Friday, June 19, 2015

Films at NXNE: from Toronto to Texas

by Allan Tong

This year's NXNE has scaled back its film program to a handful of intriguing choices. Last year, the film program expanded (or lost) its focus to include films that strayed from music, which I think was mistake, because Toronto already hosts 80+ film festivals covering any niche you can think of.

Amy, an excellent biodoc that I reviewed earlier this week, is the centerpiece, but a local indie film that Brendan Canning co-produced deserves a look, too. Diamond Tongues is about Edith (Leah Goldstein), an aspiring Toronto actress struggling to crack a very tough business as she wrestles with a messy personal life.

The first 15 minutes feel like a documentary of the lives of my own friends: actors, writers, film directors along Queen West raising Kickstarter funds for their next audition, praying for a callback or landing a writing gig on a (lame) TV series. No doubt that writer/directors Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson drew material from their own lives and their circle of friends.

I was worried that this was going to be an Insider's Film about The Business, but Diamond Tongues then settles into a portrait of a complex and sometimes unlikable character on the decline. Goldstein carries the film and it's remarkable knowing that she isn't an actress, but a rock musician. Worth seeing.

Like Diamond Tongues, Made in Texas has only a tangential conection to music, with some of the directors (Tom Huckabee, Brian Hansen) having played in Austin bands. Am I betraying my Toronto bias by preferring Diamond Tongues over Made in Texas, an anthology of of six short films made in Austin, Texas from the early-80s? I don't think so.

Presented by Jonathan Demme, a remarkable director, the shorts have a film student quality to them, suffering from murky storylines and inconsistent acting. I think if I grew up in Austin, I would enjoy this collection, but from this distance, I can't connect with these films which feel like exercises in filmmaking rather than gripping visual narratives with something to say.

Both films screen Saturday at NXNE. Details.

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