Canadian Film Festival – The Disappeared: Shandi Mitchell

This latest offering in the amazing line-up at this year’s Canadian Film Festival is The Disappeared. Written and directed by Shandi Mitchell, the film offers up an acting tour de force from every one of its six main players (Billy Campbell, Ryan Doucette, Brian Downey, Shawn Doyle, Gary Levert, and Neil Matheson).  The journey these men undertake – physically, mentally and emotionally – will get inside you and take hold, from start to finish and beyond.

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We begin our journey on an empty, foggy, lonely shot of the open sea, and soon come across six men sleeping in two lifeboats tied together, and drifting silently in the North Atlantic through the early morning hours.  They awaken and start their day with a roll call, and we quickly learn that they are lost at sea, after the recent loss of their fishing vessel.  They take stock of what they managed to save while they were abandoning ship, set a course chosen by their skipper, and begin to row. Despite their current circumstances, the men’s spirits are relatively high, and the strokes of the oars are often accompanied by a song to help pass the time.  However, like the sea itself, things change quickly and often, and the men soon come to realize that their situation is much more dire than any of them would like to admit. Their struggles with the elements and their battles with one another are at the heart of this very quiet, yet gut-wrenching, film.

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And if those battles are the heart, then the individual performances from those six actors are the soul, and The Disappeared can be as turbulent, beautiful and unflinching as the sea upon which it was filmed.  The entire movie is shot with claustrophobic close-ups of the men cramped in their lifeboats, and interwoven with gorgeous sweeping images of the endless sea rising and falling, with only its meeting of the sky on the horizon.  Much of the action happens in the souls of these men, and every actor involved does a magnificent job of letting their character’s various emotions play out on the screen for the viewer – if not always for one another.

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The performances are so powerful, and the situation so intense, that one can’t help but feel one’s own sense of despair creeping inside as days pass and events unfold for the lost six onscreen.  By the time the final credits began to roll (along with the stunningly beautiful song “Here And Now” by Alan MacLeod), I felt almost numb from the exhaustion of the experience. Mitchell deftly maneuvers her characters – and the audience – through an ocean’s worth of psychological and emotional depth within the film’s 90 minute run time, and the journey for all involved takes a toll.  These characters may be The Disappeared, it’s true, but after viewing this film, their story will not be forgotten.

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The Disappeared screens tonight at 7pm at the Royal Theatre in Toronto as part of the Canadian Film Festival.  You can also find more information at the film’s official site here.

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