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Oscars’ best picture win will reflect what society stands for today

Films often reflect societal views; confronting current issues and using the artistic power of the lens to capture history. Watching someone perform on film brings out various elements of the human condition and can hold incredible sway over the viewer. Thus, to celebrate such artistic feats, the Oscars emerged as one of the most highly viewed awards shows of the year.

In the last few years, the Oscars have been criticized for favouring films with ‘white’ actors, even producing a popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. This year, the nominations strayed from the ‘white’s-only’ club to include several strong contenders with leading roles for people of colour. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is a film that follows a young gay man through his childhood, teen years, and adulthood, and touches on various issues that affect the African American community in the United States today. This film is a front-runner to win Best Picture, with seven other nominations as well. Another nominated film with leading roles for people of colour is Fences, directed by Denzel Washington, is a film that explores the intergenerational trauma of racism and a father’s inability to help his son succeed because of his own failed success. The third film that touches on African American themes is Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, and is based on the true story of a group of African American women that worked for NASA and helped the first space mission launch in the 1960s.

La La Land, a musical directed by Damien Chazelle, is nominated for 14 awards and many expect this film to win best picture. The musical focuses on Hollywood and the struggles that come with stardom. The musical score in this film happens to be phenomenal. Lion, by Garth Davis, arguably has one of the most unique storylines and is based on the true story of a boy adopted from India who used google earth to find his family after he was lost as a child. The tear-jerker of the year is Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, that explores how losing one’s children can destroy you as a person.

Many critics believe that La La Land will win Best Picture because a) it is a fantastic film, b) has won several other awards already and c) was well-received by the academy. A rising sentiment is being whispered among film buffs though that Moonlight will take the crown. Since President Donald Trump has come into power, there has been a growing protest movement in Hollywood that opposes his racist, xenophobic and otherwise extremist right-wing ideologies. A new unified movement in the film community is rising up against the racist and islamophobic reign of terror that has overtaken the United States. Due to the societal convictions of the progressive left, Moonlight should win — also because it is a wonderfully touching film that deserves the recognition.

Though La La Land captures the heart of film and music and has beautiful cinematographic references, Moonlight represents the United States as it currently stands today. Jenkins’ manages to take the struggles of being black in America today and turns it into an art piece. This film offers an opportunity for a person of any ethnicity, age, or religion to step into the role of being a young, gay, African American boy, and it is when the leading character Chiron pauses in silence, that you can feel years of black history and oppression being played out one scene at a time.

No matter what, this year’s Oscar win for best picture will undoubtedly be representative of what Hollywood cares really about — whether that be ignoring reality and embracing the sublime in La La Land or facing the visceral reality of how society has failed people of colour in America in Moonlight. Tune in Sunday, Feb. 26th at 8:30 E.S.T. to find out.

Life-changing documentaries released in 2016

Documentaries are one of the most influential tools of education in our modern world. People are constantly immersed in images, video, multimedia, and social media, creating an information-overload culture that sometimes makes it difficult for messages to get through. That’s what’s so great about documentaries. There is nothing more thought-provoking than showing people through the lens of a camera the realities of the world we live in and the importance of changing it.

Which documentaries are the best so far in 2016? Here is a list worth checking out. Get ready to think, learn and discuss.

Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens.
Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens.

Before the Flood

Before the Flood was a documentary that was all the buzz at its release at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month in Toronto. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the main subject leads an investigative journey around the world about climate change. The documentary was directed by Fisher Stevens, who made The Cove. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer for the film.  DiCaprio is a UN Ambassador of Peace and is dedicated to raising world awareness for climate change. Barack Obama, an avid environmentalist as well, is featured in the film. This is arguably one of the most awaited environmental documentaries of the year. It will be released on October 21 2016 by National Geographic.

Amy (2016). Directed by Asaf Kapadia.
Amy (2016). Directed by Asaf Kapadia.

Amy

Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy takes the viewer on the life journey of singer Amy Winehouse, including her downhill climb into drugs and alcohol, ending in her death on July 23, 2011. The documentary explains how Winehouse began as an aspiring jazz singer and her soulful voice led to her success relatively quickly. It then describes how her complex relationship with her father and a troubled relationship led her into drug and alcohol addiction. Winehouse deteriorates and becomes severely anorexic, leading her to be the butt of many international jokes by tabloid media. The documentary gives an intimate background into how a life of fame can make a person crack, and how despite her fame and success, she felt quite alone. This documentary is definitely worth watching. Amy won a 2016 academy award for best documentary feature this past year.

 

The power lines. Provided by Koneline.
The power lines. Provided by Koneline.

Koneline

Koneline is a Canadian-made film and focuses on the Tahltan native clan, located in Northern B.C. It features the various elements that affect people of Northern B.C., ranging from the impact of the mining industry to hunting in the region. Director Nettie Wild portrays the northern landscape in such a beautiful manner, it becomes mesmerizing to the viewer and tells the story of the land, highlighting the influence imagery and filmography can have on expressing how land affects people. Wild attempts to demonstrate how the various people who live n Northern B.C have a story and perspective into their struggle to survive in the area and how working together will bring peace and understanding. Koneline won Best Canadian Feature Documentary award at Hot Docs in 2016, and is being screened at several venues across Canada.

Amanda Knox (2016). Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn.
Amanda Knox (2016). Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn.

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox follows the life of American college student, Knox, who was falsely charged with the murder of her roommate, British student, Meredith Kercher. Knox was sentenced to jail in 2017 for 26 years and served four years before being acquitted in 2011. The documentary focuses strongly on the negative power of media sensationalism and how it can ruin people’s lives. The story is told from Knox’s perspective and also includes her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted and later acquitted. The film is directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn and was released on Sept. 10, 2016 on Netflix.

Cameraperson (2016). Directed by Kirsten Johnson.
Cameraperson (2016). Directed by Kirsten Johnson.

Cameraperson

Cameraperson is an autobiographical account of the influence of filmmaking on director Kirsten Johnson. She creates a compilation of work and combines it into a fascinating journey of how filmography can impact the person who creates it. The film showcases postwar Bosnia, a housewife in Nigeria, and other glimpses into Johnson’s 25-year career. The documentary runs deep and lends a glimpse into the rarely seen perspective of the filmographer as the main subject. Previously Kirsten Johnson has received a Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography award: U.S Documentary for The Oath (2010) that told the story of Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Abu Jandal. She was the cinematographer for Citizen Four (2014), which was the documentary that told the story of Edward Snowden, a previous employee of the NSA. Cameraperson was released on September 9 2016.

What documentaries have you watched? Let us know in the comments below!

“Koneline” documentary teaches non-judgment of northern Canada

In light of the recent wild fires in Fort McMurray, it is a good time to witness Koneline: our land beautiful, a documentary that sheds light on the lifestyle of northerners, and aims to understand rather than judge people who live in the world of oil and mining. The film is being shown in the Hot Doc’s festival on Saturday, May 7 at 3:15 p.m in the Hart House Theatre and is worth watching. As an environmentalist and western Canadian, it shook me to my core.

Koneline, directed by Canadian Nettie Wild, is a documentary about Northern B.C and the confluence of themes that interplay into the life and work of mines, the traditions of the Tahltan First Nations, and the life of the hunter. Wild shows the audience life in northern Canada, and purposefully refrains from taking a specific stance between the polarized opinions of miners and political activists.

Driller at sunset. Photo provided by Koneline.
Driller at sunset. Photo provided by Koneline.

“The north is a foreign land to many people in the south. If people can experience the land in a visceral way, it may mean they read the news in a different way,” said Wild. “There is dogmatic rhetoric flying from all sides. I thought I could bring art. I thought if I could bring a non-judgmental camera, I might be surprised and surprise the audience too. I think people are weary of being told what to think.”

Koneline films multiple perspectives of the miners who work the land, the Tahltan First Nations whose people are divided between working in the mine and protesting it, and experienced hunters who guide expeditions for tourists. Showing various peoples’ connections to the land could easily become an overwhelming experience for the viewer, but Wild uses breathtaking cinematic shots and aerial views that allow the audience to digest the various perspectives of life in the northern part of B.C before leading into the next scene.

Oscar Dennis, member of the Tahltan First Nations. Provided by Koneline.
Oscar Dennis, member of the Tahltan First Nations. Provided by Koneline.

Wild focuses on three main points of view in the film. The First Nations are a key player in Northern B.C and the audience meets Oscar Dennis, a member of the Tahltan who is trying to preserve the language and culture of his people. Some members of the Tahltan are actively fighting the development of the mines and they set up a barricade at the Red Chris mine during the course of filming to protest a tailings pond that was due to be built. Other Tahltan members work the mines so they can afford to feed their families. Hunters are also a key player in the film. It features Heidi Guntfrucht, one of the only female hunting guides in Canada, who is worried about the effect of the mines of wildlife migration in the area. The diamond miners also talk about their love of nature as a reason for working up north.

Wild began the project in 2012, and shot the footage for a year in 2014. During the course of her research and shooting, Wild began to see a common thread between all of her various film subjects. “I was moved,” said Wild. “We are all carrying luggage. We have onion layers and assumptions building up. All of those people have a real love of the land. There is a shared commonality.”

The name, Koneline, is a Tahltan word that has a two-fold meaning. In the Tahltan language, the pronoun “K” simultaneously means “I” and “the land” as one entity. Koneline itself means is beautiful. Therefore, the word means “I am beautiful” and “the land is beautiful” at the same time, demonstrating the deep connection this First Nations people hold to the land as a part of their individual identity.

The power lines. Provided by Koneline.
The power lines. Provided by Koneline.

The cinematography often shows the power lines that have been built in Northern B.C as contrasted to the vast wilderness in the array of aerial shots in Koneline. Wild attempts to show both the man-made technology and nature as essential parts of the northern landscape in her documentary. “There is a real elegance of engineering. It is an insane technological feat. All of the contradictions are there. There are these stark technological structures in the middle of pristine wilderness but they are also beautiful and surreal,” said Wild.

Koneline is a piece of cinematic art that pushes boundaries on what we perceive as compared to what we know. As an environmentalist, I can honestly say that this documentary affected me deeply by showing the value of considering all points of view rather than taking a specific stance that inadvertently narrows my judgment. The film will redefine your definition of being an environmentalist and is worth seeing at Hot Doc’s this year. With Fort McMurray in mind, refraining from judgment and being empathetic to the northern way of life may open your mind in a way you didn’t quite expect.

“We’re in a dangerous place when we have that polarized rhetoric. It is East vs. West and South vs. North. Everyone else is talking about it and the people of the north are living it. It is their jobs that are being won or lost, they are paying the premium on the horrible [packaged] food and their land that is being changed,” said Wild. “Canada is the north and we are defined by it. Let’s see what kind of assumptions we have and question them. We need to step back and say, isn’t that interesting. What does being non-judgmental look and sound like? Art can articulate that in a different way. You can feel that in your gut.”