Our intrepid correspondent in Canada, Swati Sharan, brings us some lovely reviews straight from the Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Directed by: Nicholas De Pencier
Black Code is about the global phenomenon of how governments can access an individual’s private space via the internet. This superb documentary takes us throughout the globe to show how social activism via the internet has risen like never before and yet it is also being cracked down upon in disturbing ways.
Though the viewer is given a whirlwind global tour behind these senseless suppressions, the following are some of the more notable ones. We are first transported to India where Tibetan social activists find their privacy violated for protesting against the Chinese government. We are also given a first-hand glimpse of the Middle East during the Arab Springs social media revolution.
The film is a riveting one. We want more and don’t know where the time goes while studying this global phenomenon. Truly, this Canadian-made documentary depicts the two sides of the internet usage coin with unknown future consequences. It’s as though an Asimov sci-fi novel has come to life in our modern times. The question we’re left with is how can social activism emerge victorious in less democratic settings?
Directed by: Dilip Mehta
Mostly Sunny is about Sunny Leone and her Indo-Canadian roots. The film traces her life to a small town called Sarnia. It therein traces her rise from a college student to a porn star and then to an Indian media icon.
While much of the chronology of Leone’s career path is likely known because of her fame in this internet era, Mehta has tackled the film from a different angle. He points out how while Leone’s fans in India have embraced her widely, she’s been rejected by her Indian peers in Sarnia for her porn star background.
Now given that Sarnia probably only has a small number of Indians, the point about a so-called social rejection seems rather moot as per the premise of the film. But the film does bring to light some other relevant social arguments. One of them is a woman like Leone taking on Indian entertainment unabashedly as an empowered personality with great openness. And in return, a huge throng of fans in India is openly embracing her. The other phenomenon that has come out is the challenge a public figure faces to re-invent themselves in an era where everything can be Googled so easily. And this is perhaps where Sunny’s ingenuity thrives and that also may be why Leone disassociated herself with the film. After the film was due to premiere, Leone requested Mehta to delete some revealing shots of hers and he declined because he felt it was integral to his film.
The film is clearly catering to a streamlined faction of the Canadian audience and is perhaps filmed with this angle in mind. So it may not be as fascinating for an Indian audience though the film has been shot tastefully.
Starring: Karolina Gruszka, Charles Berling
Directed by: Marie Noelle
Marie Curie is a brilliantly executed biopic about the first female Nobel Prize winner. This is a highly watchable film, which largely focuses on the personal rather than on the scientific. We are given glimpses of the extreme sexism of the era and how Curie rose above this. She emigrated from Poland to France and researched passionately with her husband Pierre until he met with an accident.
She then tried to take on a position in the university, which was refusing to grant her one because she was a woman. As Curie ventured further to research in spite of the opposition, her affair with a married colleague perhaps further hindered her struggles for acceptance in a male-dominated arena. Ultimately, however, Curie won the Nobel Prize again for the discovery of radium and polonium. She was not only the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, but the first one to win it twice.
The direction and acting are excellent as is the period recreation. The film is a must-watch for all.
A Quiet Passion
Starring: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle
Directed by: Terrence Davies
At a time when older women in Hollywood are pushing for more suitable roles, this film comes as a great welcome. Based on the life of the poet Emily Dickinson, the film starts out by recreating her teen years and then concludes at the time of her death at age 56. Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame) was extremely reclusive but quite the one to question social mores. She came from an aristocratic family during the American civil war period and chose to be single. Only a handful of her poems were published in her lifetime though long after her death, the poetess became one of America’s most celebrated poets. Her themes were often spiritual. Strangely though, not much was known about her personal life. But then that is likely due to Dickinson’s reclusiveness, which further grew after both her parents passed on. She stopped leaving the house and only wore white after they died. Eventually, the poetess died from Bright’s Disease.
Nixon plays her role wonderfully as do the rest of the cast and of course, much meticulous detail went into executing the film. At the screening of the film, we had the good fortune of the director Terence Davies being there. He began by first thanking the producers who believed in his projects. And then he went on and spoke about how he’d read five books to recreate the details of Dickinson’s life. He also took some minor liberties with her life’s tale to make it more interesting such as the affection for a married man.
Davies also spoke about shooting the film in Belgium in a replica of Dickinson’s home with some brief shots in Amherst, Massachusetts where Dickinson lived. In a country like Canada where poetry largely survives on government assistance as an endangered species, this film is highly welcome. Hollywood needs more like Nixon who have the guts for the alternative, a literary background and a reverence for period figures. And greater efforts need to be made to support independent filmmakers like Davies to showcase them.
Land of the Gods
Starring: Victor Banerjee, Geetanjali Thaapa
Directed by: Goran Paskaljevic
The story begins with an NRI named Rahul Negi (Victor Banerjee) returning to his roots near a Himalayan village near Kedarnath after 40 years. As he comes back, he notices the devastating impacts the floods in 2013 left on this otherwise beauteous landscape. Negi also notices how little has changed in his absence in his village and how much social progress remains to be done. Be it education, women’s rights, caste prejudice, development and so on. But ultimately, Negi has come to redeem himself for a ‘wrong’ he committed decades ago because he is at risk of losing his eyesight. The crux, however, comes with people with past animosities trying to stop him from doing so. Can Rahul beat the odds in a village transcending time?
In an era when even an Amitabh Bachchan struggles with issues of ageism in the Hindi film arena, Banerjee’s role is refreshing. In his capacity as a co-writer, Banerjee has also been successful in providing subtle Bengali touches through his recounting of Tagore’s Gitanjali in the film. The cinematography is mind-blowing and the realism depicted through the story and characters are also vivid. It is also nice to see India’s regional dialects being highlighted. The film, however, showcases too many of India’s social problems in one go and therefore, is not able to be as solid as it should be. While one can understand that all social problems are inter-related, Paskaljevic could have depicted the extending problems more subtly and focused more on the core issue. Overall, though, it’s nice to see a film that weaves real life events into fiction.
An Insignificant Man
Directed by: Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka
An Insignificant Man traces the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party from its humble beginnings. It starts from the point after which Arvind Kejriwal decides that the anti-corruption movement needs to be converted politically. The film was inspired by the Occupy movement, which was happening across the globe. It shows the trials and tribulations of Kejriwal as he assumes power in Delhi.
As documentarians, Shukla and Ranka have objectively brought forward a monumental piece of modern Indian history. What’s further interesting is how Shukla and Ranka have been able to capture poignant moments of history in the making vs. hindsight. This ranges from Sheila Dixit’s naysaying condescension before Kejriwal got into power to some of the social issues which Kejriwal successfully addressed. One also gets a bird’s eye view of what it’s like for a politician when both victories and tragedies happen in a space where outcomes are unknown.
Though many changes have taken place since this film was shot, it is still every bit worth the watch. Regardless of one’s political leanings, it is still highly viewable and not stuck in academia.