Is Empire Theatres embracing indie films?

    Posted on: Monday, April 8th, 2013

If you’re a film lover in St. John’s*, you have no doubt bemoaned the lack of cinema options here. For a while, it looked like the old CBC building on Duckworth might be restored to be the theatre it once was, but it’s now being rebuilt as a condominium complex.

Your options aren’t limited to Jack Reacher, though. And it looks like they’re getting better.

First, there’s always the MUN Cinema Series. Every Thursday, you can head to da mall to catch indie films like Amour, Moonrise Kingdom and Stories We Tell.

But lately…. well, is it just me or is Empire Theatres showing better movies?

Hear me out: Cloud Atlas and The Master (for better of for worse) were here. Beat Down screened there, and so did People of a Feather.

And now The Disappeared is coming.

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The Disappeared is a Canadian indie film written and directed by Nova Scotia-based author Shandi Mitchell. It’s about six men stranded in two dories who have to paddle hundreds of miles to get back to shore. It screened to a capacity crowd at the Hall during last year’s St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival and won a bunch of awards since. Shawn Doyle, the film’s Newfoundland and Labrador-born star, even won an ACTRA Award for Outstanding Male Performance for his role in the film.

The Disappeared opens at Empire on April 19th for a two-week run. Doyle will be at the Opening Night screening and Angela Antle will host a question and answer session with him after the film is over. Here is the Facebook event.

I’ve tried a few times to get someone from Empire Theatres on the phone to talk about whether or not there’s a conscious decision to show more independent films, but to no avail.

What do you guys think? Is Empire Theatres stepping it up?

*If you’re a film lover outside of St. John’s, Films On The Go will be bringing you some of the best short films from last year’s festival once again this year. Corner Brook, Norris Point, Gander and Twillingate are first on the list and they’ll be graced with films like Elsa Morena’s Winners, Jordan Canning’s Seconds, and Stephen Dunn’s Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.

FRAMED West Coast will change your life.

    Posted on: Friday, April 5th, 2013

Jana Gillis photo by Sandy MacPhersonDon’t believe me? Ask Jana Gillis. Actually, let me ask her for you.

Last spring, Jana did the first-ever FRAMED West filmmaking camp at Grenfell, where she was a theatre student. FRAMED is a film education program that offers filmmaking camps and workshops to youth. FRAMED West was a six-day, learn-it-all crash course in making a short film, led by Jackie Hynes, open to Grenfell students. Jana wrote a script for a film called Must Be A Zombie Apocalypse and the students brought that script to life (so to speak), from
workshops in make-up and set protocol to hands-on editing.

Well, Must be A Zombie Apocalypse was so good, it screened at a few film festivals including Hal-Con. It’s even screening at the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival next week.

Jana has since moved to St. John’s and taken the film community here by storm: if there was a film shot here this year, she was probably on the crew.

Since we’re about to bring FRAMED West back to Grenfell and offer a clutch of lucky students the opportunity to learn how to make a film (something I’ve just recently learned how to do, and it isn’t easy. Pro tip: when film people talk about “sinking” audio, they’re actually saying “synching.”) I caught up with Jana to talk about her experiences with FRAMED West and how they helped get her career off to an impressive start.

So, you participated in last year’s FRAMED West camp. How was it?
It was amazing. I come from theatre background so I hadn’t done a lot of film before and it just seemed like a fun thing to do. That was the first screenplay I ever wrote – I had written a lot of plays before but actually getting to see my script turned into a short film and be involved in the process every step of the way was pretty awesome.

What kind of film background did you have going into the camp?
At Grenfell we did an acting for camera class. Peter Buckle, who worked on the FRAMED West camp with us, is also kind of a production teacher — he and Nancy Beatty were teaching the acting and how to audition and things like that, and Peter would teach us a bit of the production. So we would take turns being in the scene and also be camera assistant and lighting assistant.

Do you think someone without any experience at all could do it?
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!

How did you feel about film before you went into FRAMED West?
It was something that I always wanted to try. In theatre school, people always try to tell you the differences between theatre and film but you don’t really understand it until you actually get in there and try acting for film. I watched a lot of TV and a lot of movies, but once you get in there and are doing it, you can never watch something like a normal person ever again, which is awesome, because you get to see how much work goes into every single frame and how many people have to come together to make it happen.

You’ve since moved to St. Johns and you’re really involved in the community here now — you’re working with TEDx, right?
Yep!

What else are you working on here?
I just finished stage managing, but in regards to film, I was a production assistant a pilot called “Slattery Street Crockers.” I also did some script supervising on a First Time Filmmaker film at NIFCO, and I took the intro courses at NIFCO as well. Everyone that I met in the workshop and that I met when I came here and started volunteering with the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, I’ve worked on various different projects with them. The film industry here is very willing to take on people and train them, but I definitely would not have even really thought about being able to anything like this before I did that FRAMED workshop, though.

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Here’s the zombie FRAMED West crew from last year. Want to get yourself in a similar state? FRAMED West is offering a six-day filmmaking camp to any and all Grenfell students from April 28 to May 3. No film experience necessary. Students will learn how to break down a script, operate a camera, light a scene, act for camera, and edit a film. And then some. Registration deadline is April 15th. Email Jackie Hynes at jackie@womensfilmfestival.com for more information or to sign up. There is a $25 fee.

FRAMED West is presented by The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, CONA and Sir Wilfred Grenfelj College. For more information, click here.

Happy International Women’s Day

    Posted on: Friday, March 8th, 2013

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Here a few of the great things going on in the Happy Land of Interwebzia today in celebration of International Women’s Day.

- Easily my most favourite thing so far, The Herat International Women’s Film Festival is Afghanistan’s first-ever women’s film festival, and they lit up their screens for the first time yesterday. Amazing. Read more here.

- The NFB has all kinds of great stuff up on their site. First, you can watch Status Quo? The Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canada, a great doc that made one of the final cuts for programming in last year’s Festival. Then you can read this great blog post about some of the NFB’s Canadian female film pioneers. And then be sure to check out two animated shorts from Andrea Dormfan (OMG, we love her), Big Mouth, and Flawed.

- The #SheDocs Online Film Festival, running from March 1 to March 31, is screening docs online about women and girls taking names.

- The Tribeca Film Festival announced their program and it is full of films that were written or directed by women. Melissa Silverstein over at Women and Hollywood gives Beat Down gets big ups from the Portland news outlet, Oregon Live, after its screening at the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival.

- This infographic about women in Canadian politics and media is super interesting.

- Oh, and the film community of St. John’s got a fist bump re: its awesome support of the SJIWFF and Midnight’s Children last time at Prime Time in Ottawa. Thanks, Elsa, for the heads up via Twitter, and thanks to you all for all the top-notch support.

Dancing words unsaid

    Posted on: Monday, March 4th, 2013

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Do you know people so incredibly smart and creative that, every once in a while, you do a double-take and think, “Holy crap, I can’t believe this is someone I wave to on the street?”

Louise Moyes is one of those people for me. Seriously, she combines dance and documentary filmmaking (what?) to create these rich, beautiful shows about women and feminism and life and love (WHAT?).

She’s amazing. And brilliant. And it’s always enlightening to talk to her.

Lucky for me, there’s a good reason to interview her: Moyes has a new show opening at the Hall on March 6th called Moore-Gallant: A Docudance. She acts out a short story by Lisa Moore, via dance and storytelling, and then she uses three shorts films and dance to tell one of Mavis Gallant’s short stories.

She’s also going to donate proceeds from her opening night performance to the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award. Jackie Hynes, this year’s RBC MJAward winner, will read from her script before the performance starts. Moyes also has Elisabeth de Mariaffi reading on the 7th, Sara Tilley reading on the 8th, and Wanda Nolan reading on the 9th.

I caught up with Louise to hear more.

How is all the preparation for your show going?
It’s going well, I’m at the point now that I’m really looking forward to getting in the theatre because then that conversation happens with the audience. I’m working with several different directors and outside eyes and that is a delicious relationship, but I’m looking forward to telling stories.

I just read an article about Mavis Gallant in the New Yorker, where they printed excerpts from her diary from when she was living in Paris and had no money and was so hungry, waiting desperately for this cheque to arrive from having one of her stories published.
Yeah, she was a pre-feminist feminist, she was a journalist in Montreal and she wrote short stories and she said I’m moving to Paris and I’m going to starve if I have to. She was literally starving.

She was, yeah!
And she had one of her stories published in the New Yorker and her agent had been trying to hide the fact that she’d been published and the money. So, and apparently, she has lived from her writing ever since and been the most published woman of any genre in the New Yorker.

And that’s an impressive feat.
Isn’t it?

How did you get into her?
You know, the book I have, I got at Afterwords for two dollars a long time ago.

Note the importance of the independent used book store, everybody.
[laughing] And I did English Lit at University, Canadian Lit with Noreen [Golfman]. And I was having an interesting chat with Noreen a few weeks ago and she was saying that as a young prof, it was challenging to try to present Mavis because she is so complex. We were talking about how she is so good at portraying, in very subtle ways, self deception. As a younger person, when I was 19 or 20 reading the stories, I didn’t know what self deception was, I was trying to understand myself. Now that I’ve been reading her for over 20 years, and the emotional layers of her stories become more and more revealed to me as I get older, I don’t think I understand her fully yet. But this project helps me understand her more.

Why do you think self deception in particular intrigued you?
It’s not a topic I often deal with in my shows, I tend to focus on the light and people actually gaining self-knowledge, I think. So, it’s a darker look at humans than I often take. I think we want to understand the light and the dark. And she’s got a good sense of humour about it, too. That is a lovely thing about her, is that while her characters aren’t always aware of everything she’s revealing about them, she does it with a sense of humour.

So how do you express all this through dance? How do you express Mavis and self deception and her humour through dance?

This is both dance and theatre. This story is a love triangle and it’s a series of four short stories that are connected. This man is in love with two very different women, one very exotic and very voluptuous, the other quite prim and conservative, but both equally passionate in their way. So I play the prim wife on stage, and Lisa Porter is the other woman. [Lisa Porter is shown in three short films, directed by Moyes and shot by Paul Pope. - ed]

Some sections are overt theatre where I play a character; I play the man on stage, in a theatrical way.

I would say, for the dance — I think it’s the movement that really helps me get to the layers of emotion and the self deception, it’s the body language, it’s the things that aren’t said.

Can you tell me a bit about those movements?
We set it up so that there is a prelude where I do Juliette’s Dance — she is the prim wife — to music by Duane Andrews. His music is throughout the piece, he was natural partner to work with on the composition side because his music is half Parisian. We’re working with some of the pieces he has already made and the kernel of the story he scored like a film score, so he put in sound effects and also music. And one of the pieces he had already made, called D.D.’s Blues, we use as a prologue. So, we see the movement and the emotion of Juliette and then those movements are repeated in the story and are familiar to the audience — that is the hope, anyway, that they will connect and say ‘Oh, I saw that movement before, and that’s what this movement means now.’” That they’ll connect the movement and the word.

Okay, so this is an exploration of Gallant’s work and also of Lisa Moore? How does she fit in?
I had read a story of Lisa Moore’s in a magazine that reminded me of Mavis Gallant’s work. And I had known for a while that I wanted to work with Mavis Gallant’s story, but that I needed something to balance it, and one afternoon I was in studio rehearsing to some Parisian-style music and the idea just balanced it, it was like the right hand and the left hand. I asked Lisa and she was thrilled — I hadn’t realized that Mavis is her short story heroine and when Lisa teaches writing at MUN, she works with Mavis as an example of superior short story writing style, and that she defended Mavis Gallant in Canada Reads. And Gallant has actually written to Lisa, through her agent, to say that she admired her work.

Wow!
Yeah, that was a really nice full circle.

So, I left a message for Lisa and she called me back, laughing, saying you won’t believe, but the Walrus magazine just phoned me and said they were reprinting a verbatim conversation from Canada Reads, which is people of all different backgrounds, and apparently there was one fella on the jury who was saying that he couldn’t read Mavis Gallant because she is too old-fashioned. Lisa said she lept across the table and pointed at him and said, “You are a lazy reader!” And the Walrus thought it was a wonderful thing, and reprinted it. So it was a lot of great happenstance.

So, when all the funding was in place, she and I met in my kitchen and she gave me a brand new story and she said, ‘I think this is a really good visual story to work with.’ And it is, I’m so happy to work with it. It’s layered in a different way than the Gallant is, this one is more layered in its ideas. It’s about a gorilla escaping from a zoo and it’s about when man and animal meet. It’s also about self deception, and there are some interesting ideas about the character’s place in the world. There are philosophical ideas, there’s biological study and there’s the emotional life of this main character, Harry.

Do you do the Gallant story first?
No, I do the Lisa Moore story first, because it’s a shorter presentation and it’s more focused. It’s really sculptural, it’s just one pool of light, and me — it’s a lot of limbs and legs, and a fake fur coat and piece of plexiglass. I learned the whole story verbatim and I’m telling the whole story, kind of like contemporary story telling.

Is there a film accompanying this one?
Nope, just a little bit of music. I think it will be a complete contrast in a satisfying way.

The evening will open with a writer, so that will set the tone of the evening. As you know, the Michelle Jackson night, March 6, Jackie Hynes will read from her screenplay, and short story writers will read on the other nights.

Tell me a bit about why you decided to donate to the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award.
Michelle made a short film for a show that I do called Florence, and I had been doing this show this spring, so Michelle has been with me. And I love the community aspect of performing, I’m a solo performer but I’m very social and also we come from a community that does work interdisciplinarily and works together, so because there’s film in the show, too, I wanted to embrace the film community in some way and I think the award is a very important award.

Moore-Gallant: A Docudance opens on March 6th at the LSPU Hall and runs until March 9th. Tickets are available at the RCA Box Office or at the Hall.

Rachel Mwanza is heading to the Oscars

    Posted on: Friday, February 22nd, 2013

War Witch Rebele

Here’s a heart-warming story on a nose-freezing day.

Rachel Mwanza is a sixteen-year-old girl who spent most of her youth living in the streets of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her parents abandoned her when she was a child.

Then Quebec filmmaker Kim Nguyen put out a casting call in Kinshasa for his next film. Mwanza went.

That film was Rebelle (War Witch), and it’s now up for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Mwanza, who had no previous acting experience, won a Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival and got the best actress nod from Tribeca for her role as Komona, a young girl who is telling her life story to her unborn child. Komona was a child solider but, with the help of “magic milk,” premonitions, a warlord, and an albino, she managed to escape her gruelling life at war.

Nguyen told the CBC that Mwanza is “the most talented actress [he has] ever worked with.”

The film’s producers, Marie-Claude Poulin and Pierre Even, have promised to pay for her education and room and board in Kinshasa until she is 18 years old.

When they found out that Rebelle was up for an Oscar, they applied for a visa for Mwanza so that she could attend the ceremonies. Last week, they were still struggling with the process: American authorities had to be convinced that she wouldn’t stay there as an illegal immigrant.

But yesterday, the Visa was granted and Mwanza is on her way to the Oscars!

She’s even landed another role in a film — she’ll be in Henri Wajnberg’s film, Kinshasa Kids.

Be sure to cheer for Rebelle (War Witch) this Sunday at the Oscars, and come out to see the film on March 1st at the LSPU Hall at 8pm as part of Scene & Heard, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day.