Just got back from the press conference announcing the lineup for this year’s Meaford International Film Festival. Yes, I did say Meaford International Film Festival – or as it’s affectionately known, MIFF. It looks like another stellar year of films. (The tagline is “four nights, four films, four parties”, though as MIFF producer Michael Anderson pointed out this morning, some people prefer to phrase it “four nights, four parties, four films”.)
The festival was the brainchild of Sundance-nominated documentary filmmaker (and Meaford resident) Gough Lewis, who together with Anderson shepherded MIFF to an amazing debut at Meaford Hall in 2007.
Using the concept of the best of festival-screened films, the team scoured the globe for works that had won prizes at major film festivals. (MIFF has been the first to show a number of films in Canada, and has scooped the Toronto International Film Festival on more than one occasion, showing a film in Meaford weeks before its Toronto debut.) Opening night of the first festival featured “An Unreasonable Man” which examined the career of Ralph Nader – followed by Shane Jolley, local Green Party candidate, interviewing the subject himself via video teleconferencing (this was pre-Skype, I think.)
After each film, those with party tickets attend a gathering in the Hall to join friends and meet with luminaries who are featured in post-screening discussions.
So… this year’s lineup. Well, I’ll let the MIFF release tell the story:
The Festival opens on Thursday, September 1, with The White Meadows, a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece that takes place on Lake Urmia in Iran. The White Meadows won the Denver Film Festival for Best Feature Film as well as several other international film awards. The story is about Rahmat, who is sent by his job to travel to different islands, something he has been doing for many years. They ask for him to collect the tears of the inhabitants of these islands. Although these inhabitants have been giving their tears to Rahmat for many years, no one really knows what he is doing with them. The film is centered in Iran and the language is Persian. Film will be sub-titled or dubbed where available.
On Friday night, we show Last Train Home. This is an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan that draws us into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in the annual migration of Chinese migrant workers home for the Chinese New Year. Sixteen years ago, the Zhangs abandoned their young children to find work in the city, consoled by the hope that their wages would lift their children into a better life.
Intimate and candid, the film paints a human portrait of the dramatic changes sweeping China. We identify with the Zhangs as they navigate through the stark and difficult choices of a society caught between old ways and new realities. This film has won numerous awards including Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival. [Anderson mentioned he hoped to line up star Naomie Harris for a post-screening interview, noting that she's soon to be a Bond girl, which would make his life complete. Looks like she's going to be Moneypenny, but that's close enough!]
On Saturday night, we have the true story of a hero from Kenya. The First Grader is set in a mountain village in Kenya and tells the remarkable true and uplifting story of a proud old Mau Mau veteran who is determined to seize his last chance to learn to read and write – and so ends up joining a class alongside six year-olds. Together he and his young teacher face fierce resistance, but ultimately they win through – and also find a new way of overcoming the burdens of the colonial past. This film won awards at TIFF, Teluride, London and Doha Tribeca Film Festivals. The language is English.
Following tradition, the Closing Gala is the film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In a Better World is the story of Anton, a doctor, who commutes between his home in an idyllic town in Denmark, and his work at an African refugee camp. In these two very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts that lead them to difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness. Their older, ten-year-old son Elias is being bullied at school, until he is defended by Christian, a new boy who has just moved from London with his father, Claus. Elias and Christian quickly form a strong bond, but when Christian involves Elias in a dangerous act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, their friendship is tested and lives are put in danger. Ultimately, it is their parents who are left to help them come to terms with the complexity of human emotions, pain and empathy. The languages spoke are Danish, Swedish, English and Arabic.
(Here’s a tip based on previous festivals. Three of this year’s screenings are subtitled. While Meaford Hall has generally excellent viewing from all areas, the guest in front of you just might make it hard to read the subtitles, so get your tickets early and be up front, or consider the balcony.)
The afterparties this year have a bonus for the first 400 people to buy party tickets. You’ll get a coupon booklet from Lora Bay Golf Club packed with $400 worth of deals, including two-for-one greens fees and two-for-one meals at the Raven Grill. And a trivia contest each night will reward the winner with a gift basket packed with amazing prizes.
To learn more and see the trailers, visit the website here.