For the 14th year, the Toronto based imagineNATIVE festival aims to bring the best in aboriginal and indigenous made filmmaking, arts, new media, and culture to audiences who might not see it otherwise, as well as to local galleries, cinemas, and venues who don’t book such productions nearly enough given the clearly massive range of output from these communities and cultures worldwide.
imagineNATIVE is shaping up to have a banner year. In addition to the several films we cover here, we’ll also be looking at some of the new media and even gaming options that will be made available to festival attendees from October 16th to the 20th. Even the line-up of films this year (the festival’s main attraction) include a variety of heavy hitters that have been gaining notoriety over the past several months. Making a return engagement from Hot Docs earlier this year is Michelle Latimer’s hip-hop documentary Alias (Friday, October 18th, 4:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox). Coming fresh from TIFF are Peter Stebbings’ Empire of Dirt (Saturday, October 19th, 9:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox), Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary Hi-Ho Mistahey! (Saturday, October 19th, 4:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox), and Jeff Barnaby’s heavily buzzed about (and now VIFF award winning) debut feature Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Friday, October 18th, 9:00pm)
Stay tuned throughout the week as we continue to bring you more great coverage from this year’s festival, but in the meantime, here’s a look at five of the features we’ve had a chance to watch so far. For more information, tickets, and a full list of programming, check out the imagineNATIVE website.
A subdued and mournful Aussie detective flick, Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road (which also played at TIFF last month) takes a quiet, terse, reflective, and refreshingly no-bullshit approach to creating a tense procedural with a main detective caught between a job that doesn’t want him and the world he left behind.
Detective Jay Swan (a rugged and smouldering Aaron Pendersen) returns to his aboriginal hometown in the outback, assigned to a case of a troubled young woman found murdered in a drainage run off along a trucking route. The locals in his drug and crime ridden former hood are either resentful that Swan has returned (referred to derogatorily referred to as a “black tracker” for constantly hunting his own people), and his co-workers on the force seem to be doing everything in their power to keep him away from the truth in a larger cover-up.
Sen’s approach is unorthodox for this kind of film, but not ineffective. The characters around Swan are largely ciphers, but the film is so well written, acted, and directed that it doesn’t matter. Most of the tension comes from quiet moments told visually rather than narratively, and from a lot of the often unspoken racism that permeates a town with bigger problems than just this one murder. Hugo Weaving pops up as the shady Narc trying to keep Swan subtly and often diplomatically at bay, and Ryan Kwanten appears as a racist good-ol’-boy and person of interest, but while they’re great the film belongs to Penderson and his impressive grasp on the material. Not once does the audience suspect their hero is fooled by anyone around him, but that he’s playing it cool and waiting for the right moment. It’s a hard approach to pull off, but Sen and Penderson nail it nicely. (Andrew Parker)
Wednesday, October 16th, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 7:00pm
Abandoned as a boy and living with his grandfather, young Pete spends his days dreaming of his mother’s return and getting into all kinds of mischief with his best friend, Kalmain. Not a fan of his grandfather’s outdated ways, Pete bides his time until one day the land he lives on with his grandfather is bought by a mining company. Fearful that his mother will never find her way back to him, Pete and Kalmain undertake an arduous and dangerous bike journey across the western Australian Outback in the hopes of convincing the mining company to change its mind.
While the kids at the core of Satellite Boy are both precocious and talented, they’re sadly given very little to do through most of this meandering tale of adolescence. The film does crackle with energy in certain moments, like when the boys find water after days of wandering, which shows the chemistry and promise of what could have been if the entire film sported the same energy level. Fortunately, the third act once the boys reach the big city delivers some great emotional impact, as Pete must face some tough decisions that will impact the course of the rest of his life.
The journey can be arduous and challenging to get though, with many dry spots, but for those that stay with the film, the payoff is a satisfying and heart-warming testament to the adage that newer is not always better. (Kirk Haviland)
Thursday, October 17th, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 10:00am
The Crying Bamboo Forest
Fa’aye spent his younger days alongside his father deep in their lands, surrounded by towering bamboo and learning the ways of Atayal culture and knowledge. Now an elder, Fa’aye is stuck as the present day laws just don’t allow him to practice some of the traditional old ways. With his young grandson, Fa’aye is determined to return to the forest and reassume his duty to care for the bamboo in the tradition of his culture despite the change in ownership of the territory and the legal ramifications that surround allowing the Atayal culture to practice their traditions.
Made for Taiwanese TV in 2011, The Crying Bamboo Forest is hardly a good film. On a technical level it’s reminiscent of some low budget TV productions of the early 1980’s, but it does tell an interesting story about how a culture struggles to maintain identity in the face of modernization. Director Umin Boya gets the actual point across well enough, and it’s easy to sympathize with the plight of these Taiwanese aboriginals, but the story itself has been done varieties of different ways across different continents. Some technical gaffs and rigid performances help to make this one a bit more forgettable than it should be.
It’s admirable that it got made at all, and reminding that no matter how different we all are we have universal similarities, but better films on the subject have been made. (Dave Voigt)
Thursday, October 17th, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 12:30pm
The political climate and unrest in 1981 New Zealand between government and the Island Samoans sets the backdrop for this film, which ultimately bites off way more than it can chew, trying to juggle a lot of complex political, social, identity and relationship issues in just 98 minutes. Shopping, directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, is this duos’ first feature since winning the prestigious Short Filmmaking Award (International) at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
The focus is on a despondent, withdrawn teen, Willy (Kevin Paulo), half Samoan and half White, growing up in Wellington. Bursting with typical coming-of-age type scenarios, the themes becomes overly saturated with curve balls to the plot and development of other characters. His father’s alcoholism and abuse, his brother’s obesity issues, and society’s general non-acceptance of bi-racial children surround the young man. Then in an offbeat encounter with an older European (Jacek Koman) at a department store, the storyline yet again spins off into a tale of petty theft, muscle cars and a doomed first love climaxing with his emotional but somewhat late and uncharacteristic breakdown.
What could have been a solid film about two brothers, or a memorable piece about family relationships, or even a story of first love turns out to be a wishy-washy movie about all of the above. It’s simply trying way too hard with too much of it missing its intended mark. (Eric Marchen)
Thursday, October 17th, 9:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox
If one were to somehow graft the plots of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn onto Bob Balaban’s cult classic Parents – with a dash of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast for spice – the results would be this uneven, but admirably far off the deep end comedy thriller hybrid from New Zealand.
Returning home from a semester at a Maori boarding school, Rina (Hanna Tevita) looks to catch up with her celebrity chef mother (Nicola Kawana) and struggling and frustrated historical nonfiction writer father (character actor Temuera Morrison), but their get-together is ruined by a gang of criminals fresh from a prisoner transfer escape crashing into their suburban home. The inept and motley crew of crooks take the family hostage, but not after Rina learns that somehow during her time away, her parents and younger brother have taken up cannibalism and dad now thinks he’s a chose descendant sent to bring their race back to prominence.
Those familiar with the work of director Danny Mulerhorn (who co-wrote and provided the lead voice for Peter Jackson’s trashy bad taste curio Meet the Feebles) should know exactly what they’re getting into. For the uninitiated, there will be plenty of leering lesbianism, chicks getting slow-mo baths in milk, organ pulling, genital mutilation, scenery chewing, cross dressing, severed limbs with foodie accoutrements, and women dressed like baby dolls toting shotguns. It does find its footing as a gleefully subversive female empowerment film about halfway through, but it’s still all over the place. At least it seems to be having a lot of fun lurching about, and there are plenty of great ideas here to go along with some wonderful sight gags and unforeseeable twists. Fans of Robert Rodriguez, James Gunn, or Peter Jackson’s early work will find a lot to like here. (Andrew Parker)
Friday, October 18th, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 11:15pm