Last year, when space invaders-come-to-the-ghetto comedy Attack the Block was released it was a delightful surprise to finally see a sci-fi take on the hood film.  Attack the Block achieved such a good balance of so many genres because director/ writer Joe Cornish showed that it’s somehow kind of funny  when adrenaline courses through your body because you have a knife held up to your gut. Whether watching the constantly hoodied Moses (John Boyega) and his crew of adolescent goof ball cronies roam through the high browed streets of Kennington, looking for a helpless girl to mug, stomping out aliens like they were rival gang members, or being chased down by drug lords- Attack the Block is the entertaining genre concoction that it is because its chief concern is the portrayal of youth culture. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen young punks wander streets where they don’t belong. Showing at TIFF’s Next Wave Festival, Mathieu Kassovitz’ La Haineis the best example of the where this well crafted medley of hood politics, social issues, and beauty got its start, and is a must see.

In Attack the Block, Moses and his boys navigate maze-like apartment complexes, smoke weed with dopey drug dealers (Nick Frost was perfect here), and talk about FIFA and girls. Partially carried on the back of its young actors’ excellent performances, Attack the Block’s innovative representation of the hood is only replicating a mould that was etched in stone 15 years earlier with the release La Haine. Opening with eerie, grainy black and white footage we hear a young man scream at a line of stiff riot officers: “Murderers, easy for you to gun us down, all we got is rocks!”. Directed by, and briefly starring, Mathew Kassovitz, La Haine tells the story of 3 young men:  Vinz (Vincent Cassel) the Jewish b-boy wannabe fuelled by an intense hatred for the police, Hubert (Hubert Kounde) the Afro-French aspiring boxer and occasional drug dealer, and the Meghrebin tuff guy- clown Said Tagmaoui. After a riot breaks out in their housing project, Kassovitz does his best to show the tense conditions between the police and the youths living in impoverished housing. But when Vinz gets his hands on a riot officer’s lost pistol, Vinz, Hubert, and Said each find themselves struggling to figure out where to draw the line between right and wrong in the angry and chaotic world that surrounds them.

Kassovitz gives us a raw portrayal of the essence of the street: kids gathered on roof tops cooking hot dogs and smoking joints, break dancing in project hall ways, we even see Hubert playfully bounce a syringe between his shoes. However, the ethereal and candid nature of hood life that Kassovitz’ gives us access to is ephemeral, as Said and his friends are harassed by the police more times than I can count- and all before 5:00 (a sharp detail that is a result of Kassovitz’ brilliant ‘real time’ aspect to the film). When DJ Cut Killer turns his enormous speakers to face the project court yard and warms up his turn tables, Kassovizt’s also gets ready to broadcast his message loud and clear. Here we see the Chimera like essence of the hood: the beat and rhythm of the street literally being sweetly broadcasted over the entire neighbourhood, while all of the project’s inhabitants carry out their actions- for better or for worse. As Cut Killer’s “Nique La Police” (Fuck the Police) blares over the entire hood, La Haine  situates itself a formidable symphony of the street, effortlessly blending issues of police brutality, the futile nature of hate, and the beauty that strives in even the dirtiest and uncared for corners of our societies.

As a scrawny custy stands in wait for the elevator on his way the weed grow op in Attack the Block, hearing KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police” (sample material for Cut Killer’s mix in La Haine) blare over his headphones, we’re reminded that the problems youths faced nearly 15 years ago still team the streets of rich upper class neighbourhoods today, whether we’d like to acknowledge the existence of these packs of bandanna clad teens or not. It has been films and stories like La Haine (based on real events from Kassovitz’ life) that are so integral to the expression of youth culture. La Haine screens at 12:30 pm this Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

I’m just going to assume that you will want to check out the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s Next Wave Festival, because who wouldn’t want to attend this FIRST annual celebration of youth innovation and film culture taking place this May 10-12? Not only does the Next Wave festival feature some pretty cool films about issues that affect today’s youth like Mathew Lillard’s Fat Kid Rules the World,  Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s 17 Girls, and Amir Bar-Lev’s Re: Generation Music Project. It also showcases original content picked, formatted, and pressed hot off the minds of burgeoning filmmakers and designers.

Part of the Next Wave Festival, the Future Frames programme displays a selection of outstanding new works created by filmmakers attending postsecondary film schools in Canada. Including everything from hand drawn animation to computer generated graphics, the Future Frames programme features shorts like Miles Jay’s social network dystopia Blink, Margaret Donahoe’s Fat a reflection on issues with body image, and Chris Chami’s Make Treksabout a not-for-profit organization that utilizes social media to raise awareness for Toronto’s homeless.

One of the great things about the Next Wave Festival is that TIFF seems to have picked up on an aspect of today’s youth culture absolutely intrinsic to our entertainment: video games. So although Next Wave sports the appearance of being just a film festival, the Future Games programme is certain to entertain anyone born in the age of Nintendo (or in many cases Nintendo 64). In the Future Games programme, post-secondary students from across Canada will showcase their original video games like ASDF which boasts your helping “a colourful posse of gangsters navigate their way through a pixilated labyrinth, one key stroke at a time” or Super Conveniently Head Controlled Face Fight 10987654321 where your head is literally used as a controller in this interactive portion of the festival.

Each event is followed by a panel discussion in which high schoolers can speak to filmmakers and game creators to gain insight on the film and gaming industries. With all this, and playful workshops open to the public, we strongly urge you to go check out a film, a video game, or a work shop at the TIFF Next Wave Festival. It’s your best chance to know ‘what’s poppin’ with the youngins these days!

17 Girls

Director(s): Muriel Coulin, Delhpine Coulin

Program: Public

Running Time: 87 Minutes

Recommended? Strongly! This is like an episode of Degrassi meets the Twilight Zone

One of the best things about any good 90’s pre teen film is its reckless sense of idealism. Films like Camp Nowhere or The Baby Sitter’s club made the idea of kids living in a self sufficient, adult free community not only plausible, but fun to watch. This is the most disconcerting aspect of sisters Muriel and Delhpine Coulin’s 17 Girls– a film that takes this wacky and tired idea of kids being self –sustained to new and ultra-realistic heights.

Based on true events, 17 Girls follows a group of teenaged ‘it girls’ living in the slow sea side town of Lorient.  After their wayward leader Camille (Louise Grinberg) finds out she’s pregnant, the girls form a pregnancy pact swearing to get pregnant, move out, and raise their children together. With sharp cinematography and attention to detail, 17 Girls is a gritty, unflinching snapshot of youth culture and the authenticity of these young actresses creates realism similar to Larry Clarke’s Kids.

As these young mothers to be smoke weed, drink, and party their pain away the Coulin’s dig deep into the issues of parental neglect and feelings of hopelessness that many youths struggle with. When babies function as a message of youthful rebellion, 17 Girls makes us aware of the extreme lengths that youths will go to in order to have their voices heard.

Fat Kid Rules the World

Director: Matthew Lillard

Programme:  Public

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Recommended? Hell yes, and with extra large popcorn with extra butter and coke to wash it down.

A day in the life of a fat kid, punk rocker manifesto, a dark teenage angst  comedy- no matter what label you give Fat Kid Rules the World, it will still never live up to everything this film is about. Based on K.L. Going’s novel, Fat Kid Rules the World is actor Mathew Lillard’s directorial debut and tells the story of a fat kid named Troy (Jacob Wysocki), whose lazy daily routine has made him completely unenthusiastic about life.

Yes, it’s okay to call Troy a fat kid here and this is because Lillard forces us tp see Marcus as just this: a character that we’ve all grown up with (or even been) in our schools and neighbour hoods. Troy is the gentle-giant fat kid who likes to eat Twinkies, play video games, and mind his own business, but it is through Troy’s eyes that Lilllard acquaints us with the often unseen struggles which Troy and other fat kids around the world go through in order to fit in anywhere.

When pill popping, punk genius Marcus (Matt O’Leary) saves Troy from a suicide attempt (an attempt which is somehow very funny), Marcus tells Troy the only way to repay him is to be the drummer in his band. Never having laid a hand on any instrument other than his computer mouse, Fat Kid Rules the World fuses the punk and D.Y.I aesthetic with Recess’ Mikey Blumberg in order to give one of the sweetest tales from an outsider’s perspective I’ve ever seen.  With a great punk inspired soundtrack and playfully grotesque surrealist sequences, Fat Kid Rules the World makes it clear that Lillard still has a little SLC Punk leftin him.

Re: Generation Music Project

Director: Amir Bar-Lev

Programme: Public

Running Time: 75 Minutes

Recommended: Yes! A must see for musicians, DJs, and any music connoisseur

Being born and raised in the digital age of music, it’s no surprise that so many of my favourite albums feature one DJ or another scratching and mixing away at samples. Still, even at my tender age of 22, I find myself feeling outdated by the next generation of inventive youngsters who have come up making music on their MacBooks: one person armies with the power to recreate the sound of a full scale orchestra at their finger tips.

Documentarian Amir Bar-Lev’s Re: Generation Music Project combines the likes of 5 DJ superpowers: prolific hip hop guru (RIP Guru) DJ Premier, British playboy musician Mark Ronson, electronic metal head mastermind Skrillex, veteran alternative dance duo The Crystal Method, and the hip hop/electro inspired Pretty Lights. The documentary sees these DJs given the challenge of creating a song of a genre (country, classical, rock, funk, and jazz) that is far out of their comfort zone.

Really though, it is collaborations with artists like Nas, Erykah Badu, and The Doors which evolve  Re: Generation Music Project past being simply music documentary. Rather, seeing these digital based artists of the next generation tinker, test, and combine their styles with big band sounds and live orchestras makes Re: Generation Music Project  an invigorating purview into the past and the future of music production- a must see for any music aficionado of any age.

It’s no surprise that the job of the film critic has never been in more danger. Film criticism has had an interesting career: at its beginning having no serious appreciation from audiences, then a gradual shift to public proclivity in the 60s, and finally has arrived at a point where anyone with wireless internet and ten minutes of free time can elucidate their thoughts on Avatar (2009). The abundance of opinion in this digital age, the rapidity in its delivery, and the public’s ceaseless desire to always be in the know has made the once well regarded ideas of the film critic a small fish in a sea of online opinion. On Friday January 20th, the Bell TIFF Lightbox hosted a Q&A with the members of its Cannes Ciritcs Week Panel in order to get a better idea of the state of film criticism industry today.
 “There are two types of people who set out to be film critics” says Liam Lacey, critic for The Globe and Mail, “those who set out to be film critics, and those who are too old for the rock beat”.  Cinema gurus Lacey, Jonathan Rosenbaum (former critic for The Chicago Reader), Fabian Gaffez (Positif), and Toronto’s own Peter Howell (The Toronto Star) were all smiles as they greeted a small audience of aspiring and established film reviewers alike. Between them, these film virtuosos have more than half a century of critic experience. Although they sat down to discuss the specifics of their careers, their insight showcased just how much change has come about to the practice and reception of film criticism in the last 50 years.
“I’ve been pretty lucky that my two biggest passions in life, movies and music- that I’ve been able to get paid for and that probably makes you all jealous” explains Howell. Howell, now chief reviewer for the Toronto Star recalls his days as a journalism student at Carlton University. “I remember all of us (students) anxiously awaiting the arrival of the newspaper, hoping to be the first to be able to read the reviews”, remarked Howell with a comment that pushed the panel to discuss their thoughts on the role of the film critic. Rosenbaum, the veteran reviewer amongst the group, remembers seeing every film that came to the chain of theatres his grandfather owned in Florence, Alabama where he grew up. Even after developing from these rural cinematic roots, Rosenbaum insists that the role of the film critic is to “assist in the discussion of film and to improve and shift the level of discussion”, and Gaffez alike feels that the critic is “a go between- a boatman between language and film”.
Besides expressing their disdain for being forced to judge films with a rating system, the panel has a pretty positive outlook for this industry that seems to be eroding with every click of the mouse. Even after lamenting about reviewers and critics forcibly let go (J. Joberman formerly of The Village Voice), Howell says that although “there are so many things going on the internet, it makes sense to be afraid, but to be excited” is the key here. The panel points out that online authorship has allowed for authority to be eradicated, and now any one can have their thoughts about a film heard just as loud and fast as any publication certified authority. Howell says that the film reviewer’s job is to “be a resistor, to persuade your editor and people of your picks”, and with this transgression of authority through the internet it may be that the role of the modern day film critic is getting back to what it was once all about: reading in between the lines.
While this piece chronicles the development of popular online film rating bible Rotten Tomatoes, this clip gives a sense of just how much the world of online criticism as changed in the last ten years. If you read the video’s comments section, its clear that even a site like Rotten Tomatoes, which purports itself as being all about communal criticism, has managed to show signs of adhering to a specific agenda.
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