Top Picks for the Women’s Film Fest

The 23rd edition of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival will feature more feature films than ever before. The Scope’s film critics have picked some not-to-be-missed favourites.

By Adam Clarke, Natalie Ivany, Mark Jerrett, Jen Squires & Lauren Power.

The Disappeared

(Canada, 2012, 90 minutes)
Friday, october 19 at 9:30 pm at LSPU Hall

Six men, two dories, and ninety minutes. Call it a “ship in a bottle” episode.

Shot entirely on location off Lunenburg, NS, The Disappeared tells the story of six members of a fishing boat crew lost at sea after their ship goes down. In temperamental late-in-the-year weather, the crew resolves to row to the unseen shoreline.

Written and directed by Shandi Mitchell, the drama is expertly handled. And, boy, is there drama. With six men stuck together in a desperate situation, there’s genuine dude feelings on display. Angry, sorrowful, frustrated, vulnerable—burning dude feelings.

With a small cast and one location, it could have easily felt like a stage play, with occasional cookie sheet rumblings and pails of water tossed for effect. Instead, we roll and pitch with the crew, watching the horizon and the threatening sky. There’s a definite sense of space, and we’re trapped in it. I’d call it claustrophobic if it didn’t seem to be happening on an infinite expanse of ocean.

Despite this, The Disappeared is never dreary. There are brief moments of lightness that raise the spirits of the crew to the point that you might think this will end up as a misadventure, rather than a tragedy. Tension builds, but when it subsides, there’s nothing left to do but keep rowing.

In the end, The Disappeared is not depressing. It’s uplifting. Six individuals determined not to fade away. It’s beautiful and it’s brutal, and it’ll stick with you long after it’s over.
— Lauren Power

Micheal Crummey in Hard Light (NFB)

Hard Light

(Newfoundland, 2011, 55 minutes)
Saturday, October 20 at 8PM at the Arts & Culture Centre

Hard Light begins with a pair of strong, weather-worn hands accompanied by narration about the welts that are caused by fishing called “water pups.” This highlights the harshness of life in the outports, and alludes to the importance of relying on the knowledge of those who came before you—echoing the first chapter of Michael Crummey’s award winning book of the same name—leaving you, ultimately, with a feeling of bleakness and isolation.

This very personal, yet informative, film portrays Crummey’s documentation of outport life via the stories of his family. These beautifully filmed stories are interspersed with portions of a revealing interview between the filmmaker Justin Simms, and the author. As the stories themselves move from the past into the present, more colour begins to seep into the film, and the interconnectedness of the people involved begins to unfold.

Simms (Down to the Dirt) manages to depict not only the outport life of Crummey’s ancestors, but also gives insight into Crummey’s own life and personal history. It’s a visual family tree of sorts, examining the lives and deaths that have shaped the author. This is a glimpse into the hardship and isolation of the past, as well as a commentary on loss and the way things have changed.

Featuring Ruth Lawrence, Darryl Hopkins and Des Walsh and several other talented Newfoundlanders, Hard Light is part documentary, part drama, and part autobiography. Hard Light is beautifully shot, and Simms has successfully captured the “humanity, the human spirit” that he found while reading the book.
— Jen Squires

Helene Bergsholm in Turn Me On, Dammit!

Turn Me On Dammit!

(Norway, 2011, 76 minutes)
Wednesday, October 17 at 9:30 pm at LSPU Hall

Turn Me On, Dammit! is a Norwegian coming-of-age tale that will ring true for anyone raised in an isolated, rural area. But make no mistake this isn’t your typical Hollywood feel-good coming of age tale: the teens in this movie act and sound like real teenagers—extremely hormonal, anxious, and oversexed—and the film itself is gorgeously shot, with loving attention paid to the scenery of small-town, rural Norway.

The protagonist, Alma, lives in Skoddeheimen, a small town where there are few secrets. She spends her time seeking the acceptance of her peers, and coming to terms with her own wild imagination and burgeoning sexuality. While these fantasies range from disturbing to hilarious, they provide indelible insight into the psyche of Alma.

Having the awkward, somewhat perverse teen written as a female role is refreshing. Alma exudes the angst and visceral sexuality often reserved for teenage male characters.

While Alma struggles to make sense of her erupting sexuality, characters who were originally disturbed by her brutal honesty start to take a closer look at their own relationships. Even Alma’s own mother, at first scandalized by Alma’s blatant sexuality, begins to accept Alma and treat her like a grown woman, opening up to Alma about her own secret romance with her boss at the turnip plant.

Turn Me On, Dammit! is a refreshing departure from more saccharine and stale Hollywood coming-of-age stories. It’s certainly no Can’t Hardly Wait.
— Natalie Ivany & Mark Jerrett

Tommy Refenes in Indie Game: The Movie

Indie Game: The Movie

(Canada, 2012, 96 minutes)
Thursday, October 18 at 7 pm at LSPU Hall

You’d never think it, but sometimes a person’s future can depend entirely on a video game. Such is the story of Super Meat Boy, a game in which a vulnerable, living boy of meat must rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl.

Super Meat Boy is one video game chronicled in Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary that looks into the trials and tribulations of independent video game creators as they try to develop the next big game. With the success of such indie games as Audiosurf and Minecraft, creating the next big game could stand to make its creators millions.

Indie Game is not so much a gateway to understanding video games, but understanding their creators. The film portrays aspiring game developers as not unlike aspiring writers, toiling away at a computer by their lonesome for years. And, like many undiscovered writers, an indie game creator’s efforts could potentially yield no profit. The developers of these games put their future on the line and, should their game bomb, they stand to lose all that time and effort to nothing.

Indie Game allows viewers to understand the importance these games have for their creators. When Phil Fish says he’d kill himself if his new game, Fez, isn’t successful, you believe him. When Super Meat Boy’s Edmund McMillen talks about creating a game to connect with his socially awkward niece, you can begin to see how video games can be art (sorry, Roger Ebert). Indie Game is tremendously successful at showing just how much work and creativity can go into creating something as simple as a pixelated boy made out of squishy meat.
— Adam Clarke

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