Sunday, October 2nd marked the final day of the North Bay Film Festival. Regardless of your feelings towards the films, there’s little doubt in my mind that the festival was a success. While it may not have reached the high expectations of some longtime festival goers of the city, I saw a huge amount of fresh faces, made exciting personal connections, and saw a lot of interesting and exciting movies from some of the industry’s young up-and-comers. I had an incredible weekend of volunteering, networking, and watching movies, and I absolutely can’t wait to get involved again next year. Sunday’s lineup saw Canadian documentary The Messenger, Northern Ontario aboriginal film Fire Song, and Xavier Dolan’s French-Canadian award winner It’s Only the End of the World. Below are my quick thoughts on the three films, and my personal best of the fest awards:
The Messenger (2015)
Directed by: Su Rynard
Written by: Su Rynard
Su Rynard’s documentary about the mass deaths of migratory songbirds around the world was in my opinion one of the biggest missed opportunity of the festival. While the film is beautifully shot and clearly very well researched, it doesn’t do much to connect and resonate with its audience after the thirty minute mark. It’s a film I feel would have worked much better as a short film, as a feature length did it no justice at all – the material just isn’t there for 90 minutes of dead or dying birds.
What I Liked:
- The film has some incredibly well-constructed scenes, especially those with closeups of birds flying. The 9/11 memorial scene was memorable as well.
- The archival footage used in certain scenes was very interesting, especially those featuring house cats preying on songbirds, as well as Mao’s “Four Pests” footage of sparrows being driven to death by exhaustion.
What I Didn’t:
- While I understand that the message is something needs to be done, it’s repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s tiring after 90 minutes of “something needs to change”, especially since we aren’t provided with any real hint of solutions to the problem.
- The structure of the film is bizarre, jumping from location to location with no real rhyme or reason or flow to it. There were times I thought the movie was winding down, only to reveal that there were still locations to visit.
- The Messenger feels like one giant guilt trip. It seems that everything we do as humans results in the deaths of songbirds. We’re shown more dead birds than I’ve seen in my life, but after the first few I found it hard to feel bad anymore.
All in all, The Messenger just didn’t do anything for me outside of exhaust me to the point of complete apathy. I was sad that the birds have been so horribly affected by our Western lifestyle, but I was angry that the film would hammer this point home without any real solutions or suggestions. It feels half-finished, even though it runs for 90 minutes. In other words, The Messenger isn’t nearly as important or ambitious as it thinks it is. It’s unfortunate, because I feel with a smaller scope and some real solutions this could have been something truly special. Su Rynard’s The Messenger is not recommended.
Fire Song (2016)
Directed by: Adam Garnet Jones
Written by: Adam Garnet Jones
Starring: Andrew Martin, Jennifer Podemski, Derek Miller, Brendt Thomas Diabo
Having grown up in Northern Ontario, it’s bizarre to have finally seen something created in that region up on the big screen. Fire Song tells the story of a gay aboriginal teen in Northern Ontario struggling to put his family back together after the death of his suicide. While Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song may not be the best or the most subtle film ever made, it tackled some big issues in a fairly refreshing way, and had some terrific Northern Ontario scenery to go with it. It constantly verges on the edge of seeming like a cheap back to school special, but in the end still feels worth the journey. It’s bleak and depressing, but also full of hope and wonder. It’s a story that, given the right director and budget, could really become a mainstream classic. Unfortunately for Fire Song, its budgetary limitations will most likely keep that from happening, but what we’re presented with is nothing to ignore. It signals the arrival of an exciting new voice and a new movement in Canadian film, and I hope to see it get even bigger and more ambitious as the years go on.
What I Liked:
- It really, truly felt like a Northern Ontario reserve, for better or worse. Everything featured in the film looked legitimate, and by my experience was very much true to life.
- The message is an important one, and was fairly effective at the delivery of this message, especially in the first half.
- For a group of mostly non actors, the performances given from the supporting cast are mostly okay.
What I Didn’t:
- The script could have used a few more pairs of eyes, as I felt that there were a number of subplots left unresolved or without any sort of satisfying conclusion.
- The budgetary limitations are clear in the film’s casting, as neither of the three leads are talented enough to carry the film on their backs. Scenes with emotional weight feel slightly hackneyed or false due to some overacting or over emoting, and I had trouble connecting to them because of this.
- While the message of the film may be incredibly important, the script really tries to nail this home, and it becomes a little eye rolling in the final act. This is a film that badly could have used some sense of subtlety.
While it may not be about to change the Canadian film industry, Fire Song is a refreshing look at the life of Northern Ontario aboriginals. It tackles a lot of big issues to varying degrees of success due to the limitations of its budget, screenplay, and cast. By the end of the 90 minutes, I felt mostly satisfied, having enjoyed most of the first half of the film. The last half presents most of the heavy-handedness I had a problem with, but manages to deliver a somewhat satisfying conclusion. It’s far from perfect, but I definitely look forward to what Adam Garnet Jones has up his sleeve in the future. Fire Song is recommended.
It’s Only the End of the World (2016)
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Lea Seydoux
The Cannes reception to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World has made it clear that his films are not for everybody, and it’s Grand Prix win at the same festival shows just how divisive the director can be. I’m pleased to say that I very much enjoyed Dolan’s latest, but I can definitely see why it may not be for everybody. The film tells the story of a writer called Louis returning to his family after an extended absence. His plan is to tell them that he is dying, but things aren’t always as easy as they seem, especially when it comes to family. It’s Only the End of the World perfectly paints the picture of a broken and dysfunctional middle class family trying to enjoy a few hours together. Everybody is faking enthusiasm, putting on false smiles, and going through the motions in order to please Louis. Some are able to fake it better than others, but eventually everybody cracks and the facade is dropped. Dolan’s film feels genuine in a way that so many other movies fail to, telling a story of a family without hope, holding up their forgotten Louis to impossible standards.
What I Liked:
- The film is tense, awkward, claustrophobic, and at times incredibly hard to watch because of that. It feels real, and all of the performances work and the play well off each other.
- The film is incredible from a stylistic standpoint, using music and dream-like flashback sequences to paint a surreal portrait of Louis’ past.
- Vincent Cassel shines as Antoine, an angry, unheard man who obviously has a great deal to say but never gets a platform to speak on.
- The ending of the film is perfect and satisfying in every way, even though it’s bitter and heartbreaking.
- Each character gets equal talk time with Louis, telling stories he’s missed over the years, using him as a verbal punching bag, and generally doing whatever they can to stop him from leaving their lives again.
What I Didn’t:
- I wish that Lea Seydoux and Nathalie Baye had a little more to do in the film, as I felt their characters were the most interesting, but got the least amount of attention. I wanted to know how Louis’ mother felt about his absence, what false sense of hope she needed in her life. I wanted her to explode on Louis like other characters did, but we never got it.
Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World absolutely isn’t for everybody. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll probably dislike it if the general consensus is everything to go by. Whether you love him or hate him, it’s impossible to deny Dolan’s style and voice. He’s one of the world’s finest up-and-coming filmmakers, and It’s Only the End of the World only reinforced that for me. It’s tough to swallow, but in the end feels cathartic in some ways, though it features no real answers or conclusion. It’s dark, it’s frustrating, it’s angry; it’s life. It’s Only the End of the World is highly recommended, but you’ll probably hate it.
Favorite Narrative Film: TIE between Love & Friendship and It’s Only the End of the World
Favorite Documentary: How to Build a Time Machine
Favorite Performance: Tom Bennett in Love & Friendship
Favorite Moment: Pillow Makeout Session in Morris from America
Least Favorite Film: The Messenger