TIFF roundup #4 – 25 April and Faux Depart/Sector IX B


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.

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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.

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TIFF Roundup Film #2 – STARVE YOUR DOG, by Hicham Lasri

starve your dog

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.

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TIFF roundup film 1 – IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN, by Philippe Garrel


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.

Our first film was In the Shadow of Women (L’Ombre des femme).

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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Guillermo del Toro – A master class on Gothic Romance

GDT photo by TIFF, via Twitter

GDT photo by TIFF, via Twitter

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.”
  • “Kate Beaton is my hero” specifically referencing this cartoon, or maybe this one.
  • Loves all gothic romances. Especially mentions Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
  • Lord Byron: “When all else fails, shock them.”
  • 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.

Tweets with many more great quotes and observations are collected in the #MasterClassdelToro hashtag.

He will be doing a master class series on Luis Buñuel next August , so don’t miss it.

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The Hugos – stop playing an unwinnable game


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.

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The Hugos and the problem of competing narratives


Hold fast. I want to tell you a story. It’s about something personal and important, and you are not allowed to deny the validity of my story. When I’m done, you will tell me your personal, important story and I am not allowed to deny its validity.

Do you think we can do this? Good. There’s hope we can live together in peace. It doesn’t mean we have to like each other, but we can co-exist.

All right. So. Now: The Hugos.

In just over a week the Hugos will be done. But it won’t be over. This shit storm we’ve been living through will go on. It’ll probably get worse. I’m sick to death of it and you probably are too.

There’s no end in sight because both sides are telling stories — personal, important, urgent stories, but stories nonetheless, told with apocalyptic rhetoric and elevated language, using energy that would be much better spent on fiction.

It’s not surprising. We are fiction writers. We are very good at making stirring narratives out of chaos.

But there’s the problem. These stories aren’t true. They’re important but not true.

What we have is a standard conflict resolution problem: competing narratives.

Narratives are explanations for events (large and small) in the form of short, common sense accounts (stories) that often seem simple. However, the powerful images they contain and the judgments they make about the motivations and actions of their own group, and others, are emotionally significant for groups and individuals. Narratives are not always internally consistent. For example, they often alternate between portraying one’s own group, as well as an opponent, as strong and portraying them as vulnerable.
The Political Psychology of Competing Narratives
Marc Howard Ross, Department of Political Science, Bryn Mawr College

The puppy narrative is that they’ve been discriminated against for 30 years. Nothing will move them off that narrative because it feels true to them. Our narrative is that the puppies are out to destroy the Hugos. Nothing will move us off that narrative because it feels true to us.

The validity of these competing narratives cannot be denied. But they’re not facts, they’re stories. We cling to them — it’s hard to stop clinging to them — prying myself off my narrative is taking quite an effort, in fact.

Narratives are comforting. Everything that happens adds to the story. It builds and builds until the story becomes more important than the problem. As the stories build, bad behaviour builds and rhetoric swells, until each side has an entire orchestra behind it, spurring it on to heroic deeds.

Each side complains that the other won’t give up, won’t see reason, but neither will acknowledge the fact that what they call reason is just another story.

If we keep arguing over competing narratives, the only possible end is mutually assured destruction. Neither side wants that. I assure you, they don’t.

So what do we do to resolve this? We have to move off our narratives — set them aside. Instead, we have to talk about what we want.

The puppies might say, “We want want the stories and books we value to be recognized.”

We might say, “We want the Hugo awards to be fair.”

Now we can strategize about how to get what both sides want. This is not easy. It takes a lot of effort to keep from sliding back into our cherished narratives. When that happens, both sides have to stop, back away from the stories, and rededicate themselves to solving the problem.

It can be done. It’s done all the time, around the world, in situations far more dire and serious that this — in life-and-death situations like worker’s rights, environmental disasters, and land claim conflicts.

Here is the call to action: We need to engage in a formal conflict mediation process that actively avoids competing narratives and focuses on problem solving. It would look something like this:

  • Each side raises funds to hire a conflict resolution specialist for two days (one day for the specialist to prepare, and one day for the mediation). They’re not expensive.
  • Each side puts forward two representatives to participate in the mediation process.
  • Each side participates with good will and in good faith, doing their best to rein in their rhetoric, and puts in a solid eight hours of work toward a solution.

Does this seem naive to you? Perhaps a bit unrealistic? Great — then you must have a better idea. I’m eager to hear it. Because if we keep throwing bombs at each other, someone is going to get hurt.

There is no better idea. If there were, someone would have come up with it. I’m telling you now: This is our only way out. If we don’t do this, we’re doomed.

And — honestly — if we can’t resolve a conflict over a fiction award, then mutually-assured destruction is what we deserve.

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