Saturday, October 16, 2010

Brantford Film Festival: Embracing Culture, Art, & Talent

On Friday evening and all day Saturday, downtown Brantford has been host to the first ever Brantford Film Festival. I've made my views about the importance of art and culture to the sustainability of a city before, and so I was obviously thrilled when I heard about this festival. I was rooting for this event to be a huge success and be a great opportunity for some fantastic talents to be exposed to a broader audience. It is events like this that not only can be a chance for a talented artist to gain a fan base, which then aid them in achieving more opportunities for showcasing their work, but it is a time when others can becomes inspired and decide to explore their potential in an artistic avenue such as film. So, around 7:30 in the Brantford downtown, my heart was doing a happy dance when I noticed the downtown was not a deserted ghost town, but rather there was actual real live people roaming the streets.

The Brantford Film Festival officially kicked off with two separate venues showcasing assortment of films at 7:30. I had made arrangements to have a few beers and eats with friends at 8 at the Piston Broke, which is a wonderful pub that has a fantastically large selection of beers on tap and serves delicious meals that contain all fresh ingredient including the bread made on site -- as you can guess, I recommend you checking it out if you want a great pub experience. It is always a great time having a few beers with friends, and we discussed numerous topics including the current status of downtown Brantford. Even if things didn't turn out as any of us had hoped, we did agree it was festivals like this that would help resurrect the downtown and give it a chance to be a place of life, energy, and possibility.

Unfortunately, we got talking a little too much and missed the start of the presentation we planned on attending at 9:30. We shuffled over to the church that was showcasing this particular set of films, and apologized for being rather tardy fellows. We had our tickets purchased and in hand at about 9:45, and then tried to find our inner ninja as we sneaked into the auditorium.

According to my program, there was 5 films that were to be presented at this particular showcase. Unfortunately, we only saw 3.5 of them, which means we completely missed out on the animated short A Gum's Life. The synopsis states it is a "Stop-motion animation combined with live action tells 'a day in the life' of a piece of chewing gum." It appears missing this film was definitely my loss, because this type of quirky storyline is exactly the type of thing that appeals to me and why I wish I had a much more regular diet of independent films. I did see four other films, and I'll give my quick thoughts here.

Awakening from Sorrow: This is a documentary about the "Dirty War" in Argentina that took place from 1972 to 1983. The film focuses on the thousands of children who lost their parents to either state murder or 'disappearances', and how these kids where then taken into custody by the state/military then often tortured or 'reprogrammed'. The film then chronicles the mass protests that took place throughout the 80s and 90s in South America, and how these events caused mass changes across the globe.

The film itself is obviously dealing with really emotional and tragic material, but is a subject matter that is still fascinating and should be known by everyone. If human rights or history are interesting to you, then obviously this documentary will be interesting. It is a film where if the material is not one that engages you (though I can't see how someone would not be drawn to at least being made aware of these atrocious events that then caused the inspiring protest that made real change), then it isn't necessarily presented in a way that will catch your attention. The film is about the material and does not try to be too 'artsy' or 'cutting edge.' Though when dealing with this type of subject matter, I feel this is the correct stance and does allow for the material to speak for itself.

The information is presented through a series of interview clips that jump from the numerous speakers. The participants are mostly all children that had lost their families during the '70s in Argentina, and so you get a lot of first hand accounts about the awful things afflicted on them, and then get to hear about the actions they started taking in the 80s. Since everyone is Argentinian, everything said in the film is with subtitles, which means you'll need to bring your reading glasses. The film is almost entirely focused on the interviews, with a a few news clips interspersed throughout. The only other addition to the film is several paintings and drawings presented after the interview clips, which are abstract representations of the events and trauma experienced by the children during the war. The works are powerful, and help add to the overall production with their somber feel. The film is definitely one that will trigger some emotions from you, but it is painful subject matter that has hope attached to it.. It not only shows the horrors of a totalitarian regime, but also the strength and success in taking a stand and making a political protest. It is not what you would call an entertaining film, but it is one with a message that should be known by everyone.

Sofia: This is a short film that I am sure couldn't have been much more than 10 minutes (it seemed like 5), but contained some great acting and talented writing. When you think independent film, I am sure this is the kind of production that comes to the mind. The narrative is not straightforward, and purposefully does not explain thing sin detail to the viewer. It is presented in a way that makes the viewer think while watching, and this engages them even more (or causes them to check out in frustration). Because the narrative is erratic and disjointed (in a planned and good way), the film will not appeal to everyone, but then again, independent film sort of pride itself on being for a niche crowd, which is why they aren't mainstream. It is an art house style short, but one that I thought carried a great message (though like similar films, I am sure many people will walk out with a different interpretation). Essentially, the story is about a man on his death bed, and then starts going on a journey where he encounters some key events from his past, and he starts realizing the impact that he had on people, while also discovering the impact his father had on his own personality and actions. It is a an interesting tale about heartbreak and family, and how those things influence who we are.

The Whale and the Dog: This is a crudely drawn animated short that reminds me of some of the art house animated flicks of the 70s (because you know, I was so involved in that scene when I was young). When I say crudely drawn, I want to make it clear this is not an insult, but rather a particular style choice done by the artist. It is the style that adds to the overall short. The bizarre characters and story are definitely tributes to the crazy counter culture animation of a previous era, and I thought was done very successfully. The film is about a whale and a dog, and their journey together for love and acceptance. Again, it isn't for everyone, but that shouldn't really need to be said when describing these type of films (but I think, can still be appreciate by most).

Remix to Rio: A documentary that first tells about a youth oriented organization set in the Toronto 'hood' that reached out to at risk teens by providing a place where they can create art and music (the building contains a recording studio). After the viewer is acquainted with the youth and organization, it documents their journey to Rio De Janeiro and their experience in trying to set up a recording studio in Brazil, which can be used as a centre for at risk youth there. It is a great film that displays the power that art and culture can have in positively impacting youth. It is inspirational seeing the 'troubled' youth of Toronto go to Rio and use their skills to effectively reach out to the youth in Brazil. It is a great story about how the two cultures positively impact each other, and how lasting relationships are formed by easily shattering any possible barriers (due to a shared love for hip hop). This is another great documentary that I recommend that everyone checks out. It shows that change is possible, and there is still so much hope left in this world.

My experience at the Brantford Film Festival was a great one. I really hope it was a very successful weekend, as I would love to see it here again next year. It is great seeing art and culture being displayed in the city of Brantford, and even greater seeing it being supported. As I've said before, art and culture is a great way to breath life into a city, and bring people together for a wonderful time.

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