Kicking off my very busy day 6 was a film screening at the National Film Board. I’ll be examining the short films separately from the full-length documentary, as I have a great deal to say about the latter. Grab the popcorn and settle in.
Jerry Levitan, of I Met The Walrus fame, is again at the helm of a short film. This time, Levitan and collaborator Terry Tompkins have created an animated short film entitled My Hometown. The piece focuses on a Yoko Ono poem, read aloud by Ono herself, set to animated images of children from around the world representing its message.
The words of My Hometown are inspiring and positive to a point; that cannot be denied. The animation, provided by Levitan’s daughter Rebecca, are beautiful and rich in metaphor and meaning. That said, I found this film incredibly unsatisfying. While the core message of working towards healing our world – starting, of course, with our hometowns – is conveyed well via imagery and is uplifting, the constant narration and its delivery comes across as preachy and demanding. One almost begins to feel chastised and burdened with a guilt-laden pressure – a sense that somehow, we must save cities that could be half a world away by “sending good vibes”. While I was enjoying the film at the start, halfway through I grew irritated and desiring a mute button.
I appreciate that Levitan valued Ono’s message and words, but feel the poem just didn’t translate well to the screen. I feel that perhaps a few key lines narrated over the images would have been far more effective and poignant. I also feel like a child listening to the poem would feel like a failure if their good intentions didn’t solve a war or crisis, and crushing children’s spirits seems like the opposite of what we should be doing.
That said, I could be wrong. You can view the film in its entirety here.
Cameron MacKenzie became the youngest director to ever screen at the NXNE festival with her short film Letting Go. Completed in 2011 at the age of 13, MacKenzie wrote, directed, edited, starred in and sang for the piece, which in and of itself is just astonishing. The fact that the piece is so well-done only further cements MacKenzie as a rising star in the world of film.
Letting Go is a piece dealing with grief and loss. A silent film set to music, it tells the story of a young girl who is confronted suddenly with death as she discovers a beloved family member has passed away. Chronicling her process within an 8-minute span, MacKenzie leads us through the stages of mourning with her portrayal of the young girl. The farm upon which she lives becomes the battleground wherein she wages a war within self to understand how to let go of her pain and find her strength as a young woman.
Stylistically, the film is stunning: the footage is shot to intentionally look like an old home movie with sepia tones and vertical lines aging the scenes. Shots of life moving on as normal via the farm animals are juxtaposed with carefully selected images and close-ups of MacKenzie that communicate her emotional turmoil. Perhaps one of my favourite shots is the scene where the young girl sees a face in the water and attacks it with thrashing motions.
Silent films are an incredibly challenging task for any director, but MacKenzie manages beautifully with the assistance of editor/costumer/camera operator Sidney Linton. The only criticism I have of the piece – and it’s tempered with an appreciation of MacKenzie’s age and experience – is that the music transitions are a bit jarring in places, and could be smoother. This is easily forgiven, though.
MacKenzie herself, present for the screening, is well-spoken, grounded and dedicated to her craft. The idea for Letting Go, she explains, began as a film she wished to complete for Fargo’s 48-Hour Film Festival; when her crew was unavailable for the festival, she took the project into her own hands – and what a good thing, too. As for her next project, MacKenzie is playing her cards close to her chest, but one thing is for certain: it will be brilliant.