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Four solid choices to view from the Calgary screenings

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Despite restrictive Covid-19 protocols, the Calgary International Film Festival outpaced all expectations with a successful screening of over 175 entries. (Photo: Neilia Sherman)

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I am a film buff, so of course I love film festivals. Watching movies in theatres is one of those things that has been prohibited for most of the Pandemic–at least where I live in Toronto. In 2020, most film festivals and seminars went online and I have to say–it has not been very enjoyable. We made do –sometimes it was nice to stay home during winter and have everything online at our fingertips. But as someone who went to TIFF way back in the 80’s when it was called the Festival of Festivals and then attended as much as possible over the years — I jumped at the chance to attend in person–another Canadian film festival–known as CIFF — the Calgary International Film Festival.

There were over 175 films shown this year, so deciding what to see was difficult. To be safe, CIFF went hybrid for 2021. Most of the films that were being shown live, were also available to be streamed at a different time. It was understandably difficult for international talent to show up as travel is complicated now. But I did attend Q and A’s with some of the directors.

It was my first time in Calgary and every day, I walked in beautiful sunshine from my hotel the Westin Downtown, to the nearby Eau Claire Market that has been the home base of CIFF for many years. There was a storefront with old school games such as Pacman to kill time between films and a mini red carpet for those photo ops. I attended my first film at CIFF opening night. Festival Director, Steve Schroeder, and his many volunteers and photographers were in attendance.

Here are reviews of some of the films that I recommend. 

All My Puny Sorrows

I hit a winner with my first film choice: All My Puny Sorrows. Director, Michael McGowan was in attendance and there was a Q & A following. He did an amazing job of adapting the novel by the same name of Canadian author, Miriam Toews and his script and nuanced direction along with a stellar cast, made for a complex and engrossing tale.

The topic of suicide is a central theme to this film but amazingly, due to the excellent work of the lead actresses Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon, there are still many laugh-out-loud moments. I have long admired Pill for her previous work (The Newsroom and recently Them) and she gave a fierce performance in a very difficult role. Mare Winningham (St. Elmo’s Fire and Grey’s Anatomy) plays the mother who has to grapple stoically with the suicidal streak that runs her family and she gave a genuine and strong performance. According to director McGowan, Winningham has dealt with suicide in her family which helped her to nail down the role. He also mentioned that Toronto born Pill and Gadon went to school together and they pressured him into relentless rehearsals before filming.

The results speak for themselves in the incredible chemistry on screen between the two sisters, much of which was filmed in a hospital room. This film, like the book, grapples with the painful reality of suicide -how doctors don’t always really know how to treat it or what to do when someone has a lifelong obsession with killing themselves. But as the film conveys, even in the most painful life, there is joy and humour to help us along the way.

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See For Me

To change things up, the next night, I picked a thriller– a unique Canadian film called See For Me from Director Randall Okita. What makes this film innovative is that the protagonist, a blind former skier named Sophie, is actually played by a visually impaired performer, Skyler Davenport.

In the Q &A, Okita discussed how he and his team felt that finding an actor who had lived with sight impairment was so important, the project was delayed several years while the search was on. The other star of the film is the grand sprawling house, where a home invasion takes place while Sophie is cat-sitting. Finding just the right house also was time consuming, and Okita was glad that they held out for the perfect place in Caledon, Ontario. It was once owned by the inventor of Trivial Pursuit! Another Canadian connection.

Filming in a winding dark house from the viewpoint of an unsighted person seems very complicated to me and I can understand why they had two cinematographers–Jackson Parrel and Jordan Oram. The thing about home invasion films is that they can be quite predictable and there were a few situations where I struggled to suspend my disbelief. But great acting, including a fun turn by Kim Coates, as one of the bad guys, kept my interest throughout.

The technology aspect of the app: “See for Me ” and feisty actress Jessica Parker Kennedy who provides eyes for Sophie throughout the movie, also add to the interest and make it different than your typical home invasion scenario. This film is making the rounds of film festivals and should be released soon.

Distinctly Canadian and accompanied by a wonderful selection of music from the 1980’s, Drinkwater tells the story of the relationship between Mike and his dad Hank set in Penticton, BC. (Photo: Supplied)

Drinkwater

Drinkwater won at CIFF for best Canadian Narrative Film. Set in small town Canada, in beautiful BC, this story of an awkward underdog and the new girl next store has lots of Canadian insider humour and sight gags — from the Tim Hortons drive through to “sorry jokes” and hockey obsessions. The movie was made in Penticton, BC, where it is set and shows off the natural beauty of the area.

Everyone who worked on this film was Canadian and they went all in to create a film that started with memories of the high school experience of two unlikely friends–the real Mike Drinkwater who attended Penticton High in the 80’s and the producer Graham Fraser. Director Stephen Campanelli really brought the film together and made their vision a reality.

Canadian actor, Eric McCormack (Will and Grace) plays Hank, the deadbeat dad of Mike Drinkwater. He spends his days doing make-work activities such as art projects and practicing cycling in the house. His wife left years ago and now his son seems to be raising himself and watching out for his dad. The two young leads, Daniel Doheny and Louriza Tronco, worked well together and their on screen relationship progressed quite naturally.

Like most high school movies, there was a bully, an outsider, a new kid, and a popular girl. But the relationship between Mike and his dad as well as the struggles of Wallace, who comes to live with her grandparents after losing her mother, make the film more realistic while still being entertaining and light hearted at times. I was cheering when they went to the cross country race–Canadians against Americans (full disclosure, I ran cross country in junior high, so I could relate).

The 80’s soundtrack is great –and even though the film is set in the present–there is a genuine 80’s feel. Stick around at the end, for footage of the black and white amateur movie that gave the writer Luke Fraser, who is the producer’s son, the idea to make a full length film. 

Toplined by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a story of beauty, loss and creativity. (Photo: Supplied)

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

First of all, is there any role that Benedict Cumberbatch can’t play?

Narrated by the divine Olivia Colman (The Favourite) and starring Claire Foy (The Crown) as Wain’s love interest, this film is a story of beauty, loss and creativity. Cumberbatch plays Wain as an intense and passionate artist who sees the world differently than most. He does everything with all of his heart–whether it is swimming for exercise, chasing down a bull to draw him properly or walking in on his sisters’ governess, when he realizes that he feels a romantic attraction for the first time in his life.

Foy is charming as his wife – perhaps the only person who understands his demons and loves him for his true nature. During a difficult period, they find a kitten and his drawings of this beloved pet become lively and cartoonish. Wide eyed cats, engaged in a variety of activities became his obsession and his prolific drawings are now world famous. The theory is that people did not appreciate cats and only saw them as mousers in the past; they were not recognized for their variety of abilities and moods.

Louis tells his wife that in order to draw, all you have to do is look. He holds on to the lessons she taught him through difficult times with his family, his health, his financial ups and downs and his success. Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit ) does a cameo as one of his supporters — an American editor who helps to publicize his work on the other side of the pond.

Cumberbatch indeed gives a mesmerizing performance. (I hear he plays a nasty fellow in the upcoming film The Power of the Dog, which has Oscar buzz.)

For more film reviews and festival coverage – please check out my blog:

https://neiliasnotesfilmreviewsandrecommendations.wordpress.com/

Neilia Sherman is a social worker and a widely published freelance writer. She specializes in personal essays, travel, Jewish issues, psychology and health. She can be reached at [email protected]. Check out her Blog: socialworkertravels.blog,

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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