Official Trailer for Bill Cunningham: New York
Now in its 11th year, this prairie film fest combines hot movie buzz with a laidback cottage-country feel. With over 80 films, this year's edition is big enough to be cinematically ambitious but small enough to be a little idiosyncratic, as befits a festival in the same town as Guy Maddin's summer home.
And Now For Our Feature Presentations
The festival used to concentrate on Icelandic and Icelandic-Canadian filmmakers but has gradually expanded its mandate to include features from Manitoba, across Canada and around the world. This year sees international movies from Denmark, Angola, India, Germany, France and the U.S.
A Canadian standout is Small Town Murder Songs, starring the looming Peter Stormare (Fargo) as a conflicted cop investigating a murder in a southern Ontario Mennonite town. Terse, tough, sparse and spare, this is one of those rare films that actually feels too short. (Keep an eye out for a brilliant bit of menace from local actor Stephen Eric McIntryre.)
Foodland, a crime caper from Winnipeg filmmaker Adam Smoluk, offers deadpan humour - really, does anybody do nervous better than Ross McMillan? - while making a virtue of its low budget and sub-zero setting. And there's McIntyre again, this time giving sneaky comic shadings to the part of an incompetent flatfoot.
Set in the 1970s, locally shot coming-of-age story The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mother follows a confused 11-year-old girl (promising newcomer Julia Stone) as she heads off in search of Dolly Parton and her big-haired brand of personal affirmation. The family drama is sometimes understated to the point of hesitancy, but the soundtrack, with Parton covers from Canadian acts like Martha Wainwright, Nelly Furtado and The Wailin' Jennys, never wavers.
And ok, I haven't managed to see this one yet - it just released in New York last weekend - but I'm red-hot for Errol Morris's Tabloid, a documentary featuring cloned dogs, Mormon sex scandals, beauty queens and bondage. It looks to have all the fun of trash, along with Morris's serious ongoing investigation into the nature of truth: What could be better?
The festival often finds its oddest and most inspired moments in film shorts, and there are 16 themed programs on offer this year. In The Burton Cycle, former Winnipeggers Walter Forsberg and Matthew Rankin continue their endearing "Stand Tall" obsession with Burton Cummings. Not surprisingly, a real-life 1985 incident in which the former Guess Who frontman was beaned by a bottle at a North End 7-Eleven takes on mythic Manitoban overtones.
On the Beach
High water levels on Lake Winnipeg almost cancelled this year's free, under-the-stars beach screenings, where films are projected onto an 11-metre screen rising from a sandbar in the lake. Thanks to some last-minute technical wizardry, the popular - and free! did we mention free? - screenings will go on this year, with an eclectic and (mostly) engaging line-up.
The Illusionist: An aging magician struggles to survive the clamour of the 1960s in this gently charming tale. With exquisite old-school animation by Sylvain Chomet , the artist behind The Triplets of Belleville, and a screenplay adapted from work left behind by the late French master Jacques Tati, this cartoon plays like silent-film comedy with a wistfully sad finish. (Maybe too wistful at points.)
Bill Cunningham: New York: An affectionate documentary profile of a man who's been photographing New York street style for over four decades. Cunningham, an indefatigable and completely original octogenarian, can't be bothered with "celebrities and their free dresses," preferring the exuberant self-expression of ordinary folks. Optimistic, enthusiastic, irrepressibly happy, this is a perfect tribute to fashion, to the risks and rewards of the creative life, and above all, to a lovely, lovely man.
Barney's Version: The chopped and changed storyline can't quite do justice to Mordecai Richler's sprawling comic novel, but Paul Giamatti might just be the perfect mix of sweet, sour and shlubby for a Richler anti-hero.
Score: A Hockey Musical: A misguided attempt to combine our national past-time with the all-singing, all-dancing conventions of the musical. Not patriotic duty, not even the imminent return of our very own Jets can make this cutesy Canadiana work.
Jaws: A genius bit of programming here. This is an iconic summer flick - its blockbuster success made it one of the first "tentpole" movies - and its "dun-dun, dun-dun dun-dun" soundtrack and looming monster made people nervous about swimming for most of the late 1970s. With deft direction from Steven Spielberg, it's also a smartly crafted thriller that really holds up.
Plus, you've got to love the parallels: a resort town, a big body of water, and ok, maybe there aren't any sharks in Lake Winnipeg, but those muskies can be pretty damn scary.