SJIWFF: Thursday Lunch Shorts – Mixed nuts (no peanuts!)

    Posted on: Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Well, looks like grief as a subject for film is trending. Two out of five shorts today were about dealing with a loved one dying, versus only one about romantic heartbreak and not a hint of romantic comedy anywhere to be seen [insert fist pump here]. This hour of five shorts was extremely well curated: two animated, two live action short-story style pieces, and one film-poem.

The tear jerker was thoughtfully put first so no one had to head back to work puffy-eyed. “In the Deep” by Nimisha Mukerji showed the love between a father and his daughter as she goes through the acceptance phase of her (likely) terminal illness. The best scenes were the ones where they can not help but oscillate between vexation and appreciation of each others lifestyles. The later scenes would have been stronger if this struggle-to-not-be-irritated with a loved one had been peppered throughout.

The camera work was understated and carefully executed. An opening shot of a body swimming underwater through rippling chlorine blue waves is held in our eye by the gentle rocking of the camera in the following shot where an older man sits on his sofa in a living room devoid of bright colours or underwater magic.

“Dog Sitting in Eastern Passage”  (Martha Cooley) was a surprise. The sound was part of the visual poetry of waving grass and waves rolling in. Landscapes working almost as emotions in and of themselves. These images were punctuated with written platitudes seen as shots of a journal lying in the grass. “Trust in the unexpected” “Everything you hoped for is coming true” something else about life being circular etc. What saved these from being utterly irritating, in retrospect, was the final journal entry. The denouement, filmed as it was being written, related the attempted mending of a broken heart while dog sitting in this rustling and dynamic setting, with the wonderfully un-cheesy line, “My heart – like a dog – kept bringing me your image.”

The next short, Re: Jess (Talia Alberts), Follows a young man in real time as he finds out about the death of someone important to him. The shift in his mannerisms from the overly practiced self-conscious posing as he executes a flawless brunch date to his awkward mumbling through the shock of bad news was gratifying to watch.

The other highlight of this short was a well shot scene where the film maker lets us watch the protagonist babysit. He can now start to deal with his feelings without a peer watching him. We, essentially, watch him in an unwatched state, with the baby serving to keep some emotional and physical interaction afloat to keep us engaged.

Another interesting device used was the smartphone as soundtrack. The low rumble of it vibrating in a scene in the forest is like a trumpet breaking into song. Later, the pinging of many text notifications, coming in faster and faster as word of his friend’s death spreads, is more deliberately mixed with a xylophone style pinging in the ambient music to blur the lines between the story and the atmosphere.

…and the other shorts … will have to just keep playing in my head as I must put down the laptop and pick up my toddler now… I am looking forward to seeing so many more that I will never be able to find the time to write about them. This year’s schedule is over-the-top packed. Lucky ducks us here is St John’s.

SJIWFF’s Opening Gala: Economics and Ruba Nadda’s Grief-Thriller.

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

A film festival is more than just a movie marathon. It is film industry and film together. This was emphasized in the speeches that kicked off the 25th St John’s Women’s International Film Festival (SJWIFF). Representatives from both private and public funders of the festival took turns at the microphone touting the positive economics of the film industry for our province and our country. And it shows.

Film is an art that has both mass appeal and art house credibility and the making of a film is like the fly the old woman swallowed: it starts a chain reaction of events getting larger and larger that moves money around, creates jobs that become careers, and rewards innovation. Want to see a forest grow from your seed money? Film is an almost literal way to get to view the results of an investment. Movie trumps powerpoint podium speech every time. Though the combination of speeches (thankfully without bullet points or piecharts or clipart) and film last night was a great kickoff to watching these movies all week.

With that context, it was interesting to see October Gale. Though I was immersed in the film itself, in the back of my skull I was also thinking about how it was made, what went in to distribution, the cost of the film and the decisions the producer, and the director-writer had to make about where to spend (and not spend) the funding they did have. These thoughts enriched, rather than distracted from, the watching experience. I will be thinking of the industry and the art as the week progresses.

Kudos to Ruba Nadda for getting the prime Opening Night spot for her film October Gale in a festival that is always a cut above. Also, an extra nod to Nadda for transmitting her gratitude and her excitement through a google chat with a slow connection. Your enthusiasm and openness came through loud and clear!

Now I will admit I was biased towards liking this film from Nadda’s brief explanation of the idea germinating from an image of a woman dealing with her grief. I find that I crave examinations of grief in popular art. Death is everywhere in art and media. But what about the aftermath of grief? That is so often left in uncomfortable silence both on screen and in life.

This film is about grief. And yet it is also a tense thriller, without compromising the atmosphere of either of those two subjects. One moment stands out as showing both the heavy endlessness of grief and the urgency of the dangers bearing down upon the two main characters. Helen (played by Patricia Clarkson) stands frozen at the threshold of her late husband’s office, unable to move as memories and his permanent (and still sudden to her) absence paralyze her. William (Scott Speedman) enters behind her, stops himself, takes a precious moment (they have very little time to prepare for a life and death showdown) to put his hand on her lower back. He leaves it there for a few beats, both reassuring her that he can see what she is going through, and tacitly asking permission to break the sacred atmosphere of this room. When he removes his hand, the kindness has been acknowledged and so too has the need of the moment, and William continues forward in great haste to search the office.

There was not a lot of dialogue but the lines were memorable. This made the quality of the sound extra disappointing as it did obscure some of the dialogue with a sort of reverb quality. Bad sound is one of the most frustrating things in watching a film. It is also, I am told, one of the hardest things to do well on a budget.

Luckily it was not bad enough to obscure what was my favourite line of the film. William is caught looking through the cupboards of Helen’s house and excuses himself by saying he was trying to find an aspirin. Helen, clearly established as a doctor by this point in the film, is holding a shotgun and says, “did I tell you to take an aspirin?”. There is a lot to love about that simple comic line, not least of which is that it is the start of the thread of connection and humour between the two main characters who are in otherwise unhumorous, and potentially polarizing, circumstances.

Tim Roth is given the second best line in the film, when, in a dark and off-kilter supporting role, his whole grim backstory is summed up when he equates optimism in life to a luxury, “…I knew if I fell, I would keep on falling.” Roth’s character, like those of Speedman and Clarkson, is also living his grief. Each of them, over the course of the film or as a part of their backstory, endure great tragedy and mete out violence in an instant of thought. These parallel actions and states are an effective and taut way to highlight their divergent characters.

With all that Nadda did not do (to the credit of the final product with its elegant and straightforward set up, its lack of any hint of sexual violence towards its female protagonist, and its absence of non-germane exposition), I was sorry to be drawn out of the movie at two points by the soundtrack. Twice, during moments that were clearly infused with sadness, a swelling of very sad instrumental music came and took over the scene and smacked me to make sure I was in the correct mood. This was in contrast to a scene near the beginning of the film, set on the lake, which used music very well as a sort of bridge to get us from one part of the story (the grief, the setting up) to the next (the suspense, the tension).

I will be going back and watching Cairo Time, also by Nadda and starring Clarkson. I will also look for Nadda’s future work.

Eat, Drink & Be Scene: Meet & Greet at the Christina Parker Gallery –

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Hey, everyone!

Just wanted to send along a quick reminder to make sure you head down early for a meet and greet at the Christina Parker Gallery, located at 50 Water Street, from 5:00pm-7:00pm.

Come rub elbows with some of the festival’s organizers and contributors at one of the most vibrant and prestigious galleries in this fine city. Come ‘Be Scene’ and say hello!

Day Two Preview

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

It’s Day 2! Oh, the fun is just beginning.

I highly encourage everyone to check out the full schedule of events as early as possible to secure your seats for some of these incredible screenings and panels.

Today there will be screenings of a collection of short films at the LSPU Hall at both noon and 7:00pm, as well as screenings at the Johnson Geocentre at 9:30pm.

There will also be two feature-length screenings tonight that you won’t want to miss!

The first film is E-Team, an American documentary that premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival to glowing reviews. Co-directors Katy Chevigny & Ross Kauffman teamed up to present a harrowing and honest look into the lives of emergency responders to human rights violations. It’s a powerful film that gives viewers a front row seat to the glimpses of humanity conveyed in some of the most afflicted locales on Earth. This documentary will be screening at The Rooms this evening from 7:00pm-9:00pm.

The second film screening this evening is Cast No Shadow, the highly anticipated film written by local jack-of-all-trades Joel Thomas Hynes and directed by Christian Sparked in his debut feature length. This movie swept the Atlantic Film Festival Awards, with nods to both of the aforementioned gentlemen. Hynes’ work needs no introduction, defining our province’s darkest tones with some of the most genuine dialog you’ll find in any local work. The screening will be a late one, starting at 9:30pm at The LSPU Hall.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of catching these fine filmmakers honing their craft in some of the most remarkable selections you’ll see this year.

Stay tuned! More to come.

And We’re Off!

    Posted on: Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Bradley Mercer and I have been given the honor of being the Blogger for the 25th Annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. Having spent the better part of my life considering myself a bit of a film connesieur, it gives me great pleasure to share this spectacular festival and its astounding variety of events or screenings with all you gracious folks on the World Wide Web.

Newfoundland has grown into a hub for film and television production in the past two decades, and I would be willing to bet that many of the returning volunteers and attendees have seen a sharp growth in the local support and international recognition since the festival’s inaugural year. I’m hoping we will get to talk to some of our veteran organizers or volunteers to find out what has evolved in the last 25 years, and perhaps get some perspective on the future of film in this province.

Again, I want to thank the lovely team behind the festival for having me onboard. Film has truly been an interest in which I have found a perpetual fountain of passion and I am so pleased to be sharing the excitement for the coming week.

Stay tuned & check back for some previews on the screenings and workshops!