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Previewing the 2016 Canadian Film Fest

March 30, 2016

By John Corrado

Borealis PosterAlthough Toronto has too many film festivals to reasonably count, one of the quickest rising of them is the Canadian Film Fest, a celebration of independent homegrown cinema that I’ve started looking forward to every March.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the festival kicks off tonight with How to Plan An Orgy in a Small Town.  Although I didn’t get the chance to screen the comedy in advance, I had the pleasure of watching the seven other features that will be playing over the next few days and nights.

My reviews of all of them are below, and I can safely say there is some good stuff in this year’s lineup, as the festival is once again showcasing a lot of promising homegrown talent.  Tickets and showtimes can be found right here.  Enjoy!

Borealis: Jonah Finn (Jonas Chernick) is a gambling addict who owes thousands of dollars to an underground ring.  When he finds out that his rebellious, pot-smoking daughter Aurora (Joey King) is going blind from a rare eye disorder, and will lose her eyesight completely within the month, he doesn’t have the heart to break the news to her, and they instead set out on an impromptu road trip to Churchill, Manitoba so that she can see the Northern Lights.  But there’s also an ulterior motive for their trip, putting them on the run from vengeful accountant Tubby Finkleman (Kevin Pollak), who is hot on their trail.  Directed by Sean Garrity, and co-written by Jonas Chernick, who last collaborated on the very different comedy My Awkward Sexual Adventure, Borealis impressively pulls off a carefully balanced tone that switches between pitch black humour and genuine pathos.  It’s a thoroughly engaging trip, by turns entertaining and emotionally affecting, anchored by a pair of excellent performances from Jonas Chernick and Joey King, who share some great interplay together.

Screens on Thursday, March 31st – 7:00 PM at The Royal

Dead Rush: When a mysterious virus breaks out that starts turning people into zombies, David (David Michael Moote) goes on the run, and ends up taking refuge with a cult-like group of survivors who are trying to track down a young girl who might have immunity.  Directed by Zach Ramelan, who was also at the festival last year with Midnight Double Feature, Dead Rush makes itself unique in the zombie genre by presenting its action from a first person perspective.  The film unfolds almost entirely through point of view shots, only showing our protagonist through reflections in mirrors or on video chats.  Although the story sometime relies a bit too heavily on horror movie clichés, and the action takes a little while to get going again after the tense opening scene, Dead Rush is still a briskly paced and frequently entertaining zombie thriller that genre fans are sure to enjoy.  It’s worth seeing for the unique and highly stylized cinematography, which adds an extra jolt of energy to the film.

Screens on Thursday, March 31st – 9:30 PM at The Royal

The Sabbatical: James Pittman (James Whittingham) is a washed up arts professor at the University of Regina, struggling to finish a book of photography on his year off, and regain the attention of his workaholic wife (Bernadette Mullen).  But he finds new inspiration through an unlikely friendship with a bright young student, Lucy (Laura Abramson), who reenergizes his passion for art.  Directed by Brian Stockton, and co-written by James Whittingham, The Sabbatical is often thoroughly enjoyable to watch, mainly thanks to the solid performances.  James Whittingham is completely engaging in the lead role, and Laura Abramsen does an excellent job of bringing depth to her character, who is nicely developed to have her own arc.  The two of them ground the story with an endearing and completely natural sense of chemistry together, making this an entertaining and heartfelt comedy.

Screens on Friday, April 1st – 7:00 PM at The Royal

Jackie Boy: Jack (Alino Giraldi) is a compulsive womanizer, who hangs out at clubs with his buddies, freely doing drugs and having one-night stands, before casually tossing the women aside.  But his world changes when he meets the more independent Jasmine (Shannon Coulter), who at first tries to avoid his advances, but might just have other intentions.  An exploration of the unhealthy levels of machoism and misogyny that exist in rape culture, Jackie Boy offers a pitch black look at the darkness and emptiness of this lifestyle, as it barrels towards a shocking but almost inevitable conclusion.  The performances by a cast of mainly newcomers are all solid, and director Cody Campanale keeps a gritty tone throughout, never flinching from showing extremely graphic violent and sexual content.  Because of this, Jackie Boy is never an easy film to watch, but the polarizing responses that audiences are guaranteed to have should provoke some fascinating conversations afterwards.

Screens on Friday, April 1st – 9:30 PM at The Royal

20 Moves: When Erno Rubik first invented his famous coloured cube in communist Hungary in the 1970s, he never could have predicted that the toy would become a worldwide cultural phenomenon in 1982, attracting the fascination of everyone from kids to mathematics professors.  Named for the approximate number of twists and turns it takes to solve the puzzle, 20 Moves documents the story of Holocaust survivor Tom Kremer, who first brought the Rubik’s Cube to the attention of toy companies, and the almost cult-like following and countless competitions that followed in its wake.  At just 74 minutes, this is an engaging and often fun documentary that offers a fairly complete look at the storied history behind the rise, fall and eventual resurgence of the timeless Rubik’s Cube.

Screens on Saturday, April 2nd – 3:15 PM at The Royal

Chasing Valentine: Two years after the sudden death of his girlfriend on Halloween, Chase (Adam Langton) is left heartbroken and stuttering, making a living editing porn films for his boorish buddy Brad (Brad Cowan).  But when he starts falling for a mysterious call girl named Valentine (Gwenlyn Cumyn), who role plays as various personas that she creates, Chase is unwittingly sucked into her world of sleazy pimps and abusive clients.  The biggest problem with Chasing Valentine is that it relies far too heavily on clichéd indie film tropes, telling a story that feels overly obvious, right down to the overtly literal title.  But this is literally a film that opens with a slow motion breakup between people wearing penguin costumes, so I guess it’s no surprise that the whole thing just feels so twee and predictable.

Screens on Saturday, April 2nd – 5:15 PM at The Royal

Across the Line: Mattie (Stephan James) is a high school hockey star in the small town of North Preston, Nova Scotia, relying on the dream of lucrative sports scholarships to help lift his family out of poverty.  But simmering tensions with a group of racist white students, and his older brother’s (Shamier Anderson) gang involvement, threaten to derail his hockey career.  The feature debut of Director X, who is better known for music videos like Hotline Bling, Across the Line is a well made and often stylish film, that was partially inspired by real racial tensions in North Preston in 1988.  Although there are flashes of melodrama, this is a fairly engaging look at the collisions of violence and racism in a small town, that provides another solid showcase for the considerable acting talents of Stephan James.

Screens on Saturday, April 2nd – 8:15 PM at The Royal

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