After opening earlier this week at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival settles into the TIFF Bell Lightbox for a run of features, documentaries and shorts addressing the lives and concerns of First Nations peoples all over the world.
A particular standout is Tim Wolochatiuk's drama We Were Children (October 18; rating: NNNN). A number of documentaries and even a feature or two have been made about Canada's residential schools program, which removed native children from their families and sent them to Catholic- and Anglican-run schools bent on turning them into good little Europeanized drones - often punishing them brutally when they failed to follow the program.
Folding interviews into a dramatized narrative, We Were Children tells the true stories of Glen Anaquod and Lyna Hart as representative of tens of thousands of similar experiences, but it doesn't do the sanctimonious finger-wagging so common in Canadian historical dramas; it just plunges us into the nightmarish situation with its young heroes.
I was surprised to find Katja Gauriloff's Canned Dreams (October 19; rating: NNN) on the schedule. It's a Finnish documentary about the international labour that produces the ingredients in a can of European ravioli: tomatoes from Portugal, beef from Poland, pork raised in Denmark and slaughtered in Romania, and so forth.
It's a more focused version of Nikolaus Geyrhalter's spellbinding factory farming doc Our Daily Bread, if Geyrhalter had been a sadist bent on driving the viewer from the auditorium. It also has minimal First Nations content, making its inclusion in this festival seem a bit of a stretch.
Michael Melski's Charlie Zone (October 19; rating: NNN) takes a generic action template and makes it feel - well, if not fresh, then at least lively. Glen Gould (DaVinci's City Hall) stars as a fallen boxer hired to rescue a young woman (Charlie St. Cloud's Amanda Crew) from a crack den, a job that naturally turns out to be more complicated than it first appears. It's cheaply made, but the leads' strong performances compensate for the production's ragged edges.
The festival closes with Anita Doron's The Lesser Blessed (October 21; rating: NN), a dull coming-of-age drama that premiered at last month's Toronto Film Festival.
Set in a remote town in the Northwest Territories, it's the sort of movie that gets made because it ticked the right boxes on some Telefilm bureaucrat's list. The hero is a sensitive First Nations teenager (Joel Evans) with a buried secret who's infatuated with a pretty classmate (Chloe Rose) and befriended by a volatile newcomer (Kiowa Gordon). But Doron seems more interested in creating striking images than in working with her actors, and the teen stars are utterly at sea.