This is by all accounts an auspicious year for the Nickel Film Festival. The submissions committee received a record number of films this year—over two hundred short and feature-length submissions were taken into consideration in the course of selecting the forty-five that make up this year’s program. (Fifteen are local.) As of very recently, the festival employs a full-time administrator in Laura Churchill. Presently she and festival co-ordinator Ruth Lawrence are working toward obtaining charitable status for the event in the hopes of expanding even further in the years to come.
Many of the most popular events and workshops of previous years are back again this year: a late night horror screening on June 21, a Saturday afternoon children’s screening whose proceeds go to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a Super 8mm workshop, and much more. (For a full list of workshops, go to nickelfestival.com.) As for the films themselves, this year’s line-up offers perhaps the richest and most diverse selection the Nickel has been able to boast in all its seven years’ existence.
Written by Jonathan Adams
Tuesday, June 19, 7:00pm
Punch-Up at a Wedding
Opening this year’s Nickel is Justin Simms’ 16-minute short Punch-Up at a Wedding, which cleaned up at last year’s Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax, winning awards for Best Short, Best Screenplay, and Best Director–and it’s easy to see why. The film is a restrained exercise in a kind of storytelling that proceeds by omission, recalling some of the stylistic traits of the Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. Three scenes revolve about a single event that we never actually see–a toast that has ruined an entire wedding. In each scene, the camera remains in a fixed position and the actors interact, moving in and out of frame, without any cut in the film until the scene ends. Each character seems more despicable than the next, from the self-righteous drunkard who’s supposed to have caused the whole mess, to the sorry bride who laments that “God punishes the optimists!” while being berated by an overbearing mother, to the oblivious groom who’s busy reminiscing about his first sexual conquest. This is the first of two films in this year’s program written and directed by Simms. (See also Face Machine.)
The Nickel Gets Jazzed and the Jazz Festival Gets Framed
The fruits of an ingenious collaboration last year between the Nickel and the Jazz Festival in which three filmmakers (Colleen Power, Justin Simms, and Roger Maunder) each shot and edited a silent short in a single day using Super 8 cameras. Later, on the closing night of the Jazz Festival, musical soundtracks were improvised live by three musicians. In the first short, a very pregnant Power struggles to paint her toenails, pouting at the camera like Lillian Gish while Brad Jefford’s jazz guitar mimics her befuddlement. Simms filmed a group of children running around downtown, and those images combine with the ruminative solo clarinet of B.C.’s Dameian to create a moving and tender spectacle of pure joy. In Maunder’s short, sound and image interact in a whole new way as Pat Boyle on the soundtrack searches for his friend Curtis Andrews who appears to be trapped inside the film. It’s hard to imagine how more fun could ever be squeezed into ten minutes.
Also playing this night: Succubus (ON, Canada), Desolation Angels (VIC, Australia), delirium (St. John’s), El otro lado del pasillo (ON, Canada), Absolute Zero (VIC, Australia).
Wednesday, June 20, 7:00pm
Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa
If you’re looking for further evidence that the pure products of America go crazy, this is the one documentary at this year’s festival you won’t want to miss. The brother/sister directing team of Jeremy and Randy Stulberg spent over two years filming a fringe community of malcontents who have retreated from mainstream American society to live in the middle of the New Mexico desert with no running water or electricity. What there is a lot of are guns, trailers, and paranoia. “It looks like Mad Max!” the filmmakers remarked on first arriving. As haunting as Dark Days, Marc Singer’s 2000 documentary about the homeless in New York, this film may be the closest we will get to a picture of a group of people living in a state of nature.
Also playing: Nightingale’s Last Song (Mount Pearl), Detroit Unleaded (MI, USA), Life Unkind (RI, USA).
Thursday, June 21, 7:00pm
Here On In
The third short film by the exceptionally talented Jordan Canning is a visually sumptuous but ultimately simple story of a father and daughter working through the mutual estrangement they feel in the wake of the mother’s death. Jody Richardson and the ten-year-old debutante Julia Kennedy sparkle in the lead roles alongside a symbolic caterpillar named Chucky. There is a beautifully delirious editing sequence in which the young girl gets bonked in the head with a baseball bat. Richardson also composed the score.
Eric Patrick’s Startle Pattern is a virtuosic animated film recalling the works of Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay. It combines stop-motion, traditional animation, and live action to create a dreamlike interior space in which a little grey clay man awakes and wanders about. The film is a poetic meditation on desire, selfhood, and dreams, accompanied by an expressive string quartet soundtrack. The master stroke occurs near the end of the film as the puppet leaves the stage entirely and wanders outdoors, though the cost of freedom would seem to be at a premium when you’re made out of clay.
Also playing: 2 (AB, Canada), This Year for Christmas (QC, Canada), Scenes from Starkdale, Ohio (MO, USA), Hansel and Stella (St. John’s), Aucune Idée (St. John’s), Souffle sur le Miroir (CA, USA), Speaking Volumes (St. John’s).
LATE NIGHT HORROR SHOW
Thursday, June 21, 10:30pm
St. John’s native Justin Oakey, probably the youngest filmmaker in this year’s festival, claims he encountered a certain amount of uncomfortable resistance when he first pitched this three-minute short to his class at Ryerson. The pleasantly terse synopsis he gives of his film (“A woman kills her boyfriend for his skin”) makes this wholly difficult to understand. Shot in black and white and edited with unabashed style (as perhaps only a student film can be), this is a delectable little bonbon of a killing fantasy. Oakey wrote, produced, and supervised the special effects. His classmate, Nicole Bazuin, directed.
You will notice the Nickel’s horror screenings come with a very unsubtle “Viewer Discretion is Advised” notice, and not without good reason. That good reason is this film. Nathan Hynes and Chris Power co-direct and co-star as themselves co-directing a documentary on the life of a Toronto parking valet named Anthony McAlistar–who also happens by a happy coincidence to be a practicing cannibal. The filmmakers thus studiously track the process by which McAlistar turns his victims into stew. There’s a highly upsetting scene very early in the movie that you will want to hide your eyes from if you are a person who clings to a certain antiquated reverence for the human form. (Think Franju’s Le sang des bêtes starring people.) But in fact the movie is a brutal media satire and the filmmakers even offer, in what is perhaps a spirit of genuine penitence, a quite hilarious self-indictment.
Also playing: And the Woods Fell Silent Again (NY, USA), Y Que Cumplas Mucho Mas (Barcelona, Spain).
Friday, June 22, 7:00pm
It is the future, the air has turned to shit, and everyone’s oxygen intake is regulated by the state, obliging all citizens to wear cumbersome masks that conceal our faces from one another. Justin Simms directed this sci-fi short which he describes as an allegory on the nature of intimacy. Simms shot the film on 35mm at a sound stage in Toronto during a residency at the Canadian Film Centre.
Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures
Hasko Bausmann’s biography for television of the French comic book artist Moebius (aka Jean Giraud), who won international recognition through his stylish sci-fi stories in Heavy Metal Magazine. The film does a very good job of placing Moebius in a broader cultural context. The artist talks about how he was inspired by the films of the French New Wave and we learn that his gunslinger Blueberry was based on Jean-Paul Belmondo. Later he says one of the formative experiences of his youth was a pilgrimage he made through the Mexican desert after having ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and suddenly the depleted landscapes of his comics make a lot more sense. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Stan Lee, and Mike Mignola all make an appearance. So does H.R. Giger, who actually talks like someone who’s about to have a gestating alien burst through his chest. The film was produced by Bart Simpson, who, rest assured, has already heard every joke that just entered your head.
Also playing: Messenger (NY, USA), Die Besucher (Berlin, Germany), Sam and Piccolo (TAS, Australia)
Late Night Screening
Friday, June 22, 10:30pm
Slam Planet: War of the Words
Mike Henry and Kyle Fuller’s documentary on a year in the lives of two teams preparing to compete in a national American slam poetry competition. One team is based in Urbana, New York, the other is from Austin, Texas. The film is marred by an apparent desire to present a kind of reductive reality-tv narrative (American Slam Idol?) which peters out when both the teams it’s followed don’t win. Nevertheless, there are a couple very arresting performances, and the film offers a valuable insight into the lives of the performers–many of whom are, in stark contrast to mainstream rappers for example, thoroughly stuck in America’s lower class.
Saturday, June 23 12:00pm
Children’s Screening: The Red Balloon (CA, USA), What Do They Do In There? (St. John’s), All About Oscar (ON, Canada), For All the Marbles (Toronto, ON), Ice Fishin’ (Stephenville), The Snow Fort (MB, Canada), Len and Hugo (ON, Canada).
All proceeds from ticket sales for this showing go to benefit Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Saturday, June 23 7:00pm
Adam Chambers’ first film, made through the beneficent NIFCO First Time Filmmaker Program, is, roughly, the story of a man who falls in love with a cod. To say more would perhaps be to have said too much. Chambers moved to St. John’s from Hamilton a couple years ago, so it might be possible to read the film as a loving homage to his adopted province … or not. There is an extremely bizarre masturbation scene featuring local actor Mark Power.
Ahead of the Curve
Rosemary House’s film portrait of her brother Christopher, the artistic director of the Toronto Dance Theatre, closes out the festival. The film examines the way House’s particular vision of dance has been formed by the landscapes of all the places he has loved. We follow him through Northern Scotland, the Toronto Islands, and Newfoundland.
Also playing: Faire Chaluim Mhic Leòid (NS, Canada), Last Chance Christmas (St. John’s), Valley of the Chapstick (ON, Canada), Pismo (The Letter) (ON, Canada/Russian Federation), Nest (Seoul, South Korea), Dinner for One (NS, Canada).