Two more KCFF18 movies

Coming of age movies seem to be popular. Two of this year’s nominees for Best Picture are Ladybird and Call Me By Your Name, both about teens discovering themselves and their relationships, including with their parents. Last year my favourite Canadian film was Weirdos. In all of these films, my aging self is having more trouble identifying with the teens but I tend to do relate to the parents.

Adventures in Public School is also a film in the coming of age genre but with a quirky comedic twist. Liam is a teenager who has been home schooled by his mother (played by Judy Greer – “Say goodbye to these” – Arrested Development) who has educated him but smothered him and protected him from any outside influence, including other kids. He goes to the local secondary school to write his final exams so he can go to Cambridge to become an Astronomer” like Stephen Hawking”  but sees a one-legged young woman at the school who catches his eye, He bombs the test on purpose so he can go to the school to get to know her. Of course, this does not sit well with the mom who then takes it on herself to instruct Liam (who ends up taking the class place of a girl named Maria Sanchez and then having to take all her classes using her name) in what she figures is the usual coming of age stuff like drinking alcohol, sex and smoking marijuana.

The movie is pretty silly but not to the point of being annoying. I found myself laughing a lot and there were quirky little moments that were both humorous and endearing. Not an award-winning film but entertaining and “cute”.

 

Today, I really enjoyed Cardinals. It was a slow burn, somewhat understated film that dealt with a woman released from jail ten years after killing someone in a car accident and being charged with impaired driving.  I thought it was impeccably written and unfolded slowly but with purpose.  Never tedious but always crawling ahead. The writer and directors (Grayson Moore, Aiden Shipley) are two young men whose work shows maturity beyond their years.  I can’t say too much about the plot because you have to experience it as it unfolds. I was trying to find some way of describing how the movie feels – like peeling an onion, watching a slow striptease or lava bubbling up from a volcano. None of those analogies did it justice. I realized that it felt very much like reading a good book. Something happens to advance the plot then there are a couple of pages of descriptive to flesh it out and then you turn the page and there is something else revealed. A jigsaw where you suddenly find a piece that clarifies a section.  I really liked the mood and the performances. The cast includes many talented Canadian actors and an added bonus for me was that one of the lead actors is Grace Glowicki, who I know from hanging out with her on a movie set , Nightrunners, shot in Kenya, three years back.

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Grayson Moore and Aiden Shipley at a Q&A after the KCFF screening of Cardinals.

Here is a scene from the movie to whet your appetite. Watch for it. I suspect it will eventually appear on Netflix. Also keep and eye on Grayson Moore and Aiden Shipley. They are talented young Canadian film-makers.

 

 

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2018 – 1

One of the things I like about film festivals is that, in addition to feature films or short films, I can see documentaries that I would otherwise not have encountered and seeing them in a theatre, rather than on a small screen from the couch at home, is much more engaging.

At the first full day of the Kingston Canadian Film Festival I included two documentaries on my schedule of four films for the day.

Both of these related to events of the 1960’s and to some these may have been historical documentaries but for me and others my generation they were reminiscences of times we lived through and remember well.

Unknown-4Expo 67: Mission Impossible was a behind the scenes look at the seemingly unachievable task of putting together a World’s Fair on two yet-to-be-constructed man made islands in the St. Lawrence River in the heart of Montreal.   It was indeed an Herculean task to build this site from the ground up at an escalating cost and with the skepticism of much of Canada outside of the province of Quebec, that it could be completed on time.  Even the computer estimates suggested a probably completion date of mid 1969… two years too late.

I enjoyed being reminded about how things were in the mid 60’s and seeing the clothing, the masses of paper in the offices, the large machines for typing computer punch cards to enter data into the grand computers run with tape input,  the ubiquitous cigarettes and cigars and pipes with smoke billowing up in meetings or at public events. And, of course, I remember, along with 55,000,000 other attendees  at Expo 67 – Man and his World – gawking in awe at the 90 pavilions , the centrepiece being  the geodesic dome designed by Brockminster Fuller  that was the U.S. pavilion with that  “modernistic” monorail running right through it and a real space capsule at the top.

The film, however, was just an historical rehash, interesting to document the events leading up to Expo and a great summary with archival footage.   It could be something that makes a 2 hour CBC special on TV.

Ninth_Floor_MovieThe documentary, Ninth Floor, that I saw this morning, however, was something special.   This film told a story of the crisis at Sir George Williams University in Montreal in 1969 when students protested lack of action by the University on charges of racism.   Now, I was a university student at UWO at that time so it was people my age making a statement and demonstrating to correct a wrong that they perceived.  Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum is a great story-teller with diverse talent as evidenced by her film Meditation Park that was shown last night as the opening film of the festival.  Ninth Hour, although a documentary, was also a very adeptly-crafted story combining present day interviews with now much older protesting students who were involved in 1969 (one of whom is now a Canadian Senator), archival montages of news coverage and film shot while the crisis was unfolding, and very cleverly-integrated film shot recently that fleshes out the story and seeming timeless.  Shum was very careful not to include elements in the recent film that would date it in any way.  Some of the images are quite beautiful and even arty but every one contributes to the story.

Ninth-FloorThe elders being interviewed (all protesters during the crisis) are wise and eloquent and intelligent and have the benefit of years of living and  a unique and personal perspective on racism in Canada.  I particularly liked the one fellow commenting  with a smile, “Canadians are racist but they apologize for it.”

I watched this film with a friend who just turned 20 and it struck me that I was his age when all of this was taking place.  I wonder if Dylan will be watching a movie (or whatever medium tells stories in 2068) that will be historically documenting  how young people who are determined to fight for a cause like the students in Florida today advocating for gun-law legislation in the U. S. or the current Black Lives Matter movement, can be the pivotal influence to make political change.  I wonder what the youth of 2068 will be having to lobby for in order to get the older generation to act on some other outrage.  Or whether racism will still be an issue.   A film like this one, looking back, causes one to think about what is happening today and wonder about the future.  Does anything really change?

I also wondered if my friend Stephen Moiko, a Kenyan who did post-graduate training at McGill experienced racism in any overt or subtle ways in Montreal five years ago.  Although Stephen and I have talked for hours about many things, we have not touched on racism in Canada.  I plan to visit Stephen and his Maasai family in April and I am going to bring this up.  Get ready, Stephen.

Screenshot 2018-03-02 17.04.08Now, you may not be lucky enough to see Ninth Floor in a theater but you are able to see the film on the National Film Board web site – free and downloadable.  I recommend it highly and if you are a certain age it will give you pause to think about how things were unfolding in Canada in 1969 and how oblivious we all were to it in many ways.   Here is the link to the entire film, available free on the NFB site.  https://www.nfb.ca/film/ninth_floor/

 

 

Shum’s film, Meditation Park, opened the KCFF last night and was well-received.  Shot in Vancouver, it also has a theme that explores mixed cultures and race in a Canadian neighborhood. I found it to feel a bit disjointed and contrived but the overarching story was engaging and felt very “Canadian” even though the protagonist couple were Chinese and conversed much of the time in sub-titled Cantonese.   And who doesn’t like Don McKellar who plays their neighbor?

Fences

When I walked up to the ticket booth at the movie theatre yesterday, I wasn’t sure if i would opt for Passengers, another futuristic space movie  or Fences, a critically acclaimed drama adapted from a  1987 Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson.  I had my fill of space vehicles with Rogue One and opted to go for Fences.  And I am very glad I did.

Denzel Washington directs and stars in this film adaptation of the Broadway play that won many awards when it was presented several years ago.  James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader in the early Star Wars films won best actor Tony award for this role in 1987. It turns out that Denzel Washington and several others in the small cast were part of a short Broadway revival of the play in 2010.  It showed.  They knew the characters intimately.  The play is set in the 1950’s in Philadelphia.  Troy Maxson is a 60ish black sanitation worker who is unhappy, unsettled and not satisfied with his life now, or in the past.  He is an African-American Willy Loman.  His wife, played by Viola Davis, is a patient, stoical, supportive pragmatist who is, to a point, willing to overlook her husand’s shortcomings.  Her portrayal of this character, Rose, was sensitive and emotional …no, it was gut-wrenching.  She almost had me sobbing out loud. Bring kleenex. 

Each character – the neighbour, the two sons, Rose, the handicapped brother and Troy – have scenes where they get to express themselves intimately. We learn why they are the way they are. There are a lot of words. But they all contribute to the picture and never once feel unnecessary. More than half the movie takes place in a small Philadelphia back yard. It gives the feeling that you are watching a play. Or more that you are just eavesdropping on this family as they struggle. Although we spend a lot of time in this back yard, the camera captures many points of view so it is never boring. And yes, Troy spends time building a fence around his yard and also, it turns out, around himself.

The film is loaded with symbolism – fence-building, baseball, gardens, flowers, Fridays, Gabriel, the Blues, garbage. And there is lots of talk about Death – compared to “a fast-ball on the outside corner”. I will want to see the film again after a bit of a break to take all these references in.

For the last couple of years, the Academy Awards have been criticized for not acknowledging people of color.  This year, with Birth of a Nation,  Loving,  and Fences there will be no lack of accolades for African American film-makers and actors. And if Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are not at the top of the list, I will be shocked.  For my money, Viola Davis gave the female actor performance of film in 2016, hands down.

The movie is emotionally draining and because it is so intense it may feel about fifteen minutes too long – but I don’t know what you could cut.   I highly recommend Fencesas a fine, intense piece of theatre/film.  4.5 out of 5

TIFF 2016 Day 2

When I saw that Christopher Guests new film Mascots was opening at TIFF it was at the top of my list. Never mind that it will be available in a few weeks on Netflix (it is a Netflix-produced film).  I was quite willing to pay the Premium dollar to see the world premiere with a theatre full of Corky St Clair fans and with Christopher Guest, Parker Posey , Bob Baliban and Jane Lynch sitting three rows behind me. 

But there was some risk. Could this film hold up to the high expectation I had given that Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show  are two films I have laughed through maybe 15 times each. 

The verdict? I loved it. Using his  proven “monumentally” formula,  Guest has created another winner based on a convention for mascots with a competition to win the coveted Fluffy.  A few times,  I had to wipe away tears of laughter . The usual troupe of Guest’s favourite actors create new characters and improv their dialogue through a hilarious collection of vignettes. There is even a surprise appearance that delighted the audience. No spoilers. 

If you like Christopher Guest’s quirky previous work, you won’t be disappointed. I can hardly wait for its appearance on Netflix so I can watch it again.  It gets four stars.  I am waiting for the five star film.

Within half an hour of watching Mascots I was back in line under an umbrella to see Queen of Katwe, another African-themed film shot in Uganda, directed by a Ugandan, Mira Nair, starring  black actors, including  David Olyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and banked by the Disney corporation. It is a wonderful movie about a young illiterate Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi, from the Katwe slums of Kampala, who becomes an international chess champion.  A feel-good true story of someone rising from obscurity through hard work and intellect.  And as a treat, the real Phiona was at the screening of the film. 

Unlike the Nigerian film I saw yesterday, the direction was impeccable, and the soundtrack was much more representative of good quality modern Afican music.  The kids in the film, and there were lots of them, were wonderfully naive and natural.  I have been in these streets and communities and that, too made the movie more meaningful to me.   Nair said that she jokes that this is the first African movie made by Disney without animals in it but Africa is more than giraffes and AIDS and she welcomed the chance to have Africans make a movie about the Africa they know.  One of the young boys who has a major role in the movie is a kid who lives in Nair’s neighborhood in Kampala. 

This film will be released this fall and anyone who has an Africa connection will relate to it and love the  message that genius is not owned by any one race or gender. Of course all the analogies between the game of chess and this game of life are not lost.  I give it four stars of five, knowing that my delight in revisiting Ugandan streets and people prejudices me.  The premiere audience gave it a standing ovation tonight, an indication that they liked it, too.

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 1

For the past few years I have treated myself to a weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), soaking up movies, lining up with other movie fans and getting the occasional glimpse of Hollywood celebrity.

I have volunteered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival for a couple of years but never set the weekend aside to enjoy it fully. This year, I have done that, buying a VIP pass that lets me in to any or all of the movies and events.

In the next two blog articles, I will give you a brief rundown of the movies I have seen.

Guantanamo’s Child

This is a thought-provoking documentary based on the Omar Kadr case – a young Canadian man whose family moved to Afghanistan when he was a boy.  He was accused of terrorism and killing an American soldier and after being wounded severely in the firefight when he threw the fatal grenade, he was taken prisoner and subsequently spent 13 years in detention, first in Bagram, Afghanistan  and later in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.  Eventually, with the persistence of an Edmonton lawyer who argued on his behalf, he was transferred into custody in Canada and later released on bail.

The movie revolves around Kadr’s telling of his story (in a remarkably calm and articulate way) and interviews with others that were somehow involved with him over his incarceration time.  It explores the horrible treatment that he and other Guantanamo prisoners have received, ostensibly at the hands of a “civilized” nation like the U.S.A., the complicit cooperation of Canadian officials, the guilt and trauma suffered by one of the American interrogation officers who, after reflecting on the trauma inflicted on Kadr as a kid has become demoralized and suffering from PTSD based on the actions he committed in the name of war.  It is interesting to see how Kadr seems to have overcome to some extent this past, or at least found a way of putting it in a place that allows him to move on, arguably with the help of many hours of psychotherapy and how this US solder is suffering much more intently from his actions and, one wonders, with what kind of support.  Both men were caught up in war and acted at the time in a way that was expected of them and perhaps natural in terms of self defence or knee-jerk response to their situations.  Kadr, a kid at the time, is incarcerated as a dangerous terrorist.  The solder was just doing his job. Who will suffer longer?

Unforsaken

This is a western so full of clichés and so predictable in it’s dialogue and plot line that it is almost laughable.  But that is also its appeal.  It is the traditional spaghetti western, gunslingers, bad grammar, an evil land baron threatening the town, a thwarted love story, revenge, street shootout, bullets breaking bottles in the saloon and men shot off the roof and crashing through the balcony to the street below. I have seen almost the same thing acted out in ten minutes by stunt men at Universal Studios in Florida.

But this one has both Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in it, along with Demi Moore and Brian Cox.  It was shot in Alberta, just outside Calgary at a town set up specifically as a movie location – CL Western Town. (you can read about this filming location here)  The movie is about to be released in Canada and apparently is doing very well on the pay-per-view circuit and will be on the Canadian iTunes store next week.

LIt was fun to have one of the producers, who went to Lasalle High School in Kingston many years ago, and a couple of the Canadian actors, including bad guy Aaron Poole, at a question and answer period after the movie.  Poole was booed as he was introduced – a response to his hard-hearted character in the movie. He loved it.

The Messenger

This is documentary focusing on the decline in songbird populations around the world.  It seemed a bit disjointed to me, many short vignettes from around the world showing the various conditions that are interfering with songbird survival – climate change, domestic cats,  noise and light pollution, insecticides.  But how to solve this?  Eradicate cats that kill 1.4 billion songbirds every year and were described as an invasive species introduced by man and equivalent to Zebra Mussels? Or maybe it would be. better to wipe out mankind since it is us who is disrupting the balances of nature.  Given time we may do that ourselves.If you are interested in this topic the movie also has a good website with lots of resources associated with this film at http://songbirdsos.com

 

Into the Forest

This was an engaging and at times disturbing movie about two young women facing an apocalypic scenario somewhere on the west coast of North America in the near future.  It reminded me of other survival films like Gravity or The Martian or even Night of the Living Dead but for me it was much more effective and realistic and because of that i could relate to the challenges and was never quite sure how it was going to turn out.  Also great to see the two protagonists being resourceful yet vulnerable young women – played admirably by Ellen Page and  Evan Rachel Wood.  I was not quite on the edge of my seat but found myself totally immersed in this struggle and definitely leaning forward on my chair. I would much prefer this movie to some of the big blockbusters with CGI and a more fantastical basis.  This one was believable.

I can’t seem to find a trailer for this movie.  This is pretty cool. No warning about what is in the film.  So no spoilers from me either.  Here is a still of the two main characters. Sisters caught in an apocalypse.

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Stay tuned for Part 2.

 

 

TIFF 2015 – one last film

Unfortunately, Julianne Moore stood me up. As Moore’s go, I had to settle for Michael. I had hoped she would at least show up and smile at the showing of Freeheld today. Maybe we would have a moment of eye contact. But no, she didn’t. Nor did Ellen Page or the director of the movie. I know they are in town as the were photos in the papers of them at the premiere of the film last night. Maybe they were too hung over today. But really, a few moments at two in the afternoon to acknowledge the enthusiasm of their movie fans? Not too much to ask in my opinion.
This film was the last of seven I have seen over the past few days. A touching but somewhat melodramatic documentary about Laurel Hester’s struggle to get her pension benefits transferred to her partner when she inevitably dies of lung cancer. Based on a true story, the film chronicles a significant piece of LGBT history in the U.S. to achieve equality for same sex couples.
Ms. Moore (we are no longer on a first name basis) walked her way through the role as a maltreated lesbian detective dying of cancer. I did not feel that her heart was in it. I actually wondered if she and Ellen Page got along when the camera was not rolling. I found the dialogue a bit trite and mechanical and there was nothing special about the cinematography. Steve Carrell brightens the film up as a self-described “very gay Jew” who leads the protests and public outcry to reverse the decision of the Freeholders.

This film felt  more like a made for TV movie than one for the big screen. It also dawned on me why I have found Ms. Moore so attractive in the past. If she had brown eyes instead of blue, she would bear some resemblance to my late wife. Watching her dying of cancer, losing her hair, becoming pale, losing control of her life…well maybe it was just a bit too close for comfort.

The bottom line is that I didn’t find anything special about this movie other than the historical content. It was kind of a love story, sort of a documentary, partly a celebration of movement toward equal rights for same sex partners, partly about a woman dying of cancer. Lots of parts but for me it missed the whole. Wait for it on Netflix. Won’t be long. 3 out of 5


I am on the train on my way home. TIFF shows over 300 movies. I only saw 7 so my sample size is pretty small. Of those I saw, I would recommend seeing Youth and The Danish Girl. And please see both of them in the theatre to appreciate them best. I will likely go to them again when they are released.

After 5 or 6 years of TIFF, I think I have the hang of it now. It would be fun to have company at movies and in line but when I go alone there is always someone to chat with. (I had a great conversation with a woman from Texas this morning in line, touching on politics, film, travel and in the theatre beside me was a fellow from New York City and originally from China.) TIFF recharges my extravert batteries. Lots of vitality in the city, people around, enjoying a movie in a packed theatre in the dark with others who are doing the same thing.  Join me next year?

TIFF – Day 3

I thought, when I chose my films for today that they would be emotionally challenging. I was right. Today’s movies have put me through the wringer.

Director Tom Hooper was overwhelmed by the warm and emotional reception that his film, The Danish Girl, received af a showing at TIFF today

I will start with Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, a poignant story about a transgendered transformation based on the life of Lili Elbe and set in the 1920’s.  If you can even remotely imagine the challenges of being transgendered today, think about what it must have been like in the 1920’s.  Tom Hooper’s last two movies were Les Miserables and The King’s Speech and once again he has constructed a winner.  Eddie Redmayne plays the troubled Lili as she comes to grips with the realization that she is a woman in a man’s body. His portrayal is sensitive and emotional and will certainly win accolades. To me he has always had a boyish charm and delicate, vulnerable side to him that makes him a natural for this role.  This is not like Tootsie of Mrs Doubtfire or Some Like it Hot.  He needs to become a woman, or more to the point, show the torment of struggling to find who you really are and then how to detaining how you can live you life your life as that person. And he accomplishes this acting feat remarkably.

The stronger performance, however, comes from Alicia Vikander, who plays the spouce who must process all of this, be supportive and strong and show unconditional love.  Her performance is Oscar worthy.

The color palate of the film was beautifully synced with the plot. At the beginning there were almost no other colors than muted grays and blues.  Blue is my favorite color (except when worn by Stephen Harper) so I found this quite pleasing.  As Lili’s transitional journey happens we gradually get the introduction of yellows and golds and browns, bringing more warmth to the austere, cool and claustrophobic blues.  This film deserves an award for Art Direction. I mentioned how music played such a significant role in Youth where the main character is a maestro. In this film the main characters are artists and so the construct of having many of the scenes and settings look like art compliments the story being told.

I found one scene particularly disturbing. It was when two young men beat Lili up on the street. Bashing, bullying.  To me it represented how society has treated people who are “different” and is still brings me to tears when I think about this scene.  So I warn you bring Kleenex.  And lots of it.  Another one that gets 5 stars. Opens November 27 in theaters.

(2015 seems to be the year of transvestites and transsexuals for me – and I guess with Caitlyn Jenner, for everyone.  I enjoyed Kinky Boots in July, took in this film today and am in rehearsal for the Rocky Horror Show, where the main character is a “sweet transvestite, from Transsexual Transylvania. My trans trilogy for 2015.)

By stark contrast but also disturbing was Beasts of No Nation, a Netflix film – first for TIFF –  a fictional tale about a child soldier in an unspecified African country.  Based on a book by the same name, this story could have happened in one of several countries but Uganda and Congo come to my mind immediately.  It was distressing  for many reasons, not the least of which was that this kind of exploitation and manipulation of vulnerable kids happens at all.  The violence was graphic and relentless.  The young boy, Abraham Attah, who is in the title role of Agu, was seemingly plucked out of school to take this part and his portrayal of the boy drawn into this horrible circumstance was intuitive and real.  The other main part was of the commander of his rebel unit, played by Idris Elba.

IMG_8239Although I found the subject matter to be quite repugnant and disturbing, for some reason I did not get caught up in the film as much as I thought I might.  The movie was a bit too long, then  seemed to come to a rather abrupt resolution after seemingly endless scenes of guns and explosions and blood.  I may have wanted to distance myself from this violence and that distancing might have also put up a bit of a barrier to keep me from engaging fully with the characters.

It is  interesting that Netflix is entering this movie realm and I think that this film will be seen in selected theaters and on Netflix, at least in the U.S. starting in mid-October.   I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars with a caution for graphic violence.

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Guess who was sitting in the row in front of me I’m the theatre tonight, eating popcorn and enjoying the movie with the rest of the TIFF audience. Michael Moore.

Forgiveness…

I didn’t know when I booked the movies I would see at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past weekend that there would be a common theme.  Basically the ticket-buying process is a bit of a crap-shoot.  I had a large list of movies that I thought would be interesting but there were time conflicts and availability issues to negotiate.  In the end I got seven of the movies on my list so I was happy.

IT_IS_NOT_A_“NAIROBI_HALF_LIFE”_BUT_IT_IS_“SOMETHING_NECESSARY”!31

I knew that the film Something Necessary, shot in Kenya was a fictional story but based on the post-election violence there in early 2008.  I also realized that the film shot in Bosnia – FOR_THOSE_WHO_CAN_TELL_NO_TALES_Trailer_109306676_thumbnailFor Those Who Can Tell No Tales – would have a post-war theme.  I knew very little about The Railway Man,  the Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena other than that they had great acting performances by well-known actors. And I threw in two comedies to break the tension – The Grand Seduction (Directed by Don McKellar) and Bad Words (Directed and starring Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame}.images-1

It was somewhat surprising to me that all the dramas were based on real events.

The characters were fictional in some, but the events were real.  In three of the movies,  the main characters were people who had actually existed and struggled with torture, illness or were horribly mistreated in other ways.

In all the films – even the comedies – someone was wronged. The wrongs varied from being lied to or manipulated to having their child taken away from them but they all revolved around people who  suffered some badwordsrepercussions of having been wronged by someone else.

The dilemma for all the protagonists, that was the force that became central to the film,  was how to deal with the past.  How do you interact with your abuser?  How do you overcome being a victim? Do you look colin-firth-the-railway-manfor revenge or do you give in? Ultimately,  do you forgive?

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It all came together for me in the last five minutes of those seven movies when Philomena elects forgiveness.  Without giving away the story, she confronts someone who has wronged her badly, ruined her life, in fact. Her companion is angry and wants an apology or some sort of revenge.  But Philomena quietly says something like this. “Yes I have something to say to you. I forgive you for what you have done to me.”

Her angry friend is astounded and asks “Is that all you are going to say? Is that it? Just that simple?

Philomena responds with (and I paraphrase – the screenwriter found just the right words to make it powerful)  “It was not simple. It was very difficult. But ultimately i could live with hate in my heart and be miserable. Or I could forgive.

QUAD_PHILOMENA-1024x768In the other films, the victims responded with everything from trying to get even, to exposing the others for their evil ways, to forgiving in one way or another.

Is this a choice we all have to make at some point?  Will we burn ourselves up with anger, rage and the need for revenge or can we honestly forgive on some level and move on.

The movies I saw at TIFF 2013 not only entertained me last weekend, they gave me lots to think about. I just may have also learned some valuable life lessons.

Credit where credit is due…

I am on the train back to Kingston, having just completed a fairly intense four day movie marathon at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In the past few months I have also been lucky to participate in a minor way in the making of four feature films being made by creative and talented friends and fellows. This year at TIFF I had a different view of the films I saw, knowing what huge effort goes into making them. In addition to the screenings of hundreds of films, world premieres and black limos hauling celebrities around the downtown core, thin blonde women in slinky dresses and uncomfortable-looking shoes, there were also great question and answer sessions after many of the screenings.

Sarah somebody? Must be a celeb. Everyone wante her picture but your guess is as good as mine.

Sarah somebody? Must be a celeb. Everyone wanted a picture but your guess is as good as mine.

People lined up on the street for hours to grab a view of the stars. On Friday I passed a group behind a barricade outside the Princess of Wales Theatre all hoping to see Brad Pitt. I hung around for a few minutes but had no idea when or if he was to appear. I had another film to see down the street so I left. When I came out of that film the crowd had swelled considerably. Black cars were letting people out in front of the theatre and flashbulbs were popping. I asked the woman in front of me who we were looking at on the red carpet. She didn’t know. “She is blonde and I think her name is Sarah something,” she said. I took a picture. I have no idea yet who she is.

I tried to get through the throng to meet a friend for dinner. It was impassible so I backtracked and rounded the corner. When I was about one minute away the crowd erupted into screams. Brad Pitt had appeared. I missed him but really didn’t care.

You see two actors in the film. Behind them is a horde of other talents creating the finished product.

You see two actors in the film. Behind them is a horde of other talents creating the finished product.

The actors in a film certainly are integral to its success and often give incredible performances. But they do get their share of deserved public recognition. The more hidden stars of a festival like this are all the others whose work goes into making a great movie – the screenwriters, directors, DP’s (Director of Photography) and, yes, Mike Gourgon, the sound people.

I have, in my brush with movie-making, come to realize that the effusive accolades are sometimes misdirected. This year at TIFF I made sure that I appreciated much more all those behind-the-scenes people who bring us such magic in film. It takes a team.

Christian Paulo Malo (DP) and Alex Daniels prepare a close up take for the movie FAULT, directed by Leigh Ann Bellamy.

Christian Paulo Malo (DP) and Alex Daniels prepare a close up take for the movie FAULT, directed by Leigh Ann Bellamy.

What famous figure, alive or dead …

I am sure that you have all played this game. “What famous figure, alive or dead, would you like to meet?”

I keep this at “famous” figure as there are many deceased relatives that I would like to visit with again. I would really love to meet my grandparents, now, as an adult. How different it would be to relate to these people and see them for who they really are rather than through a child’s eyes.

And when I look online at the choices people make they range from Jesus Christ to Lady GaGa.

Today my choice is Angelina Jolie.

Apart from being incredibly beautiful, this woman intrigues me. I know very little about the Brangelina stuff that I see on the tabloids as I check out of the grocery store. I have not seen the Lara Croft movies (or any of her movies, in fact) nor do I have any desire to do so. I have, however, seen television interviews in which she has surprised me with her insight, intelligence, eloquence and general “down to earth” demeanour.

I have been impressed that Angelina Jolie has used her celebrity to promote awareness of problems in the developing world and has even adopted children from these areas. She is a United Nations Special Envoy for Refugees and has worked for the UNHCR for some time. In some ways her adoptions have followed the principles espoused by Peter Singer in “The Life You Can Save”. Enjoy the fruits of your work and privilege but also share some of that with others less fortunate. She has three kids of her own and has balanced that with three more that were adopted from the developing world. She has struck a chord with me as I think she has made a genuine effort to use her celebrity to help others.

I am anxious to see In The Land of Milk and Honey, a film that will be released in North America next month – one that Jolie wrote and directed. The plot revolves around a love story of a Serb and a Muslim in Bosnia during the war in that country. I worked in Bosnia for several years and heard horrible stories of violence, rape and ethnic hatred that tore families apart. The film is fictional but the setting real. So real, in fact, that Jolie ran into problems getting permission to shoot the film in Bosnia as originally planned and had to move filming location to Hungary. The film was shot in both Bosnian (with subtitles) and English. I want to see the Bosnian version. I admire Jolie’s gutsy decision to tackle this subject and put her reputation on the line at the same time as writer/director rather than actor with a film that will not be a blockbuster but will explore a delicate topic.

But today’s news was the topper. Angelina Jolie has revealed in the New York Times that she has had a bilateral mastectomy in order to reduce the risk of her acquiring breast cancer after finding that she carries the BRCA1 gene for the disease. Her mother died of breast cancer in 2007 and she is at significantly increased risk herself, being found to carry the genetic mutation that will elevate her lifetime risk of breast cancer significantly. She has made this decision so she can reduce her risk and be available for her children. This must have been a huge decision for a movie celebrity to make. By being open with this Angelina Jolie has also done a great service to other women who face the same risks. Once again today’s revelation by this celebrity also strikes home to me as my wife died of breast cancer at age 48 and one of my daughters, already touched by breast cancer at a young age, has elected bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction to minimize her risk of recurrence. I was proud my daughter for making this difficult life choice and I can relate to the angst that Angelina Jolie must have suffered as she made the same decision (at almost the same age).

We often look at celebrity through a very tainted lens. We see them through Hollywood gossip columnists and papparazzi. But under the movie star veneer live real people who live with personal challenges just like the rest of us.

Today my celebrity hero is Angelina Jolie. I am free for lunch tomorrow if she is.