13 Jan FEATURE FILM DEBUTS AT VFF
The Victoria Film Festival is proud to support emerging filmmakers; we also like to brag that we knew about them before everyone else.
There are 13 incredible directors whose first features will be screening at the festival the year.
Against her hard-edged father’s wishes, 17-year-old Maddie (Melanie Rose Wilson) decides to leave the seclusion of homeschooling to attend high school in person. As her world expands, she starts to hear stories about her father’s past and must begin to reconcile the difference between the dad she thought she knew and her small town’s perceptions of him. Between helping raise and protect her younger sister and resolving the mysteries surrounding her family’s past, all the while facing bullying in her new school, Maddie is forced to mature and decide the path she wants to take. Director Arnold Lim expands his 2018 short film into his first feature. It’s set in the fictional Vancouver Island town of Blue Lake and uses an Island-based crew and cast. Blending a coming-of-age tale with a murder mystery, Lim makes the most of his locations and cast to put his own unique twist on these genres.
Beast Beast has the clout of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant given a fresh overhaul that encompasses social media culture and an insightful look at the allure of guns.
There are three exuberant intersecting stories. Krista (Shirley Chen) is a drama geek; Nito (Jose Angeles) is the new kid, who eventually hooks up with Krista; and Adam (Will Madden) is Krista’s neighbour, who loves guns and dreams of going viral with his gun videos. There is a sense of something about to go wrong, which is reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday. No matter how well life is going, you have an uneasy feeling that things can change in an instant.
Director Madden isn’t judgmental as he, in turn, focuses on each essentially likeable character.
The actors, primarily newcomers, are remarkably adept at conveying emotions without words, or through their body language.
Beast Beast explores the repercussions of needing so much validation, which is as valid today as it was 30 years ago.
Events Transpiring Before,During, and After a High School Basketball Game
Calgary’s Middleview Ducks high school basketball team has as much skill as their team name suggests. As they prepare to face a very superior opponent (who may be able to dunk), the boys question whether forfeiting the affair might save their fragile adolescent egos. Meanwhile, a radical theatre troupe of their peers is conjuring opportunities to stage a rebellious performance that will get the school’s attention. Over the course of a day, the teenagers at the centre of the film hilariously embody the insecurity and defiance of youth while playing hacky sack and discussing The Matrix. They are mirrored by a supporting cast of adults facing their own existential crises and wanting to be taken seriously, highlighted by Andrew Phung (Kim’s Convenience) as an assistant coach obsessed with the offensive strategy of his beloved Chicago Bulls. Capturing the zeitgeist of 1999 with an admiring nod to John Hughes’ films, Ted Stenson’s feature film debut is a comedic slam dunk.
Games People Play (Seurapeli)
Director Jenni Toivoniemi makes her feature film debut with a bittersweet comedy about a group of thirtysomething friends regressing to their teenage selves during a reunion weekend.
An old group of friends gathers at an idyllic seaside villa to celebrate a surprise birthday party for Mitzi – just like they used to do as teenagers. The weekend starts ominously when Mitzi, who is the dramatic focal point of the group, does not respond well to the surprise. Old rituals and new revelations rise to the surface making the group of friends reassess their past, their present and drink more Kossu (Finnish liquor).
Games People Play, featuring a brilliant cast ensemble including Laura Birn (also in this year’s Helen, Netflix’s The Innocents) and Christian Hillborg (Fleabag), is a delicious mix of delight and darkness resulting in a perfect heartwarming satire. If you are into strong characters and full-of-heart raw humour, you will love this film. Kippis!
Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something
It seems to be the year for documentaries that go beyond the dry retelling of someone’s life and Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something vibrates with the warmth and charm that was this remarkable singer-songwriter’s life.
Chapin’s ability to create great songs that told insightful defining stories (“Taxi,” “A Better Place to Be”) made him a household name, with “Cat’s In The Cradle” (written with his wife, Sandy) being his most memorable. Director Rick Korn traces its cultural impact from DMC to Bruce Springsteen to The Simpsons to Modern Family. The song is as relevant now as the day it was written.
Chapin is revealed to be not only a musician but also an effective advocate for ending world hunger. Co-founding WhyHunger, a global non-profit organization active to this day, Chapin performed over half of his concerts for no profit so that the box office proceeds could go to the charity. A woke man who acted rather than merely talking a good game.
It’s wonderful to have this remarkable man brought to life again.
Lauded with multiple awards at the latest Venice Film Festival, director Ana Rocha, in her beautifully crafted debut, shines light on the broken system of social services in the UK.
Listen centres around Bela and Jota, an immigrant couple living with their three children in London’s suburbs. The family faces serious turmoil when their deaf daughter Lu’s hearing aid breaks and they can’t afford to buy a new one. After a misunderstanding at the girl’s school, the British social services grow concerned for the safety of all three children and, as a result, take them away, triggering a process in the system that seems to go on forever.
Evoking films of Ken Loach (Sorry We Missed You; I, Daniel Blake), Listen is a deeply moving story of love, resilience and transforming love into action. Plus, the emotive acting of the fantastic Lucia Moniz (arguably best known for being the object of Colin Firth’s affections in Love, Actually) will provide a stirring performance.
Returning home from out west in the middle of a St. John’s winter for the wedding of their younger sister Janet (Marthe Bernard), tightly wound Gwen (Emily Bridger) and life of the party Kay (Rhiannon Morgan) are reunited with the emotional baggage they purposefully left behind. Growing up with an often absent mother, they have always taken turns caring for each other. As they stumble into adulthood, they worry that they might be doomed to repeat the past. The sisters’ performances (enhanced by the actors’ friendship in real life) shine in a script by Bridger that avoids melodrama by balancing sadness with humour and anger with love. Featuring a cast and crew of more than 50% women, this family story delights in the specifics of Newfoundland culture from kissing the cod to kitchen parties, but it’s the universal struggles that families face and the life choices we make that truly resonate in this remarkable first feature by director Ruth Lawrence.
Queen of the Andes
Between Elon Musk’s SpaceX innovations and the ill-fated 2013 Mars One initiative, the red planet continues to consume our collective imagination about life on another planet. New Brunswick filmmaker Jillian Acreman sets her feature debut in the not-too-distant future when the government has drafted exceptional young adults to participate in its experimental and highly controversial Mars colonization plan. Pilar (Bhreagh MacNeil) has been selected thanks to her groundbreaking biology research, and now she must face the task of preparing for her last few days on earth. The science fiction premise gains its gravitas from MacNeil’s breakthrough performance as a twenty-something navigating the perils of adulthood. Torn between her duty to science and personal relationships, she has kept the mission a secret from those closest to her. As the clock ticks down, she attempts to avoid the messy emotional confrontations of saying a final goodbye while looking for an escape.
Danielle is different things to many people. To her parents, she’s still their dependent as they fund her way through a gender studies degree. To Maya, she’s an ex-girlfriend from high school with unresolved feelings. In their “mutually beneficial” relationship, well-established sugar daddy Max thinks he’s helping pay her way through law school. As Danielle meanders her way into adulthood, all of these separate identities have co-existed without much difficulty. But one afternoon as she attends shiva with her parents, her worlds collide in this wonderfully dark comedy. Drawing upon her background in Toronto’s Jewish community, Emma Seligman wrote and directed her debut feature based on her award-winning short film. Authentic characters ground the film, avoiding a set-up and punchline plot. Setting the sequence of events at a sombre occasion keeps the tension simmering as Danielle anxiously navigates from one awkward encounter to another, mining the misery for maximum laughs.
The Amber Light
A perfect winter film, The Amber Light leads us deep into the mysterious world of Scotland’s national drink. In this journey through the lesser-known parts of Scottish whisky culture, we follow writer Dave Broom on his quest to gain a deeper understanding of this world-famous drink.
A genuine whisky connoisseur, Dave, a Glaswegian, traces the history of whisky production in Scotland, meeting many fascinating characters and experts along the way. The deeper Dave journeys, the clearer it becomes that whisky is an integral part of Scottish culture and identity. What we witness on screen is a distilling process, with Dave as our guide, gently revealing a creative dedication to a Scottish cultural icon with beautiful clarity and warmth.
So pour yourself a dram, snuggle up and bask for an hour or so in the warm amber glow of liquid gold.
The Capote Tapes
If you think you are already familiar with Truman Capote’s life then think again. From the very beginning when you meet Capote’s adopted daughter, you will be set back on your heels as you think to yourself, “I didn’t know that.”
While director Ebs Burnough doesn’t leave out the familiar. With access to the recently discovered and very frank George Plimpton tapes there are new insightful revelations into this complex man. The tapes focus on the ‘novel’ Answered Prayers, where after a few salacious chapters published in Esquire, brought about Capote’s downfall with the New York high-society set.
Burnough’s debut feature marks the start of what is likely to be an interesting career. He digs deep to illustrate Capote’s use of personal experiences for Other Voices, Other Rooms and Breakfast at Tiffany’s that revealed his mother’s life and lifestyle.
The Capote Tapes is a fun film that, while revealing society life decades ago, finds that Capote predicted the desire for endless gossip that is now social media.
The Metamorphosis of Birds (A Metamorfose dos Pássaros)
The Metamorphosis of Birds is a bewitching feature debut from emerging Portuguese director Catarina Vasconcelos, who explores her family stories in a poetic documentary essay.
Beautifully documented on 16 mm film, Catarina Vasconcelos journeys into the memories and dreams of her ancestors, starting with her naval officer grandfather, Henrique, gone for long, homesick periods from his children and his beloved wife, Triz. The couple wrote letters back and forth, but Henrique ordered the correspondence to be burned upon his death.
A jigsaw puzzle of metaphors, memories and bit of magical realism, The Metamorphosis of Birds is a beguiling meditation on generational love and the mourning after. It evokes the natural world with its changing seasons, ever-flowing tides and cycles of plant and animal life – that counterbalance and nurture those of human life.
Miriam’s summer visit to her younger sister and brother-in-law’s remote cabin in the woods is a predictable set-up for a slasher flick, but this is anything but a generic genre film. The seemingly bucolic vacation home becomes subsumed by the forest’s shadows and overcast skies, as an act of sexual violence leads to the breakdown of already strained relationships. Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s credits as producer, writer and co-director give her creative control over the film’s every meticulous detail, culminating with her captivating performance as a woman driven to protect her sibling and gain control of her life at any cost. Andrea Boccadoro’s brooding score and Adam Crosby’s calculated cinematography, consisting of macrophotography contrasted with unsettling landscapes, make it impossible to look away, no matter how graphic and horrifying things become. Her collaborators rise to Sim-Fewer’s level of commitment, making for a riveting examination of personal boundaries and our capacity for retribution.