A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #102 - WEEK OF AUGUST 29-SEPTEMBER 4, 2016

Film fest courts Nollywood, rock royalty and controversy

Clockwise from top left: Nigerian gritty crime-com Oko Ashewo (Cab Driver) ; rock-doc The Rolling Stones Olé! Olé! Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America and the pre-U.S. Civil War drama The Birth of A Nation make some waves for the 41st Toronto International Film Festival.

Toronto International Film Festival 2016 Preview

For the forty-first edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the organizers have their three hundred-plus films to run from September 8th to the 18th choosing some bold moves in bringing in this year’s City to City guest on Lagos as a coming-out party for Nigeria’s booming film industry into a wider global perspective, a new world-premiere concert documentary on the Rolling Stones; plus two films that have already garnered some welcome praise and unwelcome baggage to the fest (more on those later).

The Galas line-up has eighteen films, among them are Montréal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s close encounter SF/thriller Arrival; disaster docudrama Deepwater Horizon on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster; Antoine Fuqua’s inclusive remake of The Magnificent Seven; Rob Reiner’s look at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, LBJ; teen romance-drama The Edge of Seventeen; true-life biopic of a young photojournalist cut down in his prime in The Journey is The Destination; Snowden, Oliver Stone’s highly-anticipated exposé at the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden; family-based dramas Queen of Katwe about a Ugandan teen who aspires to become a world-class chess master and A Monster Calls about a preteen boy struggling to deal with his mother’s illness until a monster comes along to teach him courage and inner strength; British WWII comedy/drama Their Finest; Richard Gere geopolitical drama vehicle Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer and the love triangle story The Promise, set in pre-WWI Turkey.

Also in the line-up are two interracial real-life love stories A United Kingdom, about young African tribal king Seretse Khama who dared to marry a British woman in 1947 and unsettled both his native Buchanaland (present-day Botswana)’s neighbour apartheid South Africa and England’s social and political mores; and Loving of Virginian couple Richard and Mildred Loving who spent a decade fighting their state’s anti-miscegenation laws that eventually were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

Two documentary concerts get their Gala world premieres: Jonathan Demme’s return to the genre on Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids’s 20/20 Experience World Tour Las Vegas closeout performance simply titled Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids and The Rolling Stones Olé! Olé! Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America, following the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band on their most recent South American tour that concluded with their historic first-ever date in Havana, Cuba earlier this year.

The camera eye goes on the Nigerian capital of Lagos’ film industry – known popularly as Nollywood – by getting the red carpet treatment in the fest’s City to City programme. “Hundreds of films are made every year in Lagos for a voracious audience around the world,” said TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey. “Our City to City spotlight brings some of Nollywood’s most popular filmmakers together with new voices who are introducing an alternative indie spirit to Nigerian cinema. We’re excited to share this unprecedented showcase of talent from Lagos with our Toronto audience.” Films included in the showcase will be 76, based on the failed 1976 military coup d’etat in the wake of Nigeria’s Civil War and the effect it has on one coup plotter’s pregnant wife; crime-comedy Oko Ashewo (Taxi Driver) of a young cabdriver reluctantly caught up in the seedy underworld of Lagos; the coming-of-age drama Green White Green and rom-coms The Wedding Party and Okafor’s Law.

In the Platform series that has the contested juried Toronto Platform Prize of $25,000 up for grabs will be twelve filmmakers; among them are Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s French ghost romantic-fantasy Daguerrotype; Australian outback thriller Goldstone; the Shakespearean-inspired period piece Lady Macbeth; topical drama Layla M. of a radicalized Moroccan-Dutch teen who later ponders the consequences of her beliefs; Jackie, the brave historical-drama of Jacqueline Kennedy’s recovery to carry on after the murder of John F. Kennedy and retain her dignity and husband’s legacy; drama-thriller Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves about four revolutionary Québécois youths who graduate from common radical graffiti artwork to borderline terrorism and Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) is back with his Northwestern revenge tale Maliglutit (Searchers).

For Contemporary World Cinema, it ranges from period dramas to today’s headline grabbers: Death in Sarajevo sees an aging hotel caught in a ideological crossfire during the centennial marking of the outbreak of World War I from Bosnia; the Haitian post-2011 earthquake neorealist fable Ayiti Mon Amour; Singaporean prison drama Apprentice about a state executioner re-examining his country’s death penalty when it personally effects him; timely French socio-cultural drama Heaven Will Wait looks at two teens who are first drawn to go fight in the Syrian Revolution and those who try to stop them before it’s too late and the Romanian moral drama The Fixer where a novice journalist caught up in a political sex scandal tries to make it work to his advantage, only to find it getting more complicated as it grows enough to gnaw at his conscience.

Two films that are bringing a little headache to TIFF before they even get screened are Walter Hill’s latest, (re)Assignment, a bloodied revenge-thriller of a contract killer out to get payback on the vengeful plastic surgeon who forcibly changed him from a man to a woman, has brought out the trans-gendered community to call for a boycott of the film for perpetrating stereotypes and The Birth of a Nation, the talked-about docudrama about the Nat Turner Rebellion twenty years before the American Civil War and a critical darling at this year’s Sundance Festival; currently beset by revelations about its filmmakers Nate Parker and Jean Celestin over a campus rape allegation in 1999 which both were eventually acquitted of. Yet the accuser committed suicide in 2012, and this now threatens the film’s wide release in October and possible awards season chances, especially with its presence at TIFF and the organizers’ continuous stand to present the film come what may.

Up on the documentary block are Steve James’ ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail of a Chinatown bank in New York City during the onset of the 2008 Great Recession; Errol Harris’ new film The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography; the James Baldwin doc on his unfinished final novel I Am Not Your Negro from Haitian director Raoul Peck; María José Cuevas’ examination of aging Mexican burlesque stars in Beauties of the Night; The Ivory Game delves into the illicit ivory trade; Morgan Spurlock taking a unusual look at the worldwide culling methods on rats with the Midnight Madness offering, Rats; Michael Tucker’s Karl Marx City uncovers the East German Statsi secret police during the Cold War and three docs that fêtes at music legends, Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, I Call Him Morgan on the late jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan’s tragic crime-of-passion murder and The Sixth Beatle about Sam Leach, the band’s near-forgotten manager.

For families, TIFF Kids will show The Eagle Huntress about a Mongolian teenaged girl becoming the first female in twelve generations to become an eagle hunter and her skills are put to the test out on the steppes of northwestern Mongolia in this Daisy Ridley-narrated/executive produced documentary; Netherlander road tale The Day My Father Became A Bush as a ten-year old must travel across a war zone to her mother when her baker father is called to service; French teen romance-melodrama Miss Impossible and the animated My Life as a Courgette where a nine-year old French orphan ends up in a orphanage and learns to make the best of his lot among the other kids who have similar situations worse than his own.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakout star Daisy Ridley narrates The Eagle Huntress about Mongolian thriteen-year old Aisholpan and her goal to be the first female Eagle Hunter in the sport’s two-thousand year history and up against 70 male competitors at the annual Golden Eagle Festival, which Ridley co-executive produced along with Morgan Spurlock, who is also premiering his latest documentary, Rats, at this year’s TIFF.

TIFF sits down with their In Conversation With… programme with the industry’s movers and shakers with the likes of Mark Wahlberg (September 13), Palestinian actor/filmmaker Haim Abbass (September 13), Nollywood rising stars Kunle Afolayan and Genevieve Nnaji (September 11), Brazilian legend Sônia Braga (September 12), French icon Isabelle Huppert (September 10), Bollywood Renaissance man Karan Johar (September 10) and international superstar Zhang Ziyi (September 15).

The seven-day Industry Conference (September 9 to 15) talks shop with today’s filmmakers from the role of women in the industry with the documentary The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem followed by a roundtable discussion with its director Caroline Suh and executive producers Laura Michalchyshyn and Stacey Offman (September 12); the TIFF Doc Conference (September 13) on documentary filmmaking with several keynote speakers and a special focus of filming in Europe in the wake of first Brexit vote and the future of financing international film projects there.

And the free street party Festival Street for the first weekend of the fest (September 9 to 11) along John and King Street West and University Streets near TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West Street) coming back for its third popular year, has musical acts, food truck vendors, virtual reality booths and two free screenings of ‘80s cult classics celebrating their thirtieth anniversaries, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Labyrinth and a exclusive TIFF Members-only September 10th screening of Hidden Figures, based on three African-American women who were the unsung heroes behind the American space race program in the 1960s, that includes a cast Q&A and mini-concert with one of the stars of the film, hit maker singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams, who also contributed to the soundtrack.

***

Individual tickets go on sale to the public September 4 at 9 a.m. For information, call 1-888-599-8433 or visit tiff.net/festival.

Outdoorsy Tragic Dane barks and bites

Hamlet (Canadian Stage/York University Theatre)

Amphitheatre at High Park, 1873 Bloor Street West

Saturday, August 27; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

After thirty-four seasons, it’s hard to even fathom that up until this year Canadian Stage has never done a Shakespeare in High Park presentation of one of the Immortal Bard’s most famous plays, Hamlet. Under the direction of Birgit Schreyer Duarte they take a few creative liberties in eschewing some of the supportive scenes, characters and dialogue, yet it’s just as intense as a full-fledged production can carry on its timeless tale of madness and revenge.

Danish prince Hamlet (Frank Cox-O’Connell) isn’t too happy when his uncle Claudius (Alon Nashman) ascends to the throne and marries his queenly mother Gertrude (Rachel Jones) after the sudden death of his beloved father. He gets even more upset when his father’s ghost (also Nashman) approaches him one night to reveal that he’d been murdered by the ambitious Claudius and vows retribution with his best friend Horatio (Qasim Khan) being his witness.

In feigning insanity to cloak his plans, it spirals deeper and deeper into his darkness when it draws in the court aide Polonius (Nicky Guadagni), her fragile daughter and Hamlet’s beloved Ophelia (Rose Tuong) and distraught son Laertes (Kaleb Alexander) in the vortex where even he starts to question his own state of mind and whether the costs that comes with vengeance is worth the price for justice.

This adaptation of Hamlet is the sharpest one I’ve seen in ages with Cox-O’Connell’s titular antihero being deep and moody in all his soliloquies and rages most appropriately when he does throughout; Tuong as the confused love well performed with all her despairs attached; Nashman as the inwardly guilt-riddled yet unbowed Claudius pulls his own weight as does Jones’ conflicted Gertrude. Two interesting changes are the gender-flipped roles of Polonius by Guadagni, Mina James does Fortinbras as a Norwegian she-warrior and from Raechel Fisher playing Rosencrantz, now a royal psychiatrist here (the Guildenstern role got axed) are unique and refreshing takes on the characters.

Canadian Stage does a fine first take on the tragic Dane tale in pace with steady nerve in the casting and direction that also includes some folk music and a little cinema and everything else from the costume design of Michelle Tracey and Oz Weaver’s lighting on Teresa Przybylski’s gorgeous stage layout to the eerily dark score by Lyon Smith to punctuate the moods, not to mention some underlying comedy that appears organically fluid with timing by the cast. It’ll be ending this summer run soon, so see this one while you can – along with its alternative double-bill All’s Well That Ends Well – for goodness knows when the company will do another one again.

***

Hamlet continues through to this Saturday (September 3) on alternative days Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, PWYC ($20 suggested). For tickets and information, call 416-368-3110 or visit canadianstage.com.

Cathartic Nicolas

Nicolas

by Pascal Girard; translated from French by Helge Dascher

106 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books

Hardcover, $16.95

Graphic Novel and Comics/Literary

Book Review

The loss of a child weighs an eternal heavy burden on any family member as Québécois cartoonist star Pascal Girard opens up for his most personal work to date, Nicolas. From the acclaimed author of Reunion, Bigfoot and Petty Thief, he’s taken work that he did from a previously published work from 2008 over the death of his brother twenty-five years earlier as he was just making his professional debut and adds new material that was already emotional and enhances it as his catharsis he’s still yet to deal with.

When Girard was nine, his five-year old brother Nicolas suddenly died from congenital lactic acidosis, a rare disease of lactic acid build-up in the body; that had a major impact on his life. Throughout the book, we see varying stages of him questioning on Nicolas’ passing first as a simple childlike demeanour on death when he’s entering his tweens before it goes into other behaviours of drowning his sorrows in the heady adolescence experiments with drugs and alcohol to the hauntingly ironic reminder of his death date during the September 11th attacks.

Notably it affects Gerard’s relationships with his first adult girlfriend he’d been with for almost a decade at that point, his surviving youngest brother Joël who was born sometime after Nicolas’ death and sometimes while at the drafting table. Now with a new girlfriend, he searches for peace with himself and others whenever he grapples with anxiety disorder through therapy, bridging a better bond with Joël and looking for closure every day as it comes through positive means.

Keeping the usual Jeffrey Brown-style vignette narration, Girard doesn’t whitewash his feelings of confusion and grief mixed in with anger over a beloved sibling’s death. By not redoing the earlier work to keep the rawness pure and undiluted to what he had drawn a decade before is a smart move here whereas a more perfectionist cartoonist would have done it all over again, but probably wouldn’t get the same kind of results.

In the Afterword section that picks things up to the near-present, the polished work is deftly honest on revealing his fears and unfinished mourning that he may never get over with, but can live with it in the passage of time of healing that he hopes will make it better. Nicolas is Gerard at his frankest depth as a cartoonist story-wise yet and while it may not be a lengthy piece of work, the scale and subject of it speaks volumes.