28th annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival

28th annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival

Read our guest blog from the folks behind this fabulous festival, with a look at some of this year’s highlights. More here.

SJIWFF and the 28th Line-Up

The 28th annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival kicks off on October 18, and we’re incredibly excited about this year’s line-up. With hundreds of submissions, we were amused to find several common themes naturally emerging from this year’s selection: bold documentaries, exciting music-themed films, and fresh new approaches to the classic coming-of-age story! If you need another reason to visit Newfoundland & Labrador during our gorgeous Fall season, the SJIWFF is it!

This year we’re opening on October 18th with Jordan Canning’s Suck It Up, and we’re thrilled to be welcoming Canning back to her hometown during the Festival. From then until the 22nd, we have a jam-packed line-up of industry events, film screenings, and networking parties with a filmmaker-focus for creators at all stages of their careers.

Along with films and parties, develop your business skills by taking advantage of our [Interactive] Film Industry Forum workshops, panels, and pitch sessions. The Festival welcomes some of the country’s biggest decisions makers and funders here for the week, and they are eager to meet you!

Here is a small sampling of our film highlights:

Suck It Up – Jordan Canning

Decidedly not a Thelma and Louise story, Suck It Up wisely pays tribute to the origination story about two women and a car but strikes out for fresh highways. Jordan Canning’s second feature premiered at Slamdance this year to affectionate reviews, and it’s easy to understand why. The film takes on some big topics, such as grief and betrayal, but it does so with a spunky combination of wit and attitude. The two female leads really own the wheel here. Ronnie is the hard-scrabbling sister of prematurely deceased Garrett. When the film opens, we are introduced to her state of mind, drowning itself in booze and self-pity. Her best friend Faye is called for an intervention, but she is also Garrett’s former girlfriend and therefore ambivalent about getting involved. The doctor didn’t really order a road trip but Garrett’s cool blue Mustang is screaming for possession, and so it is that the film becomes a journey through a few psychological landscapes. Canning is so admirably understated as a director, almost deceptively standing back to let her characters hog the screen. But rest assured that only a steady directorial hand and a keen sense of cinematic understatement could make this trip such a pleasure to watch. Highly entertaining and full of appealing diversions, the film reminds us that, yes, life is a highway. The festival is so proud to be showcasing Suck It Up as our opening feature, stunning evidence of a local filmmaker’s sheer homegrown talent.

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Chavela – Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi 

You are forgiven for possibly never having heard of Grammy-winning Mexican icon Chavela Vargas, but after seeing this glorious tribute you will never forget her. This is the kind of film our festival was born to showcase. An all-female crew scrutinizes the astonishing life of a cultural phenomenon. Chavela ran away from Costa Rica when she was just 14, but ended up being one of the most famous Latin artists of the century. She lived to narrate much of the documentary here, voicing a lucid, wry commentary on the challenges of becoming a lesbian superstar—in other words, being herself. No wonder the great passionate artist Frieda Kahlo was besotted with her. Indeed, among many revelations are the never seen before images of their relationship, well worth the ticket alone. Like Kahlo, Chavela was a magnet for both men and women, but ultimately she is a force of nature itself, uncannily persistent despite a judgemental society. Watch as Spanish director Pedro Almódavar talks of her power. Listen to the songs that made Chavela a household name. There’s a lot to absorb here in this new and exciting profile of a woman and the folk music she helped transform: indeed, you can go back to the ranchera again.

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Wexford Plaza – Joyce Wong

Another 2017 Slamdance entry, this unconventional feature by Toronto-based Joyce Wong charmed the festival programmers for its deft handling of its subject—a painfully awkward encounter between a security guard and the guy who serves the drinks at the bar at a shopping plaza. This is Scarborough, Ontario, where nothing ever happens. But the people who inhabit that world have hopes and dreams, just like the rest of us. Betty and Danny are as ordinary as it gets, but the film fleshes out their emerging characters in steady, revealing ways, exposing a vein of humanity we all recognize in ourselves. This is no small achievement. One can only imagine the pitch session: “it’s a Canadian romcom, doofus boy meets lonely girl at a plaza and nothing goes quite right.” There’s so much more going on here, though. The film folds you into its sense of place, person, and purpose with a calm, confident ease. As Wong well shows us, there’s drama in even the most unlikely places, wherever life is being explored by a talented artist.

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A Better Man – Attiya Khan

When the festival programmers keep talking about a film long after we’ve watched it we know we have to share it. A Better Man will get you talking. It’s a bold documentary that situates the filmmaker herself at the centre. Motivated by a need to close the loop, she engages the man who subjected her to violence, years after their troubled relationship had ended. For his own reasons, no doubt, Steve agrees to be the subject of this film, openly struggling to understand his own behaviour, straining to articulate what finally cannot be summarized. Steve is taciturn and almost uncomprehending at times, maddening the filmmaker and, in turn, the viewer who demands to hear more. But trauma works differently on both those who perpetuate and those who experience violence, and the film explores that spectrum of response and reflection as a slow, steady, and often painful reveal. It’s a fascinating piece of voyeurism, really, which is not to detract from the earnestness of the filmmaker’s mission. With Sarah Polley as executive director, A Better Man provocatively explores the fraught terrain of abuse and its aftermath.

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Porcupine Lake – Ingrid Veninger

Festival darling, Ingrid Veninger returns to us with her reliably strong work, this time a coming-of-age story that pulls you right into its central drama. Veninger well understand the secrets of girlhood. Her two well-cast leads perform with an uncanny naturalism, suggestive of the trust they must have placed in the director, a hallmark of Veninger’s art. Fate brings two girls from disparate walks of life together one summer in Northern Ontario. The class and rural/urban divide informs their differences, but at heart the girls are more alike than at first appears. This is a remarkably candid portrait of the struggle for a secure sense of self. Told almost exclusively from the girls’ points of view, Porcupine Lake doesn’t dismiss adults so much as remind us how much of the margins they occupy when you’re busy trying to find yourself. As with all of Veninger’s films, this well-crafted feature is scrupulously devoted to the small stuff from which big transformation comes. It’s simply a pleasure to watch. Bring your daughters.

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Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World – Catherine Bainbridge

This was a smash at Hot Docs this year, taking home the top prizes, and you will happily see why. Rumble is nothing less than a superbly produced documentary about the influence of native music on rock music. There is so much to discover in this lively, highly entertaining chronicle of a genre we thought we knew so much about. We not only hear iconic musicians like Buffy St Marie and Robbie Robertson talking about their struggle to locate their own identities in the emerging rock culture of their time but we also get to watch them and so many others performing the music that juiced a generation. You want to know where Hendrix was in all this? The film lets you in on a long masked truth about his own roots and influences. Same goes for the incomparable Mildred Bailey and The Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo, among others. This film will profoundly change the way you listen to rock music from now on.

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For more information or to purchase tickets or a Festival Pass, please visit www.womensfilmfestival.com or follow us on social media @SJIWFF or #SJIWF28 #SJIWFForum