I saw this film on the same day that I saw Denial so I had a day of films about racism and how it is dealt with in our society. Both received well deserved long standing ovations from large audiences. I Am Not Your Negro however was a documentary based on the work of James Baldwin his contribution to the civil rights movement in the 60’s and his relationship with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. It documents his reaction to their murders, and describes how he perceived his own role in the battles of the time. The director also explores the themes of the 60’s struggles with the current struggles and looks in depth at the ongoing racial struggles in the US. It is a complex film that deserves much reflection. I am not as familiar as I should be with James Baldwin’s writing and thinking and need to correct that deficit. I also want and need to see this film several more times to be sure I get a full understanding of the complexities. We had a chance for a Q and A with the director who is Haitian born. He took ten years to put this film together as he delved into archival footage and Baldwin’s own rich writing. Baldwin had proposed writing a book about the three leaders of the civil rights movement, their conflicts and friendships and their sacrifices. He never was able to complete this project himself but Peck decided his film could be the book Baldwin never wrote. I think he has succeeded and we should all see this film and come to grips with the racism of our society.
In 1993 Deborah Lipstadt, a Jewish Holocaust historian published a book Denying the Holocaust and in that book took aim at one particularly obnoxious and vociferous UK based denier named David Irving. To gain some attention Irving sued her and her publisher, Penguin Books. This film is a dramatization of that trial which dragged out over several weeks and about which the judgement was in doubt. Under UK law it was incumbent on Lipstadt to prove she had not libelled Irving and not on Irving to prove he was libelled. It made a challenging situation. Lipstadt could have settled out of court but she wanted to confront this challenge head on. If she lost, then Holocaust denial would be lent legitimacy it did not deserve and her own historical work put in doubt. Although the story was true and the outcome was known (I will keep that to myself for now) the drama is tense and the themes of dealing with holocaust deniers are emotionally packed and explored. The cast is great including Tom Wilkinson (the barrister), Timothy Spall (David Irving), Rachel Weisz (Lipstadt) and Andrew Scott(the solicitor). Andrew Scott may be known to more of you for his very scary and creepy portrayal of Moriarty in the Sherlock series. I had trouble separating him from that role which actually made his role in this film even more effective. You are never sure where he stands or what he is up to. Spall puts in another incredible acting performance as the evil Irving and you really want to reach into the screen and throttle him. Wilkinson is the supreme brilliant understated performance. I did not look at my watch once in the two hours.
So bottom line: this is a very very good movie and deserves large audiences and awards. The theme is important and presented powerfully. I saw this at the Winter Garden and the director got a standing ovation from the whole crowd. It was very much deserved.
There are some things that you can only experience at TIFF and this was one of them. Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol made their names if we can call it that with a web tv show called “nirvanna the band the show” that you can all find on YouTube if you like. The views for the web tv show are in the 1K to 4K level so it was not an international hit by any means. The guys are high school buddies who may have been the class clowns and the episodes on YouTube are funny in the high school humour kind of way but the fans are super fans. They were lucky however and managed to get the attention of more polished producers and have managed to snag a series on CTV this fall called: nirvanna the band the show. (By the way nirvanna is spelled with 2 “n’s”) Then to promote the show they managed to get three episodes strung together at TIFF. I saw this at Hot Docs and from what I can tell all the fans of the web tv show were there. Enthusiastic would not be sufficient to describe their love. They cheered the introduction, the pre-screening commercials and then laughed continuously all through the show. And… to be fair it was pretty funny. The guys have upped their game and are in the Kids in the Hall category now. The premise of the show is two guys with a band who want to get a gig at The Rivoli in Toronto. To get attention they try several different strategies not connected to music at all. The three episodes that were screened were very funny but production quality is not the greatest. The guys are funny and may well improve with experience. There is some real talent here although polishing will be needed. Nonetheless the fans are clearly there.. or at least the few hundred at Hot Docs. I will watch the series this fall although the real fun today was the audience. Oh right – I should mention, I felt very old since the average age of the audience had to be under 30.
This review is hard to write. The film is controversial because of issues around the director’s past which includes allegations of rape 15 years ago when he was 18 and at College. While he was originally acquitted his friend at the time was convicted. The victim of the rape renewed charges but declined to testify and the case was dropped. The actors and others involved in the film have asked critics and audiences to separate the film from Parker the man and let the rape allegations evolve separately. The film itself needs to be judged on its merits alone. I agree with this and wonder at the timing of the release of the story about the rape at this time. It is not clear how the story broke. The victim herself committed suicide in 2012 nearly four years ago but the timing of the controversy re-emerging at this time seems deliberate and at this time all just allegations. This is not to justify Parker or see him as an innocent but the film is important on its own merits and deserves to be judged on its own. That said, I am not sure the film deserves all the praise it is receiving. Parker is the producer, director, writer and lead actor and it is clearly a work of some passion for him. It is based on a true story of a slave revolt in the US South prior to the Civil War. I was disappointed with the acting, particularly Parker’s, and the film is long and not well constructed. Again, this is not to say it does not carry an important message. I found myself tying the oppression it portrays and the anger of the response, to our own treatment of First Nations people here. The dehumanizing actions and co-opting of the oppressed to support their own suffering is common to all such situations and the angry but tragic response of the oppressed and its ongoing effects is well illustrated in the film. That is the message and worth seeing, hearing and reflecting on not only for Americans but for any who try to justify or dismiss the dehumanizing of others. This film is worth your time and it is OSCAR material – no question but the controversy surrounding its artistic lead is troubling and may impact a film that asks many important questions.