Canada

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TIFF Starts off with 2 Docs... sort of

As promised, here's a look at the first two films I caught at the Toronto International Film Festival on day 1. I'm just back from my first early morning box office run and things ran smoothly. I was 9th in line, and most of the people in front of me were a little too... energetic for my sleep-addled senses. Ah, the enthusiasm and uncertainty of the young. I've got three movies lined up for today, and the last one is a 9:15 p.m. show, so I probably won't review them until tomorrow (gotta get to bed so I can make the sunrise trip tomorrow morning!) Still, my schedule is filling in. While I don't have tickets for anything yet tomorrow, I've got most of my other tickets!

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE (USA; 89 min.) directed by Arthur Dong

Accomplished documentarian Dong has won acclaim for his earlier films, COMING OUT UNDER FIRE, LICENSED TO KILL, and FAMILY FUNDAMENTALS. He's back with a film that he's been working on for 7 - 8 years, HOLLYWOOD CHINESE, a look at the portrayal of the Chinese, and the opportunities for Chinese American actors and filmmakers in Hollywood films from the earliest days to today. Dong taps a wide array of Chiense-Americans to discuss this topic, from actor/filmmaker Joan Chen to author Amy Tan. The list of notables keeps coming: Nancy Kwan, Ang Lee, Justin Lin, Wayne Wang, B. D. Wong and Henry David Hwang. He also talks to non-Chinese actors who played Chinese like Christopher Lee and Luise Rainer who won an Oscar for her performance in THE GOOD EARTH. Rainer, who looked to be in her 90's, commented on the fact that in today's Hollywood, everything has to be so exact: if you're playing Chinese, you must be Chinese, if you're playing a tall man, you must be a tall man, but it wasn't like that in her day. You were playing a part, it didn't matter their nationality.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Dong's film was a look at the earliest days of Hollywood and the lost work of actress/filmmaker Marion Wong and her 1916 silent film THE CURSE OF QUON GWON. Dong speaks to Wong's three daughters and they tell the tale of her secret success that had become lost in history. Now fortunately, more people will hear of it. Nancy Kwan tells of her breakout success in THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, and her sudden celebrity after appearing in the film adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's THE FLOWER DRUM SONG. Joan Chen discusses the difficulty of capitalizing on t her success in Bertolucci's Oscar-winning THE LAST EMPEROR, and how she had to leave Hollywood to make her directorial debut, XIU XIU: THE SENT DOWN GIRL. Justin Lin tells how his slightly controversial directorial debut, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW spun into a Hollywood foray directing THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT.

While Dong does a fine job exploring his topic, the pacing seems a little bit off, and this genre of film has been done so many times with women in Hollywood, gays in Hollywood, African-Americans in Hollywood, etc., that it's very difficult to do something new and original. A delightful, post-film Q&A featured the director and special guest Nancy Kwan who is in town for a discussions screening of THE FLOWER DRUM SONG.

MY WINNIPEG (Canada; 2007) directed by Guy Maddin
starring: Ann Savage, Louis Negin, Darcy Fehr, Amy Stewart

What a delightful evening in the Wintergarden theatre spent enjoying the world premiere of Guy Maddin's pseudo-documentary MY WINNIPEG. Maddin was challenged by the Documentary channel to make a doc on his hometown of Winnipeg, and Maddin being Maddin utilized his considerable talents to transform the story of the heart of the heart of Canada into one of his fantastic, surreal signature films. While telling the tale of this cold, northern city, Maddin leans heavily on nostalgia, both his own and the the collective population's, delving into the personal to explore how growing up with his family in this city shaped his psyche.

In addition to the exploration of the personal, Maddin brings in two other threads to flesh out his tale. In dreamlike sequences reminiscent of early Russian films, Winnipeg likens the peopls of Winnipeg to sleepwalkers, focusing on one particular man standing in for himself, on a train trying to escape the city but ever being drawn back. He also touches on some of the key moments of the city's history giving the non-Winnipegger a strong if perhaps skewed look at its origins and upbringing.

Looking at Maddin's upbringing in the context of MY WINNIPEG, it becomes clear where the themes for his movie come from. The loneliness and isolation of THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD, the bizarre beauty parlor and hockey shenanigans of COWARDS BEND THE KNEE and the watchful mother and distant father of BRAND UPON THE BRAIN are all in strong evidence in MY WINNIPEG. Classic film noir star Ann Savage provides a delightful turn as Maddin's mother, adding both camp humor and a sense of danger to Maddin's memories. As an added treat, the premiere featured live narration from Maddin himself, an experience that will not be repeated if the filmmaker has anything to say about it.

On a side note, it's great to see Canadian filmmakers out in force to support their fellows. In the audience were Chlotrudis Advisory Board member Patricia Rozema, and many other Chlotrudis pals, including Don McKellar, Tracy Wright, Nadia Litz, and Reg Harkema. I chatted with Tracy and Nadia post-film and can attest to high marks all around.

Egoyan Tackles ADORATION

Telefilm Canada has announced the financing of Atom Egoyan's seventh feature film, to be titled ADORATION. Billed as a teen drama that "will examine how kids redefine themselves through the Internet," ADORATION actually sounds a good deal more complex than that. Add to the teen drama, a newsstory about a man and his pregnant girlfriend who try to get a bomb on a plane to Israel, and the way in which Simon, a 17-year-old high school student retells the same story on the web using his own family as a backdrop. The ramifications of Simon's actions are much more widespread and intense than he could have imagined.

For ADORATION, Egoyan has reteamed with Robert Lantos, who co-produced six of his previous films including WHERE THE TRUTH LIES and ARARAT. No word on casting, ADORATION is set to begin filming immediately following the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

BLINDNESS Gets Even More Intriguing

Mewsings reported earlier about BLINDNESS, the currently-in-production feature directed by Fernando Meirelles (CITY OF GOD), and adapted from José Saramago's award-winning novel by our Chlotrudis-buddy Don McKellar. I'm currently reading the novel, and it's going to be pretty intense when they bring this to the big screen. Blindness tells the story of an unnamed city whose inhabitants start to go inexplicably blind. Julianne Moore has the leading role, and as reported before, Mark Ruffalo has stepped in to replace Daniel Craig in the male lead.

BLINDNESS is currently shooting in Guelph, Ontario, and a quick check of the Internet Movie Database reveals a pretty compelling, international, supporting cast. In addition to Moore and Ruffalo, there are a couple more names from the movie biz including Danny Glover, and Gael Garcia Bernal, who was last seen in the Chlotrudis-nominated leading role in THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP. I was also pleased to see another past-Chlotrudis honoree getting a role; Canadian mainstay Maury Chaykin. Don McKellar gets a brief but pivotal role as "The Thief." Fans of Hirozaku Koreeda will be pleased to see Yusuke Iseya, one of the leads from his beloved AFTER LIFE in the role of the "first blind man." Finally, for fans of the Canadian television dramedy "Slings & Arrows" (and there are a handful of you out there) two delightfully talented actresses from that show, Martha Burns and Susan Coyne also have roles.

The one name I didn't see in the credits who we were hoping would be involved is Chlotrudis honoree Tracy Wright. Hopefully there is something bigger and better in her future.

Independent Film Festival of Boston Announces Its Line-Up

With the kick-off just over a month away, the Independent Film Festival of Boston has announced the impressive line-up for its 5th Annual Festival. I'm truly looking forward to MONKEY WARFARE, Reg Harkema's look at aging hipsters in Toronto that stars recent Chlotrudis guests Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. In a similar Canadian vein, I can't wait to check out Sarah Polley's feature narrative directorial debut, AWAY FROM HER. Hal Hartley is back with FAY GRIM, a sequel of sorts to HENRY FOOL. As has been the case in the past, the IFFB offers an outstanding batch of documentaries as well, with PROTAGONIST leading the pack for me... that's Jessica Yu's follow up to Chlotrudis nominee IN THE REALM OF THE UNREAL. Go check out the list!

Chlotrudis Guests Don and Tracy Open SXSW

Over at GreenCine Daily, there's a report on Opening Night at SXSW which features Reg Harkema's MONKEY WARFARE, starring this year's Chlotrudis guests Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. Chlotrudis Board members Beth Curran and Nancy Campbell caught MONKEY WARFARE in Toronto, and through Nancy and Chlotrudis member Brian Tamm's efforts, we will be lucky enough to catch this film in April at the Indepedent Film Festival of Boston. With 2006 being a slight year for Canadian films, here's hoping that 2007 yields a better batch. MONKEY WARFARE also stars Nadia Litz, who won a Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actress way back in 2001 for her work in THE FIVE SENSES.

Speaking of SXSW, Chlotrudis members Ned Hinkle, Gil Cordova, and Amanda Doran are all enjoying the festival this week. Let's hope they see some terrific new films to bring to Boston!

Twitch City and an Unofficial Awards Announcement!

A few weeks ago, Scot reported to the Chlotrudis membership that our beloved Canadian TV sitcom, "Twitch City," was finally being released in the U.S. (it was finally released in Canada last fall). Now it hasn't yet appeared in Netflix, but it is available for purchase over at Amazon. We were wondering if the commentary on the U.S. version would be the same as the Canadian, and judging from the description on Amazon, it does sound like it will be. This is actually an exciting bit of news for Chlotrudis. The commentary is done by Don McKellar, this year's Chlotrudis special guest, and lead actor from the show, who calls his co-stars on the phone for assistance. When he reaches Daniel McIvor, past Chlotrudis "Body-of-Work" Award winner, the two have a rather amusing conversation while watching the debut episode. When they get to the "job wheel" scene (one that Chlotrudis members should know well) Daniel actually starts talking about coming to Boston to receive an award for his body of work, and the fact that we showed this clip. It's pretty cool and pretty funny, even though he doesn't mention us by name.

In related news, we have now confirmed our second guest for the 13th Annual Chlotrudis Awards coming up soon. This is an unofficial announcement, as a press release will follow, but I'm just so excited I couldn't contain myself any longer. She's got "cat-i-tude!" Tracy Wright will be honored at the Awards Ceremony for her "career-so-far!" Tracy is best known in the U.S. for being part of the Chlotrudis Awards-winning Ensemble Cast of ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW. She has done extensive work in Canadian film and tv, including the wacky Dizelle in the afore-mentioned "Twitch City," a major part in Don McKellar's ensemble piece, LAST NIGHT, and a lead role in the upcoming MONKEY WARFARE, co-starring McKellar and Nadia Litz. She most recently appeared off-Broadway in "A Beautiful View" at the Public Theatre, a play written and directed by Daniel McIvor (see how synchronistic this post is?) Tracy Wright makes every movie she is in better, and I can't wait to meet her. Look for the official word on the front page of this website very soon.

McDonald and Page Score in Berlin

Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald's latest film THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS scored a distribution deal at the Berlin Film Festival this week. This experimental film stars busy Chlotrudis-winner Ellen Page, who is nominated this year for her compelling performance in HARD CANDY. To tell his story of a girl struggling with puberty, McDonald takes the film title literally by using fragments of images, often many at a time, to visually represent what Tracey is experiencing. McDonald film work has been little seen in America (HIGHWAY 61, DANCE ME OUTSIDE, HARD CORE LOGO, PICTURE CLAIRE), but Chlotrudis members will definitely know him for some of his television work ("Twitch City," "DeGrassi: the Next Generation," "Queer as Folk").

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS has been picked up by Canada's Odeon Films for distribution in Canada and Germany. Here's hoping it makes an appearance south of the border. With Page getting some attention with HARD CANDY, and the recent Sundance premiere of AN AMERICAN CRIME, in which she co-stars with Catherine Keener, perhaps THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS has a chance of getting U.S. distribution. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS is based on a novel by Maureen Medved who also wrote the screenplay.