SJIWFF: Our festival picks

The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival returns for its twentieth year with an assortment of feature films and shorts from this province and abroad. Film critics Adam Clarke and Jill Butler review the highlights of this year’s festival.

106
Canada (6 min)
dir. Candice Day

Are you ready for a geriatric rumble? This blackly comic Canadian short film is all about the heated feud between Wilma and Edna, each turning 106 years old on the same day. Edna, as it happens, was born just a few scant moments before Wilma. As such, Edna is a cherished local celebrity for being the oldest woman in Ontario, much to Wilma’s chagrin. This, naturally, means war, and Wilma is not afraid to go to cartoonish extremes to dispose of her sole competition as Ontario’s most senior citizen. Candice Day (who wrote, produced and directed) has excellent comic timing and a rather inventive use of sound effects. AC

After Tomorrow
U.K. (15 min)
dir. Emma Sullivan

Morning dawns, and a man wakes up in a strange bed in the village of his estranged wife. He’s here because he hopes to reconcile, but gradually, he realizes he’s a prisoner in this house, kept without reason by seeming strangers. The mood—at once disorienting and sinister—is established from the first frame, and you’ll feel the palpable, nameless terror as he tries with increasing desperation to find his wife. The English landscape, captured in tepid blues and greys, doesn’t do much to lessen the bleakness of his fear. When the final puzzle piece clicks into place, the outcome is far worse than first imagined. JB

Crackie
Canada (94 min)
dir. Sherry White

Sherry White’s first feature-length film has gotten a lot of positive buzz—and justifiably. This is her finest work to date. In a murky, grim and desolate area of rural Newfoundland, Mitsy (Meghan Greeley) spends her days eating deep fried take-out with her nan (Mary Walsh) and daydreaming about the mother who abandoned her. Young Mitsy applies to beauty school and adopts a maltempered dog, but finds little that can keep her loneliness in check. White’s film is enriched with strong acting all around, particularly from Mary Walsh, who delivers her strongest performance in years. AC

The Hall
Canada (8 min)
dir. Stephen Dunn

Newfoundland’s Stephen Dunn has achieved quite a following as an actor, writer and filmmaker. Though his early short films and many YouTube videos have received a lot of attention, The Hall’s screening—at Cannes—gave him his widest audience to date. Now, finally, the short has come to his hometown. It depicts a day in the life of a neurotic young man who attempts to make contact with his attractive neighbour. Then, suddenly, a giant owl shows up. Trust me, it makes sense. Dunn’s film is quietly funny, and rather imaginative. AC

Love and Savagery
Canada/Ireland (1 hr 35)
dir. John N. Smith

It’s 1968, and Michael McCarthy, a young geologist and occasional poet, travels to a small Irish village for his studies. He meets Cathleen, a raven-haired local girl who’s destined for the nunnery, and her family, who are pathologically suspicious of meddling outsiders. What follows is a quiet study of simmering tempers and the obligations of blood, with a slow and deliberate pace that purposely clashes with the wild, luscious backdrop of the traditional music shore. As the male lead, Allan Hawco gives a performance. If you’ve ever felt that doomed romances have become too “feel-good,” then this is the film for you. JB

The Magnificent Molly MacBride
Newfoundland (25 min)
dir. Deanne Foley

Now, here’s a short film that could easily be the pilot for a great television comedy series. 11 year old Molly (Julia Kennedy) is desperately trying to be a great Irish dancer, but her graceless moves only earn mockery. When a burglar (Andy Jones) saves her from a trio of prepubescent bullies, the two strike up an agreement: he’ll teach her to dance if she helps him with his nightly robberies. This half-hour film is absolutely hilarious, anchored by superb performances from Jones and Kennedy, and is one of the best-looking local films to date. AC

Mum’s The Word
Canada (15 min)
dir. Edward Tanasychuk

In this slapstick farce, a quartet of would-be thieves (who clearly graduated from the Stern-Pesci School of Inept Burglary) disguise themselves as mummers during a Christmas party. It’s not Purity Syrup they’re after, either. No sir. There’s a considerable wad of cash rumoured to be found at the party, and mummering offers them the perfect disguise. Of course, it’s really hard to focus on a heist when your mom’s half in the bag and starting to hit on you. Sharp editing gives this short a great sense of momentum as events reach their ridiculous conclusion. AC

Playing The Machines
Canada (43 min)
dir. Barbara Doran

They’re everywhere. You can find them in bars, hotels, restaraunts and even at the mall: Video Lottery Terminals. Everyone knows VLTs are little more than brightly-lit, noisy methods of squandering your every dime. Still, people keep playing them. Actor John Dunsworth appears in the film to discuss his VLT addiction and even travels to Las Vegas to confront the manufacturers of these machines at a trade show. Barbara Doran’s exceptional documentary shows the effects of VLT addiction in unflinching detail. Playing The Machines is the best of this year’s entries. Not to be missed. AC

Sweet Pickle
Canada (9 min)
Dir. Lois Brown

Isabelle (Ruth Lawrence), a closet foodie living in a small outport town, decides to leave home for the big city grocery store. With the bright, oversaturated colours of a kid’s colouring book, the film explores expanding your palate in a sweetly unpretentious way that calls to mind the late great Pushing Daisies. Though it’s true that the musical portion, even with its rich, clever vocabulary, never feels like it lets go completely, the film’s simple quest to taste something new captures the vulnerability and excitement that comes with leaving your doorstep for the first time. JB

Snakes & Ladders
Newfoundland (5 min)
Dir. Lynn Kristmanson

You know that old saying about love and war? Well, this short from NIFCO First Time Films tries it on for size, and by gum, it still fits. With the hard-nosed strategy of a military general, Cupid lords over the meet-cute of a would-be couple, carefully controlling the everyday forces—a lost tourist, a coffee run, a forgetful mind—that will bring the two together. It’s less ‘boy meets girl’ than it is ‘boy better meet girl, or else all hell will break loose.’ A superb use of voiceover, charming leads and excellent pacing make this a pocket-sized love story that makes you blush. JB

Vive la Rose
Canada (6 min)
dir. Bruce Alcock

In a house by the sea, in a place tucked away from the world, are the pieces to the story of a fisherman and his lost beloved. This animated short is set to the song of the same name by Emile Benoit, and filmed on location in Bay Bulls. Combining paint animation, natural imagery and stop motion, the process must have been labourious, but seems effortless. The visuals alone make this film a triumph, but paired with the haunting lyrics, it’s a hypnotic six minute journey. You’ll almost need two viewings to catch everything. Maybe ask them for a rewind? JB

For more info on the films and for ticket information, visit www.womensfilmfestival.com

2 comments

  1. Frank Blackwood · October 24, 2011

    I can’t wait to see the film “Crackie”
    I saw the screening of the film at TIFF, and got to talk to Mary Walsh. She is a magnificent ,magnetic,and hilarious human being, and energetic actor which we are all very proud of. I really think that a person who is full of so much humor has the right to live to be to 100 plus. she will always have a very vivid mind and imagination which Mary Walsh has. She is the great medicine of laughter which we all need, especially with the H1N1 Virus knocking on our doors. Mary Walsh should be crowned the funniest female comedian and actor of our times, especially in the Canadian Film Industry.