"We Were Children" made in Manitoba (Eagle Vision)
Billed as "five full days of
films in your flip-flops," the 12th annual Gimli Film Fest offers a
laidback beach vibe combined with industry events and loads of films. (And
don't forget the ever-popular free beach nights, with movies projected onto a
screen rising out of Lake Winnipeg!)
This year's lineup offers
over 100 films from Manitoba, Canada and around the world, including features,
shorts and documentaries. Here are some capsule reviews:
We Were Children (1:30, July 26): This clunky but emotionally powerful docudrama alternates between interviews with two residential school survivors and re-enactments of their horrific experiences.
The made-in-Manitoba film treats an important subject: the thousands of First Nations children who were taken from their families to live at church-run boarding schools. Stripped of their language and culture--part of the government's ugly mission to "kill the Indian in the child"--many were subjected to violence, neglect and sexual abuse.
As the title suggests, the dramatized sections give a painfully palpable sense of how young and vulnerable these kids were. But despite affecting performances from the child actors, these sequences feel inert, never able to find their own rhythms.
I was actually more drawn to the interviews with the survivors, Glen Anaquod and Lyna Hart, two extraordinary individuals whose words really don't need embellishment.
While the film practically vibrates with hepped-up nastiness, the story is mostly made up of derivative neo-gangster clichés. The Icelandic setting does add a few regional twists, though, as when the gang is pulling a bank heist and has to stop and scrape the ice off the windshield of the getaway car.
The Act of Killing (4:00, July 27): It's hard not to drop into hyperbole when talking about this unprecedented "documentary of the imagination," which calls up the history of 1960s Indonesia, when members of paramilitary death squads participated in the murders of an estimated 2.5 million "communists" (which usually meant trade unionists, students, the ethnic Chinese or anyone the death squads didn't like).|
American filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer follows two Indonesian gangsters who took part in these killings. Finding out that the two men are Hollywood film buffs, he encourages them to act out their atrocities as genre movies, recording their words and actions as they stage elaborate, horrifying, ridiculous scenes from gangster flicks, westerns, even musical numbers.
It sounds grotesque, and it is. It is also utterly chilling, darkly comic and astonishingly revealing. Rather than distancing us from the enormity and the brutality of what these men have done, this theatre of cruelty actually brings us terrifyingly close to the human capacity for violence. This is an absolutely extraordinary film, unlike anything I have ever experienced. Please, see it.
Beach flicks: Fingers crossed for good weather, this week's beach screenings should bring us Still Mine, a drama about lifelong love starring Geneviève Bujold and James Cromwell; Muscle Shoals, a documentary look at a backwater Alabama town that changed the course of popular music; Steven Spielberg's 1977 exploration of sci-fi sublime, Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the classic 1978 musical Grease; and The Deep (1977), another seaside story from Jaws author Peter Benchley.
The Gimli Film Festival runs through July 28.
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