SFFF Day 1 Report – Ghosts of SFFFs Past

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival has reached its landmark tenth iteration this year and Festival Director John Allison and his team have ensured that this is the Fest’s biggest and brightest year yet by expanding it to six days, hosting a Drunken Cinema screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street, hosting another Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, and bringing in as special guests director Joe Dante and actress Belinda Balaski for a three film retrospective. The SFFF kicked off with something of a soft-open with another new addition – a five film virtual reality experience held preceding the theatrical film program each weekday. Attendance was sparse on Day 1 so let this be a warning to those content to let the VR program pass them by – miss the SFFF’s Virtual Reality Experience section and you will certainly be missing out on some of the Fest’s most intriguing aspects.

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Van Diemen’s Land (Jonathan auf der Heide, 2009)

“A grey, horribly-beautiful vision of Hell.” – Simon Foster, SBS.

Drafthouse Films LogoNow called Tasmania, Van Diemen’s Land was originally a feared and dreaded penal settlement, a final stop at the edge of the world for those convicts unwanted by the British Empire. In 1822, eight convicts escaped the brutal Macquarie Harbour penal station and were forced into the brutal Tasmanian wilderness when their plan went awry. With little food and equipment, these Irish, English, and Scottish fugitives battled harsh conditions and aching hunger in a merciless and unforgiving land – a land where God wields an axe. Director Jonathan auf der Heide and actor Oscar Redding create a grimly poetic retelling of Alexander Pearce’s infamous escape from Macquarie Harbour and the unthinkable acts he committed during his 113 days at large.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director and co-writer Jonathan auf der Heide, co-writer and lead actor Oscar Redding, and cinematographer Ellery Ryan
  • A Journey Up River: Making Van Diemen’s Land
  • Three additional featurettes: The Battle of the Beards, Subtleties of the Slate, and From Bailbo to Van Diemen’s Land
  • Hell’s Gates, Jonathan auf der Heide’s 2008 short film
  • Two Devils, Jonathan auf der Heide and Gregory Erdstein’s 2014 short film
  • Theatrical teaser and trailer
  • Original storyboards
  • A 24 page booklet featuring production photos and a new essay by film scholar Roderick Heath

Deluxe Edition – Package Includes:

  • Van Diemen’s Land on Blu-ray or Standard DVD featuring over 2½ hours of bonus material
  • DRM-free Digital Download of the film on 1080p, 720p and mobile/tablet formats
  • 27″ x 40″ Movie Poster

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Island Romance (Donald Ginsberg, 1957)

NFBWith weekend upon us, MMC! thought we might nose around some of the more unusual corners of the National Film Board of Canada. First up is Island Romance (Donald Ginseberg, 1957), a sweetly corny romance between a young man in Prince Edward Island and a girl visiting from Winnipeg. The short originally aired as an episode of the CBC television series Perspective, which replaced the popular On the Spot documentary series. Perspective aimed to blend documentary and fiction and was typically shown on Sunday afternoons, although the series was subject to frequent time slot changes. Perspective was a popular program, but was eventually replaced by the seminal Direct Cinema documentary series Candid Eye.

This merger of documentary and fiction makes Island Romance an unusual watch. Ginsberg’s presents an innocently saccharine tale of young love in the 1950s, but its quaintly chaste nature seems to take odd turn when local islander Danny (Daniel MacDonald) finds his efforts to woo the vacationing Jean (Iris Krangle) frustrated by her love for Canadian history and regional culture. Danny would like nothing better than a quiet moment with Jean, but seems in frequent competition with the tales of fishermen, literary landmarks like Green Gables, and historic events like Confederation and historical furniture like the chair of the country’s first Prime Minister. Viewers of Island Romance are not likely to expect a love triangle between Danny, Iris, and the Ministry of Tourism, but the film may be better for it by providing a little “WTF” in an otherwise picturesque story of G-rated summer lovin’. (And for those keeping track, Island Romance is peculiarly accurate in its details – Winnipeg’s newspaper is the Free Press and its most affluent neighbourhood is called Tuxedo.)

As per the NFB:

This short fictional film features the picturesque seaside landscape of Prince Edward Island as the setting for a summer romance between a girl from Winnipeg and a young fisherman from North Rustico, PEI. The young couple visits historic and scenic sites such as Government House in Charlottetown and Cavendish, of Green Gables fame. The film is a classic summertime romance and a nostalgic visit to the delightfully sun-soaked PEI of the past.

Canada Carries On, Twice

NFBWith the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, John Grierson, the British documentarian and the NFB’s first commissioner, set upon a project to foster and shape the national identity, and the outbreak of World War II was a timely context for Grierson’s nationalist aims.  One of the NFB’s first efforts was Canada Carries On, a series of theatrical shorts aimed to boost morale during wartime.  Its producer, British documentary filmmaker Stuart Legg, found early success in the endeavour when he received two Oscar nominations for the new documentary short category.  Relying heavily on stock footage and “voice-of-God” commentary, Legg’s Churchill’s Island (1941) and Warclouds in the Pacific (1941) are remarkable documents of their periods.  Churchill’s Island won that first documentary Oscar, but Legg has failed to garner the kind of recognition given to his close colleague Grierson.

As per the NFB:

This film won the NFB its first Oscar® and was also the first documentary to win this coveted award.  It presents the strategy of the Battle of Britain, showing with penetrating clarity the relationships between the various forces made up the island’s defences.  Here is the Royal Air Force in its epic battle with the Luftwaffe, the Navy in its stubborn fight against the raiders of sea and sky, the coastal defences, the mechanized cavalry, the merchant seamen and behind them all, Britain’s tough, unbending civilian army.

As per the NFB:

This short film examines the Japan that emerged at the beginning of the 1900s and was firmly established as an industrialized nation by the outbreak of World War II.  Facing the greatest threat in their history, the democracies of the Pacific took careful stock of this new Japan and its strength, and erected a vast system of defence across the world’s greatest ocean.

Matango (Ishiro Honda, 1963)

A HORROR THAT GROWS ON YOU!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAfter a yacht is damaged in a storm and stranded near a deserted island, its passengers – a psychologist, his student, a wealthy businessman, a famous singer, a popular writer, a sailor, and the boat’s skipper – take refuge on a fungus covered ship marooned on the island’s shore.  With food scarce and the ship’s logs warning that the island’s plentiful mushrooms, called “Matango,” are to be avoided, the castaways find their characters tested, leading to private deals, sexual tension, and violence.  But when the hunger of the shipwrecked party becomes too great and its members begin eating the forbidden fungus, the true horror of Matango is revealed, transforming the castaways in mind and body into hideous fungal monsters!

Famed Japanese director Ishiro Honda assembles an all-star cast from his previous sci-fi films and monster movies for Matango, featuring performances by Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Koizumi, and Yoshio Tsuchiya.  Captivating hallucinatory sequences, impressive set designs, and fantastically horrifying special effects by the celebrated Eiji Tsuburaya make this colorful B-movie a little known tokusatsu classic.  Based on the 1907 story “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson, Matango is one of the strangest, most horrific Toho productions to date and is presented here, for the first time, in high-definition presentations of its original Japanese version and its American cut, Attack of the Mushroom People.

Special Features:

  • New high definition digital transfer of the Japanese cut of Matango and of the 1965 American version Attack of the Mushroom People edited for TV by American International Television
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD Presentation
  • Uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray edition
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Japanese soundtrack
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by star Akira Kubo
  • Interview with SFX cinematographer Teruyoshi Nakano
  • Spoken word reading by screenwriter Masami Fukushima
  • Vinyl Fungus – Artist Barry Allen Williams on Matango and its collectibles
  • “Voice in the Night,” a 1958 episode of Suspicion based on the same source material as Matango
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Production sketches
  • Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by scholar Richard Pusateri and William Hope Hodgson’s original 1907 story “The Voice in the Night”

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The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin with Evan Johnson, 2015)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Forbidden Room.

criterion logoOverwhelmed with narrative and fearful that their brains might explode under its pressure, Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin and his co-creator Evan Johnson offer the ultimate epic phantasmagoria from the ectoplasmic residue of early cinema’s lost films.  Two-Strip Technicolor havoc is created with the assistance of master poet John Ashbery, actor Udo Kier, and a host of French and Québécois stars who filmed on public sets at Paris’ Pompidou Center and Montreal’s Phi Center.  The Forbidden Room is a kaleidoscopic viewing experience borne from cinema’s past, present, and future where flapjacking eating submarine crews, forest bandits, skeleton women, and vampire bananas await!

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital master, with 5.1 digital DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson
  • Interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from the Phi Center shoots
  • Endless Ectoloops
  • Living posters
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Seven-episode series on Guy Maddin’s Seances from the Phi Center
  • New interview with cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke
  • New interview with production designer Galen Johnson on his design of the film’s more than 400 intertitle screens
  • La chambre interdite, French version of The Forbidden Room with French intertitle screens
  • The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin, Yves Montmayeur’s 65-minute documentary on “the Canadian David Lynch”
  • Once a Chicken, a séance with László Moholy-Nagy
  • Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson’s short film on the making of Paul Gross’s Canadian war film, Hyena Road, with introduction by the filmmakers
  • Footage from the Toronto Film Critics Association’s awards ceremony naming The Forbidden Room 2015’s Best Canadian Film
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by Guy Maddin and film critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Hillary Weston

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