Carbon Arc Profile: Hillary West

Hello, faithful Carbon Arc patrons! This is a semi-regular feature on the Writer-in-Residence blog, profiles of the good people working behind the scenes to bring you the best in international and independent cinema.

 
 

Hillary West is a student in NSCC’s Screen Arts program and an aspiring filmmaker. She has been spending her summer working with Carbon Arc (while trying to catch as many concerts as she can).

I put five questions to Hillary, and she kindly responded:

What was the first movie you saw that got you interested in making films? 

The first movie would have to be Back to the Future. It’s my favourite movie of all time, I feel like I notice something new to appreciate each time I see it. It’s incredibly fun to watch as well as being impressive in both originality and its special effects. I want to have an impact on people with my work in the same way that it had on me.

I’m also heavily inspired by television. Making films is the ultimate goal, but being a show-runner is a close second. I watched a lot of film and TV growing up (not my parents’ fault, I just never slept much), and really enjoyed connecting to characters whose lives I felt a part of, and being entertained. 

Tell us a little about the experience of studying film at NSCC. 

Applying to NSCC was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My instructors are amazing and I’m learning about everything the film industry encompasses. The program is a mix of business-related aspects of making films, writing, shooting, and editing. I don’t know if that even does the program justice because it feels so much more than that. I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in film and wants a hands-on experience that truly prepares them for the field.

I’ve also formed strong friendships with some of the best people who I look forward to working with for a very long time. 

What kinds of films do you plan on making?

I don’t know that I plan on focusing on a set genre or type of film. Ideally, I want to be making films that are different from one another so that I can experiment and learn from each project. 

What has been your favourite film at Carbon Arc since you started volunteering, and why?

My favourite movie that I’ve seen at Carbon Arc would have to Miguel Gomes’ Tabu (2012). It was shot so beautifully and it further ingrained the song “Be My Baby” into my psyche!

 
 

It’s hard to choose between that and Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (2012), which was also striking. I picked Tabu because it was my first experience at the cinema and it was really exciting to be watching a film so different from what I was used to being available to me in Halifax.

 
 

What kind of work have you been doing as the Carbon Arc Summer Intern?  

As you would expect I’ve been doing a lot of typical summer student work like archiving Carbon Arc print ads, but it’s been fun to get my hands on all of it. The biggest thing I’ve been a part of was the planning of the 6th annual Animation With Love Film Festival. This year the festival is going to be extended to three days as opposed to one day as its been every other year. It’s been fun and eye-opening planning things from the beginning stages—I’m excited to see the end result. EVERYBODY should come enjoy it: December 2, 3, and 4.

Summer Screening Recommendations

Hello all. Welcome back to the Carbon Arc blog. I hope you’re enjoying the warmer (if wetter) days as the Maritime spring turns to summer, and I hope while Carbon Arc is on hiatus you are seeking out the best international and independent cinema.

I’ve got a few suggestions for you to consider in the coming months:

 
Dark comedy The Lobster is a film to watch for.

Dark comedy The Lobster is a film to watch for.

 

First off, I hope you saw Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster when it screened at Cineplex a few weeks ago. One of the strangest films to get a wide release in years, I know the film polarized audiences—I had mixed feelings about it myself—but it’s exactly the kind of challenging cinema we like at Carbon Arc. (In fact, we did consider programming it.) If you missed it, keep an eye out for its arrival on DVD and online platforms.

Another compelling recent release was Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, an adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel of dystopian 1970s Britain. It will be on DVD on August 2.

Ongoing now is the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival, showing a series of short films by local filmmakers. It runs until Sunday, June 12. The full schedule and ticket information can be found here.

Exciting the Carbon Arc staffers are a couple of screenings at the festival, including the documentary Don’t Blink: Robert Frank on Friday evening. On Sunday they’re showing Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, the three-part, six hour Portuguese epic. The length is a test for any committed cinephile, but if you’re reading this that’s who you are. (I hope the seats at HIFF are comfy!)

 
 

Also opening in cinemas this weekend are a couple of films worth noting: The Norwegian/Canadian co-production Hevn (Revenge) is a small but compelling drama/thriller set in rural Norway, the story of a woman seeking retribution for the death of her sister. I liked it a lot for its notes of chilly, Scandinavian drama.

 
 

Love & Friendship is a wonderful Jane Austen adaptation from cult American filmmaker Whit Stillman, director of a trio of well-regarded films in the 1990s: Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco. This is a case of a director adapting material ideally suited to his sensibility, making for one of the lightest and funniest Austen adaptations put on screen. It’s at The Oxford on Friday.

 
 

Looking ahead to the summer, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is expected in cinemas at the end of June. Some find the Danish filmmaker to be more interested in shocking visuals than narrative coherence, but he’s inspired a fervent cult around his work, which includes Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Drive. This one is said to be his first horror film, set in the fashion world.

 
 

I’m keeping my fingers crossed the wonderful Closet Monster gets a cinematic release in July. The picture, from Newfoundlander and first time feature filmmaker Stephen Dunn, was a big hit at the 2015 Atlantic Film Festival. It deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

 
 

The Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner Dheepan, from director Jacques Audiard, is expected on DVD on August 9. I don’t think the film will get a cinema release in Halifax, but I’ve heard great things about it.

 
 

Carbon Arc Cinema returns the last week of September following the 2016 Atlantic Film Festival. For more reviews of current releases, please visit my film blog, Flaw In The Iris. Thanks for checking in.

Writer-in-Residence Short Film Script

When I started this project, the goal was two-fold: To help engage the Carbon Arc audience by discussing the programming and atmosphere at Halifax’s premiere independent cinema, and to write a short film script. I’ve had a few ideas for a short, but struggled. I finally settled on an adaptation of an autobiographical story I wrote that I’d intended for a graphic novel. Condensing it for a short film wasn’t easy, and I think it still needs work to expand it a little visually, but this is a start. I’d like to see the this animated, and I have some ideas for that, too.

If you’re interested, feel free to read the script here:

Leaving Baghdad

Winter/Spring 2016 concludes with Francofonia

Friday evening was another sunny one as spring gradually takes hold here in Nova Scotia, but Carbon Arc still managed to sell out its screening of the dreamlike Francofonia, Aleksandr Sokurov’s historical semi-document of the Louvre museum.

 
 

The fact that we managed to fill all the seats on the final screening of the season, one that—on paper, anyway—had the possibility of being an academic slog (it wasn’t) was huge for the Carbon Arc staff. A terrific capper to a great season. It feels like we’ve achieved something special in the past four months, with so many people coming to see the films and new people discovering Carbon Arc every week.

Francofonia, which was ably introduced by art historian and NSCAD instructor Sharon Murray (who, full disclosure, happens to be my partner), divided our staff and some in the audience, as you might expect a non-linear, loose-narrative, Russian-language, experimental tone poem (that’s for you, Zack) to do. Not everyone’s going to go where it wants to take you, but it was great to see so many on the journey.

Sokurov looks at the history (and location) of the museum from above, descending into its hallways and paintings to capture the soul of an institution and its importance to France since the days of Napoleon. Sokurov himself is a character in the film—though I don’t think we ever get a good look at his face—as he narrates, grousing about the objective success of his film while he deprecates the sound of his own voice. Occasionally we get segments of his conversation on Skype with a sea captain friend who is lost in rough seas steering a freighter crammed with antiquities and artwork. Enjoy heavy-handed metaphors, much, Aleksandr?

 
Various historical characters inhabit the Louvre in Francophonia

Various historical characters inhabit the Louvre in Francophonia

 

OK, I apologize: It’s easy, even maybe lazy, to be glib about a complicated and challenging work like this. I actually appreciated what it was trying to achieve. Overall I found it interesting and a bit soothing, with Sokurov’s soft, visual approach to the material, and I enjoyed the material he used from the 1940s. There may be a fascinating feature docudrama to be made about the cautious working relationship/friendship between the French curator at the Louvre, Jacques Jaujard, and the Nazi officer, Franz Wolff-Metternich, charged with overseeing and delivering key works from the collection to Berlin. Francofonia isn’t it, but it’s enough to make me curious about that connection. Overall, an interesting, if flawed, film.

 
Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) 

Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) 

 

f you have come to see a film at Carbon Arc this past season, thank you! We really appreciate it. And thank you for checking out this blog. Carbon Arc will continue to program independent and international cinema in the fall, and we’re always learning how to best engage with the audience. If you have suggestions or programming ideas for us, I hope you’ll reach out via this website, Facebook, or by email: carbon.arc.cinema (at) gmail.com.

I want to say a special thank you to my fellow core Carbon Arc-ers: Kenny, Kendra, Donna, Zack, and especially Siloën Daley, the person who dreamed up Carbon Arc and inspires us all.

Also, thanks to the new volunteers, including Rose, Phillip, Nancy, Andrew, Emma, Kristen, Brittany, and anyone else I’ve neglected to mention—all you who came out and gave of your time. Your help and enthusiasm has been much appreciated. Thanks to Sharon and Martin for helping out. And a tip of the hat to the security staff at the Museum of Natural History, for always being so gracious and helpful.

 
 

My work here as Writer-in-Residence isn’t quite done yet. I still need to present more solid detail about my short film script—which I’ve been promising for some time, I know. My plan is to share elements from my first draft, if not the entire thing, in the coming week. Also, two more Carbon Arc staffers, including our director, Siloën, have promised profiles that I’m hoping to post in this space.

So I hope you’ll check back here from time to time into the days of warmer weather. There will be updates as we metabolize the lessons of this successful season and plan for the next one.

Carbon Arc Profile: Donna de Ville

Returning to our semi-regular feature on the Writer-in-Residence blog, here is another one of the core Carbon Arc programmers.

Donna de Ville has a PhD in Communication Studies, and has taught film and media studies courses at universities in the United States and Canada, including at Mount Saint Vincent. She’s been involved with film programming at several organizations including SxSW in Austin, Texas, and has published work in Film History, Scope, Incite, The Canadian Journal of Film Studies, as well as a chapter in Cinema Inferno: Celluloid Explosions from the Cultural Margins.

 
 

Here are the seven questions I asked her, and her kind responses: 

What was the first movie you remember seeing in the cinema, and where did you see it? 

Grease. It probably wasn’t the first I had seen in the cinema, but it is the first I went to without my parents and that I can clearly remember. It was at a cinema near my hometown in New Jersey.

 
 

I became obsessed with the film after seeing it—immediately went out and bought the LP and proceeded to commit all the songs to heart. Then that summer I “produced” a theatrical version of it that my friends and I performed in my backyard for our families. I gave myself the two lead roles, my friends were the supporting characters, and my poor younger brother was cast as “Greased Lightning,” the car.

What film have you watched more than any other? 

Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

 
 

Who is your favourite filmmaker? 

After amassing a list of more than 15 directors, I realized this is an impossible question for me to answer. There are many directors who have made somewhere in the vicinity of 3-6 films that I love, blown my mind even, but of all the directors who I admire greatly, none have a filmography without a film I dislike. It’s probably easiest to say that, Classic Hollywood films aside, I gravitate toward films that either visually or narratively break with popular cinematic conventions and with the major studios’ mainstream formulas aimed at mass audiences for the greatest profit. Examples of directors who I think do this: Wong Kar-Wai, David Lynch, and Guy Maddin. I tend to appreciate films that examine the darker side of humanity and either don’t offer a happy resolution or any resolution at all—films that leave viewers wondering what it was they just viewed and require them to draw their own conclusions. Along those lines, I have recently become enthralled with the films of Ben Wheatley. And then there are the older, prolific directors like Hitchcock and Fellini whose bodies of work I continue to return to.

 
 

Is there an area or genre of film you feel you know and love the most? 

Horror, southern gothic, film noir and 1930s/1940s women’s melodrama.

What do you enjoy most about programming at Carbon Arc? 

I most enjoy being around other cinephiles watching and discussing film, and being part of a fantastic programming team who bring high quality, otherwise not-to-be-seen-on-the-big-screen films to Halifax.

What film have you enjoyed most since you started working with Carbon Arc, and why? 

The Russian Woodpecker and The Invitation. These two films, quite different from one another, best represent the types of films, both aesthetically and subject-wise, I would seek out on my own. Artful and intelligent, quirky docs and genre film are hard to come by on the big screen, and even more so in a market dominated by one big box theatre chain.

 
 

What kinds of films would you like to see more of in the future at Carbon Arc?

I think my personal taste in film is a bit too niche, and probably too dark, for Carbon Arc’s devoted regulars. While I love and am completely content to continue offering really strong international and national art house films, I would also like to try developing another branch of programming that would appeal to genre film fans. Thrillema devotes itself to showing classic cult films, which is a much needed and appreciated endeavour, but there is currently nowhere in town, except perhaps a few festival screenings, that shows contemporary new release indie paracinema: horror, psychological thrillers, sci-fi, fantastic films, etc.

Our Loved Ones (Les Étres Chers) and inheritance, The Invitation and blood

Friday was the first really warm day of 2016, temps in the high teens and that perfect afternoon light that arrives when it’s warm enough to go out with only a t-shirt. We had the doors and windows open at Carbon Arc to get a little air into the space.

Our Loved Ones (Les Étres Chers), directed by Anne Emond, is an ambitious story of mental illness and familial bonds. It starts promisingly, with a man’s body being pulled down from where he hanged himself in a basement. A couple of his adult children know, but keep it a secret from others and the mother, saying their father died of a heart attack. David (Maxim Gaudette), is in the dark, but as the eldest son it’s his responsibility to keep up the family business, making marionettes.

We move forward from the ’70s to the mid-’80s, if the songs on the soundtrack and fashions are anything to go by. David is married, with a happy family life with two kids. Then we jump forward again to the mid-90s, and his daughter, Laurence (Karelle Tremblay), is coming of age. She starts to understand that depression can be inherited.

 
 

I appreciated what Emond is trying to do here, the naturalistic tone, and I really enjoyed the summery Quebec exteriors. But I found the regular leaps through time were stymied somewhat by unconvincing make-up—the older characters barely age, their changes mostly represented by hairstyles and clothes. I also felt like the acoustic folkie score was asked to carry a little more of the script’s sentiment than it could lift.

Still, there’s a lot of grace in the direction, a thoughtful, sometimes moving script, and a powerful final sequence.

Maybe Carbon Arc’s most controversial program of the season—if the four audience members who walked out are anything to go by—was The Invitation, which screened at 9:30pm Friday night.

Introduced by Carbon Arc programmer Donna, who indicated the film arrived with the studio making all efforts to keep its twists under wraps. It turned out those wraps include some genre switching in the final act.

The film is being marketed as a psychological thriller: We arrive at a gathering of old friends in one of those 1970s palaces in the Hollywood hills. The host, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) her ex-husband, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), split awhile back, but they’re OK now, both partnered with new people.  All their mutual friends are at the party, along with a few new ones of Eden and her new beau.

Things are awkward from the outset. Will is suspicious of everything, and the dramatic structure gives him (and us) plenty of reason for paranoia. What’s up with these weird party games? Why are Eden’s new friends so odd? And what happened to one of the guests?

The construction of the film stretches out the suspense to the limit… and perhaps beyond. Some in the audience following the film expressed frustration with waiting for “the other shoe to drop,” that the film had only a couple of options—a cautionary tale of the cost of paranoia, or that bad people actually have something sinister cooked up—and took too long to get where it was going.

I enjoyed the process. I wasn’t blind to where The Invitation was taking me, nor could I entirely ignore some plot holes, but I liked the machinations, the effort to sustain an especially old-school, Mansonian, California creepfest. My biggest complaint was with casting—some of the actors totally embodied their roles, while others felt like they’d walked out of a situation comedy.

It occurred to me that despite the provocative places the film went, The Invitation was less chilling, less horrifying, than The Club. Fans of dark, intense films should really give that one a look.

Carbon Arc only has one more screening before going on hiatus until September, and it’s called Francofonia, a unique mix of drama and documentary about arguably the world’s most prestigious art museum, The Louvre.

And I will have more to share with you in this space, including more details about my short film script. Stay tuned, as they say.

My Golden Days' sweet reminiscense

On Friday night Carbon Arc was proud to present the most recent film by Arnaud Desplechin, My Golden Days, a prequel to the renowned French auteur’s My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument from 1996.

I’m a little embarrassed to say this was my first encounter with the director whose work has won a number of awards in France and internationally. For My Golden Days, Desplechin won a César Award for Best Director, the French Academy Award. On Friday the film was introduced by local cineaste Chris Campbell, who I interviewed on this blog last week about Desplechin.

After the film, the Carbon Arc staffers were discussing the elements of the film that felt especially French, and I had to admit that those kinds of generalizations about a national cinema are really broad and subjective, and certainly not meant as a slight. I have observed in the films of François Ozon the obsession with beauty, youth, and older men who worship younger women. These themes seem to be very much a part of many French films. Now that I’ve been exposed to Desplechin, I see the rambling structure, the innocence and anger of youth that manifests as bitterness later in life. Love as religion, and a dearth of easy resolutions or happy endings. All very much a part of the French films I’ve seen. So, I guess I struggle to shake off my biases.

I wondered what people from other countries must think of Canadian cinematic preoccupations. It would be a shame if all they thought, having seen only Cronenberg and Egoyan, that we were all obsessed with body horror or sexual deviancy.

 
Young love wants for a happy ending, in My Golden Days as it is in so many French films.

Young love wants for a happy ending, in My Golden Days as it is in so many French films.

 

My Golden Days is a lovely, moving film, one that manages to balance drama with wit, while the lingering takeaway is a strong feeling of melancholy. Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric) is an anthropologist returning to France after many years out of the country. When he arrives he’s stopped at the airport over a passport problem, which prompts a three-part flashback; the first, briefest, to his childhood and troubled mother, then to his teen years (where the role of Paul is played by the handsome Quentin Dolmaire) and a strange aside involving a trip to Minsk, and then the third chapter, the meat of the film, which is about how Paul and Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) fall in love and sustain a long-distance relationship while Paul is studying in Paris. There’s an epilogue in the present day, where the events of his youth still resonate with the elder Paul.

The teen romance is a delight, largely due to the performances. Esther is the character that the film seems to hinge on—obsessed over by both Pauls, the older and younger—and someone who begins as a gauloise-puffing fatale, but later becomes an emotional basket-case, though nevertheless seems irresistible to the young men around her. The late-1980s youth culture milieu is terrifically well drawn. I almost wished we spent more time with the other characters in the story. They’re all a delight.

Desplechin is unafraid to use unusual visual tricks, including having his cast speak directly to the camera and the iris shot. Some of these techniques feel very old-fashioned, but Desplechin is nothing if not confident, and at no time did I ever feel like what he was doing wasn’t working.

Very little about the film is resolved, which really gives it a feeling of autobiography—the stink of real life. I wondered after Esther’s fate, and then remembered this is a prequel, that Esther is a character in My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument. As if I needed more incentive to see the film. I’ll be seeking out all of Desplechin’s features after this.

 
Mathieu Amalric as a mature (at least in age) Paul Dedalus

Mathieu Amalric as a mature (at least in age) Paul Dedalus

 

We only have two weeks remaining of Carbon Arc’s winter/spring season. I’m still hoping to deliver a few more profiles of the Carbon Arc volunteers, though they’re taking their sweet time responding to my inquiries. I’m also working at putting together that short film script. I hope to be able to tell you more about that in the next couple of weeks.

On Friday, April 22 we celebrate National Canadian Film Day with a screening of a Quebec feature, Our Loved Ones (Les Etres Chers), and that will be a free screening at 7pm. Then at 9:30pm, we’re showing an American independent film, a thriller called The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama. (That’ll be the usual $7.) Hope to see you at one or both of those screenings.

Chris Campbell on Arnaud Desplechin

On Friday, Carbon Arc is showing My Golden Days, the new film from renowned French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin.

Chris Campbell is a media creator based in Wolfville with a keen interest in combining storytelling with new technologies. He’s edited film, shot video, recorded sound, hosted radio and TV shows. He teaches Screen Arts at NSCC in Dartmouth.

He’s a Desplechin aficionado, so I asked him to tell me about the filmmaker:

What was the first Desplechin film you saw? What was its impact on you?

After reading a rave review I sought out the DVD of Desplechin’s 2004 film Kings and Queen and was blown away by it. What struck me immediately was the way the tone varies from serious to comedic to tragic and how he balanced the film between the two leads, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric.

Did you make a point of tracking down his other work after that first positive experience?

I wanted to see what he’d done before so I started working my way through Desplechin’s earlier work, starting with The Sentinel and My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument. I was very happy when the Atlantic Film Festival programmed A Christmas Tale in 2008 and it became one of my favourite films.

 
My Golden Days, directed by Arnaud Desplechin

My Golden Days, directed by Arnaud Desplechin

 

What is it about his work that speaks to you?

I love a sprawling melodrama filled with extreme emotions combined with a cinephile’s approach to storytelling. He sets up complicated films with great actors and captures some wonderful moments between the actors that feel vital and real. If you want you can take pages of notes and look for references to other films or literature or paintings, or you can just let the film wash over you and immerse yourself in the characters and situations.

He’s a French filmmaker who has also made English-language features. How do his French films compare to the English?

While his first English language film (Esther Kahn) was a bit muddled and wasn’t commercially successful, his second film in English, Jimmy P., brought many of the elements of his other film together in a simplified way. His English language films seem to simplify things a bit more and both have been adaptations of stories as opposed to his French films which have been original screenplays dealing with characters and a social milieu that seems to be quite close to that of Desplechin himself.

My Golden Days is a prequel to My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument. How much appeal does him doing a prequel offer to you?

It’s appealing to have him revisit ideas he set out to explore with the benefit of experience and a different cast. The challenge of working with a younger and newer cast after developing a stable or regular actors should bring a new energy too.

Like Woody Allen, Desplechin has been accused of bringing a bit of autobiography in his work, to the point where it’s gotten him in trouble. What do you make of his mining personal experience in his films?

I’m not sure how much autobiography there is in his films, but there are themes and situations and places that recur, so whether they’re autobiographical or not, it’s pretty clear what he’s concerned about as he returns often to them. Large and complex families, strained personal relationships, and emotionally fragile characters who seek answers and happiness through other people, psychoanalysis, sex, and trying to determine who they are. All that could be saying something about the person who tells those stories.

 
 

My Golden Days screens on Friday, April 15 at 7pm. Go to the events page for more information on the film.

Chris Campbell writes a blog on film—go here for more of his thoughts on Arnaud Desplechin.