Film Festival Spotlight: Reel Artists Film Festival

Taking Reel risks

REEL ARTISTS FILM FESTIVAL at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West) from Thursday to Saturday (March 26-28). Rating: NNNN

The 12th annual Reel Artists Film Festival explores “the theme of risk-taking in the arts,” a concept expressed quite literally in Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers Of Democracy, French documentarian Stéphanie Valloatto’s look at political cartoonists around the world. Filmed mostly in 2013, it doesn’t engage with January’s Charlie Hebdo massacre. In fact, that publication isn’t mentioned at all, even during the discussion of 2005’s Muhammad cartoon controversy.

The doc’s repeated reduction of complex social issues to easy moral arguments is a hallmark of co-writer Radu Mihaileanu (Train Of Life, Live And Become), and its insistence on flitting from place to place means it never really digs into individual stories. But as an overview of political cartooning as an act of civil disobedience, it’s certainly watchable.

A panel discussion with director Valloatto, editor/columnist Haroon Siddiqui and cartoonists Bruce MacKinnon and Brian Gable follows Friday night’s screening Saturday’s repeat screening features a keynote address by John Ralston Saul.

My favourite title is Patron Saint, which screens as a world premiere on Saturday. It’s a fascinating exploration of the collection of Janusz Dukszta, a Polish refugee who came to Canada as a young man, established himself as a psychiatrist and served as the NDP MPP for Parkdale from 1971 to 81.

An avid art collector, Dukszta has a special interest in commissioning portraits of himself. The U of T Art Centre’s 2010 show of those paintings, Portraits Of A Patron, serves as the jumping-off point for Michael Kainer’s documentary.

Is Dukszta an egomaniac, a narcissist or simply eccentric? The answer is both simpler and more complex than that, and Kainer’s doc makes the most of its access to him and his stable of artists. Following the screening, a panel features director Kainer and artists Andy Fabo, Rae Johnson, Phil Richards and Max Streicher. Dukszta will also be in attendance.


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