When I first decided to take on the self-imposed task of writing consecutive days worth of blog posts detailing my experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival, I failed to anticipate the possibility of going through a progression of different moods and reactions independent to my viewing of the films themselves. I knew immediately that the range of films that I would be seeing would pull me in several directions at once, but never in my life would I guess that being at the Toronto International Film Festival would make me feel Canadian.
I suppose that the film that I watched yesterday, Cinemanovels, a feature-length drama starring Vancouver native Lauren Lee Smith, would feature enough cues to drill the point home that interesting things happen to us folk too, and that we’re worthy of being the subjects of the cinematic art form. Admittedly, I’ve never seen a Canadian film before, and while Canada certainly has a modest presence in the industry worldwide, I figure I would have had my first experience watching something more prominent, perhaps from a Denis Villeneuve or a Denys Arcand, but as far as Anglophone works are concerned, this was an opportunity to truly take in an independently produced work that explored an aspect of my country.
The film itself is about a young woman named Grace Laurentian (Laurentian is a last name that relates to the St. Lawrence River that runs through Ontario and Quebec, the second-longest in Canada), who tries to organize a film retrospective for her estranged late father, an esteemed francophone director in Canadian Cinema. She takes on a monumental task of watching and reading into his films, trying to uncover the history of her father, and her relationship with him through film. In the process of doing so, she discovers quite a bit about herself, what she wants in her own life, and makes peace with her humanity and idiosyncracies.
From the hammed-up francophone films-within-a-film, to the Gas Town district of Vancouver where the feature was produced, to the random shots of colourful currency exchanged between characters, Cinemanovels felt strongly Canadian in identity, and although I imagine that a lot of it had to do with the limited budget available for an independent filmmaker, there were many contextual considerations that factored in on this experience. Watching this film on a nice balmy September evening, I had the opportunity to once again walk down to the Scotiabank Theatre, passing by the sights and sounds of Toronto’s Entertainment District on the first Friday of the Film Festival. As far as movie matters are concerned, there was a quaint, humble little patriotism that I felt about the culture that I was immersing myself in, and its warmth sustained itself throughout the screening. It was quite wonderful.
As a movie itself, there wasn’t much to write home about in terms of quality. I’ve never had much to compare to as far as previous works from Terry Miles or other local productions. Hearing from stirrings amongst moviegoers as I left the theatre, apparently it wasn’t received as well as his other previous works. From my impression of the way Miles carried himself during the Q&A session after the film’s conclusion, he clearly prided in his involvement in the movie, which I imagine is understandable considering the independent nature of it. I wasn’t particularly moved by the movie on its own, but given the context of the experience, I find myself more appreciative of what was presented.
There is a very real chance (at this point, probably nearly guaranteed) that I will be moving from this wonderful country in order to live with my girlfriend and soon-to-be fiancée. I’ll be leaving behind a country that I love, and my wonderful family that lives there. It will be difficult for me to deal with a new setting and with a new stage of my life in general, but I feel it was necessary for me to watch this film; I would easily have missed my family when I moved, but I can’t say the same about my country if it weren’t for Cinemanovels. I’m glad to have watched it, and I look forward to continuing to immerse myself in the Canadian culture of the Toronto International Film Festival. I’m happy to live where I am, and I’m happy to be a part of this wonderful event.