MIFF Coverage Part 3 - Time Flies when You’re Enjoying a Movie Marathon

 

On Sunday, MIFF wrapped up for yet another year. But before it went quietly into the night, it showcased almost every genre of film it could before concluding with a short and sweet award ceremony. We'll get to the award ceremony in a later story, because now it's time to discuss and remember the films that MIFF saw fit to let audiences remember it by.

The day began with a series of short documentaries. One film examined how a group of young hip-hip lovers are attempting to unshackle the genre from its rough reputation and use it as a tool of inspiration and motivation (Unity: Hip Hop's Next Chapter, directed by Mark Holmes and Mark Holt). Another tackled the heart-wrenching subject of female genital mutilation, following victim-turned-activist Leyla as she shared her story and examined the reasons behind the continuation of the dangerous -- and often devastating -- tradition (Defacing Eve, directed by Isabelle Lemay). A third film dealt with the mystery of the director's uncle's interesting tattoo (My Uncle's Tattoo, directed by Jessica Virgilio).

Sunday's festivities continued with the last batch of PG-13 to R-rated short films that featured a robbery gone terribly wrong (Minatory, directed by Jeffery W. Pike), a suspenseful interaction with imposing hillbillies (Undetected, directed by Kristen Anderson-Sauve) and remnants of a wiped-out human race trying to survive in a world overrun by flesh-eating parasites (Parasite, directed by Ross Munro).

Later that afternoon, the largely adult festival welcomed families with small children to see MIFF's first ever G-rated feature film. The stop-motion animated The Lady of Names, a somewhat old-school take on fairy tales of old, was screened for a few reasons.  One: It was a solid kid's movie. Two: It was almost 10 years in the making.

When I first sat down with MIFF founder Matt Campagna to talk about the festival, he said that Lady was not only a breathtaking feature in its own right, but also a massive labour of love. The filmmaker behind the tale, Adam Ciolfi, worked on the movie for nine years (from 2000 to 2009). The screening not only showcased a kid-friendly film, it celebrated a decade of effort.

Ciolfi's movie, a fairly straightforward story about a boy saving a girl from a fairy tale monster he created, feels like it would be right at home in the kid's section of Jumbo Video circa 1989. The animation is unpolished, the characters traditional, and the atmosphere, at some points, subtly hostile (sort of like Don Bluth's The Land Before Time or An American Tail). That said, as far as breaking tradition goes, Ciolfi deserves applause for filling his cast with nuanced female characters  -- some were heroic, some were evil, some were wise and all were written as individuals, not tropes or stereotypes.

Above all else, the movie is simple. A young librarian named Arianna is sucked into the world of her love's interest imagination. A world with an evil Troll King who kidnaps fairy tale characters and imprisons them in his castle. Arianna's soon-to-be-boyfriend (and literary genius) Zack, is tasked with having to rescue her -- and by extension, all the characters in the Troll King's lair.

He meets some odd characters along the way -- a pompous mushroom, a selfless woman born of the heroine's tears, a greedy mountain, a wise mother owl -- and escapes peril more than once.  It's a formulaic tale, but also a pleasantly old-fashioned one that harkens back to a pre-Pixar era. One where kids liked movies that were a little rough around the edges.

To end the festival, MIFF screened Noam Kroll's drama Footsteps -- a sobering look at a broken man (boy, really) coming home to almost nothing after several years of war.

Before Footsteps began, Campagna said the lead actor, Rogan Christopher, gave the best performance of any male lead so far (in films shown at MIFF, not in general). Christopher's performance was indeed fearless, if not teetering on melodramatic at times (or perhaps I'm just sensitive to sudden and relentless sobbing, as I didn't like Tom Cruise's wild wails in Magnolia either). The film itself -- a story about a young, sensitive man named Martin trying to reconnect with civilian life and his abusive, unhinged ex-soldier father -- is engrossing. 

Martin is forced to wear many hats. He has to be strong for his pathetic father while simultaneously kowtowing to him and begging for blessings he can't give. He has to resist the allure of drug-induced euphoria while trying to remain close to a troubled childhood friend (and drugs and the friend seem to go hand in hand). He has to be stable and loving around his new girlfriend Michelle (Allie Dunbar). He's a referee, a pillar of emotional and financial support and, ultimately, a lost boy coping with physical and emotional violence abroad and at home.

It's not easy being Martin.

The movie, filmed in Bowmanville, Ont., does benefit from great performances by Christopher and Dunbar. The supporting cast is more than competent, but Martin's troubled father, Mitchell (played by Don Tjart), is the weakest link. While he's certainly not horrible, Tjart's lack of acting experience (he's a musician by trade) reveals itself in some awkward line deliveries and unconvincing weeping.

The film also piles on the drama a bit too heavily at the end, introducing unresolved storylines involving potential murders, secret suicides and anti-Semitism. All that said, if Footsteps is viewed as a film about war fall-out, abuse and recovery, it works. It's also particularly effective in it use of props, dotting the rotting landscape of Martin's dilapidated and dingy home with cute and colourful stuffed animals. The cluttered rooms with peeling wallpaper are made all the more unbearable by the red teddy bears and blue, wide-eyed puppy dogs. The animals are relics of a happier time, a reminder that Martin was once a content child with parents who loved him. Now, the toys sit on shelves, reminding Mitchell of a life he gave up and a family he let down.

Overall, the film was a low high-note to conclude on. The story was heavy, but damn, those teddy bears on the dirty furniture really got to me.

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