The 7th annual Breakthroughs Film Festival is set to take place in Toronto at the Royal Cinema on June 15th and 16th, highlighting emerging female filmmakers from around the world. The eclectic programme of short films arrives during a watershed moment in history where women’s rights in the entertainment industry are finally being addressed on a large scale.
The public outing of numerous high profile celebrities’ vile behaviour towards women echoed through the media over the past year. The subsequent #MeToo social media movement sparked a space where many survivors could finally speak up about the injustices, abuse, and discrimination that they have long experienced. For all the political and ideological backpedalling society has faced in the year 2018, the courageous testimonies of the #MeToo movement is one of the few progressive bright spots in such dark, and often seemingly hopeless, times. And while the path to transformation is still far from accomplished, at least there exists the beginnings of a road to reconciliation with the evils of the past in order to ensure that they do not occur again in the future.
Several of the films from this year’s Breakthroughs Film Festival seek to address the emotional fallout from years of sexism, aggression, and abuses of power often aimed towards women and minorities in the film industry. These are chilling but necessary themes to explore, and the mere presence of them to exist on screen for an independent film festival transcends the medium of film itself. It proves that there is an enormous social responsibility to educate the public on the issues that women and other marginalized populations endure on a regular basis. Of the 19 films included in the programme, here is a brief look at a few:
Girl Eating Banana: Audition:
New York City-based filmmaker Natasha Babenko’s short film, Girl Eating Banana: Audition, is a literal cutting examination of the audition experience. The premise of Babenko’s film strikes the perfect balance between minimalism and hard-hitting creative allegory where a young female actor, only identified by a long string of numbers rather than a name, is forced to eat a banana on camera for a demanding director. The director, represented only through voice and the movement of the camera, is fickle and cruel. The actor is subjected to nitpicky demands and objectified throughout her audition. At several points the camera focuses on anywhere besides her face. While only 6 minutes long, Babenko forges a disturbing distillation of film industry abuse and the unequal distribution of power.
I Love My Robot Boyfriend:
Sariah May’s I Love My Robot Boyfriend, alludes to the contradictory concept of Hollywood romance. Filmed in a highly glossy and intricate style, May’s film references a number of hit 80s and 90s romantic comedies such as Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything and numerous John Hughes classics. In Frankensteinian fashion, Shelly, the film’s teenage lead, creates a sensitive and caring robot boyfriend that will meet all of her wildest dreams. To further illustrate her youthful obsession, her bedroom is aglow in a soft pink light and pasted with photos of star actors like Brad Pitt. When Shelly’s robot boyfriend finally does wake up, he is there to dote on her needs by lighting candles in her room, complimenting her appearance, combing her hair with a silly gadget comb that emerges from his hand, and professing his love to her in a neon-lit arcade complete with choreographed song and dance. However, as his obsession with her grows, Shelly begins to realize that maybe this experiment with “true love” is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Her robot boyfriend, conveniently named Harvey, is a suffocating presence without any true basis in reality and this allows I Love My Robot Boyfriend to debunk clichéd movie romance in a subversive and triumphant way.
In Jessica Jessica, Jasper Savage’s off-beat film, two friends both named Jessica bond over experiences with emotionally inadequate men. One man is dismissive after a sexual encounter while the other is fragile and entitled. The Jessicas are trying their best to be honest and attentive to their respective situations, but neither man is mature enough to be respectful and understanding. Savage’s film cunningly reaches the heart of how much of today’s male psyche fails to comprehend the necessary balance needed in order to maintain equitable relationships. Jessica Jessica zeroes in on examples of men protecting their own interests and reacting to the prospect of intimacy in different yet similarly selfish ways. Mark is content to maintain his daily schedule, work out a couple of times per day, and only engage with Jessica Greco as an opportunity to show off how well he’s doing. Rather than talk about anything consequential and ask Jessica how she’s feeling, he condescendingly gifts her a vibrator and a smug hug. In the morning after an affair with Jessica Hinkson, Trevor texts his girlfriend from her bed. When she tells Trevor that he needs to leave her house because he has a girlfriend, he lies that they’ve broken up even though incoming texts audibly ping from his phone. Yet, this is not enough of a reason for Trevor to depart, as he aims to keep seducing Jessica into more sex. As she keeps rejecting his advances, he becomes tangibly more frustrated and manipulative. While it is upsetting to watch these two situations develop, it is the close bond that the two Jessicas share with one another that prove to be a small yet significant salvation.
Paulette dans Paris:
If you’re looking for stunning black and white photography that is a direct stylistic descendent of the French New Wave, Isabelle Sophie Arouë’s Paulette dans Paris is the film for you. Michel, a pickpocket in Paris, does whatever he has to do in order to get what he wants. He steals wallets, cars, and runs into his ex-girlfriend’s office unannounced demanding her attention. Set to a jazzy score complimented by beautiful shots of Paris, we’ve seen this type of picture many times before. The difference, however, is that the petty criminal faces a moral reckoning in the form of a little girl. The girl, Paulette, questions the motivations for Michel’s nefarious behaviour while he steams and screams about women not accepting his love. Paulette asks what that even means. Maybe the love that he’s expressing are on his terms and not theirs and it’s time for him to look outside of himself for once. Opening himself up to Paulette and listening, Michel’s enlightenment might only be a twee heel-click away.
Zaya, the tender French-Canadian film from Susanne Serres, is a standout from the Breakthroughs programme because it examines what love looks like away from white male dominated heterosexual norms. Two women, Zaya and Nadége, dance with one another and delicately glide towards understanding their attraction. Sexuality is explored through artistic expression, gentleness, and longing. Little is audibly said between the two women, yet their physical chemistry is felt in an intimate and profound way. Nadége reassures to Zaya that they can explore each other at their own pace. In many films, especially at the mainstream level, relationships exist for instant gratification and develop at breakneck, unrealistic speeds. Zaya exists away from the confines of instant gratification, showing a convincing example of how rewarding it can be for partners to take their time in order to get to know one another. For all the mindless relationship montages that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on screen, the portrayal of thoughtful love as seen in Zaya is undeniably refreshing.
The 7th annual Breakthroughs Film Festival plays in Toronto at The Royal Cinema on Friday June 15th and Saturday June 16th. Check out the programme and purchase your tickets here.