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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: Saving Face

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By: Addison Wylie

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has made me exhale an astonished “wow” twice now.  That’s a compliment I haven’t admitted to in a while.  It’s absolutely true in the case of Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s harrowing doc Saving Face.

The mighty film, which deservedly won 2012’s ‘Best Documentary Short’ Oscar, shows audiences how disturbingly frequent and heartbreakingly affective acid crimes are.  Every year, numerous Pakistani women are dosed with different forms of acidic attacks.  The victims are left wondering what they did to deserve such torture and public humiliation.

Impressively, Junge and Obaid-Chinoy interview the alleged attackers – most of which are the husbands.  They give emotionless stories claiming they had nothing to do with the burns, and that they’ve been wrongfully accused.  The shiftiness in their testimonials as well as their unsupported proof doesn’t hold water – it’s blatant to see that.  The filmmaking duo don’t have an agenda to make all Pakistani men look like monsters.  They simply ask questions and let their cameras roll.  What they capture are sit downs with these apathetic, terrible contributors to lifelong injury.

The act of acid crimes gets lots of attention from those who want to bring justice.  A Londoner plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, flies to Pakistan to survey the pandemic and offer his assistance to reconstruct facial features.  We see in every instance that he’s on screen how he tries to maintain his composure while his feelings of sadness and frustration seep out.

For a film that clocks in at under an hour (Saving Face is 52 minutes), the filmmakers pack a lot of development into the film.  Junge and Obaid-Chinoy select individual subjects and open their lives up to us.  The women, who embrace the filmmakers’ affection, show us what their living conditions are, take movie goers to the original spot where they were attacked, and explain personal barrenness.  Saving Face gives audiences a very intimate and utmost honest view behind the veils and burqas without anything feeling too intrusive.

Because these victims are worried that a similar attack will happen in the near future, audiences are also shown other resources where these women can seek protection.  We get an unbarred look at ASF – the Acid Survivors Foundation – and the kind saints who seek a change regarding the consequences the initiators face post-crime.

Saving Face is a powerful, well made and competently justified piece of work.  The doc may seem quick, but nothing is ever cut too short.  It has an impact in both its emotional connection and its respectful representation that beefier films would be jealous of.  Just “wow”.

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Catch Saving Face at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Sunday, March 2 at 3:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: In the Shadow of the Sun

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment

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By: Addison Wylie

I find myself in a predicament trying to review Harry Freeland’s documentary In the Shadow of the Sun.  Prior to the film, I was oblivious to the subject matter and found myself perplexed by the harsh reality that stalks Tanzanian albinos.

In the Shadow of the Sun is a perfectly fine documentary, but I keep feeling as if I’m rating Freeman’s doc on the content represented rather than the film the material resides in.  That isn’t the fault of Freeland’s wholehearted filmmaking, however.  The subject is just that powerful.

After a rumour circulates claiming that albinos are a rare form of future fortune and wealth, impoverished individuals or those simply seeking a good luck charm set out to retrieve parts of albinos to keep – resulting in nasty slaughters and diminishing hope for those born differently.  Besides the grisly tragedies, Tanzanian albinos are viewed as useless people who should be shunned.

You can see how it’d be easy to get sucked into this distressing situation, and shift focus away from the film itself.  Fortunately, audiences will still be able to appreciate In the Shadow of the Sun’s picturesque cinematography and the valuable minimalist filmmaking.

It’s important to note that Freeland doesn’t shy away from any details.  That description of the doc’s rawness shouldn’t entice you, but instead warn those who are faint of heart.  Movie goers will see the lengths others will go through to obtain a piece of “luck”.  Although, the uncensored look is helpful, these images are some of the most graphic content I’ve ever seen and will undoubtably make audiences queasy during their sympathizing.

The film’s core centres around Josephat Torner, an outspoken albino who wants to bring awareness to the effect this terrible rumour is having on his life and those around him.  He bravely takes to the road and speaks to multiple groups about the issue.  He gets them involved by asking questions and hearing them out before stating his opinion on the matter.  Smartly, Freeman steps back and lets his camera roll on Torner and the crowds during these passionate talks.

The doc is a little too long as it reaches the homestretch, and – understandably – becomes a bit of a broken record as Freeman tries to figure out how to make the main message take forms that offer variety to his project.

Otherwise, In the Shadow of the Sun is clear, concise, and a mannerly marvel.  Much like Josephat, Harry Freeman has made an meritable documentary successfully enlightening audiences around the world of these unfair circumstances.

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Catch In the Shadow of the Sun at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Friday, February 28 at 6:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

TIFF Next Wave 2014: For No Eyes Only

February 14, 2014 1 comment

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By: Addison Wylie

Tali Barde’s feature film debut For No Eyes Only is set as a tense thriller adding a modern twist to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  It doesn’t come through on being a thriller.  Instead, it’s accidentally profound.

What I admired most about For No Eyes Only is Barde’s perceptual take on modern day voyeurism without being too on the nose.  Sam (a mopey loner played convincingly by newcomer Benedict Sieverding) suffers from a sports injury and has nothing better to do but hack webcams as he recuperates.  Something tells us that even if Sam was able bodied, he’d still get a kick out of watching the private lives of others.

When other people find out about Sam’s sneaky hobby, they’re shaken up briefly before being mesmerized themselves.  It goes to show us that even though this modern day hyperactive generation needs constant movement, they’re more entranced by letting their eyes slip into another world for long periods of time.  If you didn’t understand why teens were fascinated with online pop culture pitstops such as ChatRoulette, Barde’s movie may help you see eye-to-eye.

For No Eyes Only, however, loses its way.  When Sam and a friend witness questionable events over a fellow student’s webcam, the social commentary sits on the back burner and the thriller components take over the narrative.

There are rookie trip-ups (a muddy picture, over-stylized environments to emphasize a mood), but most of these are easily forgiven since this is Barde getting his feature film feet wet for the first time.  That said, whenever the film is going for big scares with high strung tension, it feels as if the film is stepping outside its natural element and trying to hit targets that are out of its range.  Sometimes independent minimalism can help make these situations believable, but Barde isn’t freaking anyone out with that mock musical score during those dry cat-and-mouse chases.

It’s nice to know Barde will be a filmmaker who will takes risks with his work, but his first feature needed to be something even simpler.  With his aptitude to dictate what he sees in relevant culture, it’ll be neat to see how he approaches another genre like a drama or a coming-of-age comedy.  But, until he can garner more experience, maybe he should take a break from thrillers.

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Catch For No Eyes Only at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday, February 16 at 1:30 pm. Filmmaker Tali Barde will be in attendance.

More TIFF Next Wave coverage at Wylie Writes:

Read my review of G.B.F. (screening Sunday, February 16 at 6:15 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox)

TIFF 2013: JGL Goes to GTD – Gym, Tan, Direct

September 1, 2013 5 comments

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By: Addison Wylie

If you can bear with Don Jon’s vulgar vocabulary, you may find yourself swept up in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut.  It’s a modern day romance with just the right dash of sweet and salty.

Gordon-Levitt plays the title character, a guido with a heart who loves to spend time with his boys, work out, and scope out chicks.  At the end of the day, he likes to come home and watch a lil’ porn.  Y’know, in the same way a mouse would consider seven blocks of monterey jack cheese a “snack”.

Gordon-Levitt’s quirky love story is amusingly crass, but soon becomes a very charming vehicle for the ambitious filmmaker/actor.  He’s also able to pull an adorable yet abrasive performance from Scarlett Johansson and an energetic portrayal from Tony Danza as Jon’s father, who looks as if he would explode if he became anymore frustrated at his son.

Don Jon slowly but surely shifts into more of a serious tone as it faces Jon’s pornographic addiction head-on.  Denial is handled well and none of his gradual weening seems forced or heavy-handed.  It’s not as much fun as the lively first act, but the added weight makes Don Jon into something more than a thumping, intentionally shallow fever dream.  However, during that stylized first act, Don Jon is able to maintain the party without feeling obnoxious.

Don Jon isn’t only a pretty good directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  It’s a pretty good movie overall.

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Don Jon has its Canadian premiere at TIFF on September 10 at 6:30 p.m. as well as an encore screening on September 11 at 3:00 p.m.

Can’t make the festival? Catch Don Jon in theatres September 27.

Rating: R
Language: English
Runtime: 90 minutes

Realted Links:

For more information on the festival, visit the official TIFF webpage here.

Check out the Don Jon TIFF page here.

Buy tickets here.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

TIFF: @TIFF_NET
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

Inside Out 2013: I Am Divine

June 5, 2013 1 comment

By: Addison Wylie I Am Divine poster

If you think you know Divine, think again.  At least, that was the thought swimming through my head as I discovered new information about the drag queen turned actor turned musician turned superstar.

As a high school movie fanatic eager to watch anything and everything, I thought I had found the ultimate lost artifact when I picked up a copy of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos.  When I saw Divine’s Babs Johnson compete for the title of “the filthiest woman alive”, I was confused, disgusted, impressed, and laughing.

I wasn’t the only movie goer who felt this way.  Divine developed a small following through Waters’ much earlier, rawer movies as well as his participation with the stage group The Cockettes.  When Divine’s stomach-heaving performance in PInk Flamingos took the midnight madness circuit and then the world by storm, audiences didn’t know what to make of the actor.  They were aware, however, that what Divine was doing was different, unique, and bold.

Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary is both a sincere love letter to the life and times of Divine and a bittersweet memoriam.  I Am Divine uses methods that were made famous by The Kid Stays in the Picture and executes this approach to storytelling very well.  Pictures spanning from Divine’s youth (when he was called by his birth name Harris Glenn Milstead) are accompanied with audio from an intimate interview recorded during the actor’s heyday.

These audible excerpts help lead the viewer on this path through Divine’s life while friends, family, and admirers comment on the actor’s successes and audacities.

The documentary shows the transition Divine made from being an intimidating, pre-punk drag queen to an admirable performance artist.  Schwarz makes this evolution seem flawless over the span of 90 minutes, but movie goers get that sense of hard working initiative Divine had.  It was a quality that was fuelled by how much fun Divine was having with his stardom and the celebrity title, plus the extravagancies that followed were the icing on the cake for the much bullied former middle schooler.

As someone who thought they had a clear idea of who Divine was, I was surprised to figure out new aspects about the actor.  I Am Divine does a terrific job at providing a stable backstory through Glenn’s childhood as well as the influences that helped mould his character of Divine – including late-night drag competitions with fellow actor/friend David Lochary and John Waters’ satirical approach to Divine’s flaunting. 

There are moments where it feels as if Schwarz is glazing over some possibly interesting stories, such as the ones that ensued in Divine’s love life.  But, it could also be a place where there’s not enough information to sufficiently side track the documentary on.  Considering how sensitive and personal Divine was off-screen, I imagine this is the case.

 I Am Divine is exactly how a documentary about Divine’s life should be.  Lots of glitz, lots of glamour, a lot of laughs, and some emotional surprises.  Plus, a sprinkling of Waters’ sleazy Baltimore charm makes this doc less of a misfit and more of who Divine would’ve gone on to be – a soaring success.

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Visit the official Inside Out webpage here!

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Inside Out Film Festival: @InsideOutTO
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Inside Out 2013: Valentine Road

May 25, 2013 1 comment

By: Addison WylieRNS-STAUB-COLUMN

A tragically troublesome story involving a 14-year-old executing a fellow eighth grader by aiming and shooting a gun at their head during class seems about as open-and-shut as cases come.  However, filmmaker Marta Cunningham explores the event from every angle to get every side of the story that she can in Valentine Road.

It isn’t because she’s suspicious and smelling something fishy in the events leading up to this kill.  As a devoted documentarian, she wants to show a fair view from every perspective.  You may not agree with what’s being said – and believe me, there’s no middle ground here – but, you’ll appreciate Cunningham’s courage and incredible ability to search for answers that better stabilize both sides of the story.

Lawrence “Larry” King was very much “out”.  Classmates and teachers, on the other hand, weren’t as confident as young King.  Larry King, who came from a less-than-decent lifestyle, found that by embracing his unique qualities he would feel more fulfilled – even if others saw these normalities as differentials.

Brandon McInerney, who was approached by Larry and asked to be his valentine, was one of these other people who didn’t agree with King’s expressiveness for whatever reason.  Some adults see his knee-jerk anger aimed towards King’s homosexuality, thinking Larry’s flamboyant personality made McInerney feel bullied.  Others also link McInerney’s violent antics as a product of unfit parenting as well as to the fact that accessible guns and ammunition were within arms reach.  It could even be related to McInerney’s inappropriate and racist draws in his notebook, triggering him to go after King for his mixed ethnicity.

It’s all upsetting, unsettling, and heartbreaking, but I’m glad the documentary travels on this route.  It’s important to see how McInerney – who stayed very clean and didn’t create trouble prior to the events – was labeled as a “bigot” by the media, immediately latching on to the fact that Larry was openly gay.  It’s important to see how Larry emotionally touched his friends and other teachers who felt the shockwave and were critically affected by this disaster.

With Downloaded and now Valentine Road, there’s something I’m finding absolutely enthralling about this innovative approach to the documentary genre.  This story about the murder of Larry King is told in a digestible and fluent narrative format without using fast editing to string thoughts together.  Cunningham applies a little bit of Christopher Nolan’s Memento telling a portion of the story and then rewinding to a time before the crime.  And, then telling that portion just to rewind even further.  It’s greatly effective and chilling while also being insightful.

Valentine Road isn’t telling any tales out of school and while the film is telling you both sides of the story, Cunningham is never yelling at her audience to sympathize with one person – or one group of people – in particular.  She trusts her audience will have enough competence to put together their own feelings with the proof provided.

It’s a skillful, brilliant documentary crafted by a filmmaker who has found the perfect balance between telling truths and delivering a story that has us on the edge of our seat every step of the way.

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Catch Valentine Road at:

Saturday, May 25 at 5:00 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Visit the official Inside Out webpage here!

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Inside Out Film Festival: @InsideOutTO
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

Inside Out 2013: In The Name Of

May 23, 2013 1 comment

By: Addison Wyliein the name of still

The quiet character study In The Name Of is driven by a superb performance by Andrzej Chyra. His character of Father Adam is mesmerizing to watch. Chyra handles the subtleties that lie within his role and Adams’ motives so carefully. His readings and lines are filled with sincerity, subdued frustration, and hurt, but Chyra is able to tell all of this with a single hopeful glance.

I really liked Malgorzata Szumowska’s film. I found that the themes of settling for a safe lifestyle were well stated and even though we so badly wish for Father Adam to find that ultimate plight of jubilation in his career and in his love life, we understand why he feels as if he feels he needs to keep his preferences hidden. It connects to his detailed back story, after all.

It’s by no means a bad movie, a decent movie, or a good movie. Szumowska has made a great movie that serves as an undeniable recommendation for a movie goer wishing to watch an interesting, struggle-filled character come full circle to the best of his capabilities.

However, I don’t think In The Name Of will stand the test of time like Andrzej Chyra’s performance will. It’s a film that feels very important and well told but doesn’t necessarily resonate as much as you want it to.

It’s because Szumowska’s drama is very slow. It allows events and character arcs to patiently play out and hopes the audience will have as much patience. A slow burn formatting is much appreciated, but In The Name Of feels a little too lethargic and brings attention to its slow pacing – something that shouldn’t be apparent in a slow burn type of movie.

The film is surprisingly profane as well. Father Adam oversees and accompanies a centre in Poland for teenage boys. There are extended sequences that feel heavily improvised and feel as if they’re almost giving the Dogme 95 cinema buffs something to chew on. These wandering segments are interesting at first, but are done in by a length that’s a little too long.

On top of the slight length issues is that aforementioned crassness. I understand Szumowska is wanting to portray this young commune as raw as he can, emphasizing the “boys will be boys” nature within all this tomfoolery. But, the language that’s spat out at others is so brash, it’ll make the saltiest of sailors cringe and make them wish the otherwise skilled writer/director had toned the language down.

When Chyra’s performance is soaring along with other actors like Mateusz Kosciukiewicz who plays Lukas – one of the rambunctious teens – in an equally phenomenal way, it’s hard not to wish the overall film had been as consistently capable as these high points. Of course, these key performances needed a talented director to tame them, so for that Szumowska gets multiple pats on the back.

Over time, I have no doubt Szumowska will polish the way he writes and the way he paces his movies. I’m not concerned at all for this filmmaker’s future. He’s shown a lot of promise. Hopefully, he’ll use this project as a stepping stone to further his career in storytelling and filmmaking.

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Catch In The Name Of at:

Thursday, May 23 at 8:00 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, June 2 at 5:00 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Visit the official Inside Out webpage here!

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Inside Out Film Festival: @InsideOutTO
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie