Off World

ReelWorld Film Festival 2010

On its 10th anniversary, the ReelWorld Film Festival has much to celebrate. The long-running festival kicks off this Wednesday with a slew of fresh films from Aboriginal, Asian, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern, South Asian and other multi-racial communities - and it's doing so with more than 60% Can Con!

Case in point is the festival opener, Off World (April 7). 'Lucky' (Marc Abaya) is a young American wandering in search of rhyme, reason, and his birth family. His travels take him to Smokey Mountain in the Philippines. Smokey Mountain - pretty as it sounds - is not an actual mountain but a two million ton garbage heap in Manila and home to tens of thousands of squatters.

While shooting Off World, Mateo Guez spent 14 weeks with a crew in the landfill area. The footage he came out with looks like more like an urban fantasy-scape than a ghetto. For Guez, the neighbourhood isn't just a backdrop for his characters, it's also an integral part of the story. 'Lucky' finds himself in a foreign place - physically, emotionally, and economically - and soon begins to feel at home and at peace in his new surroundings.

So there I was the other night, watching the film, falafel in hand, wondering how a French-born, Toronto-based filmmaker would avoid getting beaten up when he's setting up crane shots and Super 35mm cameras in Smokey Mountain? I called Guez to find out.

Here's the backstory: Guez was in Manila promoting an interactive film he co-directed a couple of years ago (the CFC/NFB production Late Fragment). When he was offered a tour of Smokey Mountain from a publicist's friend, who works for an NGO in the area, it was a no-brainer. He tells me that locals were friendly and open, that they welcomed the shooting of Off World in their backyards because the film doesn't capture the neighbourhood as a voyeur, focusing instead on uplifting themes and the beauty of the location.

ReelWorld is also screening one of my favourites exposĂŠs of the year, Nollywood Babylon, a Canadian doc that goes inside the Nigerian film industry (April 9th and 10th). In this one, Montreal filmmakers Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal take cameras to movie sets and street markets, surveying Nigerians who make and sell cheap, sensational, and hugely popular local films.

Other ReelWorld picks include Sex Volunteer, in which a young female film student, a disabled man, and a priest get arrested for prostitution in a Korean hotel room. Or there's 1999, a take on Toronto Sri Lankan gangs, Black, a bank robbery/heist/action film, plus more features, shorts, and a music video program.

The ReelWorld Film Festival (RWFF) will celebrate cultural diversity from April 7th to 11th, 2010 at the Scotiabank Theatre and Cineplex Canada Square, 2190 Yonge Street. Tickets $10-$25 online or at the Cineplex Canada Square Box Office.

Still from Off World.

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