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This week, catch up with some of the best documentaries of the year: animated doc Archipelago, featured in our latest ebook Subjective realities, is screening in Canada and the US; The Meaning of Empathy is screening in the US and Ontario; and North By Current is screening in North America.
Wherever you are in the world, catch up with one of the indie gems of the year, Everything in the End, on Sept 23 at the Vail Film Festival.
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Virtual film festivals
Creative nonfiction films featured in Subjective Realities
Archipelago - until September 26 in Canada and the US
In our recent ebook on creative nonfiction film, Subjective realities: The art of creative nonfiction film, I interviewed Québécois filmmaker Félix Dufour-Lapperière about his gorgeous animated film Archipelago, which is still making the rounds at film festivals. The interview appears in our case study on animated documentaries. This week only, you can catch it in both Canada and the US!
Québécois animator Félix Dufour-Laperrière makes his first foray into documentary filmmaking with Archipelago, which mixes archival footage with animation to tell the story of the land along the St. Lawrence River. Working from a documentary about the St. Lawrence from the 1940s, which itself is an inaccurate depiction of the region at the time, Dufour-Laperrière annotates, paints over, and plays with the footage, and in turn, our sense of the history of the land.
Our guide through the territory is a woman who represents the river, an animated outline whose body is made up of live action footage of the river. She’s in conversation with a man, talking about the land, its twists and turns and islands, and how it’s changed over time. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of the impermanence of the people who live on the land: a group of dancers from the archival footage are animated into ghost-like figures; a collection of animated people rise up from the river and into the heavens.
Although the film is told mostly from a French settler perspective, the film does acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples who were there first. Innu poet Joséphine Baconinterrupts the narrative with her poem about the land, in Innu-aimun, as a reminder that our entrenched narratives about history tend to ignore the presence of Indigenous Peoples. Throughout, Dufour-Laperrière asks us to question how we tell the story of our land, how much that story is told by the dominant culture, and how that story changes over time as the culture itself changes.
Working with twelve different animators in an improvisatory style — no storyboards or detailed plans were used — allows Dufour-Laperrière to create an always inventive and surprising visual style. Each stop we make along the St. Lawrence unlocks secrets of the land and its people, sometimes with small, personal stories, and sometimes, with stories of a broader community.
Click here for tickets in the US at the Camden International Film Fest (until Sept 26).
Click here for tickets in Canada (Sept 22-29) at the Ottawa Animation Film Fest.
More of the best nonfiction films of the year!
Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy - US and Ontario only - until Sept 26
One of the best documentaries (and films) of the year hails from the Kainai First Nation in Canada and is streaming in Ontario and the US this week at two different festivals.
Here's an excerpt from Orla's intro to her interview with Tailfeathers:
Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy opens on a herd of buffalo grazing against the gorgeous landscape of the Kainai First Nation in Alberta. As we watch a mother and child buffalo nuzzle against each other, the soundtrack mingles a gentle score with the sounds of a woman speaking to a newborn baby. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’s Kímmapiiyipitssini is a documentary about the opioid crisis ravaging Tailfeathers’s own community of the Kainai First Nation. It’s fitting that a film that approaches that topic with such empathy and humanism doesn’t begin with sensationalised imagery of harm, but images and sounds of parental love and caring.
In Tailfeathers’s own words, “Kímmapiiyipitssini is this Blackfoot teaching that we give empathy and kindness as a means for survival.” In keeping with this teaching, her film advocates for the controversial practice of “harm reduction” as a more humane and effective way to treat those who live with substance use disorder. As Tailfeathers explains in voiceover, the most common practice of treating addiction is preaching abstinence, perpetuated by guidance like twelve step programs. But that simply isn’t realistic for many people addicted to strong and deadly substances like fentanyl, which entered Tailfeathers’s community seven years ago and has since caused countless deaths by overdose. Harm reduction advocates that patients be provided an alternative drug that’s safer and easier to regulate, so that they can continue their daily lives without painful withdrawal symptoms.
Read the interview.
Click here for tickets in the US at the Camden International Film Festival until September 26.
Click here for tickets in Ontario.
North by Current - Sept 19-26 - available in North America
One of the best works of personal creative nonfiction of the year had its premiere at the Berlinale before heading to the Frameline Film Festival among others. Don't miss your chance to catch it now. It still has yet to secure North American distribution.
Here's an excerpt from the introduction to Orla's interview with director Angelo Madsen Minax:
For filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax, returning home to rural Michigan meant confronting his demons and helping to rebuild a fractured family unit. For years, he kept his distance from home, moving to the big city where he could embrace and explore his transgender identity away from his Mormon upbringing. About ten years ago, the death of his young niece, Kalla, changed everything. Minax returned home to support his grieving sister and parents. He was also there to fight against his brother-in-law’s prison sentence: his brother-in-law was accused of killing Kalla, a sentence which was later revoked when it was exposed that the police had covered up evidence. From this trying time, the project of making North by Current was born.
North by Current is a lyrical documentary, shot periodically between 2015 and 2021, capturing Minax and his family’s journey through grieving. Minax describes it as an “essay film”: it’s heavy on subjective voiceover, some of which is voiced by Minax himself, and some by an unidentified child narrator. It’s never explained who this child is: Are they an imagined version of Kalla? Minax or his sister as children? Or some other, omniscient being, here to provide a spiritual commentary on the situation? This ambiguous voiceover is part and parcel with the film’s singular perspective, more concerned with capturing a state of mind or a feeling than telling us everything about Minax and his family.
Minax has made a beautiful film in North by Current, but ultimately, the film itself is secondary to the process of making it. As Minax told me, “I wanted there to be an outlet for us to do something together that was not just survival. Those two years [after Kalla’s death] were basically just about staying alive, staying out of prison. That was a dire time.” Making a film allowed Minax to create a space for reflection and healing for the family unit. In the film, he doesn’t just work through the lasting trauma of Kalla’s death, but the wider unresolved trauma in his family, including the conflict with his parents regarding his transition.
Read the interview.
Click here for tickets at the Camden Film Festival.
Vail Film Festival - Worldwide!
Everything in the End - worldwide - Sept 23 at 11am EDT for 48 hrs
One of the best films to world premiere in 2021, and still seeking distribution. Don't miss your chance to catch it.
Here's an excerpt from Orla's intro to her interview with the director Mylissa Fitzsimmons:
At Sundance in January, two films premiered that eerily predicted the pandemic, despite being shot before the pandemic: The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet and The Pink Cloud. Now, joining their ranks is Mylissa Fitzsimmons’s contemplative feature debut, Everything in the End, although its echoes of the pandemic are more spiritual than literal. Fitzsimmons drops us in rural Iceland, by the sea, where a young Portugese man named Paulo (Hugo de Sousa) wanders alone through the gorgeous landscape. He’s on a trip that he and his mother were meant to take together, but after her passing, he’s come alone. Paulo, who is quiet and withdrawn, is often framed as a lone figure dwarfed by a majestic landscape. There’s an emotional and physical distance that exists between him and everyone around him. Sound familiar?
Fortunately, Everything in the End feels healing to watch during a pandemic, rather than depressing, because we watch Paulo do what we are all longing to do: make connections with other people. The film is structured around a series of conversations Paulo has with people he meets in the surrounding area, many of them strangers. Paulo and the strangers pour their hearts out to each other. They talk about life, death, regret, and what might have been. Slowly, as a viewer, we start to realise that something surreal is going on.
Despite its low-key, conversational nature, Everything in the End is actually a high-concept film about the end of the world. Paulo’s trip happens to coincide with an impending apocalypse. Yet Fitzsimmons isn’t too concerned about the details of how and why and when the world is going to end. We never see a news report or footage of panicked citizens in big cities. In the confined bubble of rural Iceland, the apocalypse is a hazy backdrop to Paulo’s personal grieving process, for his mother and for the world. The five strangers he meets each represent a different stage of the grieving process, each bringing him closer and closer to acceptance.
Read the full interview.
Click here for tickets worldwide.
Alex Heeney, Editor-in-Chief
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