It’s Peggy coming at you post TIFF - that’s Toronto International Film Festival - 10 days of movie craziness in the city’s entertainment district.
As mentioned in our last episode Women's Work - I had a film in this year’s festival called Lira’s Forest. It screened in the Short Cuts Programme with 6 other beautiful and fascinating little films from France, Palestine, Nigeria, Belgium, and Japan. It was a proud moment for me and the rest of our team getting to share our little guy with audiences from around the world. Making movies is harder than it looks and more complicated than most people tell you. Probably the most difficult is right at the beginning - putting pen to paper and writing a story that’s worth it. It’s all about the story - because fact or fiction, they have the ability to change the world.
I saw some incredible stories play out onscreen this year at the film festival. And what’s more I saw mostly badass, inspiring, feminist stories on film so I had to share some of these babies with you so that you can check your local pennysaver cinema listings to catch them at a theatre near you.
Up first is The Wife. This is the new Glenn Close Oscar bait and good god is it ever good. Glenn Close’s performance is an absolute tour de force. As I sat down in the theatre I realized, I had no idea what this movie was about. I can’t recall ever seeing a film in the cinema and not having some idea of what I was about to watch and I want you to have the same reaction because good lord it was worth it. This film, also starring Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater, directed by Bjorn Runge is based on the book by the insanely talented Meg Wolitzer who was at the screening. I got to fangirl hard for her and Glenn who is the epitome of elegance, she actually looks like a statue and is the most gracious. Don’t look this story up if you haven’t read the book. Just go see it. It’s so fiercely full of girl power that at the climax of the film, women in the audience of Roy Thomson Hall actually shouted out “Yeah you did!” with tears in their eyes and understanding in their hearts. I’m obsessed with The Wife.
Next is from one of my all-time faves and true kindred spirits actor-writer-director Greta Gerwig who you’ll know from Frances Ha, Mistress America, 20th Century Women, Nights and Weekends and the classic Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman rom-com No Strings Attached. Lady Bird is her beautifully written and directed coming-of-age story about Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson played by Saoirse Ronan - an ambitious, angsty, and all together normal high school senior. Longing to break free of suburban Sacramento “the midwest of California”, Lady Bird dreams of going to and East coast school and living her cosmopolitan Rory Gilmour/Holly Golightly truth. Her mother, played by the incomparable Laurie Metcalf is a dream to watch and her scene-stealing best friend played by Beanie Feldstein will make you want to run back in time to your friday night sleepovers with your best friend. This movie is simple, strong and satisfying.
I also saw this good, gothic, and weird little quebecois film, freely based on Gaetan Soucy’s novel by the same name The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, or La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes. Set in rural Quebec in the 1930s, the film follows the strange reclusive lives of the Soissons family: a father and his children, one boy, and one girl - yet she’s called Brother by her brother and son by her father. The abusive and frankly bat shit crazy father has taught them insane christian practices, preaching at them well into the night, banned all books, and told his daughter that her wee wee fell off when she was a kid. This film is made for a film festival. It’s shot in black in white, everyone is obsessed with sex or obsessed with repressing sexual desires, and there’s a creature held hostage in a shed. What makes this movie really interesting is this young girl’s incredible strength, self-awareness, and determination to understand why she was raised the way she was after her father’s untimely death. She’s played ever so cooly by Marine Johnson.
One of the big films to come out of the festival that opens today is Battle of the Sexes. Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell, it's about the 1973 tennis match of the same name with Billie-Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Now I’ve never been into tennis but I did dig that good but bad rom com Wimbledon with the dreamy Paul Bettany and dreamier Kiki Dunst, that being said this movie ROCKED MY WORLD.
I wasn’t familiar with this Battle and I bet a lot of people aren’t either. This movie is so much more than a tennis movie or a sports movie. This is a movie about love and sacrifice, about determination and pushing the limits, about standing up for yourself and knowing your worth. I felt like I could do anything after watching Emma Stone/Billie Jean battle Steve Carrell/Bobby for more than a title - for any kind of actual respect as a human being let alone an athlete.
Beyond the message that we’ve come a long way from 1973 but still have miles and miles to go, this movie is gorgeous. It’s shot exactly how you imagine the 70s felt. It’s colourful, sultry, artsy and it’s got some hot lesbian sex - I’m also now so so so onboard with all things Billie-Jean King who was publicly outed in 1981 and didn’t shy away or deny it. Her publicist was going to shut it down and she said: ‘I’m going to do it. I don't care. This is important to me to tell the truth. The one thing my mother always said, ‘To thine own self be true.’” She carved out a place for herself on the court and in the minds of her fans and she’s still fighting for LGBTQ rights every day.
In my shorts programme was a film called Waiting for Hassana. This short documentary about the 2014 kidnapping of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram is a haunting first-person account of one girl, Jessica’s escape and a heart-wrenching lament for her closest friend Hassana still in captivity. This film does everything a short film is supposed to do. It forces you to feel, to deeply care for these characters, and wonder how their story plays out - except this is a documentary. Jessica and Hassana are young women alive right now. Like you. Like me. Except for the past three years, Hassana has been enslaved, raped, beaten, most likely now armed and a mother and no one knows where she is and how she’ll ever get out alive. Directed by debut filmmaker Ifunanya Maduka.
I didn’t get to see all the films I would’ve liked but here are some others that friends saw that they said were must sees.
One is Revenge, the grindhouse debut from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat. Starring Matilda Lutz as Jen, a shy girl desperate to be loved who is pushed to violent extremes after she’s raped by her boyfriend and his nasty friends who show up to what was supposed to be a romantic weekend away. From Indiewire: “Jen’s rage is complete — and complex — and the heavily genre-influenced film finds both its fun and shock value in her sudden evolution into a badass girl for the ages.”
I really wish I had had a chance to see the New Zealand film Waru - Made up of eight ten minute short films, each shot in one day (insanity), Waru is an epic achievement in filmmaking. Each story takes the perspective of eight different women connected to a young boy, Waru, who dies at the hands of his guardian. This is the first feature film made by Maori women in almost 30 years and a fascinating peek into the lives of not one, but eight female voices. Talk about championing women! The directors are as follows: Briar Grace-Smith, Ainsley Gardiner, Renae Maihi, Casey Kaa, Awanui Simich-Pene, Chelsea Cohen, Katie Wolfe, and Paula Jones and produced by the very cool Kerry Warkia.
Finally I’ll tell you about a film called Village Rockstars directed, edited, produced, written and shot by the legend in the making Rima Das - she’s also outrageously beautiful and nice - this is why she’s last on my list. Set in a Northeastern Indian village, this movie follows the dreams of a young girl, Dhunu, who wants to start a rock band. I’m going to read you what TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey wrote about this film because I can’t do it any better:
“At 10 years old Dhunu is alive with a passion for music and a dazzling confidence in her own convictions. Rima Das' second feature paints an inspiring portrait of a young girl finding her place in a world made for boys and men.
Das grew up in the same village where she shot Village Rockstars, and recruited a local, non-professional cast. This may also have seemed daring, but the result is magic. The performances are natural and fresh. The marshlands and village textures are palpable in Das' intimate, widescreen camerawork. When the rains come, they drench Dhunu and her playmates in scenes that could never be staged.
It's an idyllic world, although Dhunu still has to navigate the mysterious ways of adults and boys. The same boys who want to join her in rock star glory tease and mistreat her because she's a girl. Her mother is a strong figure in her life, but seems to have little patience for her daughter's extravagant dreams. It's only when Dhunu sits at the feet of a village elder as he describes how to unlock the power of thought that she begins to glimpse how she might achieve her boundless musical vision.”
This movie is still and beautiful and I truly loved it.
So there you have it. The films again were The Wife, Lady Bird, The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, Battle of the Sexes, Waiting for Hassana, Revenge, Waru, and Village Rockstars. Until next year and see you at the movies!