"Nature Break" featuring Squirrel and Owl

Monday April 21, 2014

I really enjoyed going to the TIFF Kids International Film Festival, but after more than a week straight spent inside dark theaters watching movies or inside bright theaters watching panel discussions, it was time to spend some time outside.

One of the first things I saw on today's nature jaunt was a red squirrel. I've seen them before in the park, but not very often and not for a long time, so this made for a great start.

Then there were many of the usual suspects for this time of year. A grackle took time to pose on a rock for me, I pestered a robin while he/she was in the bath, and the red-winged black birds were out in force:

I also saw Northern flickers, a night heron, plenty of tree swallows, a brown creeper, lots of ducks and geese and sparrows, and heard a woodpecker. It had been a very nice walk and I was ready to go home when a passing young couple noticed my camera and I heard the woman say "Tell her about the owl!"

And so they did.

I think it was an Eastern screech owl, and I know for certain that I never would have spotted it on my own (after the couple sent me off to the right cluster of trees, another birder was the one who actually pointed it out to me).

Apparently there had been a small crowd earlier when the couple had been by, which can be a problem with owls. It's always exciting to see one, but it's important not to disturb them. I tried to be very quiet as I took a few photos, but when an eye slipped open to check on me, I knew it was time to be on my way.

I just hope that today's first photographic subject keeps clear of the day's last.

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2014 TIFF Kids Feature: "Regret! (Spijt!)"

Sunday April 20, 2014

I was surprised yesterday when I heard that the Dutch film Regret! won the TIFF Kids Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film. I saw Regret! on the first weekend of TIFF Kids 2014, and it immediately became the first film I would name when people asked if I'd seen anything good. It's an incredibly well-made movie about bullying gone too far, with a nicely balanced script (adapted from a novel) and effortless performances from a cast of talented young actors.

The Story

David (Robin Boissevain) knows it isn't right that his mild and out-of-shape classmate Jochem (Stefan Collier) is the constant target of pranks and ridicule. But Sanne (Charlotte Bakker) and her small group of followers are unrelenting, even when David makes feeble attempts to intervene. David's crush Vera (Dorus Witte) does a better job of standing up for Jochem, but she becomes a target because of her friendship.

With no help coming from a teacher (Dave Mantel) who seems more interested in keeping the cool kids happy and from parents who don't understand the severity of the situation, David and Vera struggle with how deeply to get involved, while Jochem desperately grasps at the lifelines offered by his cautious new friends and his rescue dog.

The Impact

Spoiler alert: Jochem's story does not end well. Hours and even days after I saw Regret! I found myself thinking about the film, running what-if scenarios about how things could have worked out differently, as though the events and characters were real. I also found myself thinking back to my own youth, to people who were real, and wishing I knew then what I know now.

In the Q&A after the screening I saw, director David Schram spoke about how they weren't trying to make a movie that pointed fingers; rather they were trying to show how factors can combine to lead to tragedy. This is something that the movie does exceptionally well. There's more to the teacher, more to the bullies, more to David's failings and more to Jochem than an outsider would see, but this film gives you just enough of all of their stories to show multiple perspectives without losing focus.

"Audience Choice"

So why was I surprised that Regret! won? It's not an easy film to watch, and the screening I attended was in the smallest of the TIFF Bell Lightbox's five screening rooms. There weren't nearly as many people in attendance as the movie deserved. I don't know how the Audience Choice is award is usually calculated at film festivals, but now I suspect it's based on the percentage of people who choose to vote for a film when they exit a screening, rather than the total number of votes received.  Of course, it's possible the other screenings of Regret! were much busier, and I hope they were.

The overall feeling I had when the movie was over was that everyone should see it, especially young people. I heard that sentiment echoed in the Q&A, and in conversations after the screening.

So I am very happy that it won, giving Toronto audiences another chance.

One More Screening of "Regret!"

Because it won the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film, "Regret!" is getting an additional screening tomorrow:
  • Monday April 21, 12:30 p.m.
Regret! is presented in Dutch with English subtitles. TIFF's recommended ages for the film are 12-13 and advises that it is not suitable for audiences under the age of 11. I would say that while going younger is questionable, the film should definitely speak to those older than 13. So, I'm gonna say 11+, with a special note that all parents and educators should see this film, whether or not they attend with young people.

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2014 TIFF Kids Feature: "Felix"

Sunday April 20, 2014

This is another place-holder post to recommend "Felix" from South Africa, which won the TIFF Kids Festival Jury Award Ages 8-10  and so will get an additional screening tomorrow (Monday April 21)!  Of course I also recommend both of the other feature-length award winners that screen again on Monday, "Regret!" and "Side by Side". Take your pick - you can't lose!

Felix lives with his widowed mother and his two younger siblings in a lower-income community in South Africa. He dreams of being a jazz musician like his father, and his acceptance-with-scholarship to a private school seems set to offer new musical opportunities along with academic ones. But after losing her husband due to his hard-living musician's lifestyle, Felix's mother is distraught by her eldest son's dreams and makes Felix choose between exploring his talent and remaining part of the family.

Felix is a lively, energetic and colourful movie with heart. All of the performances are wonderful, and Hlayani Junior Mabasa carries the film with charming ease in the title role. Telling an adult's story beside a young protagonist's can sometimes muddy a movie intended for young audiences, but this film strikes an excellent balance between Felix's story and that of his mother.

Additional TIFF Kids 2014 Screening

  • Monday April 21, 2:30 p.m.
TIFF Kids recommends "Felix" for ages 10-12 and lists the Content Advisory as "Consumption of alcohol, alcoholism discussed, parental death discussed, religious references, mild language, bullying, gun seen in flashback sequence."

Visit http://tiff.net/festivals/tiffkidsfestival/filmschedule/felix for more movie details. (Note: The additional screening does not appear on that page. It's listed here.)

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