3 films to see at Vancouver's Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth

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      “Consequences of a Thief” is a charming, supernatural riff on cultural heritage and appropriation made by kids on Haida Gwaii. It’s also a perfect illustration of what the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth has been up to for the past 19 years.

      Produced through R2R with Our World—a program that brings filmmaking workshops to First Nations communities—the six-minute short screens, along with a whopping 24 other titles, as part of the festival’s Youth Filmmakers Showcase. The series is just one of five extensive programs designed by R2R to introduce both the means of production and the pleasures of critical engagement to our youngest moviegoers.

      In total, Reel 2 Real—which runs at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and Vancity Theatre from Sunday (April 2) to April 8—remains a powerful assault on the brain-frying, no-calorie hegemony of commercial film and a haven for safe expression. It’s also responsible for bringing some of the best youth-oriented international cinema to Vancouver, with nine features on this year’s roster, all of them a Canadian, West Coast, or local premiere.

      Here are three of our picks. More information is at www.2017.r2rfestival.org/.


      The Sun at Midnight


      With her single-parent dad forced to leave Vancouver for work, moody 16-year-old Lia is packed off to the Northwest Territories to stay with a maternal grandmother she doesn’t know inside a culture, Gwich’in, that is alien to her. In this feature debut by Kirsten Carthew, immersion inside a vast and forbidding subarctic landscape is every bit as important as the film’s narrative beats, which find Lia ditching Grandma (after a spot of small-town bullying) in a desperate bid to reach Dawson City by boat.

      Of course, this goes wrong almost immediately. Enter Alfred, a taciturn Gwich’in hunter who first protects and then bonds with this lost kid, providing a connection to her unfamiliar heritage as surely as he teaches her to use a rifle. As Lia, Devery Jacobs (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) manages to remain the magnetic centre of the tale; no small feat, considering that she’s competing for our attention with The Revenant’s Duane Howard as Alfred, or that both of them are liable to be overwhelmed by the otherworldly nature on display.

      Eventually, the film takes Lia all the way to a weather station so remote that it might as well be sitting on one of the moons of Saturn. (Whereupon she takes a selfie and promptly encounters a wolf.) Although it goes without saying that The Sun at Midnight deserves to be seen on a big screen, some of its smaller, quirkier details really stick, like Alfred’s insistence on shaving every day (in honour of his dead wife) or Lia’s great-grandmother’s unhealthy taste for Cheez Whiz (surely a poor dietary choice when you’re about 150 years old and you could be feasting on caribou).

      This delightful gala opener is followed by a Q & A with Carthew and Howard, who will be joined by Jacobs via Skype.

      Vancity Theatre, April 2 (4:30 p.m.) and April 4 (12 p.m.)


      Play Your Gender


      Kinnie Starr hosts this eye-opening doc—more of a call to arms, really—about the appalling gender gap in the music industry. In a business still worth more than $400 billion annually, and dressed up with plenty of female pop stars, the dominance of men behind the scenes is staggering. (Fewer than 20 percent of songs are written by women; fewer than five percent of production or engineering jobs are held by women.)

      Along with visits to Toronto and Los Angeles, Starr rounds up some of her old Vancouverite friends (Lily Frost, Ndidi Onukwulu) to discuss their experiences, all of them illuminating. Hole’s Patty Schemel talks about the insidious gendering of instruments like guitar and drums. Sara Quinn (Tegan and Sara) describes the “deep, deep isolation” that comes with the industry’s casual misogyny and homophobia. Rapper Doug “Plex” Bedard eagerly admits that he played this invisible power game in his early days, remarking: “It’s why I don’t really share a lot of my older catalogue.”

      Indeed, beyond the encouragement offered to female viewers—particularly the testimony provided by Six Shooter Records cofounder Helen Britton and Ohbijou’s Heather Kirby, who organized a workshop in engineering and sound production for women—Play Your Gender extends a gentle challenge to the boys, wisely couched not only in Starr’s likable and open presence but also in Stephanie Clattenburg’s bright and breezy direction.

      As such, the film actually has a very good shot at reaching that crucial other half of the audience. (Both Clattenburg and Starr will conduct a Q & A after the first screening.)

      Vancity Theatre, April 6 (6:30 p.m.) and April 7 (7:45 p.m.)


      Louise by the Shore


      It has surely not gone unnoticed by the suits down in Hollywood (or has it?) that audiences, especially kids, are turning up in droves for the gentle supernatural fantasias of Studio Ghibli and the thoughtful visual touch of European fare like this, a French wonder that closes this year’s Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth on a near perfect note.

      There are only three characters in Jean-François Laguionie’s hand-drawn animated feature: Louise, an elderly woman who finds herself stranded and alone in a Breton seaside town when she misses the last train of the summer season; a stray dog named Pepper; and a dead Second World War pilot suspended from a tree by his parachute. At first, Louise establishes a daily routine of showering on the beach and foraging for food. Eventually, we find ourselves seamlessly lowered into a timeless dimension where dogs and the dead can speak, and where an endearingly grouchy senior reckons with memory and loneliness.

      With an inner monologue provided by Dominique Frot, Louise by the Shore adopts a walking pace to turn this thinnest of material into a hypnagogic adventure. It might be low on 3-D fireballs and crossover-marketing opportunities, but the deep emotional satisfaction compensates.

      Vancity Theatre, April 8 (7 p.m.)