- Chief Film Critic
Modified is a documentary that looks at the lack of labeling of GMOs in Canada and the United States. Directed by Aube Giroux, the film tackles the big questions surrounding a multi-billion dollar industry but does so with a personal touch. The subject is filtered through Giroux’s relationship with her mother, who inspired a love of food in her from an early age and maintained a robust garden in her backyard for decades. The documentary took Giroux over a decade to complete. It chronicles her difficulties in getting on camera meetings with government officials and interviews with various farmers in Canada, the United States, and even France as she looks at an alarming subject. Throughout the film she also sprinkles in stop-motion footage of herself preparing various dishes that look amazing and delicious. The film is clearly a passion project, given the poignant personal nature of the film (her mother passed away from cancer nearly a decade ago), but it is ambitious in its scope. I appreciated the blending of the eye-opening treatment of the subject matter with the personal aspects of her and her mother’s story. A hidden gem of the festival and, so far, the highlight of my experience at MIFF.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Shake Sister Shake
Back to back documentaries. This time, about women and the blues. It’s hard for musicians to make a living off their music. It’s harder in the blues musicians. And it’s even harder for female blues musicians. This film from Australian director Lisa Eismen spends time with several women who perform blues music. None of them are famous, many of them have been toiling away for years, but they continue in it because it is what they love and are passionate about, and they are good at it. This documentary was a big hit with the crowd I saw it with as all of us were enjoying their tales and laughing at their various stories from their time performing.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
No Date, No Signature
This Iranian film from director Vahid Jalilvand was challenging. A doctor has an accident on the road with a family on a motorcycle. Everyone is seemingly ok aside from a bump on the head and a scrape on the arm for the family’s 8 year-old boy. However, the next day the child turns up dead at the hospital the doctor works at. Things rapidly spiral out of control for the family when the autopsy reveals the cause of death was botulism which the son got because of bad meat the father bought. However, the doctor has his doubts and begins to question whether there might have been something undiagnosed from his encounter with the family. This film provoked a lot of emotional responses from me. First toward the father who acted like a jerk initially. Then my reaction toward the doctor’s dogged pursuit of his lingering questions began to bother me. There was a level of arrogance in his having to be right and having to know the truth that did not sit well with me. And then film left it with the kind of ambiguous ending that I was hoping it was not going to go with. Still, it did leave me with a lot to ponder about justice and grief.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Waiting for Barcelona
The Sunday night showing here was actually the North American premiere of this film and the director was in attendance for a Q & A after. It’s a documentary about Mou, an African immigrant living in Spain who is scraping by making a living while trying to obtain his papers to be documented and have an opportunity to get a normal job. Immigration is a weighty issue with strong emotions and convictions on both sides, but this story is less of a political statement and more of a personal story. Shot in black and white in the street of Barcelona and unfolding over the course of a few years, Mou’s story is poignant and heartbreaking. He makes a “living” scavenging in city dumpsters for scrap metal. There is the general sense that he is being strung along by the government. But there are personal issues that also seem to trip Mou up: his emotional health but also his own actions getting him into trouble. Despite there being an air of tragedy to everything unfolding in his life, the film is buoyed by Mou’s optimistic outlook on life. The director still checks in on Mou every few weeks too. Being able to talk to the director and seeing how personal it was for him, this viewing experience was a real treat and a great cap to the day.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Memoir of War (La Douleur)
A French film based on an autobiography, this film is set in occupied France during WWII. Melanie Thierry gives a commanding performance that is a meditation on sorrow and uncertainty. She portrays Marguerite, a woman who is a part of the French Underground movement and whose husband was captured. Uncertain of his fate, she befriends a French member of the Gestapo, hoping to gain information of his whereabouts. She also carries on an affair with Dionys, her husband’s best friend. The end of the war brings more uncertainty and waiting, and questions of whether the man who returns to her will be the same man who was taken, if he returns at all. Also, is she the same woman she was when he was taken? Marguerite encourages other women to keep hope alive, but for herself, the question remains of what she hopes for.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Hal Ashby was one of the most successful directors of the 70s, and yet it seems like he somehow got lost in the shuffle and is overlooked compared to directors like Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg. This documentary from Amy Scott seeks to give Ashby his proper due as one of the driving creative forces of not just the 70s, but on a generation of future filmmakers. The film features behind the scenes moments from several of his films, including Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Coming Home, and Being There just to name a few. He was a prolific director and fiercely single-minded about his art, often clashing with studio executives. The film also intercuts interviews with actors and directors like Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, and Norman Jewison, as well as video clips of people speaking at his funeral. As someone who has only had limited exposure to Ashby, it made me interested in seeing more of his work.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Naila and the Uprising
Naila and the Uprising is an interesting documentary about the role that women played in the first intifada by Palestinians in the 1980s. Naila was one of the women leading the charge for Palestinians during that time while also having been jailed, having a husband living in exile, and giving birth to a son. The film features a surprising amount of archival footage of Naila. But it also focuses on other women too, how they filled the void left by men who had been jailed or exiled, their fight for Palestinian rights and for their own equality in their culture, and how they were eventually shut out of the peace process in the early 90s and marginalized in the movement in the subsequent years. At the heart of it, though, is the story of Naila and her family.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars