Highlights from the Kingston Canadian Film Festival

Our coverage of this year’s standout films

A still from Our People Will Be Healed.
A still from Our People Will Be Healed. 
Screenshot from Youtube

The Kingston Canadian Film Festival returned to the city this past weekend with a slew of movies from the national film industry.

Ranging from horror to comedy to documentary, these reviews and interviews represent the standout screenings from this year’s festival. Regardless of their genre, these movies ask audiences to take another look at the growing Canadian film scene.

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

Friday Night, Screening Room

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Québécois filmmaker Simon Lavoie is about two siblings, played by Marine Johnson and Antoine L’Écuyer, living in fear of their father’s extremist religion. 

The film tells the harrowing story of the siblings believing they’re siblings despite the protagonist being pregnant with her brother’s child. 

Calling each other ‘brother’ because they have no names, the siblings never leave their secluded farmhouse and believe their father fashioned them out of clay. His suicide forces the protagonist to travel to the nearby village. There, she’s confronted with a powerful and unsympathetic clergy, triggering a climax that forces her to discover the truth about her past, her identity and the “devil in the shack.”

Lavoie creates the dark, disorienting tone of the film using a black and white setting shot in wide, dizzying angles. Lavoie successfully translates the discomfort of the story to the audience, intensely focusing on every grotesque detail, from the father’s chopped-up leg to the burned and malnourished body in the shed.

The film has minimal dialogue, instead choosing to rely on the actors’ facial expressions and body language to supply each scene’s drama. Johnson, in particular, has a stunning ability to portray every emotion with authenticity and power, persuading the audience to sympathize with her despite her circumstances. 

While every scene in the film is charged with graphic honesty, Lavoie takes the audience’s breath away with the film’s final scene. The female protagonist, running through the woods in labour after she’s lost everyone she loves, finally lies alone in a field, gives birth and clutches her bloody baby to her chest, laughing.

With the bold camera work of this shot, Lavoie does justice to the brutal creative vision of Québécois author Gaetan Soucy, who wrote the novel the film is based on. 

—Raechel Huzinga

Adventures in Public School

Friday Night, Screening Room 

In Adventures in Public School, Daniel Doheny’s character Liam, a homeschooled genius and complete nerd, is about to ace his equivalency exam when he sees a peg-legged beauty played by Siobhan Williams.

Experiencing love at first sight, Liam intentionally fails his exam so he can spend one more semester at public school, much to the dismay of his overprotective, too-close-for-comfort single mom Claire, played by Judy Greer.

Perceiving a threat to their perfect mother-son relationship, Claire decides to turn her son’s teenage rebellion into a science experiment. With the best intentions at heart, she introduces Liam to the world of drugs, condoms and alcohol to prepare him for his expedition into the unknown universe of public school. 

What ensues is a comical crash course of high school agonies, like bullying and unrequited love, with an ironic final lesson: you can’t turn life into a curriculum.

Canadian filmmaker Kyle Rideout uses big personalities and sharp dialogue to create an effective comedy.

Every character in his film is hilariously crafted, from an ex-convict guidance counsellor who believes Liam should become a massage therapist over a space expert to a principal who’s more interested in pursuing Liam’s mother than responsibly running his school. 

Many staples of stereotypical teenage culture, like promiscuity and hotboxing, are exaggerated to an enjoyable level.

Meanwhile, Liam and Claire’s overly honest relationship is on the very edge of uncomfortable, forgivable only because of the endearing love and support they have for one another.

Even though the guy doesn’t get the girl, Adventures in Public School remains a heart-warming, unique take on the classic high school rom-com.

— Raechel Huizinga

Our People Will Be Healed

Saturday Morning, Baby Grand

Our People Will Be Healed, a documentary by Alanis Obomsawin, is about the Norway House Cree Nation, a small, thriving community in Manitoba that uses innovation and resourcefulness to resurrect their heritage and teach Indigenous youth about their identity.

The main focus of the documentary is the provincially-funded Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Manitoba, named after a Cree woman who was kidnapped and murdered at the age of 19.

In the school, children from kindergarten to grade 12 receive an Indigenous-based education. The curriculum, which includes a mandatory Native Studies course, offers classes that teach students how to fish, hunt, canoe and speak the Cree language.

Within the documentary, Obomsawin captures a wide spectrum of students, from university-bound scientists to those trying to escape difficult home lives. In the short time the school has been open, since 2004, it’s changed the story of Indigenous youth, growing from an initial graduating class of 15 students to 70.

The documentary is full of music, showcasing students skillfully playing the fiddle in the classroom to community jamborees.

While the film is heartening, Obomsawin isn’t afraid to make the audience uncomfortable with a re-enactment of Helen Betty Osborne’s kidnapping. It directly confronts the painful reality of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

Meanwhile, Obomsawin offers beautifully composed shots of the Norway House Cree Nation reserve, a traditional wedding ceremony and Sundance in the community. But the power of the documentary stems from its  profile of a community committed to building a future in its children.

The audience witnesses a hopeful vision of Indigenous communities and a compelling picture of public support for their youth. As the documentary ends, the narrator describes how when he sees the young people dance and embrace their culture, he believes his people will be healed.

— Raechel Huizinga

Let There Be Light

Saturday Afternoon, Isabel Bader

Directed by Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko, Let There Be Light is a thought-provoking documentary on the endeavour to replace fossil fuels for future generations.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the film’s star as it profiles the quest to produce nuclear fusion.

Fusion harnesses the reaction that fuels stars but replicates it on a smaller scale to suit the earth’s energy needs. Describing ITER’s design, a voice-over tells the viewer to “imagine you are reaching up and grabbing the sun.”

Let There Be Light is a combination of interviews, animated scenes and shots of construction that illustrate the project. Using stunning visuals, the directors capture the sheer magnitude of the undertaking, using shots of people compared against the ongoing, massive construction of ITER. 

Delays and conflicts permeate the discussion of the reactor, with its scientists relying on fickle public funding.

Due to the setbacks, scientists and engineers describe ITER as a modern-day cathedral; they see themselves as laying bricks of a monumental project of which they won’t live to see the completion.

At times, the layman get lost in the world of engineering and physics. Despite the sterility of the subject matter, this film connects with the audience through its focus on those individuals who have made nuclear fusion their life’s work.

The screening has a unique poignancy in Canada, as we’re one of the only major countries not involved in the largest international project in existence. The KCFF highlighted the Canadian perspective through a question period with Queen’s University engineering professor Jordan Morelli.

Even though the film lacks a conclusion, it leaves viewers with a sense of optimism. The documentary doesn’t capture the full narrative of ITER’s role in the history of nuclear fusion, because as of now, the estimated date of completion is well into the next decade.

Let There Be Light is an informative introduction into what will likely shape how we produce energy for years to come. 

—Amelia Rankine


Canadian filmmaker Matt Atkinson talks feature-length debut

Saturday Night, Screening Room

In 2017, filmmaker Matt Atkinson debuted his first feature-length film, the noir comedy Room for Rent. Since then, it’s taken off on the North American film festival circuit.

Atkinson’s career and passion for film began with the viewing of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — the first film he ever rented.

“I had my parents rent it every weekend for a year,” he told The Journal, adding it was “probably what made up [his] film psyche.”

In addition to the famous classic, Atkinson claims his filmmaking style strives for the  comedic style of dialogue and character-driven comedy, avoiding “gross humour.”

In that regard, Atkinson clearly has a talent for screenwriting, having won Best Screenplay at the 2017 Los Angeles Comedy Festival. However, he says he still prefers directing.

“The magic is still there, you’re still getting people together to do something that is kind of ridiculous, and at a certain point, hopefully, you’re looking at the monitor and it starts to happen, there’s some magic there,” he said.

As a director, casting was important to Atkinson, but he believes he scored a “dream cast” with Room for Rent.

“Working with that talent was the big highlight for me,” he said. “I really like what they’ve done with the characters. It was pretty incredible to work with the level of talent that we got.”

— Raechel Huizinga

Room for Rent

Saturday Night, Screening Room

Room for Rent follows the life of Mitch Baldwin, played by Mark Little, as he tries to find a way to avoid working and still live at home with his parents. Having won and spent $3,500,000 in high school, Mike lives his life with the fame and shame of being a local legend. 

He decides to rent out the spare room, only to be mysteriously targeted by the renter, Carl Lemay. 

The film depicts a believable family dynamic through the actors’ delightful on-screen chemistry, which is both entertaining and comforting to watch.

The parents are straight out of a 70s sitcom, with archetypal roles of a working-class dad and a stay-at-home mom. This gives the film a nostalgic atmosphere, heightened by the throwback design of the home they shot in. 

Guests in attendance at the screening were director Matt Atkinson, lead actor Mark Little and producer Justin Rebelo, who personally welcomed and entertained the crowd before the movie by sharing stories from behind the scenes and describing their difficult journey to find a house to use as a set. 

Whether on- or off-screen, Little kept the audience laughing.

— Brittany Giliforte

Unarmed Verses

Sunday Afternoon, Screening Room

Unarmed Verses is a movie about the pressures of artistic expression, poverty, gentrification and race facing protagonist Francine Valentine.

The film is based around two stories that shape the life of 13-year-old Valentine. In the opening scene, the film introduces her as a poet and musician reading a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories.

However, as the movie progresses, we’re introduced to the gentrification creeping into her neighborhood.

Directed by Charles Officer, Unarmed Verses explores the multiplying responsibilities in Valentine’s life in the wake of broader societal challenges.

She must do the shopping with her father, do laundry, care for her grandmother and reconnect with her long-estranged mother. All the while, every resident in her area is being forced from their homes while the land is redeveloped into condos.

But Officer doesn’t overtly comment on the effects of gentrification. Instead, he lets Valentine’s poetry and writing do that for itself. Much of her creative output deals with overcoming the adversity she routinely faces.

However, this is seemingly forgotten, along with all the problems in the young girl’s life, when she’s at Villawayz  — a community music program that encourages kids to compose and record music.

As the movie closes, Officer seems to suggest that despite the importance of the other responsibilities and challenges in Valentine’s life, her art is the purest expression of herself and her resilience.

— Clayton Tomlinson 

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