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TIFF Review: Tell It to the Bees

by Raquel Stecher

Tell It to the Bees
dir. Annabel Jankel
starring Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger

“You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won’t fly away.”

Set in 1950s Scotland, Tell It to the Bees is the story of two women who must face a society that isn’t ready or willing to accept them. Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) has returned home to her small town to take over her father’s practice. A secret about her past still lingers among the tight knit community. Jean meets Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), a curious young boy who is fascinated by the bee hives Jean keeps on her estate. Back at home, Charlie’s mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) is going through a rough patch. Charlie’s father Robert (Emun Elliott) has abandoned the family, her sister-in-law Pam (Kate Dickie) is suspicious of Lydia’s every move and Lydia isn’t making enough money at the local mill and is facing eviction. When Charlie comes home with a bee-keeping journal and a novel Jean has gifted him, Lydia confronts Jean to discover the doctor is a kind woman and not a meddling man. The two quickly bond and when Lydia and Charlie are eventually evicted, Jean hires Lydia as her housekeeper. Behind the closed doors of the estate, Jean’s attraction for Lydia grows stronger and her desire to pull back weakens. As the two become intimate, whispers and rumors begin to circulate in the village. In an era where their relationship is not only frowned upon but illegal, can Lydia and Jean stay together? And what will happen to Charlie if they do?

“This town is too small for secrets.”

Based on the novel by Fiona Shaw, Tell It to the Bees was adapted to the screen by sisters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth. In an interview with director Annabel Jankel, she remarked that she was drawn by “the power of generosity to fulfill another person’s potential.” Lydia and Jean are two female characters who are lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. Resiliency and compassion is what drives Jean to pursue medicine in a town that won’t have her. Lydia’s the extrovert to Jean’s introvert and she shows Jean how to be free with her emotions. And for what it’s worth I appreciated that the Lydia and Jean were working women and not bored housewives.

The general theme of secrets and lies runs strong in this story. It’s the main conflict for the story’s narrator Charlie who is grappling with major changes and doesn’t know how to process the actions of the adults around him. It’s refreshing to see a child character who is curious and receptive and an integral part of the main story and not just a sideliner.

A secondary story follows Lydia’s sister-in-law Annie (Lauren Lyle) who is in an interracial relationship with a young man. When she becomes pregnant, her disapproving brother Robert and sister Pam try to “fix” the situation. It’s a reminder that while that era had many beautiful aesthetics the cultural mores could be quite ugly.

The bees are another character in the story and add an almost fantastical element. The close up shots of the bees are stunning. They pulsate with energy and you can feel that coming off the screen. In the film they react to the goings on in the human world around them and at one point even intervene on behalf of some of the characters. About the bees director Jankel says, “I felt an added kinship with the supernatural cinematic quality that the extraordinary world of the bees could provide, for an audience, both visually, and sonically.”

Tell It to the Bees is a sweet indie film with a tender heart. Paquin and Grainger deliver beautiful performances as their polar opposite characters. My only small criticism of what is otherwise a beautiful film is that I felt there was a lack of sexual chemistry between the two leads. However, I appreciated the fact that their sexual relationship wasn’t the focus of the story. And thanks to the women writers and the woman director we don’t see a lesbian love story as a male fantasy. Rather it’s a deep and meaningful relationship that transforms the characters and allows them to grow as persons. If you get a chance to watch Tell It to the Bees, take it! I hope this film finds its audience.

I attended a press and industry screening of Tell It to the Bees at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

 

Ask Me Anything: TIFF Edition

by Raquel Stecher

Jessica @HollywoodComet on Twitter:

How is it different from other festivals you have attended? (processes of attending movies, etc.)

Raquel: My festival experience is solely comprised of classic film ones so to attend one focused on new films was a whole other ball game. TIFF is a mix of press and industry events and public events. There are over 240 feature films plus over 50 shorts screened and, unlike other festivals I’ve attended, the feature films get multiple screenings. On average each film gets 3 screenings, 2 press and industry screenings and one screening for the public. There are even private screenings and some of the highly anticipated movies are shown on two separate screens at the same time. Some of the films have distributors and some are for sale so buyers will attend TIFF to look for new properties. This is truly an international event and people come from all over the world to attend. The guest list is enormous. Everyone from directors, producers, actors and actresses attend along with their agents, publicists, etc come to TIFF. Unlike other festivals where a pass gets you into everything (or in the case of TCMFF, different level passes grant you different levels of access), at TIFF only press and industry members get passes. The general public buy tickets to individual events and those can range from $30CAD to over $100 CAD. P&I screenings are first come, first serve. For public screenings you need a ticket to get in. Some of those screenings have assigned seats and others do not. It depends on the theater. The main hub for TIFF is their TIFF Bell Lightbox building where they have a couple of screening rooms. The other big location, the Scotiabank Theatre, has 14. Other theaters like the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre and the Ryerson Theatre host special presentations and galas.

 

Kate Gabrielle @KateGabrielle on Twitter:

I’d love to know if you’d recommend TIFF for movie fans who aren’t members of the press.

Would regular people be able to see celebrities (Robert Redford!) or are those opportunities reserved for the media?

Raquel: I would definitely recommend TIFF to movie fans. From my experience the public screenings are much better than the press and industry ones. Public screenings get an introduction as well as Q&A or panel discussion with the director and cast members after the movie is over. P&I screenings have no special guests nor do they have intros. And if attendees for P&I screenings are not interested in the movie after 20-30 minutes they bail. Those walk outs were a bit demoralizing and soured that experience for me. Public screenings are filled with lots of devoted movie lovers who hand selected their movies and are excited to attend. And yes the public gets lots of chances to see celebrities! Besides seeing them at the public screenings, and almost all of those have special guests, there are red carpet premieres that you can observe from behind a barrier. A lot of the celebrities stop for autographs and pictures. And if you’re lucky you might see one walking down festival street, eating at a nearby restaurant, arriving by car service to an event or attending another screening for fun.

 

Daniel @burlivespipe on Twitter:

What was the biggest surprise for you, both on screen and off?

What’s the must-have item you take with you to these big festivals?

Raquel: The biggest surprise was how easy it was to get into everything I had on my itinerary. I just had to show up early! A lot of people didn’t want to wait in line for 30-60 minutes so they would show up much later. I always showed up early and was first in line for several screenings. And I was 5th in line for the highly coveted A Star is Born press conference. On screen, I think the biggest surprise was how much I loved all the movies I watched. I think my least favorites were Red Joan and The Quietude but ultimately I enjoyed those too. TIFF very carefully curates their festival slate and I must have picked well for my own viewing/reviewing purposes!

For the must-have item it has to be my external battery. I was doing a lot of social media in between events and having a battery to charge up my iPhone was incredibly useful. The complimentary TIFF tote bag I got came in handy too!

 

Todd @ToddMason2013 on Twitter:

How this differs, if at all from other festivals. How it strikes you: balance of support of film as art vs. gosh wowing celebrities as a focus of events. How the audiences were.. also is Tim Horton’s basically Dunkin?

Raquel: For the festival comparison see my answer to Jessica’s question above. I will say that classic film festivals are not press and industry driven because those movies are old and don’t need marketing. Any press for those festivals is about the festival experience as a whole and not necessarily individual movies (unless there is something special about them like a world premiere restoration or a special guest). For the public, TIFF is on a much bigger scale than other festivals like TCMFF.

As far as the support of film as art versus celebrity worship, I got a sense that TIFF and the attendees took their films very seriously. There was an appreciation and overall respect for films and filmmakers but also strong criticism too. I overheard conversations after press and industry screenings and public ones and it was interesting to hear people dissect and disseminate what they just watched. Toronto is full of serious film lovers. There is some celebrity worship even with the serious film as art vibe. Heck TIFF themselves nicknamed themselves Timothee International Film Festival since Chalamet’s appearance was such a huge hit this year. The celebrity appearances do help TIFF get the publicity that their festival needs that in turn helps them secure sponsors.

Tim Horton’s is a sad sister to Dunkin Donuts and they don’t have iced tea!

 

Nikki @NikkiLM4 on Twitter:

[I want to know] everything about the Redford screening and sighting.

Raquel: Seeing Robert Redford was a dream come true. I missed the camera call RSVP window. Otherwise I would have had a chance to bring my camera and get up close to Redford and the other cast members of The Old Man and the Gun. That would have been amazing. Instead when I attended the special presentation at the Elgin theatre for the movie, I saw Casey Affleck make his entrance and Robert Refdord was already there posing for photos. I got a brief glimpse of him between the photographers. I tried to take a photo but security was shooing us along. At the beginning of the screening, TIFF’s Cameron Bailey made an introduction and the director, producer and cast was brought out including Robert Redford. After the screening, the director and cast came out again and Redford received a standing ovation. During the panel discussion, I got the feeling that he was overwhelmed with the attention and he wanted the other cast members to do more talking to take the focus off of him. And Nikki I have to say, his voice in person was amazing. It’s deep and booming and traveled throughout the Elgin. Even if you weren’t looking at him you’d know he was there. I could feel his presence throughout the whole theatre. He was very casually dressed. He wore jeans, a shirt, a light jacket and brown shoes. In the discussion he talked about how the predator vs. prey aspect of the film really drew him to the project.

 

Meaghan @mwgerard on Twitter:

How do you pace yourself, not get overwhelmed?

Raquel: This is where my extensive TCMFF experience came in handy. I created a TIFF itinerary the same way I do my TCMFF one. I put this itinerary together over several days constantly editing and shifting things around to get it just right. I spent a lot of time going through all the films once they were announced. I watched as many trailers and video clips as I could. I wrote down every title that appealed to me. Then I made some criteria for myself, which you can read about in my Final TIFF films post. That helped me narrow down the films. Then I looked at the final TIFF schedule, mapped out all my screenings and listed back-ups in case I couldn’t get into my first pick. I limited myself to 3-4 events per day because I knew any more than 4 and I would be too exhausted to enjoy. What’s the point of attending a screening if I’m just going to fall asleep? I made sure to build in time for writing, eating and sleeping. TIFF can be overwhelming but the key is to have a game plan and stick to it.

 

Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter:

What will you do differently next time?

Do you want there to be a next time?

What was your most exciting experience?

Raquel: Press can go to as many press and industry screenings as they want but are only allotted 10 public screening tickets. I got 4 tickets but I regret not using up all 10! The public screenings were way better because there were no walk-outs like at P&I screenings (if audience members weren’t interested in the movie they bailed) and the public ones had introductions and Q&As and panels with special guests. And next time I’d try for some camera calls (where I show up with my camera to do photography) and for red carpet interviews and possibly some interviews. I just don’t feel like I knew enough to be prepared for those this time around. I loved TIFF so much that I definitely plan to be back!

My most exciting experience was the A Star is Born press conference. I was incredibly nervous. I arrived 1-1/2 hours early and I was 5th in line. I kept rehearsing my question over and over again (I didn’t end up being picked and someone eventually asked a version of my question). I had never been to a press conference before and sitting along journalists from Billboard, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, BuzzFeed, etc. was thrilling. When the cast came out I was dazzled. We had one chance to photograph them and I was in a very good spot and got some great shots and an unencumbered view of the stage and guests. Lady Gaga is so regal yet very humble and kind. Her answers were eloquent and heart-felt. Bradley Cooper was fantastic. He had some very thoughtful answers and when someone was talking, whether they were asking him a question or responding to one, his eyes were completely focused on them. Just from the movie I could tell he had the chops to be an amazing director but the fact that he could focus so intensely on other people made me realize that he was something special. His blue eyes were piercing and his stare was so intense that it was like a laser cutting metal. Wow! And Sam Elliott. That voice. Even more booming and gravelly in person. Seriously. That man has an amazing presence. Dave Chappelle was as chill and funny as you’d expect him to be. I also enjoyed hearing from Anthony Ramos who spoke beautifully about working with Lady Gaga and Cooper. There was a lot of love in that room. It was electric. This is an experience I’ll never forget.

 

Erin on Facebook:

Did you get to chat with other film fans while there or did you mostly keep to yourself?

Raquel: I’m a chatty Cathy so I will talk to anybody. I was suffering some social anxiety while at the festival so I held back a little bit. Also it didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone there. But I chatted my heart out with numerous people. I had great conversations with an industry member from Miami, a screenwriter from Toronto, a festival volunteer, a couple of first-time TIFF press members, a film publicist and several others. I also met my friend @PJofYork from Twitter and his lovely wife as well as Ryan from The Matinee. (You can listen to our TIFF chat on his podcast The Matineecast!)

 

Jackie on Facebook:

Were all the films in the same theater? Or was it spread out downtown like TCMFF. Was it difficult to get to the next movie?

Were there a ton of fans there, like TCMFF, or mostly media?

Raquel: There were several theatres. The two main locations were the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Scotiabank Theatre which were a couple blocks away from each other. I walked back and forth between each throughout most of the festival. The other theatres were further away. You could walk or take a quick Lyft or Uber to get there. Unlike TCMFF, there was much more time built in between screenings and because there were so many screenings you didn’t have to line up 1-2 hours before hand to get into an event unless it was highly sought after. There was so much going on at one time that you really didn’t have to rush to get anywhere. For public screenings, if you bought a ticket for an event you were guaranteed to get in and in some cases you had an assigned seat. If it was a general seating arrangement then it helped getting there a bit early. Getting from one screening to another was a lot easier at TIFF than at TCMFF in my opinion.

I can’t say exactly but I’m going to estimate based on the number of screenings and how they are divided into categories that the festival is about 1/3rd fans and 2/3rds press/industry. However a lot of press members attended the public events so it might even be 1/4th public and 3/4th press/industry. As a member of the public though it’s very welcoming and there are so many great events for everyone. There are even some that are difficult for press to get into but easier for public attendees.

Have a question? Submit it to me in the comment section below and I’ll add it to the above post.

TIFF Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

by Raquel Stecher

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir. Marielle Heller
starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone

Review:

Based on the real life story of author turned forger Lee Israel, director Marielle Heller’s film dives into the literary world of 1990s NYC, a golden era in publishing and literary artifacts. The story follows the once celebrated biographer (Melissa McCarthy) as she finds herself in dire straits. Her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) isn’t returning her phone calls because no one wants another biography about Fannie Brice. She’s behind on her rent, her cat is sick and flies feed off the squalor in her down trodden apartment. When Israel happens across a letter written by Dorothy Parker tucked away in a book, she sells it and discovers that she can make quite a bit of money off of selling these letters but she needs to get her hands on more. So she uses her writing talents and her newfound penchant for deceit to forge letters from celebrated figures including Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Edna Ferber, Louise Brooks and others. She reunites with an old drinking buddy Jack (Richard E. Grant) who joins her adventures. As things spiral out of control, Lee proves to be ruthless and unapologetic criminal.

Melissa McCarthy embodies the persona of Lee Israel seamlessly. And Richard E. Grant threatens to steal the movie with his brilliant performance as the shifty sidekick Jack. They play off each other beautifully. When I was originally selecting my slate of TIFF films for coverage, I was looking for LGBT films and didn’t realize that this would be one of them. The movie explores Israel’s romantic relationships with women including a budding romance with the used book dealer Anna (Dolly Wells) she’s selling forged letters to. The film dives even deeper into Jack’s sexuality as a homeless gay man living in New York City during the 1990s.

I was expecting some humor in this film but it truly is a straightforward drama and not a comedy or even a dramedy. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a captivating film about two unforgivable tricksters who will forge their way into your heart whether you like it or not.

Fox Searchlight Pictures will release Can You Ever Forgive Me? in theaters on October 19th.

I attended a special press and industry screening of Can You Ever Forgive Me? at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

 

TIFF Review: The Quietude

Quietude2.jpg

by Raquel Stecher

La quietud
dir. Pablo Trapero
Starring: Martina Gusman, Bérénice Bejo, Edgar Ramírez, Graciela Borges

Review:

Set in a country estate in Argentina, The Quietude tells the story of two sisters Mia (Martina Gusman) and Eugenia (Bérénice Bejo). Eugenia travels back from Paris to The Quietude, the family’s expansive estate, when their father suffers a debilitating stroke. As the two pick up where they left off secrets start to bubble up to the surface: a pregnancy, extra marital affairs, fraud, toxic relationships and secret papers. This is more than just a story about rich people behaving badly. It’s about a family delving into a state of chaos as everything begins to unravel.

Pablo Trapero’s film takes the viewer on a wild ride they don’t even know they’re on. The story has several twists and turns and it borders on the edge of melodrama but never crosses the line into soap opera territory. The sexuality in the film is at times titillating and confusing. The gaze of the male director was palpable. There is a scene with the two sisters that to me felt more like a male fantasy than something that would occur between the characters. Gusman and Bejo (best known for The Artist) play their parts beautifully and in a rare instance in the history of cinema, they actually look like sisters. The standout performance is delivered by veteran actress Graciela Borges who plays the deeply tormented matriarch of the family.

Throughout the film, the family’s chaotic state is represented through reoccurring electrical outages that cause the lights to flicker and the music to screech to a stop. The Quietude is filled with absurd moments that become almost humorous. There is so much built up tension that at the film’s biggest climactic scene the audience let out a laugh. Less so because the scene was funny but because we needed to let something out.

The Quietude is dark and mysterious. While the male gaze was a bit heavy handed, I still felt like the female characters were interesting and the leads had some wonderful moments to shine.

Trapero’s film has been picked up by Columbia Pictures but no US release date has been announced. His film The Clan is available to watch on Netflix.

I attended a special press and industry screening of The Quietude at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF Review: Assassination Nation

assassinationnation

by Raquel Stecher

Assassination Nation
dir. Sam Levinson
starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Joel McHale, Bella Thorne, Bill Skarsgard, Maude Apatow

“You had it coming, America.”

When a movie starts with a preview of trigger warnings you know you’ll be in for a wild ride. Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation was one of my most anticipated films of TIFF and it delivered on many fronts. This modern take on the Salem witch trials is dark, twisted, raunchy and violent. It follows the story of four teens as they navigate their senior year with all the peer pressure that comes with it but kicked up several notches when key members of the community get hacked. Led by Odessa Young, the four young women including Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra, the town of Salem begins to spiral out of control and they become the target of the community’s blood thirsty need for their brand of justice. On the surface this might seem like another scary movie to watch on Halloween but on a deeper level it delivers some cutting critiques about modern day society. It explores peer pressure, the sexualization of young women, toxic masculinity, privacy, doxxing, public shaming, mob mentally, misplaced righteousness and distrust of authority. And if you’re like me and shy away from horror films, this one has some violence but there is so much to enjoy from the visual imagery, costumes, lighting cinematography, typography that makes it well worth the gory scenes. I loved the female empowerment message and found myself pumping my fist in the air and cheering the protagonists on. Assassination Nation is not one to miss.

Neon releases Assassination Nation in theatres on September 21st.

I attended a special press screening of Assassination Nation at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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