Mayor John Tory calls for Toronto to declare a climate emergency

City Council set to vote on declaration adoption on October 2

Mayor John Tory calls for Toronto to declare a climate emergency

On September 20, Mayor John Tory announced that Toronto will declare a climate emergency, which the Toronto City Council will consider at its October 2 meeting.

According to a series of tweets from Tory, the climate crisis “poses a major risk to our city’s residents and businesses.” The purpose of his declaration is “naming, framing, and deepening Toronto’s commitment to protecting [the city] from climate change.”

Tory’s announcement coincided with the first round of Global Climate Strikes and follows an open call by more than 50 community organizations for the City Council to declare a climate emergency. It also follows in the footsteps of increasingly severe weather events in Toronto, according to the city’s Resilience Strategy.

If the City Council adopts the declaration, Toronto would be joining over 800 local governments that have already declared a climate emergency around the world. However, the declaration is largely symbolic, and includes no new program or initiative proposals.

Words are great. Symbolic politics is important. But the declaration of a climate emergency has to be reconciled with real climate conscious policies,” wrote Professor Teresa Kramarz, Co-Director of the Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab, in an email to The Varsity.

Kramarz added that individuals have to “push the Mayor and city council… [to define] clear mechanisms of accountability that connect words of emergency to deeds that are commensurate with such a designation.”

Tory’s announcement also highlighted TransformTO and Toronto’s Resilience Strategy, which are two ongoing initiatives the city is using to address the climate crisis.

By 2050, TransformTO aims for an 80 per cent reduction in Toronto’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels. Its strategies include ensuring that constructing new buildings produces less GHG emissions, increasing renewable energy sources, instigating more walking and cycling by Toronto residents, and diverting waste from landfills.

On September 26, Tory asked that the City Council commit to accelerating the goals laid out by TransformTO, including achieving net zero GHG emissions before 2050. This, alongside the declaration of climate emergency, will be considered on October 2.

Toronto’s Resilience Strategy is a broader initiative designed to help Torontonians adapt to a number of issues, specifically the effects of the climate crisis.

“Declaring a climate emergency will only be helpful if it’s backed up by aggressive policies to reduce emissions in the city of Toronto,” wrote Jessica Green, an associate professor at the Department of Political Science and the School of the Environment, in an email to The Varsity.

She suggested that the city should start with “more public transportation at low to no-cost, congestion pricing, and zero-emissions standards for all new buildings.”

“It will seem radical to many, but inaction will be worse,” noted Green.

Leap UofT, a climate justice and activism group on campus, was one of the signatories on the open call sent out to the City Council.

“I think we can get very focused on what we’re doing on campus and not look outward into the city as a whole,” said Julia DaSilva, a co-founder of Leap UofT.

DaSilva believes it’s important for university students to get “involved in community-wide organizing as well.”

On the shifting of language surrounding “climate change” to more urgent terms such as “crisis” and “emergency,” semiotics professor Marcel Danesi said that, “Every time you change a word you’re labeling a new reality, you’re bringing it into focus.”

“If it’s a crisis then it’s something different than a change, it’s a change for the worse and therefore we need to take action. Yes, words do matter,” Danesi explained.

TIFF 2019: Corpus Christi

Dark, tragic, pessimistic — Komasa’s film encapsulates the power of second chances

TIFF 2019: <em>Corpus Christi</em>

Though the title, synopsis, and main poster — which features a still of the protagonist in a rich green chasuble, face contorted in emotion as he calls out — suggest that Jan Komasa’s newest film Corpus Christi is about an individual’s battle with faith and religion, it is actually much more grand.

Premiering in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Corpus Christi follows Daniel, a 20 year-old youth with convictions who can’t return to seminary school after being released from a youth correctional facility. He goes instead to a small Polish town to work at a carpenter’s workshop. But after spontaneously asserting that he is a priest, Daniel eventually takes over the town’s parish. It’s a premise that could have easily been a slapstick comedy, however Corpus Christi is anything but: it’s dark, tragic, and, most of all, pessimistic.

Daniel’s faith in Corpus Christi is unwavering; he never questions his beliefs. Quite the contrary, he remains a believer even after many injustices are committed against him and those around him.

Corpus Christi is about the systemic barriers that are built to stand in Daniel’s way of becoming what he truly wants to be. For instance, Daniel is told by the correctional facility’s priest — who he looks up to — that it is impossible for him to go to theology school.

It becomes apparent that Daniel is not simply a devout Christian. He is able to have profound effects, both positive and negative, on people through his sermons, yet he isn’t able to nurture them further in a scholarly and official environment because of the mistakes he made as a teenager. Komasa isn’t asking us how this is fair — he’s plainly showing us that it isn’t.

There is another movie that challenges the church in a similar way: First Reformed, a movie by Paul Schrader which screened at TIFF 2017. First Reformed centers on Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke), who, after failing to console an environmental activist with depression, begins to question the politics within his own parish.

Similar to Daniel, Toller sees how the systemic infrastructure of the church actually stands in the way of pure preaching. For Daniel, his record prohibits him from going to seminary school. For Reverend Toller, his church having a close relationship with an industrialist puts limits on his ability to move his congregation toward stewardship, a religious ideal that suggests that humans are responsible for taking care of the earth.

Films like Corpus Christi and First Reformed are important because they detail the extensive politics that exist within what is supposed to be the most sacred of organizations. They outline the way in which greed, power, and money get in the way of the upkeep of justice and environmental sustainability.

These films remind us that social issues, such as the environment and the criminal justice system, can be viewed in more ways than one. By framing them through religion, Schrader and Komasa effectively assert that there is no excuse to plead ignorance or turn a blind eye. We must familiarize ourselves with our surroundings — be it politics, religion, education, or even entertainment — and then decide what kind of narrative is being presented, and by whom.

Corpus Christi and First Reformed ask us about personal responsibility and accountability, both to the institutions that we choose, and those that we do not. They prod the idea of responsibility to our surroundings, the environment, and the people that we interact with every day.

These philosophical questions are not answered in either of the films. Instead, Komasa and Schrader sow the seeds for us to examine our place in the web of society, and to subsequently decide to whom or what we owe our loyalty, and where owe rebellion.

TIFF 2019: Knives Out

Witty murder mystery combined with a stellar cast, Knives Out is a must-see

TIFF 2019: <em>Knives Out</em>

Knives Out is a quick-witted, revamped mystery that is, at its core, about the good in people, not their murderous instincts. Director Rian Johnson employs his miraculous cast in a story most closely comparable to a game of Mafia, as a detective and a private investigator try to determine the cause of death of a mystery novel magnate. With a backdrop of the stately Thrombey mansion and a rich family of money grabbers, the main character, Marta, is impressively played by the up-and-coming Ava de Armas.

In 2017 de Armas played a key role in Blade Runner 2049, but her performance in Knives Out is much more authoritative, nuanced, and magnetic. Marta is the close confidant and private nurse to our victim, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and she is very trusting but certainly not naïve. There’s an argument to be made here that Marta is the most complex and substantive role written of its kind, one which avoids annoying tropes and fits perfectly with de Armas’ lived-in performance.

The cast includes a wealth of other celebrities, including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Jamie Lee Curtis. A cast of stars that size can cause serious issues for a film, with actors trying to outdo each other or sacrificing too much character development.

Johnson sidesteps these issues deftly, by carefully choosing peppery moments of characterization and maintaining a deep commitment to character-based comedy. Each performance has its own sensibility, and picking a favourite is definitely some sort of Rorschach test — mine is Toni Collette. Do with that what you will.

If you were to read the script, devoid of character names, you would still be able to tell who’s saying each line. It’s that tight.

When Johnson came out to introduce the film at its premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, he pumped up the audience by calling Knives Out a “classic whodunnit.” The film snaps between genre tropes and modern touches frequently, and evokes a similar edge-of-your-seat, Agatha Christie-esque feeling to its mystery. The movie is set to a snare-drum-heavy jazz score and has a self-reflexive structure, which is far more effective and intriguing than a simple final reveal.

Knives Out gives you the same feeling as driving down a dark road at night while listening to a funny podcast. You can barely see what’s six feet in front of you, and certainly not any further than that, but you’re having a great time. It’s not a ‘twist movie’ per se, it’s just a really good movie with spectacular planning and an attention to detail that rivals most actual police investigations.

The movie’s road is a spiral. Much of this has to do with Marta, who’s caught up in the death in a couple different ways, not least of which in her enlistment into solving the case by Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig). Marta is the daughter of an undocumented migrant, a fact not parachuted in, but woven into her character trajectory, the overall story progression, and Johnson’s main moral aims.

The divide between kind-hearted Marta and the Thrombeys is never more apparent than after Harlan’s death. The family squabbles over who is actually ‘self-made’ and who just coasts by on their parents’ money — hint: all of them coast.

The chasm between the Thrombey’s lifestyle and Marta’s is huge, yet the family does everything in their power to keep it that way. Even more frustrating is when they force her into a very timely discussion on the detention of asylum-seeking migrants and hand her an empty plate in the same breath, even though she is not a housekeeper.

It’s not a political film in terms of elections and debates, but it is political in the sense that this is actually what it feels like to be alive right now. Johnson somehow threads this needle, and pulls off a magic trick. He argues for goodness above all else, but recognizes the way the deck is stacked for the supremely wealthy, powerful, and white. It never feels hypocritical, and it never feels preachy. Magic.

Knives Out is going to be an absolute crowd-pleaser, and deservedly so. It’s beautiful and hilarious, and the genre-bending that Johnson pulls off is one for the books — the mystery books specifically. I’m not sure if it’s a great sign that a murder mystery is the film to nail our daily experiences, but it is a fantastic reminder that a movie can be about something as simple as goodness.

Liberal, NDP, Green MP candidates debate transit

Conversation focused on environmental and safety concerns at Innis Town Hall

Liberal, NDP, Green MP candidates debate transit

There were no major roadblocks at a transportation debate for Toronto federal candidates at Innis Town Hall on September 17, as Liberal Party, New Democratic Party (NDP), and Green Party members largely reached a consensus.

The debate, hosted by Transport Futures, featured two of the candidates for the Spadina–Fort York federal riding: incumbent Adam Vaughan of the Liberal Party and Diana Yoon of the New Democratic Party (NDP), as well as Tim Grant — the Green Party candidate for the University–Rosedale federal riding.

Absent from the debate were invited candidates of the Conservative Party and Renata Ford of the People’s Party of Canada.

The conversation was moderated by Ben Spurr, a transportation reporter for the Toronto Star. While the discussion covered a breadth of topics, three issues persistently came up during the evening: environmental impact, safety, and funding for transportation.

Platform comparisons

Vaughan kicked off the debate by announcing his party’s intentions to deliver a $180 billion infrastructure program — $28 billion of which will be allocated to public transit. Under this plan, funds will be distributed on a per-rider as opposed to a per-capita basis. The TTC will receive just under $4.9 billion over a 10-year period, with pedestrian and cycling infrastructure also being supported under the Liberal plan.

The hallmark of the NDP’s platform is fare-free public transit. Yoon emphasized the importance of this policy for low-income and marginalized communities who have faced decades of Liberal and Conservative underfunding on the topic of transportation.

Grant advocated for his party’s transportation strategy, which he described as a “hub and spoke” system. The Green’s plan proposes the use of rail as ‘the hub’ and electric buses, the ‘spokes,’ which would connect more remote areas to a central rail system. The aim of this vision is to use as much electric transportation as possible by 2040.

Environmental implications of transportation

The debate touched on the impact of public transit on the climate crisis at length, as the candidates spoke on the future of Toronto’s public transportation. All three candidates made impassioned arguments for the role of zero-emission cars and public transit in their plans to fight the crisis.

Yoon, who worked at the City of Toronto’s Atmospheric Fund, said that the “motivating force” for her candidacy was the climate crisis, emphasizing equity in her policies.

Bike lane accessibility also played a large role in the conversation, which prompted discussion around the question of whether or not the lack of infrastructure was the true problem surrounding environmentally-friendly transportation.

Yoon attributed the alleged lack of investment in proper infrastructure from the federal government to be a concern. Grant disagreed, blaming increased congestion in the city on the development of ride-sharing applications instead.

While the NDP, Liberals, and Green Party candidates all agreed on providing tax incentives for the creation of zero-emission vehicles, Grant made an effort to note that electric busses, more than cars, are a “big part of the answer.”

“What we really need is harder, bigger, and more ambitious federal targets on vehicle use and on carbon reduction,” argued Grant.

Transportation and safety

Pedestrian and cyclist safety was a priority for all candidates: “I am not a cyclist because, frankly, I am concerned about my own safety,” Yoon said, and argued that Toronto’s poor urban street design is the root of the problem.

Vaughan referred to his work as a city counsellor in establishing more bike lanes, and he credited the King Street pilot for taking a step toward safer transit. He continued by saying that federal investment was necessary to design safer transportation policies.

Grant’s safety concerns were focused on train rail safety. Notably, he pointed toward the Dupont Street corridor, where the City of Toronto cited a lack of rail safety in blocking a condo development from being built too close to the rail.

The Green Party candidate argued that rail companies need to have higher standards and include the implementation of safety options such as electronic sensors. The concern for the Dupont Street corridor was shared by Vaughan, as he agreed that bigger security measures need to be taken to avoid a catastrophe like the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013.

TIFF 2019: All the films I saw

If you like lists and films, then this is the article for you

TIFF 2019: All the films I saw

Over the seven total days I spent at the Toronto International Film Festival I saw 19 films, had upward of 20 cups of coffee, got less than five hours of sleep a night, and attended, optimistically, 60 per cent of my classes. It was an absolutely insane experience that I could only compare to some sort of army-ranger training, cramming so much emotion and exhaustion into such a compressed amount of time. Here is what I have to show for it: this list of films and many great memories.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

I wrote a full review of this film, which is good because I certainly do not have enough space here to express my admiration and reverence for this movie. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a French lesbian period drama directed by Céline Sciamma. It’s a stunning, heartfelt rumination on love and art, and maybe ruined me for any other film this year.

2. Uncut Gems

The latest film by the Safdie brothers stars Adam Sandler as a New York jeweller with a crippling gambling problem, in a performance that fully cements the Sandler renaissance. Sandler’s classic anger comes out in new and desperate ways, as the film clips away with the Safdie brothers’ unique mix of gaudy and genuinely cool. 

3. Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s Clue-inspired murder mystery is as beautiful as it is intricate, and features a deep bench of sensational performances. Knives Out feels profoundly committed to fun, which is not to say that it has nothing else going on. Johnson’s grasp of genre contributes to this balancing act, and his obvious love of mystery iconography permeates this wholly original film.

4. Parasite

The Palme d’Or-winning Parasite was directed by Bong Joon-Ho and is a clawing commentary on upstairs-downstairs class relations. Pretty serious and deadly funny, Parasite corners hard. The film is anchored by amazing performances and tight cinematography, and epitomizes ‘must see to believe.’

5. Pain and Glory

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s autobiographical film is a lovingly-constructed exploration of the body and mind. Almodóvar’s expressive use of colour and a brilliant performance by Antonio Banderas are the standouts of this graceful and open-hearted feature.

6. Ema

Pablo Larraín’s follow up to 2016’s Jackie is a thumping, distraught piece that follows Ema, a dancer. Rhythmic dance sequences are interspersed with Ema’s decaying relationship with her husband and adopted son. It’s empathetic and pounding, emotional and sensual, and gorgeously photographed.

7. Hustlers

Lorene Scafaria directed this true story about a group of exotic dancers who run a very successful con on Wall Street ‘dudebros’ in the wake of the financial crisis. It’s bright, it’s loud, it features extended sequences of Jennifer Lopez absolutely killing it on the pole, and it invests in its female characters with deep understanding and interiority. What more could you want?

8. True History of the Kelly Gang

Justin Kurzel’s Australian gangster period piece is just as insane as it sounds and very rad. George MacKay is absorbing as the notorious Ned Kelly, and, together with a host of other great performances rounds out the strobing clanging film, complete with homoerotic sexual energy and exquisite cinematography. The film does the story justice, and peppers the storyline with as many questions as it answers

9. Hope Gap

William Nicholson’s film is about a couple living in a picturesque English seaside town and the breakdown of their marriage. Annette Bening is orders of magnitude better than the film deserves; she is painfully biting and deeply tired. She is honestly the only reason Hope Gap is ranked this high, but it’s my list so we are going with it.

10. Disco

Norwegian director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen teamed up with actress Josefine Frida in this film which combined hyper-intense religious cults with super athletic dance sequences. It’s all set to a pounding house score and flooded with purple neon light, while the characters crumble under the pressures of their faith.

11. Hala

Minhal Baig’s coming-of-age story about the daughter of Muslim immigrants is a welcome addition to the genre and boasts a star-making performance by Geraldine Viswanathan. The film catalogues the tension between Hala and her parents, and builds to show the consequences of repressive familial ties.

12. Synonyms

A complex story about stories, Synonyms was directed by Nadav Lapid and follows an Israeli immigrant on his first couple weeks in Paris. As Yoav — played intensely by Tom Mercier — struggles between aspects of his identity. Formal choices bring a sense of newness to the story about a man trying to find his place in a rigid societal structure.

13. Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi latest film is a satire about Nazi Germany, and stars newcomers Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell. The first half is far more outrageous than the second, when it morphs into something genuinely heartfelt. Too much gets reconciled in time for the ending, but the film achieves its goal and sticks with you.

14. Beanpole

Kantemir Balagov’s Russian postwar drama is exhausting and gouging, and a dire portrait of a country in mourning. Anchored by two unbelievably gripping performances by Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina, Beanpole makes its warm-toned art design feel incredibly cold. Visually impressive, but it will leave you with the biggest lump in your throat.

15. Just Mercy

Just Mercy tells the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who works with prisoners on death row. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, we follow Jamie Foxx, who plays an innocent man framed by a racist police department, a role which Foxx is fantastic in. Stevenson’s story is amazing, so the film has trouble doing anything other than rephrasing how amazing he is. It’s evocative and devastating, but struggles with traditional biopic issues.

16. Endings, Beginnings

Drake Doremus’ feature, starring Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, and Sebastian Stan is basically a coming-of-age movie about white people in their 30s. It’s an inoffensive study of relationships and chemistry, but it’s a little stale. Also, someone should introduce Doremus to a wide angle.

17. Guns Akimbo

Jason Lei Howden’s video game action-comedy has something to say about our penchant for violent content and the churning antagonism online, but it gets in its own way with the same violent content and churning antagonism. Daniel Radcliffe is good as an online troll forced to take part in a deadly livestream game, but the film reads more like an energy drink commercial than a movie.

18. Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band

According to Daniel Roher’s new documentary, Robbie Robertson has never done a thing wrong in his life. Great music and fun talking-head appearances — Bruce Springsteen! Martin Scorsese! — cannot save this film from itself and its aggressive need to mythologize Robertson. Just watch The Last Waltz.

19. Synchronic

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead directed Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie in Synchronic, which, despite its great concept, is a pretty big miss. The film limps along until it finally explains what’s going on and why it’s cool, but by that point we’ve lost all interest in our one-dimensional characters to even care at all.

TIFF 2019: Parasite

One of the best thrillers of the last 20 years

TIFF 2019: <em>Parasite</em>

Last week at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho premiered his newest film, Parasite, to a Canadian audience. Not a second is wasted in the film’s more-than-two-hour hour runtime as Parasite slowly builds from a sardonic black comedy to its electrifying conclusion, making its audience toggle between bursts of laughter and squirms of discomfort along the way.

Parasite focuses on the interweaving lives of two South Korean families in vastly different economic situations: the Kims, who live below the poverty line in a cramped, sub-basement apartment; and the absurdly wealthy Park family, who live in a sleek mansion far away from the Kims’ poverty-stricken neighborhood.

When Ki-Woo, a member of the Kim family played by Choi Woo-shik, ends up securing a job as a private English tutor for the Parks’ daughter, played by Jung Ji-so, Parasite’s tale of deception begins to slowly unravel itself. What begins as a Robin Hood-esque tale of mischief devolves into something far more sinister, intricate, and highly entertaining.

In one of the film’s earliest gags, the Kims’ upstairs neighbor puts a password on their router due to the Kims’ freeloading, forcing them to sneak onto a nearby café’s connection in order to get on WhatsApp and stay up-to-date with the world and job openings.

This leads into a small, comedic exchange among the family, showcasing how often this modern utility is taken for granted and just how quickly we are to notice its absence. Right out the gate, this tale of internet theft ends up setting the tone for the rest of the film, firmly cementing Parasite’s world in a contemporary reality where one’s socioeconomic status often dictates their quality of life and access to everyday luxuries.

Gone are the fantasy and sci-fi elements of Joon-ho’s most recent features — for example, 2013’s post-apocalyptic thriller Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans. Instead, Joon-ho chooses a twenty-first century capitalist society as the backdrop for this thriller, where every twist and turn is entirely conceivable.

Social commentary aside, Parasite never reduces its two families into a mere set of archetypes or symbols. Instead, it carefully crafts its moments of humor and tenderness to paint a realistic portrait of the film’s main cast. The Kims are not portrayed as characters we should pity, but rather they manage to garner the viewer’s respect and admiration through their shared charm, charisma, and resilience in the face of adversity.

The self-centered and vapid Park family often display their humanity, garnering the audience’s sympathy and attention, even as they are rooting for the conniving Kims. Joon-ho himself has described the film as “a comedy without clowns and a tragedy without villains.” This sentiment rings true throughout every moment of Parasite.

Joon-ho’s gentle balance between extremes is proof that the director is working at the peak of his abilities. Especially in the film’s latter half, long portions of it would often go on without a breath heard in the theatre, as everyone anxiously anticipates the main characters’ next daring move. The silence would then be broken by a lewd remark, absurd bit of slapstick, or sudden violence without warning.

Attachments to characters are built, destroyed, and restored several times over the course of the film, building toward a climax that switches the gaze away from the misfit families and instead toward the capitalist countries that allow the vast wealth disparities it showcases to occur in the first place.

Parasite goes on sale as part of the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s regular-season screenings starting October 2.

TIFF 2019: Honey Boy

On the circularity of trauma

TIFF 2019: <em>Honey Boy</em>

Content warning: mentions of physical and emotional abuse and alcohol use disorder.

Described by director Alma Har’el as a film made by and for children of people with alcohol use disorder, 2019’s Honey Boy was is set up to be an emotional ordeal from its get-go. Having had its international premiere last week at the 44th annual Toronto International Film Festival, Honey Boy is a story told through two interconnecting timelines.

The film details the life of a child actor named Otis, played by Noah Jupe, and his experience growing up in the presence of his physically and emotionally abusive father, James, played by Shia LaBeouf. With a screenplay written by and based on Shia LaBaouf’s own upbringing, Honey Boy is an intimate tale of Otis’s trauma and exorcising of personal demons that ends up coalescing into a work of art that will surely resonate with its audience.

The film follows Otis through two stages of his life: 1995, when Otis is just a twelve-year-old actor on an unnamed sitcom — but one that is definitely based on Disney Channel’s Even Stevens. The second period takes place in 2005, where a 22-year-old Otis, now played by Lucas Hedges from the critically acclaimed A24 films LadyBird and Mid90s, now spends his days in  rehabilitation as a Hollywood star with an alcohol use disorder.

Har’el switches between the two timelines through a series of clever transitionary sequences where Otis ends up interacting with some object or physical space that parallels an experience his other self has, or will, experience.

In one such instance, an older Otis is in rehabilitation and cleaning a chicken coop when he is reminded of his father who, in his own youth, was a less-than-successful rodeo clown who often used chickens in his showcases. These aimless chickens return throughout the film as a hilarious and surreal motif that often leads Otis into some of his most heart-wrenching revelations. Never has a chicken aimlessly prancing around been so emotionally impactful.

At times self-referential and fourth-wall-breaking, Honey Boy is also a film about film itself. Har’el is very invested in exploring the cathartic process of filmmaking itself through the kitschy, mainstream comedies and action flicks that Otis — and Labeouf — once starred in. At certain points in the film, it becomes difficult to distinguish between Otis’ memories, his reality, and his acting on a film set.

Otis’ timelines interweave not only with one another, but with the sitcoms and action movies sets he’s working on. Whether it be through slapstick, prop humor or high-octane stunt sequences, the shoots often have Otis undergoing some form of a physical or emotional challenge as the scripts begin to parallel his real life. This blending of timelines and realities helps elevate the movie from straight-forward, narrative biopic into an experimental, reality-bending film.

In the post-screening Q&A session with the cast and director, LaBeouf was quick to point out that he wrote this movie for himself and, more importantly, for his own father. Labeouf’s portrayal of his father is revelatory in its ability to make one feel so angry at his failures as a father yet also be the focus of so much of our sympathies.

To see a person so openly face their own demons on screen was one of the festival’s most emotionally-impactful moments. Honey Boy’s greatest strength is in its ability to combine dream-like vignettes with wonderful dialogue to create moments of beauty in the most unexpected of places. Whether that place is a chicken coop, a Hollywood film set or a highway interstate, Har’el’s cast of misfits manages to bring a smile — and a tear — to everyone’s face.

Honey Boy hits theatres on November 8, 2019.

TIFF 2019: Bacurau

A film laden with such rich fictional imagery that it feels anything but fake

TIFF 2019: <em>Bacurau</em>

There are some things you just expect to see when you watch a western: cowboys, horses, a cactus here and there, a dramatic standoff with an ominous bird’s caw in the background. Bacurau, a Brazilian movie described in its official synopsis as a “weird western,” has all of that and more. Directors Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles understand that having “weird” as a qualifier for your movie requires truly weird things; so take all the aforementioned spaghetti western tropes and add Nazis, UFOs, and futuristic technology, and you have Bacurau in a nutshell.

The film’s first shot is of a satellite slowly floating through space, and as suddenly as the vast emptiness of space appears on the screen, it disappears, and we are taken to a different kind of vast emptiness: that of rural Brazil. Part desert, part forest, with some regions exposed to sweltering heat, others perpetually soaked in rain, our main character Teresa ­— played by Bárbara Colen — drives in a water truck to the fictional town of Bacurau. But to call Teresa a main character would be a disservice to both Teresa and the movie, because there is only one clear character throughout the entire film and that is the town itself.

We are introduced to Bacurau through its inhabitants, presented to us in sequences and orders that can only be called chaotic. A nude botanist who collects seeds that have psychedelic effects, an old, wise doctor who becomes vulgar when she drinks, and a protective gangster who’s trigger happy with his gun; the residents of Bacurau appear to have individual capabilities so eccentric, you have trouble believing they coexist in the same small village. But, then again, so do the buildings: a church that is not used for prayer, but rather for storage, and a cultural museum that no one seems to have an interest in. The infrastructure and the villagers end up working together synergistically in the finale, supporting the idea that the inhabitants and the structures in Bacurau are truly an amalgamation of just one thing: Indigenousness.

But Bacurau’s issue is not in unifying its residents, who are introduced to us divided because of a harsh political climate, the real danger facing our characters is the fact that they are being physically hunted — but to reveal more is to reveal the tricks Filho and Dornelles have cleverly hidden throughout their two hour movie.

Bacurau is a stern reminder that ability does not grant permission; having the technology to do something doesn’t mean that it actually should be done. Contrasting cultural traditions, like funerals and dances with sleek technological apparatuses and folklore tales with contrived debates about morality and race, Filho and Dornelles draw a stark line between their heroes and their villains. Today’s narratives tend to offer commonalities between protagonists and antagonists — two people with the same life trajectory, which deviates at one specific point, conveniently labelling one the ‘goodie’ and the other the ‘baddie’ — but Bacurau does no such thing. And in that sense, it truly is faithful to classic westerns: no ambiguity, no redeeming qualities for the villains,  and heroes that are easy to cheer for.

Bacurau is a movie about a fictional town named after a fictional bird, filled with fictional people who practise fictional traditions — but their hunters, our villains, are anything but fictional. And therein lies the real magic of Bacurau: we are able to so emphatically root for our heroes, a people completely foreign to us, because we are so familiar with the evil that is hunting them.