5 films to watch at the 2011 ReelWorld Film Festival
The ReelWorld Film Festival returns to Toronto screens between April 6 and 10. Since its founding, in 2001, by Canadian actress and Ryerson alumnus Tonya Lee Williams, the festival's express mandate has been the promotion of ethnically diverse filmmakers, both from Canada and abroad. A decade on, ReelWorld has screened features (and shorts) from over 140 countries, and this year's program, which includes films from Barbados, Mauritius, and the Congo, aims to further expand audiences' cinematic horizons. Here are five of the festival's standout selections.
Though a production of the National Film Board, Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths documents the decline of a cultural tradition that, to most Torontonians, could scarcely seem more alien: the semi-nomadic existence of the Eastern Arctic Inuit. Until as recently as the 1950s, survival within such communities was predicated on the mobility provided by the sled dog. Then, within the span of twenty years, both this centuries-old way of life, and some 20,000 dogs, abruptly disappeared. Qimmit's titular clash concerns the explanation of these events, pitting the Inuit's accusations of a Crown-sponsored cull against the government's assertions of public protection and canine disease. Through interviews with Inuit community members, and with retired officers of the RCMP, filmmakers Ole Gjerstad and Joelie Sanguya probe and illuminate the colonial legacies that underlie the conflicting accounts.
If the slaughter of Inuit sled dogs remains a contested allegation, Saddam Hussein's attempted genocide of Iraqi Kurds is a grim historical fact. Yet, when, in 2008, director Mark Cousins visited Goptapa - a village once devastated by the al-Anfal campaign - he discovered that it was home to a vibrant new generation. He also discovered that its children had never been to the movies. During his own childhood, the Belfast native had sought refuge from the Irish Troubles by immersing himself in cinema, and in The First Movie, Cousins chronicles his attempt to share the magic of films and filmmaking with Goptapa's youth. This he does by erecting a pop-up cinema where he screens E.T. and other classics, before handing the children cameras of their own. The result, both a poignant document and a work of wide-eyed wonder, is truly one-of-a-kind, and has won rich international acclaim.
In striking contrast to Cousins' film, Richard Ma: Actionmaker is very much the product of a media saturated society. Vancouverite co-directors Ian Barbour and Darren Heroux have taken the recent trend of truth-blurring documentaries (Catfish, I'm Still Here, Exit Through the Gift Shop) to its logical conclusion, crafting a vérité portrait in the guise of a work of fiction. Via an intriguingly ambitious fusion of scripted, improvised, and candid footage, Actionmaker introduces audiences to Richard Ma, a real man who lives life through a lens of Hong-Kong action tropes. Barbour and Heroux sought to foster Ma's fantasies, and granted him substantial collaborative input in the telling of his own story. The resultant narrative doubles as a cinematic Rorschach, and offers a uniquely contemporary insight into one man's subjective reality.
ReelWorld's opening night selection communicates a timely theme of hope and re-birth in the face of overwhelming tragedy. The second dramatic feature from Sri Lankan-Canadian Rohan Fernando, Snow is the story of Parvati (Kalista Zakhariyas), a young woman whose home and family are swept away by the Asian tsunami of 2004. Taken in, with some reluctance, by distant relatives in Halifax, her grief is further compounded by a profound sense of dislocation. The subject matter has a strong autobiographical resonance for Fernando, whose 2007 documentary Blood and Water explored a family connection to the same tragic event. Awed by the depth of feeling that the project evoked, he here embraces the dramatic format in an attempt to better convey those most intimate emotions. Snow duly invites audiences to glimpse not only the pain and disorientation occasioned by loss, but also its stirring capacity for transformation and renewal.
Next to films concerned with catastrophic natural disasters, the vestiges of genocide, and forced cultural assimilation, a documentary on the U.S. professional sports industry might appear relatively insubstantial. Most assuredly, Dave Zirin would disagree. In Not Just a Game, the writer and radio personality critically examines America's "sports-media complex" and concludes that, contrary to the popular characterization of sport as an apolitical realm, many of the nation's most fractious societal schisms are bound up in its sporting traditions. Indeed, Zirin illustrates the manner in which sport has served to actively reinforce militarism, sexism, homophobia, and even racism, despite the prominence of African Americans among contemporary sporting icons. Contrasting these ad-friendly athletes with the rebellious few who have sought to draw attention to issues of social justice, Not Just a Game urges viewers to question de-politicised media narratives. As much as any film at this year's festival, it's a selection that embodies ReelWorld's culturally insightful ethos.
For screening details and a full festival schedule, visit ReelWorld.ca. Festival venues are Scotiabank Theatre (gala screenings) and Cineplex Canada Square (regular screenings, industry series). Tickets and passes can be purchased online, by phone at 1-800-595-4849, or in person at the ReelWorld box office, 438 Parliament Street, 2nd Floor, and at Cineplex Canada Square.