This year, VIFF has expanded its already significant focus on Canadian films to include a brand-new section: Future/Present. Highlighting the diversity of voices present in independent Canadian filmmaking, the program aims to spotlight artists “who demonstrate originality and vision while challenging the medium”. Consisting of eight films predominantly by first-time directors (more than half of whom are women), the showcase is a bold new move for VIFF, and promises a commitment to supporting Canada’s up-and-coming independent talent. Here are two films not to be missed.
Not only is Nova-Scotia based filmmaker Ashley McKenzie heading the new face of young, independent Canadian cinema—she is also making the (real) East Coast cool again. The recipient of three National Screen Institute Fearless Female Director awards for her short films, McKenzie has clearly cemented that title with her first feature, Werewolf.
Blaise and Nessa are a methadone-dependent couple living in a small town in Cape Breton. They spend their days lining up at the local pharmacy to get their daily dose and dragging around a battered lawn mower that they use to mow any willing folks’ lawns. While this story may sound familiar, or even raise some alarms about representations of addiction, McKenzie’s film is something not yet seen; a deeply humane and empathic portrayal of two young people living the lives they’ve been given. Free of dramatization, and aided by a cast of non-professional actors, Werewolf eschews conventional narrative structures to focus instead on the atmosphere that engulfs Blaise and Nessa as they struggle to help themselves. McKenzie’s daring formal choices, such as the heavy use of extreme close-ups on faces, hands, feet and other body parts and relative silence throughout the film emphasize the oppression that her characters face. Shot in muted tones of grey and blue, Werewolf is at once quiet and powerful. Anchored by stupendous performances by its two leads, the film is a gem amid VIFF’s Canadian content.
Tales of Two Who Dreamt
Co-directed by Canadian filmmaker Andrea Bussman and veteran Mexican-Canadian director Nicolas Pereda, Tales of Two Who Dreamt is a playful, inventive and elegant exercise in formally experimental narrative. Shot in black-and-white (initially in digital, and later transferred to film) and set in an anonymous housing block on the outskirts of Toronto, the film documents the existence of a Roma family living in limbo as they await their immigration hearing. The additional layer added to what we glimpse of their lives is a disjointed and fantastical tale of a boy, Alex (also the name of the their son), who wakes up one morning transformed into a bird. Come again? Yup. Bussman and Pereda are concerned with the notion of storytelling and the relationship between filmmaker and subject, both story creators in their own right. They gently encourage their cast to claim the story they are co-creating, leading to a fascinating exploration of the art of documentary itself, and an interrogation of the boundaries between fact and fiction. Tales of Two Who Dreamt is a visual delight and a must-see for cinephiles interested in the potential of experimental storytelling.
Werewolf screens on October 4 and October 6 at the Cinematheque. Tales of Two Who Dreamt screens on October 1 at International Village Cinemas and on October 3 at the Cinematheque. Purchase tickets here and here.