These 20 acquisition titles from 2020 are still seeking distribution in Canada, the US, or the UK, but they’re just as good as the films out in virtual cinemas right now.
Every year, we see great films at festivals that end up slipping through the cracks. For every great film that’s released, there’s another great film that will never see the light of day. Here are 20 amazing acquisition titles that we’ve seen on the festival circuit in 2020 that haven’t been picked up in Canada, the US, or the UK yet. If one of these films plays at a festival near you, grab the opportunity to see it before it disappears, and shout about it so distributors take notice.
180 Degree Rule (Farnoosh Samadi)
When I saw 180° Rule at TIFF, I knew I had to get in touch with writer-director Farnoosh Samadi and pick her brain about what I’d just watched. The film is a meticulously-crafted drama that devolves into a psychological thriller when tragedy strikes partway through. It’s a provocative film, and it’s already polarising critics, but I admire its boldness. I appreciated the film even more after I saw Michel Franco’s New Order at the festival, a film that tries to be provocative by showing grizzly violence, but only comes off as excessive and insulting. Take note, Franco: the complex and harrowing moral choices the protagonist in 180° Rule faces are far more provocative than any of the violence in New Order… continue reading our interview with Samadi
Bandar Band (Manijeh Hekmat)
In March 2019, 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces were flooded from excessive downpour. In April, The New York Times reported, “‘Iran is under water,’ said Sayed Hashem, regional director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. ‘The scale of this crisis means that more help is needed.’” This tragic event, which left thousands of people without their homes and entire cities under water, is the backdrop of director Manijeh Hekmat’s often lighthearted film, Bandar Band… continue reading our review of Bandar Band
Beans (Tracey Deer)
Tracey Deer’s feature debut, Beans, is a prime example of how a deeply flawed film can still be incredibly moving and powerful. Despite being weighed down by stilted dialogue and editing, often underdeveloped characters, and traumatic subplots that are raised and dropped far too quickly, I can’t stop thinking about Beans. Set during the Oka crisis, it’s the story of 12-year-old Beans (Kiawentiio) as she realises the sheer amount of hate directed at Indigenous people by settlers, and how angry that makes her — at herself, the world, her family… continue reading our review of Beans
Beans will be released in Canada on March 30th 2021 but has not received distribution elsewhere.
Charter (Amanda Kernell)
Amanda Kernell’s second feature, Charter, opens on a black screen, as we listen to a phone call: Vincent (Troy Lundkvist) is in distress, and has called his mother, Alice (Ane Dahl Torp), to tell her he doesn’t want to live with his father anymore. He hangs up before she can find out why. She starts to panic, and heads north to check on him. But does she really believe him to be in danger? Or is she merely looking for an excuse to make contact with her son, to prove to herself that he needs her?… continue reading our review of Charter
Charter was recently chosen as Sweden’s nominee for the Academy Awards, but it is yet to receive distribution in many territories.
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) (Monica Zanetti)
Australian writer-director Monica Zanetti’s first feature is a delightful queer high school romcom with a view toward LGBTQ+ history and how it still impacts the lives of its characters in 2020. When the tall, smart, Type A Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) decides to ask her classmate, Abbie (Zoe Terakes) to the formal, it raises her own insecurities about romance in general, and forces her to confront her family’s past… continue reading our review of Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)
The End of Love (Keren Ben Rafael)
Now that the world has been in various stages of lockdown for the better part of the year, the Zoom play (Old Vic In Camera, Big Telly’s Macbeth) and the Zoom TV/film (Staged to Coastal Elites) have become commonplace. But before that, films like 10,000 km and more recently, The End of Love, explored the trials of long-distance relationships when your only connection is technological, by that now seemingly obsolete program Skype. Judith Chemla and Arieh Worthalter star in Keren Ben Rafael’s The End of Love, as Parisian married couple Julie and Yuval, who end up in separate countries for months as Julie is forced to care for their newborn on her own. Yuval is Israeli, and he has to go home to get his visa renewed, only it takes longer than expected, or, at least, that what he claims, though Julie later realises he’s avoiding coming back to his family in Paris. The entire film takes place in video conversations over Skype in Paris and Tel Aviv, as their marriage and communication break down. Rafael invents cinematic grammar for showing this kind of communication while telling a smart and nuanced relationship story about a man who won’t grow up, and a woman who decides to stop waiting for him to. Alex Heeney
Inconvenient Indian (Michelle Latimer)
Latimer’s thought-provoking documentary Inconvenient Indian, which picked up awards for documentary and Canadian cinema at TIFF, opens with an Indigenous man, his body covered in polka dots, on horseback in the middle of a vast field. Suddenly, he spots the Toronto skyline in the distance. It’s one of many reminders in the film that colonialism never ended, that Indigenous people still exist and live today, and that our stories about both have been so controlled by settlers as to often obscure this reality. Inconvenient Indian is an interrogation of the stories told about Indigenous people — who authored them, who controlled them, what their legacy is — and how that impacts Indigenous lives today… continue reading our interview with Latimer
Inconvenient Indian is screening online at the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival on November 12th.
John Ware Reclaimed (Cheryl Foggo)
It’s one of Canada’s best kept secrets that there’s a rich history of the Black diaspora in the Alberta prairies dating back over a century ago. What little is known about that history has been condensed in the popular consciousness to the story of cowboy John Ware, an enslaved American who moved to Canada and became a successful farmer. But even the historical accounts of him are limited to a single book, John Ware’s Cow Country by Grant MacEwan, published in 1960, written by a white man, and full of racist stereotypes about Black masculinity. Cheryl Foggo’s moving, enlightening, and appropriately infuriating new documentary, John Ware Reclaimed, attempts to reclaim not just John Ware’s story from the biased history books but the history of Black Canadians in the prairies… continue reading our interview with Foggo
Limbo (Ben Sharrock)
The hilarious opening scene of Limbo immediately sold me on this odd, unique story about a Syrian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on a remote Scottish island. Borrowing stylistically from Yorgos Lanthimos and Aki Kaurismäki, director Ben Sharrock shoots Scotland like it’s a strange, alien world, at times inflected with surreal horror. He presents vast, deserted landscapes in a locked down, 4:3 frame, like a window into a cold and empty world, accompanied by the sound of harsh, swirling winds. The baffling opening scene alone, in which two condescending instructors perform a stilted dance in order to teach the refugees ‘Cultural Assimilation 101’, drops you right into a world that’s equal parts amusing and confusing. Sharrock’s visual style forces us to share in protagonist Omar’s alienation, so we feel closer to him, aided by a moving performance by Amir El-Masry. Orla Smith
Limbo will be released in the UK by MUBI but is still seeking distribution elsewhere.
Monkey Beach (Loretta Todd)
Monkey Beach is one of two screen adaptations (alongside Trickster) of Eden Robinson’s work this year, and it’s the only one to fully feature the place where Robinson’s work is set: Kitimat, British Columbia. Director L. Sarah Todd’s insistence on shooting in Kitimat, despite its remoteness and the costs associated with this plan which delayed production for years, pays dividends, as the film is so rooted in a particular place. You’re constantly hearing the sounds of the ocean, seeing whales, and wondering at the very specific (and incredible) greenery of Northern BC… continue reading our review of Monkey Beach
Nadia, Butterfly (Pascal Plante)
With Nadia, Butterfly, Québécois writer-director Pascal Plante aims to do for competitive swimming on screen what Fred Astaire once did for dancers in musicals: make it all real. Astaire pioneered filming dance scenes in wide shots with long takes so that you could see the dancers’ entire bodies and know that they were really doing it themselves. “It’s very clear that it’s Ginger and Fred who are dancing for their own pleasure,” Plante told me. “And then we see them act before and after and we’ve connected with them through their dance numbers. In many ways we treated those swimming scenes in the way those musical numbers are captured in those musicals.” The way Plante talks about shooting swimming reminded me of how filmmakers like Frederick Wiseman and Alla Kovgan talk about shooting dance, to make it real and present, so you can see what the dancers are actually doing… continue reading our interview with Plante
No Ordinary Man (Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt)
In Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s hands, No Ordinary Man is no ordinary biographical documentary. They go way beyond the standard archival footage and talking head interview approach to tell trans jazz musician Billy Tipton’s story. Joynt explained that “understanding that there was no moving image footage of Tipton was both a restriction and an opportunity for us to immediately start thinking creatively beyond the bounds of reenactment and other ways that biopics tend to be created.” The film features photos and audio recordings of Tipton, as well as his music, and his life story is told through the words of talking-head experts, most of whom are trans. But another huge part of the film are “auditions” where the filmmakers invite a whole host of diverse transmasculine actors to act out and then dissect scripted scenes from Tipton’s life… continue reading our interview with Chin-Yee and Joynt
No Ordinary Man will screen on Canadian TV next year, but it is still seeking distribution in other territories.
Quebexit (Joshua Demers)
Following in the footsteps of My Internship in Canada, Joshua Demers’s new Canadian political satire asks: what might happen if Quebec were to declare its independence? Set over the course of a couple of days on a patch of land at the Quebec-New Brunswick border, French and Canadian military — formerly colleagues, and still waiting for their paychecks — fight over who has the right to police the border. Meanwhile, a pair of Indigenous women who regularly cross the border for work must deal with this new bureaucratic nonsense caused by settlers fighting over land that doesn’t belong to them. The film includes dialogue in French, English, and Cree, both celebrating our country’s language diversity and poking fun at the divisions it causes. The political machinations in what seems like the middle of nowhere, where people regularly cross the border for work and school, proves a crucible for exploring the age-old tensions between Canada’s different factions, and how silly and problematic settlers’ concerns are. In the end, the one thing that can bring people together is, of course, Céline Dion. AH
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Zbanic)
Quo Vadis, Aida? is a harrowing retelling of the genocide of the people of Srebrenica that grapples with the complicity of those who were ‘just doing their job.’ Although the film is brutal and disturbing, it refrains from showing us the most violent acts of the genocide, like the rapes and beheadings. Even when the mass genocidal slaughter occurs at the end of the film, Žbanic shows us the guns firing but not the bodies hitting the floor. She’s interested in who holds the power, not the spectacle of their violence… continue reading our review of Quo Vadis, Aida?
Rurangi (Max Currie)
The New Zealand drama Rurangi picked up Frameline’s Audience Award, and I can understand why: it’s an emotionally involving film about the ways that shame rules our lives, hurting ourselves and the people we care about. The film centres around Caz (Elz Carrad), a trans man who returns home for the first time in a decade, having left his small community, Rurangi, for the big city of Auckland where he could more freely transition. In the intervening years, his mother got sick and died, and he missed her funeral. Caz is white-passing and he has left behind his Maori roots in the move to Auckland… continue reading our review of Rurangi
Rurangi will be released in New Zealand on February 4th 2021, but it has yet to receive distribution in other territories.
Rustic Oracle (Sonia Boileau)
Last week on the podcast, we discussed Sonia Boileau’s second narrative feature, Rustic Oracle, about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) as told from a child’s perspective. When 10-year-old Ivy’s (Lake Deslisle) older sister, Heather (McKenzie Deer Robinson), goes missing from the Oka reserve, Ivy and her mother (Carmen Moore) embark on a road trip in an effort to track her down themselves, since the police have proven useless. Boileau’s film is about the trauma experienced by the whole community when someone disappears, the confusion that occurs for children, and the challenges it creates for terrified parents who struggle to be present for their remaining children. This intimate mother-daughter story addresses important Canadian issues in a way that’s accessible (if horrifying) even to those less versed in the history of MMIWG. It’s one of the best films of the year, and one of our favourite films we discussed on the podcast — on par with Rhymes for Young Ghouls, which we named the 6th best film of the decade. AH
Stay tuned for our interview with Boileau when the film is released on VOD in Canada on November 17. It’s still seeking distribution in other territories.
The Strong Ones (Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo)
Omar Zúñiga’s The Strong Ones is like a Chilean Weekend, with less talking and more physical intimacy, set against the beautiful rural coastline of Chile. The Strong Ones screened at InsideOut after picking up the Audience Award at LA’s Outfest, and it’s a quiet, romantic, if bittersweet crowdpleaser. The gorgeous, bucolic setting — the rocky ocean beach, the greenery that surrounds them — and the film’s unhurried pace creates a tranquil space to watch two people fall in love who may not be best-suited outside of this idyllic bubble… continue reading our review of The Strong Ones
Sweat (Magnus von Horn)
Few films have portrayed social media influencer culture as accurately and empathetically as Sweat. The easiest trap to fall into is characterising an influencer as shallow just because the content that they post is shallow; von Horn avoids this at every turn. Played beautifully by Magdalena Kolesnik, fitness influencer Sylwia Zajac feels three-dimensional, a woman who’s in over her head and desperate for intimacy amidst the alienation of online fame. She’s well meaning, and she’s also a very capable business owner — because as Sweat makes clear, being an influencer means being the head of your own mini-business. But just like so many of us, her lifestyle has become reliant on social media to a damaging extent… continue reading our review of Sweat
True Mothers (Naomi Kawase)
It’s a shame that Naomi Kawase’s features have a tendency to vanish from English-speaking countries as soon as they make their festival run, because she’s a uniquely thoughtful, sensitive filmmaker. True Mothers is perhaps my favourite of her films I’ve seen (Still the Water, Sweet Bean, and Vision) because of how smartly it deals with what it means to be a mother, and sadly, the sheer amount of shame that is associated with it… continue reading our review of True Mothers
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Caroline Link)
Judith Kerr’s beloved children’s novel gets a worthy adaptation from German director Caroline Link in this film that balances the hardships and fear of being a refugee with the optimism of childhood. As the 1933 German election looms, Anna Kemper’s (Riva Krymalowski) father, Arthur (Oliver Masucci), a prominent Jewish intellectual, gets a warning that if Hitler wins, he’s at the top of the list to be rounded up for arrest. The next day, he flees the country, and Anna, her brother, Max, and their mother, Dorothea (Carla Juri), follow soon after, leaving behind their large family home and bourgeois lifestyle for an increasingly difficult life abroad as refugees… continue reading our review of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit screens today at the UK Jewish Film Festival.