Monday, March 04, 2013

Cinequest Continues

Yesterday evening at Cinequest I saw an incredibly powerful and well made film, an entertaining short, and a feature which was underdeveloped and all too predictable. Sadly I saw the films in that order - and so ended with the least inspiring film of the night...

To begin with I saw the feature We Were Children. This film tells the powerful and tragic story of a childhood marred by state sponsored abuse as it follows the stories of two Aboriginal children in Canada taken from their families to be placed in the Indian Residential School system where they are isolated from their cultures and placed in religious schools. This film is uniquely constructed with interviews and voice overs from Lyna Hart and Glen Anaquod each telling their personal stories combined with reenactments bringing the stories to life visually from their childhood perspectives.

The story is told in a harsh and honest way including beatings, sexual abuse, language isolation, malnourishment of the children, and how they preserved despite the suffering they were made to endure. The priests and nuns are shown both in moments of empathy as well as in their most despicable moments abusing those they are tasked with teaching. The vulnerability of the children and the knowledge that this abuse is not limited only to Canada, but is a much larger problem spanning churches and schools around the globe make this a very relevant film for all audiences. Furthermore the Indian Residential School system was abolished not even a decade ago, so the social effects of the discrimination and abuse endured for generations is an ongoing issue in Canada today.

You will likely not enjoy watching this film. It feels disgusting to acknowledge how perverse what these children were made to endure. But it is for that reason you should watch this film. It is a story that must be heard. I think it would be a very useful tool for teachers of history in high schools and universities as it provokes discussion and engagement in equal parts a very visceral way and an intellectual way (And for those who read my last post on cinequest - this passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.)

I then left Camera 12 to head to the San Jose Rep to watch a short film and a feature film.

The short, David Sedaris's The Learning Curve, was witty, enjoyable and fun much like the source material. Given it was a short and told from the point of view of a male protagonist, I'm not surprised at all that it failed to pass the Bechdel test, but it was a well done short with a good sense of pacing, well timed laughs, enough quirks to have it's own visual style and it was well acted.

However I ended the evening on a lesser note with Leave of Absence. This one just felt flat...

As Cinequest's guide described the film:
In a comedy where the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” plays true, the question is: Is it ever too late to “figure it all out”? Jason (Jason Thompson, General Hospital) is a thirty-something college graduate happily cohabitating with his girlfriend, but unhappily working as a waiter. When a doctor orders him to take a FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) for thirty days, Jason finds himself with a newfound freedom – to slack. His loving and supportive girlfriend Heather (Heather Case Miller, American Pie: Band Camp) encourages him to find a new job but Jason instead lounges with his friends Acer and Clarke. As days tick by Jason must decide: what life does he want to live, and will Heather be there with him? – Terra Wood-Taylor
... And to be honest, that was all there was to it. It didn't develop much beyond that synopsis and it felt self indulgent for the male parts and the girl friend felt like a caricature of every nagging girlfriend stereotype. It was written, directed and produced by Jeff Prugh and Jason Thompson - and unlike Michael Ferrell of Twenty Million People - it wasn't pulled off successfully. I think they would have benefited immensely from outside feedback to help flesh it out because it was an idea that could have resonated well given how many in our current generation are facing the challenge of figuring out their lives in trying circumstances, but its execution didn't do much for the initial idea. Added strike against it - does not pass the Bechdel test. Boo.

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