September 14, 2011. ImagineNATIVE! Movies reviewed: On the Ice, Wapos Bay, Footloose

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 17, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference

Sometimes you have to wonder: News today says it turns out the Canadian Military has been covertly spying on and infiltrating Native communities for “security” reasons. Nice…

But for a much better, and more realistic view of indigenous people the always interesting ImagineNATIVE festival is opening next week and running from the 19th with five days of films, videos, art, sound-art, and live performances by stars like the hiphop group A Tribe Called Red, and the wonderful Buffy Ste Marie.

They’re showing international films from South Africa about the Khoi San people, a visually great Australian movie called Samson and Delilah, an interesting movie in French out of Quebec called Mesnak, and many other Canadian short films, documentaries and features about and by aboriginal filmmakers.

So this week, I’m going to talk about two good movies playing at ImagineNATIVE, and review a 80’s remake.

On the Ice

Dir: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

Two high school students – Aivaaq and Qalli (Frank Qutuq Irelan and Josiah Patkotak) are best buds. They hang out, rap, play sports and go hunting together. Qalli’s the good boy with the young face, getting set for University in the Fall. He spends time with his grandmother, who only speaks Inuktitut, studies hard, stays out of trouble and doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs.

Aivaaq does. He’s taller, tougher, troubled. They live in a small Inuit town in Alaska. But when the two of them (in their puffy white parkas) go out seal hunting on the ice along with a rival, James, things go wrong. Aivaaq and James get in a fight, and after awhile, James ends up dead. It’s an accident, not murder, but it looks bad. So Qaali and Aivaaq decide to cover it up. They drop James’s body and skidoo into an ice hole.

But people don’t just disappear. What to me looks just like the undifferentiated endless white of snow and tundra is actually a traceable crime scene. James’ girlfriend thinks it’s a suicide. The town cop thinks alcohol is the culprit. Soon the town’s in an uproar, first in a search for James, then in constant questioning and re-questioning of their stories. What about the skidoo tracks – they don’t follow the path the boys were telling them. And why was the ice brushed clean? And what are those drops of blood doing on an animal fur? Qaali wants to keep quiet, but Aivaaq can’t stop telling everyone that he was responsible. As the tension mounts, it’s not clear who, if anyone, will be blamed, and who is really at fault.

On the Ice is a good suspenseful drama about life in the far, far north. It does have an American in-your-face confrontational tone to it that you don’t get in Canadian Native and Inuit movies. Is it a fundamental national-cultural difference, or just a difference in movie styles? Either way, this is a good, icy story.

Wapos Bay: “Long Goodbyes”

Dir: Dennis Jackson

Chief Big Sky comes from Wapos Bay – a bucolic area filled with trees, mountains and streams — and is elected as the National Grand Chief for all of Canada. So he, his colleague Alphonse Merasty and their respective families will be moving away from the village. But first, Wapos Bay has to elect a new Chief.

Jacob (starring the voice of Lorne Cardinal) is the sole candidate running for Chief, but Raven (Raven Brass), a little girl, doesn’t like that. She has a new idea – she’ll manage her Dad Alphonse’s campaign while he’s away, so they’ll have to stay in Wapos Bay. She constructs the election until she becomes a little Karl Rove, complete with attack ads, questionable rumours (about uncle Jacob and a lumber multinational clear-cutting their forest) and dirty tricks. She even gives muffled speeches by telephone, since her dad almost never talks. Soon everyone wants Alphonse to win… everyone, that is, except Alphonse himself, who doesn’t even know he’s running. But Raven’s schemes escalate to such a degree they’re out of control. Raven’s created a monster! (Soon enough Jacob is running through the woods in a red headband chased by taser-happy cops…)

Meanwhile, Devon and his friends want to complete a bucket list before some of them move away, using the fortune that rich Kohkum Mary earned marketing traditional medicines. So there are trips down the rapids, parachute jumps from an airplane, bungee jumping….

Will Raven and company get Alphonse elected before he makes it back to Wapos Bay? Will the real truth about Jacob get out? And will the families adjust to their friends moving down south?

This is a cute, feature-length version of the TV comedy… and it’s animated! It’s beautiful clay stop-motion photography, with lots of quick jokes, one-liners, and some baaad sitcom gags. (And no laughtrack). It’s sort of like the Simpsons only Native, and not quite so frenetic. I’d never seen the TV show before, so I didn’t quite get it at first, but, once you fall into the rhythm, you quickly grow to like the characters. And the world premier will be closing the ImagineNATIVE festival this year.

Footloose

Dir: Craig Brewer

Orphan Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) a high school senior, moves from Boston to small town Bomont down in the Land of Cotton to stay with his relatives. He likes fixin’ cars, listenin’ to loud music, talking back… as well as expressing himself through gymnastics and interpretive dancing. He figures life will be just like back home, only smaller. But he soon learns he’s landed in a town like no other. His new school teaches the three Rs: “reading, writing, and redneckery”. And because there was a car accident that killed five kids including the preacher (Dennis Quaid)’s son, the town has put all the kids under a permanent curfew, and banned music, drinking, lascivious behaviour… and even dancing. He says their children must be protected from a world filled with “evil, temptation and danger”.

But the preacher’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), is a rebel – she hangs out in the bad part of town with drag racer Chuck (or “Lug-Nuts”, as Ren calls him).

The kids get around this ban by breakdancing and making-out behind the town drive-in. You see, they’re just kids. And kids gotta dance.

So Ren decides to take the lead and challenge the anti-dancing law by getting everyone to join in and dance with him. But he faces trouble from all sides. Chuck sneers at Ren’s dancing skills, the town cop keeps harassing him, and the school threatens to expel him.

Will they convince the old fogeys to change their ways? Will Ariel choose to go with badboy Chuck or rebel Ren? And will Ren’s new best friend and town hick Willard ever learn to dance?

A bit of context.

George Carlin wrote about the seven words you could never say on TV, which included the “F” word.

Well, Footloose (along with Fame and Flashdance) was one of the Three “F” movies of the 80’s, the sort of movie no teenage guy could ever openly admit to seeing. Too uncool. But it was part of the Reagan-era zeitgeist, so even if you hadn’t seen them, you knew what they were about. Amidst all the big city violence and change Footloose showed a conservative, 1950’s-style America that supposedly still existed in the 1980’s. The hero (played by Kevin Bacon in the original) was supposedly a rebel, but actually challenged nothing; he only wanted a superficial change. (And it was filled with 80’s mainstream, cheesy MTV pop hits like Holding out for a Hero, Footloose, and Let’s Hear it for the Boy – all of which are kept in the remake.)

But in 2011, it’s a retro-retro-movie, a remake of a movie about a world that never existed, a 2011 version of an 80’s version of a 50’s movie. In this reality, girls only want to dance if asked by boys, and saving one’s virginity is the most important virtue. No kissing even unless they’re in love. And to make it more confusing, it mixes covers of 80’s popnhits, mixed with current bad hip-hop and – that worst of all musical genres – New Country. The dancing spans the genres from breakdancing to line dancing and everything else, like an omnibus audition for one of those TV dance shows. A real mess.

This is a deeply conservative movie, but not unwatchable. It has some dancing, some nostalgic music, and a few fist-fights, and the actors all appear to perform their own dances. So if you like watching actors-playing-teenagers dance, go see Footloose.

Footloose starts today, and On the Ice and Wapos Bay are showing at ImagineNative next week, on the19th and the 25th – check imagineNATIVE.org for all listings and times. Also playing now is Circumstance, a movie I reviewed during the Inside-Out festival. It’s a great, Farsi-language film about two girls struggling to maintain a lesbian relationship within a vibrant but hidden subculture in conservative and oppressive present-day Tehran.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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