Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Whistler Film Festival Borsos Competition

Isabella Rossellini in Guy Maddin's Keyhole
Isabella Rossellini in Guy Maddin's Keyhole
Credit: Supplied

WE COVER STORY PT. 2: Borsos award shines spotlight on Canadian films

Internationally, Canadian films and filmmakers are still struggling to get the recognition they deserve. But they’re the proud centrepiece of the Whistler Film Festival thanks to the esteemed Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature Film. But it’s not simply the $15,000 prize that has filmmakers clamoring for the honour; it’s living up to the legacy of the man behind the title, the late Phillip Borsos (The Grey Fox and Bethune: The Making of a Hero).

The Vancouver-based director/producer was just 41 years old when he succumbed to leukemia in 1995, devastating his family and community, and cutting short an award-winning career that had already altered the Canadian film scene. But as time passed, his widow, Beret Borsos, wasn’t sure how or if her husband’s legacy would be remembered. Until, that is, local filmmaker and Whistler Film Festival board member Carl Bessai came calling.

“They wanted to do something to honour Phillip and they thought that tying an award named for him to a festival that has a truly West Coast identity was a really good match,” Borsos recalls. “I’d been out of the whole film loop for a long time and sometimes I wasn’t sure if Phillip had just been forgotten, so it was tremendously moving for me to realize he wasn’t. And it also seemed to be something so lovely for my boys.”

The competition is open to up to eight feature films of new, narrative work by Canadian filmmakers, but prides itself on celebrating independent vision and diversity. Borsos says the focus aligns itself well with her late husband’s love for discovering and advising young talent — particularly now that their eldest son, Angus Borsos, is also a filmmaker and therefore a potential future Borsos Competition contender — provided he gets past the judges, of course, she laughs.


This year’s competition boasts six features that will definitely redefine what it means to be an indie Canadian flick. WE has the scoop about what to expect from the 2011 contenders.

Starring Nick Stahl, Mia Kirshner
Directed by Randall Cole
A 1984-inspired thriller about a couple who doesn’t realized they’re being watched 24/7, shot entirely from the vantage point of surveillance and handheld cameras. Think the Blair Witch Project meets The Lives of Others, with a privileged Toronto twist and some very pretty actors.

Starring Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
A love story that weaves back and forth between a recently divorced DJ in present-day Montreal and the young mother of a disabled son in 1960s Paris. Atmospheric, tragic and French, it promises to be a heady, gorgeously filmed trip through the fantastical.

DOPPLEGANGER PAUL (Or A Film About How Much I Hate Myself)
Starring Tygh Runyan, Brad Dryborough, Ben Cotton
Directed by Dylan Akio Smith & Kris Elgstrand
A delightfully bizarre dark comedy wherein a man escapes a near-death experience and then meets his doppelgänger, which sets in motion an only-in-the-movies chain of events: a lost thumb, a stolen manuscript, riding a miniature train, morning talk show appearances and a road trip to Portland.

Starring Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini
Directed by Guy Maddin
Moody, atmospheric, beautiful and disturbing — so, yep, a Guy Maddin film, but that’s where the similarities end. This is a 1930s gangster picture set in a haunted house, where it’s almost impossible to tell when waking life ends and the dream world begins.

Starring Allison Mack and Simone Bailly
Directed and written by Christopher Petry
Another atmospheric pic — this one shot in the gritty style of the 1970s — about a bank robber on the lam with a young runaway. But it’s the source material that fascinates: a story written by Patrick “Paddy” Mitchell of the Stopwatch Gang while he was in prison.

Starring Fellag, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Marie Charlebois, Evelyne de la Chenelière
Directed by Philippe Falardeau
This French-language flick about a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant dealing with personal tragedy and juggling his new job as a substitute teacher is already a winner: it was named the Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF and is Canada’s official selection for the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film.

Whistler Film Fest runs Nov. 30-Dec. 4. Info: WhistlerFilmFestival.com.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Guy Maddin and Whistler Film Festival

Part 1 of my Q&A with Guy Maddin is in this week's WE, just in time for the Whistler Film Fest. Part 2 will be out when his new film Keyhole gets released.

Director/writer Guy Maddin

COVER STORY: Guy Maddin invites us to peer through the ‘Keyhole’

The USA has David Lynch, Spain has Pedro Almodovar and Canada has Guy Maddin. Arguably they are the modern makers of weird, disquieting beauty that’s rooted in a genuine desire to explore the bottomless depths and shallow pools of human experience. They make movies that mess with our sense of self. Maddin, particularly, is a master of this as reflected by his unsettling new film, Keyhole. It’s a tense, disturbing genre mashup of 1930s gangster and haunted house flicks, gorgeously shot in black and white. It’s also a contender in the prestigious Borsos Competition at the 11th annual Whistler Film Festival. (For more on the Borsos award, see next page.)

The words “perverse” and “strange” get thrown around a lot by writers when talking about your films. Do you take pleasure in having a certain shock value?
Nothing is shocking. And real life can be perverse and strange. I just don’t have it in me to produce naturalistically performed movies set in workaday worlds. I’m not Chekovian enough. And besides, my tastes run to folk tales – savage narratives that tell us in no uncertain terms fearsome things about ourselves, no matter how strange or perverse they might seem. Please regard the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Perverse and strange geniuses and superb role models.

It seems like Canadian cinema has never been stronger, and yet it still suffers from a serious inferiority complex. What’s your take on its evolution?
Canadian cinema just needs a big breakout, a phenomenal film that blows away all our fears, and the world’s preconceptions of our timid ways all at once. It’ll come. You can’t make it happen, it’ll just happen if we keep trying.

What made you decide to ground Keyhole so specifically in a house?
I used to dream of lost loved ones, in delirious nightly dramas during which I worked through, or expressed, feelings that never quite untangled themselves while everyone was alive. Now I dream only of empty architecture. These dreams are more haunting to me than the old unfinished-business dreams involving the family ghosts. I decided I wanted to make a movie that was about a house, about the places in which we live and they feelings they can produce in us. It’s too glib to say I wanted to make a film starring a house, because more often than not I like to watch films with people in them – not always, but mostly. So I knew I wanted to stray from my recurrent dreams and actually populate the corridors of my night-architecture with characters. But I also knew I wanted to stay inside that house the whole film. It’s a good-looking home with lots of detail, lots of surprises, surely more than enough visual richness to support 90 minutes screen time without it wearying anyone’s eyes. After all, we spend infinite hours in our own homes, often loving the environs more and more with each passing day. I wanted viewers to feel comfy, at home, in that house by movie’s end. Who knows if I got it right.

What does it mean to you to have Keyhole be part of the Borsos competition?
I am honoured. Borsos was a great filmmaker. I met him a couple of times and was deeply impressed.

Why is it important to have competitions like this one that honour Canadian films?
The winning of prizes means little, or should mean little, to the filmmakers themselves, but prizes help mythologize and glamorize the craft, help elevate Canadian filmmaking into the competitive and glitzy delirium of showbiz and all its artificial glamour. The prizes help remind us to embrace the artificiality of filmmaking, make us complicit in its fakeness, make us want to participate in the dream on the screen more. Without such prizes we Canadians will watch our films with a grim literal-mindedness we’ve always deployed in shooting down our own work the instant it gets airborne.

What is Canada’s film reputation internationally? Are we held in high esteem?
I can’t tell. I think everyone just feels sorry for me when they say nice things to me, and way more often they say terrible things to me. And I’m too busy bad-mouthing my Canadian colleagues to judge fairly how they’re perceived internationally.

Twenty or 30 years ago, the idea seemed to be that if you wanted to make it as a filmmaker, you had to leave Canada. How much of that perception remains today?
I’ve never even left Winnipeg to make a movie, so you’re asking the wrong person. I even suspect you asked this just to rub that fact in. But I do know that a hometown person is never deemed a complete success until he or she leaves and achieves something significant away from home. That applies to every country, not just Canada. Probably the worst place to be born in is Hollywood itself. These are the kids that have the biggest discriminations to deal with.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

My review of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 is online at WEVancouver.com

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart's Edward and Bella share a tender moment in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

Posted By: Andrea Warner

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

Directed by Bill Condon

(Ed’s note: Spoilers ahead)
After plot points about Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 spilled like blood from Bella’s ripped C-section, even non-fans of the series had reason to believe that the fourth film would at least be an entertaining, action-packed WTF. So how can a film that features so many crazy, ridiculous, over-the-top elements — vamp-human sex, a demon baby, blood, gore and a wolf “imprinting” on said demon baby — be so freaking boring?

In part, it’s because Breaking Dawn seems like the ultimate love letter to its fans — Bella and Edward (Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) get their dream wedding, while wolf-in-no-clothing Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is shirtless within the first 10 seconds — but it also has no qualms about taking those fans for granted. The film’s producers, writers and director know that it simply doesn’t matter. The Twihards will turn out in droves and lap it up without discernment or demand for something better. A terrible script, poor pacing, and lousy effects? So what? Bella gets her man.

As usual, author Stephanie Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg keep  punching feminism in its baby-maker with Bella’s “empowerment.” When Edward balks at turning her into a vampire she insists, saying, “Hopefully in a year I’m going to look in the mirror and see someone like you.” Then she literally has to cry and beg him to have sex with her on their honeymoon, stating she likes how he accidentally hurts her with his vampire strength. And finally she argues that if her demon fetus kills her it will all be worth it, basically because abortion is wrong, no matter how viciously Edward and Jacob spit out terse sentiments like, “Get it out! You think I could ever love it? I hate it!”

And honestly, that’s even without going into the absolutely ridiculous sanctioned pedophilia subplot that has Jacob, the new alpha wolf — you know he’s grown up because he can grow stubble — who charges in to kill Bella’s half-blood newborn and then “imprints” on her, forecasting a creepy future wherein she looks exactly like her mother and has no choice but to accept her fate as the intended vamp-human hybrid of a wolf-human.

Yep. Enjoy. — Andrea Warner

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sarah Slean

My interview with Sarah Slean is in this week's WE.

Sarah Slean
Sarah Slean
Credit: Supplied

Sarah Slean waxes philosophical on ‘Land & Sea’

Alot has changed in Sarah Slean’s life since releasing the appropriately regal and rousing piano-cabaret album The Baroness in 2008. She left her record label, got married and completed her philosophy degree, all of which, in one way or another, have planted the seeds for her stunning double album, Land & Sea, wherein the singer/songwriter finally divides her time between a straight-up pop record (Land) and sweeping, cinematic orchestra-backed cabaret (Sea). WE spoke with Slean in advance of her Nov. 23 show at the Rio about going broke, Justin Bieber and the heady world of art and the temporal universe.

The last time we spoke, you said that you need to be constantly evolving, and that means working outside of major labels. Is Land & Sea part of that evolution?
Absolutely. Warner did not constrain me creatively at all, but artistically speaking I always have to go somewhere new. I always want to feel like a new person is making this record, because if you haven’t changed, why would you give the world a piece of expression again? Have you learned something? Do you have a new insight for us? I talk about art-making in terms of entertainment and art. I feel like both are equally valid and the world obviously has desire for both, but I feel like the entertainment side takes you away from life; it distracts you from life. It’s a little vacation from life. But I want to make stuff that takes people deeper into life, that pushes them further into it, not run away from it.

Creating a tension between the consumer and the artist?
Yeah, there’s that, but I feel like neither is wrong. Justin Bieber is great. He fulfills a need, but he doesn’t fill the need of a person who wants to find more meaning in their life through music... David Adam Richards, that book Mercy Among the Children that I championed unsuccessfully for Canada Reads, I felt like that was such a difficult, hard book, but I felt like I was so changed by it! World view, philosophically changed. I feel like that’s what makes it great art... Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, but it’s always transformative, and that’s the kind of stuff that I want to make.

There’s such a distinct line between the Land & Sea. Is this representative of your musical interests, or are they aspects of a whole?
The reason they’re two albums, and why I didn’t release one and then the other, is that lyrically the perspective of each makes more sense in contrast and they develop deeper meanings in relation to each other.

“New Pair of Eyes”, “I Am a Light”, “Set it Free”, “Life” — everything about Land felt almost heavenly.
What I want to talk about with this album is it’s not one or the other. They’re ends of a spectrum and the spectrum is the all-ness of everything that is. To be the person you are with the name you are and the age you are and the statistics on the ID in your wallet, the people in your life, the country you live in, all of these very specific, temporal things, they often blind us to the experience of the eternal, the unity that is all. Being a specific person is the illusion of separateness, but it isn’t to be condemned. And a lot of spiritual traditions have cast aside the body, like ‘Oh, this is all an illusion and we’re not actually separate, this is all one thing.’ But to condemn the body is totally missing the point, because the body is the portal through which we come to that visceral experience of the eternal... It’s almost like God, or whatever it is, is playing with form. Look at the flower. Some flowers are so crazy, you’re like, “There is something having a gay old time playing with shit,” you know? It’s so weird! They look like Muppets or something.

The ambition of this project — particularly Sea which features a 21-piece orchestra —  seems crazy. Why now?
Well, I’m going to quote Rainer Maria Rilke: “All things consist of a carrying to term and then giving birth.” I feel like two or three years ago, there’s no way I could have made this record. When we recorded Sea, it was two days in June. Six hours of rehearsing and then six hours of recording. So everything was live: I was playing piano and singing, looking through a window and watching the conductor. I was nervous on the first day, but if that had been me two years ago, there’s no way I could have done it. I would have been a mess! But I went in there and I had this feeling of right-ness and fluidity and the doubt was at bay. The doubt’s kind of always there, but I figured out a way to ignore it and lean more heavily on the side that knows, like just knows that this is what I do, like breathing. That’s what I mean about the carrying to term. I don’t think this music would have come to me until those powers had ripened. When you’re confident enough and you have that skill-set, the philosophical footing and groundedness I now have, which is a new thing for me (laughs), when all those things had coalesced to the right point, then the music comes through you. It’s really a magical thing to be able to look at my own evolution spiritually and as a person over the trajectory of my albums. I even look at The Baroness and go, ‘Wow, who is that?’

Is there s a specific moment you can mark that was a turning point between this being a dream and a reality?
Well, I don’t think you ever receive an idea — from wherever they come from, the universe or whatever — I don’t think it comes to you without inherent in it the absolute, affirmed possibility that it can happen. They come together. The idea comes with the promise that it is possible. Just holding that inside, just keeping that little flame burning, was enough to weather the storms of doubt that inevitably come. The storms of like, there’s no more money in my business account. Okay, what do I do now? Which happened twice during this recording! But this is the game of life and this is why I love it so much.

Sarah Slean plays Nov. 23 at Rio Theatre (1660 E. Broadway), 7pm. $28.50 from Ticketmaster.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


My interview with Ohbijou is in this week's WE.

Credit: Supplied

Ohbijou become ‘Metal’ heads

Two years ago, following the success of their critically acclaimed breakthrough album, Beacons, Ohbijou was the likely successor to Canada’s indie pop throne. Well, Arcade Fire held fast to the seat by winning a Grammy and the Polaris Prize, but the six-piece Toronto-based collective has made another winning bid with its lushly orchestrated, sonically thrilling chamber pop follow-up, Metal Meets. WE spoke with lead singer/songwriter Casey Mecija over the phone before the band takes to the road for a lengthy tour, with a stop in Vancouver Nov. 19 at the Biltmore.

The song that kills me on this album is “Slygo.” The intensity and urgency and the refrain — it’s very emotional.
It’s a small town in Ireland that me and my bassist went to on tour just out of university. There’s this legend about this Queen buried on top of this huge mountain that overlooked the town and when we went there, we could see this huge pile of rocks on top of this mountain and it was this really beautiful thing. And in that time, also, they had this beautiful tree where people go and hang up charms and rosaries to commemorate people who have passed.

There’s also this unrelenting hope, like climbing your way out of something.
For sure. That song, and with a lot of our other songs, there’s a desire to communicate something darker and meatier, but also with hope intrinsically attached to it.

That might be the kind of record people need right now.
(Laughs) Yeah. It’s better to latch onto things that are more hopeful than not.

When you write songs are you coming from the observer standpoint or from the first-person?
I think from both. A lot of lyrics are inspired by what’s going on in my life and how I relate to the world outside. A lot of it begins with the proverbial “bedroom” writing. (Laughs) I’m by myself with a guitar and a piano and I usually write lyrics, melodies and all of the music at the same time. It’s this very isolated process to begin with, before entering the writing process with five other people, which transforms it into something completely different.

You travelled the world with Beacons. Did that change your relationship to your writing and with Canada?
We were able to travel abroad and play for different audiences in Japan and all of these crazy places. With travel came a desire to look at the world with more complexity and put that into the lyrics and use different lenses to write songs. We wanted to communicate emotions differently from previous records.

There’s so much texture throughout. Like in “Obsidian” there’s this beautiful moment that reminded me of birds calling out en masse.
We really tried to whip up unique environments for each song. We tried to practise restraint, because that’s really important for us as writers. It’s so easy for six of us to pile on top of each other, so being able to maintain an airiness about each song was really important... Sometimes we have these writing sessions and it’s like, well, we all have these melodies, let’s play them all at the same time! (Laughs)

You’ve got Metal Meets and Feist came out a month later with Metals. Should we arrange a throwdown between you guys?
(Laughs)  I don’t think we would win!

Ohbijou play Nov. 19 at Biltmore, 7pm. $14 (Z, H, RC, TW).

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Penlopiad

My review of the Arts Club's newest production, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad.

Colleen Wheeler (left) and Meg Roe star in the Penelopiad.
Colleen Wheeler (left) and Meg Roe star in the Penelopiad.
Credit: Supplied

The Penelopiad a powerful new take on an old story

Love her or hate her, few can argue that Margaret Atwood knows her way around a woman’s words. The female characters in her books pulse with a tangible complexity: They have wit, intelligence and passion. As a writer, she fills the huge gulf between the stereotypical feminine archetypes of Saint and Slut with a nuance that’s often sorely lacking in literature. And now, with the Arts Club's help, Atwood leaps from the page to the stage with The Penelopiad.

A flipside to the Greek myth of Odysseus, it focuses instead on the hero's wife, Penelope (Meg Roe), and her struggles to keep their kingdom afloat during his decades-long Trojan War absence. She chooses the prettiest, youngest women slaves to become her confidants, and it becomes their job to stave off the thug-like men looking to claim the kingdom — and Penelope — as their own. The women succeed, but at a horrific price.

Structured so that it zigs in and out of time, Penelope alternates between recreating scenes from her life and narrating events in the present day from the spirit world (where she’s haunted by her cousin/rival, Helen of Troy and the slaves she failed). The slaves are portrayed by one of the strongest ensemble casts to ever grace a Vancouver stage: Colleen Wheeler and Laara Sadiq are particular standouts, thanks to showy dual performances as Odysseus and Helen of Troy, respectively. Wheeler, who has played a man with great authority before, fluidly transitions between her two roles perfectly with just the slightest adjustments to her mannerisms and movement.

Wheeler also sparks opposite Roe as Odysseus and Penelope’s sexual connection deepens their marriage. Here Roe goes beyond her usual reliably fantastic state and has, arguably, never been better. She’s regal, womanly and her subtle delivery of Atwood’s deadpan observations and poetic phrasing is spot on. She absorbs the pompous surface of Atwood's words in favour of the author's clever and keen observations.

Director Vanessa Porteous, artistic director of Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects, makes a stunning Vancouver debut. Confident, creative and insightful. With the exception of a faltering quasi-musical segment in act two, I’ve never felt — or welcomed — the presence of a director more.
The Penelopiad offers what might be one of the most daring, innovative and extraordinary productions in the Art Club’s canon. That, friends, is the ultimate in female empowerment.

The Penelopiad runs to Nov. 20 at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 8pm (Wed-Sat), 7:30pm (Tues). Matinees: Wed, Sat-Sun, 2pm. $29-$65 from 604-687-1644.

Michael Jackson The Immortal

My preview of the new Michael Jackson Cirque de soleil show is in this week's WE.

Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the King of Pop is steeped in spectacle, yet grounded in the legendary work ethic  that drove Michael Jackson throughout his life.
Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the King of Pop is steeped in spectacle, yet grounded in the legendary work ethic that drove Michael Jackson throughout his life.
Credit: Supplied

Long Live the King of Pop

Fan or not, Michael Jackson’s untimely death in 2009 signified the end of an era in pop music. And for better or worse, it ensured a veritable onslaught of Jackson-inspired revues, music and merch. But few tributes have the scope and grandeur of Cirque de Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, which makes its Vancouver debut Friday, Nov. 4, a mere month after its world premiere in Montreal.
Immortal offers up a survey of Jackson’s impressive repertoire, from his cute-kid days in the Jackson Five through his solo heydays with Thriller, Bad and Dangerous to the eve of his much-hyped but never realized comeback. It’s exacting, precise and gloriously over-the-top — very much like the man himself, according to Immortal singer Fred White, who toured with Jackson during his HIStory Tour a decade ago.

“Every little nuance vocally, every ping of the cymbals or anything in percussion they do, every little move with the head or the hands, to even the stuff I do with the singing, everything is so detailed,” White says. “We had four choreographers who worked with Michael and they’re keeping it the way Michael would do it.”

By all accounts, Immortal is as obsessively by-the-book as Jackson was when it came to creative precision. The cast and production crew bios read like a sneak-peek of Jackson’s CV: White, musical director Greg Phillinganes and writer/director Jamie King and countless other Immortals earned their entertainment industry stripes under Jackson’s tutelage. On Cirque’s part, it’s ingenious: every member is emotionally invested in protecting Jackson’s legacy, and has first-hand experience with the man’s meticulous nature and legendary work ethic, ensuring there’s substance at the foundation of all the spectacle.

Immortal’s producers also secured previously unreleased and unheard Michael Jackson recordings, which are used throughout the show.

“There were tracks we heard of him singing that I’d never heard before,” White recalls. “I am still amazed by him. In particular, there’s a track of him singing ‘I’ll Be There,’ where his voice is isolated, and he was really young, and it’s like, ‘Wow. He was singing at that level at that young age.’ And he just kept getting better and better as he got older. That made me go, like, ‘Okay, I need to readjust. I thought I was really on it, but now I need to get it together!’ It got me to go to another level. He’s still teaching us now. It’s really great.”

Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour runs Nov. 4-6 at Rogers Arena. $50-$250 (TM).