Kicking off tomorrow night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the second annual Next Wave festival showcases films picked by teens, for teens. We were able to catch an advance look at seven of this year’s selections. For a full list of films, showtimes, and tickets (don’t forget that high schoolers with valid ID get a discount!) head on over to the TIFF website.
Fame High – It’s a shame that the performing arts documentary Fame High couldn’t have come out several years ago. By now this look at youngsters trying to get a leg up on their creative dreams comes out in the wake of films like Make Believe, I Am Not a Rock Star, First Position, Jig, and even to some degree The Hollywood Complex, and sadly there’s not very much structurally to distinguish it from the other films that have helped set up a bit of a cottage industry. This story of four teenagers in different grades and programmes at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts holds some inspirational moments and interesting stories and the teens have believable breakthough moments (particularly a musician skipping school for chances at potential gigs and a freshman with an overbearing, but complex father), but there’s a bit of staleness by this point. It’s not a knock against the kids and their obviously hard work or even against the filmmaking and editing. It’s a knock against the timing.
Screens Saturday, February 16th, 12:00pm
5-25-77 – Although screening as something that’s very much still a work in progress, the rough edges to Patrick Read Johnson’s long in production, somewhat fictionalized account of how he became a filmmaker make it thoroughly endearing. It’s easy to see how this labour of love – tracing the director’s obsession with cinema from first seeing Kubrick’s 2001 in 1968 and making his own films in the ensuing years to an eventual trip to see Hollywood and the titular date that would ultimately change his life – comes with a great deal of emotional baggage and some compression to include every little detail of a life, but it’s that very raw openness that makes the film so appealing. It’s a story aimed squarely at the starry eyed dreamer in all of us to never give up even in the face of the overly melodramatic world of being a teenager. If you ever tried to create anything in your life, you’ll probably easily see yourself in Johnson’s shoes. It also boasts a really great performance from John Frances Daly as the artist as a young man.
Screens Saturday, February 16th, 3:15pm
Bushido Sixteen – A coming of age story set against the sporting backdrop of kendo stick fencing, this tale of rivals getting to know one another hits all of the standard sporting and teenage beats, but it does it with considerable ease, grace, and with a sense of dignity. After being beaten by a seemingly average opponent named Sanae, the hyper-motivated and fiercely competitive Kaori gets to know more about herself and her former opponent as they begin attending high school together. The character arcs might be pretty standard, but Tomoyuki Furumaya (working form a screenplay adapted from a novel by Tetsuya Honda) paces things well and the two lead complement each other nicely. It earns the catharsis and emotion of its inevitable final showdown quite well.
Screens Sunday, February 17th, 12:00pm
Earthbound – In this Irish import, a 26 year old comic shop employee (Rafe Spall) has been living under the assumption that he’s actually an alien from the far off planet of Zalaxon thanks to what was told to him by his father on his death bed. When trying to return home during the opening of an infrequently appearing wormhole, the young man falls in love with a woman (Jenn Murray) that he wants to tell the truth to, but naturally that doesn’t go so well. It all amounts to a cross between Safety Not Guaranteed (minus the cynicism towards the main kook) and The Big Bang Theory, which means it’s not particularly funny in any sort of creative way. Spall and Murray are fine, but writer Alan Brennan’s film hits every predictable cliché along the way while zipping over some all too necessary characterization. A late second act stab at suspense and sincerity is a bit too little too late.
Screens Sunday, February 17th, 1:00pm
Ghost Graduation – I promised myself that I wouldn’t get too giddy that this hidden and utterly hilarious Spanish gem that played the proper TIFF festival last fall was finally coming back to town, but I simply can’t do that. It wasn’t the best of the festival overall, but I can’t think of something I had more fun watching. For anyone that ever missed John Hughes, director Javier Ruiz Caldera has your back with this pitch perfect and superlatively funny tale of a disgraced teacher who can see ghosts that’s brought in to a school to exorcise four spirits that died in a library detention fire in 1986. No one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever copied or come close to what Hughes was able to do in his prime until this film. It’s gleefully profane, but genial, real, heartfelt, and at times touchingly series. Teenage me would have thought this was one of the greatest films ever made, and adult me still thinks it’s a blast that I could watch again and again without ever getting sick of it. It plays well with a crowd, so I beg/urge/plead with you to see this film this weekend if it sounds like something you would like. Did I mention it also has the best use of Bonnie Tyler in cinematic history? Whatever, that’s just the decorative flower on an already deliciously iced cake. See it now before the Will Smith produced remake drops in the distant future and be one of the cool kids.
Screens Sunday, February 17th, 2:45pm
Family Weekend – A jump roping prodigy named Emily (Olesya Rulin) gets fed up at her stoner artist father (Matthew Modine) and hyper-motivated ad exec mother (Kristin Chenoweth) constantly missing out on the important moments of her life, so she drugs and ties them up to force her entire family to work out all their problems before the State jump roping finals. What could have been relentlessly quirky instead becomes a delightfully un-PC look at a privileged family gone amok. The writing is sharp and purposefully uncomfortable, but Benjamin Epps’ film is just overstuffed (thanks to not one, but three quirky siblings for our lead and a rival that shows up simply as a plot device). It runs out of steam well before it reaches the end of its 105 minute running time (which might be cut down since the screener I watched was still slightly unfinished), but great performances and an endearing chaotic energy help this one along nicely.
Screens Sunday, February 17th at 3:00pm
Otelo Burning – Set against the unlikely background of inner city surfers in South Africa in the late 1980s, this coming of age story certainly isn’t the biggest feel good movie of the festival, but it’s a potent look at living in a constant state of turmoil. This tale of a sixteen year old teen trying to balance his devotion to his sport and his family in the face of a potentially bloody Civil War. Despite an overstuffed start and some pretty wonky narration throughout, this sprawling tale of family and racism that hits all the right emotional and often tragic notes.
Screens Sunday, February 17th at 4:45pm