Three Indie Gems to Watch For
The Silent Revolution, Giant Little Ones, The Grizzlies, and Senior High dramas dominate 2018 Edmonton International Film Festival
The 2018 Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF) was not as good as last year but still featured a number of excellent indie films, including two from Canada (which understandably has many films in the festival, but rarely does so well). The big surprise for me was the extraordinary coincidence of having three of my favourite five films of the 2018 EIFF concerned with senior high school classes (I’m generally not a big fan of high school films), though they could hardly be more different. Here is a brief look, in the order in which I liked them.
The Silent Revolution
For the second time in four years, my favourite film of the EIFF was a German film (the other was Victoria in 2015). The Silent Revolution was written and directed by Lars Kraume, based on the book Das Schweigende Klassenzimmer (also the German title of the film) by Dietrich Garstka, which is based on true events.
Set near East Berlin in 1956, The Silent Revolution shows what happens when a twelfth-grade classroom learns, through unofficial channels, about the Hungarian Uprising (against the Soviet occupation). Kurt (Tom Gramenz) and Theo (Leonard Scheicher) are best friends who sneak into a theatre in West Berlin and catch a news report of events in Hungary. They share the news with their classmates and Kurt suggests a two-minute silence in memory of those who were killed in the Uprising. The majority of the class agrees, but their teacher is not impressed. Neither is the principal (Forian Lukas), though he wisely decides to keep the matter quiet. Unfortunately, word spreads and soon the school board (represented by Frau Kessler, played by Jördis Triebel) and the Minister of Education (Burghart Klaußner) are involved, threatening to expel the students if they don’t say who started this ‘counter-revolution’.
The Silent Revolution, which also provides a glimpse into the family life (and family secrets) of three of its students, is a brilliantly-structured and incredibly intense examination of life in an authoritarian state. Unfortunately, such stories remain all-too-relevant in our time of fake news, kneeling football players and the labelling of those who question the “official” version of events as conspiracy theorists. The film also provides a nuanced look into how socialism, communism, capitalism and fascism were viewed by people in the early days of the Cold War.
The large ensemble cast is universally excellent, and the writing and direction are intelligent and tight. While some critics will no doubt see too much melodrama, I saw just the right notes of dramatic tension. The cinematography and score are outstanding, with a perfectly-realized period feel. The Silent Revolution is not yet rated, but will likely receive a PG-13.
Giant Little Ones
This Canadian indie gem, written and directed by Keith Behrman, is set in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, though it could be anywhere in North America. Giant Little Ones is a marvelous, unsensationalized study of teenage sexuality, focusing on one boy (Franky) as he heads into his final year of high school.
Franky (played by Josh Wiggins) is your average likable 16-year-old. He’s very angry at his father, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan), for leaving his mother, Carly (Maria Bello), for a man, but otherwise Franky is doing just fine. He’s part of the swim team, along with his lifelong best friend, Ballas (Darren Mann), he has a trans friend named Mouse (Niamh Wilson) and he has a girlfriend, Cil (Hailey Little), who wants both of them to lose their virginity on his 17th birthday. Life is good.
But Franky’s 17th birthday party doesn’t go as planned. Something happens between Franky and Ballas that will cause Ballas to end their friendship and destroy Franky’s reputation in school. Only Mouse and Ballas’s sister, Natasha (Taylor Hickson), stand by Franky as his life takes a dark turn (though it’s not as dark a turn as those other characters are facing, or have faced).
Giant Little Ones presents a fascinating glimpse into how teenagers today struggle with their sexual and gender identities. Without ever being didactic, the film explores issues from many different angles in an honest and refreshing way, though Franky’s life seems a little improbable. The acting is outstanding by all concerned, but especially by the teenagers, with Wiggins entirely convincing and always sympathetic. The writing is natural and nuanced, and the cinematography and score are very good.
Giant Little Ones doesn’t feel like a small Canadian indie film made by an unknown filmmaker. That is meant to be a compliment, but it also highlight’s the film’s most noticeable flaw: everyone looks a little too nice and there’s a bit of a Hollywood feel to the story’s ending. Again, there is no rating yet, but the theme will likely get the film an R rating.
The second Canadian gem was directed by Miranda de Pencier and written by Moira Walley-Beckett and Graham Yost. Filmed in Canada’s far far north (Kugluktuk, on the Arctic coast of Nunavut), The Grizzlies tells the true story of a naive young high school teacher who comes to a small Inuit community that is suffering from teenage suicides and far too much drugs and alcohol.
Russ Sheppard (played by Ben Schnetzer) has no idea what he’s getting into, and when one of his senior high students slugs him during his first class, he could be forgiven for hopping on the next plane. But instead he endures and finds a way to get some of his students excited about life again by introducing them to lacrosse.
While de Pencier wisely chose to focus her attention on the resilience of the students and townspeople of Kugluktuk instead of on Sheppard, I was still disappointed by the white-man-as-saviour theme (true or not). But The Grizzlies is a beautiful film that provides an honest glimpse into the lives and struggles of the Inuit communities of northern Canada. No rating yet for The Grizzlies, but I suspect it will receive a PG.
Final note: You may have trouble finding the above films (perhaps on Netflix), so here’s another of my favourite films of the EIFF to watch for (it will be released this month at a theatre near you): What They Had, a family drama written and directed by Elizabeth Chomko (rated R for language).