Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Looking for something to fill in the gap while you anxiosuly await for CIFF's up coming season? Look no further!

Fall is usually the season for Film Festivals. It is also the pre-Oscar rush at the theatres. Hence, everyone jostles for time and place at the venues. Hidden Gems has an additional factor that takes precedence over all else, i.e. Indian Festival season. It seems all the festivities are lined up one after the other. It starts with Navratri, Dassera, Durga puja, Kali puja & those early Diwali functions. Even a couple of screenings at the weekends seem to interfere with one festival or other.

But nothing much is happening in January or February except for those impending threats of an unexpected snowstorm.This year, Hidden Gems Film Festival will debut an Australian movie with an Indian theme, on Feb. 20th 2011 at 4pm, about a couple, who wrap everything up and leave for Kolkata to adopt a girl. This movie is in English-no subtitles !

2011 is going to be a stellar year for Hidden Gems. In May, we celebrate 150th Birthday of India's Noble laureate Sri Rabindranath Tagore. He was not only an imaginative poet, but also composed music for his poems, thereby starting a new genre in music called Robindra Sangeet. He was a prolific author of dramas, stories, novella etc. There are numerous movies based on his stories, we plan to show two, not yet released movies, based on his evergreen stories, on May 8, 2011. The third annual Hidden Gems Festival would follow, probably the two weekends of October 7-9, & 14-16.

To initiate this extended programme, we have a fabulous offer:

You can register as Hidden Gems Film Society Member for 2011 for $25, which entitles you to free tickets for the first 3 shows, value $36, on Feb. 20 & two shows on May 8 plus discount on the annual Festival Pass. The exact amount of discount to be determined when the line-up is finalized.

Hidden Gems Film Festival has a New Blog:

Hidden Gems endeavours to bring challenging, cutting edge cinema of our times with emphasis on diversity and artistic integrity. We will promote, support, educate and advocate the cultural fabric of India and hopefully wi
ll act as a catalyst for inspiration, reflection and discourse.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Favourite CIFF 2010 Moment: The Black Carpet Gala!

Well folks, it’s that time again. As CIFF 2010 draws to a close, I (along with hundreds of other cinephiles) am exhausted - but it is the bittersweet fatigue of someone who has just spent the last ten days in a film-focused frenzy. Every year I get a little better at balancing my trips to the cinema with school, and it certainly pays off to dedicate a few moments to planning a schedule when it comes to film fest season - that way you can take full advantage of everything CIFF has to offer. My highlight of this year’s festival was undoubtably Friday night’s Black Carpet Gala.

The film, I Spit On Your Grave, was everything it promised to be, and more: gruesome, gratuitous, horrific, controversial, compelling, and disturbing. Since it will be theatrically released on October 8th, I’ll save you any revealing remarks, suffice it to say that lead actress, Sarah Butler, approaches the devastating subject matter with a maturity and bravery that is extraordinary - and the rest of the cast is not far behind. Chad Lindberg had the audience gripped in pity and fear for his vulnerable character, Matthew, and Jeff Branson’s character, Johnny, embodied a bitterness, arrogance, and sociopathic numbness that was frightening in itself. The area sheriff, played by Andrew Howard, was equally cold and despicable - rounding out the perfect crew of victims for the spite of a vengeful woman.Butler, Lindberg, and Branson were all in attendance, and held a Q&A session following the screening. They explained their personal processes for taking on the identities of such dark characters, and joked about the mishaps that made it into the final cut - like Branson “accidentally” hitting Butler in the back of the head with a baseball bat. Despite the violent and brutal nature of the film’s content, the cast agreed that it was their chemistry and trust for one another that made the film really come to life.

The after party was held at Sam’s in Kensington immediately following the Q&A session, with free drinks being dispensed to ticket holders and tasty appetizers floating about on silver platters. The pub was intimately lit, and already buzzing with excitement when the screening crowd arrived.Butler, Lindberg, and Branson were all there, and were incredibly approachable - bubbling at the chance to chat with fans and film-lovers alike. I had the chance to speak briefly to all three, and was humbled by their lively, friendly, and entertaining personalities. stars were not afraid to mingle with the crowd, share some beverages, and take part in the jovial atmosphere of the Black Carpet Gala.

Memories and experiences like these are the reason I am such an enthusiastic advocate for the social aspect of cinema. There is a whole culture that takes place outside of the theatre, and I encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in film to seek out these types of events, and take advantage of everything an organization like CIFF has to offer. Don’t feel discouraged if you didn’t make it to every screening and event you had hoped to - CIFF 2011 is only 12 months away!

See you next year, fellow filmaholics!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Some of the best of the festival still have screenings to come

We are partway through the final day of the festival and there are still many great films to come. There are two films from the Mavericks series screening today. SNOW & ASHES (4:30 at Globe) is the lone Canadian film in the series. It is a disorienting journey through the fragmented memories of a war correspondent. Although set in Eastern Europe, the film was shot entirely in Canada. There is an encore screening of R today (9:15 at the Plaza). Friday's screening was one of the most talked about of the past few days. This Danish film deserves a place amongst the great prison films of all time such as Midnight Express.
I did not see MYTH OF AN AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (4:45 at Plaza) but read great reviews of it out of Cannes and SXSW.
WHEN WE LEAVE (7:00 at Eau Claire) is the winner of the Best International Feature award at CIFF this year. This is its only screening of the festival so expect a large crowd ready to be blown away by an incredibly moving film. Another award winner will be crowned after the ALBERTA SPIRIT shorts program (7:00 at Globe). The best Albertan shorts of the year will be screened and then a winner chosen. I will not be at the screening but some of the filmmakers will be at the Marquee Room afterward and will try to find out what people thought there.
A film that I had overlooked but got great ratings at the screening Saturday was GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY (9:00 at Eau Claire). Geetika wrote a strong piece on it here: http://calgaryfilmfestival.blogspot.com/2010/09/gabi-on-roof-in-july.html
One of the best Canadian films of the festival, HEARTBEATS, has an encore tonight at 9:30 at Globe. One year after bursting onto the festival circuit with the multiple award-winning I KILLED MY MOTHER, Xavier Dolan returns with another highly personal story that has been garnering acclaim around the world.

All good things must come to an end!

Another 1o days have come and gone, and have felt like a whirlwind of truly diverse film! I must say that of the films I saw this year they left me feeling great about the work and thoughts of people from all over the world.


This film centres around Daniel who has Downs Syndrome, however the focus was not on that he had Downs as much as it was on love and normalcy. It was a beautiful look at our perceptions.


An intimate film that looks at the women of the red light district who have been rescued and their journey to rebuild their lives and self esteem.


After much media around the Mukthar Mai Story, this film showcases the power of Mukhtar's perseverance after her rape, and the effects she has had on the women her village.

Until next year!

Me, Too (Yo, Tamien): a familial perspective

I took a friend with me to see the encore screening of ME, TOO (YO, TAMBIEN), which had to be one of my favorites this year at CIFF. I was really interested in the film myself as I am very close to my friend and her beautiful little boy who has Downs Syndrome. I wanted to take this opportunity to see the film through her eyes, as a relatively new mother.

The film itself was beautifully centered around the theme of love, and the concept of normalcy. What we perceive to be normal is not always the case, and does not necessarily mean that having a disability does not fit into the concept of societal norms. The characters in the film make us look at how we often seem to ignore basic needs of ALL people, when we classify them into specific groups. There are no boundaries when it comes to people, we are all different, some are a little kookier than others, some are smarter, some are reserved, some are more creative, some are more daring. We can not put people into boxes any longer. The newer generations are making this more apparent than ever, that it is about individualism. One glove no longer fits all, and in reality it never did.

We chatted after the film and discussed disabilities and the train of thought around whether it is better to give a child an opportunity to be with and share the experiences of those with similar disabilities, or with those that society would call "normal". I shared my experience with my friend as it related to my younger brother who has Cerebral Palsy. I feel that he should be sharing in both worlds and is also lucky to be sharing in both. He has his friends from school that he hangs out with in the evenings and on the weekends, getting into trouble just like any other 15 year old. However, he also has activities that he participates in with other kids that have Cerebral Palsy as well. For example this year he attended the Easter Seals camp which allowed him the opportunity to engage in activities that he would not be fully able to do on his own at another camp. These activities were no different than at other camps, however there was assistance and support for him to experience the same things. My friend agreed that this was the same principle that she wanted to follow, and is following, allowing both worlds to integrate. It is similar to being from two different ethnic backgrounds, they may be different, but we need to appreciate that we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn, and share in both cultures.

My friend really appreciated the film and how it showcased the breadth of Downs and that we are only limited by our own perceptions, and of the perceptions of others that we are led to believe. She said something to me as well, that I had known all along. She said that she felt incredibly lucky and blessed to have her son in her life, and that she could not imagine him any different. She felt "chosen" to be part of his life. I could not agree more, she was meant to be part of his life, and he a part of hers. I personally can not imagine a better person to raise such a beautiful child, someone open and free with the possibilities out there for her son. Just like all the other mothers out there, they want the world for their daughters and sons, there is no difference it is just a matter of love.

A fabulous pick this year at CIFF full of laughter and love!

Xavier Dolan does it again with Heartbeats

The end of the festival is drawing near and there are still many movies to be screened. In fact the very last film to be shown this year, is also one of the very best. Heartbeats, French-Canadian Director Xavier Dolan's second feature film, is much like his first effort, I killed my mother, in it's style, pacing, and overall aesthetic. That film, which was critically acclaimed the World over after it first screened at Cannes and received an eight minute standing ovation, saw Dolan burst onto the international scene with a fervour unseen in Canada for many years. He is undoubtedly a name to watch in the coming years, and at such a young age he is already being likened to some of the greatest in French and Italian cinema history.

Dolan writes, directs, and stars in all of his projects. They are also admittedly very personal in nature, based on direct life experiences. But it is not the stories that he tells that are new, it is how he does so. The film is slow paced and meditative, stylish, and cinematic. It is filled with eye candy from start to finish, but it also packs quite the emotional punch. Ultimately, his films are loved because they are beautiful to behold. While also relatable and quite funny too. Heartbeats itself follows the relationship between a man and a women, two friends that encounter a newcomer who they both fall for. The french title, "Les amours imaginaires", translates directly into "Imaginary Romances", and this is the gist of the film. As both characters become more infatuated with their subject, their friendship is tested, and the notions of passion, love, and human frailty are explored.

The film is excellent, and will only help to propel Xavier Dolan, and establish him as one of Canada's greatest exports as of late. It is also the last film of the festival, so come and enjoy one last movie. It won't disappoint.

Heartbeats plays tonight, October 2nd, at 9:30 at the Globe cinema.
Tickets are available online, at the festival centre in Eau Claire, and at the door.

Alberta Spirt: A Celebration of Homegrown Talent

Over the past 11 years, the Calgary International Film Festival has been on the fast track of success, attracting filmmakers from the world over and granting thousands of Calgarians the opportunity to see a plethora of memorable independent films from across the globe. CIFF's international focus has been highlighted in recent years with the addition of the Mavericks International competition where ten global filmmakers have an opportunity to compete for the coveted Mavericks award.

All of these strides taken by the festival to establish itself as a world-class venue for foreign films have been met with tremendous success and I always look forward to seeing as many global films as I can throughout the 10 day extravaganza. However, perhaps the most admirable quality of the ever-growing success story that is CIFF, has been the festival's continued dedication to inspiring and promoting film on a national and grassroots level as well. If the caliber of the Canadian Film Series at this year's festival is any indication, Canada has established itself as a gold mine of filmmaking talent in it's own right. Tonight's Mavericks: Alberta Spirit competition is one that I have been eagerly anticipating throughout the festival, and is a prime illustration of the burgeoning talent Alberta is producing in her own backyard.

Beginning at 7pm tonight in the lower level of the Globe theater, 10 of Alberta's own up and coming filmmakers will have the opportunity to showcase their work, with films ranging in length from 3 - 16 minutes. The films cover a number of genres and styles ranging from animated to experimental, all shot in a variety of different mediums. From a post-apocalyptical world 100 years in the future, to the adventures of a rootless vagabond traveling exotic lands, there's certain to be something for everyone in this unique collection of short films. Whether you consider yourself to be a diehard film buff, or just proud to be Albertan, I encourage you to pick up a ticket to tonight's event, it's certain to be a packed house. Be sure to make a note of the names of the ten filmmakers participating tonight, as they all have established themselves as potential household names in the making.

Black Carpet Gala succeeds at mixing great film with great party

I rarely have much good to say about horror remakes. Most modern horror suffers from being derivative as it is; to out-and-out remake an existing film is a recipe for uninteresting cinema. I watch a lot of genre films so it is rare for films to present something I have not seen before. All I ask is that they try. Adding in that wikipedia incorrectly lists Jeffrey Reddick as the writer, I had low expectations for the remake I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (for clarity, I will refer to the original as DAY OF THE WOMAN). I am glad these low expectations did not keep me away. This was a fantastic film. Director Stephen R Monroe and writer Stuart Morse learned from the strengths of the original while successfully modernizing the story and adding new storylines and twists to keep it fresh. Framing this film as a remake might be a sign of the filmmakers' confidence in their ability to make an original and truly chilling film. Much the same way a superior athlete would spot an opponent a few points, Monroe and Morse let you know the basic storyline. Anyone who has seen DAY OF THE WOMAN knows what some of the most shocking scenes will be. This advance knowledge makes the deviation from the original film even more powerful. The audience is psychologically prepared for certain shocking things to happen. When something else happens in its place, the impact is heightened.

The party was also terrific. The liquor brand of the night was Hennessy cognac. The signature drink was Hennessy and ginger ale with a black super nib garnish. From what I remember of the night, these were delicious. The party also benefitted from not having a musical act performing. This year's parties were great for music lovers as there was a range of performers at the parties large and small, official and unofficial. All of these performers were great and added to the overall atmosphere of the festival. However, people tended to leave shortly after the performers finished. The Black Carpet Gala was a chance to mingle and catch up with the people I see at the festival each year. I heard about several films I missed seeing as well as several interesting film and arts events going on in Calgary over the next several months.

The End is Near, Flock to Your Closest Venue Before It's Too Late!

9 days, approximately 200 films, and a few bags of popcorn and Twizzlers later, and already we have reached the last Sunday of CIFF 2010. It's been a fantastic year full of pleasant surprises, bold and breathtaking filmmaking, and a real reason to be proud of Calgary's ever-expanding art scene. Buuut, let's not forget the fun's not over yet!

Tomorrow is another jam packed day of programming for the 11th annual festival, and I know I'm psyched for one more day of venue hopping. As a veteran film fester here are a few handy tips to making the most out of your last day to get your CIFF on.

1. Plan out your day in advance.

Personally, I'm prone to making an Excel spread sheets of movies I want to see, what time they're planning at and which venue. This way after a movie ends I'm not flustered and in a frenzy dashing off to catch the next film on my list. I realize not every film buff is quite as nerdy as I am, so just make sure you also choose movies with a bit of breathing room in between one another so you have time to debrief, stretch your legs, or grab a snack.

2. Stay Hydrated!

This advice is really applicable in daily life - not just during the film festival - but it's definitely worth mentioning nonetheless. You won't be as focussed and alert if your body is dehydrated so be sure to stop by the concession stand before or between movies. Planning to have a few snacks is always a good idea as well. Keeping your blood sugar ensures you'll be wide awake from the opening scene to the final fade out, and energetic enough to engage in some post-film discussion.

3. Spice Things Up

The Calgary International Film Festival is teeeeming with a variety of films from all different genres. Keep your energy up by mixing things up. Maybe after catching a film from the Canadian series you want to see a Global Film followed by a documentary. Also try to vary the venues too. The walk between theaters is a good way to get some fresh air and stretch your legs before sitting down in another uncomfortable movie theater seat for a couple hours.

4. Let the Credits Roll

Lots of people are quick to hop out of their seats and dash for the exit as soon as the final scene fades to black. Why not take some time to sit and truly absorb the content of the film you just saw, or discuss it with a friend? It's always neat to listen to another person's view on the same feature and compare how similar or different your thoughts were.

There you have it, a few tips straight from the film geek's mouth. Now get some sleep so you're ready for a full day of movies ahead. Happy festivaling! :)

Incendies.. a film not soon to be forgotten

One of my favorite aspects of the movie-going experience is walking into the theater with that slight twinge of uncertainty. Sure, the critics may have said one thing, and your best friend may have said another, but as you take your seat equipped with popcorn and diet Coke, you are ultimately unaware of the effect a film will have on you. Once in awhile, you see that rare gem of a that truly grips you, to the point where you find yourself replaying certain scenes over and over in your mind for days to come.

The first movie I ever saw that for lack of a better phrase "shook me to the core" was admittedly, James Cameron's Titanic. To be fair, that 3 hours-plus marathon of a movie was the likes of a film my pre-teen aged self had never experienced before, and it had yet to be played to death on TV every weekend. I confess that Celine Dione's "My Heart Will Go On" was my most played song for weeks afterward, and certain scenes lingered in my head for even longer.

Since those days, I have had the pleasure of being truly gripped by a film only a handful of times, and most of those times have occurred during the Calgary International Film Festival. (Shout out to all of the amazing festival programmers and staff for making this possible!) Incendies, a beautiful and unabashedly groundbreaking French-Canadian film has become the latest film I've seen to make it on to this rather short list. Even though I saw the movie three days ago, it is one that I have talked to friends and family about incessantly and sincerely hope it gets a more wide-spread Canadian release.

The film, which had the honor of winning best Canadian Feature at this year's festival, is based on a play by Order of Canada recipient, Wajdi Mouawad and brought to the screen under the brilliant direction of Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique). The premise of the film is fairly simple, yet executed in such a manner that both my mom and I left the theater speechless. The story follows twin siblings Jeanne and Simon as they embark on a life-altering trip to carry out the last wishes of their mother. Together they travel into the heart of the Middle East, to track down the brother they never knew they had, and the father they always thought had died before they were born.

Incendies dances back and forth between the present day and the 1970s-1980s when Jeanne and Simon's mother was a young woman struggling to survive the hardships of living in a country being torn apart by brutal civil war. I don't want to spoil it, but the twist at the end as the twins learn the identity of their father and brother is both haunting and tragic, and I found myself struck by the bravery of the characters. I felt as though I had been on their journey overseas along with them, and as the credits began to roll goose bumps covered my arms. Both the acting and cinematography was incredible, and the emotion was so raw and real that I could almost feel the packed-theater give a collective sigh as the credits began to roll.

It is moments like these that keep me coming back to the film festival year after year, to feel the raw power a film can harness in a mere two hours and exit the theater still totally engrossed in what you just watched. I for one am completely smitten with this film and have my fingers crossed that it will be seen again on Calgary screens in the near future.