2013 Nickel Festival: Night Two

    Posted on: Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I find it extremely fitting that the more upbeat nature of opening night was accompanied by gorgeous, sunny weather. Last night, with a noticeably more somber, deeply emotional tone, we were treated to an almost cleansing downpour.

Sorry if I’m sounding a little more poetic than normal here, but good cinema, such as we were treated to on night two, has a tendency to do that to me lately. The quality of the films present last night with their gorgeous cinematography, score, acting and subject matter was top notch.

The night opened with the only film tonight that wasn’t a documentary, Better People. This short drama was created by local actor/filmmaker Mark O’Brien, who also stars in the main role. We follow his character after a recent breakup as he drinks his sorrows away alone at a bar, trying to find something he can’t seem to grasp. He meets another woman (played by Mark’s actual wife, Georgina Reilly) who is in a similar situation, but handling it a bit differently. Of course he falls for her, but once they start getting close he begins to push away.

The look and feel of this film is perfect. It gives a very empty feeling at times with the use of it’s dark setting. We’re focused on the main character and the girl he’s infatuated with. The rest of the film is out of focus and dreary. We’re living in his space and it’s very lonely in here. I particularly enjoyed one scene where the main character has the choice to continue the night with the girl he’s met, or to turn around and head home. Behind him it’s dark, empty, and lonely. Behind her it’s brightly lit with her friends beckoning at her in the background. His choice is sadly obvious, and even though he has a change of heart shortly after, the damage is already done.

Luckily for those who couldn’t attend the festival you can view this on Vimeo here. I highly recommend it.

Next we have Pose. This short documentary comes from Eva Madden out of Nova Scotia. Slightly more artistic in subject matter than the rest of the night, it focuses on a man who works as a comic book artist, but also poses as a nude model on the side. It’s an odd but interesting combination. I found the way he looked at being the nude model refreshing. Most would see it as a possibly degrading way to earn a few dollars. However, he looks at it as a meditative experience where he’s the one in control.

Moving on, we have Ink & Paper. Another short doc from Halifax native Ben Proudfoot through his Los Angeles company Breakwater Motion Pictures. I’ll be honest, when I read the summary of this film on the Nickel’s website, I wasn’t exactly brimming with excitement. A documentary about the last letterpress and paper shops in LA? Not the best pitch. But the entertainment here comes from the two men who run these. Their love of what they do is something they don’t shy from and it’s touching to see people still committed to quality hands on work. Even having their power disconnected from nonpayment won’t sour their spirit. It’s sad to see the hard work that these guys put into their jobs get so little reward in the end.

Lucky for you guys this is the second film of the night that can viewed online here.

And last, but certainly not least, we were treated to the incredibly touching local documentary Hard Light. Directed by local filmmaker Justin Simms and based on the novel of the same name written by Newfoundland author, Michael Crummey. Through a series of short stories and interviews with Michael, we learn a little about where he came from and his family history. An old fashioned group of people living by the old laws of the land that most of us have come in contact with at some point, but seem to be becoming more forgotten as time passes.

We hear Michael’s own personal journey. Leaving the province as a young adult. Living a stripped down life that he felt he needed to move forward in his career. An escape from his past. But Michael and Justin show that knowing your past, embracing it and not just letting the stories slip by, can help you figure out what is actually important in life. It doesn’t need to be the hindrance that many people believe the past to be.

Being from rural NL a lot of his stories sounded eerily familiar and held a weight with me throughout the movie. This one takes the cake for being the first film of the festival to bring a tear to my eye.

After the film we are treated to yet another Q&A with Justin and Michael to close the night. From the amount of questions being asked and response from the crowd I don’t think I’m alone in saying that these are crowd favorites. Fingers crossed that we get treated to more of these in the future.

And once again this is where I call it a day. I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on night three and the very popular horror night. Hopefully you have your tickets already as this one has a tendency to sell out quickly.

 

2013 Nickel Festival: Opening Night

    Posted on: Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Opening night is officially in the bag for the 13th annual Nickel Independent Film Festival. How was it? Who stole the show? What did you miss? Well that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

The show started at 8:00 but I headed down a little early to grab my ticket and enjoy some pre-show fun. The bar is open and the place is buzzing by the time I get there. Outside the Hall, the great talent from Wonderbolt Circus is on display. The environment is fun, the people are friendly, this is what the Nickel is about.

Shortly after 8:00 the action moves to the main theatre. I got to enjoy some reserved seating near the back so I could take notes and tweet throughout the night without disturbing the rest of the guests. Thankfully, the cozy size of the theater allows for optimal viewing wherever you find yourself.

After some introductions and greetings moderated by the lovely Janelle Hickey, the show begins.

Everything kicks off with the 8MM series. To anyone new to the Nickel, this is an annual series where directors are given a day to create a short film in the classic 8MM format. I love the look of these films. 8MM offers such a natural, warm feeling that it’s hard to not fall in love. It hearkens back to a time when film making was an almost strictly visual medium.

This year we are treated to two films, Outfitted and The Case of the Mondays. Directed by locals Michael Fisher and Emily Bridger respectively. Both films gave exactly what you would expect from 8MM films shot in one day. Simple, effective storytelling with a nice sprinkle of humor thrown in for good measure. The cherry on top came with the addition of a live score for each of the films. Without dialogue, 8MM needs a good score to give it some added flow. To get this in the form of live music was absolutely amazing. Definitely a  Nickel memory that’s going to stick.

Next up was the animated offering of the students at the College of the North Atlantic campus in Stephenville. Sign Clad Hills is full of good old fashioned Newfoundland humor with a touch of social commentary. It’s amazing to see what these guys can do with a seven week intersession. I doubt if I’m the only person wondering what they could create with a bit more time on their hands.

The first of two US made films of the night came courtesy of director Jennifer Treuting. Brother’s Day is a short but touching documentary about three siblings who decide to create their own brotherly holiday. Let’s leave it to children to take an idea that sounds like another excuse to sell cards and gifts, and for them to strip it of it’s material value. The kids here are inspiring in their resolve to keep this family holiday going for six years. Living in the very material world we do right now, seeing values such as this in youth is the stuff that makes you warm and fuzzy inside.

The second US short is a creative burst of color and art from the mind of Dustin Grella. Comprising of several skits drawn from crowd sourced voice mails as inspiration. The animation here is beautiful and the idea itself is refreshing. While there’s no narrative, it was intriguing to see how one man’s pen interprets another person’s word. If you didn’t catch it last night then you can visit Dustin’s website here to see some of his other work.

Two Square Feet carries on the uplifting theme of the night. Directed by Ruth Lawrence, it focuses on a woman looking past her insecurities in a time of change, self doubt and uncertainty. Well shot with a great performance from Jeanne Beker, this film is a poignant example of recognizing self worth and living outside of our bubbles.

One More Song, the directorial debut of local musical talent, Ian Foster, was a part of my ten most anticipated films of the festival. I can easily say that it didn’t disappoint. This was one of the better looking films of the night and I only wish it was a little longer. Stylistically, think of a music video, without the music. Instead you have beautiful imagery, an intriguing concept and some voice over work to tell it’s story. Great job for Foster’s first film.

The final film of the night came from writer/director Mark Hoffe. The Needle and the Damage Undone is an eye opening documentary focusing on injection drug abuse and the harm reduction methods used in this province. The topic covered is something that should be talked about more often and the information here should be more readily available than it is. How many of you know what “harm reduction” actually means? This film gives you this information through touching interviews with those involved on both sides of the system. It encourages you to look into this and ask more questions yourself. Hopefully this documentary gets the opportunity to move around and reach the more rural areas across the province.

This was all topped off with an informative Q&A with Mark and those involved in the harm reduction field in the province. This was another excellent source of information and I hope others who see this film have the ability to take advantage of a similar Q&A.

So there you have it. An incredibly successful night for everyone involved and I send my congratulations to all who had films screened! I wish I could talk more specifically about what I loved but in an effort to keep this to a comfortable length I do need to limit myself.

Tonight we continue the fun with night #2. Can’t wait to see you there!

RBC MJ Award on two square feet

    Posted on: Monday, June 17th, 2013

Tonight, at opening night of the Nickel Film Festival, you’ll be able to see Ruth Lawrence’s warm, quirky, Jeanne Beker-led film, “Two Square Feet.”

It’s a wonderful film, and it has a special place in our hearts here at the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

Ruth made the film with the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award, founded in 2010 in honour of St. John’s filmmaker and mentor Michelle Jackson.

It’s neat timing, too, because the 2013 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award is now open for submissions. Any emerging female filmmakers residing in Newfoundland and Labrador who have not yet directed a feature film are encouraged to apply.

You can find all the details, regulations and application forms here.

In the meantime, check out these stills and shots from the set of Jackie Hynes’ 2012 RBC MJ Award-winning film, “The Passenger.” This haunting tale of a woman forced to unload her baggage will premiere at this year’s St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

Perhaps it will follow in “Two Square Feet’s” two square feet and open the next Nickel, too.

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Stills by Victoria Wells.

Nickel For Your Thoughts

    Posted on: Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Greetings ladies and gentlemen!

I welcome you all to the first time I entertain an audience outside of my own blog. For those non-acquainted with me (most of you), my name is Roger Newhook. Hailing from gorgeous downtown St. John’s, I spend most of my time watching movies, entertaining my dog, watching more movies, and then writing about them hereIt’s still a work in progress so I apologize if it’s a little rough around the edges.

The occasion that brings me to the Signal? Why the 13th Annual Nickel Independent Film Festival of course!

I’ve been kindly asked to cover this event for this lovely blog and I’m incredibly excited to hang out with you guys for the next couple of weeks.

For any of you not versed in the Newfoundland independent film circuit, here’s a rundown of the Nickel Film Festival. It started back in 2001 by prominent St. John’s filmmaker Roger Maunder. Conceived from the idea of showcasing Newfoundland’s independent film culture, and named after the province’s first movie theater, Roger gave us all the Nickel Film Festival.

Spanning for 5 days and nights during the third week of June (this year landing on the 18th-22nd), it introduces local talent through nightly screenings at the LSPU hall in downtown St. John’s. It also gives the opportunity to further immerse those interested in the field with film-making workshops, hosted by event staff and supporters, during the days.

Since it’s beginning the festival has grown to include not only local talent, but short films and filmmakers from around the world. This year the festival has a healthy selection of local material, but also showcases talent from the rest of Canada, the US, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, China and Afghanistan. Needless to say, it’s expanding.

So with it’s origin behind us, let’s look to the future.

With opening night just around the corner I could sit here and detail everything you need to know going in. What movies are playing, who made them, what I think, and so on.

Not necessary.

If you can only attend one or two nights then don’t fret, any of the five will be sure to entertain! After spending the past couple of days sifting through the selection, I feel confident in saying that this festival is great at spreading the love. With the exception of the Late Night Horror Show, which any horror fans should attend, there is no nightly theme or order. You can stop by any night and get a diverse set of films made locally and from abroad.

The regular shows start at 8:00PM, with the horror show starting 10:30PM on night 3. If you want to do a little mingling with some of the talent involved, then head down to the LSPU hall (located at 3 Victoria St.) a little early. What you’ll quickly come to love about the Nickel is the warm and open nature of it. There is a lot of work that goes into this humble festival and a lot of that comes from the organizer’s love of the industry and our local talent. The people working there will greet you with a smile, have a chat, and provide a laugh or two I’m sure.

I’m happy to say I’ll be hitting up each and every night and reporting my thoughts as the festival progresses. I have taken the week off work so I’ll be posting here as often as my train of thought and fingers will let me. I’m picking up a case of redbull and expecting a few late nights to make sure you’re all kept up to date.

The action all kicks off tonight at The Levee with the return of The Nickel Launch Party. No cover, drinks, dancing, and music courtesy of One Power guarantee a good time.

What I leave you fine people with today, is a quick rundown of the ten films I’m most excited about and a little synopsis why. I list these in no particular order and I am by no means saying that I’m not excited for the rest of the lineup. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by some of the films I saw that I knew nothing about. One of the great things about a festival like this is being almost forced to go in blind. There’s a certain pleasure in being part of a group that gets to see a film for the first time.

Without further delay here’s the top ten films that pander to my own personal taste in film playing this year:

 

1)The Last Supper (Night 3) – short with the promise of great dialogue.

2)Desperate Scribbles (Night 4) – another short thriller with the opportunity to be dialogue heavy.

3)Better People (Night 2) – not so much anticipating this one as I’ve already seen it online a while ago, but extremely excited to see it on the big screen at the hall regardless. I’m expecting a very warm reception for this one.

4)Buzkashi Boys (Night 5)- Oscar nominated for best live action short film. Looks visually stunning.

5)Survivor Type (Night 3 Horror Show) – adaptation of a Stephen King story that has won a few awards in the film festival circuit.

6)Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (Night 5) – starring the great Gordon Pinsent. Looks to be a fun, coming of age comedy in the style of Moonrise Kingdom and Little Miss Sunshine.

7)One More Song (Night 1) – incredibly intriguing concept. Expecting a great score from local musician Ian Foster.

8)Animation Hotline (Night 1) – deftly original. Holds the possibility to be quite hilarious.

9)Boys From County Hell (Night 3 Horror Show) – looks pleasantly dark with a hint of humor wrapped in an Irish accent.

10)Final View (Night 4) – shot in almost one full take. I’m a sucker for long shots.

 

So there you have it. I’ll see next week how these all pan out. But until then you can visit The Nickel’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages at the links below. I’ve also included a link to my own Twitter page as well. I’ll be tweeting throughout the week so be sure to follow me there.

Otherwise, I’ll hopefully see you all Tuesday for opening night!

Cheers!

The Nickel Homepage

The Nickel Facebook Page

The Nickel Twitter Page

My own personal Twitter Page

Getting it right: Piatto & Blue Lounge

    Posted on: Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

We had about a half an hour to 45 minute wait for a table last night at Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca. And for good reason. When a restaurant gets it right on every level as much as they do, people are bound to flock there in droves.

Piatto doesn’t take reservations, which makes perfect sense. If you know you’re going to be slammed from open until close, why would you risk setting tables aside for people who, for any number of reasons, might not show? Instead, they have a system in place that is both thoughtful and convenient.

If you arrive to a full restaurant and would like to wait for the next available table, you can sit at the bar and drink wine and snack on complimentary olives, even order an appetizer, like we happily did. Or you can leave and receive a text message notification when your table is ready, giving you ten minutes to return and claim it. If you know you will need more time to make it back, you can text back and they will bump you to the next available table.

The front of house staff we encountered, including the hostess, the bar tender and our waitress, were all cheerful and attentive and just really on their game. Our waitress, a young woman named Alexx, with her confident and relaxed demeanour, was especially adept at handling our tipsy table of six. Bonus points for never needing to write anything down and getting it right every time.

And the food. Piatto’s caprese salad, with tomato slices as thick and juicy as steaks, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a basil leaf, then garnished with salt, pepper and olive oil, can do no wrong. While their prosciutto pacchi is a saucy, chewy addiction waiting to happen. And of course there’s the pizza, cooked in a wood burning oven and made from a special flour that is extremely low in gluten. One is easily enough for two people to share, possibly even with a slice left over.

All that and three glasses of wine and my bill was in the $50 range. I was sure I was robbing the place, but I checked my bill and it was all there. Make no wonder there’s a 45 minute wait for a table.

At Blue Lounge my butt had barely hit the stool when a sharply dressed, tattoo-clad bartender was there to serve me. As it turns out, this was the recently appointed bar manager – something Blue Lounge never had prior to his arrival. I’ve had drinks here in the past and the experience was on par with just about any other bar in town. But tonight was on a whole other level.

There were maybe half a dozen staff either behind the bar or moving back and forth between it and the tables, serving up carefully crafted drinks with such fluidity that you’d swear there was a conductor at work somewhere in the room. I guess that would be the bar manager, but the impression I got was that his instructions had been given long before this night began, and his presence was all that was required to see them implemented.

The lounge was bustling with patrons, but it felt so relaxed. Throughout the night, I’d finish a beer and lay it on the bar and someone would just be there to happily clear it and ask if I’d like another. Shots were mixed, poured and distributed with purpose. Drinks prepared and served with care. It all lent itself to the distinct feeling that our presence was not only welcomed, but that it mattered.

Piatto is located at 37 Duckworth Street and is open Monday to Thursday from 11:30am to 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday until 11:00pm, and Sunday from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.

Blue Lounge is located at 319 Water Street and is open weekdays from 10:00am to midnight, and weekends until 2:00am.