Writer-director Félix Dufour-Laperrière presents an animated film unlike any other. On a black background, the outline of a woman appears. Inside the woman’s outline is moving water, a river, la fleuve. I know it well. I grew up on this river. It’s the St. Lawrence, a great river that flows along the provinces of both Québec and Ontario, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, a source of food, of commerce, and of dreams. Leonard Cohen sang about it in Suzanne. I’ve swum in it, eaten from it, skimmed its lively surface while sitting (screaming) in a tube, and once, unadvisedly, I attempted to water ski on it. I fished it for years in my grandfather’s little aluminum boat, it’s how we bonded, and where we loved, and every single person mentioned it at his funeral 3 months ago. The St. Lawrence ran in my grandfather’s veins. You can smell it from my mother’s house. I still think of it as home.
Dufour-Laperrière’s film is moving poetry dedicated to a river, to a land, to islands real and imaginary. Tracing a people’s history along the river, chasing their future and their ambitions, Archipelago is always beautiful, often philosophical, hinting at a truth truer than true.
Two narrators, the woman from the beginning (Florence Blain Mbaye), perhaps the voice of the river herself, as well as a man (Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) engage in a verbal waltz, like a pair of figure skaters dancing across the frozen river, sparring in such an elegant and delightful way that it’s impossible to look away.
This strange work, not a documentary but not not a documentary, reflects on time, community, our sense of belonging, our shared memory, our fractured identity. It demands little from us but suggests much more than simply the sum of its words and images. It absorbs you into its own landscape, its own reality. We may not know who is speaking to us, or from what time, or which place, but the effect is absorbing, and hypnotic. Archipelago is not a movie, it’s an experience.
In the near, dystopian future, a war has waged across North America, leaving destruction in its wake. A military occupation controls the land now, and its citizens. They’re forcibly removing children from their families – it’s literally illegal to have a minor at home – and putting them into State Academies where their education is strictly controlled and could easily be confused for brainwashing and propaganda.
Eleven year old Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) has survived out in the bush with her mother, a subsistance, off-grid lifestyle in order to avoid the facial-recognition drones that are always hunting children. Her mother Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) is a Cree woman who intuitively understands how important it is to keep her daughter hidden, but an accident forces them to breach the city limits for the first time in years, and eventually to separate, with Waseese falling into the hands of the Academy. Emboldened to fight back, Niska joins a group of Cree vigilantes to get her daughter back.
If you’re Canadian (or American or Australian), you might recognize the roots of this story. They are part of our shameful colonizers’ history. After stealing the land from underneath the First Nations people here, we did then snatch their kids, threatening parents with prison or worse for failure to comply, and pack them into residential schools where actual education was besides the point. Mostly the schools wanted to assimilate the kids, to stamp the ‘Indian’ right out of them, outlawing their languages and denying their cultures. Away from their parents and their communities, the children were taught to internalize racist stereotypes under the guise of ‘christian’ values. Many children were abused. Many children never returned home. Many survivors still suffer the consequences today, as do several generations of their families.
Director Danis Goulet, who is Cree-Métis herself, uses this atrocity to build a world that reflect this ugly reality. While immersed in a violent future, we are reminded of the past, Goulet finding a unique way to make the two blend seamlessly. Night Raiders is a new chapter in Canadian story-telling, one that can help inform and inspire new ways of addressing and remembering painful subjects that apply in so many of the world’s countries, founded in colonialism.
Night Raiders is an official selection of TIFF 2021.
This film contains scenes that may distress some viewers, especially those who have experienced harm, abuse, violence, and/or intergenerational trauma due to colonial practices.
Support is available 24 hours a day for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and for those who may be triggered by content dealing with residential schools, child abuse, emotional trauma, and racism. The national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
A rural farming township since 1850, Scarborough became the easternmost borough of Metropolitan Toronto in 1953 but grew to be such a busy suburb it became its own city in 1983 – only to amalgamate once again in 1998 into the present City of Toronto, though it remains a distinct, fully urbanized and diverse cultural community. A popular destination for immigrants, it is home to many religious groups and places of worship. It is still the greenest place in Toronto, but it is also the poorest. More than half of residents are foreign-born, and nearly three-quarters are visible minorities. It is a neglected neighbourhood, with fewer of the city’s resources being diverted toward its infrastructure, education, etc, purposely forgotten because of race and class. This is the space in which the film Scarborough and its characters exist.
Three kids meet in a Family Literacy program in their school. Free breakfast is the biggest draw for these kids and their parents, but while there, the program’s teachers emphasize good parenting techniques and reading as a family activity. The program’s directors arrogantly presume that these children have fallen behind because of poor parenting rather than housing instability, unemployment, the demands of special-needs children, English as a second language, inadequate nutrition, racial inequalities in the education system, and other important risk factors. Social factors are outside their purview, so they are roundly ignored even when clearly an obstacle to a child’s development.
Luckily for these three friends – Bing (Liam Diaz), Sylvie (Essence Fox), and Laura (Anna Claire Beitel) – they see each other more clearly than any government agency, social worker, or teacher ever well. They’re just kids, learning to read, yes, but also learning to cope, to fit in, to survive. Bing and his mother fled abuse in the middle of the night. Laura gets shuttled between an addict mother and an angry father, and Sylvie tries not to be forgotten between her autistic brother and disabled father.
Scarborough moved me. These kids go through so much, grow up so fast, and yet all they desire is a friend and a piece of candy. Their wants are so modest that it breaks the heart to see them disappointed time and again, to see them failed by the very people meant to protect them. The film isn’t accusatory, though. That would be futile. Instead, it invests in a generation tasked with saving itself, with somehow escaping the cycle of poverty while being forced to run its gamut.
The filmmakers have done a wonderful job generating authenticity and empathy for its characters while showing them with nothing but the dignity they deserve. The casting is particularly commendable as most are non-actors and yet the kids are natural and charming despite some really tough topics.
Scarborough will sit in my heart for a while. It’s a beautiful film, both visually and spiritually, and brave for making its world premiere in the heart of Toronto itself, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In director Panayioti Yannitsos’s new documentary, a bunch of firefighters in New York City, Toronto, Detroit, and Vancouver discuss the difficulties of working this job. As first responders, they’ve seen some shit, the worst of which is difficult if not impossible to ever forget. They bring those disturbing images and experiences home with them, intentionally or not, colouring their entire lives, affecting time spent with family. For a long time, the mental health aspects of the job just weren’t discussed. They attended each other’s funerals, never mentioning the word suicide but knowing what it was nonetheless. The post-traumatic stress is real, whether it’s named or diagnosed or not. This job takes its toll.
This documentary offers up an interesting cure. Florian’s Knights is a motorcycle club for firefighters. “Wind therapy,” one of them calls it. There’s something about the quiet and peace of the open road that allows them the time and space to process the pain and foster brotherhood with people who actually understand. [Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, fyi]
Silence and solitude have been the default and dominant methods of ‘dealing’ with the demands of the job for as long as holding a hose has been someone’s job. Finally, this club offers up the chance to actually express themselves in a safe space where family and work don’t have to be separated. It’s a solution they found themselves, and by offering new chapters to fire departments in different cities and countries, it seemed Florian’s Knights were likely to be a healthy alternative for battling the effects of PTSD.
Except not all motorcycle clubs are created the same, and some have an incredibly long history of violence and criminality. Once associated with the Hell’s Angels (in part by wearing 3 piece patches, emblematic of outlaw MCs), Florian’s Knights flounders. What will happen to men who have nothing else if this is taken away? Who wins?
PAW Patrol is a popular (9 seasons popular so far) children’s cartoon, at least here in Canada, where one small boy named Ryder is the Bosley to an intrepid group of puppies who form a rescue operation in their small town of Adventure Bay. Here, every kid under 5 can tell you who their favourite pup is: most will pick Chase, the police officer German Shepherd, or Marshall, the Dalmatian fire fighter. Sky, the Cockapoo helicopter pilot, Rocky the recycling, handyman Schnauzer/Scottie mix, Zuma the water rescue Lab, and Rubble the construction Bulldog round out the PAW Patrol, contributing when Ryder deems it necessary, each episode a lesson in thoughtful problem-solving and selecting appropriate skills. The pups each live in a special doghouse that easily transforms into their custom vehicles or “pupmobiles” and besides the collars that alert them to emergencies, they also wear pup packs that contain tools related to their jobs, like grappling hooks, zip lines, and jet packs. They assemble in a tall tower called The Lookout which serves not just as their lair but as their phone booth (Superman style, where they get into costume). They each have a catchphrase and over the years they’ve made a number of friends – Everest, who helps with snow rescues, Rex, who operates in the jungle, etc. As the show is incredible toyetic and in fact seems to serve primarily as a merchandising machine, each of these special helpers inspires its own toy line, so even if you already had all the original pups, plus their vehicles, and the Lookout, you’ll aslo need all of their specialized snow equipment, jungle ensembles, archeology outfits, etc, etc. With all of my nieces and nephews at some point whole-heartedly devoted to the show (even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his kids are fans), I cannot tell you how many dollars I have spent on these items. As good aunts and uncles, we watched enough episodes to be able to identify the pups, name our favourite (Rubble), utter the correct catch phrases during play, and scorn the show’s main antagonist, a mischievous mayor from a nearby town named Humdinger, who has a harem of cats, of course.
In the movie, which is only available in theatres here in Canada but may be streamed elsewhere on Paramount+, Humdinger has gone to the nearby metropolis of Adventure City to see what trouble can be caused there. The pups are summoned to provide help when he is immediately responsible for a number of catastrophes, including a fireworks display gone horribly wrong, a “hyperloop” subway that does a series of upside-down loops, and a cloud catcher that ensured good weather but of course was overused and goes rogue.
I happened to be hosting my 5 year old niece Ella this weekend, along with 3 rambunctious boys, her older brother and cousins, and thought it might be nice for her and I to watch the movie together. I was surprised to find that all the boys, who have since grown out of the franchise, were keen to watch at all. Having seen the trailer, they’d determined that the movie looked funny, and was probably made for older kids. Indeed, the movie abandons the 2-D animation of children’s cartoon shows and has transformed the pups for a modern movie experience. The kids debated who looked the most different, but seemed to enjoyed the new look overall.
In the big city, the PAW Patrol encounters bigger challenges than they’re used to in their dozy little bay, really raising the stakes of their rescue operation. They also make a new friend a Dachshund named Liberty who’s got street smarts and city savvy. This is a fortuitous choice for a couple of reasons: first, we have a wiener dog in our own house, a pup named Walt who was enjoying movie time with the kids, having 8 hands to pet his extra-long body, and 4 bowls of popcorn to steal from. Walt is still relatively new here, and the current obsession and constant receiver of round the clock attention from the kids. To find that their cartoon counterparts have also adopted a Dachshund was a thrill for the kids, and the fact that Liberty also happened to be a homeless dog provided an important learning opportunity for all of us. These kids live in a small town like the pups on the show normally do, but as we drove them into the much larger city where Sean and I live, we drove by a couple of homeless people, who the kids never fail to spot and need to talk about. The sight is unfamiliar to them, but the concept is of course absurd to them, to all kids I’m sure, that our society just allows certain people to not have a home. We explain as best we can, but we know our excuses are lousy, and they sound particularly hollow when said out loud to innocent children.
When TV shows make the leap to the big screen, it’s an opportunity to expand on the universe, and setting up the pups to perform in the big city is certainly an excellent use of the medium. For me, though, it definitely brought about an uncomfortable line of questioning. Back home in Adventure Bay, the pups get frequent calls from Cap’N Turbot and Farmer Yumi, recurring characters with familiar foibles, who get into predictable and formulaic scrapes and mishaps. In the city, however, you realize the absurdity when small dogs are careening armoured rescue vehicles down crowded city streets, and normal adult human beings trapped in a burning skyscraper don’t object when the only responders are the same dogs who probably spend their days off sniffing each other’s butts and being distracted by squirrels. Suddenly, you’re asking a lot more from your audience.
PAW Patrol: The Movie may look more like Pixar than it normally does on TV, but it is not a movie intended for all audiences. It’s made for children, and the children who watched it with me rated it very highly. They could not have identified the more famous voice cast (including Randall Park, Tyler Perry, Jimmy Kimmel, and Kim Kardashian), but they did appreciate the new design, and actually got up to dance around to the songs – there are over 75 of them, with original contributions from Simple Plan, Alien Ant Farm, and a real catchy bop from Adam Levine. If you have little PAW Patrollers in your home, the movie is sure to be a hit.
A horror film set in the snow, and an official Fantasia Film Fest pick.
The Premise: Band peace officer Betty (Madison Walsh) is quickly overwhelmed when a hit and run goes unsolved, its victim a young community activist named Kharis (Sheena Kaine). Meanwhile, the community is also grappling with a mining company come to suck their tribal land dry. Even more concerning: some invisible predator is stalking and brutally killing one person after the next. Betty quickly deputizes game warden Stacey (Sera-Lys McArthur) to help hunt a killer who leaves very few tracks. No one is safe, and no one can quite agree whether these murders are the stuff of legend, but either way it seems one strict rule can be agreed upon: don’t say its name.
The Verdict: I had my doubts, but director (and co-writer) Rueben Martell pulls off his horror with aplomb. Its indigenous setting is rich and authentic, a natural backdrop for some terrifying First Nations traditions. Its unique perspective is augmented by a trio of strong female leads, with an especially admirable and grounded performance from Walsh, who calmly stands in the centre of the storm and bravely gets on with the job. From the very first scene, I was stunned by the film’s truth. Canada’s First Nations communities continue to be haunted by its missing and murdered women and girls, and the sight of Kharis walking alone along a dark road is eerily familiar. Spooks and spirits may plague this small community, but it’s the white man who truly poses the threat, wreaking havoc on the people and their native land in far more lasting and concrete ways.
Join us after the screening on August 18 at 9:10pm EDT for a live Q&A with special guest host Jesse Wente, director Rueben Martell, actors Sera-Lys McArthur, Julian Black Antelope, Val Duncan, Catherine Gell, Justin Lewis and Sheena Kaine, and producer Rene J. Collins.
What do you do when you you’re reeling from a break-up with no place to stay and no money to make things happen? To grandmother’s house you go, of course. It’s what Russell does. Russell (Thomas Duplessie) has decided to pack up his wigs and fishnets and lick his wounds in the country, at his Grandma Margaret’s place. Grandma (Cloris Leachman) is delighted to have him, not least of all because it’ll help her avoid the local nursing home, which she adamantly and steadfastly refuses to go to despite it being well established that she’s really no longer able to care for herself at home.
Russell has, until recently, pursued acting, but has dropped that passion for another – drag – which may have contributed to his breakup. His mother Ene (Linda Kash) drops in from time to time and hardly seems to know who to be most exasperated with – her stubborn, sickly mother, or her waffling, still-dependent son. Equally inefficient with both, she seems just to pop in to be a bummer and then leave again. Meanwhile, neither housemate is doing well. Russell is stagnant, torn between leaving, which means restarting, which is terrifying not to mention the whole abandoning Grandma thing, or staying, and quietly extinguishing an important part of himself. Grandma, meanwhile, is rapidly declining, but no less unwavering in her resolve to live at home. But this together time means they’re both learning about each other’s lives, their secrets, their dashed hopes, things many grandma-grandson duos may never normally exchange. Their relationship is unconventional but sweet.
Director Phil Connell keeps things simple, allowing the relationship to be the film’s primary focus. Newcomer Duplessie pours his whole self into the role. On the other end of the spectrum, this is Cloris Leachman’s final role. She died in January of this year, a talented lady to the very last, and though she seems as feisty and vibrant as ever, physically the years were taking a toll and it’s hard not to think of her demise while watching her declining mental state in the film. Still, such a meaty, involved role for a woman this late in her life is a rarity (she was 94 when she died), and Leachman was such a gem. This film isn’t her best, but it’s a great way to say goodbye to a legend.
A caveat: although I enjoyed this movie, and I enjoy drag as a whole, I do have one problem with both, and that’s the use of the word ‘fish.’ In drag, ‘fish’ is a compliment. It means the queen is looking particularly feminine, perhaps even passing as female. But fish is a dirty word, a derogatory word. I don’t mind anyone dressing up as a woman or performing as a woman but I do mind the offensive language, and I’m pretty sure you can guess where the term fish comes from. It’s a word that’s been used to shame women about the scent of their sex, as if a natural odor is somehow wrong. As a term it’s been co-opted by the drag community, the very people who apparently admire femininity so much they want to emulate it, but at the same time insult the people they’re imitating. It seems strange to put on heels and wigs and corsets and makeup and then sling sexist terms like this, but the patriarchy is pretty strong and even the marginalized will oppress those beneath them. The word is unnecessary, easily scrubbed. Let’s make that happen.
Spencer (Andrew Walker) came to town to coach skating prodigy Nikki to gold at regionals and beyond, but it’s her former skating teacher Emily (Julie Berman) who catches his eye. Emily is cute, single, and age appropriate, but she’s also a former pro skater herself. She gave it up 8 years ago to care for her dying mother, but Spencer thinks there’s still greatness in her, and when Emily finally allows herself to look deep within, she finds she’s still got the heart of a competitor.
Of course, there are a few obstacles, not even counting her (relatively advanced) age, or the many years she’s spent off the competitive circuit and not in competitive shape. There’s her relationship with Nikki, for starters, a very nice young girl who didn’t really deserve to have her coaching time split though it would seem she was still paying full price. And Nikki’s super alpha competitive mom, Mia, who doesn’t appreciate the interference or a less than militaristic style of coaching . And Nikki’s new coach slash Emily’s old coach, Lindsay, who is ruthless and plays dirty. And a local reporter who puts skating rink gossip on live TV as if people would actually care. And money, always money. And there’s the fact that Emily’s maybe falling in love with Spencer, and Spencer’s maybe falling in love with her. Just a few obstacles to an ideal comeback, but who’s counting?
Between training montages, diner fundraisers, obligatory skate sharpening cuts, and a very odd “kids these days,” “old ladies don’t like rap” scene (wherein the old lady was a 27 year old), there was very little time for romance. Which was just as well because I don’t think Andrew Walker is particularly good at acting in love, an unfortunately flaw when Hallmark is your bread and butter. As much as I rolled my eyes at the title, Take A Shot At Love was a much better skating-themed Hallmark romance, if that’s your jam.
Alex (Katrina Bowden) wants to be a travel writer but her boss at the travel mag tells her that travel writers are courageous and impetuous, things that she is not. But Alex really wants this new job and is determined to show her boss he’s wrong, so she decides to go on an extreme sports vacation even though using a paperclip where a staple would normally be required is usually as extreme as she gets – and even that scenario makes her sweat a little.
Anyway: does she have a panic attack causing a human pileup on the chair lift? Possibly. Did Sean invent the word “helichopter” because helicopter just wasn’t extreme enough? Undoubtedly. Was that a Hannah Montana reference I just heard? No idea. But hang on to the seat of your snow pants, folks, you’re in for a pretty wild ride – ziplining, suspension bridges, extreme tobogganing (well, it was pretty regular tobogganing, to be honest, but down a larger than average hill). Nothing so extreme it smudges Alex’s lip gloss, but extreme for the Hallmark channel, thanks to her “guide,” adventure photographer Cole Taylor (Thomas Beaudoin). Now, it is difficult to sift the bad dialogue from Beaudoin’s awkward delivery, nay, impossible, but there’s more than enough blame to go around.
Well guys, what do you think? Will Alex uncover a roaring desire for extreme sports? I mean, it’s Hallmark. They’ve got to channel their horniness into something productive, amirite? Those hormones have to go somewhere – might as well be off the side of a very high cliff.
Hallmark imagines that Christmas is a time replete with journalists just desperate for soft, holiday-themed “news.” They’re visiting small town bed and breakfasts, boarding cross-country trains, trying to reunite lost items with their owners, sleeping on war ships, solving charity mysteries, hunting for vintage jewelry, and more. This particular writer, Rebecca (Jill Wagner), has been assigned to go back to her hometown and crack the top secret identity of the person granting wishes that are placed upon the town’s angel tree.
The Angel tree is a tradition that’s been going on now for decades. It was in effect when Rebecca was a child – and it seems she might the only one for whom the angel tree didn’t work. She wished that her family wouldn’t move away, but they did, and she’s kind of been harbouring a sort of resentment ever since. But for many, many others, perhaps 40 or 50 a year, the wishes have magically come true. Since Rebecca’s been writing about it, however, a lot of extra attention has meant a lot of extra wishes. And no matter who the mysterious benefactor is – and the townspeople are very protective of his or her identity – they couldn’t possibly provide for that many people. So Rebecca enlists the help of her aunt, her daughter, and her childhood friend, Matthew (Lucas Bryant) to take care of some of the overflow.
You might guess that Rebecca and Matthew engage in some pretty heavy reconnecting while doing good for their community. But will their budding romance survive Rebecca’s needling? Will she really betray the community’s secret? Will she get fired if she doesn’t? Will anyone be able to grant Matthew’s nephew’s wish, that his deployed mother join him for Christmas? And aren’t there some things in life just better left as mysteries anyway? Find out with The Angel Tree.