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By Anne Brodie

TIFF and the film community honour the late, great filmmaker Charles Officer with an exclusive screening of his Unarmed Verses on Jan 28 at 10:30 am at TIFF Lightbox.

Charles Officer, Courtesy CBC

Officer, a beloved Toronto filmmaker leaves a remarkable legacy of stories on the hometown Black experience, award-winning stories of empathy and character. TIFF Lightbox hosts a celebration of his life and work Sunday during its Canada’s Top Ten showcase with Officer’s Unarmed Verses, his TopTen film, followed by a post-show discussion with some of his closest collaborators.  

My last interview with Officer:

The literary world changed for all time in 1943 with the release of The Little Prince by French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  The provocative, metaphysical, hand-drawn novella on human existence was considered a children’s book about two people talking in the desert, but it proved to be a literary masterpiece.  An … Continue reading

Writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania’s innovative style brings to vivid, unforgettable life Four Daughters, a quasi-documentary about a family of Tunisian women mourning the disappearance of the eldest two daughters who were “devoured by wolves”.  Ben Hania as the real mother Olfa and her two youngest Eya and Tayssir as themselves, the missing ones Ghofrane (Ichraq Matar) and Rahma (Nour Karoui), and Olfa (as herself, and Hend Sabri)and Majd Mastoura bravely symbolising the “disappointing men” that oppressed women. Olfa’s marriage was arranged, she was raped on their first night as the family cheered and had sex every year or so for children. Olfa raised her girls to be independent, and free of men. When she finally takes a lover, a convicted murderer, he rapes her daughters. Rahma and Ghofrane leave, and Rahma becomes a Goth (“Satan worshipper”). Both disappear. The brutal tragedy of their story dominated national headlines for years, against the backdrop of cultural, social, and political change as dictator Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, leaving shaky freedom behind. Ben Hania’s unique formatting and style raise the temperature and we marvel as the actors learn to see through Olfa’s and the missing women’s eyes. Wow. In theatres including TIFF Lightbox.

Cold Copy, Roxine Helberg’s psychological thriller looks at baseless manipulation and oppression by a person in power over a vulnerable person. Tracee Ellis Ross swaps comedy for drama as Diane, a hard-headed news talk show host who teaches journalism. Mia played by Bel Powley idolises her but is met with a chilling awakening; the person she depends on to guide her into the career she desperately wants has it in for her on sight. She humiliates Mia in class and tells her to find a new direction, even as it is clear Mia is a born journo – ethical, a quick learner, a savvy researcher and passionate. It doesn’t make sense. The class is tasked with creating twenty-minute documentary features for potential airing on Diane’s show. She cuts down all of Mia’s proposals who then stumbles into a whopper when Igor (Jacob Tremblay) saves her from a potential rapist. Turns out he’s the son of a famed children’s book author who OD’d; he does what he wants as his father is remote in every way, and he’s often bullied. Diane pressures Mia to find something juicy – worthy forcing Mia to take extreme measures. She is desperate to win Diane’s favour and n longer cares about ethics. Mia’s transformation into a thief, user and cheat is almost complete when the rug’s pulled out from under her. The story leaves holes in character backgrounds and we are meant to take two people on the edge as is, Mia’s behaviour seems outlandish even for someone obsessed. Ross really sinks her teeth into this monstrous narcissist. Select theaters and TVOD Jan 26.

Expats premiering Jan 26th on Prime Video follows a diverse international group, led by Nicole Kidman’s Margaret living in Hong Kong. Their experiences cover a broad range of circumstances in Lulu Wang’s ambitious, dense anthology. Based on Janice K. Lee’s novel The Expatriots it looks at a unique community trying to get along or get out.  Margaret, her husband Clarke (Brian Tee) and their children anxiously bide their time; their infant son disappeared, kidnapped while he was out with nanny Essie (Ruby Rui) when she let his hand go for a moment. Margaret’s grief and fury further wound the family that’s trying to come to terms with his loss. Mercy (Ji-Young Yoo )tells her female lover that she’s pregnant by David (Jack Huston), a married man. His wife Hilary (Sarayu Blue) is aware of his infidelity. Her maid, part of a tight-knit group of “helpers” knows about his unborn illegitimate child. Hilary’s tough, she confronts her dying father on his abuse of her mother and walks out on him. A trophy wife Olivia (Flora Chan) sits in a crumbling mansion as her husband refuses to spend time with her. Crammed with storylines that mix and mingle, the pace is beyond driven. Mercy says Hong Kong is dying, and the entire early chapters are set in a wind-whipped and wet typhoon raining havoc on the city, adding symbolic fuel to Mercy’s prediction.

The doc Razing Liberty Square is an urgent cautionary tale. Way back when, Miami’s coast was comprised of Black communities in the hills beyond the city, and whites lived on the oceanfront. In the last few decades, Blacks on high ground have been pushed out for expensive condos away from flooding danger. One little community that could, Liberty Square, located on a ridge, stayed put, a housing project aimed at low-income families, fallen into disrepair due to the city’s disinvestment and negligence. It is the oldest and poorest public housing project in the South. Renoviction, gentrification, and climate change have created a new hazard to the Black community. Katja Esson’s doc shot over five years features residents who have lived in Liberty Square since its founding told to get out, a single mother of seven who cannot afford any other place, a principal fearing her school – the only one for miles around – loss will severely impact children’s lives. Follow the incredible story step by step, some triumphs, some losses, and in the end three lessons – 13 million Americans will lose homes due to rising sea levels by the end of the century and 400 million worldwide. Climate gentrification continues to spread across the globe. PBS broadcast and  streaming Jan 29th.

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