The High Note Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The High Note is a perfectly composed film that effortlessly shows the production journey in the music industry. It had an authentic feel and a nostalgic atmosphere because of Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her very long, successful music career. The film is about women in different places in the industry, one a superstar and the other an assistant/wannabe producer Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson). Their relationship appears strong but it is definitely tested throughout the film. It is written by Flora Greeson and directed by Nisha Ganatra (Late Night) who delivered one of the best films of the year.

It is one of the most interesting films that shows the musical journey in Hollywood. Grace Davis is a middle aged woman in the industry, who has locked a Vegas residency. Everyone loves the icon and her assistant Maggie wants to push for a new album, instead of extending the contract for another year. Maggie goes above and beyond her paygrade and ends up getting into arguments with Davis’ manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) who keeps putting her in her place. Flora Greeson accurately tells the story of reinventing a brand and an artists story, through multiple perspectives from the people around her.

This cast is truly something special, they all had wonderful chemistry together, which made for a great ensemble piece for everyone involved. Tracee Ellis Ross was stunning. I don’t know any other way to put it but she just gave off this elegance and prowess in her performance as Grace Davis. Dakota Johnson was lovely in this role and really carried the story with her characters dream to be a producer one day. Ice Cube was cast perfectly as Davis’ manager and definitely had the quippy attitude down pat. While watching this film, the one that truly surprised me was Kelvin Harrison Jr. who played David Cliff in the film. The man is very talented but hearing him sing, just elevated my adoration for him and he should be the name on everyone’s lips after this film.

Everything about this film flowed beautifully from scene to scene. The sound design and soundtrack that accompanied each scene worked so well together, as if everything was placed to shed light on the power of music. It was so heartwarming and you could feel the passion for music from everyone who worked on this film. There was so much care and love into creating this story and you could feel it from the entire team. The direction was great and there were many humorous moments that released some of the tension.

It was important to shed light on the treatment of women in the music industry, especially Black middle aged women in the music industry. Tracee Ellis Ross presented such raw emotion when discussing the sexism, ageism and racial issues that plague the industry. It was also important to highlight the difficulty a female producer would face and the connection shared between Davis and Maggie was important to this story. They shared such a beautiful friendship and I think it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of this film.

The High Note is refreshing and one of the best films of the year. This was a film that needed to be made because it highlights the lives of women in the music industry, in a way that no other film has. This film is also filled with plenty of surprises, especially the twist at the end, which made for a pretty emotional final performance. It is a film that captures women in such a unique light and shows that they are strong enough to create a pathway, for everyone to follow suit. It is all about taking risks and putting in the hardwork, in order to achieve your goals in life.

 

 

Hot Docs 2020 Selection: Love & Stuff Interview with Judith Helfand


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Love & Stuff  is a deeply personal documentary on motherhood and the cycle of life. Peabody Award winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, documented her terminally ill mother’s final moments, at home-hospice before she passed. In this feature, Helfand continues the story that she began two decades ago, with Healthy Baby Girl (Sundance, Peabody 1997) through these films, Helfand adds emotional layers, by openly discussing her own traumas, addressing grief by using dark humour and reflecting on the power of family.

Judith and her mother, just wanted more time to spend with each other. Time is something so valuable and we often take it for granted. “There’s so many things that she probably wanted to tell me, that she couldn’t find the language for, it’s really hard to say, here is my life long lesson, here’s what I want you to know before I die, here’s what I think you need to know.” said Helfand about having discussions with her late mother. Watching a loved one pass away is extremely difficult and emotional. How do we even calculate time? We tend to get whisked away into our busy lives and forget what it is like to spend time with our loved ones. Then for some reason, we ask for more time when we know it’s too late.

It is something that I’ve often questioned about elders, all they want to do is pass down their knowledge and experiences before they leave us. Why do they feel the need to do this at the end of their life? Do we only start listening when they are about to pass because we did not think of paying attention to the stories before?

“They want to give you advice, the stuff that you never wanted to listen to, they were probably right about. They want to keep this connection possible and if they never had a chance to do that, whether they were working too hard or your relationship was on the rocks or something like that, I think that they want the time and the space to be able to try and fix that before they die.” – Judith Helfand 

That is the most wonderful thing about Love & Stuff it takes these conversations about death and turns them into life lessons, so others can understand how to approach the end of their loved ones life. It is a cathartic piece, not only for Helfand but for everyone that worked on the film. It presented a safe space for everyone who had lost someone. “I mean it just started out as a way, for me to not be alone with what I knew. What could be a very private universal moment and by private I mean, I’m not letting others into our life, and into this moment, and into our space, into our home and into our hospice, but I did the opposite.” Helfand wanted everyone to be present for her mother’s passing, in order to give them time to say goodbye.

Helfand’s mother, like every mother, wanted what was best for her daughter and it was revealed that Judith could not bear any children of her own. So the connectivity to motherhood, was the strongest part of this feature because at a time where Judith needed her mother, to guide her through the adoption process and in raising her daughter, she had passed away. “The thing that my mother wanted the most at the end of her life, was the thing my daughter wanted at the beginning of hers and that’s time. My mother just wanted time and my kid just wants to play, she just wants time.” Helfand believes that her daughters birth, was a gift from her mother after she passed and that full circle connectivity is the heart of Love & Stuff. 

This film helps viewers re-evaluate their own connection with their parents or loved ones. Helfand had 2 and a half years to prepare for her mother’s death and it was important to her, to find away to utilize that time. “I wanted to figure out how to keep her in my life and keep our conversation dynamic, even if it wasn’t current and present. It could be ongoing and I wanted to figure out how to be a mother, without having a mother and I felt like all that material was locked inside an archive, and I needed to get to it, as soon as I could.” This feature is incredibly emotional because of the raw, human connection the viewer has with Helfand, as she goes on this journey with her mother.

Helfand made a follow up video to Love & Stuff, called Absolutely No Spitting and it shows the journey of her, now 4 year – old daughter Theo taking a DNA test to discover her ancestry. What starts out as a factual journey, turns into a path of self discovery and acceptance for young Theo. The love shared between Helfand and Theo is very quirky and heartfelt. Helfand shared her own ancestry with Theo and she will continue to explore value in the people around her. She identifies her daughter’s Blackness and incorporates that into her Jewish ancestry.

 

 

Agatha Christine: Next Door Spy Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Agatha Christine: Next Door Spy is an animated film, that tells the story of a young girl, named AC (short for Agatha Christine) that wants to become a detective. She runs her own operation, out of her basement and constructs spy equipment on her own. Young AC wants to solve the crimes in her neighbourhood and comes across a possible burglary at her local grocery store. It has been difficult for AC because no one really takes her seriously as a detective, or even supports her throughout this endeavour.

Director Karla von Bengston wanted to show the journey of a 10 year old girl, trying to harness her true identity, while everyone around her was against her. It’s a touching film that shows the struggles of a young girl, trying to find her identity and attempting to fit a gender stereotype that she does not want to conform to. The animation style is a bit different and I enjoyed how the colouring would change, from dream like detective sequence in black and white, to her reality being in colour. It felt like an old timey, spy film and it worked extremely well.

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Agatha Christie has had trouble making friends in the past and moving to a new city has made matters a bit more difficult for her. As she investigates the burglary, she finds her first suspect, named Vincent, she tries to figure out why he’s stealing, which eventually leads to a weird form of friendship. AC tries to navigate this investigation, while learning about friendship, it’s almost an adult story, masked as a children’s narrative. It was an interesting watch and everything slowly unfolded, so audiences could process everything going on in AC’s mind.

It was almost hard to watch at times because of how her family was treating her and her passion for detective work. She wanted to do what she loved but there was always something mean spirited said against her. As he friendship with Vincent began to grow, she would also have setbacks because she was trying to figure out his mystery but in the end, the bond of going through this journey together, trumped the fact that AC cracked the case.

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It also shows that young girls can be whoever they want to be and how parents can guide them on their journey of discovering their identity. Bengston also used a lizard as AC’s conscience throughout the film and has she got deeper into the case, the lizard grew larger. She kept the lizard locked away and it symbolized her self-doubt in the back of her mind. It showed the dark corners of her mind, through the shading and colours used to design the lizard.

Agatha Christine: Next Door Spy is an animated film with so many important issues being addressed for womanhood. It has great animation, a strong character arc for AC and the value of developing a friendship. It was a long, fun journey to go on and it had some of the coolest gadgets for detective work. It will teach young children to fight for themselves and who they want to become.

Canadian Film Fest 2020 Selection: Age of Dysphoria Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Age of Dysphoria is a short film the explores the issues of alcoholism and alzheimer’s in a very unique way. It is a disjointed narrative that pieces back the memory of one horrid night, that an elderly man, will remember for the rest of his life and will haunt his mind in the worst way. The film is about a young woman named Fin (Laura Vandervoort) who tracks down an elderly man, named Fred (Gordon Pinsent), in order to make amends for the tragedy that devastated his life.

Fin had been sober for a couple of months and feels ready to make amends with the person she hurt the most. The film addresses drunk driving and alcohol addiction. It shows the difficulty of coming to terms with an addiction and how it can not only affect your life, but others around you. It’s beautifully shot and it has great direction from Jessica Petelle for important scenes addressing addiction.

The most heartbreaking part of this film is the performance from Fred, he is an elderly man who lost his wife and is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The only thing he remembers is his late wife and the accident that occurred a while back. He associates every person he meets with his wife and calls them by her name, Stella. The conversation in the diner really got to me because Fred called Fin by his wife’s name during the difficult conversation. It’s very well written and as an all star team of female filmmakers that wanted to present this story in a realistic way.

Age of Dysphoria is a very emotional film, which speaks on the human condition and the importance of human connection. Humans are vulnerable creatures and everyone deserves to have that shoulder to lean on. The film is very candid with how it presents pain and suffering. People need to have difficult conversations to clear the conscience and cleanse their souls, in order to be move forward and that is what this film does.

 

HOT DOCS 2020: LOVE & STUFF


By: Amanda Guarragi 

“The only good thing about time running out, is that it pushes people to find the strength to show up.” 

Love & Stuff is a deeply personal documentary on motherhood and the cycle of life. Peabody Award winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, documented her terminally ill mother’s final moments, at home-hospice before she passed. The camera, helped Helfand stay connected to her mother during hard times and it was used as another form of communication. In this feature, Helfand continues the story that she began two decades ago, with Healthy Baby Girl (Sundance, Peabody 1997) through these films, Helfand adds emotional layers, by openly discussing her own traumas, addressing grief by using dark humour and reflecting on the power of family.

This feature is incredibly emotional because of the raw, human connection the viewer has with Helfand, as she goes on this journey with her mother. Helfand has normal, everyday conversations with her and integrates old home footage to show the drastic change in her mother. Her mother, like every mother, wanted what was best for her daughter and it was revealed that Judith could not bear any children of her own. So the connectivity to motherhood, was the strongest part of this feature because at a time where Judith needed her mother, to guide her through the adoption process and in raising her daughter, she had passed away.

“How do you live without your mother?” it’s a question – through our own paranoia of the endless possibilities that could happen to our mother’s – that we ask ourselves daily. How can any part of my life be possible without the woman that gave me life? How can I grow as an adult without her guiding me? It doesn’t matter what age you are, life is always hard to navigate and everyone confides in their mother or motherly figure. In Judith’s case, her baby girl Theo, was born right after her mother passed and many said it was a gift from her. How does one learn about motherhood, if they’ve never been a mother before? No one is ever prepared to look after a child and to have an entire being, be so dependent on you, it is definitely a challenge in itself.

As Judith’s mother was getting to her final months, she had become her baby to practice on, before she was able to complete the adoption. It was a humorous moment, but no one fully understands how heartbreaking it is to watch a person, who you have known your whole life to be physically strong, to lose that very part of themselves until they are in that situation themselves. I have gone through those stages with my grandparents, I have looked after them and I have struggled with understanding the aging process. How? How can we go from such strong, independent beings, to being children again? This is why my heart is always with the senior community, they have lived such full lives and then to see them in such a fragile state is hard.

I also find it quite interesting that seniors are always more open and candid discussing death, almost as if they start preparing us past a certain age. They make plenty of jokes centering around death, once they hit the age of seventy five and in a way, it’s good that they do that. What parents do their whole lives, is try to set up their children for a strong, healthy life and we don’t realize that is what they’re doing, until we have achieved our goals.

The one thing that really stood out to me in this feature, is that Judith went through all of her mother’s belongings with her and then kept everything in boxes after her passing. The emotional attachment to objects is very hard to break because of all the memories that are tied to them. I thought the individual shots of the objects Judith decided to highlight, were very important because whether it was a piano or a tube of lipstick, it reminded Judith of her mother. Instead of a memory locked in your mind, there is a physical, concrete object that you can hold in your hands, which will still have traces of your loved one.

Love & Stuff is a beautiful documentary about life and death. It shows the value of family and the power of motherhood. It handles grief with such tenderness and shows a side of seniors, that many do not see before their passing. Somehow, it is more difficult to grieve your loved one, while they are alive because you know you have to let them go eventually. It is important to remember that even if your mother is no longer with you, she taught you everything you needed to know to survive this life and as time goes on, you will incorporate what she taught you and add your own anecdotes.