Reviews include Solo, Swan Song, and Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe.
Eh-Grade Fun: A Report from the Kingston Canadian Film Festival
March 9, 2023
Members of the Toronto Film Critics Association visited the Kingston Canadian Film Festival over the weekend of March 2 to 5 for four days of Canadian content. Travelling as part of a media group with Telefilm Canada, the TFCA critics enjoyed the festival’s return to an all-theatrical event. The festivities kicked off with an opening night screening of Anthony Shim’s Riceboy Sleeps, which went on to win the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award on Monday at the TFCA Awards Gala. In between screenings, members noshed at local eateries, which were debated as heavily as the films screening at the festival, and in some cases, revisited their favourite haunts on or around the campus from Queen’s University.
Other highlights at KCFF included an industry session with Mike Downie about his forthcoming Tragically Hip doc and the work his brother Gord made raising awareness for reconciliation during the final years of his life. Similarly, critics got a chance to mix and mingle with Canadian filmmakers they’d seen either in person or via Zoom during previous events on the circuit, which made for a very Canadian weekend.
Here are some highlights from this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival.
What defines the Kingston Canadian Film Festival experience for you?
I’ve long wanted to attend the festival in Kingston, and was ecstatic that I finally made it there this year. Decades ago, I called that town my home, and the Princess Court cinema that was located just up the street from where this year’s fest took place was where I truly matured as a cinema goer, regularly exploring classics, indie fare, and films from around the world. In so many ways, attending KCFF was an emotionally charged homecoming. I was thrilled to be able to show friends some favourite places to dine (even if not everyone shared my enthusiasm!), as well as to see a fully Canadian slate curated in a way that allowed these stories to be embraced.
While numerous projection and presentation faults were egregious, casting an unfortunate pall on the experience, this is something that hopefully can be rectified for next year, and likely the effect of a return to in-person screening after the last few years. What’s irreplaceable, and forms the basis of the entire festival, is the kindness and enthusiasm of the volunteers, the local crowds who were intent on making discoveries of their own, and a programming staff with a keen eye for the best our country has to offer. – Jason Gorber
It’s Canadian! Yes, there are other Canada-only film festivals, including the Canadian Film Festival in Toronto at the end of March, and the genre fest Blood in the Snow (also in Toronto, in November) but Kingston really showcases the breadth and depth of Canadian cinema with films from across the country. It represents filmmakers from a wide variety of backgrounds with dramas, documentaries, and shorts. It’s so expansive it doesn’t even feel “niche.” – Chris Knight
I have to agree with Chris. Kingston is just so “Canadian.” Besides the line-up, which really offers a one-stop shopping snapshot of the best films our country had to offer over the previous year, the festival has such an easygoing charm. In terms of festival atmosphere, the vibe has a laid-back character comparable to Whitehorse’s Available Light Film Festival. It’s all about the movies with little headache when it comes to access and coverage. There’s also a real community feel to this festival. Since the venues generally run on the smaller side, virtually every screening I attended had a full house and an engaged audience. Likewise, it’s a gathering place for familiar faces one has encountered throughout the festival circuit, or filmmakers one didn’t get the chance to meet during busier festivals, so the community atmosphere is more tangible here than it is at fests burdened by the biz side. If you like movies, especially Canadian ones, this fest’s for you. – Pat Mullen
The film selections and the community at large will stick with me most when I think about KCFF. There were so many great films playing, including some titles I wanted to revisit, that made narrowing down my schedule a bit difficult. Fortunately, everyone was so friendly at the festival that it was easy to strike up conversations and hear about the film’s others were seeing that I might have missed. The location of the two main theatres made it easy to tour the downtown core and visit local shops and eateries in between films. – Courtney Small
Best film at the festival?
I saw two excellent films that I thoroughly enjoyed, missed at previous festivals, and had the space here to take in and feel a sense of (late) discovery! The first, Viking, is an absolutely delightful lo-fi, sci-fi dark comedy. Stéphane Lafleur makes the most of a very clever idea and launches it into orbit, if virtually. The second, Relax I’m from the Future, is another bristling, bombastic bit of genre fun with both films reveling in genre tropes but making their own mark. – JG
I went to a screening of Relax, I’m From the Future, knowing only that it was a time-travel comedy and that it starred New Zealand actor Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords, Our Flag Means Death). But what a rollicking ride it was: funny, unexpectedly dark at times, philosophical in the way that only time-travel movies can be, and featuring standout performances, not only from Darby but his Canadian co-stars Gabrielle Graham, Janine Theriault, and Julian Richings. I can’t wait for it to get a wider release – it’s coming! – so that I can recommend it to others. – CK
Thanks to a busy run on the circuit, I was able to see pretty much all the features here aside from two local works that sold out quickly and, from reading the entries above, Relax, I’m from the Future. Overall, the snapshot reaffirmed my belief that Nisha Pahuja’s To Kill a Tiger was best Canadian film of 2022, while I really enjoyed revisiting TFCA member Brian D. Johnson’s The Colour of Ink after seeing the “from the vault” screening of All You Have to Do, which features his subject Jason Logan. In terms of KCFF first watches, though, my favourite film was the closing night screening: Darlene Naponse’s Stellar. Naponse created an enigmatic work that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. Part eco-thriller, part film noir, part love story, Stellar offered a visually dazzling consideration of the world’s end and rebirth. No film has quite given Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers a chance to shine like she does here. I found she was at risk of becoming typecast as the “tough girl,” but it’s quite remarkable how her subtle, sensuous turn in Stellar jived perfectly with Naponse’s cadence and style. – PM
The festival was an embarrassment of riches when it came to the overall selection. While I am tempted to say Brother, which is my favourite Canadian film of the year, I will go with the “new to me” film Norbourg. Exploring the events that led up to the financial scandal that rocked Quebec, the film offers a thrilling look at how a trust fund company deceived regulators and stole millions from investors. Maxime Giroux’s drama is a tightly constructed work that focuses more on how the fraud was committed rather than revel in the excess of what the heads of the company did with the money. – CS
Meatball and Havarti on a Kaiser at Golden Rooster! Everything at Pan Chancho! I got out of Kingston having skipped Chez Piggy, White Mountain, a pint of Guinness at the Toucan, and even Bubba’s, which seems even more implausible. I did grab a bacon/cheese at the Hoagie House on the way out of town, of course, and naturally spent time crate-digging at Brian’s Record Option and even lucked into Campus Discs around the corner from my old house on Earl and University. Basically, downtown Kingston is fantastic, even in the cold of winter, and one of the best areas to visit in this or any other country. What better excuse is there to go check out movies with a receptive audience, and spend time between the films enjoying this wonderful place? – JG
I’m a sucker for balcony seating, and two of the venues – the Isabel Bader, where the opening-night film was shown, and the Grand Theatre on Princess Street – have lovely balcony sections. Get up there if you can and watch a film from on high. – CK
Plan your schedule by venues. The Baby Grand, unfortunately, is my one quip about the Kingston Canadian Film Festival. It’s not an ideal screening venue. The floor’s flat, the chairs are butt-numbingly stiff, and the projection is…not the best. On the other hand, the Screening Room recently got a makeover and is in way better shape than it was when I was a regular patron during my Queen’s days of 2005-2009. Now offering DCP projection, tiered seating, good sound, comfy chairs, and endearing movie-quotes on the backs of the chairs, it has charm and quality. Their popcorn is stellar, too. But whatever Jason tells you, don’t eat that meatball sandwich from the deli across the street — Den Mother Crimson was not the worst thing on the menu this festival, ha ha. – PM
Map out the places to eat and actually make time for meals. I made the rookie mistake the first night of decompressing in my room a bit too long after I drove into Kingston. That was valuable time that I could have used to get some nourishment into me prior to the festival starting. There are a lot of great places to dine in Kingston (e.g. the Copper Penny fries lived up to the hype) so make time to check them out. – CS
Would you return?
Absolutely. I’d love to see the festival continue to grow, and happy to contribute in any way that fosters that. – JG
In a heartbeat. Kingston is easy to navigate – even during a snowstorm! – and has a lot of great eateries, including Harper’s Burger Bar, the Golden Rooster deli, the Toucan pub, and Whiskey and Rosé restaurant, all on or near the main screening venues. – CK
Absolutely! I love Kingston and this festival. The downtown core is easy to navigate and I appreciate a walkable festival. I look forward to going back and making another pit stop at The Copper Penny for a club and fries. – PM
I would definitely return to the festival; it is nice to be within a community that showed such a deep-rooted love for cinema. KCFF provides a great opportunity to discover new films, especially Quebec titles we might not get in Toronto, and revisit recent festival favourites as well. – CS