TORONTO – When you have over 80 countries represented in a major film festival screening about 400 films, it’s not hard to find great cinema from all the corners of the globe. Here are just a few of the more notable feature narratives that were shown at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that might be of interest to progressive audiences.
Nigeria to Ireland
Of course, any production with progressive activist Danny Glover’s name attached is a sure winner. In 93 Days, he plays a head physician at a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria, where an outbreak of Ebola develops in Africa’s most populated country. It’s based on the true story of the courageous workers and citizens who saved their country from a major outbreak back in 2014. Eventually only 8 people died after the disease started in the main city hospital – far less catastrophic than the 11,310 who died in adjoining Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Glover also produced the film, which created the drama and urgency of a war film, but this time the soldiers were hospital workers battling a deadly disease, not unlike a deadly enemy like ISIS. Dramatic scenes showed families broken up when loved ones were discovered with the disease and taken to isolated treatment centers. Nigerian cinema was featured in the City to City Programme and this was one of the most compelling of them all.
The Journey deals with Ireland’s long-running battle for independence. Just when it seemed there would be no end to the death and destruction, leaders from opposing sides found themselves across the table in 2006 trying to hammer out a Peace Accord.
The Journey is an imagined dialogue that takes place when Sinn Fein (the political wing of the Irish Republican Army) leader Martin McGuinness and staunch British loyalist the Rev. Ian Paisley ended up in a car traveling to Paisley’s anniversary party. Paisley had broken off the peace talks to attend the party and McGuinness, former IRA paramilitary man who spent his life trying to drive the English out of Northern Ireland, unexpectedly chose to go along for the ride. The oddity of seeing two bitter enemies in this setting is played up dramatically and comically in a film that depicts that crucial stage in the struggle – when determined opponents finally shake hands and sign a peace treaty. It doesn’t happen often in this world, but this charming and highly entertaining play on history shows two stalwart enemies who went on to become known as the “Chuckle Brothers,” Paisley as first minister and McGuinness as deputy first minister in Northern Ireland. It’s extremely well-acted by leads Colm Meany and Timothy Spall.
North Korea to Somalia
It’s rare to find a film about North Korea, especially one that isn’t cynical about its regime. The Net helps us humanize both the North and South Koreans who are living in one of the tensest military hotspots in the world. A North Korean fisherman accidentally breaks his engine and ends up floating into enemy territory. Captured by the South Korean military, he is tortured, threatened and bribed to become a spy and stay in the country. One of his young guards is sympathetic to his situation and helps him escape so he can eventually return home. But before he returns, he sees all the negative aspects of South Korea – crime, drugs, prostitution and the gaudy worship of money and material goods in which he has no interest. He wants to return to his family and country. But when he finally returns he ends up facing the same torture and psychological games from the North, where authorities can’t believe he isn’t a traitor. The amazingly evenhanded film says as much about the Cold War victims on both sides, paying the price of living with the longest existing border feud sustained by the U.S. military occupation of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
There have been many stories about courageous war photojournalists risking their lives to bring the truth to the world. Dan Eldon’s remarkable story is told in the colorful and creative film The Journey is the Destination. The style of the film mirrors Eldon’s exuberant approach to life. With colorful titles and drawings, an exciting world music score and the energy of youthful exploration, the film draws the viewer into the side of the story seldom seen. Dan is drawn to war-torn African lands where many suffer from poverty and famine, but he is searching for the simple truths and the joys of humanity. It’s thrilling to see every new person he encounters turn into his lifelong friend.
Born in London of American and British parentage and later moving to Kenya, Eldon had gone to 56 countries by the age of 21, taking pictures and creating colorful montages, often traveling with his young friends. His mother and sister have helped put together several journals of his amazing art work and photo collages. He spoke many languages, including Swahili, made friends everywhere and loved everyone he met. His infectious personality and talent for capturing the beauty of his subjects got him hired as the youngest employee of the Reuters international news agency.
But Eldon began questioning U.S. involvement in Somalia. The Americans’ first stated motive was to bring stability to the land; but ultimately they bombed and killed many innocent victims. Somalians came to hate Americans, and Eldon was stoned to death when he entered a village to help the people who had just been bombed. Dan Eldon was a rare journalist/activist whose passion and love of life are admirably recreated in this stunningly enjoyable visual feast.
Eldon’s mother, Kathy, spent over 20 years getting this film to the screen. She says, “This is a film that’s uplifting, it’s energizing, it’s activating and it will make people, I hope, dance out of the movie, wanting to live life more fully, love more fully, and just enjoy life…. After they see the film, I want them to head out of the theater to think about what they can contribute. What can we do with our creative spark?” Despite all odds, such energy and hope run through the entire film.