This escape room will blast you back into the past to your favourite 90s films

By Ivonne Flores Kauffman

The Tape Escape team. (CanCulture/Georgio Zikantas)

The Tape Escape team. (CanCulture/Georgio Zikantas)

Looking for something unusual to do this summer? The Tape Escape, a mix between an escape room experience and immersive theatre, offers audiences the opportunity to decide the fate of movie characters by solving a set of puzzles before the time is up.

Resembling the Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’s concept, The Tape Escape takes audiences through a unique journey inspired by some of the biggest box-office hits of the 90s like Peter Pan, Singing in the Rain and Run Lola Run

Co-created by Outside The March artistic director Mitchell Cushman, writer and performer Vanessa Smythe and video artist Nick Bottomley, The Tape Escape is the perfect experience for those who love immersive theatre, musicals, and 90s films. 

The Tape Escape is set in what was once Queen Video, an iconic VHS rental store located in the Annex in Toronto. Though you can no longer rent movies in The Tape Escape, you can instead experience them because here, “the rentals happen to you.”

This experience offers three puzzling and engaging “indoor rentals” for players to choose from.

The Tape Escape offers some of the same qualities of an escape room: group collaboration, clues, a time limit — but the creators describe this experience as more of a “puzzle-infused scavenger hunt through an art installation.”

Here is our recap of what you can expect at The Tape Escape. 

(CanCulture/Georgio Zikantas)

(CanCulture/Georgio Zikantas)

Love Without Late Fees

For those who love connecting the dots and following hopeless romantics in movies such as Sliding Doors and When Harry Met Sally, the Love Without Late Fees room is a perfect match. 

In this story, players are set in the middle of a matchmaking service run by The Tape Escape, where single movie lovers are promised to find love. The idea behind this plot is that watching the right movie, at the right time, could ensure true love. 

The tale is told through two fictional characters’ love affair; Sarah, a beautiful and successful young woman and Matt, a sweet and charming school teacher. Their love story develops in the span of six tapes, but as we all know, love is messy and unpredictable. Could Matt and Sarah live happily ever after? It all depends on the players; with 32 different possible endings, the love lives of the characters rely on the way players solve the puzzles. 

So before taking this experience lightly, remember the fate of a couple lies in your hands. 

Yesterday’s Heroes

If you are fascinated by time-traveling and mystical experiences like the 90s classic Groundhog Day, be sure to check out the Yesterday’s Heroes room. 

Following a set of clues, Yesterday’s Heroes will take you through a series of dark and scary events that happened at The Tape Escape. This experience is all about solving the past to be free in the present and will be sure to get your gears turning.

Grown-Up’s Guide to Flying

This room tells the story of a girl who is in the process of going partially blind. Inspired by consultant Devon Healey, who herself has Stargardt's disease and is partially blind, the puzzles in this experience are very visually based. As the story evolves, the puzzles begin to privilege your other senses. In the final puzzle, the audience must collaborate to use their other four senses, with sight not being helpful at all. 

Artistic director Mitchell Cushman said in an email statement that The Tape Escape was inspired by the fact that video rental stores are now virtually extinct. 

Cushman explained that The Tape Escape was created “to recreate a communal, ‘get lost in a store’ experience, that feels like a distant memory.”

“Our mission as a theatre company is to create theatrical experiences for people who may not normally go to the theatre. Our hope is to bring out as many people as possible to the show...and immerse them in a live narrative experience that will linger with them after they leave. To 'disrupt their normal day,' you might say,” said Cushman regarding this project.

The Tape Escape accomplishes a 90s style atmosphere, resulting from the meticulous attention to detail by designers Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blair. Five thousand tapes, a stereo that still plays some of the most popular 90s tunes, old TVs and Super Nintendo consoles are just some of the elements used to create the perfect 90s inspired room.      

(CanCulture/Georgio Zikantas)

(CanCulture/Georgio Zikantas)

If you are looking for a new experience with old friends, an exciting first date or you are just someone who loves films, you can’t miss The Tape Escape this summer.

The Tape Escape is located on 480 Bloor St. W. through August 25, 2019.

Behind the screen: Indigenous filmmakers fight for better representation

By Bree Duwyn

Indigenous representation in North American films have included a long and devastating history of stereotyping and generalization.

Misrepresentation is typically portrayed in many Western films. In these films, Indigenous people have been wrongfully portrayed and described as drunk, violent, savage and exotic.

For example, Disney classics such as Pocahontas and Peter Pan have displayed Indigenous people as spiritual beings with little to no knowledge, showcasing a less complex perspective of Indigenous life.

These two films depict the two main stereotypes that Indigenous people are typically portrayed as in films: the “Native Warrior” and the “Indian Princess.” The “Indian Princess,” as seen in Pocahontas, details a young Indigenous woman as weak and mild — a damsel in distress.

The “Native Warrior”, as seen in Peter Pan, is the generalized term used in film to describe Indigenous people as dangerous, savage and uncivilized. In addition, their physical appearances depict stereotypical red skin and long black hair donned with a feather. Their hair covers their eyes, giving them no true face or identity.

A scene from  Peter Pan  where a young Indigenous woman, Tiger Lily, is held captive by Captain Hook and rescued by Peter Pan. (Via  YouTube )

A scene from Peter Pan where a young Indigenous woman, Tiger Lily, is held captive by Captain Hook and rescued by Peter Pan. (Via YouTube)

Stereotypical terminology is also used within the film. An Indigenous woman is seen calling Wendy a “squaw” which is a derogatory term for an Indigenous woman. “Injun” is also used, especially throughout the song What Made the Red Man Red?,  which is a demeaning term for Indigenous people. This is in reference to the stereotype of Indigenous people learning all the ways of life from the European settler society.

The Lone Ranger (2013), a more recent adaptation of the characters of John Reid and his Indigenous friend Tonto, sparked controversy when it was first released.

Johnny Depp was casted as Tonto, which angered some Indigenous people and groups, who considered this casting to be racist.

Similar to the characters in Peter Pan, Tonto is the film industry’s stereotypical “Native Warrior” who communicates with animals and speaks broken English, among other things. This is an example of generalizing and stereotyping within the industry.

Misrepresentation of Indigenous people can result in false knowledge and misunderstanding of their lifestyle as a whole. For this reason, the efforts of Indigenous directors and producers put into bringing an end to the misrepresentation is very important.  This is not only to create more accurate films that portray the Indigenous community properly, but to create a shift in the relationship between societies.

Indigenous directors on the portrayal of Indigenous people in the Canadian film industry

Indigenous filmmakers, Caroline Monnet and Gwaai Edenshaw, share their perspectives on the portrayal of Indigenous people in the Canadian film industry.

They have the same hope for the roles of Indigenous people to be be more modernized, day-to-day roles instead of the limitations Indigenous actors and actresses have often been faced throughout film history.

Indigenous actors/actresses “should be allowed to play superheros, mothers, daughters, doctors, or any other common roles that is not necessarily culture specific,” said Monnet in an email interview.

Caroline Monnet

Photo courtesy    coco.monnet    via Instagram

Photo courtesy coco.monnet via Instagram

Caroline Monnet is an award winning Algonquin-French filmmaker and visual artist specializing in installation and printmaking from Outaouais, Quebec and now lives in Montréal.  

Monnet’s work has been exhibited in various film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Clermont-Ferrand vidéformes in France.

Monnet is well known for films such as Ikwe, Emptying the Tank and The Seven Last Words.

Inspired by other female Indigenous filmmakers in Canada such as Danis Goulet, Helen Haig-Brown, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Lisa Jackson, Monnet wanted to “be apart of that same energy” that these filmmakers had created.

These filmmakers were telling important stories without fear of directing and producing, according to Monnet and she was inspired by this.

Through her films, Monnet hopes to “convey an emotional experience with insights into Indigenous struggles and reality. I want my films to remain accessible to a large audience while keeping artistic integrity and vision,” said Monnet.

She also hopes that with her work, audiences can be submerged in the experience so they have a better understanding of Indigenous realities, identities and communities.

“Films for me have to be a multi-sensorial experience where images and sound collide in order to inform, inspire and challenge audiences,” said Monnet.

Monnet explains how she has been working towards breaking the stereotypes of Indigenous representation in film. She finds it her job to flip the script and create positive images of Indigenous people on screen.

“Challenge what is being put out there and go against the redundancy of what is presented in the media. There are so many different ways to express indigeneity and most often medias only choose one perspective,” said Monnet.

To her, it is very important that Indigenous filmmakers are given the opportunities to breathe life into their films.

“It is a necessity in the Canadian film industry because today we are still lacking that diversity and still too often Indigenous stories are being told by non-Indigenous perspectives and filmmakers,” said Monnet.

Monnet believes this can often lead to the romanticization or stigmatization of Indigenous representation within film.

As a filmmaker, Monnet aspires to successfully direct her very first feature this upcoming fall.

“I hope to have the strength, dedication and clear vision to bring my project forward. I hope to contribute to indigenous cinema and Canadian cinema overall. I hope that this film can touch international audiences and reach far beyond the indigenous community it is putting on screen and that a story that happens on a native reserve can become a universal story of humanity,” said Monnet.

Gwaai Edenshaw

Gwaai Edenshaw (second from left) and family.  Photo courtesy    gwaai    via Instagram

Gwaai Edenshaw (second from left) and family. Photo courtesy gwaai via Instagram

Gwaai Edenshaw is a Haida artist and filmmaker from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

Edenshaw apprenticed under the late artist Bill Reid beginning at the age of 16 and holds a jewelry and art design diploma from Vancouver Community College. His art exhibits in galleries nationwide, as well as Seattle, Washington and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Edenshaw primarily works in wood carving and jewelry making, however, in 2017 began the project of SG̲aawaay Ḵ'uuna (Edge of the Knife) with co-director, Helen Haig-Brown.

Edge of the Knife is the first Haida language feature film based on the traditional Haida story of Gaagiixid the “wild man”, who loses his hold on reality in the forest before returning to his community in a healing ceremony.

The film premiered at TIFF in 2018 and won various awards such as Best Canadian Film and Best British Columbia Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

In addition, the film won Best Director and Best Actor from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, an organization that promotes Canadian films and the British Columbia Film and Television Industry.

Edge of the Knife also received the Sun Jury Award at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts festival.

Edenshaw is a founding member of Q’altsi’da Kaa, the Haida storytelling group that promotes the Haida language as it has approximately 20 speakers on the islands.

The film proved to be an excellent opportunity to share and promote the Haida language and was also filmed on Haida Gwaii.

The process of Edge of the Knife began with Edenshaw and his brother, Jaalen, writing the script, along with Graham Richard and Leonie Sandercock.

“Our goals were around storytelling, probably like any other movie. Our guiding light was that we were making the movie for our people. So, in terms of the hometown audience, we didn’t want anyone to feel patronized or anything of the sort, that they would feel like this was their movie,” said Edenshaw.

Edenshaw also described the film as a story of facing mental health issues, addiction, etc.

It is about recognizing the hard points that an individual can experience in their lifetime, and being there for them in their time of need, according to Edenshaw.

“When someone is the hardest to be around but that is their time when they need us the most,” said Edenshaw. “That is a piece of the story that we are telling.”

The inspiration behind Edge of the Knife was the notion to create a piece of art that would involve the Haida language and conjure excitement around the language, according to Edenshaw.

“We wanted to have something, in terms of our language goals, that they could be part of an immersive experience,” said Edenshaw.

The script began in English as Edenshaw and his co-writers consulted with Elders and other knowledgeable people of the Haida language in order to transform the script.

The final translation stage consisted of a group of people coming together to make sure the dialects were communicating with one another, according to Edenshaw.

Edenshaw fondly recalled the moment when the team came together to make the translations agree. Two translators, Diane Brown and Delores Churchill, originally expressed nervousness heading into this process.

“They felt like they wouldn’t understand the other person, worrying they might not get along. In the end, they wound up having a great time together and really being able to help each other even in their separate dialects,” said Edenshaw.

Edenshaw had explained the process of translation as a moment of joy and found it important for himself to be a part of that experience.

The production of Edge of the Knife was a labour of trust and the sharing of knowledge through culture and language — a unique opportunity to share with the world a language that is not well-known.

Efforts towards the revitalization of Indigenous languages are ongoing and there are many people who have dedicated their lives to this process, according to Edenshaw.

“With this film we can offer another tool for learning,” said Edenshaw in relation to expanding the film in a second edit to include more opportunities to further learn the Haida language.

“Our people should be doing whatever we can to learn our language and make language common place and a part of our lives here on Haida Gwaii. It provides one more incentive for young people to learn language. They can learn the language because it can help them to land a role in future films because we’ll always be doing these movies in Haida,” said Edenshaw.

The film industry has made steps towards demonstrating a more accurate Indigenous representation. However, Indigenous voices need to continue to be heard and valued in the process of the creation of these films in order to produce real and genuine Indigenous portrayals on the screen.

The Divided Brain: The documentary that will change the way you experience life

By Ivonne Flores Kauffman

Photo courtesy    The Divided Brain trailer

On April 9, The Divided Brain made its Canadian premiere at the Isabel Bader Theatre in downtown Toronto. The film, directed by Manfred Becker and produced by Canadian Vanessa Dylyn, seeks to explain how the human brain works and the importance it has regarding the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Dylyn, who is an Emmy-nominated and Canadian Screen Award-winning producer, presented the film to the  audience. The Divided Brain is not the first documentary Dylyn has produced. She is responsible for other films such as Werner Herzog, a documentary about our relationship with volcanoes, The Woman Who Joined the Taliban, for CBC, and Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star, an arts documentary on the career of actress Leslie Caron, star of An American in Paris.

The documentary was inspired by Dr. Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. McGilchrist, a soft-spoken British psychiatrist and neuroscientist, has a radical theory on the way our brain works. He believes most of the problems our planet is facing today are the result of our brains’ left hemisphere taking full control over our thoughts and perceptions of life.

The documentary argues that Western societies are failing to find balance when it comes to relationships, knowledge and Mother Nature. The world is facing critical economic, social and environmental issues. McGilchrist’s theory argues the reason behind these problems might be related to the idea that the left hemisphere has hijacked our brain and that it cannot see the full picture when it comes to our actions and thoughts. We could compare the left hemisphere as the way an extremely paranoid person thinks. They might be right about every single detail, but they are wrong about everything. The left hemisphere is excellent at organizing and accomplishing things. However, it fails to understand them in depth.

McGilchrist believes Westerners have focused on small details like making money, acquiring power and creating technologies; all of these pursuits dictated by the left hemisphere or as he calls it “the master of the brain.” However, according to him, if we used the right hemisphere with the same passion we allow the left one takes control, our world would be a much happier and healthier space. The right hemisphere in our brain is the one that dictates emotions such as love; it’s the one that can see the magnificence within Mother Nature and instead of destroying it, it understands our bodies are connected to it.

To support McGilchrist’s theory the documentary follows him around the world as he not only interviews experts but gets together with people who have lost the ability to use both of their brains’ hemispheres as result of strokes or other damages.

In addition, the documentary includes interviews with actor-comedian John Cleese, neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte, pioneering neuroscientist Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, neuroscientist Jurg Kesselring, Aboriginal elder and scientist Dr. Leroy Little Bear and neuroscientist Onur Gunturkun. All the subjects interviewed added some evidence to support Dr. McGilchrist’s theory. Dr. Kesselring invited some of his patients to show the way their brains work after suffering from different injuries that affected the efficiency with which they can either use the right or left hemisphere of their brain.  Dr. Little Bear explained Indigenous connection with Mother Nature could be traced to a more predominant use of the right hemisphere and a cultural deeper understanding of our relationship with Nature.

After the screening, author Carolyn Abraham hosted a discussion via Skype with McGilchrist, Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, and Dr. Jordan Peterson who wrote 12 Rules for Life. The discussion allowed for the questioning of McGilchrist’s theory, which the psychiatrists present did not entirely agree.

Perhaps, McGilchrist’s theory is unconventional and can’t be proven, but given the crises we are facing today, it might be worth it to think critically about this documentary and actually look within ourselves to create a shift in the society.

Canadian films have a lot to say about climate change

Climate change, endangered species and Canadian wildlife — these films have it all

By Devon Harvey

On April 22nd, Earth Day is celebrated worldwide. The purpose of this day should be to reflect on how our way of life impacts the planet. What better way to do it than spending the day watching Canadian productions about issues facing the planet and the natural world?

The following films are all either linked to Canada’s wildlife and ecosystem, or directed or produced by Canadians. Each of these films has something to say about nature and what’s happening to the planet, urging people to listen.

2012

This film focuses heavily on climate change and takes place primarily in the natural lands of British Columbia. Directed by Roland Emmerich, 2012 brings attention to how the earth is being altered as a cause of climate change and what could theoretically occur to the planet if negative climate change continues.

In 2018, the BBC News reported that if countries do not act on climate change, temperatures may rise by 4.5 C by the year 2100. A temperature rise of more than 1.5 C could be detrimental to the planet according to researchers. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to take this issue seriously.

2012 is a film meant to scare us into action. Canadians even more so as it is filmed primarily in our home country and shows exactly what could happen to Canada’s land.

Sharkwater

Directed and produced by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, this film focuses on sharks and bringing attention to their nonviolent nature. The documentary details how due to hunting, shark finning and illegal killing for their meat, 90 per cent of the shark population has been killed.

According to Oceana EU, sharks play an important role in ecosystems by maintaining the population of species they feed on and indicating the health of the ocean itself. If sharks were removed from the ecosystem larger predatory fish would grow in numbers and eat all of the herbivore fish. This would make the ecosystem dominated by algae and alter the ability of the reef to survive.

By showing the nonviolent nature of these animals, Stewart brings attention to the dying population of sharks and how detrimental their extinction would be to the ecosystem. Stopping the hunting and poaching of sharks is important in the maintaining of the earth’s natural spaces.

Wild Canada

Produced and directed by Jeff and Sue Turner, Wild Canada is a CBC mini series focusing on profiling Canada’s natural environment. Using high-definition videos, the film brings attention to the state that Canadian wildlife is in.

In terms of Canadian natural spaces, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest threats to national parks. This means that species within the parks may not survive in the long run unless various conservation measures are taken.

When talking about climate change and the alteration of nature it may be difficult to associate those changes directly with one’s homeland. This mini series offers insight into the natural world of Canada and the struggles surrounding it.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

This film was directed by an all Canadian team: Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. Baichwal and de Pencier also produced the film.

The film showcases the effects that humans have on the natural world. This includes: seawalls in China, the largest terrestrial machines from Germany, the devastation of Great Barrier Reef in Australia and much more.

National Geographic reported a 2016 study that found that three-quarters of the earth’s surface is under pressure from humans and their activity. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch offers insight into the effects that human activity has on the planet and visually documents what is happening to the Earth’s natural spaces.

This film is set to inform the global population into conservation action.

North of Superior

Directed and produced by Canadian filmmaker Graeme Ferguson, this film focuses on the northern lands of Ontario. The film follows the changes of the seasons in Canada and a devastating forest fire.

According to Natural Resources Canada over 8000 fires occur every year and they burn an average of 2.1 million hectares. Even though wildfires play a role in shaping ecosystems they are still deadly and can be harmful to the natural world, animals and humans alike.

An article from National Geographic recognizes that natural occurring wildfires are integral to ecosystems. They return nutrients to the land, act as a disinfectant and allow sunlight to reach forest floors. However, man made fires do not work in the same fashion.

North of Superior illustrates that the beauty of Canada exists all year round and informs the public that natural wildfires can be beneficial to ecosystems, it is the man made fires that are harmful.

Keep these Canadian films, documentaries and the issues they tackle in mind and on your watch list as Earth Day approaches.

Alita: Battle Angel - A cyborg girl’s redeeming tale of humanity

By Federico Sierra

Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 1.40.58 PM.png

Based on Japanese artist Yukito Kishiro’s manga, Alita: Battle Angel tells a futuristic story of a young cyborg (with a human brain and heart in a robotic body) who wakes up without a memory of her identity. Much like the half-human, half-robot protagonist, Alita: Battle Angel is a hybrid of a movie that blends technological marvel with dramatic narrative.

Canadian filmmaker James Cameron is best known for pushing the boundaries of special effects to enhance his complex cinematic ambitions. When Cameron first came across Kishiro’s manga in the early 2000s, he realized the cinematic potential it had and began developing an adaptation for the big screen. Cameron, however, decided to channel his wizardry as a director on Avatar and its upcoming handful of sequels, while searching for another director who could do justice to his script for Alita: Battle Angel. The role was eventually given to Robert Rodriguez, an American director with a similar talent to Cameron’s, to immerse his audience in futuristic worlds while keeping them emotionally invested in his character’s experience of these worlds.

Alita: Battle Angel is set in the dystopic future of the 26th century, where the surface of the planet has turned into a decaying city of metallic junk known as Iron City. For the residents of Iron City, every day is a battle to survive, but the sight of the Sky City, which floats above them, is enough to fill them with hope and dreams. The Sky City, also known as Zalem, is the last remaining metropolis in the planet where only the wealthiest and most privileged get a chance to live, and whose expensive trash drops down on Iron City.

Scavenging among the scrap heap, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a human head with a functioning brain which he brings back to his lab and attaches to a robotic body. The head belongs to Alita (Rosa Salazar), who wakes up to realize that she doesn’t know what happened to her, let alone who she is.

The relationship between Dr. Ido and Alita is very similar to that of Geppetto and Pinocchio. Alita reminds Dr. Ido to his deceased daughter, and after he brings her back to life, he can’t help but to protect her as if she was his own daughter. Most of their dialogues serve to explain the dos and don’ts of this complex world to the audience; but to Alita, the words of Dr. Ido are the lessons and counsel a father would give to his own child. Alita embodies a Pinocchio-like daughter figure to Dr. Ido as he guides her in her quest to find a purpose beyond the artificiality of her body. But the world is a tough place and finding oneself within it might be a dangerous endeavour that may end up corrupting one’s soul.

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The world created by Rodriguez and Cameron is a great metaphor to what it’s like to grow up in a society where it’s so easy to trade our dreams for our humanity. The clearest example of this is the character of Hugo (Keean Johnson), an all-human teenage assistant to Dr. Ido. He and Alita develop a cute relationship, where he reveals his only dream is to live up in the Sky City. Alita becomes enamoured of Hugo; she sees in him a humble human with ambition and optimism. But Alita’s naïve attraction towards Hugo has k ept her from finding the criminal activities he is involved in as means to achieve his dreams.

The main focus to develop the character of Alita gets sidetracked when more characters are introduced. Having some of these side characters played by celebrated actors like Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly further distract the personal element the movie had built thus far to explore the identity of Alita. There’s also an additional subplot involving a popular sport known as Motorball, a gladiatorial race on skates which grants its winners a one-way ticket to the Sky City. By attempting to juggle so many ideas at once, Alita: Battle Angel halts its epic sci-fi prowess and suddenly feels like a bland exploitation of spectacle.

Alita: Battle Angel had the potential to match thought-provoking sci-fi movies like the recent Blade Runner 2049, but instead it fumbles like a reimagining of The Hunger Games dystopian scenario.

Despite the abundance of these faltering elements, Alita: Battle Angel works best when it follows its young protagonist. Alita is the beating heart of the movie, both in character and performance. Her journey captivated my attention and I was curious to see who she would grow up to become; so much that I didn’t even stop to consider that Salazar’s performance was 90% reproduced with CGI (employing the same performance-capture technique that was used to bring Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings series.) Although this is Rosa Salazar’s first time in a leading role, the young actress communicates the nuances of waking up to experience life for the first time with subdued talent.

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At first glance Alita: Battle Angel may seem like a science fiction movie, but in this case the genre only serves as an excuse to display visual effects of the most sophisticated calibre. Buried deep underneath the technological achievement, there lies a coming-of-age story of a girl and her father figure, as they both learn to trust in one another to find the inner strength it takes to survive in a hopeless world.

The movie might put off the part of the audience that is looking for an illuminating story beyond simple entertainment. But if you manage to overlook its cliché plot points and let yourself be bedazzled by the ground-breaking engineering the filmmakers employed to tell Alita’s journey of self-discovery, you might find yourself hoping for a sequel.

All images were sourced from the Alita: Battle Angel trailer. (Courtesy 20th Century Fox UK via YouTube)

Trouble in the Garden: Indigenous Indie film brings attention to Sixties Scoop

By Bree Duwyn

A dancing scene from Trouble in the Garden (Courtesy of @troubleinthegardenthefilm on Instagram).

Award winning writer and director Roz Owen tackles important Indigenous issues in her latest film, Trouble in the Garden.

The film opened theatrically in Toronto at Imagine Cinemas Carlton Cinema and in Calgary at the Plaza Theatre throughout the week of Feb. 15 to 21. The film is also set to screen in Regina at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile from March 1 to 7. As well as at the Magic Lantern Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon from March 8 to 14.

Bailed out of jail and taken in by a brother she has not seen in years, Trouble in the Garden tells a story of an Indigenous protester, Raven, and her adoptive family who battle with betrayal and heartbreak.

The film is a fascinating journey that depicts a storyline that many Indigenous people faced as victims of The Sixties Scoop, a practice that took place from the late 1950s through the 1980s in which Indigenous children were taken away from their homes and placed into foster homes or put up for adoption. However, to this day there are still children being removed from their homes and put into foster care using the legal system.

Trouble in the Garden also tackles Indigenous treaty and land issues, as Raven fights for the rights of Indigenous people and their rights to land.

Owen’s inspiration in creating Trouble in the Garden comes from her sister-in-law, a Sixties Scoop survivor. She wanted to bring awareness to a topic not so often discussed.

Owen hopes to “flip people's thinking” and finds it important to use her film to bring awareness to the history of Canada’s dark past when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, she said. She also hopes that Scoop survivors who watch Trouble in the Garden will feel authenticity in the story.

To ensure she would tell the story with the most accuracy, Owen called Raven Sinclair who is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Treaty 4 located in southern Saskatchewan, a professor of social work — as well a Sixties Scoop survivor and activist.

Sinclair, who is also a filmmaker, values her work on issues of Indigenous child welfare, adoption and historical trauma and recovery.

Owen and Sinclair collaborated extensively to tell a genuine story that is raw, crucial and something that people need to talk about.

“I want people to see it and understand that everybody has a story and this story isn’t just the story of a survivor. There are themes that we need to understand to know a bit more about what our population has gone through,” said Sinclair in an interview with What She Said.

In order to nail down the dialogue in Trouble in the Garden, Owen also consulted Cara Gee, the Indigenous actress who plays Raven. Gee executes an excellent performance as the protagonist of the film — strong and capable all while being vulnerable and genuine.

Raven (Cara Gee) in a scene from Trouble in the Garden. (Courtesy of troubleinthegardenfilm on Instagram)

Owen said that a film can touch an individual on an intense level of emotion and her goal for Trouble in the Garden was to give that opportunity to the audience.

“Emotionally, I wanted to give people the opportunity to think. You can read so many statistics and get all this information but in the end, it doesn’t touch you. It can upset you but does not shake you up,” said Owen in an interview with CanCulture.

Trouble in the Garden is a heartbreaking yet beautifully crafted story that shines a light on Indigenous issues in Canada, all while maintaining a solid and truthful demonstration of the effects of the Sixties Scoop. It gives the world an opportunity to connect and forges a path towards recognition, reconciliation and respect.

Through Raven’s journey, the film depicts a storyline filled with change, growth and revelation. Raven battles with the lack of support from her adoptive family and the strenuous relationships between them, all while standing up for the rights she believes in as a protester for Indigenous lands.

Raven’s brother, Colin (Jon Car), is a real estate agent, which is problematic to her cause. Colin’s pregnant wife, Alice (Kelly Van der Berg), harbours distaste for Raven and believes she is a bad influence, especially for their young daughter, Gracie (Persephone Koty).

Once Raven is bailed out of jail by Colin, she is brought to their home, an outsider looking in on a picture perfect family, or so thought. Raven has never felt like she belonged to the family and shows moments of intense heartache when she recalls her past. She feels so distant that she pitches a tent in the backyard to escape the world and swim in her own thoughts, rather than breach the animosity and tense atmosphere within the family she never felt at home with.

Owen does an exceptional job of drawing in the audience through the emotions of Raven’s quick-tempered and fierce persona, which is evident right off the bat in the opening scene at a police station. The narrative also shows Raven’s gentleness as she timidly breaks out of her shell with the help of Gracie’s innocence and acceptance (expertly shown in an adorable scene of playing in the dirt within the garden behind the family’s house).

The audience is kept wondering about the slow-burning drama, before it implodes in a chaotic ending when Raven and Colin’s parents show up to stir up more aspects of betrayal and dishonesty, that drives home all the compelling elements of a raw story.

The Indigenous narrative in film is constantly growing and evolving within Canada, especially with the production of the Indigenous Screen Office in 2018, an organization that is assisting Indigenous media makers with the development of their content.

There is an interest in Indigenous stories due to an urgency for them to be told. Canada is in a process of Truth and Reconciliation, and the growth of the Indigenous film scene gives the opportunity to share Indigenous voices and experience.

Video courtesy A71Inc via YouTube

The Oscars 2019: Canadians dominate the best short film category

By Devon Harvey

The Academy Awards are back on Feb. 24 and this year Canadians are dominating the short film categories. Bao, Weekends, and Animal Behaviour are some of the short films that are contesting to take home the gold.

Usually a majority of the awards are filled with American nominees, but this year Canadians are taking over. Filmmakers Domee Shi, Trevor Jimenez and David Fine are being praised in the film industry for having their work up for notable awards.

Canadians are nominated in the live action short film category and animated short film category.

For best live action short film

Jeremy Comte is nominated for Fauve, a short film set in a mine that details how two young boys go from playing seemingly innocent power games and having fun to being pitted against their surroundings with Mother Nature as their only witness.

Marianne Farley is nominated for Marguerite. This film tells the story of Marguerite (Béatrice Picard), an elderly woman who develops an unusual friendship with her caretaker Rachel (Sandrine Bisson). Through this friendship, Marguerite is able to confront her longing that she had hidden away and was able to make peace with her past.

In the animated category for best short film

David Fine and Alison Snowden are nominated for Animal Behaviour, this short film follows a group of animals through a group therapy session as they all attempt to come to terms and deal with the negative behaviours that come to them naturally.

A scene from  Animal Behaviour,  directed by   Canadians Alison Snowden and David Fine. (Courtesy  Animal Behaviour Trailer  via TIFF Trailers on YouTube)

A scene from Animal Behaviour, directed by Canadians Alison Snowden and David Fine. (Courtesy Animal Behaviour Trailer via TIFF Trailers on YouTube)

Domee Shi is nominated for Bao, a story about a Chinese mother who is experiencing empty nest syndrome because her son left home. She is given a second chance when one of her handmade dumplings comes to life. The story follows the mother through raising the dumpling as she did with her son. This film shows a mother’s love for her child through all stages of their lives.

In an interview with journalist Tracy Brown from the Los Angeles Times, Domee Shi spoke at great length about her short film Bao:

“My inspiration mainly came from my own life. Growing up I was that overprotected little dumpling for my Chinese mom. I was an only child living in Toronto with my parents, and they’ve always kind of watched over me and made sure I was safe — kept me really, really close. And I just wanted to explore that relationship between an overprotective parent and their child with a dumpling as a metaphor, as weird as that sounds,” said Shi.

When Brown asked Shi about the choice not to include dialogue in the animated short Shi said, “by taking dialogue out you’re really pushing and challenging yourself to tell the story with all the acting and emotion and actions of the characters...so your story could be understood by people of all ages and all backgrounds and all cultures.”

A scene from the short film  Bao,  directed by Domee Shi. (Courtesy  Cinema for Kids  via YouTube)

A scene from the short film Bao, directed by Domee Shi. (Courtesy Cinema for Kids via YouTube)

When Pixar picked up the Asian-Canadian short Shi explained that despite Bao was such a culturally specific film, overprotective parents learning how  to let go of their children and food bringing families together are universal themes with which people all over the world could identify.

Trevor Jimenez is nominated for Weekends, an animated short film that follows a young boy as he moves between his recently divorced parents’ homes. It couples dreamlike moments with the reality of a broken up family and home. The details of the reality of divorce and moving between parents’ houses and lives are portrayed through the eyes of a child.

I met and interviewed Trevor 12 days before the Oscars over Skype, he explained to me that the day he found out his film Weekends was nominated, his wife and him woke up really early, “The day of, was insane... it was our anniversary that day too...I almost felt like shock, like I couldn’t believe it”.   

When he finished the film just over a year ago Jimenez said, “I had friends who told me ‘Oh this is going to get nominated,’ and I never believed them...To have it do what it’s doing now is crazy.”

Jimenez said that every time he watches the film it’s different. “[it] depends on the crowd and how people react and the questions that come after. It’s always sort of shifting...I think the whole experience has shifted how I view it...For it to be validated in this way is a huge confine boost...It almost feels like a weird science experiment. It’s like oh the experiment kinda worked, like that’s how it feels. People connect with it and that’s kind of special,” Jimenez said about his short film.

When I asked him how being Canadian has affected his experience as a nominee Jimenez said, “I’m really happy that there are other Canadians, I’m very proud to be Canadian. Everyone is just really happy to be there whether or not you share that kind of nationality or not,” adding that all of the nominees are rooting for each other.

The 91st Oscars air live across the country Feb. 24th at 8 p.m. E.T.

Review: The European Short Film Festival at Carlton Cinema

By Ivonne Flores Kauffman

The European Short Film Festival took place on Jan. 31 at the Imagine Cinemas Carlton Cinema in Downtown Toronto. The festival featured seven short films from six European nations (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Czech Republic), each film different from the others.

Mental health, fear, death and hope were some of the central topics of these films. All the material presented at the festival fell into one of two categories: drama or comedy, providing the audience with evoked nostalgia, anger and sadness.

Despite the serious topics addressed in these films, not all of them were well-produced.

Ponožky (Socks) is a Czech dark comedy. Presented at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and directed by Mike Suchmann, this nine-minute film tells the story of Jidi, a man who is unable to rekindle the flame in his marriage. Sadly, his wife’s love is not the only thing that has vanished from Jidi’s life as the film revolves around his mysteriously disappeared socks, which leads him into having a surreal day.

The short comedy presents an uninterested, bored wife and a poor man whose attempts to recover the love of his life are often ignored. In one of the scenes, Jidi’s wife hosts a dinner party where he realizes she is having an affair with one of the guests. After punching the guest in the face and storming out, Jidi locks himself in the bathroom to masturbate. Soon enough, his wife knocks on the door asking him for the divorce. The last scene shows Jidi ejaculating socks all over his wife.

In my opinion, the film was not only weird but also misogynistic. Its results make it hard to emphasize with a man who does nothing to fix his marriage and would rather spend all day feeling sorry for himself. The last scene of this short film is supposed to be funny, but there was not even a hint of laughter from myself and the rest of the audience. The director’s decision to use socks to simulate Jidi’s ejaculation was confusing and offensive. To me, Suchmann’s comedy was not funny and it made me feel quite uncomfortable from beginning to end.

Ponožky was not the only short film that disappointed.  British project Tea & Coffee failed to deliver a neat production. The film directed by Maaya Modha and Adam Patel has an exciting plot about a young British-Indian woman who struggles to deal with her father’s deteriorating health, all while keeping a secret from him. This bittersweet short film shows the difficulties faced by an interracial marriage and the pain of seeing a loved one battling mental illness. Despite being extremely moving, the quality of the film lacked good shots, the scenes were poorly captured and it almost felt like it was produced by amateur filmmakers.

On the other hand, the short films that captured my attention were produced by the youngest filmmakers featured in the festival. The Boy with the Teddy, a 14-minute German film, follows the story of a kid and his teddy bear as he runs away from his dysfunctional home. After facing strangers’ indifference, the boy meets a young adult who takes care of him. Despite approaching topics such as child abuse and loneliness, this film is extremely heartwarming and full of hope.

A scene from the short film  The Boy with the Teddy  by Alessandro Schuster. (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Schuster)

A scene from the short film The Boy with the Teddy by Alessandro Schuster. (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Schuster)

Director Alessandro Schuster was only 16 years old when The Boy with the Teddy won the Platinum Award for Best Acting Ensemble and Gold Award for Best Young Filmmaker and Best Child/Young Actor at the 2018 Independent Short Awards (ISA).

In an email interview, Schuster explained that the five-day shooting presented two significant challenges. The first was to coordinate all the members of the cast and production before and during the shooting.

“Luckily it all worked great at the end! After all, everyone worked for ‘no-budget’," said Schuster.

The second challenge while filming The Boy with the Teddy came during post-production. Schuster explained that some of the scenes shot for this film were improvised. “In our film much is told through flashbacks…When editing, it was difficult to place them meaningful and good, without being exaggerated,” added the young director.

According to the Independent Shorts Awards website, Schuster, who is also an actor, is currently working on various TV productions, has produced and directed a couple of music videos and is attending school.

Another young filmmaker who presented his work at the European Short Film Festival was Jakob Hardeberg Svensen. His nine-minute production Games We Play, was shot during a Danish spring day. The film follows three 11-year-old friends’ (Johan, Clara and Felix) first encounter with death.

Behind the scenes of the short film  Games We Play.  (Photo courtesy of   Jakob Svensen)

Behind the scenes of the short film Games We Play. (Photo courtesy of Jakob Svensen)

“[Death] doesn’t have a big significance to them. At a certain age they become more interested and develop a morbid fascination for adult rituals such as funerals,” said Svensen in an email interview about his coming-of-age production.

“For me as a director the film wasn’t necessarily a story about death, but more about the memory of a timeless childhood.”  

Svensen’s inspiration to create this film came from his own childhood memories. The film’s aesthetic is composed of a range of grey and green tones, the outdoor and indoor scenes and the lack of dialogue which all work to transport the viewer to their own childhood memories. Games We Play was the most mentally stimulating film presented at the festival.

The European Short Film Festival, an excellent platform for film enthusiasts to enjoy different productions, was made possible by WILDsound. If you are interested in film festivals, check the WILDsound events website.

5 Canadian films to watch on Valentine’s Day

By Ivonne Flores Kauffman

The Fireflies Are Gone (2018)

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This film directed by Sébastien Pilote follows the story of Léonie (Karelle Tremblay), a teenager who is desperate to graduate from high school and leave the industrial town where she lives.

V-day sucks when you are single. However, instead of spending all day feeling miserable for not having a partner, buy a bottle of wine, turn off your phone and watch this entertaining film. It will make you laugh all your problems out. Tremblay’s character is so relatable that by the end of the film you will say, “F**k it” and embrace the fact that you are young, single and living a life full of possibilities.

Kingsway (2018)   

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If you hate the idea of celebrating February 14th because you have recently gone through a breakup, do not worry. We have the perfect movie for you: Bruce Sweeney’s newest production Kingsway. This movie, shot in Vancouver, portrays the struggles of life and love in a darkly funny way. According to the movie’s marketing material, “Kingsway is a romantic comedy about suicide, infidelity, and in-laws.” This Valentine’s Day you are allowed to spend all day in pajamas, eating ice cream and watching sad movies. But remember, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

Little Italy (2018)

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This romantic comedy by American director Donald Petrie is the perfect film to watch with your significant other on V-Day. Set in Toronto’s Little Italy, the film follows the complicated love story between Nikki (Emma Roberts) and Leo (Hayden Christensen), whose parents hate each other. Nikki, a successful chef, has to relocated to her hometown Toronto, where she reunites with Leo. This Romeo and Juliet inspired movie promises to deliver a chill evening full of cuddles and laughs. Don’t forget to order your favourite Italian food! We swear you will get hungry while watching it.

The New Romantic (2018)

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“Romance is dead,” writes Blake Conway (Jessica Barden), an aspiring journalist, who after years of searching for a Hollywood-style romance has given up the idea of finding love. Instead of spending all day crying for being single, Barden’s character decides to face the world and become a sugar baby, so she can finally be debt free and launch her career as a gonzo journalist.

This romantic comedy is the debut film of Canadian filmmaker Carly Stone and the winner of the 2018 SXSW Special Jury Recognition For First Feature award. This movie, full of comedy and cynicism can be enjoyed with your girlfriends, partner or even by yourself. With a super cool cast including Jessica Barden (The End of the F***king World), Brett Dier (Pretty Little Liars), Camila Mendes and Hayley Law (Riverdale)., The New Romantic is a must watch for this Valentine’s Day.

Clara (2018)

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This sci-fi love story is a great alternative if you or your significant other are looking for a more serious plot this Valentine’s Day. The movie follows the story of Dr. Isaac Bruno (Patrick J. Adams) who believes there are Earth-like planets in the universe. His new assistant Clara (Troian Bellisario) does more than helping him with his research; the pair spends endless nights debating the meaning of their existence. The connection formed between both of them leads Bruno to discover there are more things in life than numbers. Apart from having an exciting plot, the chemistry between Adams and his wife Bellisario is undeniable, and this movie is proof of it. The film will be available for rent or purchase on iTunes, The Cineplex Store and Google Play on Feb. 12.

Review: The Breadwinner

By Adriana Fiorante

The Breadwinner (2017) is an animated co-production between Canada, Ireland and Luxembourg about a young girl, Parvana (Saara Chaudry), surviving the Taliban’s seizing of her hometown, Kabul. In the plot, Taliban soldiers Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) and Razaq (Kawa Ada) take Parvana’s father (Ali Badshah) to prison for committing the crime of keeping forbidden books in his home and teaching women to read. The main focus of this film is the lack of rights Afghani women have under the Taliban rule. To combat the restrictions imposed on women and girls, Parvana cuts all her hair off to make herself look like a boy so she can buy food, get water, and work so her family can survive. She meets Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), another girl who is acting under the same disguise.

Feature image courtesy of thebreadwinnermovie via Instagram

Hearing the plotline, you might think The Breadwinner is similar to other animated coming-of-age films based in a war-torn Islamic country, such as Osama, Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir, or The Kite Runner. But while these films show vibrancy, detail, developed characters, and rich plotlines, The Breadwinner falls short on most of these aspects.

Overall, despite its high praise - three Canadian Screen Awards, a European Film Award, and an Oscar nod - I was disappointed. From the beginning, any threat of danger seems more like a plot device than something that instigates or motivates the characters’ arcs, as Parvana’s entire family is almost unbothered by the Taliban men wielding machine guns that surround them. At one point, Parvana’s father speaks back to a Taliban member who is armed with a gun, her mother later argues with one of them, and Shauzia and Parvana both run around the streets of their town, treating it more as a playground than a war zone. The film almost trivializes the Taliban rule to create a family-friendly film.

Some may argue that the character’s lack of fear is because the characters are all very brave, but in my opinion, it seems implausible that they would all be so unfazed by violence and willing to test their luck in front of trigger-happy extremists. For me, it felt more like there was no real threat of violence and that the soldiers were just there to show the audience that life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule is rough. Not only does nobody seem to actually worry about those keeping them from freedom, but no character suffers a fatal punishment; displaying the unrealistic idea that the Taliban members use their gun as a prop more than a tool for cruelty and oppression.

Deborah Ellis, the author of The Breadwinner novel stated in an interview with CBC news that Parvana “[is] a girl who is not at all interested in being heroic or strong or brave or anything ... But she rises to the circumstances that life throws at her.” To me, this seems like Ellis is defending herself from any criticisms of creating a one-dimensional character that has no real objectives or drive. Parvana is apparently uninterested by bravery and strength, and yet those are two fundamental themes throughout the novel and the film. What I believe Ellis and the rest of the creators of this film fail to notice is that for a woman or girl to survive in extremist areas of the globe; they cannot have a devil-may-care attitude. Women and girls of Afghanistan under Taliban-rule were forced to wear a burqa while in public at all times, were not allowed to work and were not allowed to pursue an education past the age of eight, or they face being lashed or hurt.

For the most part, the film lazily pushes through the motions of storytelling without any real passion or much attention to detail. For instance, Parvana mentions she has a brother who passed away, but his life and death is relayed in very limited detail, despite the evident fact that it affected Parvana and her family significantly. This could have been elaborated.

Additionally, the film is incomplete in its character building. Parvana’s father is one-dimensional and seemingly used as nothing but a plot device to give Parvana an objective throughout the movie. Parvana’s sister Soraya has virtually no characteristics besides fulfilling the stereotypical older sister trope - as she consistently nags Parvana and is concerned with nothing but her appearance - and being an object that her mother can arrange into a marriage.

The Breadwinner follows parallel plotlines; the second being the story of the Elephant King, a folk tale Parvana relays to her friends and family. The plotline of the Elephant King weaves together and mirrors the plotline of the primary story. It is about a young boy whose village is victim to theft by a gang of tigers who steal their crops and seeds produced in an otherwise successful farming season. The villagers will starve the following year if they do not have the seeds, and so the young boy journeys out to defeat the gang and their leader, the Elephant King, to claim their seeds back. Although the Elephant King story is a substantial part of the film that is meant to mirror the reality of Parvana’s life and act as a means of entertainment to distract those around her from their reality, it is abruptly brought up at random and inconvenient times that don’t really highlight how the plotlines are mirrored, though it sloppily attempts to do so.  

Photo courtesy of thebreadwinnermovie via Instagram

On top of all of this, the climax of the film occurs abruptly with no precursor or tension building apart from Taliban soldiers shouting in the streets that a war has started, just in time to save Parvana from certain death. The film does little to explain who is fighting against who and why they are doing so, relying on the audience to already know the details behind the Afghanistan War.

However, this lack of detail makes sense, as the majority of the film’s creators are not of South-Asian descent. Nora Twomey, a white, Irish woman directed the film. The screenwriter, Anita Doron, is a white, Hungarian Canadian woman. The producers are four white men, two of which, Andrew Rosen and Anthony Leo, are Canadians. The entire cast is South Asian Canadians, with three members being Afghan. While it is accurate and admirable to cast South Asians in a movie set in South Asia about South Asians, having virtually no inclusion of these voices behind the scenes seems to work against the film’s ability to accurately relay the complexities of Taliban-run Afghanistan.

The overwhelming aspect that reveals how inadequate and ill-equipped the filmmakers were at doing justice to this story is the terrible accents performed by most of the cast. Ada, a very practiced Afghan Canadian actor, doubled as the dialect coach for the film. Still, much of the cast sounded more like a non-native speaker’s idea of what an Arabic accent should be rather than a native Dari or Pashto speaker.  

The animation, however, salvages some respectability for the film, as it is lively and expertly uses bright reds, greens and blues when Parvana is telling the story of the Elephant King, and dull yellows, browns and blacks when she is in Kabul, showing the stark contrast between her dream life and reality. The animation was done in part in Canada’s Guru Studio, The Breadwinner being the company’s first feature film.

While The Breadwinner is beautifully animated with creative aspects, it is hard to get past the uneven plot, rushed ending, and weak details. It is even harder to relate to a character’s struggle when they are given little to no attributes, as sympathetic as their plights are.

Video courtesy Movieclips Indie via YouTube

5 Canadian films to get you in the holiday spirit

By Nadia Brophy

It’s that time of year again - the one that gets you seated by a warm fireplace, curled up in a blanket with hot cocoa in hand, eyes glued to the TV screen. Ladies and gentleman, it’s Christmas time, and I’d like to gift you with a curated list of some Canadian holiday favourites to get you in the mood for celebrating this special season.

1.     Coming Home for Christmas (2017)

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Nothing quite beats the feeling of flicking on the Hallmark Channel at this time of year and immersing oneself in a feel-good Christmas romance. In doing so, you may come across Coming Home for Christmas, a romantic comedy following the complicated love life of Lizzie Richfield, a house manager for an estate in Virginia. The film focuses on Lizzie’s task in planning a Christmas Eve gala before the estate is sold. During this time, she finds herself caught up in the life of Robert Marley, a member of the family who owns the estate, as she begins to fall for him while also being pursued by Robert’s brother Kip. If you’re not a huge fan of keeping up with complicated love triangles, I urge you to still give the film a chance simply for its beautiful Canadian scenery. Despite being a dual American-Canadian production, all of the scenes in Coming Home for Christmas were filmed in picturesque British Columbia. Canadians from the west will recognize the towns and landscapes of Abbotsford and Langley, B.C., which bear striking resemblance to the intricate Christmas village sets that occupy our mantles during this season.

2.     The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

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Romance is all good and fun, but perhaps you’d prefer to indulge in a bit of Christmas history. How about a biopic drama about one of the season’s most beloved authors, Charles Dickens, portrayed by Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens in the Irish-Canadian production The Man Who Invented Christmas. This film chronicles the author’s true story of emergence from financial difficulty after he publishes three novels that fail to gain success in England’s literary scene. After gaining some new-found inspiration, Dickens sets his focus on writing the renowned story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, A Christmas Carol. What arguably makes the film most intriguing is watching Dickens’ characters come to life as he writes them into existence. The audience is treated to humorous interactions between the author and the infamous humbug played by Canada’s own Christopher Plummer. The film’s score was written by Canadian composer Mychael Danna and features a series of ambient orchestral works that emulate the feeling of waking up on a snowy Christmas morning.

3. The Nutcracker Prince (1990)

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I think we can all agree that there’s something very special about watching animated films during this season. Perhaps it’s the giddy child in us that grew up watching The Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas on repeat leading up to Christmas day. If you’re looking to feel that childlike excitement again, The Nutcracker Prince will surely fulfill that desire. Based on the classic story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A Hoffmann, the Canadian animated fantasy tells the tale of a young man - voiced by Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland - who has been cursed to live his life as a nutcracker doll gifted to a girl named Clara on Christmas Eve. When Clara finds out that the curse can be broken if the Nutcracker defeats the sinister Mouse King responsible for the curse and wins the heart of a maiden, she embarks on a fantastical journey to help her special toy become his true self once more. Part of her journey leads her to be shrunken down and transported through the Land of Dolls where Christmas is brought to life on screen through images of elegant white swans, massive evergreen forests and a towering candy palace. If you haven’t already been convinced to add this enchanting film to your Christmas to-watch list, it is also accompanied by the famed music from The Nutcracker ballet, a classic seasonal production that follows the same story.

4. The Legend of Frosty the Snowman (2005)

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Yes, you did read that right - the ever-classic The Legend of Frosty the Snowman does indeed fall under the category of Canadiana Christmas. While the film was, in fact, a co-production between America and Canada, part of the animated tale was created by former Vancouver-based animation company Studio B Productions. The film also features the voice talents of Tara Strong, a Toronto native whose work includes Rugrats, Powerpuff Girls and Fairly Odd Parents. This classic animated fantasy is set in the fictional town of Evergreen, where children are forced to abide by a strict curfew and told not to participate in any fun activities. But that all begins to change when a black top hat escapes from a mysterious trunk that has been locked away in an attic for years and gives life to the most fun-filled presence of all - Frosty the Snowman. The magical character quickly wins over the hearts of the children in Evergreen as he encourages them to enjoy the winter season while it lasts. The plot begins to take a wicked turn when an antagonizing force leads Frosty to his demise and steals his hat in an effort to keep the town absent of fun. But that doesn’t stop the children of Evergreen from embarking on a quest to reclaim their snowy companion’s hat in an effort to restore the spirit of magic in their somber town.

5. Silent Night (2002)

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When looking for films to get us ready for this joyful holiday, we traditionally wouldn’t reach for a dark flick with intense subject matter. But for those of us who are looking for a little more depth and substance in our films - still keeping with the spirit of Christmas, of course - can turn to Silent Night, a fact-based story set on Christmas Eve during World War II. The film follows a German woman and her son who attempt to escape the dangers of war by fleeing to an isolated cabin in the Ardennes forest. It is not long before their cabin is invaded by groups of American soldiers and their German enemies. The interaction would have ended in a bloodbath if it weren’t for the mother who, after much struggle, is able to convince the German soldiers to set aside their contentions with the Americans and partake in a Christmas Eve dinner together. The soldiers eventually build unlikely friendships that supersede the tension that once existed between them. While I wouldn’t list Silent Night under the ‘feel-good’ category we’re all familiar with during the holidays, I would nevertheless label it a film that captures the spirit of Christmas in bringing people together to celebrate the season.

Student Creatives: The Filmmaking Journey

By: Nadia Brophy

Across all creative industries, there is a journey artists must take to establish themselves, meet their personal goals and create content they are proud of.

Three film studies students at Ryerson University gave CanCulture a behind-the-scenes look into how their creative journeys have been progressing thus far. Students Tyler Hall, Hayden Salter and Julia Batista share how they got inspired to pursue filmmaking, the projects they have created and what they intend to do next in their careers.

Tyler Hall

Photo: Submitted by Tyler Hall

Photo: Submitted by Tyler Hall

Tyler Hall’s filmmaking journey began with a fascination for storytelling, which first manifested during his childhood years. Throughout his youth, Hall’s mother ran a home daycare where himself and the children who attended would experiment with a dress-up box, creating several different kinds of characters and narratives using the variety of clothes. Hall would also play with action figures and make up stories about them, bringing the narratives to life as he played.

At age 10, Hall picked up his first video camera, opening himself up to a new world of storytelling. He would produce his first amateur film at age 16 which lead him to experiment with video editing. From that point on, Hall was inspired to continuing adding to his arsenal of filmmaking skills, including working with computer generated animation, which lead to his creation of 15 animated short films within a five year period.  

While Hall had always been a creative person himself, he attributes much of his inspiration to the people he grew up with. “I was surrounded by creatives growing up and was inspired by a lot of my friends and family to continue pursuing film,” said Hall.

He credits one of his close friends for introducing him to the world of editing, as throughout their friendship, he would observe his expertise in cutting video game footage together to create montages. He would also frequently attend the band practices and concerts of friends who were musicians, where he developed an acute understanding of rhythm and pacing that he believes “really paid off for film editing.”

Photos taken by Bang Siaotong, submitted by Tyler Hall

Photos taken by Bang Siaotong, submitted by Tyler Hall

In 2017, Hall was accepted to the film studies program at Ryerson University where he would put his skills to use in several creative and collaborative projects, including his psychological thriller Nosebleed. In the roles of cinematographer, producer and editor, Hall was assigned to collaborate with other student filmmakers on the task of adapting a script written by a student in the year above them. After reading the script for Nosebleed, which tells the dark story of a woman struggling with mental illness, Hall’s group was inspired to take an avant-garde approach to their storytelling.

“There are many ways to shoot a script,” said Hall. “You can take it Hollywood style narrative and lead a straightforward path for your viewer, or you can get experimental and become non-linear, bringing your viewers into a maze.”

To achieve this nonlinear experience for the audience, Hall’s group portrayed the story from the perspective of the mentally ill woman with the intention of showing “what it would be like to be in such an unstable, ever-changing mental state.” Adding to their experimentalism, the filmmakers chose to cast a man to play the main character’s mother.

“We wanted the film to feel surreal and dark with elements of symbolism and unanswered questions,” said Hall.

In the future, Hall hopes to continue creating psychological films with creative plot twists that play with the expectations of his audience.

“I hope to one day make a twist as good as The Sixth Sense,” Hall expressed.

Hayden Salter

Photo: Submitted by Hayden Salter

Photo: Submitted by Hayden Salter

First-year film studies student Hayden Salter was first introduced to the word of filmmaking through photography. In his early high school years, Salter created an Instagram account where he would showcase his wide range of photographic skills, from city and landscape photography to profiles and intricate nature shots. Salter recalls entering high school feeling shy and insecure in the new chapter of his life, so he turned to photography as a medium for self expression. He began to gain confidence in himself after his Instagram page gained popularity across the school where he received positive feedback from his peers.

Photo courtesy Hayden Salter via Instagram

Photo courtesy Hayden Salter via Instagram

“It felt like I was getting validation, because people would see what I was doing and they liked what I was doing,” said Salter.

While photography ultimately opened Salter up to the world of artistic expression, he believes film is the most effective medium for getting a message across to an audience, an aim he credits as being the reason he first got into filmmaking.

“Film grabs all the different components of sound, video, and you put it all together into this one image that you construct and you can share it with the world,” said Salter. “I just think that’s incredible. It captivates all the senses.”

Salter uses film to spread messages surrounding topics important to him including his latest short film Brink, which showcases the anxieties that come with entering into adulthood and how he overcame his fear in making life changing decisions for his future.

The idea for Brink came into fruition during Salter’s senior year in high school after he attended an assembly addressing university applications. He remembers going home that evening and translating his worries towards the prospect of university into a script, which he wrote as a conversation between two people representing two opposing thoughts in his head.


“One side of me was saying that you’re going to embark in this whole new world with all these opportunities and meet new people,” said Salter. “The other side of me was saying I don’t want to go into this new world. I have everything that I want right now and I’m sheltered and secure.”

The film concludes with the message that life will always change and move forward and despite how fearful one may be, they have to move along with it.

And Salter did just that, resulting in an acceptance to the film studies program at Ryerson University where he continues to add to his experience as a filmmaker. Currently, Salter creates action-packed promotional videos for sports games as well as music videos, but hopes to one day pursue a career in writing and directing narrative pieces.

“I want my films to mean something,” said Salter.

Julia Batista

Photo: Submitted by Julia Batista

Photo: Submitted by Julia Batista

Julia Batista’s journey into filmmaking began during her time in elementary school. During her grade 7 year, teachers began giving students the option to explore several creative mediums in order to complete their assignments. Always, and without hesitation, Batista would opt to create and edit a film. And it wasn’t just that Batista thought making a film was a more appealing option than writing a poem or designing a poster, for example, she also did it because she thoroughly enjoyed the process of editing a piece.

“Actually physically putting all the clips together, rearranging them, zooming in on a program to the seconds and milliseconds and fine cutting the footage, that’s what I really liked,” said Batista. “I thought, if I could do that everyday, I really wouldn’t mind it.”

Years later, when she arrived in the film studies program at Ryerson University, Batista was opened up to a world of opportunities in the filmmaking industry. For some time, she intended on pursuing cinematography as she found herself enjoying camera operating on set. However, Batista recalls having a recent epiphany that changed her career focus entirely. She now desires to pursue the career of a producer, which focuses heavily on organizing and planning a film, as she claims this role would be the perfect fit for her personality type.

“I’m extremely type A, I consider myself to be very organized and efficient,” said Batista. “I live my personal life this way, so it just makes so much sense to take on that role in the production of a film.”

Photo: Submitted by Julia Batista

Photo: Submitted by Julia Batista

While the role of a producer may be her chosen path, Batista has gained experience in several different filmmaking roles, including that of writer and director on her short film Expiration Date, a portrayal of the influence that toxic relationships have on one’s mental state. The film, created as a project for her first year production class, tasked Batista and her peers to work entirely on a 16mm Bolex film camera. Batista chose to work with double exposures to convey the moments when the film’s main character relives past memories of his relationship. She explained that since her team had to work with a Bolex, in order to create the double exposures, she had to physically rewind the film and precisely coordinate when to stop and expose it to the right amount of light. When this process is successful, as shown in Batista’s piece, it creates a ghostly overlapping image that portrays the past and present intersecting with one another.

“It took a lot of planning, slowly taking the steps, and patience with the actors,” said Batista of the double exposure process. “Once you roll the film, you can’t go back and look. But it turned out really well and I’m proud of it.”

In the future, Batista intends to work within the niche of documentary filmmaking. She hopes to produce films with a specific focus on the state of the environment, an issue she has advocated for and been passionate about for many years. She intends to take her documentaries international to explore the industry in countries like Australia, where documentary filmmaking is a widely popular medium.

“There’s just something about documentaries when it’s a really beautiful, cinematic piece,” said Batista. “At the end you realize it was all real. Real people, real stories. And yet it still feels like you were watching a movie. That’s what gets me about documentaries, I really love that kind of stuff.”

Meet the 6th Annual Buffer Festival Content Creators

By: Nina Jeffery

Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal, and Corey Lubowich ( Team Starkid ).

Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal, and Corey Lubowich (Team Starkid).

Team StarKid, a musical theatre ensemble, began in 2009 when a group of friends from the University of Michigan posted the Harry Potter parody musical, A Very Potter Musical on YouTube. The show became a viral hit and was the first college theatre production to make the Billboard Hot 100. With over 400,000 YouTube subscribers, they continue to delight a dedicated fan base with original productions. Team StarKid’s newest musical, The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals premieres this fall at the Matrix Theatre Company.

Louis Cole ( FunForLouis )

Louis Cole (FunForLouis)

After gaining a following from food stunt videos on his channel FoodForLouis, Louis Cole has since been creating daily vlogs focused on lifestyle and travel. His channel recently passed 2 million subscribers and he is now known in the YouTube community as a top travel content creator. Cole received the Festival Honour Award at the Buffer Festival Awards Gala for his vlog Beyond Borders (Chapter 1).

Hannah Snow ( HannahSnow )

Hannah Snow (HannahSnow)

Hannah Snow is a British creator known for her lifestyle and DIY videos. At Buffer Festival, Snow premiered a clip from her new short, Sisters of House Black, with fellow creator Kelsey Ellison. 

Jon Cozart ( Paint )

Jon Cozart (Paint)

Jon Cozart is an American musician and comedian with 4.5 million subscribers on YouTube. He is well-known for his After Ever After acapella videos, where he parodies Disney characters through song. Cozart premiered the video Coming Out at Buffer Festival. He won the award for Excellence in Writing at the Awards Gala.

Michael Gregory ( schmoyoho )

Michael Gregory (schmoyoho)

Michael Gregory is the drummer and keyboardist of The Gregory Brothers. The band is renowned for their Songify the News series. At Buffer Festival, Gregory premiered his Girls Just Wanna Have Fun video.

Chantel Houston ( Ladylike )

Chantel Houston (Ladylike)

Chantel Houston is a senior producer and cast member for BuzzFeed. She is one of five creators for the YouTube channel LadyLike which focuses on lifestyle videos for women. At Buffer Festival, she premiered the film Whale Hello There.

Shannon Boodram ( Shan Boody )

Shannon Boodram (Shan Boody)

Shannon Boodram is well-known for being the internet’s relationship expert, making content that focuses on dating and sex education. Her YouTube channel encourages sex-positive conversations. She premiered her music video for Soaring, an empowerment video created with her partner Jared Brady.

Stevie Boebi ( Stevie )

Stevie Boebi (Stevie)

Stevie Boebi is a YouTube creator known for her queer-positive content where she gives life advice and speaks about sex and relationships. She premiered her documentary Go Fist Yourself which focuses on misconceptions about sex in the porn industry and in our everyday lives.

Elle Mills ( ElleOfTheMills )

Elle Mills (ElleOfTheMills)

Elle Mills is a Canadian YouTube creator who boasts 1.5 million subscribers on her channel ElleOfTheMills. She gained popularity for her Coming Out (Elle Mills Style) video that has over 3.9 million views. She creates vlogs and comedy videos, and premiered her newest video I Turned my Mom’s House Into a Frat at the comedy screening.

Sorelle Amore & Leon Hill ( SorelleAmore )

Sorelle Amore & Leon Hill (SorelleAmore)

Sorelle Amore is an Australian photographer and YouTuber known for her lifestyle and travel videos. Her popular series Advanced Selfies quickly popularized her channel. Her short film Where Are You? premiered at Buffer Festival. The featured creator poses with her partner Leon Hill.

Anna Akana ( AnnaAkana )

Anna Akana (AnnaAkana)

Anna Akana’s comedy and documentary work has garnered over 2 million YouTube subscribers. Recently, she produced and starred in the YouTube Red series Youth and Consequences. She premiered her short film dolor and received the Award for Excellence in Production at the festival Awards Gala.

Zach Ramelan ( ZachRamelan )

Zach Ramelan (ZachRamelan)

Zach Ramelan is a Canadian creator known for filmmaking and tech reviews. His short film Blinders premiered at Buffer Festival and highlighted the issue of homelessness in Canada. Ramelan won the Canadian Award of Excellence at the Awards Gala.

Spankie Valentine ( SpankieValentineTV )

Spankie Valentine (SpankieValentineTV)

Spankie Valentine is renowned for her career as a musical artist and her high-energy short films. Her film Lost in Darkness explores the dark side of the mind and won the award for Excellence in Cinematography at the Awards Gala.

Whitney Avalon ( WhitneyAvalon)

Whitney Avalon (WhitneyAvalon)

Whitney Avalon is an actress, comedian and musician who is known for her Princess Rap Battle series on YouTube. She premiered her film Don’t Be A, a comedic “kids” show better suited for adult audiences. Avalon won both the Excellence in Music, Sound, & Score and the Excellence in Comedy awards at the Awards Gala.

Stef Sanjati ( StefSanjati )

Stef Sanjati (StefSanjati)

Stef Sanjati is a Toronto based makeup artist, director and advocate. Her film Bad Words premiered at the festival’s LGBTQ+ screening and explored online culture and the negative effects that a single comment can hold.