2013 Nickel Festival: Horror Night

    Posted on: Friday, June 21st, 2013

How many of you poor masochists out there like a good horror film? Well the Nickel has a night just for you! Whether you like horror for it’s ability to evoke a strong physical reaction. Or to witness people pushed to their limits from the safety of your own home. Or maybe you just like being scared. Horror night at the Nickel had everything you needed last night.

The show started with a short from the boys of Six Mile Hill out of Ireland. Boys From County Hell was another absolutely phenomenal film to come out of last night. Following a small group of road workers fixing a fence on a desolate stretch of highway, their night soon takes a turn for the worst when they realize they’re not alone.

The acting here is great, with the small cast giving great performances and showing a natural chemistry with each other. The darkness around the van they’re working from is totally engulfing and adds an incredible sense of dread and isolation. Director Chris Baugh does an amazing job of setting the tone while still finding room to fit in some bits of great humor. The makeup and special effects are top notch within the film’s limitations. The thing that is hunting them, even when it’s revealed, stays shrouded in darkness to add to it’s terrifying persona.

After doing a bit of research it seems that the creators are currently in the process of shooting a feature length version of this. Something I’ll be keeping an eye out for and any of you horror fans should as well.

Next up we were treated to a series of local shorts done during last years 48-Hour Horror Challenge. They included: Respect Your Eldricht by Mike Fardy, Caged by Stephen Bernard Gosse, The Date by Blair Downey, Thin Line by Bryhanna Greenough and Trick or Treat by Morgan T. Lee. I won’t go into detail regarding each of these but I will applaud all of those who were involved here for a job well done. It’s not practical to look at these in any critical sense. With the limitations of working within a 48 hour time frame they all did an amazing job and there is some serious talent on display here. Good job guys!

After that series of films we get The Master and Me. A contemporary take on the classic story of Dr. Frankenstein from US director Art Douglas. Anyone who saw this may have recognized Canadian actor Robert Joy, who’s had a recurring role in CSI: NY, and has been featured in other horror films such as The Hills Have Eyes and Land of the Dead. His performance and the humorous approach they took to the story were my highlights of the film.

Next we come back to Atlantic Canada with Game from Josh MacDonald out of Nova Scotia. This was another great addition to the night. It takes the worn out concept of the redneck torture porn genre and gives it a satisfying spin on it’s head halfway through. I loved this twist and the special effects used to bring it to life were extremely well done. It’s amazing to see this kind of quality horror storytelling coming out of our little corner of the world.

This marks two years in a row Josh has had some involvement with horror night at the Nickel, writing last years The Corridor as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what he may have in store for us in the future.

Last horror film of the night goes to Billy Hanson out of the US with his adaptation of a Stephen King short story, Survivor Type. The story follows the lone survivor of a cruise ship wreck who has found himself on an isolated island somewhere in the Atlantic. With only some water, limited medical supplies, some matches, two bricks of heroin (that’s right, heroin), a pocket knife, and of course a video camera with an abundance of batteries, his fight for survival begins.

Shot in the cliched fashion of found footage, this rose above the usual stereotypes of that genre, mostly due to an amazing performance from actor Gideon Emery. Being the only character on the screen for almost the entirety of this film, it’s success was solely in his hands. His convincing performance as his condition slowly deteriorated was so well done that at no point in this film did I doubt that this scenario could actually happen. Now of course this is coming from a Stephen King short story so eventually it finds itself in the realm of utterly bizarre, but even at that point I was thinking to myself what your average person would do in a similar situation. Survival instincts eventually take over and at the cost of staying alive, what are people willing to do?

This is not a film for those of you with a weak stomach. I had a slice of pizza before these screenings and I can’t testify for sure that it was from the movie or the fact that it was some pretty awfully pizza, but at a couple points during this film, that slice made it’s presence known in my stomach.

While I wouldn’t call this my favorite so far of the festival, it is near the top, and it is by far one of the more disturbing horror films I’ve seen recently. And yes, I did see the Evil Dead remake/sequel a couple of months ago.

So there you have it. An extremely satisfying horror night is now behind us. Next up we have the Rated R night. I’ll see you all there when the lights go down!

2013 Nickel Festival: Night Three

    Posted on: Friday, June 21st, 2013

Last night we got treated to a bit of a double feature. First, the regular screenings started at it’s usual time. Then at 1030, after some great music courtesy of Don-E Coady, came the popular horror night screenings. Of course I stuck around for both.

In a possibly futile attempt to keep these posts as short as possible I’m going to split last night up, with a post for the regular screenings first, followed by another for the horror night. I’ve also included links to any of these shorts I’ve found online and embedded them directly in the film titles for your clicking and viewing pleasure.

I want to say that the night started off with a bang, but that may be a bit of an understatement. Saying it started off with the rapture would be a little more accurate. This came from the first film of the night, The Last Supper. This was another of my ten most anticipated films of the festival and not only lived up to my expectations, it was more than I could have hoped for.

Taking the simple premise of four friends sitting around a table enjoying supper, director Jonathan Eagan turns it into a tragically hilarious dark comedy. The humor explodes from the screen in the last couple of minutes of the film so quickly that you won’t see it coming. The writing and actors do an excellent job bringing you to that moment with some amazing chemistry between the group and solid dialogue. From there it’s taken over by some great direction from Jonathan as the movie ramps up quickly.

Second film of the night came from an incredibly talented artist by the name of Alex King. Attack of the Creeping Sludge was a nicely animated, fun little short film. It’s nice to see good animated films still being made in a more classic style. If this is what Alex can do in film school right now, it will be great to see what he can accomplish in a few years time.

Third film goes to The Yodeling Farmer. Directed by Mike Maryniuk and John Scoles out of Manitoba, this was an interesting piece to say the least. Relying more on song than narrative to tell the story of a successful yodeler. The stop motion animation is what really caught my eye with this one.

Film number four is Overwatch from Calum de Hartog out of Ontario. This short action flick takes a Robocop concept and slaps it into a Bourne-like body. Being a bit of a fan of science fiction, I loved this idea. The effects were great and the fight sequence near the end was extremely well edited to give it a believable feel.

The fifth film of the night is the only film out of Sweden playing this year. Directed by Hans Montelius, Act 1 Scene 1 follows a writer/director trying to write a play involving his girlfriend and his brother, while becoming more and more suspicious of their intentions towards each other. As his paranoia increases, his writing begins to reflect the relationship he has perceived them to be having, and you begin to question where his main focus lay. His play seemed to be fueled by this presumed affair. At no point did he seem willing to sacrifice his work to focus on mending his own relationship. Aside from the great plot, this was very well acted and beautifully shot. The cinematography here was gorgeous and further adds to my growing love of foreign cinema.

The first local film of the night came from filmmaker Paul Butt with his debut film, One Wish. This was a well written and finely acted short that would resonate with anyone who has ever lost a loved one. Can’t wait to see where Paul goes from here with any future projects.

The seventh, and only other local film of the night was A Life in the Days of Mary, directed by Frank Barry. This is a bit of a heart wrenching story of a girl from rural Newfoundland as we follow her through her troubled life up to her death. Huge kudos to Frank with his writing and direction in telling this story with a minimal amount of dialogue.

And last on the night was La Reverberación (Reverberation). This short, strikingly visual piece, comes to us from Spanish director Fernando Uson-Forniés. It’s 20 minute running time is filled with gorgeous shots of an old, abandoned village which has caught the attention of the lead character. After having an odd encounter with a mysterious woman at the ruins, we’re treated to an extremely convincing turn to madness and obsession from lead Pedro Rebollo. Another great foreign addition to the lineup!

And there you have it for the regular section of night three. Such a huge amount of talent last night from a couple of first time filmmakers and the foreign market. I’m very curious to see how The Last Supper is going to hold up with the rest of the festival through it’s last two nights. Right now this is at the top of my list of favorite shorts so far.

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.