Monday, September 28, 2015
So begins the Yellowknife International Film Festival, a whole week dedicated to northern filmmakers. For the low price of nothing, patrons got to see a series of short films at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre. 4 short films play over the first hour, each one unique in genre, style and performance.
What is a Weetigo?
In Cree Mythology, it is described as an evil spirit known to be as tall as a tree with a black face and no lips. Cabin dwellers say it takes the form of a giant woman, wandering from cabin to cabin. It spreads fear by pressing its face on the windows, staring in with its black eyes. What is most terrifying is its ability to possess people and force them to do despicable things, especially cannibalism. Is it any wonder it is also known as “the Cannibal Spirit”? And that is what the heroes of this short film are about to encounter.
A Guy (Steve Norn) wakes up alone in the middle of the forest. He searches for any sign of human life, suspecting he’s being followed. He ends up encountering Billy Bob and Norman Jean, a red neck couple obsessed with meat. As you can probably guess, someone’s going to regret encountering the other.
The film also played at the local Dead North Festival, a collection of amateur horror films. Boy, you can really feel the amateur of this film. First of all, first 10 minutes are the reason Screenwriting classes tell their students to “enter a scene as late as possible, leave the scene as early as possible.” It mostly consists of Guy running across the woods with cuts to scenes of nature, which went on for so long I nearly fell asleep. These could have been cut from the short an no one would have missed it.
The film only comes alive when Guy encounters the Hicks, who fit every stereotype of the inbred rednecks, right down to the rotted crystal meth teeth. Holy Hell, are they obsessed with meat. I’m not kidding. Nearly every sentence they utter has the word “meat” in it. They practically have a fetish for meat.
Now, I’m perfectly aware of the film’s low budget. But with a creative mind and the right resources, Not only can a director work around the budget, but they can use it to their advantage, just like George A. Romero did with Night of the Living Dead or John Carpenter with Halloween. But in lesser hands, it can come off as corny and unintentionally hilarious. Unfortunately, Weetigo fits in the latter category. The creature of Weetigo is so obviously fake shark teeth and blue contact lenses. Fortunately, there’s some unintentional humour in the film.
Actor Steve Norn was there for Q and A. He was mostly asked joke questions having to do with the film. He was a good sport about it, admitting there were things he wished he could have done with the role. He’s accepted what on the screen.
We now go from a 20 minute horror flick to a 3 minute visualization of a poem.
The film starts with a beautiful image of a woman in a red dress staring into a mirror, surrounded by candlelight. She is a northern woman coming to terms with her loneliness and isolation in the Canadian Sub-arctic. Director Mary Caroline Cox embodies this internal journey with the woman stroll around a snow castle.
Throughout the film, a piano plays in the background and the woman recites a poem conveying the feeling of being astray. Here’s a sample:
“The days have grown into darkness
The geese have flown away
My heart is led astray”
It’s short, simple and an enlightening appetizer for the festival.
WEDDING ON MUSSEL ISLAND:
In Lulu Keating’s video essay, she discusses her changing viewpoints on marriage. At the age of 11, her mother admitted she never wanted to have kids, but due to the pressure of social norms, she ended up married with 11 kids. Keating herself at first thought about joining a nunnery rather than get married, but then she met the right guy. Then her son feels in love and wanted to marry at age 16. Keating told him to wait.
10 years later, the young man’s love proved strong and he and his love began their unusual wedding on Mussel Island.
In the first half, Keating’s 4 minute short film serves as a confessional about weddings. In the second half, she steps back and devotes the rest of the time to the wedding. While her son sings “Break Waves,” we see home movies of a loving couple enjoying a wedding of Mohawks, wine glasses and the groom’s own band performing in a tent. Sure there were some problems, from the Nova Scotia weather to a boat breaking down, but they never let that stop them.
The first hour ends with a surrealistic art flick. Daniel Forster (Luc-Martial Dagenais) is a meek limo driver who was on his daily routine when he hears a banging from his trunk. Inside the truck is Pete (Dominik Michon-Dagenais), tied up with no idea how he got there. Neither knows how he got there. Daniel takes Pete on his daily routine in hopes of taking him home. But this boy proves to be trouble as he antagonizes Daniel’s clients.
Directors Kevin Magliulo and Samuel Cloutier make it clear they aren’t going for realism with this film. Daniel’s clients fit the stereotype of rich people from the pudgy banker with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist to the uptight old lady. Pete is the typical teenage troublemaker, always giving a mocking smug attitude to authority figures of adults. Even Daniel is a pushover, especially when he’s constantly beaten down by the old lady. In a way, it serves to give the film a satirical edge. Plus, the actors do a good job of grounding their characters where others would have gone more over the top.
Adding to the abstract feel of the film is the gorgeous black and white cinematography from Jacques Dedernais. He also creates a blurry background around the limo, creating a feeling of isolation for Daniel.
On the surface level, Pete serves as a Daniel’s foil as he antagonizes both “Dany” and his clients. But as the film progresses, Pete seem to embody the thoughts Daniel want to repress. Through his antagonism and smug questions, Pete exposes the hypocrisies of the rich clients. In one scene, Pete is able to figure out a client’s has not been golfing but is having an affair. He asks the man if he thinks his wife is sad. Appalled by how Daniel lets people walk all over him, Pete taunts Daniel to try to make him stand up for himself. But in the end, the film reminds us that it’s easier for some people to keep their heads down and maintain status quo than to stand up and break away.
Freeride directors Kevin Magliulo and Samuel Cloutier did a Q&A after the screening. They revealed they shot the film on iPhones with a limo surrounded by green screen. It’s really impressive when you’ve seen how professional the end result is. The directors also stated they had the dialogue intercut between English and French to capture the bilingual feel of Montreal. They also wanted audiences to ask whether or not Pete is real or a figment of Daniel’s imagination.
Everyone took a brief break while the festival sets up for the last film of the night. So far, the first hour of the festival ends on a good note, with a few decent short films, the festival delivers in variety and quality. I look forward to what this festival has in store.