by Jordan Parker
Special to Wreckhouse Press Inc.
The following selection of films impressed me during the St. John's International Women's Film Festival that provided some incredible viewing over the October 14 to 18 weekend.
Subjects Of Desire
This eye-opening documentary first caught my eye at FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival, and has remained a fixture in my mind for a full month. Writer-director Jennifer Holness is unabashedly honest about the difficulties experienced by women of colour in this day and age, and the institutional racism they have faced from the fashion and modelling industries. A Top 10 Audience Favourite at Hot Docs 2021 and a Grand Jury Award nominee at SXSW, it's a provocative little film that isn't afraid to challenge that status quo, and I loved every fierce second of it.
Director Caitlin Durlak gives us an intimate portrayal here about starting over and finding meaning in a new direction. It follows a woman who leaves her abusive husband and decides to forge a new life with her sons. She seeks positive role models for them and a future free of strife. She returns to Fogo Island – her hometown, off the coast of Newfoundland. Though she once couldn't wait to leave, she now finds comfort in family, friends and familiarity. Sonya does all she can to provide a life for her sons Luke and Sean, and this year-in-the-life film is a sensitive look at the family trying to get by and work toward something better.
Physician/filmmaker Monica Kidd creates an incredible, heart-wrenching animated short here about bringing about life in an uncertain time. Her look at COVID-19 and the difficulties pregnant women have faced during the pandemic draws on her own personal discussions and experiences. What makes this story of birth, changing tides and new directions truly unforgettable is the way animator Duncan Major's visuals are interspersed with Kidd's dialogue. This is a beautifully-done, truly incredible film that has a visual style all its own. It will wow you and leave you speechless.
Writer-director Jennie William's atmospheric look at Nalujuk Night is the most entirely unique and stylish film I've seen so far at the festival. Made in black-and-white, it's a transcendent, incredible film with some truly captivating cinematography. It both captures the fear and glee that is evoked from this strange, intense and unforgettable annual event. It manages to give a visual portrait of the night, which happens each year on January 5th in Nain, Labrador. Half fairy tale and half warning, children in the area are told to be good and respect their elders, lest they be called to task on Nalujuk Night. It's an intoxicating and interesting event that is splendidly captured here.
Dawn, Her Dad & The Tractor
Actor Shelley Thompson's feature directorial debut is one of the most emotional, good-natured films I've seen this year. There's a sensitivity and purity to this tale of a young transgender woman who comes home for the first time since her transition for her mother's funeral that just makes it feel so authentic. The conflicts aren't overwrought and things just don't feel overdramatic. It's a grounded portrayal of an LGBTQ2S+ topic that is rarely handled well. The performances from Maya V. Henry, Robb Wells and Amy Groening are revelatory, and this is a self-assured, beautiful picture that's a testament to the wonderful work that can be done in the Maritimes.
It's amazing how a nine-minute short with not a single line of dialogue can capture you so easily. Produced by the Untellable Movement Theatre, it revolves around four players and four movers who interpret four parts of Jesse Montgomery's score, 'Strum'.
To see this incredible performance and the intricacies of this music is beautiful, and director Lynn Panting captures the excitement in the room with ease. I found the entire short intoxicating and incredible, and I couldn't believe just how amazing it was – at this point during a pandemic – to see these people together playing music in an empty venue. It gave me a huge feeling of nostalgia and was a remarkable little effort.
Wochiigi lo: End Of The Peace
This look at the controversy around the Site C hydro dam in B.C. has made for a difficult documentary. It follows the Indigenous land that's being uprooted by the project, which goes against treaties and advice from industry experts. Writer-director Heather Hatch creates an interesting, scathing look at the breach of a century-old treaty, and the fallout of that This is an incredible effort and will hit you close to your heart, guaranteed.