MSPIFF Weekend Roundup: Women In Film panels + ‘The Fencer’ mini review

It’s truly one of the best weekends weather-wise in the Twin Cities. It’s 70+ degrees and sunny for three days in a row which is unusual as we do still get snow in April occasionally. It’s also been a fun and insightful weekend for me at MSPIFF!

35thMSPIFF

FRIDAY

After work I went to see one of Deepa Mehta’s film Bollywood/Hollywood which was a fun Indo-Canadian rom-com. Out of all three of Mehta’s films I’ve seen so far, this is certainly the lightest in terms of tone. But even a frothy Deepa Mehta film is still an intriguing cultural with dramatic poignancy.

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SATURDAY

I’m so glad I had the chance to attend not one but TWO eye-opening Women In Film panels at a loft adjacent to St Anthony Main Theater.

The first one was called Behind the Journey… which featured two female directors who made their debut films in their 50s.

Panelists:
Laura Israel, Director Don’t Blink – Robert Frank
Trisha Ziff, Director The Man Who Saw Too Much

The extraordinary thing about being a director is that “IT” could happen. There is no right or wrong way to get a film made. This conversation with two directors whose work appears in the festival will focus on their stories, career paths, and how they got to where they are today.

It was so inspiring and insightful to simply absorb strong, talented and tenacious women who are currently working in film industry talk about their struggles making film and overcoming them. As an aspiring screenwriter, I felt encouraged to just be around them, talking to them and hear what they had to say. It was wonderful that I got to chat with Rachel Goldberg, a writer/director who’s on the board of Alliance of Women Directors in L.A. prior to the panel, I’d definitely be on the lookout for her narrative feature Transformation Awaits.

The second one is fittingly called An Eye Opener:

Panelists:
Effie Brown, Film and Television Producer
Melissa Butts, Director/Producer
Rachel Goldberg, Director

Rather than speculate on why women are still where they are or contemplate the Sisyphean nature of institutional change–or worse, stop talking all together–this panel will beg us to look directly into the eyes of the beast: ourselves and what we can do better with gender equality in the film industry.

The first panel talked about how it takes more than just talent and skills to succeed, but a strong drive and sheer passion to invest a good chunk of your life in making your film. Trisha Ziff, who was a photography curator prior to making her first film in her 50s, said that one of the key ingredient to surviving the business is solidarity amongst female filmmakers.

That theme kept coming up in the second panel, that it’s essential that women support each other if we want to change the still-grim statistics of the 4% Gender Disparity problem.

Effie Brown (one of the producers of Dear White People) focused on women mentorship, in that women who’ve found success in the industry must take it upon themselves to take newcomers under their wings so to speak, which may include giving them opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t be given a chance.

Thanks MSPIFF for the insightful and truly eye-opening women-in-film panels and for being such a strong champion for gender equality in filmmaking. It’s certainly inspired me to keep at it and never giving up on my dreams as a screenwriter!


Then on Saturday night I got to see Deepa Mehta‘s latest, Beeba Boys. Check out my interview with the acclaimed Indo-Canadian filmmaker who’s no stranger to tackling controversial issues in her films, as her Oscar-nominated 2005 film Water was shut down by Indian government as it’s accused of being anti-Hindu.

Beeba Boys received mixed reviews by the Indo-Canadian community in Vancouver, but I think it’s a bold, stylish and fascinating film that definitely be one of my most memorable films I’ll see this year. It’s fitting that Mehta has been chosen to be the first honoree of MSPIFF Annual Tribute. Here she was following the film’s screening holding her well-deserved award!

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SUNDAY

The film I missed last weekend was played again on Sunday afternoon and I’m so glad I was able to make it!

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It’s such a moving drama loosely based on an Estonian Fencer Endel Nelis who fled from the Russian secret police and became a physical education teacher at a small-town school. It’s a mix of mystery war drama and a sports underdog story that blends seamlessly. The scenes between the teacher and the kids reminds me a bit of films like Dead Poets Society and Rudy. Some of the kid actors are very memorable as well despite their lack of acting experience, especially the ones playing Marta and Jaan. The tentative romance is handled well in that it adds another layer to Endel’s journey without distracting it from the heart of the film.

TheFencer1TheFencer2

It’s beautifully-shot and wonderfully-acted all around, esp. Märt Avandi as the protagonist. This is the first film by acclaimed Finnish filmmaker Klaus Härö and I’m curious to check out more of his work now. The Fencer is a little film with a big heart, with genuine emotional resonance that made me tear up. It also manages to surprise you without being overly-sensational, in fact, the film is so understated yet with a tinge of suspense and a haunting atmosphere that keeps me engrossed from start to finish.

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So that’s my weekend recap, folks. What did you see this weekend? Anything good?

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20 thoughts on “MSPIFF Weekend Roundup: Women In Film panels + ‘The Fencer’ mini review

  1. Some re-watches in Far & Away, The Karate Kid, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and first-timers in Bringing Out the Dead, Ginger & Rosa and right now, a short called I’m Here by Spike Jonze.

    1. Boy it’s been ages since I saw Far & Away, I saw that on the big screen w/ my big brother. I actually did rewatch an old fave, The Mummy. Man, Brendan Fraser’s career has gone down the tubes :\

        1. Ahah yeah and it’s bad CGI too! The Jungle Book on the other hand sets the bar really high for CGI animals on screen, it’s simply breathtaking!

  2. Oohh, The Fencer looks great! How cool you were able to attend the panel discussion. Did it occur to you to have one of these ladies “take you under wing” and hire your screenplay? How is that going, btw?

    1. Hi Cindy! The Fencer is wonderful, a true indie gem, I hope you see it one day. I’d LOVE to have one of these ladies take me under their wing, but of course I have to be realistic, they’re all very busy people and most don’t live here in the States. My script is still going, I’m just putting final touches on it before I actually format it properly (right now it’s still in Google doc!!) 🙂 How’s your novel going? I know you’ve been busy working on that too, right?

      1. yes, I’m about half way through the first draft. I’m about to dive back into it. Just missed posting and talking to everyone. I need to create a writer’s retreat for myself and go off into the woods by myself–with Wi-Fi and emerge six months later.

        1. I wish I could do exactly that, Cindy!! It’s tough to focus on my script when I’ve got reviews and film fest coverage and so on. But I gotta keep the dream alive and it’s nice to meet women in the industry who make things happen. I’ll get the thing done eventually 🙂

  3. I didn’t see anything new since the weather was so nice and spent my time outdoors over the weekend. Also, I’m still without a projector so I couldn’t really watch anything on my big screen.

    I’ve never heard of director Deepa Mehta but good to see she’s introducing another group of gangster to the cinemas. I didn’t know that Indian gangsters exists here in the West, lol.

    1. Yeah I don’t think Indian gangster is as well-known as Italian/Mexican gangsters but they do exist. If you read my interview w/ her, she said she was inspired by stories in the newspapers/broadcast news on tv. Interesting to see she was inspired by a Japanese director Seijun Suzuki who made Tokyo Drifter (1966).

      1. I love Tokyo Drifter, it’s pretty much a template for how gangster films were made so I’m not surprised Mehta was inspired by it. Heck even Tarantino and Scorsese copied the style from that film!

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