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.

 

 

A Guide to Queer Films: What to Watch For Pride 2020


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Happy Pride Month!!

The month of June was chosen for LGBTQAI+ Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. Here is a brief history of the night that started it all:

New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park.

So to honour Pride month and the LGBTQAI+ community, I have compiled a list of 30 films (one for each day of pride month), for people to educate themselves and watch films created by queer filmmakers for queer cinema.


  1. All About My Mother (1999)
    dir. Pedro Almodóvar
    Synopsis: Young Esteban wants to become a writer and also to discover the identity of his second mother, a trans woman, carefully concealed by his mother Manuela.1(left) Rosa Maria Sardá, Cecilia Roth and Penélope Cruz


  2. Beginners (2010)
    dir. Mike Mills
    Synopsis: A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer and that he has a young male lover.2 (left) Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor


  3. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
    dir. Abdellatif Kechiche
    Synopsis: Adèle’s life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire and to assert herself as a woman and as an adult.3(left) Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux


  4. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
    dir. Ang Lee
    Synopsis: The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.4.(left) Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal


  5. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
    dir. Luca Guadagnino
    Synopsis: In 1980s Italy, romance blossoms between a seventeen-year-old student and the older man hired as his father’s research assistant.5. (left) Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer


  6. Carol (2015)
    dir. Todd Haynes
    Synopsis: An aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman in 1950s New York.6. ( left) Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett


  7. Disobedience (2017) 
    dir. Sebastián Lelio
    Synopsis:
    A woman returns to her Orthodox Jewish community that shunned her for her attraction to a female childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.7. (left) Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz


  8. Duke of Burgundy (2014)
    dir.
    Peter Strickland
    Synopsis: 
    A woman who studies butterflies and moths tests the limits of her relationship with her lesbian lover.8.Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna


  9. Giant Little Ones (2018)
    dir. Keith Behrman
    Synopsis: Two popular teen boys, best friends since childhood, discover their lives, families, and girlfriends dramatically upended after an unexpected incident occurs on the night of a 17th birthday party.9.


  10. God’s Own Country (2017) 
    dir. Francis Lee
    Synopsis: Spring. Yorkshire. Young farmer Johnny Saxby numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex, until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker for lambing season ignites an intense relationship that sets Johnny on a new path.10.(left) Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor


  11. I Can’t Think Straight (2008) 
    dir. Shamim Sarif
    Synopsis: A young woman engaged to be married finds her life changed forever when she meets her best friend’s girlfriend.11.(left) Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth


  12. Looking For Langston (1989)
    dir.  Isaac Julien
    Synopsis: A black and white, fantasy-like recreation of high-society gay men during the Harlem Renaissance, with archival footage and photographs intercut with a story.12


  13. Love, Simon (2018)
    dir. Greg Berlanti
    Synopsis: Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.13. (left) Nick Robinson and Keiynan Lonsdale


  14. Milk (2008)
    dir. 
    Gus Van Sant
    Synopsis: The story of Harvey Milk and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official.14.(left) James Franco and Sean Penn


  15. Moonlight (2016) 
    dir. Barry Jenkins
    Synopsis: A young African-American man grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.15 (left) Alex R. Hibbert and Jaden Piner


  16. Mysterious Skin (2004)
    dir.  Gregg Araki
    Synopsis: A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.17. (left) Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet


  17. Paris is Burning (1990)
    dir. Jennie Livingston
    Synopsis: A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.17.Octavia St. Laurent


  18. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
    dir. Céline Sciamma
    Synopsis: On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.18(left) Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant


  19. Pride (2014)
    dir. Matthew Warchus
    Synopsis: U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.19.George MacKay


  20. Princess Cyd (2017)
    dir. Stephen Cone
    Synopsis: Eager to escape life with her depressive single father, 16-year-old athlete Cyd Loughlin visits her novelist aunt in Chicago over the summer.20 (left) Rebecca Spence and Jessie Pinnick


  21. Rocketman (2019)
    dir. Dexter Fletcher
    Synopsis: A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John‘s breakthrough years.
    21Taron Egerton


  22. Saving Face (2004)
    dir. Alice Wu
    Synopsis: A Chinese-American lesbian and her traditionalist mother are reluctant to go public with secret loves that clash against cultural expectations.22Courtesy of Mongrel Media: (left) Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen 


  23. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
    dir. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
    Synopsis: A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.MSDCECL EC016(left) Quentin Crisp, Rob Epstein, and Jeffrey Friedman 


  24. Rafiki (2018)
    dir. Wanuri Kahiu
    Synopsis: “Good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives,” but Kena and Ziki long for something more. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.24(left) Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva


  25. The Handmaiden (2016)
    dir. Chan-wook Park
    Synopsis: A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.25Tae-ri Kim


  26. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
    dir. Lisa Cholodenko
    Synopsis: Two children conceived by artificial insemination bring their biological father into their non-traditional family life.26(left) Annette Bening and Julianne Moore


  27. The Normal Heart (2014)
    dir. Ryan Murphy
    Synopsis:  A gay activist attempts to raise H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. awareness during the early 1980s.27(left) Joe Mantello and Mark Ruffalo 


  28. The Watermelon Woman (1996)
    dir. Cheryl Dunye
    Synopsis: A young black lesbian filmmaker probes into the life of The Watermelon Woman, a 1930s black actress who played ‘mammy’ archetypes.28Cheryl Dunye


  29. The Way He Looks (2014)
    dir. Daniel Ribeiro
    Synopsis: Leonardo is a blind teenager searching for independence. His everyday life, the relationship with his best friend, Giovana, and the way he sees the world change completely with the arrival of Gabriel.29 (left) Fabio Audi and Ghilherme Lobo


  30. Weekend (2011)
    dir. Andrew Haigh
    Synopsis: After a drunken house party with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a gay club. Just before closing time he picks up Glen but what’s expected to be just a one-night stand becomes something else, something special.30(left) Chris New and Tom Cullen 


These are the films that I wanted to highlight. Some are my favourite films, some are underrated and some definitely need to be seen for educational purposes. I hope that many of you will watch some of the films listed above. Sending love to everyone and please have a happy and safe Pride month.

So please continue to fight for the Black community and the LGBTQAI+ community, now and forever.

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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 4.19.44 PM (1)

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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 4.17.18 PM

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.

 

Desertscape International Film Festival 2020 Selection: “Always” Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Always is a short film, based on real life experiences, directed by Sam Zapiain and written by Melissa MJ Del Rosario. It incorporates horror elements to cope with the illness of diabetes. There is an urgency in the storytelling because no one really discusses the struggle of living with diabetes. Its experimental use of painted images and rough editing, combined with the haunting score make this a truly special film.

The film hooks you from the moment it begins. The close up shot of the needle in the center of the screen lures you in and then it abruptly cuts to our subject Alex (David Kurtz), who is laying in bed with hands all over his body, appearing to strap him down to the bed. The imagery in this film is quite stunning, as it uses hands and fingers to show the mental struggle in coping with the illness. The film also plays with colours, the anxiety and mental struggle is shown in black and white, while the insulin and needles are in colour. There’s such richness in these tones and the lighting was also extremely effective to punch up certain textures.

The film feels like a journey in such a short period of time. The repetition, rough cuts and haunting (but stunning) images are all utilized to properly highlight the struggle of living with diabetes. It’s a very important film and most of the images will stay with me for awhile. Always is very well written and executed, it’s a personal story and everyone should watch it.