For 16 year old Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll), life will never be the same. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, her distraught mother sends her from their home in Thunder Bay, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec to stay with her aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and uncle Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared). They are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jaime must attend religious services with them if she’s going to live with them. At the Kingdom Hall Jamie meets Marike (June Laporte), a fellow teenager who immediately catches her eye. The two develop a strong emotional bond that quickly becomes something romantic. Jaime is caught in between two worlds and leans on her friend Nathan (Hasani Freeman) who becomes a much needed ally outside of her family’s religious community.
You Can Live Forever is an astounding queer drama that accurately depicts what life is like in a close knit—and closed off—religious community. Anwen O’Driscoll and June Laporte bring an intensity to their roles that is palpable. They convey so well the bond between these two teenagers and the pain of having to keep their love for each other secret. It was fascinating to watch Jaime’s outsider perspective as she’s thrust into this new world that has its own language, custom, culture and expectations. I only wish that Nathan’s character had more to do in the story.
The film is written and directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts and Watts herself grew up queer in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In her director’s statement Watts writes:
“I grew up gay in a Jehovah’s Witness community in a small northern town. As a teenager, I was eager to see a story with a character who even remotely resembled me on the movie screen. But I was always disappointed. For years, [Mark and I] worked together to create a film that could honor my own background and the experiences of other young people in a similar predicament. You Can Live Forever is the movie I always wanted to see as a teenager.”
There are very few depictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in film and almost always the filmmakers get some aspects of that religion’s culture wrong. You Can Live Forever is spot on in every single aspect. Every single one. Even down to the style of chairs found in a Kingdom Hall, the specific language used in the community and even the annoyance felt when others call them “Jehovahs” instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do I know that the depiction of this religion is accurate? Because I grew up in this religion myself. It’s been nearly two decades since I stepped inside of a Kingdom Hall. You Can Live Forever brought all of those memories back. Like Watts, this is a movie I would have wanted to have seen as a teen. I repressed my own sexuality for many years, due to my upbringing, and film like this would have given me a much needed mirror. I commend Watts and Slutsky for bringing to life such a beautiful, honest and touching queer drama.
Side note: In one scene Jaime has a poster of Heavenly Creatures (1994) hanging up on her dorm room wall. Like You Can Live Forever, that film explores an intense emotional bond between two teenage girls. It was an important film for me in my teen years and I appreciated spotting this reference.
You Can Live Forever (2022) is currently available to rent on VOD and is coming to Blu-ray on June 6th from Good Deed Entertainment and Kino Lorber.
In the tight-knit community of Saint-Adeline, Quebec, a scandal is quietly rising to the surface. The town is still reeling after a major tragedy five years earlier. 13 year old Magalie (Emilie Bierre) is navigating the aftermath of her father’s death, high school, dance classes and her secret relationship with “Taz”. When Magalie collapses during dance rehearsal, she’s brought to the hospital where the doctor informs her mother Isabelle (Marianne Farley ) that Magalie is pregnant. Everyone thinks that Manu, the young Mexican immigrant being fostered by Chantal Grégoire (Judith Baribeau) and her husband, Mayor Jean-Marc Ricard (Paul Doucet), is the father. But not all is as it seems. Magalie refuses to reveal the identity of the father, which comes at a great cost to her well-being.
Directed and co-written by Jeanne Leblanc, Les nôtres is a solemn yet powerful social drama. It explores the indestructible nature of small communities, anti-immigrant sentiment and social power dynamics. It’s fascinating to see how Emilie’s pregnancy causes relationships to fray. It can be an uncomfortable movie to watch especially due to its subject matter. However, once you start watching the film, you won’t be able to step away. Recommended.
Les nôtres is distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories and is available in select theaters and on demand.
Katie (Kacey Rohl) is sick. But not in the way everyone thinks she is. She’s become a sort of celebrity on campus thanks to her fundraising campaign #Fight4Katie, which aids her public battle with melanoma skin cancer. The problem is Katie doesn’t actually have cancer. She goes through an elaborate scheme to forge medical documents, fake medication, and pretend to go to weekly chemo treatments. She shaves her head daily, eats little and takes medication that will make herself look sick. Katie will go to great lengths to keep up the ruse. Not only is Katie fooling the donors who are contributing money to her campaign, she’s also lying to her girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson) who has been a steadfast companion. She’s been alongside Katie through her journey even when Katie holds her at arms length. Like all big lies, cracks appear. Her father Doug (Martin Donovan) has seen this all before. When Katie’s mom committed suicide, Katie faked illness to skip school. Doug doesn’t believe Katie’s cancer diagnosis and he’s ready to reveal the truth on social media. Can Katie keep up the lie or will she have to face some harsh truths?
Directed by Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, White Lie is a taut and compelling drama that offers only harsh realities. Why does Katie lie? We don’t know. It could be for fame, for empathy, or to fill some void within herself. This film doesn’t try to judge its protagonist nor does it try to explain why she does what she does. It takes a step back and lets this unreliable character tell us her story. I love that this film offers no real answers and the ending is not what I wanted nor what I expected. For a film about a big lie, this felt very true.
Kacey Rohl delivers a powerful performance as Katie. You can’t help but hate the character and be fascinated with her at the same time. I enjoyed seeing Martin Donovan, in an albeit small role, as Katie’s dad.
If you’re like me and you’re fascinated by people who lie, especially when they go to great lengths to do so, then White Lie is a film you must see.
White Lie had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the TIFF Next Wave program. Check out my interview with the directors here.
UPDATE: White Lie will have its digital release on January 5th, 2021. It will be available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Fandango, Vimeo, Vudu, Google Play and other platforms. Visit the official website for more details.
At the recent SXSW Film Festival, I had the pleasure of chatting with the documentary filmmaker Amy C. Elliott. Her latest film Salvage had its world premiere on opening night. This film follows a group of residents who salvage goods from an open dump in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, one of the most isolated communities in North America. In town with a long history of gold and diamond mining, these salvagers find treasure in their own unique way. You can read my review here.
Raquel Stecher: What inspired you to make your documentary?
Amy C. Elliott: I had always wanted to make a film about a dump. I think it’s interesting what we throw away from an environmental impact level… I also think on a philosophical level, the subjective nature of things is really interesting… the transitory nature of things. I also thought about the idea of a community dump as a watering hole… Who goes there? What do people take out of it? What do people leave? I thought it would be a really interesting look at a community. My beat is about how we’re shaped by where we live.
Raquel Stecher: How did you find out about the Yellowknife landfill?
Amy C. Elliott: I’m based in New York so I wanted to find a dump closer to me. It’s very important to have a site that you have access to. I looked around and in the states most of them are closed at this point for liability reasons, like it’s just not feasible to let people into a dump like the way I wanted to make movie… Then I did some research, just scouring the internet for any open dumps. I found a column in a newspaper called Tales from the Dump which is written by a guy who ended up becoming one of the protagonists of the film, Walt Humphries. I [thought] if there was a community somewhere that their dump has inspired a weekly newspaper column, I think I need to check it out. It turned out to be in Yellowknife. It was the closest dump of size that was open still to the public [but] it was 7,000 round-trip miles so it was not my first choice.
Raquel Stecher: How long did you work on this project?
Amy C. Elliott: It was filmed over close ten years. There’s ten years worth of footage in it. I went there over a period of six years regularly, annually for a couple of weeks [at a time].
Raquel Stecher: What was it like traveling to Yellowknife and did you pick a certain time of year to go?
Amy C. Elliott: It’s only 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It’s extremely isolated. At the time, it was literally at the end of the highway. There were no other roads leading out. It was an ice road… I don’t think people realize how isolated it is. I had to take three planes to get there. It’s also stunningly beautiful. It’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. [Traveling there] was an obstacle. I would say it was the biggest obstacle.
I went in the Spring because I thought in the height of summer the dump would be a little too much in terms of the smell and the bugs. It gets extremely cold there. Regularly negative 50. It was still snowing [in April]. It was still super cold but it was enough light and it was warm enough that the dump smelled okay. The waste was solid enough that I felt like it was a good time to go but it was [still] not the height of mosquito season.
Raquel Stecher:What was like what was filming the dump like? Part of the fun watching the movie is all the discoveries the salvagers make. Was there anything about the dump that was shocking?
Amy C. Elliott: It was all shocking to me because I never experienced anything quite so unregulated. When I first started shooting there, we were on the open face of the dump. You see people kids, people barefoot, you could just do what you wanted. It was really a free-for-all. I got a tetanus shot before I went and filmed.
In terms of the stuff there… I thought the food was shocking for sure. Some of the most shocking stuff were the new items. like clothes with the tags still on, kid’s toys still in plastic wrapping… you just can’t help but feel like there are people who would need that stuff, would like that stuff, who would benefit from that stuff and it’s just being thrown away. I never quite got used to it. I thought that there was something really poignant about that.
For me [personally it was] the unopened rolls of film. There were just bags and bags of it. I just wanted to take it and send it to The Rescued Film Project and see what was on those rolls of film. The idea that that would be gone forever was really interesting.
Raquel Stecher:One of the biggest takeaways of the film was how resourcefulness is looked down upon. What are your thoughts on that?
Amy C. Elliott: It’s that idea of thrift. Even as the old-fashioned virtue of thrift. It seems like something out of Benjamin Franklin days. It’s hard though… Do you really want to rescue and repair a broken DVD player? You can get one for $20 completely new. We’re living in a time where we have such access to cheap things. It’s easier… and time is valuable so is it really worth your time to go rescue. That’s the dilemma of where we are now as the world came to Yellowknife.
Raquel Stecher: Was there a point when you were going to stop filming and then you continued when things started changing at Yellowknife?
Amy C. Elliott: I knew I wanted to film at least five years. I was committed to that unless something radical happened like the dump closed.I knew it was going to take a long time… The changes in the town, I could see that coming. I could see that there was something happening at the dump that was mirroring what was happening in the town. As the world became smaller… “the values from down south” as Tony talks about at the end [of the film], the consumerism, the concern with loss prevention and liability, the bureaucrats in the city were becoming more in tune with the rest of the South. It just mirrored what was happening in the dump. I think they’re intertwined intrinsically.
In my films I love exploring how where live shapes us culturally… our behavior is shaped geographically by where we live and that’s becoming rarer and rarer as the world becomes more homogeneous. As there’s a Starbucks on every corner as the world becomes… you can go anywhere now and have the same experience.
Raquel Stecher: How has the SXSW experience been for you?
Amy C. Elliott: Amazing. I love this festival. I think it’s the best. It’s one of the top tier festivals in the world but it’s also offbeat enough and different enough. They play films that you wouldn’t necessarily see it at other festivals. They really curate a different slate and the audiences who come appreciate that. A doc like Salvage is small. It’s not flashy, you do have to have some patience for it. It’s a hard film in some ways. But there’s going to be an audience here. It’s perfect place for an offbeat film like Salvage. I know that I’m going to get an audience that is engaged and wants to see that kind of stuff. I love SXSW.
Raquel Stecher:What do you hope that people will take away from Salvage?
Amy C. Elliott: That’s a two part answer. On a surface level, what I hope people take away is being more mindful of what we buy and [to think] about where it ends up. Do we really buy this next thing? Be mindful of waste. Do we have to know shepherd our products to a slightly better home rather than just throwing them out without thinking about it? The second thing would be to appreciate what’s distinct where you live and where you visit. What is special about a place and why?
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is absolutely true for the residents of Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, Canada. Home to one of the last open landfills in North America, the Yellowknife dump is a salvager’s delight. These prospectors hunt for objects they can reuse and recycle. Some of the items thrown away are brand new or in perfect condition, others need some TLC. In a town with a long history of gold and diamond mining, these salvagers find treasure in their own unique way.
Director Amy C. Elliott’s documentary Salvage is an intimate portrait of a community in flux. In one of the most isolated areas in North America that’s ever changing with increased government regulation and population growth, the livelihood of these salvagers is in jeopardy. Elliott’s film explores three aspects of this community: the individuals who salvage and their personal motivations in doing so, the dangers of salvaging with exposure to sharp objects and disease and the government officials who are trying to control the landfill to protect the citizens.
Elliott’s film delivers a powerful message about wastefulness and resourcefulness but doesn’t do so in a heavy handed way. The audience is left to come to their own conclusions about how what their own approach to trash and recycling. Part of the fun of watching the film is learning about the individual salvagers and watching as they discover treasures at the dump. Some of the items include wedding dresses, brand new clothes with the tags still on them, Halloween costumes, glass jars, 60 lbs of bagged vermicelli, scraps of wood, antiques, toys, moccasins, photo albums and much more.
One of the biggest takeaways from this film for me was how lazy we are as consumers and the stigma that surrounds resourcefulness. The term “microcosm” is thrown around a lot in the film and Yellowknife dump truly is a microcosm of the community but it’s also a microcosm of society and the inherent dangers with progress. We lose something important when we’re not able take care of ourselves, our community and our planet.
Salvage is a fascinating documentary and viewers will gain perspective on what it means to be part of a consumer culture.
Salvage had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series. Stay tuned as I’ll be interviewing the director Amy C. Elliott for this site!