Category Archives: TIFF 2013

The Unknown Known – Director, Errol Morris

Ten years ago Errol Morris made a film called The Fog of War which I saw at TIFF and thoroughly enjoyed. It focused on Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defence for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War. It was basically an interview for nearly 90 minutes that held your attention riveted as he defended and reflected on his actions during one of the most unpopular wars in US history. This film uses the same technique to address the actions of Donald Rumsfeld who served as Secretary of Defence for George W. Bush during the Iraq war and the War on Terrorism. Whatever one thinks of these two men there is no question that they are immensely intelligent and believed in what they did but they were not ideologues – they were bureaucrats of the American Empire. One may wonder if they are lying or telling the truth or even whether they are ultimately evil men responsible for the death, torture and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Vietnamese and Iraqis. But I am not sure those are the right questions to ask. To call them evil or put the blame for America’s actions entirely on them is unfair and distorts the reality of an immense power exerting its dominance over the world. Still they were the ones to implement the policies of power and these two films are treasures that provide an insight into the world we live in and the role of the US in defining our history the very personal eyes of two influential men. An interesting question at the end of the film asked during the Q and A with the director: Do you (Errol Morris) think he (Rumsfeld) was lying to you? Morris answered by a quote from his movie Tabloid: If you tell a lie often enough, you may eventually come to believe it yourself.

Night Moves – Director,Kelly Reichardt

This movie has actually won an award already (The grand prize at the Deauville American Film Festival) but in my opinion the competition must have been sparse. This is a really pretty mediocre film. Night Moves follows three amateur eco-terrorists in Oregon who plot and manage to blow up a small hydro-electric dam. Of course the outcome goes very wrong and a camper near the dam is swept away and drowned. So what was intended to be a protest turns into murder and the three wannabe terrorists Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard turn on one another but in a confused manner and again the motives are totally unexplained. Eisenberg is a farmhand on an organic farm, Fanning reads all sorts of environmental facts on the Internet and has some kind of therapeutic spa and Saarsgard who is hardly in the film, appears to know how to make bombs out of fertilizer but why he wants to blow up a dam is completely unexplained. The film moves at a snail’s pace – apparently on purpose according to the Director who specializes in “slow cinema”. I may have been influenced in my opinion by the fact that I sat between one person who brought in a box lunch and proceeded to lay it out and munch on it throughout the first 20 minutes of the movie, after which the person sitting on my other side brought out some kind of incredibly crunchy snack which she proceeded to crunch incessantly for the next 20 minutes. They then both decided to fall asleep with the luncheon fan snoring and the cruncher sniffing. Nonetheless, I did sympathize with their sleepy reviews. This movie is very poor and ends with a whimper. Stay away.

Finding Vivian Maier – Directors, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

Sometimes you get to see some great films at TIFF and with Mandella and 12 Years a Slave I definitely have but sometimes it’s the surprises that make the festival so much fun. Today I got that surprise in the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. We were the first public audience to see the film and it was unexpected, entertaining, stunning, fun, engrossing…. Well I could go on but needless to say I really enjoyed it and I can’t recommend it more. This film starts with Director discovering a box of several thousand film negatives at an estate auction in the hope of finding some historical photos of Chicago. Instead he uncovers part of what will turn out to be an enormous archive of photographs by a brilliant amateur photographer who had recently passed away having lived a reclusive life as a nanny and domestic worker. He sets out to collect and display her works but also to find out who she was, what motivated her, who knew her and why she was never discovered until his accidental find after she had passed away. The film documents the hunt for Vivian Maier as well as portraying her work. It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen and the story is completely captivating. Read up on Vivian and look for her photography and definitely see this movie as soon as you possibly can.

Mandella: Long Walk to Freedom – Director, Justin Chadwick

I am a huge fan of Idris Elba for his spectacular roles as the drug dealing Stringer Bell in The Wire and as the London detective Luther. He goes it one better here in his portrayal of Nelson Mandella in this film based on Mandella’s autobiography. It is an epic in the real sense of the word and despite being two and a half hours long and holding your attention for the entire time, it still is only a glimpse into a fantastically complex story and an amazing human being. We are looking here at another Oscar nominee for Best Actor and Best Picture without a doubt. The story is told in a most compelling manner and Elba is brilliant as he ages from a man in his 30’s at the start of the film until he is in his 70’s and winning the first fully free election in South Africa’s history. At the end I had learned much but was left wanting to know more about the conflict he stopped, about de Klerk the white president who opened the door that let Mandella step up, about Winnie Mandella and her very opposite approach to the struggle of her people and about the people themselves. So rich is this film that it leaves you satiated but somehow still wanting much more. Can’t say too much more about this – make sure you take time to see this movie.

Palestine Stereo – Director, Rashid Masharawi

As I noted in my review of 12 Years a Slave I hurried to see this movie arriving just in time to find the escalator to the theatres broken and only minutes to get to cinema 14. Puff puff, I made it and it was really worth the effort. I do not think this movie will win any awards but not because it is not an charming and important film. The story is about two brothers living in Ramallah on the West Bank in occupied Palestine. The elder brother’s apartment block was bombed by the Israeli military to kill some terrorists but the collateral damage was that his wife was also killed and his younger brother was left deaf and dumb from the experience. Together they decide enough is enough and they work to raise $10K to fund emigration to…Canada. They raise the money by working as sound engineers for everything from weddings to government speeches to protests by Hamas or Hezbollah who however will pay them. In the course of raising the money they of course come to see that running away to Canada is ultimately no solution. The reasons to stay are multiple including family, love, politics and just helping their fellow Palestinians get by. It is a light film about a serious issue. I couldn’t help thinking and learning how hard it is to even think of emigration from your home. The other important message which the director emphasized to us in the Q and A afterwards was that most Palestinians are not interested in war or killing or politics (he makes wonderful fun of the Palestinian politicians) but are just people wanting to get by and be left alone. The sad thing is that the country has been divided since 1948 when the state of Israel was founded and war and separation is all they have known for over 60 years. I lived in Israel in the 60’s and we were friends with many Jews born in Palestine before the State of Israel was established also sometimes called Sabra. I remember looking at the Old City of Jerusalem with a Sabra friend of my father’s who pointed across what was then the border with Jordan and said that he had many Palestinian friends over there he had not seen in nearly 20 years and he missed them very much. I recommend this movie to anyone who would like to see a very human side to this long conflict.

12 Years a Slave – Director, Steve McQueen

One of the better movies I have seen in a long time and one that I think deserves a nod for Best Actor for the lead Chiwetel Ejiofor and Best Picture. The film is based on a true story of a black free man in 1841 New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Georgia where he suffers for 12 years before being rescued. The story is a horrendous portrayal of the life a slave in the south in the middle of the 19th century and it pulls few punches. It was hard to watch at times but worth the effort in the end. The film focusses on Solomon Northrop played by Ejiofor but has some wonderful cameo performances from Benedict Cumberbach, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Giamatti. There is a Canadian connection to this movie. Brad Pitt’s character who ultimately rescues Solomon confronts the plantation owner about his treatment of his slaves and the fact that he even has any slaves. Solomon hears this and asks him where he comes from. Pitt’s character answers that he is Canadian which drew some cheers from my audience. Slavery was abolished in Canada in 1833 when Britain officially outlawed it throughout the Empire. Canada became a haven for blacks who were lucky enough to escape the US. Once freed himself, Solomon Northrop became an advocate for abolition and worked the Underground Railway that brought many freed slaves to Canada. We can’t be too proud of our heritage even now but at least we started down the right path before the US. So this film is highly recommended by your humble reviewer. I had to leave before Steve McQueen’s Q and A unfortunately as I had to race from Ryerson to the Scotiabank Theatre in half an hour to see a film about another oppressed people.

Watermark – Directors, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky

This is the second film in which these two have collaborated. Burtynsky is quite rightly identified as a great photographer and he is Canadian as well. Their previous collaboration was Manufactured Landscapes which deservedly won several awards including cleaning up at TIFF 2006 with Best Documentary and Best Canadian Film. This second effort has a chance to do the same. It spectacular to look at but… I have to say not very well written. The purpose of the film is to show us how closely we are tied to water. We are of course mostly water, water plays a huge cultural role in our lives, we use and abuse it in manufacturing, to create power, entertainment and of course we depend on it for agriculture. We couldn’t live much more than two days without it. All this is beautifully and powerfully illustrated by Burtynsky’s amazing photography but why they made the film is simply never clear. I think they may have meant to tell us that we are wasting and destroying our water resources by poor agricultural uses, trying to keep cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas going when they have no natural source of water to sustain themselves, by poisoning the water, by damming it up and so forth but they never really make it very clear. Still this movie is incredibly beautiful to watch (although it is about 20-30 minutes too long – and the sequence of the traditional washing away of sins in the Ganges I thought would never end). Nonetheless I do recommend it for looks alone but have your wand handy to fast forward when needed. Manufactured Landscapes is also definitely worth watching if you have never seen it and Burtynsky has a display of his photographs at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg until September 29th. Also something not to be missed.

Beyond the Edge – Director, Leanne Pooley

This was my first movie of the week and sadly not a winner. This is a New Zealand film by a relatively well known New Zealand documentary director and about a New Zealander – one Edmund Hillary. Hillary, for those who don’t know, was the first man to successfully reach the summit of Mt. Everest and this film is a docudrama of that expedition. I have to say that I really don’t have much use for mountain climbers. They are portrayed as heroes who risk their lives, as far as I can see, only to give themselves an adrenalin high. The trouble is they often put other lives at risk to do it and really to no end. I mean I think Neil Armstrong is a hero because going to the moon ended in the development of amazing engineering and scientific outcomes but climbing Everest to take a few photos to prove you were there is hardly the stuff of legend. At least in this reporter’s opinion. So, I hear you ask, why did you waste your valuable pass coupons on this film? Well… I guess I got hooked by the idea of understanding how they did it and I needed something to fill in Friday afternoon at the movies and this was the only thing that appealed – sort of. At any rate given my prejudice I was not disappointed. This was a pretty pointless movie. I knew Hillary made it, the film did not really make it appear all that challenging and the worst thing? It was shot in 3D and really poorly. So one more rant. I hate 3D movies. I wear glasses so the 3D glasses never really fit properly (and the ones at the TIFF Lightbox are the worst ever), the glasses darken the screen and take from the quality of the image and I almost always get a headache in these movies. The only movie I ever saw where the 3D actually worked was Life of Pi. Way to go Ang Lee but sorry Leanne Pooley you have a bit to learn. So there you go. Don’t bother watching this one if you get the chance.