By Alicia Sealey
Films to watch at TIFF 2016
By Alicia Sealey
As the Toronto International Film Festival ( TIFF) 2016 winds down on Sunday, I recommend that you see the following films. Check www.tiff.net for more details and trailers where available.
Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, who first learnt to play the game while living in her slum neighbourhood of Katwe, in Kampala, Uganda.
It is hard to think of chess – a sophisticated, cerebral board game – being taught to children (?) ….far less those who live in a shantytown. Why would those kids even be interested in learning the nuances of chess? They have to survive the realities of daily life in the slums and have no time for board games, right?
But wonders never cease. And this is why TIFF’s mission statement “to transform the way people see the world though film” continues to be so relevant.
Ten-year -old Phiona Mutesi is played by newcomer Madina Nalwango.
With its screenplay by William Wheeler and directed by Mira Nair, we see how Phiona is introduced to chess by a local soccer coach and missionary, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who recognizes her aptitude for the game. Through his encouragement and mentorship, we cheer along as a small group of chess players from Katwe go from tournament to tournament, with Phiona excelling at every level.
Concurrent to Phiona’s storyline, we also see her widowed mother, Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) who struggles to provide for her children. At first suspicious of this chess playing and Katende intentions, Harriet eventually realizes that it may provide a way out of the slums for her daughter.
Phiona’s cheeky personality is ever-present as she evolves through her personal struggles and youthful insecurity.
Look for excellent supporting performances from Oyelowo and Nyong’o.
And at the end of the film, we are introduced to the actual people portrayed in the film who stand next to those who portray them. We also find out “where are they now” which is a nice final touch from Mira Nair, the film’s director, to acknowledge those who came from and rose out of Katwe.
An excellent film that is a shining example of triumph over adversity
(Final TIFF screening on Sat, Sept 17 at 3pm; in theatres on Fri, Sept 30)
Anatomy of Violence,
written and directed by Deepa Mehta, pivots around a young woman, accompanied by her fiancé, who both boarded a bus in Delhi on December 16,, 2012.
History has recorded that she was gang-raped within inches of her life. Her fiancé and travelling companion was also very badly beaten. Both were eventually thrown off the bus; left for dead at the side of the road. She died two weeks later from her injuries. Her companion is still alive to tell the tale.
The outrage – both nationally and internationally – was loud and significant!
In the aftermath, those in authority were seen to have played “pass the buck” with none taking responsibility but all expressing media-worthy outrage. Yet, years later, nothing has really changed and this habit (?) – sadly – still continues.
Mehta’s script gives a painstakingly detailed, albeit imagined cultural and familial context to each of the six rapists, as well as to their victim; paralleling each of their individual lives before that fateful day when they all intersected.
A tireless champion of human rights, Mehta causes you to have equal emotions of empathy and disgust via their individual storylines. By doing this, she successfully explains the anatomy of violence that was perpetrated against their victim; all allegedly done with no remorse.
Please keep in mind that this happens all over the world … in every country … every day … and, sadly, most rapes go unreported.
Though tough to watch, this is an excellent, insightful film
(Continuing TIFF screenings: Thurs Sept 15 at 3.30pm, and Sat Sept 17 at 9.30pm)
King of the Dancehall
is a simple story at its core. But, like an onion, while peeling it, either you or someone nearby will shed a tear.
We meet Tarzan (portrayed by Nick Cannon, recently released from a five -year stint in a New York jail,). He goes home to reconnect with his ailing mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and promises to do right by her hereafter.
The problem is that he doesn’t know any way of generating income legally. And old habits die hard.
He calls his Jamaican cousin, Toasta (Busta Rhymes) to get some income flowing. With his seed capital in pocket, Tarzan travels to Jamaica, and he establishes through Toasta’s connections, his business plan.
Onion layer #1 = illegal source of income.
Toasta introduces him to the party scene in Jamaica. The hottest party scene is at the dancehall club, The Jungle. Tarzan has never seen this type of dancing before. He is hypnotized by it, and by a dancehall girl.
Onion layer #2 = boy meets girl (Kimberley Patterson) and her father is a preacher (Lou Gossett Jr.)
The backdrop of the entire film is the dancehall culture, and its unique set of rules; all displayed liberally via Cannon’s script and direction style. And if you get lost, there is a running commentary from the main character; a story-telling style that is so popular these day.
Onion layer #3. = a stranger in a strange land trying to fit in.
Though inspired by a true story, from this point onwards, the film becomes predictable … except for that backdrop of the dancehall culture.
As a director, Cannon refreshingly weaves in documentary footage that captures this culture from every angle and era.
As the film’s writer, he resisted the temptation of designating the female leads in the film as mere sexualized footnotes. Instead, they are all emotionally strong and are in control of their needs, standards and desires.
I really enjoyed watching this film, and look forward to it getting purchased for mass-distribution.
At the world premiere of his film at TIFF 2016, Cannon referenced other dance-centered films like Dirty Dancing and Saturday Night Fever saying, “the richness of the Jamaican culture and the passion that lies there, I just wanted to put that on the screen.
“The Caribbean culture here in Canada is so rich and so real … so thank you for the opportunity.”
You’re welcome, Nick.
(Final TIFF screening: Fri Sept 16 at 5pm)