The World Fantasy Convention starts in a few days. After years of attending cons as Alyx‘s wifely appendage, this will be my first where I’m actually on the programming.
Here’s my programming run-down:
Reading – Friday, 11:30 AM (Broadway 1)
I’m very much afraid nobody will attend, so I’m bringing chocolate as a bribe. Then if I’m alone I get to eat it myself. Win/win.
Anthropology and Archaeology panel – Saturday, 1:00 AM (City Center 2B)
With Meg Turville-Heitz, Mari Ness, Shauna Roberts, Rosemary Smith
This topic fascinates me like no other. My fellow panelists are charming and knowledgeable. I’ll be the fangirl among them.
Friday was our three-movie day at TIFF. Some hardy festival pros see five a day. We are simply not that hard-core. Our three films were The Apostate, Neon Bull, and Southbound. I hated The Apostate, so I’ll ignore it and spend my attention on the other two films which were simply wonderful in very different ways.
Neon Bull follows a group of cowboys who truck bulls from rodeo to rodeo in the impoverished northeastern part of Brazil. They live on the road and form a loose family unit headed by young mother Galega, who is undeniably in charge of the operation. Our main character is cowboy Iremar, who sews costumes for Galega and has a passionate dream of becoming a professional fashion designer.
The film making is gorgeous and the window on the lives of the characters is unique. The story is delivered with stark but poetic realism which is enhanced by several dream-like sequences, including a spectacular interlude where Iremar communes with a horse, and a long — and I think unique — sex scene at the very end of the movie. The movie never comes to a particular point. I wish it had, but it was so gorgeous that I loved it despite the lack of a satisfying ending.
I also loved the horror anthology Southbound, for very different reasons. After overdosing on low-narrative arty movies it was heavenly to see something that delivered five cohesive stories with actual endings. Give me story, dammit! Southbound over-delivered, knitting the five stories into a seamless whole. All are about travelers on a particular desert highway who brush too close to a malevolent nowhere town. All come to a point of crisis, big or small, where they have to put their trust in strangers, and all come to horrific, splattery ends that had me squirming in my seat.
To say any more would be to give it away. Southbound delivers several visuals that I won’t forget for a long time, including iconic desert vistas with nebulous monsters/entities hanging in the mid-distance. I’ll be watching for them on my next road trip. Shiver.
There’s one showing of Jennifer Peedom’s documentary Sherpa left at TIFF, Sunday at 9:00 PM at the Bloor Hot Docs cinema. Go. You can buy tickets at the door. Just go. Don’t think any more about it. Trust me, just go.
If you’re going to go, don’t read any more of this. Just go.
For my writer friends not in Toronto, here is why I’m pushing this movie:
Sherpa is the most Science Fictional movie I’ve ever seen.
Jennifer Peedom has been working on Everest documentaries for a long time, always cognizant of the fact that every human movement toward Everest is backed up by the intense physical labour of Sherpa men and women working long hours in incredibly dangerous conditions. In all the movies she’s worked on, Sherpas have ended up on the cutting room floor. Nothing — not one inch of footage– could happen without Sherpas, but they’re in the background. Sherpas are scenery.
So she set out to produce and direct a documentary about Sherpas, not only with a Sherpa subject — Everest veteran Phurba Tashi Sherpa, aspiring to ascend Everest for a world-record-breaking 22th ascent in 2014 — but also with Sherpa cameramen and crew.
Now here’s the Science-Fictional situation:
Since well before Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Everest in 1953, Sherpas have been essential to every Himalayan expedition. They have been the hard-working, but minor beneficiaries of an increasingly lucrative mountaineering and adventure industry, receiving salaries that are high for their economically depressed region, but extremely low compared to the profits that the Nepalese government rakes in, or compared to the salaries of the white alpine guides or the profits of the expedition business owners.
As Sherpa communities have become more connected to the outside world, more and more Sherpas have traveled outside the Himal to receive education. They are connected to social media; they have a sophisticated understanding of their socio-political situation, and the fact that they are the key element in delivering an experience that is unmatched around the world. They are also not content to adhere to the expected role of the smiling, happy, compliant, helpful Sherpa. They are self-actualized; they know their worth.
Sherpas are a modern community of people who are deeply attached to their unique culture and religion. Their spiritual beliefs involve a reverence for and a specific way of being in the natural world. This includes deeply-held beliefs about the proper way to behave on and around Chomolungma, Everest, the Mother-God-of-the-World, and how to interpret and respond to her actions.
In 2014, this documentary is being shot. And 13 thousand tons of ice drops on a team of Sherpas ascending the first stage of Everest, the Khumbu Icefall. Sixteen Sherpas are killed.
Why this is Science Fictional:
This movie is utterly about the confrontation with the other, with ways of thinking and being in the world that are foreign. It’s about another world, where diametrically opposed forces blow up in people’s faces, and there is not one thing anyone can do about it. It’s about meeting someone whose world view cannot accommodate yours, and the dramatic weights that are still at this very moment hanging in the balance.
This is absolutely a must-see movie. Its historical-socio-political analysis is thousands of layers deep. It’s everything that we see movies for. See it now.
Alyx and I have begun to suspect that Jackman Hall, the TIFF venue attached to the Art Gallery of Ontario which is around the corner from our condo, is a bit of an art film ghetto during TIFF.
Today, this worked out 50/50 for us. Leanne Pooley’s 25 April was really worth seeing — a festival favorite for us both. It’s an animated documentary of the Battle of Gallipoli, and it was utterly gorgeous, great art, good storytelling, terrific sound design, a well-developed movie in every way. We loved it. A must-see. The sheer originality of making a documentary-style animated film about a historical event would have made it a brilliant movie, but the quality of the production was simply terrific, too. We both loved it.
But we were disappointed with our other showing today, double feature Faux Depart and Sector IX B. Faux Depart is a short film about the burgeoning fossil hunting (and fossil faking) industry in Morocco. A very slight film focused narrowly, and with nearly no sound. Interesting, but not exactly the kind of event you go to a theatre for — more like the kind of thing you see in an art museum alcove. And Sector IX B, though longer, was even less developed. Ostensibly, it followed a French researcher in the field of History of Ethnography in Africa, but it had no story, referred to a few points but didn’t actually make any, and the imagery wasn’t memorable. Worst disappointment of the festival so far. In fact, it was so off-putting that we’re seriously considering skipping our last Jackman Hall film tomorrow just to avoid risking getting bitten again.
Today was our first double-header of TIFF. Though I must say “I love my neighbourhood” at least once a week, today I’m newly in love with it because we live literally in the middle of all the venues. One of them, Jackman Hall, is two minutes from our door. Unfortunately, it’s also the venue with knee- and tailbone-punishing seats. For our double header there on Wednesday, we’ll definitely be bringing cushions.
Today’s movies were French World War I film The Fear and Eva Doesn’t Sleep from Argentina. Both world premieres, both highly artistic, and both slim on story. One I liked, and the other I didn’t.
I’m not going to diss The Fear on the day of its world premiere. It had some beautiful, memorable scenes, but it didn’t say anything about war we haven’t heard before. It wasn’t to my taste.
Eva Doesn’t Sleep deals with the weird journey of the embalmed body of Eva Peron. After her untimely death from cancer at the age of 33, her corpse had been slated for Lenin-style public display but went missing after a military coup and was recovered 16 years later.
The movie has three parts: The Embalmer (deliciously, in Spanish: Embalsamadore), the Transporter, and The Dictator, with a slight framing story where General Emilio Eduardo Massera, the butcher responsible for thousands of murders and disappearances during the 1970s, just froths at the mouth about Eva’s corpse.
The photography during the Embalmer portion was utterly spectacular and very tense. The Transporter section included an impressive one-shot fight scene in an compressed area. The last two sections seemed scripted more like stage plays than movies, giving the actors the opportunity to perform skillfully but not really advancing the story all that much or posing questions to the audience.
Despite the slender story, I appreciated the ambitious filmmaking and the fact that it aspired to deal with Argentina’s post-colonial struggles and difficult, violent past.
Also, there was an interesting parallel with one of our previous TIFF films, Starve Your Dog, which also dealt with decolonialism and the difficulties of getting satisfying answers out of a captured dictator.
Starve Your Dog is a difficult, psychedelic examination of Morocco’s totalitarian past and its effect on the present. The director, Hicham Lasri, described it in the Q&A session as a “science fiction film about a character who died ten years ago.” The character is Driss Basri, a Moroccan politician that the film describes as an assassin and pawn of U.S. foreign policy.
The first half of the movie was beautifully-shot but story-free image poems — sensorial cinema, the director called it, also referencing Metallica’s ‘wall of sound’ as an effect he was trying to create visually. It was utterly beautiful, with saturated colour and lacy light, but also overwhelming and disorienting. At least five or six people bailed out of the theatre during this part. When the story got going, things did get quite a bit easier, as Basri holds forth on his past and as the film crew starts going at each other’s throats.
I was glad I saw it, but wow, it wasn’t easy. The Q&A with the charming director really helped made me appreciate what he was saying, and gave me much needed socio-political context.
Oddly, Joss Whedon’s name was in the credits. Don’t know in what capacity, because the credits were in Arabic.
Alyx and I thought we had a decent roster of movies planned for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with tickets for fourteen films over ten days. However, a few nights ago we were at the TIFF second floor lounge (where we often go to write in the evenings) and our Matthew, our favourite server, told us about a retired couple who see fifty movies at the festival every year. OWNED.
I won’t recommend this movie to anyone who doesn’t adore the stylish ambivalence of French film. It’s a very simple story simply told. Pierre cheats on Manon. Manon cheats on Pierre. When Pierre find out, he treats Manon with lazy cruelty. And when Manon discovers Pierre’s infidelity, the tables do not turn.
I loved it because:
It’s anti-dramatic. It doesn’t pretend it’s a classic love story, just a story about people. It doesn’t say anything new about infidelity, but it does seem like it might be the director’s regretful apology for his own past sins. If so: good work, old man.
It’s gorgeously shot. There’s one scene where Pierre is spying on Manon, her mom, and friend in a cafe. The focus is on the friend’s face during the conversation. For one brief moment the friend’s eyes widen in reaction to the chit-chat, and it’s riveting.
The women are amazing. In contrast to Pierre, whose blank face is nearly always partially obscured, the women (Clothild Courau and Lena Paugam) are deliciously expressive and engaging. They’re also barely made-up with terrible hair and are dressed poorly in squalid surroundings, but somehow manage to still seem like the most beautiful, effortlessly glamorous people in existence.
The director’s treatment of Pierre’s is unsparing. Pierre is a cad, acting like a cad, and the director shows his warts without turning him into a monster.
It’s short (only 73 minutes), but exactly the right length for the story.
The final word: If I hadn’t known what to expect going in, I would have hated it. And anyone who loves French cinema probably already has tickets.
tl;dr Guillermo del Toro is incredibly articulate, charming, loveable, geeky, and a pretty darn passionate feminist, too.
Last night Alyx and I attended the Jane Eyre session of Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic Romance master class at TIFF. Video of the lectures and Q&A sessions from all three nights (Great Expectations, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre) will be available on the TIFF website. The whole thing was utterly delightful and inspiring, and I’m never missing another of his master classes.
Here are my notes, categorized:
GDT on his influences
“I have two literary crushes. One is all three Bronte sisters, the other is Mary Shelley.”
Two forces exist in our lives: love and fear. Love and fear are the two forces in narrative. We live in a world where it’s easier to believe in fear than love.
Sex was the forbidden thing the Victorians dreamed of. Now LOVE is the thing we don’t have permission to believe in.
Emotion is the new “-punk.”
GDT defines the gothic
Gothic romance is defined by the romantic view of death.
Gothic romance is the ultimate feminine drama.
Love is allowed to be dreamed of only through a supernatural agent.
A female point of view examines other models of femininity.
GDT on gothic elements
Love can only exist if the object of love is born in thorns.
Love comes through the intervention of something more than human.
Contains a huge amount of social S&M.
Gothic is also concerned with economic factors. Someone has to inherit wealth.
The person going on the journey has to be terribly diminished, humbled, innocent.
The illuminated male is often a doctor (caregiver).
Children are ultra-creepy when they take on adult roles.
GDT on Jane Eyre
Loves the Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre because the visuals are so obviously stylized. Prefers this to a naturalistic style. Especially loves the movie-making choices in the first part of the movie, before Rochester comes into it.
He would love to see Jane Eyre adapted, produced, and directed by a woman, because it never has been and a woman would make different choices in telling the story.
The love Jane feels is still not enough to tie her down.
GDT on sexual politics and the other
Men and women are equally full of contradictions.
The entirety of gender perception is false.
You can understand any character if you recognize the emotion.
GDT on his work
If he doesn’t love a character, he can’t write them. Loves his villains.
Wants you to come out of a movie without having your prejudices confirmed.
Wants you to come out of his movies feeling that everything you know about the world is wrong.
We can end the Hugos mess. I’ve posted a way here. tl;dr — mediation. If you have a better idea, I’m eager to hear it.
You’re on a tennis court. Your opponent serves a ball directly into your racket. You hit back hard. Instead of lunging to return the ball, your opponent ignores it, takes a new ball out of their pocket and serves it at right at you. This keeps happening over and over. Your opponent never returns your balls, just keeps hitting new ones. That’s unfair, so you start taking balls out of your own pocket.
How long would you keep playing an unwinnable game?
We have to stop this. Stop the hyperbole and invective, bad arguments and incendiary insults. Stop pretending we’re fighting a holy war. Stop casting ourselves as the victim. Stop saying he hit me first.
We need to ask ourselves what we want out of this. Stop hitting me isn’t an answer.
Why I’m pushing mediation
Most of us — those who don’t get a thrill from conflict — are sick to death of the Hugos mess. It’s taking away something very important, far more important than an award — our time and energy. Not to mention the time and energy of the writers we love to read. If the Hugos mess has taken one page of fiction from the lifetime output of one of my favorite writers, that’s too high a price to pay. It has to stop.
Over the past few days, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about why mediation wouldn’t work. But I haven’t heard one suggestion for a better plan that doesn’t include waiting for the three years it would take to change the Hugos rules.
Arguments about why mediation won’t work
What is the benefit in assuming a mediation would fail? What is the harm in challenging the other side to drop their insults and hyperbole to engage in an actual face to face, mediated discussion? It’s easy to be a naysayer. Much, much harder to lay down the poison pens and work toward a resolution.
1. It won’t work because there aren’t two sides.
Sure, there are factions, but there are clear leaders on both sides. Some of them could be trusted to be honorable and reasonable in a face-to-face situation.
2. It won’t work because both sides have to agree on what the problem is.
Untrue. All we have to agree on is the desire to find a fair resolution.
3. The puppies don’t want a fair resolution, all they want is to keep fighting.
Maybe. I bet they would say the same about us. If they’re offered a fair resolution process and reject it, then we’ll know for sure.
4. It won’t work because the puppies are [fill in your favorite insult here].
Some of them are unreasonable and behave badly. Some of us are unreasonable and behave badly. Arguing over who behaves worse doesn’t solve anything, it just digs us deeper into the shit.
5. It won’t work because it’s an ideological battle on the mythic level. Okay, but it’s a holy war of our own making. We can unmake it. Holy wars end when people get sick of the massacres. Or when everyone’s dead. Which would you choose?
6. It would give too much credence to the other side’s ideology.
No, it would require both sides to work around ideology to find a resolution. It might even expose the weak points in cherished ideologies. We might be better for it.
Who wins if this goes on?
If this goes on, the only winners are the people who enjoy the fight — the holy warriors who post insults and bad rhetoric on their blogs and then pop some popcorn.
Are we smart enough to solve a tough problem? If so, it’s time we started acting like it.