, all kinds of stuff – plants, animals, fish, decay, blood, sperm, eggs. It’s like a global hot and sour soup that has everything in it and does everything -  inches apart; it creates life and brings death.  So it is exciting, I think, because of that vulnerability.  And because of that,  when you swim naked in this vulnerable way it is so arousing because you are so aware of everything that you feel – as the water glides over you. So I think this has a lot to do with it.


  Charles Sprawson

In fact there is a clip from the show at the beginning when Charles Sprawson says something like this.  I found that rivers freaked a lot of people out, but I like swimming in rivers, except city rivers because they are usually so skanky.  But that didn’t stop Charles from swimming in the Tiber. I really, really tried to stop him from swimming in it. But the more I told him he shouldn’t the more convinced he was that he should. While we were shooting him after he got into the Tiber, several mambo-sized, well-stretched condoms floated just past his head. We all screamed out ...'watch out Charles,' but I don’t think he even saw them.  Two years before when we were in Rome shooting the sewage film, Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes,  I got to know exactly how completely polluted the Tiber is and how it is really an open sewer - pretty to look at from a distance but that is about it. Charles seems to get a thrill out of these physical dangers in the water, whether it’s a shark or a French tickler.


Charles Sprawson

Lois:

I was amazed by the story about David Yudovin who suffered a cardiac arrest while swimming - and how angry he was because he had not completed his swim.  

Jeff:

He is so into these swims. He will do anything. I really get the sense that for him, to die swimming would be a great way to go because he loves it so much. This would be perfect for him. His entire life revolves around the sea.


Jeff McKay on the set of
Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes

I've Never Had Sex, Directed by Robert Kennedy, 3 minutes, 2007

Humorous documentary with man-on-the-street interviews about people's sex lives.

 

 


 

 


 

 

                                                                                                                       Director Robert Kennedy

View Film

Jann Takes Manhattan, Directed by Michael McNamara, 60 minutes, 2004

Featuring singer/comedian Jann Arden in New York City as she performs at the legendary  Studio 54 and explores NYC. The film works because of her humor and the excellent camera work of John Tran, director of photography and editing by Daith Connaughton.
Just Another Missing Kid, Directed by John Zaritsky, 90 min., 1981, Canada



His major honors include an Academy Award® in 1982 for his documentary “Just Another Missing Kid. ”The story of a rich and powerful Ottawa family trying to find their teenage son who had gone missing while on his way to summer school.  But everywhere they went, police refused to help and finally a private detective was hired to track down the two killers of the teenage boy. First broadcast on the CBC’s Fifth Estate, April, 1981.


Watch Online: http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/missingkid/



Last Train Home, 85 minutes, 2009, Canada/China/UK
Directed by Lixin Fan

The Chinese New Year is approaching. Every year, thousands of Chinese are crammed together trying to buy tickets in train stations across China, hoping to go home.  They return to their families to celebrate the New Year. This human migration is of gigantic proportions – the largest anywhere in the world.  If you are at all claustrophobic and don’t like crowds, “Last Train Home” will challenge you.


“Last Train Home” is a fascinating portrait of China, contrasting life in the city with the country.  Thousands of Chinese leave their small villages to earn more money in the city.  They are hired to work in factory sweatshops, toiling long hours, often on night shifts, and they are housed in close quarters. Their entire lives revolve around grueling work.  They make jeans with large waistlines, 40 inches, for foreigners. “Americans are fat,” they explain.

These factory workers leave their children at home to be cared for by grandparents.  “Last Train Home” follows one family: two parents, one grandmother and two children. The parents rarely see their children. They want to make money so that their kids will be able to have a good education and a better life.

Their 15-year-old daughter says, “The country’s a sad place.” She wants the excitement of the city and leaves for a city job.  City life is enticing for young people.


           Tony Koulakis

Man of Grease, directed by Ezra Soiferman, 50 minutes, 2000

Tony Koulakis, 67, chef and owner of Montreal’s legendary eleven-stool greasy-spoon, Cosmos, has been serving up his famous cholesterol-loaded all-day breakfasts since the late 1960s, without taking a single serious vacation. One year before retiring, Tony places his beloved Cosmos in the trust of his three children, and flies - for the first time in nearly three decades - back to his homeland of Greece.



Ezra and Tony

Tony is affectionately known as “The God of the Potatoes”. The film examines the culture of his restaurant through interviews with the legions of his many devoted, outspoken customers.


 
©Photo by Manuel Avila
Cosmos Snack Bar

Screened on six Canadian TV networks, eight film festivals, and nominated for a Quebec Jutra Award for Best Documentary, 2000.

Contact:  Ezra Soiferman

Prom Night in Mississippi
Directed by Paul Saltzman

Review by Lois Siegel



May 17, 1954: The Supreme Court announces that the system of
segregated public schools in the United States is unconstitutional.

1970: Mississippi public schools are integrated.

1997: Actor Morgan Freeman offers to pay for an
integrated senior prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi.
Black and white students have separate proms. His offer is declined.

2008:  Morgan Freeman repeats his offer. The school board accepts.
Charleston plans its first integrated prom.


I couldn’t believe that a high school would still have separate proms.
I thought this type of segregation was over long ago.

The documentary film “Prom Night in Mississippi” reveals another world
- that of a small town mentality obsessed with hatred. 
The problem doesn’t seem to be with the students.
It’s the older generation who have not let go of their racist beliefs. 
But there is hope for change. The younger generation is moving away from old attitudes.
They are receptive to change and social interaction.

Charleston, Mississippi: population 2,100.  Location: East Tallahatchie County.
Current statistics: the 46th lowest income in America.

The film: Director Paul Saltzman immerses us in the life of teenagers
in a tiny Mississippi community. We meet some of the senior high school students
through a home movie cam. They tell us their opinions. 
The grown-ups use the excuse of ‘safety’ to support segregation. 
Some parents still insist that their kids go to a separate, white prom.




“Prom Night in Mississippi” is filled with humor, humanity, and emotion…
the high school kids talk about the restrictions placed upon them by their parents. 
They also talk about their boyfriends, girlfriends, and buddies at school both black and white.
A white girl talks about her black boyfriend. We see them together,
happily enjoying each other’s company. Their relationship seems natural.

The only white basketball player on the school team is nicknamed “White Chocolate.”  

here is talk of discrimination regarding a black student
who tells us she was supposed to be Valedictorian of her high school class.
Someone else was chosen, although her marks were higher.  This isn’t fair.
She knows it. She’s frustrated because she can’t do anything about it.

We see the preparations for the prom: Black girls trying on prom dresses -
White girls showing off their dresses. A white, slick limo snakes its way into a poor,
black neighborhood where well-dressed students exit from well-worn trailers
or shanty houses with crumbling exteriors and couches on the front porch.  
The context is almost startling – a moment of relief from the walls of poverty.

There is a white prom held days before the integrated prom. 
A fight breaks out, but there is no fighting during the integrated prom.
So much for safety concerns when mixing black and white kids. 

The integrated prom is a real delight with a live band and terrific music,
rap singing, and line dancing as the entire senior class jives on the dance floor.

A humbling, emotional moment comes when Glen, the father of Heather who is dating a black boy,
tells us he’s racist because his granddaddy and daddy were, and they taught him,
but he says that whatever his daughter decides to do, he’ll back her. There's hope. Attitudes do change.

Prom Night in Mississippi has been sold to HBO, Super Channel and Global.


The Recipe Diaries, directed by Jacques Menard, 47 minutes, 2005
Documentary for Television


Rice and Lentil Crepe
 Native to Sri Lanka and South India


How Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid simultaneously raise a family, travel around the world looking for good recipes, and put a cookbook together.


              Jeffrey in Sri Lankan Village                                                              Naomi in Ahmedabad, India

A Cultural Odyssey
By Lois Siegel

The Socalled Movie

Directed by Garry Beitel, 90 minutes, 2010, Canada
Co-Produced by
reFrame Films and  The National Film Board of Canada

He's the Jewish Cowboy of Klezmer Funk.  He's a rapper who's not into politics or religion.
And this film is about him, but it's also a celebration of creativity.

His name is Josh Dolgin, but they call him 'Socalled."  He grew up in Chelsea, Quebec,
where he played the piano, performed magic tricks, and drew cartoons
for The Ottawa Citizen's 'Teen Page." 
Chicken "Freud" Rice and "Jazz Legends of the Animal Kingdom" - Charlie Porker and Thelonious Mink.

But right now he's setting new standards for performance in Montreal.
Dolgin
is a musician who isn't afraid to experiment. 
He can take a small sampling of a Klezmer tune and turn it into something
that reflects a mixture of cultures what he calls "Kosher Funk." 
"People should get along," he says. He insists that people should
put aside their differences and celebrate them.
"I'm like the Mahatma Gandhi of hip hop," he says, "except I'm not as skinny."

The film is filled with talented people playing good melodies and harmonies.
Socalled's side-kick is singer Katie Moore.
Her voice is lovely -  reminiscent of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
Dolgin is a collaborator: He tracks down artists of all ages:
Fred Wesley, trombone; Matt Haimovitz, cello; Irving Fields, piano.
His point:  Generations can work together.

His explanation of show business: "This is it, Garry Beitel," he says to the film director...
excitement, drugs, sex, violence.
No, it's more like waiting around, being very tired, hungry,
sexual frustration."

"The Socalled Movie is entertaining in a way you wouldn't expect.
It's full of surprises. Dolgin is very upfront about his life.
He's a good show.

Take This Waltz
Directed and Written by Sarah Polley, 116 Minutes, 2011
Music: “Take This Waltz” by Leonard Cohen


 Margot (Michelle Williams) with Daniel (Luke Kirby)


Some people will never be happy with their situation in life.
To ease their pain, they dream.

Margot (Michelle Williams) lives with Lou (Seth Rogen). He works at home writing chicken cookbooks. 
She has some kind of job writing for Parks Canada.  They play stupid little games with each other,
threatening murder with dangerous weapons, but that's about it for amusement.
When they go out to eat, Lou doesn't talk. He's only into the food. Margot is bored.

She meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) while working on a story at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia.
 Then she sits in the same row as he is on the plane back to Toronto.
Then she finds out he lives across the street. And away we go......
The film is sexy. The best sex is verbal. Sitting in a cafe,
Margot asks Daniel to tell him what he would do to her. He does - in explicit detail.
If this doesn't turn you on, nothing will.


Daniel (Luke Kirby)

The film is funny.
You can't have Sarah Silverman (Margot's "Alcoholics Anonymous" sister-in-law - Geraldine) in a film
 and not laugh out loud whenever she appears. Silverman is terrific.
But so are all the actors. Damien Atkins as the Aquafit Instructor is hilarious. The casting is excellent.


Geraldine (Sarah Silverman)

The problem with extra-marital affairs is that you take all your demons with you.
Changing partners doesn't change you.  And as Geraldine says, "A happy life is not always guaranteed."
In this case, we aren't really sure what is real and what is only in Margot's head,
but the journey with her is quite outstanding and memorable. It just might hit home.
 
 Ladies, don't take your husband with you to see this film.
 Tell him to see it on his own or not....
 
 Trailer

 
 
Review by Lois Siegel


Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma, directed by Patrick Reed, 88 minutes, 2007
Produced by White Pine Pictures and The National Film Board of Canada

Dr. James Orbinski accepted the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), aka Doctors Without Borders, as their President. He was a field doctor during the Somali famine, the Rwandan genocide, among other catastrophes.  His story of helping others, beyond what most people would do,  is inspiring and clarifies the situations in underdeveloped countries.

Trailer


Up the Yangtze, directed by Yung Chang, 93 minutes, 2007, Canada
Produced by EyeSteelFilm in co-production with The National Film Board of Canada

Background:

China is changing faster than most people realize.  One of the major disruptions to Chinese life is occurring along the Yangtze River where the Three Gorges Dam resides.  The dam is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. It's not expected to become fully operational until 2011.

The potential benefits of the dam are flood control because millions of people live downstream of the structure, as well as hydroelectric power. The dam should reduce coal consumption by 31 million tons per year, cutting the emission of greenhouse gas. The downside is that 2.3 million people have to relocate, including 4 million more by the year 2020.  Residents complain of government corruption and a lack of proper assistance for relocation and there are hints that people who protested the move were beaten and had their property destroyed.

Also, the dam sits on a seismic fault.
 


Three Gorges Dam

"Up the Yangtze" introduces teenagers Cindy (Yu Shui) and Jerry (Chen Bo Yu). Cindy comes from a poor family living on the edge of the river, a family that barely survives by raising a few crops and very few farm animals. The parents can't read or write.  Their daughter must postpone her education to earn money.  Jerry is an urban only child, spoiled, and over-confident. Both Cindy and Jerry find jobs on a luxury cruiser that transports rich tourists along the Yangtze River as they view a last glimpse of the ancient version of China, a life that is rapidly disappearing.



Excellent cinematography puts us right in the picture and the boat moves through the locks into the Yangtze.  We feel as if we are there.

Two lifestyles are contrasted in the film, that of Cindy's family in the country, eking out a minimalist living and that of Jerry, enjoying the city during an evening hanging out with friends. The city has also changed.

 Now we see cars instead of bicycles and well-dressed young people toting shopping bags. 

Then we see how Cindy and Jerry progress with their new jobs on the luxury cruiser.  Their lives are also in contrast to that of the tourists.  They are workers, and the work is difficult. They have a lot to learn, whether it be how to greet the tourists:  "Welcome Aboard," as opposed to a mere "Hello;"
washing never-ending piles of dishes in the deck below;  learning not to ask for tips and not to call the Americans 'Foreign Devils."  Their instructor gives them Wal-Mart type pep talks and spews clichés like "When there's a will there's a way," and "Rome wasn't built in a day."
 

We see the tourists singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," enjoying silly rhymes by entertainers who try to teach them a few words in Chinese, and having their photos taken in elaborate Chinese costumes.
 

The film is replete with contrasts.
These images stay with us and make us consider the volatile future of China.

Fiction


Bytowne
Ottawa
 Canada



Away from Her, directed by Sarah Polley, 110 minutes, 2006, Canada
Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, and Olympia Dukakis

One of the best Canadian films ever...
And definitely one of the best love stories
Superb acting giving a sense of reality to an emotional situation

Sarah Polly confronts a difficult subject with maturity and sensitivity in this film
based on a short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro.

In the film, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie) have been married for 50 years.
We are given hints that their relationship has not always been without problems,
but they are now at a time of their lives when all is good.

But we quickly realize that something has started to go wrong. 
Fiona is showing signs of mental deterioration.
Alzheimer's is the definite suspect.
The interesting aspect of this film is that it focuses not just on the victim of the disease,
but specifically on the emotions of the husband who truly loves his wife
 and is desperately afraid of losing her. Gordon Pinsent's performance is outstanding.

May 11 - 24, 2007
Running time: 109 min. Rated Parental Guidance; Mature Theme


The Decline of the American Empire, directed by Denys Arcand, 102 minutes, 1986


Denys Arcand

Men talk about women and women talk about men.  It's clever and humorous, and you haven't seen another film like this one.  What has become of the relationships among the sexes? A quiet interlude in the country reveals all.

The film won 9 Genie Awards in 1987: Best Motion Picture, Best Achievement in Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Film Editing, and the Golden Reel Award.


April 8-14 2011

Funkytown
Directed by Daniel Roby
Written by Steve Galluccio

Down and Out in Montreal

It's not just that Montréal was disco funky in the mid to late 70s. It was also a vibrant place to be where life was changing quickly. In 1976 Montréal was awarded the Olympics and Crescent Street was blocked off every night for partying athletes and beautiful people. René Lévesque founded the Parti Quebecois and became the 23rd Premier of Quebec. and businesses started leaving for Toronto.
In 1977, the French language was declared the official language of Quebec.  And in 1979, Billboard Magazine called Montreal the second-most important market in North America for disco music, with its 50 dance clubs, including  Kébek Elektric, the Limelight, and Régines.

The film "Funkytown" centres around stories of seven people affected by the fast-moving scene in the city. Bastien Lavallée (Patrick Huard) is a central figure. Based on the true story of Alain Montpetit, we follow his downfall from radio and television fame to his destructive dependence on cocaine and a failed affair with a young wannabe starlet and a suspicious murder in NYC.

Another story depicts the flamboyantly gay Jonathan Aaronson (Paul Doucet) based on the life of Douglas Leopold, aka Coco, who threw wild debaucheries at his spacious loft on Queen Street in Old Montreal. No pun intended. A hammock was strung between beams, clothes were in open cupboards, two telephones sat side-by-side on a pillow, and the telephone never stopped ringing.  The bathroom was wall-to-wall photos, some of famous people, almost all included the occupant: Douglas Leopold.

He was an entertainment and gossip columnist, as well as a publicist, and hosted parties at Régines at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  I wrote about him in "Cinema Canada." Douglas: "I just realized I have to be in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City - all in three hours. I just keep saying 'Yes' to everyone. I raised $4000 myself this weekend by going on stage at Place Des Arts. Maybe I should raffle someone's jock strap from the Alouettes."


Photo by Lois Siegel
Douglas Leopold and The Great Antonio
Montreal World Film Festival
1985

In "Funkytown," The Starlight disco is fashioned on the former Limelight on Stanley Street. There's a special floor for "homos."  It's the era of gay-bashing....where homosexuals meet under a bridge - the designated gay pick up spot.  Sex was often traded for stardom. Music promoters who represented future stars were known to hold their auditions in hot tubs, if you get my drift. They also dubbed other singers voices over their lip-syncing favorite sex objects who couldn't sing worth a damn.

Essentially, the film is about people who mess up their lives. The characters are classics. If you have any nostalgia for Montreal in the 70s-80s, this is a film you'll want to see or if you don't really know Montreal, you'll get a taste of what it was like in the disco years.

Canada, 132 minutes,  Bilingual: In English and French with English subtitles.

Review by Lois Siegel


 
Thom Best

Ice Men, directed by Thom Best, 108 minutes, 2004.

"The Big Chill" with men.  This Canadian drama looks more like an American film because of its slickness, strong acting, and skilled cinematography. "Ice Men" is Best's feature directorial debut. He's better known as a Toronto cinematographer.

As director of photography, his work includes "Men with Brooms" (2003). He was also cinematographer for all four seasons of the North American version of the TV series "Queer as Folk," and he directed two of the episodes himself.
Martin Cummins as Vaughn

"Ice Men" focuses on the relationships of five men spending the weekend together at a cottage. Within a short period of time, their lives change.

Ian Tracey as Trevor

Budget for the film was close to $1 million.
Contact:  Rick Warden, producer
firstframefilms@ns.sympatico.ca
 

World Premiere: Montreal World Film Festival, 2004
Image et Nation Film Festival, Montreal, 2004
Atlantic Film Festival, 2004

 
Maman est chez le coiffeur (Mother is at the Hairdresser's), directed by
Léa Pool, 97 minutes,
2008, Canada

          
Léa Pool's film starts out with an idyllic scene filled with kids in the country. School is out. Summer fun lies ahead. We focus on three children: a teenage girl, her pre-teen brother and her younger brother.
Mother is a journalist; father is a doctor. But it isn't long until we sense that all is not right in the family.
 


 Photo: Pedro Ruiz
 Léa Pool


And gradually we see that everyone in the neighborhood has their problems.
It's 1966. Personal problems were not advertised as they are today. Dysfunctional families were just as prevalent though.

The film was shot in Beloeil, Québec, a small town, population 19,353, in southwestern Quebec, west of Montreal. A sense of isolation is created.

The acting is superb. Gabriel Arcand (nicknamed Mr. Fly)  is a lovable, mysterious deaf man living near a lake, selling flies for fishing.  The point-of-view is  from the perspective of the young teenage daughter, Élise, played by Marianne Fortier.



 Marianne Fortier


Outstanding is the performance of a very young Hugo St-Onge-Paquin as Benoit, a slightly backward, disturbed young child.




Hugo St-Onge-Paquin

Uncertain Identities: Montreal Main (1974)


Photo by Frank Vitale
Montreal Main

Montreal Main (1974) Retrospective
October 2005


Snow Cake, directed by Marc Evans       U.K./ Canada, 2006

This unusual film will capture your attention as it unveils the relationships between people who are thrown together as the result of an accident. The acting is excellent, and the storytelling is full of surprises. "Snow Cake" stars Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss, who won a Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. All the starring actors deserve awards.


Alan Rickman

Weaver gives a superb performance as a high-functioning autistic lady.  Rickman displays a full range of emotions of a man torn by the past and trying to confront his future.
 


Sigourney Weaver

Sigourney Weaver prepared for her role as Linda by spending time with a high-functioning autistic woman from England, Ros Blackburn. Although not a direct portrayal of Ros (who in real life cannot live independently and cannot read or write), many of Ros's mannerisms and characteristics are very apparent in Linda, as well as the passion for trampolining and things sparkly. Ros Blackburn gives public talks on what it is like to experience life as a person with autism.



Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman

"Autism is the inability to single out people as special, separate, unique entities  -  different from bits of
the furniture, different from even the family pet dog," Blackburn says.

"Snowcake was shot in 27 days in Wawa, Ontario. The writer, Angela Pell, has an autistic son.

Still Mine
Directed by Michael McGowan, 102 minutes, 2012, Canada


James Cromwell  and Geneviève Bujold

There’s something to be said about persistence. Some people know what they want and stick to it – risking all.

“Still Mine” is about getting older and facing limitations. The Morrison’s, Craig and Irene, face life changes. Irene shows signs of Alzheimer’s. Craig needs to find ways to protect her.  At times, the film is predictable regarding the process of Alzheimer’s, but it is also full of surprises, twists and turns that keep us interested.

The acting is superb; casting choices excellent.  Geneviève Bujold (Irene) gives an outstanding portrayal of a senior experiencing obstacles she doesn’t always understand or remember.  The talented James Cromwell (Craig), is inspiring as her husband, devoted to the well-being of his wife. As a solution to their new challenges, Craig decides to build a new house on his country farmland – a one-story home where his wife can be safe from second floor falls. He’s a skilled carpenter, so this seems to be a good decision.

There are the usual exchanges with adult children who are very concerned about their parents who live alone on a farm. Craig can handle that, but when he starts building without the required permits, he gets into trouble with an insensitive government bureaucrat Rick (Jonathan Potts) who reads off construction rules like an automaton. Potts skillfully plays a very dislikeable character. To fight “City Hall,” Craig hires his long-time friend/lawyer Gary (the engaging Campbell Scott, son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst).  

“Still Mine” is an emotional film, but it’s also uplifting because a determined individual with a meritorious cause is someone to celebrate.

It is important to note that the film is based on a true New Brunswick story. The real Craig Morrison built things for 70 years.
Director Michael McGowan has conscientiously told his story with care and concern.

See the film.  It’s about self-reliance and freedom, and it’s a wonderful love story.

                                                                   Trailer

                                                        Review by Lois Siegel

Unbreakable Minds, Directed by Abby Jack Neidik, 60 minutes, 2004

Randy and Brad, both in their thirties, are schizophrenic; Rob, in his early forties, suffered a major depressive disorder. "Unbreakable Minds" gives us a raw glimpse into their lives and the lives of those who live with and care for them.

Keeping It Real: Families, Community, and Mental Illness
by John Kerkhoven



Waydowntown, Directed by Gary Burns, 87 min., 2000
Young office workers stake a month's salary on a bet to see who can stay indoors the longest. Good humor, inventive scenes,  Don McKellar as Brad creates a wonderful character. Great comedy.


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