The Rendezvous With Madness Festival, a unique collective of film screenings and live performances primarily focused on mental health awareness, takes place in various Toronto locations from October 10th – 20th. Wylie Writes’ Shahbaz Khayambashi received a sneak peek of some of the selected films.
Conviction (DIR. Nance Ackerman, Ariella Pahlke, Teresa MacInnes)
The idea of “the prison” is one that has gone essentially unchanged for centuries. The act of removing troublesome individuals from the general population and placing them in a location to be punished and segregated continues to be the prescribed solution to crime by the status quo, even though various studies have proven that it is ineffective and harmful. The collaborative documentary Conviction looks at this issue, while also using art therapy to help the subject inmates and to discuss alternatives to this outdated system. The subjects of this film are a group of women in a prison; they are different in many ways, but connected in a few: high recidivism rates, histories of mental illness, frequently racialized, and not aided in the outside world.
There are ultimately two evils on display here: the evil of a prison system that doesn’t attempt to help inmates survive in the outside world, and the evil of a free world that doesn’t attempt to help inmates stay out of prison, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts – many of the people shown getting released ending up back in prison within a matter of short periods. This film also follows an old NFB tradition of giving the inmates their own cameras to tell their stories in their own ways, a trope which is unfortunately not utilized to its full extent. In fact, the documentary comes up short in its aesthetics department, but that doesn’t really harm it because the social commentary moves things forward – a group of helpless women trying to implement an idea that would help them (and many other people like them) – an idea which will never be implemented because it is simply not profitable enough.
Conviction screens on Thursday, October 10 at 6:30 pm at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
In Search… (DIR. Beryl Magoko)
While an increasing number of countries are banning the practice, female genital mutilation continues to be practiced in many places. In some places, this act is held in such high regard that some young girls can even be tricked into believing that it is a necessary part of growing up. That is a central tenet of FGM survivor Beryl Magoko’s In Search…, a Kenyan documentary whose central subject went against her mother’s wishes to get “circumcised” and began to regret it soon after.
Upon hearing about a reconstruction surgery, she sets out to learn more and see if the surgery is right for her. Along the way, the filmmakers follow their protagonist as she goes back to Kenya, to various doctors, to a hospital dedicated to helping these women, and to various women who have also been victims of FGM whose stories all differ but share a lifetime of pain in common.
In Search… is very old fashioned in form (relying on conversations that mostly amount to talking heads), but perhaps it’s necessary; the subject matter, as shocking as it is, should likely be placed front and centre, with no distractions around it. The stories that the women tell may occasionally be hard to take, but they are important to hear; if only as a reminder that this practice is still happening, established laws or not.
In Search… screens on Saturday, October 12 at 6:00 pm at AGO (Jackman Hall)
Retrospekt (Retrospect) (DIR. Esther Rots)
How many different iterations can domestic abuse take? Esther Rots’ Retrospekt looks at various forms of domestic abuse and the general lack of traditional comfort that comes from domesticity by telling the story of a victim’s vicious attack through various moments – before and after the incident.
Telling a purposely disjointed story of Mette (a woman who works with domestic abuse victims), this film starts, both narratively and temporally, with an incident at a store where a man abuses his girlfriend in front of Mette. This sets the whole film in motion, juxtaposing the vivacious working mother Mette and the beaten down, disabled and traumatized Mette, slowly moving towards the middle point. Of course, the question that the film asks is whether the trauma has any chance of disappearing along with the bruises.
Retrospekt is a fascinating study of abuse, and a compelling story told in an inventive manner. The only issue is that the film is just a bit too long, causing the major reveal to be a hint underwhelming. This is no way to say that the final product is bad, but it absolutely could have been better. As it stands, Retrospekt is still a fascinating thesis and certainly worth a watch.
Retrospekt (Retrospect) screens on Saturday, October 19 at 2:30 pm at Workman Arts Theatre
Chaos (DIR. Sara Fattahi)
When a film wins an award at the Locarno Film Festival, the viewer can expect a few things: beautiful cinematography, real emotions, and meandering storytelling among them. Now, these aspects are entirely capable of being positive or negative, depending on the filmmaker. Unfortunately, Sarah Fattahi’s Chaos is of the latter persuasion.
Frankly, the problem is not bad filmmaking, but just aimless storytelling. Chaos begins in a museum with some breathtaking imagery. These images blend into further scenes until about, twenty minutes in, the viewer realizes that we have just spent five minutes watching a woman silently washing dishes. Again, the story of three women who currently live, or once lived, in Damascus who have lost the will to live may well be an important story to tell, but when their stories become distractions from long takes of the quotidian, the real horror and trauma become almost disempowered.
This may well be the only time Wylie Writes readers will see me write this: this is a film that would have benefited from reining things in a bit.
Chaos screens on Tuesday, October 15 at 7:00 pm at AGO (Jackman Hall)
Tale of the Sea (DIR. Bahman Farmanara)
Bahman Farmanara’s Tale of the Sea begins by conflating depression, schizophrenia, suicidal ideations and dementia and never quite recovers from there.
The veteran filmmaker’s movie (written by, directed by and starring the septuagenarian) tells the story of a novelist who spends three traumatized years in a mental institution before returning to the world and his tired wife. Along the way, he re-establishes relationships with his old friends who begin to appear like clockwork. While the narrative definitely piques the viewer’s interest, the filmmaker doesn’t do much with it. In fact, that is the very real issue at hand: Farmanara has established decades of good will which allows him to work with all the greats of Iranian cinema and yet Tale of the Sea seems kind of hollow.
There is a strange sort of stilted acting style; the actors constantly speak in clichés and sometimes the whole thing seems to be going nowhere. There are moments of beauty throughout, as Farmanara has shown himself capable throughout his career, but they do not come together to justify the existence of this film.
It is obvious that the director has something to say about aging and life and death, but Tale of the Sea is an underwhelming example of how to say something.
Tale of the Sea screens on Sunday, October 20 at 6:00 pm at Workman Arts Theatre
Read Addison Wylie’s review of Foxy – screens on Friday, October 11 at 8:00 pm at AGO (Jackman Hall)
For more information on the festival and to purchase tickets, visit the official Rendezvous With Madness Festival website!
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