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Previewing the 2017 Canadian Film Fest

March 21, 2017

By John Corrado

The Canadian Film Fest is back again and, dare I say, bigger than ever.  For starters this year, the festival has moved from The Royal Cinema to Scotiabank, and will be running for a full five days, up from the previous four.

The festival is also boasting its largest ever lineup of ten features, which gets started tonight with #AnAmericanDream.  Things will close on Saturday night with the premiere of the already hyped “Rob Ford movie” Filth City.  The festival is also continuing to highlight homegrown short films, with at least one playing before every feature, and a showcase on the weekend.

I’ve enjoyed previewing this festival over the past several years and always find stuff to enjoy and, while I wish I’d had time to watch more of the 2017 slate, this year is no different.  Below are my brief thoughts on five of the ten features that will be screening, and tickets and showtimes can be found right here.  Enjoy!

#AnAmericanDream: When we first meet William Bowman (Jake Croker), he is a high school football star in farmland America, who gets overwhelmed whenever his parents try to talk about his future.  Then he suffers a concussion on the field, and suddenly the narrative shifts to him getting a cushy financial job in New York.  From here, #AnAmericanDream takes us down a rabbit hole that veers between religious and sociopolitical satire, conspiracy thriller and chase movie, exploring the increasing absurdities of 21st century America.  Written and directed by Ken Finkleman, who is perhaps best known for directing Airplane II: The Sequel over thirty years ago, this is an ambitious high concept satire that skewers everything from corrupt politicians and religious zealots, to reality shows, gun culture and the terrifying implications of living in a surveillance state, as the story moves briskly from one whacked out situation to another.  Although not every element works equally well, this is a twisted and entertaining ride that is often manically unpredictable to watch, before pulling off one shocker of a final scene.  It’s going to be an acquired taste, but I enjoyed the ballsy absurdity of it all.

Edging: Jordan (Shomari Downer) is a young adult who has just realized his dream of buying a house, and is hosting a housewarming party for his friends and colleagues, where he ends up spending most of the evening in his garage obsessing over his broken garage door opener.  The feature directorial debut of Natty Zavitz, working from his own screenplay, Edging is a small film that is predominantly dialogue-driven and is set mostly in a single location, not unlike a stage play.  The film unfolds in segments that show Jordan’s conversations with his somewhat estranged buddy Nick (Andy McQueen), his longtime friend Rachael (Paula Brancati) and his latest crush Bree (Parveen Kaur), as they all force each other to confront various relationship issues and quarter-life crises.  The film also works in a delightful subplot involving his co-workers (Giacomo Gianniotti and Aidan Shipley), who barely know Jordan but spend the entire time arguing over what makes the best housewarming gift and doing lines of cocaine in his bathroom.  Although Edging might seem slight, it’s actually pretty good for something that was filmed over four days in someone’s garage during the winter, and I mean that as a compliment.  This is a believably acted and written slice of life drama, that maintains interest through sharp dialogue at a compact 73 minutes, and provides a fine showcase for all involved.

Great Great Great: Lauren (Sarah Kolasky) seemingly has it all figured out, with a nice apartment, solid job and longterm relationship.  But when the subject of marriage comes up with her somewhat overly co-dependent but genuinely sweet boyfriend Tom (Dan Beirne), she goes through a bit of a quarter-life crisis and embarks on an affair with a creepy old flame named David (Richard Clarkin), who to blur boundaries even further has just been hired as her new boss.  The second feature from writer-director Adam Garnet Jones, who made a pretty solid debut with the native LGBT drama Fire Song in 2015, Great Great Great is a bit of a sophomore slump for the filmmaker.  Sarah Kolasky, who also co-wrote the script, does fine work in the leading role, but Tom is so well-meaning and David is such an obvious scumbag that it’s hard to ever really sympathize with her character, which can make the film somewhat frustrating to watch.  This is an alright character study that features decent performances, and I suppose it will ring true for some people, but it’s a hard film for me to fully embrace.

Modern Classic: Jono (Jonathan M.B. Hunter) and Dave (David Grimes) are a pair of friends who are trying to produce a surrealistic black and white art film entitled Doldrums, about a struggling alcoholic who is knocked out with a shovel and accidentally kills his dog.  But as Jono struggles to find financing so that he can direct the project, and Dave succumbs to real life drunkenness in an attempt to go method and prove himself capable of the role, their friendship starts to become frayed.  It can be hard to make a good film about making a film, but Modern Classic succeeds with an air of authenticity that rings true to the creative process, even as it takes darkly satirical turns.  Directed by Jonathan M.B. Hunter, from a semi-autobiographical screenplay that he co-wrote with David Grimes inspired by their own real life attempts to get a hard to sell film off the ground, the story engagingly explores how Jono runs the risk of selling himself out, as Dave faces the very real worry that his best friend will throw him under the bus in order to pursue his own fame.  Built around solid performances from the two leads, who share believable chemistry together even in their most contentious onscreen moments, Modern Classic is an entertaining and often relatable dark comedy about the filmmaking process and how it effects a friendship, that isn’t afraid to take risks and shows great promise for its creative team.

Filth City: When Mayor Hogg (Pat Thornton) of York is caught on tape smoking crack with a bunch of young gang members, he will do everything in his power to keep the video out of the hands of the press, and hide his drug habits from the public eye, a task that seems nearly impossible.  Reporter Myriam Keen (Siobahn Murphy) and rival mayoral candidate Eve Knight (Kathleen Phillips-Locke) want the video for their own gain, and there’s also rogue cop Randy Kapowski (Danny Polishchuk), who teams up with a young cyber crimes detective turned crack addict (Keven Soldo), to track down the tape and expose corruption in their unit.  To complicate things further, Mayor Hogg is coming up for reelection, and refusing to strike a deal with the worker’s union on a lengthy garbage strike that is leaving trash strewn around the city.  Sound sorta familiar?  That’s because Filth City is loosely inspired by the late Mayor Rob Ford and the real crack tape scandal that unfolded in Toronto a few years ago, with a lot of dramatic liberties taken for the sake of satire.  The result is a rollicking crime caper chock full of colourful characters, and set in a world of drug dealers, crooked cops and corrupt politicians.

Pretty much all of the infamous Rob Ford moments are done here in one form or another, and Pat Thornton makes the most of his role in a performance that is always recognizable, approaching the level of full-on impersonation.  Now some of the humour does end up feeling kind of obvious like the film is just hitting easy targets, and because Filth City was initially created as a twelve episode web series that has been edited into a two hour film, it feels somewhat episodic and does run a little long.  But the film is consistently entertaining in its characterizations, and the increasingly wacky plot developments keep us watching, as Filth City carves out its own world that is like an extreme version of ours.  Doug Ford has already publicly dismissed it sight unseen following the release of the trailer, so you know it’s striking a nerve, and any Torontonians who experienced the craziness of the Rob Ford years first hand are sure to be laughing and nodding along.  It’s a fun reimagining of our city’s recent events.

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