Kingston Canadian Film Festival

The festival features a diversity of films in a variety of genres

This year marks KCFF's 17th annual festival. 
Credit: 
Supplied by KCFF

For the past 16 years, the Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) has been showcasing a dynamic program of Canadian films. This year was no different as the festival screened a robust lineup of the year’s favourite feature films and shorts, not to mention being hosted by Canadian rockers, Mother Mother. 

Since 2001, KCFF has screened over 500 feature films and 750 shorts, highlighting a diversity of work from Kingston and beyond. The festival works to support Canadian film and recognize young emerging artists in Canada. 

In addition to the screenings, KCFF hosts free workshops, networking and industry events, as well as talks, receptions, music, comedy and awards. 

The Journal’s Arts team selected their favourite films to review below, ranging from an animated investigation of identity and heritage to an investigative political expose.

 

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming

Alex Palermo, Assistant Arts Editor

Window Horses, directed by Ann Marie Fleming, is the first full-length animated film to be recognized by the KCFF.

The moment the lights dimmed and the familiar voice of Sandra Oh came from the mouth of the adorable, stick-figure Rosie Ming, I knew I was in for a treat. 

The film follows the story of a young Canadian poet of Persian and Chinese descent as she dreams of travelling abroad to perform her song-like poems. I found myself strangely enthralled by the animation, it seemed that every character was drawn in a slightly different style. Notably, Rosie was the only stick-figured, round-faced character. When Rosie receives a mysterious letter inviting her to perform at a poetry festival in Iran, the darker edges of the story begin to reveal themselves. She flies across the world alone and is instantly charmed by the customs and beauty of Shiraz. 

Many of the scenes abroad were animated in a surrealist way, detailing people floating in the sky, and daydreams melting into reality. Throughout her week-long adventure in Shiraz, Rosie begins to piece together parts of her Persian family’s past. I didn’t expect a history lesson on the Persian empire, but the artfully drawn, colourful scenes didn’t disappoint, and I was riveted for the entire 89 minutes. 

Rosie’s story touched me in a way that I didn’t expect. Her bravery contrasted with her inexperience was heartwarming and I couldn’t help but feel that the unique way she was drawn was reflective of her alienation in Iran. Fleming’s stunning film will go down as my favourite animated movie, surpassing even the Disney favourites from my childhood. 

 

Werewolf: A Journey to Redemption

James Murray, Contributor

Directed by Ashley McKenzie, Werewolf brings the bitter and harmful lifestyle of a homeless couple to life as they struggle to kick their methamphetamine addiction and start clean. Werewolf shows viewers the hard realities of being homeless, as the couple is forced to use a lawn mower as their only source of income, going door-to-door for work.

As the noise of the audience died down, the Screening Room theatre was filled with the shrill sound of a heart monitor beeping. Shortly after, a man and woman entered the scene through the overbearing lights of a hospital and the film began.

The depressing plot of Werewolf dragged on, showing a linear character development that left many of its audience members disconnected. Although the plot is slow to unravel, the film makes up for it with its unique cinematography, using grey and monotone colouring to capture the isolation and bleakness in how these two live.

Bhreagh MacNeil flawlessly portrays the role of a woman torn between love and her own future aspirations in her turn as Vanessa.

Director Ashley McKenzie used cinematic realism to display the hard realities of poverty and drug use in the suburban area of Cape Breton where the film is set. MacKenzie even based Werewolf on a real-life couple from Cape Breton who she remembers seeing pushing a lawn mower from door to door looking for work.

MacKenzie’s film stands out for its beautiful shots and its stark realism of life in Cape Breton, however its slow plot was a downfall.

 

'Nirvanna the Band the Show'

James Murray, Contributor

Saturday evening, the KCFF delighted its audience with a three-episode showing of Viceland’s new series ‘Nirvanna the Band the Show’. 

The show follows the exploits of Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol, two Toronto musicians trying to land a gig at The Rivoli, a renowned bar. They use any means necessary, aside from playing or recording a song, to achieve their status. 

The show has an awkward and quirky humor that thoroughly entertains its audience through numerous stunts, a loosely-written script and a cast that’s always on its toes. 

Johnson and McCarrol have worked together since 2009 on the web series Nirvanna the Band on YouTube. Viceland has put their writing and directing to the test as they hilariously advertise their band, and create mayhem across Toronto. 

The episodes screened featured antics such as sneaking a film into the Sundance Film Festival and stealing wishes from the children at Make-a-Wish. Nirvanna the Band the Show hits that comedic sweet-spot between ridiculousness and reality that will leave you shocked, but laughing the whole way through. Viceland has drafted the unique comedy duo to their team as they’ve shown their skills as improv actors, always willing to see how far they can take it with their audience. If you find yourself with a half hour to spare this week, kick back and watch the first episode, “The Banner” on YouTube, or look out for future episodes airing Thursdays at 10 P.M on Viceland. 

 

Operation Avalanche

Ghazal Baradari-Ghiami, Video Editor

“Have you ever heard of a conspiracy theory?”

“Yeah, I think we’re in one.”

Operation Avalanche follows two CIA agents as they infiltrate NASA to expose a Russian mole. However once there, they find that NASA doesn’t have the ability to reach the 1969 deadline for the Apollo 11 moon landing. They subsequently become involved in a plot to fake the moon landing.In a film directed by Matt Johnson where Matt Johnson is also playing Matt Johnson, it can be difficult to figure out what is real. Johnson often goofily mugs to the camera in the mockumentary style he has adopted in his debut film The Dirties, and currently in his Viceland show, 'Nirvanna the Band the Show'.

The art of trickery is embedded right into the film’s production. Every detail, from the specific period lenses and Stanley Kubrick’s (film director) own use of a front projection effect are implemented in order to deceive audiences. 

Following their Kingston premiere, Johnson and his crew came out and directed their Q&A largely towards student filmmakers. Johnson advised students to be as experimental as possible when collecting footage and to deal with the ramifications later. 

The scenes from NASA were shot on location. To obtain permission, Johnson duped the agency by telling them he was making a student documentary. This borderline illegal venture was made possible by liberal application of United States fair use laws. The film is hilarious, with naturalistic improvised dialogue. The outlandish plot and Johnson’s own frantic energy do much to magnify the dark twists near the end of the film. 

Operation Avalanche is a marvellous testimony to the ambition of those who’re constantly pushing the boundaries of film.

 

Ontario Shorts

Josh Malm, Staff Writer 

On Saturday night, KCFF presented the best short films from across the province at the Grand Theatre.

Eight short films screened and to my surprise they were all excellent and covered nearly every thinkable film genre.

Some highlights from the night included Thyrone Tommy’s semi-autobiographical navy thriller, Mariner.

The film, which explores the day in the life of a young man struggling at a naval academy looked and felt like professional cinema. Mariner’s strengths were in its editing, which generated genuine edge-of-your-seat suspense as well as its distinct and haunting violin score.

Tess Girard and Ryan North’s documentary, Road to Webequie, was another powerful film that stuck with me. Webequie explores the hard lives of First Nations peoples on an impoverished Canadian reserve. Through a series of interviews, we meet a host of individuals who’ve experienced trauma and incredible hardship. From a percocet-addicted youth who’s lost his entire family to suicide, to a single mother raising a family in a decrepit, substandard home the film was a shocking and haunting truthful account.

My favourite film of the evening was the rather unconventional documentary, Detroit Blood. Director Dusty Mancinelli filmed old, abandoned homes and establishments in run-down areas of the formerly-booming Detroit city, following the financial collapse of the 2000s.

Accompanying this imagery is a haunting voiceover of an unidentified man who discusses his childhood and the relationship he had with his brother. I loved this film because of its minimalist style and lush cinematography. The film told a deep, emotional and engrossing story with simple shots of empty rooms narrated by this emotional voice. The narrator details the tumultuous relationship he shared with his older, abusive sibling and how they would later interact as adults.

I was blown away by the director’s ability to tell such a powerful story using only narration and a few stills of empty rooms. It may not sound interesting, but the story was completely enveloping.

 

All Governments Lie

Josh Malm, Staff Writer

ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone (Trailer) from WhitePinePictures on Vimeo.

Going into this movie as a Politics major, I was excited, but had my reservations. The documentary examines decades of journalism history as it covers mainly United States politics, as well as how journalistic methods and the ability to present accurate news has changed over time. In particular, the film zeros in on the journalist I.F. Stone and his attempts to uncover government corruption as well as the efforts of modern “indie” journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman.

While I enjoy the idea of a documentary that’s decidedly anti-mainstream media, the film is incredibly preachy and by the end I felt like I’d been hit over the head too many times by its often repeated and broad arguments.

With executive producers like conspiracy-theory lover, Oliver Stone you have to be prepared for an ideologically slanted and rather extreme film that’s one-sided at best.

All Governments Lie is a decent idea with poor execution because of its preachiness, oversimplification of complex issues and ideological homogeneity.

 

Local Shorts: Epics

Josh Malm, Staff Writer

On Sunday night, Theological Hall hosted Local Shorts: Epics, a program for shorts a little longer than usual — somewhere in between shorts and features. The films Barren, Small Talk, Day Players, and Peephole were all professionally-made and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. 

John Abrams’ Barren explores the relationship of a couple and their attempts to survive in the harsh, cold wilderness following a plane crash. The cinematography by Jackie Li, as well as the original score by the multi-talented Abrams and his wife, were two highlights of the film.

Going into film festivals such as this I’m always wary of comedy entries, however,  I was pleasantly surprised by the comedy, Day Players, which follows a group of struggling young actors in their day-to-day lives. It was genuinely funny, and the fact that every character represents a different acting style, from intense method acting to provisional acting, made the film incredibly entertaining.

Steven Griffin’s mysterious extraterrestrial film, Small Talk had an ethereal vibe due to its fantastic score as well its use of cinematography and lighting. The film also had a very relatable and poignant message about the struggle of living on the edge as opposed to in your head. It was by far the deepest and most cerebral outing of the night.

My favourite, however, was Doug Cook’s pulpy, horror film Peephole. Although the film was rather shallow and offered no deep plot or message, it left the audience in awe. It starts out with a conventional, Hitchcockian, peeping-Tom plot that’s soon turned on its head, leaving the audience stranded.

This made the film enthralling and completely entertaining up until its bizarre, unpredictable and gory crescendo.

 

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