Three Films Worth Seeing
by Thom Ernst – Film Correspondent
(March 23, 2023 – Toronto, ON) Three essential Canadian titles are releasing theatrically this month; The Colour of Ink from director Brain D. Johnson, I Like Movies from director Chandler Levack, and To Kill a Tiger from director Nisha Pahuja. And what you need to know about any/all of them: These are three movies worth seeing.
The Colour of Ink by Brian D. Johnson
The Colour of Ink is a documentary by director Brian D. Johnson. This is Johnson’s second feature documentary following Al Purdy Was Here. Where the first documentary was on the famed Canadian Poet, and the legacy left behind for younger poets—an enviable retreat for young/new poets—The Colour of Ink is about…ink. Knowing something (by way of rumour and admission) of the difficulty in making a film, focussing on something as seemingly unfilmable as ink for the effort and money it takes, feels strangely out of sorts with the cinema.
What Johnson has done is found character and story in those who deep dive beneath the foundation of what we see and what we read. I’m reminded, before heading into the cinema, that there is a film called Helvetica, an entire documentary about a font. The phrase “Who in their right mind…” rose in my mind. A film about a font. Others around me, critics and filmmakers, didn’t seem as befuddled by the topic. If memory serves me, there was a certain amount of anticipation based on early reviews. The film went on to win audiences and awards.
Johnson weaves interest in the film, almost like leading us along a scenic path towards an unexpected haven, by introducing those who relish in the finer points of colour, the invention of colour, and the importance of colour. From colourists to artists, and writers who passionately, sometimes comically, sometimes dramatically, and sometimes with a matter-of-fact approach, reveal what moves them.
Johnson provides a microscopic view of something easily taken for granted. The ink is in the pen, on the brush, or on another utensil that manipulates fluid into being something else: a comic, a novel, a poem, a sketch, a painting.
And then there is Johnson’s cast of characters including Margaret Atwood issuing insights with typical humour, Yuri Shimogo Japanese Asian Contemporary Artist, and Corey BulPitt, a Haida carver, and artist. Throughout the film is Johnson’s central thread, Jason S. Logan. Logan collects colours from nature, giving The Colour of Ink a understated feel of something not just organic but of environmental significance. It’s near impossible to evoke nature as a source and not feel connected to the earth. Logan is a likable guy. There’s no clearer way to word it. And his efforts to find new colours and his joy in being able to do so are not just engaging, but infectious. Johnson brings that feeling to the film.
Johnson has made the history, the origin, and the importance of ink a journey worth watching; he may even have created a spark that’ll have finally checking out Helvetica. Watch the trailer and learn more about The Colour of Ink, which opened today in Toronto at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and opens in other centres in the coming weeks.
I Like Movies by Chandler Levack
Those with even a moderate interest in Canadian cinema have heard of Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies. I’d peg it as the second most talked about Canadian film on the circuit (Women Talking currently reigns). I Like Movies won Best Canadian Film at the Vancouver Film Critics Association among others with, no doubt, more accolades to come. The success of Chandler’s I Like Movies is well worth the celebration—a heartfelt limerick to the dedicated (and I think rare) film enthusiasts who work big box video stores (we can assume Blockbuster into the narrative).
Levack sets the film in Burlington, Ontario, which as settings go, is about as modest as cinema is likely to get. And yet the setting mirrors characters who populate the town’s classrooms, rec rooms, and video stores. Most prominent among them is Lawrence, a high-school student with the confidence of a trapeze artist lacking dangerously in agility. Lawrence finds some semblance of a tribe by working at a local video store. But Lawrence’s passion for films is, in no small way, off the charts. His knowledge, his enthusiasm, and his arrogance toward those who know less (everyone) hurts Lawrence in ways he is incapable of understanding. But the trick Levack uses is not in heating up the intense characterization of an annoying alienating cinephile but in a less imposing story of a young person struggling towards the center of a world out of balance.
Levack has made a huge find in her lead actor, Isaiah Lehtinen (pictured above), a young man from Nanaimo British Columbia. Although, Lehtinen might not be entirely Levack’s discovery. He has appeared in several films and television series. But as Lawrence, Lehtinen has a stand-out opportunity to highlight an innate appeal; the likability of a young Jack Black with sparks of Belushi, filtered through the arrogant edge of Jason Swartzman. It is not unreasonable to project that his Lawrence may one day be considered his breakout role. But Levack’s does not require Lehtinen to do all the heavy lifting. There is Lawrence’s beleaguered high-school friend, Matt played by Percy Hynes White (worth noting White is the son of actor/musician/author Joel Thomas Hynes), and a beautifully understated performance from Romina D’Uga as Alana, who shares a complicated although not inappropriate relationship with the younger, Lawrence.
There is too much going on in I Like Movies, too much to shuffle it into a coroner where coming-of-age movies sit quietly waiting to be discovered. I Like Movies is evidence of a rising filmmaker assured in her craft. There is a striking rhythm of compassion, and solitude with her characters, refusing to make them heroic outliers, nor peddle them off as incurable loners.
Like Lawrence, I Like Movies does not conform to expectations, but neither does it run from the miracle of finding a place where it belongs.
I Like Movies is a gentle and wonderfully engaging addition to Canadian cinema and a director sure to be among the celebrated. Watch the trailer and learn more about the cast and crew of I Like Movies.
To Kill a Tiger by Nisha Pahuja
Director Nisha Pahuja has a voice that understands how truth in filmmaking is an indelible tool for change. To Kill a Tiger is Pahuja’s fourth feature documentary. With each film, Pahuja moves forward in the kind of filmmaking that digs into the social and economic influences of a culture that has been her birthright. All of Pahuja’s films reflect the hopes, struggles, and diverse expectations of her homeland, India. But none of those films strikes against an indisputable atrocity with such focus and humanity as in To Kill a Tiger.
To Kill a Tiger works on its layers of revelation, first, the crime against a young woman inflicted by those she, by nature of association, should have been able to trust. Then, comes the shocking (certainly to a western audience—or perhaps not) refusal to prosecute outside community laws and tradition. But when tradition regulates a solution that is as bizarre as it is archaic, the victim’s family does the unthinkable. They break with tradition, defy their neighbours, and risk persecution, and even death to find justice for their daughter.
Were this fiction, the players would be amid a great courtroom thriller, loaded with threats, confrontation, and dramatic moments of doubt, fear, and yet hopes of a resolution. But Pahuja’s film is not fiction. The tension is authentic. The threats are real.
What astounds is the filmmaker’s access to the players, crediting not only the research and ability of the filmmakers to gain trust but also revealing the unmitigated confidence the subjects have that their (often archaic) view of justice is perfectly acceptable.
It took two years to edit To Kill a Tiger and the result is a film that is masterfully told, immensely felt, and unforgettable.
To Kill a Tiger is one of the year’s best films. Click here to learn more about To Kill a Tiger.
Thom Ernst is a Toronto based film critic and writer and an active member of the (TFCA) Toronto Film Critics’ Association. His work has appeared in various publications including Playback Magazine, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. He is known to CBC Radio listeners for his lively contributions to Fresh Air, Metro Morning, and CBC Syndication as well as appearing on-air for CTV News Channel and The Agenda with Steve Paikin. He was host, interviewer and producer of televisions’ longest running movie program Saturday Night at the Movies. Currently he can be heard interviewing Canadian filmmakers on the Kingston Canadian Film Festival podcast, Rewind, Fast-Forward.