CCIFF (Part 2)

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for Cinetalk.net

In Cinema, the time it takes for a filmmaker to express his view outputs either a short, or a feature length oeuvre. Some benefit from the constraints of a shorter format and others need a full two hours to make their point. The success of either the short or long format depends on the execution.

The CCIFF compiled quite a few powerful shorts, where more screen time was unnecessary. Not all succeeded, but then, not all the feature films were effective either. Some were overly long with messy narration or plot holes. The collection of shorts was surprisingly strong overall. Some of Cinetalk’s personal favorites such a Frank and Suzie and Home, Swim Home were nominated for CCIFF’s Awards.

The following films highlight excellence in the context of the CCIFF.

 

SHORTS

They say that actors are on all the time. Last Shot (Han Shuai) gives a peek of what it’s like for a performer to put down their guard to express their true nature. A seemingly terrible actress and an aloof director have a moment off camera that proves things aren’t always as they appear to be. The director is in fact the best actor in the room. He taught his star ‘method acting’ through personal bonding. His technique may be unethical, but the results are evident once cameras start I again. Somewhere within, he has crossed the lines of truth and … acting.

 

In Simba’s Tooth (Yan Jin), a father-son relationship is mirrored through Simba and Mufasa (from The Lion King) in the boy’s primary school play. The parent and child bond through the unique ritual of offering lost baby teeth not to the tooth fairy but to the Heavens. Way up high, they turn into stars. So does the little boy as he conquers social anxiety to merit the return of his estranged father.

 

The Broken Places (Neysan Sobhani) is a glimpse into the psyche of a child dealing with severe grief and an existential crisis. All dialogue is via text, as the boy discusses deep issues with his deceased baby brother. Anger, loss, and letting go are all very adult issues, and they plague this young man at an early age. The editing, scenery and acting are all appealing. It’s interesting to note that most of the actors’ verbal exchanges do not match the words on the screen. The lack of full lip-sync creates a dreamlike effect. This is Cinetalk’s pick for the WIN.

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FEATURE FILMS

Filmmaker Matt Zimbel and his 86-year old father were in attendance at the screening of Zimbelism (co-directed and written by Jean-Francois Gratton). The younger Zimbel shared an anecdote about how nobody wanted to back his film when they learned it was about his dad. Perhaps that is their loss, because George S. Zimbel is an iconic photographer. Still an uncontested user of film cameras, the elder Zimbel touches on the plasticity and perhaps organic nature of documentary photography, as opposed to digital hell’s sharpness. The photographer refers to the digital diarrhea that plagues modern photography. He raises the question about whether one will ever find “the shot” among thousands of images. If we can shoot thousands of pictures at zero cost thanks to digital cameras, where are those one or two images that might carry one’s entire livelihood as an artist? Zimbel’s portrait of the Kennedys, or Marilyn Monroe over the famous sewer grate – these were once in a lifetime shots. Do digital photographers ever get that type of career shot?

Zimbel finds the humanity in a subject. He was a New York Times freelancer for 40 years. The documentary follows his quest to earn back the rights to his own portrait of the Kennedys. Zimbelism is partly “about signed contracts that don’t mean anything,” as Zimbel states. Being a photographer isn’t the easiest job in the world, especially when large corporations turn a blind eye to who the real copyright holder is.

Viewers will recognize Montreal scenery tucked between famous New York City locations. Views of the countryside are juxtaposed against urban aesthetic. Using an inventive take on bokeh, the backdrop of New York’s hustle and bustle seems to oscillate with donut-like ‘rings’. There is something perhaps expectedly artistic about the treatment of the subject matter. Matt Zimbel’s work is not only an homage to an important contemporary photographer, but also a gift to his father, and to the world about his father.

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Impressions of China should probably be in the Shorts category, but it feels like a full feature even though it is only 21 minutes long. In 1972, 25 teachers and students from Hamilton, Ontario traveled to China, with very little knowledge of its culture, its landscape, its very essence. They returned to Canada enriched. Forty-four years later, the CCIFF hosted a panel discussion with director Donald McWilliams, and his two key narrators, Elaine Munro (then Krysko) and Dan Kislenko.

McWilliams jovially admitted he has still never set foot in China. He said his process was a “seat of your pants” way of making a film. After collecting and editing footage from the teachers and students’ keepsakes, his budget was about 1200$. Even in the 1970s, this wasn’t a huge sum.

The film doesn’t feel dated despite the 70s fashion and hair. Something contemporary remains even though many of the sequences were shot in rural China during the Cultural Revolution. This is an important piece of history. Currently it would be a way to educate younger generations about what China was like before or during the Cultural Revolution.

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The CCIFF concluded by awarding 12 films for excellence. At the event, the audience was treated to live dance performances and appearances by award presenters such as director Xie Fei and Disney’s Technology Manager, Rajesh Sharma. Gracefully wrapped up by CCIFF founder and President Song Miao, the team of over 200 staff and volunteers are already planning next year’s festival.

 

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