This is the best film I have seen so far and likely the best for the rest of the week. It is a dramatic recreation of an encounter between Ian Paisley played by Timothy Spall and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein played by Colm Meaney. The encounter happens during the 2007 meeting that brought The Troubles in Northern Ireland to the end with a dramatic peace treaty between Catholics and Protestants. The two men literally hated one another and had both been committed to the struggle for nearly two decades. The director is Irish as is Meaney and they have a great deal invested in the story. The film focusses on the two men who are compelled to travel together in a van on the way to the airport. The meeting or situation has been set up by British and Irish politicians who had a great deal invested in having a peace accord completed. The situation is entirely fictional but it is not entirely unimaginable. It was not uncommon for representatives of the two sides to travel together to discourage assassination attempts by agents of either side. No one would attack the plane or train for fear of killing their own people. Also, after the treaty was signed, these two men became close friends from being sworn enemies. They came to be called the Chuckle Brothers for their obvious friendship and good humour. How this could have happened is imagined by the director and the writers and recreated brilliantly by these two gifted actors. The film is funny, moving, and carries an important message. The Troubles are complex and deeply emotional. A violent time that many cannot forgive or forget. The film has been criticized by some for over simplifying the situation and making light of a serious period in history or trivializing it. This is unfair and I think is done from the perspective of those who will never be satisfied with any attempt to describe the time or the issues. We had the virtue of a Q and A with the Director and Colm Meaney. While focussing on the Irish situation and this significant time in history they told us that the film is really about the need for politicians and us all to find our way to compromise as these two enemies were able to do. We need to understand each other as persons and reach for solutions rather than stay rooted in our own perspectives and ideologies. They see quite rightly that the inability to do this in our current times lies at the root of the failure of our democracies. I think the film is brilliant, well written with a critical message and beautifully acted. It was two hours long but I did not notice the time nor did I want it to end. I found the characters entirely absorbing. Try to see this film when it is released.
This was the first dramatic film I attended and even it has to be described as a docu-drama. I am incurable I suppose. At any rate, being totally intrigued with Edward Snowden and having seen and loved Citizen Four and John Oliver’s interview with Snowden I had to see how Oliver Stone would treat the topic. I have to say he did a great job. I attended the screening at Roy Thomson Hall the day after the gala opening and it was still packed. What was exciting was that Oliver Stone (much the worse for wear after the night’s parties and after parties showed up to introduce the film which was much appreciated by the audience. The film itself has received mixed reviews including a very negative one from the Guardian (which stars in the movie) and a very positive one in Variety. So take your pick. I liked Variety’s version. I found the film suspenseful, exciting, insightful and really well acted with a superb cast that included Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden, Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, and Spock…er, Zachary Quinto among others. There is not much point in going over the plot but suffice to say, Stone has done a great job and challenged the US in particular to reconsider its treatment of whistleblowers. Whatever you might think of Snowden’s actions, he has had an immense influence on curbing the NSA and CIA at least temporarily and done us all a great service by opening our eyes to the new surveillance world we all live in now. Good film, Oscar worthy, and highly recommended.
Another documentary so I started out with three. I guess I am still mourning the end of the Hot Docs festival. This film was about Jane Jacobs the recently deceased urban activist who killed several expressway plans in Manhattan and the Bronx and then moved to Toronto in time to help stop the Spadina expressway. The director is a lapsed architectural journalist who was once in love with the whole 60’s move toward building expressways and high rises particularly those developed by Le Corbusier. Jacobs was a Manhattan journalist mother and housewife who lacked formal education but who saw urban settings in a completely different way. She was horrified at the plans of NYC’s Robert Moses who led the process of knocking down old slum areas and replacing them with monstrous high rise buildings to house the poor and lower classes. While the slums were not okay in themselves they did function on a human scale and were living spaces people had turned to their own purposes. The new buildings killed that and took away the opportunity for people to share their lives and enterprises. She wrote her first book “The Life and Death of Great American Cities” to make her argument and it came out at a critical time. Moses the chief city planner for NYC was planning to build a freeway through Washington Square and Greenwich Village and right through Jacob’s neighborhood. Moses had gone far beyond knocking down slums and was now knocking down neighborhoods. Too much!! She raised the alarm and stopped him. The film follows these early days of her campaigns to the point where she ultimately caused Moses’s resignation. This film will teach you a great deal about city planning and how to look at our cities and the place of neighborhoods in preserving their life and vitality. It is bit disappointing if you are interested in learning about Jacobs and her Canadian contributions but it will give you a sense of how lucky Toronto was to inherit her and her family when we did. An excellent Q and A with the director and producer afterwards and David Crombie – our tiny perfect mayor – was present for the screening and given a big hand for his role in preserving our neighborhoods. As one looks at the condo development in Toronto recently the same questions Jacobs raised in the 60’s and 70’s might well be asked again.