SFFF Day 2 Report – Seizures and Non Sequiturs

saskatoon_fantastic_film_festivalSaskatoon is slightly warming as the week proceeds. I’m reluctant to say this is directly attributable to the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival but after a surprisingly strong Day 2, I see no other credible explanation for it. Including the What the Hell! – Totally Messed Up Short Films block, Day 2 offered 16 different works for consideration, injecting a heavy dose of bizarro randomness into the Festival and creating a decidedly different tone from the previous day’s atmospheric horror extravaganza.

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Four Last Canada Vignettes

NFBMMC!‘s retrospective on the National Film Board of Canada wraps up where it first began, with the Canada Vignettes. Provided here are four MMC! favourites: Fort Prince of Wales (Brad Caslor, 1978), Spence’s Republic (Brad Caslor, 1978), Flin Flon (Tina Horne, 1978), and Lady Frances Simpson (Christopher Hinton, 1978). All take a cheeky view of Canadian history, reveling in its absurdities and undercutting ideas of “great men” leading the nation to some inevitable glory. And all, for some strange reason, have some connection to the Province of Manitoba. Go figure.

As per the NFB:

A Canada Vignette giving a humorous animated version of the history of Fort Prince of Wales from its construction to its capture by the French.

As per NationalFilmBoardFan:

An animated vignette about the role of Thomas Spence in the formation and demise of the Republic of Manitoba at Portage la Prairie in 1967-68.

As per the NFB:

This short documentary vignette reveals the curious origin of the name of Flin Flon, Manitoba.

As per NationalFilmBoardFan:

An animated vignette on the journey of Lady Frances Simpson, with her piano, from England to Lower Fort Garry.

And so, that’s it for our retrospective on the National Film Board of Canada! Did we make any NFB converts? Did anyone make any discoveries or find any favourites? We left a lot a deserving films and filmmakers out of this survey of the Film Board – would anyone like to see MMC! offer another retrospective for an Essential Works of the NFB Volume 2 next July?

A Short History of the Highrise (Katerina Cizek, 2013)

NFBMore recently, the National Film Board of Canada has found success in the face of dwindling government funding by refocusing its resources on its streaming site and on interactive web documentaries. One of the most successful of these multimedia film projects is Katerina Cizek’s Highrise (2009), an interrogation into the life of residential highrises that includes various web-based documentaries and a number of derivative works. Presented below are 4 short films that serve as the centrepiece to A Short History of the Highrise (2013), an interactive documentary examining the global history of vertical living. The first 3 films are constructed from the archives of The New York Times, while the last film is made from photos submitted by Times readers. A Short History of the Highrise alone counts a Peabody Award and an Emmy amongst it decorations, while the larger Highrise project has won various other prizes including 2 Webby awards, multiple Canadian Screen Awards, and another Emmy.

As per the NYT:

In the first episode of a four-part series, “Mud” traces the roots of the residential highrise, from the Biblical Tower of Babel to New York’s tenement buildings.

As per the NYT:

In the second episode of a four-part series, “Concrete” explores how, in New York City and globally, residential high-rises and public housing attempted to foster social equality in the 20th century.

As per the NYT:

In the third episode of a four-part series, “Glass” examines the recent proliferation of luxury condos and the growing segregation between the rich and poor.

As per the NYT:

In the final episode of a four-part series, “Home” comprises images submitted by New York Times readers, who show their lives in high-rises around the world.

The Living Stone (John Feeney, 1958)

NFBWith its mandate to make Canadians familiar with all the regions of their diverse nation, the NFB paid particular attention to the remote, seldom-visited Arctic, filming over 200 works on Canada’s north and its peoples. New Zealand-born John Feeney directed ten NFB productions between 1954 and 1963, focusing primarily on the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic and garnering two Academy award nominations for Documentary Short Subjects – one for The Living Stone (1958) and the other for Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak (1963). The Living Stone was one of two productions Feeney intended on shooting in Cape Dorset in May 1957 but bad weather forced Feeney to return to Montreal with only his film on Inuit sculpture being completed. The NFB previously collected 24 of its best films on the Far North into a DVD box set, Unikkausivut: Sharing Our Stories, and currently presents the films as a playlist on its streaming website.

As per the NFB:

This documentary shows the inspiration behind Inuit sculpture. The Inuit approach to the work is to release the image the artist sees imprisoned in the rough stone. The film centres on an old legend about the carving of the image of a sea spirit to bring food to a hungry camp.

How to Build an Igloo (Douglas Wilkinson, 1949)

NFBThe National Film of Board of Canada sometimes gets a bad reputation for being … educational! And if someone were to come up with a title parodying the NFB’s edifying aims and culturally sensitive nationalism, How to Build an Igloo could easily be that film, but Douglas Wilkinson creates a fascinating short that unpacks the ingenious design and skillful handiwork of this modest architectural wonder. How to Build an Igloo (1949) is another somewhat ubiquitous title, a film that many Canadians, including me, were exposed to as children, although most of us have never put these instructions into practice!

As per the NFB:

This classic short film shows how to make an igloo using only snow and a knife. Two Inuit men in Canada’s Far North choose the site, cut and place snow blocks and create an entrance–a shelter completed in one-and-a-half hours. The commentary explains that the interior warmth and the wind outside cement the snow blocks firmly together. As the short winter day darkens, the two builders move their caribou sleeping robes and extra skins indoors, confident of spending a snug night in the midst of the Arctic cold!

Hockey … It was Inevitable

NFBHockey may not be Canada’s national sport but it is certainly its favourite pastime, and while the National Film Board of Canada may not be overflowing with films about hockey as some might expect, the sport has prominence in its collection.

I expect that almost any review of the NFB’s best and most representative films likely requires some space for Sheldon Cohen’s The Sweater or Le chandial (1980), a beloved animated short based on Roch Carrier’s popular story. (A line from the story even appeared on Canada’s 5-dollar bill from 2001 to 2013.) To The Sweater, I’ve matched two more films that emphasize the place of hockey at all levels of Canadian society.  First up is Leslie McFarlane’s Here’s Hockey! (1953), a celebration of the sport from small, outdoor rinks to hallowed ice palaces. Here’s Hockey! is propelled by newsreel narration and full of gee-whiz optimism. Rounding out this trio is Overtime (Marrin Canell, 1984), an examination of the sport’s spirit even in the face of the flesh’s failure, told with the aid of worn-out equipment and stubby beer bottles. Recreational leagues like the one in Overtime are a fixture of many Canadians’ lives, whether it be playing in them, cheering from the stands, or hearing about them by the office water cooler.

As per the NFB:

In this animated short, Roch Carrier recounts the most mortifying moment of his childhood. At a time when all his friends worshipped Maurice “Rocket” Richard and wore his number 9 Canadiens hockey jersey, the boy was mistakenly sent a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey from Eaton’s. Unable to convince his mother to send it back, he must face his friends wearing the colours of the opposing team. This short film, based on the book The Hockey Sweater, is an NFB classic that appeals to hockey lovers of all ages.

As per the NFB:

Featuring Jean Beliveau, this short film focuses on hockey from the inside out. Known as Canada’s national pastime, this film demonstrates why hockey is such an exciting spectator sport. From east to west, the connection between fans and players is evident in the excited cries of “we’ve won!” From Pee-wee to Bantam, from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to the big league pros, Here’s Hockey! shows what it takes to make a great hockey player.

As per the NFB:

This short documentary profiles a group of men from the Toronto Lakeshore Oldtimers Hockey Club. Although middle-aged, they still play the game with as much energy and passion as they did 25 years ago. They claim that playing hockey is more fun now than it was when they were kids, despite the toll of aches and pains, injuries, gruelling schedules and late-night partying. Cares and responsibilities are cast aside once they are on the ice, and the locker room becomes a haven of uncomplicated camaraderie and fun. In refusing to grow old gracefully, they feel they won’t grow up at all!