For a slice of pure Canadiana, is there a better director suited for the job than Bruce McDonald? Since the late 80s, the Kingston-born filmmaker has been giving us films like Highway 61, Dance Me Outside and Hardcore Logo – one of the greatest fictional band films ever – also giving us a sort of Broken Social Scene concert film with This Movie Is Broken and a sort of zombie film with Pontypool. For this year’s entry into the Vancouver Film Festival, he dials it back a bit with a little 1970s road trip teen film, Weirdos. The film follows teenaged Kit, and his girlfriend Alice, as they travel across Nova Scotia from his frazzled father’s house to his flighty, artistic mother’s house, making some life changing revelations along the way.
The second film this festival that I’ve seen Julia Sarah Stone in, Weirdos works for the most part, especially when I feel it’s being sincere. I felt there were some emotional beats within the narrative that felt too underlined with emphasis to take completely seriously and came off a little corny. The acting is a bit subdued and flat in the film but I feel it’s for a reason because as soon as Molly Parker shows up as Kit’s hippie manic mother the contrast is massively palpable. Parker is incredible in her small scenes and, besides the chemistry between Stone and Dylan Authors who plays Kit, she is worth the watch of this film alone. The sweeping 1976 attitude of Bruce McDonald’s film is also very endearing and it’s nice to see Allan Hawco outside of his Republic Of Doyle role. There’s more to this I enjoyed but I’m steering clear of the spoiler area. 3.5/5
Kate Plays Christine (USA)
I think I was lulled into a false sense of knowledge that when the Vancouver International Film Festival ended my run of intricate films had ended, as I only had a handful of screeners left to watch and, wow, was I ever wrong. Kate Plays Christine is a doozy of a film, partially documentary with a driving dramatic story behind it, The film follows You’re Next actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play real-life news anchor Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide on live television across America in 1974. As Kate interviews others in Chubbuck’s life and reads diaries and descriptions of her, the job starts to become harder to do as the weight of the situation becomes heavier on her shoulders.
The complexity of this film is absolutely immense and Kate Lyn Sheil and director and writer Robert Greene play it with incredible authenticity. A film with three separate angles, Kate Plays Christine might be the most original film of the festival. On one side you have a written fact narrative of Kate trying to get into the skin of Christine Chubbuck, revealing the psyche of a person we can only get to know on paper. This also leads to a more dramatized story of the effect this has on Kate as well and the third facet of her interviewing the people in town and those who knew and worked with Christine. This film explores things that regular films are too scared to tackle and does it with a thought provoking finesse. To think that we never heard about this forty years ago and now this is the first of two films made about it is absolutely baffling. 5/5
Being that this is the Vancouver International Film Festival, we are presented with a lot of Canadian content. Given that the festival is also sponsored by Telefilm, some of these films can be a fresh new discovery or a complete waste of your precious time. While I’ve seen the bottom of the barrel, some films come along and sneak up on you, like writer and director Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf. It’s the story of a couple, Blaise and Vanessa, who are both former addicts now on the path of getting sober, in the midst of their methadone treatments. The issue is that they’re both on the dirt poor side of society, wheeling around an old lawnmower house to house, trying to make enough money to leave town. While Vanessa tries to keep any sort of optimism of her situation in her own quiet and subdued way, Blaise has a chip on his shoulder and his constant downtrodden anger may go against any sort of recovery he may be seeking.
This movie is a very interesting companion piece to Ken Loach’s Palm d’Or winning film, I, Daniel Blake, a film about the system put in place to help you ironically being the thing that may kill you. Werewolf starts with a scene in which Blaise is being psychiatrically questioned about his addicting and recovery and gives some alarming answers that should have caused the interviewer to bring some help in but doesn’t. Later, when Vanessa is inquiring about their methadone bill so that they can possibly leave town to recuperate somewhere else, they find themselves trapped by their need to get well, just as much as they were when they were on drugs. It’s a painful reality that McKenzie doesn’t shy away from for a second, perching you on their backs as a voyeur, like the proverbial monkey. A truly great debut film. 4/5
Sometimes a political message embedded in a narrative film can be the first nail in a movie’s coffin, especially if it wears it on its sleeve. Ryon Baxter’s film Green/Is/Gold manages to do this with extreme subtlety and keeps everything intact for you to enjoy it as a story. The film stars Ryon’s younger brother Jimmy as Mason, a quiet middle school aged gamer with a penchant for smoking regular bowls of cannabis and playing video games. Things get turned upside down when his father is arrested, causing him to move in with his estranged older brother, Cameron, played by the writer and director himself. Jimmy finds himself in the middle of a whole new situation as Cameron, a high school drop out, makes his lucrative living growing and selling large amounts of cannabis. The two bond with each other as Jimmy starts to help with Cameron’s new crop.
Green/Is/Gold operates and engages as a studious character drama. Mason is withdrawn and completely complex, the result of living with a gruff, racist dirtbag of a father, one that pushed Cameron away years ago. Mason is angry and isolated but the bond of creating something with his brother starts to bring him out of that shell. Cameron, on the other hand, is at a loss sometimes in how to deal with Mason. Only used to growing and all that entails, he is unsure of how to nurture Mason so he grows correctly. The film is an interesting blend of two strangers trying to figure each other out and, without huge story events to throw contrived situations in, comes across as very real and, for lack of a better term, down to earth. Oh, and all the cannabis facts given within about legalization and taxing? Completely true. 4.5/5
It’s crazy that I’ve come to my fifty-fifth movie of the Vancouver International Film Festival and it’s the first French Canadian film I’ve checked out. The hope is that it will erase the memory of Quebecs most prized possession, Xavier Dolan’s new film It’s Only The End Of The World (a stinker for which you can find my review on Instagram). The film I chose to break my Quebec content barrier was Split, or Ecartee, a cringe-filled first person footage style drama. It’s about a couple named Scott and Jessie, filmed as part of a project for social worker Anick. Moving into their small out of town home for a few days, Anick is looking to make a video documentary about the rehabilitation process of Scott, as he is an ex-convict. The attention starts to turn from the subject to his girlfriend, Jessie, who spends her days at home, getting stoned and collecting dolphin figurines. Anick, a lesbian, starts to fall for Jessie and extends her stay at the house, against Scott’s protesting, and tensions start to grow.
Very much at its core, and like I said at the start, Split is incredibly cringe-inducing and leaves you feeling uncomfortable very early into its eighty-minute runtime. It’s really unclear, until the final five minutes, who we should really be rooting for here, if anyone. Scott feels like a person that has been dulled ambitiously by the prison system. His glimmer of hope is Jessie, a beautiful but vapid woman, but she is being ground down in her cannabis stupor, almost being imprisoned by Scott in his country shack isolation. Anick starts to explore this in her film but goes against what documentary filmmaking by choosing to put herself in the middle and trying to change the outcome. The film is compelling with its manipulation through privacy invasion but will be hard for regular viewers to get over the hurdle of awkward uncomfortable filmmaking. I enjoyed it for the most part. 3/5