Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) - Poster

Director Felix Ahrens won a Silver Medal at the Student Academy Awards for this taut mini-thriller. In just 30 minutes, Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) manages to create an unbearable situation for its protagonist, young police officer Elke. While on patrol with her partner near the German-Czech border, she pursues a young man into the woods after a routine pullover. In a moment of panic, she shoots and kills him. The aftermath is quietly devastating as she struggles with opposing feelings of guilt and justification. She’s convinced the man and his accomplice must have been meth dealers or smugglers, but they find no evidence to prove it. In desperation, she takes her own infant son along as she visits the man’s family in the Czech Republic. Her rising guilt and panic collide in a brilliant climax that leaves the audience breathless.

Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) - Still

As Elke, Henrike von Kuick combines a sense of innocence with deep exhaustion. Her piercing blue eyes look haunted as she carries the burden of her actions. The cinematography is both sweeping and intimate, and the director’s sense of pacing is precise. I suspect it won’t be long before the award-winning Ahrens is directing feature-length thrillers.

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For the fifth year in a row, I’ve compiled a special edition of the CAST Awards, just based on what people saw during the Toronto International Film Festival. Here are the CAST Top 10 based on the votes of 24 submitted ballots. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, Mentions indicates how many voters included it in their Top Ten, Average is the average point score, and Firsts shows how many voters chose it as their favourite TIFF film.

In the case of points ties, the film with the higher number of first-place votes is listed first, then by highest average score. Because our sample size is quite small, these “rankings” don’t actually mean much, but I thought it would give a good idea of what this particular group of festivalgoers enjoyed this year. I’m curious to see how many of these show up in our regular year-end CAST ballot and how they do.

Moonlight - Barry Jenkins
La La Land - Damien ChazelleToni Erdmann - Maren Ade
Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth LonerganPaterson - Jim JarmuschCertain Women - Kelly Reichardt
Colossal - Nacho VigalondoNocturnal Animals - Tom FordPersonal Shopper - Olivier AssayasThe Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki - Juho Kuosmanen

FILM TITLE
POINTS
MENTIONS
AVERAGE
FIRSTS
1. Moonlight 104 12 8.67 7
2. La La Land 75 9 8.33 4
3. Toni Erdmann 72 10 7.2 2
4.Manchester By The Sea 57 8 7.1 1
5. Paterson 37 5 7.4 0
6. Certain Women 37 6 6.2 9
7. Colossal 34 4 8.5 2
8. Nocturnal Animals 33 4 8.25 1
9. Personal Shopper 32 6 5.3 0
10. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki 31 4 7.8 0

Participants:

Here is a PDF (106K) with each person’s ballot and the full collated results, with a few more interesting stats included.

And for those still reading, here is my final TIFF CAST ballot. I saw a total of 12 films this year:

My TIFF CAST Ballot

  1. Moonlight
  2. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
  3. The Giant
  4. Blue Jay
  5. Into the Inferno
  6. Planetarium
  7. Things to Come
  8. ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail
  9. Orphan
  10. Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee

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Poster for Things to Come

I’ve made no secret of my love for the films of Mia Hansen-Løve. She’s made some amazing coming-of-age stories that explore more than just the usual one or two emotions. Although I have yet to see her previous film Eden, I was excited to hear that her new one, Things to Come, will be screening at TIFF this year. Even more exciting is that she’s working with Isabelle Huppert, who just keeps getting better and better. In fact, during this morning’s first batch of announcements, I heard Huppert’s name three times, so it’s great that she’s working so much, and that almost guarantees that she’ll be in Toronto for a good part of the festival. And just for contrast, can you think of a North American female actor who, at the age of 63, still commands as much respect as Isabelle Huppert? Ah well, that’s why I love TIFF.

Still from Things to Come

Still from Things to Come

Huppert plays Nathalie, a professor of philosophy whose life takes a huge turn when, in quick succession, her mother dies and her husband leaves her. I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t resonate with the recent course of my own life. As she struggles with her newfound “freedom,” she must essentially pass through a period of self-examination and reinvent herself. I’m excited by the prospect of seeing an intelligent film about this sort of emotional and existential turmoil. I’m including an alternate poster that I like better below. I like the idea of the picture frame and of Nathalie looking off into the distance.

Alternate poster for Things to Come

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For the second year running, I’ve compiled a special edition of the CAST Awards, just based on what people saw during Hot Docs. Here are the CAST Top 10 based on the votes of 14 submitted ballots. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, Mentions indicates how many voters included it in their Top Ten, Average is the average point score, and Firsts shows how many voters chose it as their favourite Hot Docs film.

In the case of points ties, the film with the higher number of first-place votes is listed first, then by highest average score. Because our sample size is quite small, these “rankings” don’t actually mean much, but I thought it would give a good idea of what this particular group of festivalgoers enjoyed this year. I’m curious to see how many of these show up in our regular year-end CAST ballot and how they do.

Tickled - David Farrier and Dylan Reeve
How To Build A Time Machine - Jay CheelTower - Keith Maitland
Life, Animated - Roger Ross WilliamsWeiner - Josh Kriegman and Elyse SteinbergContemporary Color - Bill Ross and Turner Ross
Credit for Murder -  Vladi AntoneviczNorman Lear: Just Another Version of You - Heidi Ewing and Rachel GradyLo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World - Werner HerzogThe Slippers - Morgan White



FILM TITLE
POINTS
MENTIONS
AVERAGE
FIRSTS
1. Tickled 70 10 7.00 3
2. How to Build a Time Machine 49 6 8.17 3
3. Tower 40 5 8.00 2
4. Life, Animated 38 5 7.60 2
5. Weiner 21 4 5.25 0
6. Contemporary Color 20 2 10.00 2
7. Credit for Murder 19 2 9.50 1
8. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You 19 3 6.33 0
9. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World 18 3 6.00 0
10. The Slippers 18 3 6.00 0

Participants:

Here is a PDF with each person’s ballot and the full collated results, with a few more interesting stats included.

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Girls Don't Fly [poster]

Girls Don’t Fly (Director: Monika Grassl): When British expat Jonathan Porter appears onscreen for the first time wearing a t-shirt that says “I AM NOT A WHITE MAN,” you know you’re in for a bumpy flight. You see, Jonathan is the stereotypical white man and a cringeworthy reminder of Britain’s colonial past. Porter runs an NGO in Ghana that purports to train young women to be pilots. Along with his Ghanaian wife, Patricia, he tries to instil a very Western style of discipline and organization in his students, mostly girls from rural backgrounds. Although director Grassl introduces the girls by name with her title cards, Porter’s program assigns each one a number and forbids them from using their own names (or speaking any other language than English). What starts off looking like discipline very quickly begins to look like abuse and degradation.

These young women are used to listening to white men tell them what to do. Even though Ghana achieved its independence from Britain in 1957, there is still a sense that white people should be respected and even obeyed. That sad situation is what allows a creep like Jonathan Porter to thrive. His wife Patricia, a former student, gained her pilot’s licence on her own merits and is a strong woman, but she clearly has hitched her wagon to Jonathan’s scheme and believes in his methods. In one scene, she muses that maybe Ghana achieved its independence too soon, and that they still have a lot to learn from their former colonial masters. Instead of encouraging her students to think for themselves, she becomes an enabler of Jonathan’s most misogynistic traits. He shouts at the girls, he tells them to smile, he dishes out meaningless punishments, and after weeks at the school, nobody’s seen the inside of a plane. Instead, he puts them to work mowing the grass on the runway, or assembling trinkets in the metal shop. The program is four years long, though he tells the camera that in Europe it would probably be two. He claims to be an African and yet he has no respect for the Ghanaian culture and actually tells the girls their names would confuse outsiders. The girls have names like Esther and Lydia.

Speaking of Lydia, she’s been turned into a sort of prize. As a result of an infection after an insect bite, her arm is shrivelled and has limited range of movement. But her determination to fly has turned her into one of the earlier classes star pupils. She says she’s been there 3.5 years and is almost ready to gain her licence, but she must have more surgery in Germany on her arm. Porter’s NGO has paid for the surgery and pays all the “tuition” and accommodation costs for the girls, although they appear to gain nothing from the experience. Lydia is used shamelessly in the NGO’s materials to keep the donations pouring in from around the world. She is incredibly charismatic and the newer girls love her, but after a while, the students confide to the filmmaker that they’re unhappy. Esther is one of the better students and she takes a leadership role in their brewing revolt.

Girls Don’t Fly turns the feel-good story of charitable organizations helping the less fortunate on its ear. When culturally insensitive and just plain nasty people like Jonathan Porter can support themselves “teaching” while their students get no closer to their dreams, something is wrong. When he can actively discourage them from going back to traditional schooling to continue his program, something must be done. Although Grassl’s film effectively turns over a rock and finds nasty things wriggling, one has to wonder how many other NGOs are operating in a similar fashion.

The filmmakers have set up a crowdfunding campaign to help the students continue their regular education. You can donate to help them pay their school fees here.

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