The St. Lawrence International Film Festival is nothing if not ambitious. It’s hosting movies in four different cities this weekend, in two different countries: Ottawa and Brockville in Ontario, Canada, and Canton and Potsdam in New York state, USA. This is its inaugural run and it has not been without wrinkles. The website and handbook tend to disagree an awful lot. On Friday night we took in a movie that was slated to run until 9:06pm, according to the internet, which meant that a second movie at 9pm was a no-go. The program told a different story and indeed we were out by 8:40 and could have made the other film. We saw another instead. The next day the internet had us at Snell Theatre at SUNY college when in fact the movie was in another auditorium altogether. We discovered this mistake before it was fatal, but the run-time was again amiss (and it didn’t help that they started late) so we missed our next movie. When you’re asking people to travel to different countries, which in fact we had, it’s a long way to go to be disappointed. Fortunately, this festival has been a lot more than just its mistakes. We already told you about the fabulous opening night gala with Dan Aykroyd at Gatineau’s beautiful Canadian Museum of History. where we screened an anniversary edition of Blues Brothers but guess what – we actually saw some movies that are not older me!
At the American Theater Canton, NY:
The Girl King: tells the incredible (true) story of Kristina, Queen of Sweden since age 6 (roughly 17th century, I believe), who fought against the conservative values and religion of the time to modernize her country, to make it a mecca of wisdom and curiosity. And she also happened to be a lesbian, which would have been frowned upon anyway, but when your first job in life is to produce a royal heir, it’s a crazy scandal. Malin Buska is stunning and gives a great blank stare (and also, she’s like 78% legs, so when she gallops about it’s kind of a thing to see) but she’s most dynamic when lady-in-waiting cum royal-bed-companion (Sarah Gadon) shares her screen. At times the film is quite lush and there are certainly lots of costumes fit for a queen, but the film betrays its limitations; there’s a low-budget filter over the thing, and the production values just aren’t there, especially considering it’s a period piece. But it’s a pretty great story with an interesting philosophical bent, and it’s refreshing to see a historical female figure for once.
The Break-In: about a couple going through a rough patch in their marriage who seem to bond anew over a shared trauma when they accidentally murder an intruder. The film starts with the break-in and subsequent concealment of a dead body in their freezer, and then unravels backward in time to let us know how exactly we ended up at this awkward point in time. Even though you know about the murder in advance, this movie still managed to keep me on tenterhooks almost the entire time. The director has these agonizingly long shots that keep us watching beyond what’s comfortable. We feel the tension; we become complicit in it. Betrayal and failure waft throughout this thoughtfully quiet film, leaving lots of room for the morality of the thing to seep into our bones. It’s interestingly ambiguous, with neither a true villain nor hero, and guarantees a lively discussion during the car ride home. Director Marcus Ovnell and leading lady Jenny Lampa, who gave a restrained but strong performance as the disconnected and discontented wife, were both on hand at the screening, and Ovnell said of casting both his wife and Lukas Loughran, that you hire great actors and “hopefully they do something interesting.” And I believe that in this small and humble way, they have.
At the Proscenium Theater, SUNY Potsdam, NY
The Hunting Ground: an intensely riveting documentary from the people behind The Invisible War spotlighting the troubling epidemic of rape on college campuses across the country. Unflinching in its approach, it bravely puts a face (in fact, many faces) to the overwhelming statistics: nearly 1 in 4 female college students will be sexually assaulted during their studies. 1 in 4. Think about that. Do you have a daughter going off to school soon? Is that a number you can live with? It’s a tough one to swallow, so the schools are all complicit in massive cover ups to massage those numbers down. They revictimize the victims by discouraging reporting of any kind. If a woman cannot be intimidated into dropping the charges, the schools hold disciplinary committees that are a joke – out of the 259 reported rapes at Stanford during the past couple of years, only 1 of the rapists was expelled. So now your daughter has not only been raped, she’s forced to attend class with her rapist, eat meals with him, see him on campus, maybe even share a dorm. And she’s likely receiving death threats from her fellow students, especially if she’s accused a BMOC. The big men on campus, namely fraternity brothers and student athletes, are completely insulated from consequences by the universities because the schools’ main priority is not student safety but fundraising. And scandal doesn’t pay. So rapes are constantly swept under the rug, women feel violated by administrators who won’t support them, and not a single thing is being done to remove predatory repeat offenders from campuses that provide them a steady stream of young, ripe victims. The film’s scope is quite impressive and paints the villain as not just institutional but societal. It’s high-impact and unapologetic and I hope it gets an Oscar nomination not only because it’s very effective film making, but because this cause needs to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. Executive producer Sarah Johnson was on hand to tell us that it is the activism and the outreach behind the film that is most important to her – check out the website to find out what campuses are screening it now, and how to get a screening at yours.
Lady Gaga’s stirring song in support of the film: