Shopping While Brown, Sizeism and … Downton Abbey?

Hey kids!

Just a brief check-in to let you know I’m still alive …

But ALSO … to let you know about the new episode of Sip & Bitch, the podcast I make with my friends bi-weekly.

Here, my friend Renée talks about what happened when she visited the perfume department at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Toronto location; our frustrations with finding clothes that fit (the never-ending struggle for women the world over), and Kath’s fond farewell to Downton Abbey (which aired its last episode March 6).

It’ll be up on iTunes for downloading on Wednesday night, but if you can stream, you can find it here:

 

Happy listening, y’all!

 

Another Shade of Adolescence

wpid-imag0782.jpgA few hours after my Cumberbatch experience, I hurried to the theatre for my next film, a feature from France called Girlhood (Bande des filles).

It’s the third feature film from screenwriter/director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies and Tomboy), and was shown at Cannes in May.

Girlhood takes a look at life for teenage girls in the rough banlieues which surround Paris, through the eyes of Mariame, a shy sixteen-year-old who looks out for her younger sisters, but steers clear of her older brother Djibril – who’s a bit of a bully – and does as best she can.

Things change when Mariame is told she can’t go to high school because she doesn’t have the grades, and should enrol in vocational school instead. Angry over the hand she’s dealt, she rebels and falls in with a girl gang, who spend their days living by their own rules and pushing limits.

But it’s while spending time with her newfound band of sisters — Lady, the ringleader; Adiatou; and Fily — that Mariame decides to buck the system she’s supposed to follow, and define herself by her own code.

Whew.

I really, really liked this movie, in that it was so starkly different from anything I’ve seen – not just at this film festival, but even last year’s.

But where to begin? There is so much that came at me at once … perhaps I’ve missed things, or read too much into aspects of the film. But here’s what I came away with:

First, there are the obvious things that remind the characters – and illustrate to us – that they are  “the other”, not fully accepted because they live on these fringes created by society.

It’s in the interaction Mariame has with a white shopgirl, who follows her from rack to rack until her new friends surround the shopgirl and call her out on her behaviour. It’s in a scene on the metro, where you see the girls carry on and dance and enjoy each other’s company, the white commuters surrounding them out of focus, and in the background. It’s in the scene where Mariame works a shift at the hotel where her mother works as a cleaner.

But then, there’s this lingering, irritating sense that, in their world, they are only ever in ownership of their own bodies, comfortable in their own skin, when they’re around each other.  Outside of that — and this is true for Mariame, for most of the film — there’s this sense they’re a bit on guard, aware of themselves in the presence of boys and men.

But it’s not a completely heavy movie. There are funny moments, and other scenes in the movie – that serve to remind us viewers that, hey, these are teenagers trying to deal with, and enjoy, these moments in their lives as best as they can.

There’s more to say, but at the risk of giving away the rest of the plot, I’m going to stop here. If you consider seeing it, I’d rather have you make up your own minds.

(If you really want a proper review to read, check out this Hollywood Reporter write-up from mid-May.)

wpid-imag0780.jpgKaridja Touré is the actress who portrays the title role of Mariame.

As we found out in the brief discussion following the screening, this was her first movie role. But, man, is she ever arresting in each frame of this film.

You see her transformation, not only in the way she dresses, but in the way she carries herself and moves across the screen. And the actresses who portray the girl gang she falls in with, are great as well.

I absolutely recommend seeing this movie, whether it’s in limited release, or if it’s later released on DVD.

Di Di’s Red Carpet Reprise

wpid-imag0335.jpgLast year, my friend Renée and I went to TIFF’s red carpet for The Fifth Estate to see Benedict Cumberbatch, and experienced the frenzy of being surrounded by many, MANY (mostly young) fans of his.

The experience was actually decent. Renée got a really good look at him. And although I captured his face on camera, I really only got to see a fraction of his face in real life. So whenever we made small-talk with folks about which actors we saw during TIFF, I’d joke that I got to see Benedict’s left cheekbone.

As I mentioned in my post last week, Renée and I had talked about making another trip down to the red carpet if he returned to Toronto. But she recently started a new (and, may I add, pretty rad) job, so she wouldn’t be able to join me.

Did I really want to endure the commute and brave the crazy crowds alone, just to have another crack at taking a better photo and seeing him in the flesh? I mean, the thing that made it fun was that I was doing this with a friend. But now, the idea of going solo made me feel kind of … sheepish.

But last Tuesday, after some waffling, I shoved my dignity deep into my purse and trekked down to this year’s red carpet for The Imitation Game, a historical drama starring Cumberbatch as mathematician, cryptographer, code-breaker and forefather of the modern-day computer, Alan Turing.

wpid-imag0768.jpgBased on last year’s experience, I’d originally intended to get down to the barricades across from the theatre for around 3:30 p.m. But I dragged my feet and didn’t arrive until 4:15 p.m.

Naturally, the place was teeming with people by the time I arrived. The area directly in front of the theatre entrance was already clogged with fans.

I approached the easternmost edge of the crowd and gradually sidled about 30 feet westward until I was directly behind a group of young women, chatting excitedly and getting to know each other through their love of Benedict (or “Ben C.”, as one of them called him, as if he was the high school heartthrob.)

Eventually, a woman dressed in black, wearing a headset and bedazzled TIFF lanyard, made her way along the crowds to explain to us that (1) she was the red carpet coordinator, and (2) she’d do our best to let us know when the actors arrived outside the theatre.

The young women in front of me had been hedging their bets that, since Benedict was the biggest star of the film, he’d likely arrive last.

NOPE.

wpid-imag0770.jpgAt about 5:10 p.m., the red carpet coordinator walked eastward along King St., and — just in front of our section — announced in a loud voice, “BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.”

Colour me surprised.

The whoops and shrieks started.

Sure enough, an SUV pulled up, and out he jumped.

The crowd lost. Their. Minds.

He strode over to the largest fan cluster, took a selfie (or, more accurately, group shot) with fans — his TIFF trademark — then shuffled eastward toward us, signing autographs.

The young women in front of me yelled his name, clamouring to get their items signed; when he reached our section, maybe one or two got an autograph, leaving the rest of the group a bit disappointed.

But since I got closer to the barricades than I did last year (I may have cut my distance by half), I definitely got what I wanted.

I didn’t hear him speak this time around, but I couldn’t believe my good fortune at what I could see.

Gone was last yeawpid-imag0775.jpgr’s tux, replaced with a sharp suit. His hair – lighter in hue – was doing great things, and he’d donned some specs for the occasion.

I held up my phone and clicked.

(Then, I did what seemed like the next logical step – I posted that bad boy onto Instagram and Twitter. And that’s when the retweets from Japan began.

Within a few hours, I’d gotten over 120 retweets and almost as many favourites — which, I admit, filled me with absolute glee.)

It’s a very bizarre sort of high, snapping a photo of someone I’ll probably never meet. He’s just another human being, who happens to have a very creative job.

But as he breezed by — his publicist a pace or so behind — and we set eyes upon him, we couldn’t help gasping amongst ourselves, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I saw him! That’s amazing!” and grinning uncontrollably.

And as quickly as he’d come, he strode in the other direction for another half-lap, before heading inside for red carpet photos and a gauntlet of TV interviews.

The girls in front of me kept yelling and screaming, in hopes he might come back. But he was gone.

The other stars arrived; only Keira Knightley briefly stopped outside for autographs before heading inside. But the frenzy was over.

I had a brief chat with a Japanese woman who’d come to Toronto for this (well, the movie as well as the red carpet). She’d gotten a lady right against the barricades to snap a photo with her digital camera, and it was super-close. But after seeing mine, she wanted a copy for herself. I tried to send her a copy, but was unsuccessful.

Now that I’ve done it, do I still feel foolish? Not as much, no. And I also saw the film Friday night, which I’ll write about in the coming days. But at this moment, two words filled me with a sense of satisfaction:

Mission. Accomplished.

 

 **All photos taken by me. Please do not re-use without asking permission.**

 

 

 

 

 

Horror in the Woods

wpid-imag0762.jpgSo … I was supposed to write this on Thursday, but life got in the way. My apologies for lying to y’all … again.

Time to catch up!

Last Monday night, I hiked it downtown to see my second TIFF selection — a thriller/horror flick called Backcountry, by writer-director Adam MacDonald.

Full disclosure: I HAAATE scary movies. I do about as well as a five-year-old girl when it comes to these things. (Don’t believe me? Ask my mom about her memories of me, the Incredible Hulk TV series, and my relationship with our front hallway coat closet.)

So why on earth would I pay money to see this (and potentially soil myself)?

First, and foremost (and another full disclosure): I know and have met the director in person, through friends. He’s good people, and fiercely dedicated to honing his craft. I saw a short film he directed several years ago, and remember him speaking at the time about his next project — a movie, much like Open Water, but in the woods.

So imagine my surprise when – scanning through online descriptions and picking movies at random – I saw the listing for his movie.

As IF there was any question about whether I’d see it.

But acquaintanceship aside, I try to support Canadian films when I have the chance.

I can only imagine how tough it is to make movies of any kind, anywhere, period. But – and I’m basing this on what I’ve heard about the film industry here, so correct me if I’m wrong – it’s not the easiest to do in (English-speaking) Canada. So when an idea is brought to life and it’s something I’m interested in seeing, I’ll get my backside down to the theatre.

Okay, the plot:

The film centres around a couple, Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop), who decide to get off the grid and go on a weekend camping trip – a getaway that has promising beginnings. But the mood of the trip changes when they have a run-in with a mysterious man (Eric Balfour) near their campsite, with an Irish accent and a strange story to match.

The encounter causes a bit of tension between Jenn and Alex. But when they take a detour while hiking and end up lost, things take a terrifying turn.

For his first feature-length film, I think it was a solid effort on MacDonald’s part. Shot in northern Ontario (near North Bay), the film’s location is beautiful, the editing’s great, and the plot pretty straightforward.

And while I did spend part of the movie peering through my fingers, keep in mind what I said earlier – I’m a big suck. People looking for super-scary movies won’t find this as scary as me. There is some gore, but this type of horror is more psychological (which I think is much more effective).

Also? I don’t think I’ll be going camping anytime in the near future.

If this movie ends up being released anywhere, check it out and see what you think — and please support Canadian cinema!

 

The Sound of “Gay”

wpid-imag0752.jpgMy TIFF experience started this past Sunday, when I lined up with at least a couple hundred other ticket-holders in the noon-time sun to see the documentary Do I Sound Gay?

It’s the first from director David Thorpe, whose work was made possible with help from a successful Kickstarter campaign, as well as family and friends.

And on this day, we had the pleasure of being the first public, international audience to screen it.

The documentary’s premise stems from Thorpe’s self-consciousness over the sound of his own voice – particularly his anxiety over sounding stereotypically “gay”, which he says comes from an internalized homophobia that constantly tells him that being gay – and “sounding gay” – still isn’t a good thing.

So he sets out on a personal journey to change the way he sounds, but also to investigate where this particular way of speaking comes from, and to illustrate the evolution and struggle of the gay voice through the gay rights movement, and even amidst the current issues of bullying and violence against LGBT youth.

In the process, he comes to find his own voice, and comfort in his own skin.

What did I like about this movie? Thorpe’s first-person storytelling to get his point across – both through his footage and his use of other devices. It was funny, engaging, and it resonated with me.

It was great seeing him with vocal coaches, talking to people on the street, his interviews with linguists, with such prominent personalities as David Sedaris, George Takei and Dan Savage (who was at the screening), and even broaching the subject with some of his closest friends, and family members.

But it goes beyond linguistics. There’s historical context. There is discussion of gender issues, and the masculine still being held as the ideal. There are people who choose to own their voice, even if it means being physically attacked.

And the whole idea of changing one’s voice to fit in or draw less attention to oneself? It’s not just confined to the LGBT community – it’s universal. Just think about that time someone made fun of you, or made you feel self-conscious, because of the sound/tone of your voice, or because you had an accent. (I know it’s happened to me.)

wpid-imag0755.jpgFollowing the film, Thorpe participated in a discussion with one of the programmers and Savage – best known to me for his syndicated sex and relationship column, Savage Love (use Google to find it, it’s great) – followed by a question-and-answer segment with the audience.

There were some good questions about Thorpe’s filmmaking process and about the idea around finding one’s voice.

I recall one audience member asking Thorpe whether the idea of lesbians having anxiety over sounding too “masculine” was a subject he tried to pursue during the filmmaking process.

Thorpe explained that while there are perhaps cases, it’s not as prevalent – perhaps because sounding masculine is more valued/accepted, because the idea of the masculine in society is generally valued/accepted, whereas the feminine simply isn’t.

It’s been said that eyes are the windows to the soul. Does that make one’s voice the front door?

Seeing this film has certainly made me aware – but not self-conscious – of my own voice, in terms of how interesting and valuable an instrument it is.

And it’s up to us whether we take ownership and find ways of making ourselves (in all our vocal variations) heard … and being comfortable with what we hear.

 

Posts Pending!

Hey, kids!

Many apologies for the radio silence – I KNOW I owe you some ramblings on TIFF. The last three days have been a bit nuts. (Don’t believe me? Scroll to the bottom of this blog and check out my Twitter feed.)

Also? I have so many thoughts about these films, I’m trying to figure out exactly how to articulate them. I just haven’t had the time.

Fortunately, tomorrow is a non-film day, so I hope I can rectify that for you shortly. I’m hoping to have the first of three posts on Thursday.

Stay tuned!

And Then There Were Four

So.

If you dropped by my blog around this time last year, you’d know three things:

(1) My friend Renée and I are huge fans of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and braved the crowds for a real-life glimpse on the opening night red carpet for The Fifth Estate.

(2) We made a point of going to see the aforementioned film.

(3) We sort of made a ladies’ agreement that, should Mr. Cumberbatch return, we would be back. Of course, that pact also included throwing our money at gala tickets, donning hot dresses and painting the town red.

On that third point, we obviously talk a big game, but don’t have any follow-through, because none of that’s transpired.

For starters, things have been so busy in general that neither of us had the time to try to score gala screening tickets.

Plus, Renée’s gotten herself a great new job, which means no hanging out on red carpets. (Which, obviously, is completely valid.)

So, up until Thursday, I was pondering whether I should:

(a) reprise my role as amateur fan-gawker (albeit solo) next Tuesday evening (September 9), when The Imitation Game – a historical drama in which Cumberbatch portrays British mathematician (logician, and computer scientist, among other things) Alan Turing – has its first screening and red carpet,

and/or

(b) join the rush line for the second screening on the following day (September 10).

I’d been on the fence for several days over what to do.

Then, I had a little conversation with my friend Tess.

She’s a TIFF veteran (or is that TIFFicianado? Just check out her ever-relevant handy guide for navigating the festival right here), to whom I’d mentioned that I really wanted to see The Imitation Game and figured – between the Cumberbatch fans and cinephiles in general – my chances were extremely low.

She directed me to a really handy blog, where on one post, people would trade or sell tickets. Perhaps someone would have a lone ticket. I did check, but no dice.

But then, Thursday happened.

While chatting online with Tess, she caught wind (via Twitter) that the festival had added a third screening on September 11th.

Well, of COURSE, I told Renée. And by 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning, she managed to secure three tickets for her, a mutual friend, and me.

Mission. Accomplished.

Only a few questions remain: Will I see more than a chiseled cheekbone this time around? Will I be the Lady Who Lingers? Or – being a year older, and hopefully wiser – know when to walk away?