Hot Docs: Teenage – Matt Wolf

hotdocsUsing Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture as a launching point, Wolf’s film, which screened at the Lightbox yesterday, serves as a perfect companion piece to Savage’s work.

Through the use of varied voice overs from the UK, the U.S. and Germany, the film charts the growth of a new creation, that of adolescence at the turn of the 20th century. Before that time, children joined the workforce at an insanely young age, and worked 6 day weeks like the rest of society.

With war on the horizon and the creation of labor laws, there was now a step between childhood and adulthood, an age where the things of childhood could be put away, but the things of adulthood were still beyond their reach.

The film follows the rebellious nature of these newly created youth of the UK, labeled hooligans, occasionally violent, and always seeking release.

Teenage_2In Germany there are divisions, those in service to the state and those who are delighted by the things they are hearing of from America, clothes styles and music.

In America, the explosion of youth becomes the biggest influence on the nation, growing from the introduction of the Scouts program imported from the UK, which was created to prime them for soldiery, to disaffected youth, to the generation with the most buying power.

The film makes great use of source material, charting the rise of the teenager from their involvement in state-sponsored youth programs to the zoot suit riots, from parties to volunteer programs.

It examines the arising culture of the teenager from its inception to the end of World War II which saw the introduction of the Teenage Bill of Rights in 1945.

I found the film to be entertaining, but lacking the excitement and verve of what it is to be a teenager. There were laughs to be had, as stilted scenes from culled material was incorporated into the film, but for all of that, it didn’t truly engage me.

Like a good documentary, and it is, it kept an objective eye on the subject matter, simply illustrating the history of the subject matter instead of making one feel a part of it.

The material put together in the film, and some of the pictures used are amazing, seeing young faces looking out at us from across the decades, faces that were hard at work at a young age, faces that are filled with hope for their own future, faces that are trying to find their place in this world.

An interesting look at the creation of youth.


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TIFF 2012: Lore – Cate Shortland

Bright new talent Saskia Rosendahl stars as Lore, a young girl who has to make her way across war-torn Germany near the end of WWII, with her much younger siblings in tow, including her infant brother, Peter.  They are trying to get safely to their grandmother’s home in Hamburg after their parents have been imprisoned by the Allies for Nazi crimes committed during the war.  Germany has been divided into different zones, depending on which country had conquered the area and taken it under siege, and the children must traverse safely across nearly all of them.

Along the way, they run into a young man, Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), who reveals himself to be a Jew with papers which allow him to travel freely across the country – documents that none of the children have.  The baby will make it easier to beg for food, so the group cautiously align for a time, and make their way toward Hamburg together.

Like her siblings, Lore has been indoctrinated since her birth in a number of things, including an extreme hate and mistrust toward Jewish people, and an unquestioning pride in and respect for her parents and her country.  Now, however, she has to decide if she can trust Thomas enough to place her life and the lives of the children she is responsible for into the hands of someone she has been raised to hate.

Throughout their journey, things are made even more complicated for Lore when she is forced to face glimpses of the horrors her father and Hitler had been committing against other people during the war, and having Thomas around to help with feeding the other children causes her to question everything her parents had taught her to believe.  She begins to realize that most of the life she thought she knew has been a lie, and not only can she not trust the things she’d learned growing up, but she can’t trust herself very completely anymore, either.

World War II has been made into a zillion films and documentaries, countless books and articles have been written about the subject, but this one is told from the other side of what we’re used to.  Like all teenagers, Lore is trying to find her own truth somewhere in the middle, between what’s she’s been taught and what she’s seen for herself, with her own eyes.  But unlike most of us, she is having to find a way to do so without having to feel ashamed of her parents for their beliefs and truths, and this constant struggle is etched on young Saskia’s face in nearly every frame.  Is it any wonder, then, that this little gem of a film has been selected to be Australia’s official submission to the Academy Awards this year?

Lore is screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 9:15am.


WSFF – Creative Control

Last night’s screening of a series of shorts called Creative Control was a much quieter affair than the opening gala, but brought us 7 more short films that entertained, made you think, and gave you pause as you wondered about the concepts of life, love, loss, and death.

Heady stuff right?

The first film up was a stop-motion animated short from Australia, called The Maker. It follows a stuffed rabbit, with goofy teeth, who is racing against a deadline, to create the rabbit who follows him, teaching it and bringing it to life, all before the cycle begins again. It kind of struck both Sue and I as a sad existence, living only so long to create the next step in the process and then moving on. Poor rabbits.

The second film, from Canada, described, through dance aided by some nice visual transitions of dancers, the struggle between individual expression and group dynamics. Gravity of Center, was for me, the least engaging of the shorts this evening, though the RubberBandance troupe is undeniably talented in their art.

Heaven comes to us from Poland, and centers on Robert, who in dealing with his fatal disease discovers the religious painter within. his paintings are reminiscent of 14th to 16th century Christian art and are lovely to look at. And the way he looks at. he had to become sick and deal with his own mortality to become the artist he is.

Cheese, from Canada, was a funny little film, about two tourists, who end up asking the wrong guy to take their picture. The local asks for more emotion, more motivation, more, more, more!

And the tourists are completely taken aback in this fun little flick, which sees the photographer momentarily stealing a child to put it into the picture for the tourists to envision the family they could have, before practically urging them to make one then and there. This one was a lot of fun.

The United States shows up with the heartwarming tale of Lifetripper, Stan is a single father, who tries to connect to his son, whom he loves, and his son’s attractive nanny whom he thinks he’s falling in love with. However, between work and home, the only place he really seems to shine, is on the bus ride to and from, where he makes his fellow transiters laugh. Realizing that perhaps this truly is his calling, he begins to take steps to change his life, striding to work as a comic, and find his way as a father, and a lover. This was sweet and funny, and invested you quickly in the short’s lead so that the emotional payoff has a perfect tone.

Germany brings us the odd, poetic, and slightly disturbing How To Raise The Moon. This stop-motion black and white film features an unconcious woman sprawled across the keyboard of her piano. Fighting on the sides of life and death, are a stuffed rabbit and stuffed fox respectively.

The fox cuts the woman’s hair, snip by snip, to make her lighter and to float into the sky to become the moon. Fighting to keep her on the ground, the rabbit tries to keep her rooted by tying items to the hem of her nightgown.

Watching over all of this, and scrabbling to break the glass that separates it from the room, is a disturbing looking harpy, who seems intent on catching the woman’s tongue with a mechanical arm.

It’s very pretty, very poetic, and that harpy is damned disturbing.

The final film of the night came from Denmark, Les Amours Perdues (Withering Love), and featured Emmanuelle Beart and Denis Lavant in a very very French-feeling film. Maria (Beart) meets and consequently witnesses writer Vincent’s (Lavant) suicide attempt. Learning that it was all over a woman, Maria begins to investigate, to learn more about this woman. As the two become involved in one another’s lives the truth about love, lost and found, is told. All of this felt very French in the way it was told, it’s a dark love story, with heartbreak, dangling cigarettes, wet cobblestone streets, and loss.

All of these combined to make for an entertaining, if somewhat less rambunctious evening than the night before. Tonight however, we are eagerly looking forward to the Celebrity Shorts program!

Are you going?

WSFF – Opening Gala, Award Winners From Around The World

The 2012 Worldwide Short Film Festival kicked into gear last night at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, with an entertaining, and wonderful program featuring shorts from around the globe.

The seven shorts featured ran the gambit from whimsical to laugh out loud funny, with a dash of romance and historical combining into an enjoyable potpourri of entertainment.

The first film up was Luminaris, from Argentina, which was a fun and whimsical photo-real, stop-motion animation, about an assembly line worker, who is spiriting away light bulb/glass balls to help furnish his escape plan from his humdrum existence.

Next was an animated short from France, entitled Dripped, featuring an a strange little art thief that eats the art he steals, and adopts its characteristics in this bouncy and colorful film what had a fun jazzy score.

Germany came next with the longest short of the evening, Armadingen, clocking in at 23 minutes, about an old couple, one of whom learns that Armageddon (subtle hint there to the denouement of the film) is nigh as a meteor is tumbling its way towards the earth. Keeping it a secret from his wife, Walter lets go of the past, and works to make his wife’s last few hours of life as pleasant as possible.  A sweet, touching and funny film, that had a folky version on “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” to back it up.

Abuelas (Grandmothers), from the UK, actually talks about events that occurred in Buenos Aires  through testimonials and animation. I was a little out of my depth on this one, as I had no idea this had actually happened, I was too young at the time, and I think a little intro at the beginning of the film, as well as the tag at the end may have served it better. Despite that one fault, it was still a moving film.

Canada arrives next with the wintery film Trotteur, which pits a simple country boy against machine, as he races a steam engine across a snowy plain. The film is wonderfully shot, and the makeup on the cast was really good, evoking memories of something in my mind that I can’t place at the moment.

Closing out the show last night, were two crowd pleasers, one for the sheer romance and heartbreak, and the other for the laughs provided, of which there were many.

Romance is alive, even on the Day of the Dead, in this short from Mexico called El Pescador (The Fisherman). An elderly fisherman uses a jar filled with old photographs and memories to fish items out of the depths of the ocean and then waits patiently for the woman he loves.

When she arrives they relive the memory of one wonderful night, until the moment is over, and she vanishes.

Giving up the memories to live them over the course of one night is made more poignant and poetic with the revelation at the end of the film and left me wondering what will happen next time. If all those memories he had are now gone, do you keep the ones you have left, or do you relive them and let them go as the pass?

It was a lovely, and incredibly romantic short, my favorite so far.

To end the evening, we turned to a co-produciotn between France and the UK, which was a send-up of sci-fi “B” movies, and laugh out loud funny called The Elaborate End of Robert Ebb. Robert is a night security man at a movie studio, and is hoping to ditch out early to meet his special lady friend for a movie. His co-worker, meanwhile hears, between naps, about a sea monster drawing closer to the English coast.

Discovering a costume in a box, Robert decides to pull a prank on Trevor, but things go sideways in a way that has to be seen to believed, when Robert ends up stuck in the costume, and people think there’s a sea monster trampling their countryside and terrorizing the humble folk.

It was a great start to the film festival and we’re looking forward to seeing more this evening!

See you there!!

Oma & Bella – Alexa Karolinski, Germany/USA

Oma & Bella points a camera into the lives of two Holocaust survivors who remained in Germany after WWII.  Living together now in Berlin, their friendship has survived several decades, and has an enviable strength due to their shared memories and love of cooking.  For both women, food – and the preparation of food – is more a way of life than simple sustenance.  They specifically create the dishes and treats they remember from their youth, and even just the process of cooking or baking a certain recipe can vividly bring back the memories they wish to hold onto from their pre-Holocaust lives.  Memories neither woman wants to forget, and which they graciously share with the viewer (and the director) as they work.

The film follows Oma and Bella through their daily lives – to the market, social gatherings, the cemetery, the hairdresser – all around Berlin, until it’s time to go back to the apartment (or, more aptly, the kitchen) once again.  They always have everything ready – the drawers of the freezer are filled with more food than they could eat in a lifetime, it seems – just in case the grandchildren or any friends come to visit.  Oma and Bella are beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, generous, proud, kind, opinionated, honest and welcoming women, and the director’s love for both of them shines through in every moment of this film.

Even the less-than-pleasant ones.

Both Oma and Bella have memories of the Holocaust that they don’t necessarily speak about all the time, yet they can be very open about the things they saw and experienced during that darkest of times.  They put an honest, human face onto an unimaginably horrible part of our history, and often it’s through all of the things they DON’T have – photographs of family, other living relatives, friends with similar experiences who have not spoken a word about it to this day (nor even returned to Germany at all, in some cases) – that their voices speak the loudest.

This film does something that few others have accomplished when it comes to documenting survivors of the Holocaust.  It shows that – though they experienced the greatest of hate, Oma and Bella still learned to love.  They came through the poorest and darkest poverty to have sunshine pouring through their kitchen windows while they create their next enormous feast.  What Oma & Bella does most of all is to show us that – not only did they survive the Holocaust – but these two extraordinary women owned their past, rose above it, and went on to LIVE.

Oma & Bella has its international premiere at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto.  It is screening Saturday April 28 @ 6:30pm at TIFF Lightbox, and Monday April 30 at 4:30pm at the ROM.

Also, head over to Facebook and Like the film here.