HollyShorts Film Festival Selection: ‘Last Chance Moms’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Last Chance Moms is a short film that will warm your heart because of the beautiful display of female friendship on-screen. The one thing that I always gravitate towards when watching films about women or relationships in general is honesty. Director Mandy Fabian, co-writers, Sarah Chaney and Heather Olt all created something so sweet and charming. It has such a nice balance between humorous moments and dramatic beats. Life is truly a rollercoaster and that is exactly what they showed in this short film. Anything can happen at any moment.

We have two best friends, Emily (Sarah Chaney) and Kristen (Heather Olt). Emily is a successful entrepreneur, who waited too long to have a baby and after finally feeling ready to raise the child on her own, she’s now told it’s physically impossible. I connected the most with Emily’s character because of how she put her career first. When we first meet her, she’s sarcastic and expresses what everyone actually thinks of her. Why is putting your career first always seen as a negative when you’re a woman? As society evolves and women become more independent, the gender restrictions and ideologies surrounding it have to change. We have now moved far away from the confinements of the misogynistic system.

Then we meet Kristen, a struggling actress, who is simultaneously nine months pregnant and is forced to raise her baby alone after being left by her boyfriend, Mark. He did not think he was suited to be a father. Which raises a question about relationships themselves, do we ever really know the person we are with? I mean, you think you do after everything you have gone through with a significant other, but even during a joyous moment like having a child together, they will still surprise you. It doesn’t matter which position you’re in; single or in a relationship, nothing is ever secure. It’s a very bleak realization but that is what makes life scary.

The one moment that really worked well was when Kristen and Sarah were in the car together. They were driving to Kristen’s sisters home for dinner. You could feel the best friend energy radiatiating off the screen. They did not have to say much to each other to have the other understand how they were feeling. There was a clear connection and it was something special to see on-screen. Last Chance Moms has a great story, strong writing, and a female friendship that you will root for in the end.

It premieres in Los Angeles on September 24th, as part of the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival. It will also screen at the Catalyst Story Institute Festival, running from September 29th to October 3rd in Duluth, Minnesota.

The Canadian Comedy Series ‘Ghost BFF’ Tackles Important Social Issues With Humour

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we consume media, we usually gravitate towards series or films that we can hopefully relate to. If we are lucky, we can find a show or film with characters who speak to us on a different level. That is why representation on-screen is important, whether there is a diverse cast, or stories that highlight different social issues. There are creators who highlight issues such as mental health, suicide, and depression. Not only do these conversations need to be had among friends or family, but it is important to show these conversations on-screen. The Canadian comedy series Ghost BFF tackles all this effortlessly and is nominated for four performance Canadian Screen Awards for stars Vanessa Matsui, Kaniehtiio Horn, Jean Yoon, and Angela Asher. 

Ghost BFF is a dark comedy about depression, following two women, Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Amy (Vanessa Matsui) – one alive, one dead – as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following a suicide. The series shines a light on mental health, highlighting tough topics like depression and anxiety, suicide, treatment, and mindfulness, while adding some well-needed humour. Kaniehtiio Horn and Vanessa Matsui have incredible chemistry on and off-screen, they both understood the material and they created a very honest space, to explore their characters mental struggles. Matsui, who is also the showrunner, really wanted to bring these social issues to the forefront because of her personal connection to the subject matter.

Web series Ghost BFF puts the focus on mental health via two friends. And  one of them is dead. | TV, eh?
Courtesy of Babe Nation Creations

Matsui wanted to make sure people, especially women, feel represented on-screen. She could see all these young women suffering and no one was talking about mental health,

“I wanted to make a show that used comedy as a bridge, to talk about something that at the time, was pretty taboo and arguably still is. At the same time, I wanted the series to make you laugh, so it’s not so heavy or difficult. And if you are suffering, that hopefully you feel a little less alone, after watching this show.”

– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF

The reason why many can connect to this show is because of the humour that is added to painful, emotional moments when discussing these difficult subjects. Not everything has to be grim and dark; humour is sometimes the best release and as Kaniehtiio Horn said, it’s a way to cope during hard times. When asked about her connection to this character and to Matsui, she said that after knowing her for 15 years or so, that it was a collaboration in the making. Horn said that one evening, during TIFF, they connected and Horn wanted to audition for the project. Sometimes projects can choose the person, and in this case, Horn didn’t know how much she needed the character of Tara in her life, “It gave me confidence to start working on my own things. Just seeing my peers, these women who are my age making things happen and that really lit a fire under me.” The way Horn and Matsui came together and supported each other through this process is truly inspiring.

Vanessa Matsui on Twitter: "… "
via Vanessa Matsui on Twitter

Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is always important to shed light on these issues because these conversations need to be presented on-screen. Media has a wide reach, no matter what form it takes, and it is important that it connects with people. Whether it is because of diversity in its cast or social issues, these stories are important in order for everyone to feel seen. Matsui and Horn are both on the same page when it comes to representation in the media, “I think you realize once you start talking about it, or see what you might be doing, that it might be reflected back to you in the content that you’re consuming, you feel a little less alone.” Horn went on to say that she even started going to therapy and that working on this project allowed her to explore her own mind, while diving into the character of Tara.

The reason why diverse stories matter is because everyone can be going through something different. In one way or another, someone is struggling in their own way and it would benefit them, if there was an atmosphere to help them through. When making Ghost BFF it was important for Matsui to be inclusive and have a diverse cast. The industry has definitely shifted and as Horn put it, diversity is hot right now, which can also be a long-term issue. Matsui and Horn are both weary about what the future holds for the industry but they see the shift as a positive change,

“I used to feel so little and meek and just be thankful that I got the job. That’s how I used to feel. But now with all of these initiatives, I feel a bit more confident to say things and yes there’s a shift, and it’s amazing to see and I guess I feel like I’m a part of it in terms, on the Indigenous side of filmmaking and television and it’s exciting. But again there’s this underlining thing.” 

– Kaniehtiio Horn, Ghost BFF
Ghost BFF
Courtesy of Babe Nation Creations

Matsui and Horn remain hopeful moving forward because there are still so many stories left to tell. And the push to have different stories in the Canadian film industry will always be relevant,

“My Japanese family has been here since the 1800s that’s a lot longer than a lot of white people who have been here and yet I’m always asked ‘Where do you come from?’ Why is that question even being asked to me when I’m from here? I think part of it is that we are not represented in the media, people have this really narrow version of what a Canadian looks like.”

– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF

The most important thing that Matsui wants audiences to takeaway from this series is that hopefully people will feel a little less alone. That if you are going through a rough time, this show will bring you some laughter. Matsui went on to say, “If you are a young woman, or woman of colour and you might not fit into the perfect casting, I hope this inspires people to create their own work, especially young women.” Horn and Matsui have put so much of themselves in Ghost BFF and you can see the love for their characters on-screen.

Matsui is slated to make her directorial feature film debut very soon and she is currently working on the show Hot Zone. Horn has also been busy with guest starring on an American television show called, Reservation Dogs and will be turning her podcast, Coffee With My Ma, into an animated series!

If you want to check out Ghost BFF the first two seasons are online. And if you want to cheer them on during the Canadian Screen Awards it will be streaming live on academy.ca from May 17th – 20th.

How ‘Woman In Car’ Presents The Female Experience: An Interview With Writer-Director Vanya Rose


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman in Car premiered at the Canadian Film Festival last week. It is such a multilayered film, that dives into the female experience through relationships, trauma and deceit. It is always interesting to explore the female characters in high society because there can be so much to unpack. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. The script is well-written and Vanya Rose peels back the many layers of Ann (Hélène Joy). There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into.

Rose wanted to explore this bourgeois society because of her interest in Edith Warton’s novels. Warton always wrote about it and more importantly she questioned it, even though she was a part of it,

“We have this neighbourhood in Montreal, called West Mount which is kind of what used to be the center of money in all of Canada. Montreal was the center of everything. It was home to the richest people in Canada. And so that interested me bc it had never been explored in Quebec at all. We see a lot of the working class films, which are great, beautiful films but we don’t really see how Montreal had that historically, and it’s still there.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
Courtesy of Thievish Films

In order to understand Ann’s internal struggle, one has to understand the society she lives in and the family she is connected to. As we see in the film, Ann’s persona is quite different around her mother-in-law Charlotte (Gabrielle Lazure), stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie), and newcomer Safiye (Liane Balaban). She hides pieces of herself from the people she meets with. The one thing that really interested me was Ann’s sense of control. Rose wanted to give Ann a passion, so she chose archery,

“I wanted Ann to have a passion. I wanted her to have something that she had given up. What’s amazing about these archers is not only are they complete perfectionists, like to the nth degree, they’re a little bit odd these people, they have a very specific skill that they developed. It’s a skill of shooting something directly on the nose and that’s all you do over and over again. You have to have a personality type, that’s just so foreign this desire and this training that goes into that.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car

Archery has always interested Rose and it came through with the character of Ann. The way that the archery, can be interpreted through Ann’s character is that she always needs to be in control. Even as she was losing herself in her former marriage, she found something in her stepson to regain that control, even though the events made her spiral even further. She wanted to make decisions on her own but this society she was in, this family that she married into, wasn’t easy for her at all. We see that Ann has a clear shot at the beginning of the film, she was composed and reserved. She managed to hit the bullseye. Then towards the end of the film, she can’t even calm herself down in order to shoot the arrow at all.

Courtesy of Thievish Films

Ann slowly unravels as the film goes on, and it is connected to her feeling neglected, in her relationship with her soon-to-be husband. When asked about showing that kind of emotional experience and why it is necessary to show on screen, Rose said, “I think that’s what art is right, isn’t art all about showing our human experience? I think that as a man or woman, though our human experiences, there is a lot of pain and I think joy is actually a very small part of all that.” She goes on to say that we all go through hardships, whether it be relationships or even pandemics, they impact us more than the greater joys in our lives, but that is what makes those moments special.

Woman in Car is all about human connectivity and relationships. Rose explores the way people treat each other and how they can change their perspective. Rose wanted to show a little compassion in this film, especially between women, “I think that’s the key. I think women have been traditionally pitted against each other because of competition and survival. What if we got rid of that? We don’t need to follow that old scenario, get beyond it and reach out to each other.” The relationship between Ann and the women in her life is very strained. There are vulnerable moments shared between the female characters in the film, where they each gain a deeper understanding of who they are. The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Canadian Film Festival Selection ‘Woman In Car’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman In Car is written and directed by Vanya Rose. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. It takes the female experience of Ann Lewis (Hélène Joy) as she is in the middle of getting married to her new husband. The script is well-written and Rose peels back the many layers of Ann. There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into. It is so intriguing to watch because Joy gives such a nuanced performance and carries the entire film to the very end. Her connections to other characters may be a bit confusing at times but it all pays off in the third act. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Ann appears to have it all. But when her stepson returns to Montreal with the beautiful Safiye (Liane Balaban), Ann develops an obsession with the stranger, who she fears could destroy the privileged life she has built. Rose explores two different female characters in a sincere and compassionate way. What starts out as a defensive tact on Ann’s part turns into a very vulnerable olive branch in wanting to tell her story. The film does explore issues of class, family and deception. It is just so fascinating to watch because of Joy’s layered performance. What I found most interesting is the fact that she was an archer and she always had to have a sense of control when shooting the bow and arrow. Oddly enough, that pressure to be perfect ruins Ann’s peace and concentration when craving that form of release, while her secrets build up.

Ann had many secrets that she tried to bottle up but eventually those secrets came back to haunt her. Throughout the film, we see that Ann is losing herself to these skeletons in her closet. She is under so much pressure because of this wedding and her feelings of neglect from her previous marriage seem to creep up on her. We see how everyone can carry their emotional and mental trauma, from one relationship to another, if they feel like they are somehow being treated in the same way. If these issues are not addressed, situations tend to become worse than they already are. Ann is an incredible character because of how she internalizes her pain in order to keep the public persona of being perfect and composed. It is in an obligation in higher social class systems to always appear poised, even if something is bothering you.

The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is rooted in the culture of Montreal and dives into the social class system by showing how people who aren’t born into it, can become traumatized by their lifestyle. Woman In Car has so much tension and the build up is strong. There are such intimate, emotional moments that will make you really feel for Ann and want to see her come out on top, even though the storyline is a bit risqué. There are so many issues that Rose explores in this film and the most important takeaway is that there is so much compassion between female characters in sharing those vulnerable moments with others.

‘Jumbo’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Sundance Film Festival 2020 selection Jumbo, written and directed by Zoé Wittock, is an interesting exploration of sexuality and coming of age. We meet young Jeanne (Noémie Merlant), who works at an amusement park and is completely taken by these machines. These inanimate objects, fascinate her to the point, that she cannot stop thinking about them, especially one theme park ride, she calls ‘Jumbo’. Wittock does a great job explaining identity and explores queerness in a unique way. We all can say that, “love is love”, until someone questions who we love. The film shows the struggles of coming to terms with one’s sexual identity and the gender norms that are forced upon others.

Jeanne is incredibly shy, naive and reserved. She has had to watch her mother bring home men, who do not treat her well. Jeanne has had a skewed knowledge of relationships because of her mother. When Jeanne goes to work at the amusement park, she experiences a sense of liberation because no one can see her in the dark. She is no longer quiet, with the theme park attraction, she is free to experience this connection how she pleases. It is a great concept and the fantastical elements combined with a really grounded journey of sexual identity, worked extremely well for this piece. It was so interesting to watch, just to see the emotional connection Jeanne felt towards ‘Jumbo’.

The film does suffer from pacing issues and some empty dialogue that doesn’t add much to Jeanne’s development. There are two moments that stood out to me, ones that I will never forget. The first is the scene where she has a very intimate moment with ‘Jumbo’. The oil from the theme park attraction covered her naked body, slowly, and we see that Jeanne is reaching her climax. I thought the set up for this scene worked well because of the contrast of black and white. Society often looks at sexuality in two ways, either gay or straight, but there are others in between, that deserve the same level of attention. Society also looks at gender the exact same way, boy or girl, black or white.

The second moment, which I found a bit jarring was Jeanne having sex with a man who has been pursuing her. The choice to not have the camera on the characters was interesting. It is a sexual moment that Wittock did not want to show, instead she just wanted us to listen. The man is the only one making any noise, while Jeanne is silent. She is being taken from behind and it is not an intimate, emotional connection. Wittock then shows her face, after he finishes, and her eyes are filled with tears. That is not what she thought sex would feel like. How could something so intimate be so emotionless?

Jumbo is a an interesting watch because of Noémie Merlant, she completely took over the role and held the film together. She had such a beautiful understanding of Jeanne and how to portray her. Wittock took a chance on presenting societal issues in a very abstract way and it was impressive! You cannot take this film at surface value because it will lose the meaning of Jeanne’s journey. There is so much depth to this film and Wittock hits certain beats with ease. It is emotional, unique and a fresh perspective on sexual identity.