Since 1993 Workman Arts has put on the Rendezvous with Madness film festival, which kicked off this weekend and runs through November 12. One of the most vital film festivals in the city, Rendezvous with Madness programs films specifically tackling various mental health issues, from depression to psychological disorders, to addiction. Faithfully over the past two decades, the festival has showcased groundbreaking fare from around the world designed to make viewers gain a better understanding of some of the most misunderstood and unseen diseases and afflictions; ones that millions of Canadians around the world wrestle with every day in silence.
In many cases, the programming of Rendezvous with Madness skews a bit on the heavy side, but there are always moments of light and levity, and the darkness on display is something many viewers will want to confront and learn from.
Just off the festival’s opening night, there are still plenty of great films yet to catch. Here are five films that you won’t want to miss from the remainder of the line-up.
A Very Ordinary Citizen
Co-written by critically acclaimed and politically embattled Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi (Taxi, This is Not a Film, Closed Curtain), director and co-writer Majid Barzegar’s A Very Ordinary Citizen starts off rather ordinary. Octogenarian Tehran area retiree Mr. Safari (exceptionally played by Souren Mnatsakanian) is in the early stages of what appears to be dementia, but wishes to be left alone. All he wants to do is wake up, go to the bakery for his bread, make a mysterious stop the audience knows little about, and then spend the rest of the day alone, despite the better efforts of some nosy neighbours. When Mr. Safari stops answering the phone calls of his ex-pat son in Canada, who fears for his father’s help but can’t return to Iran, a youthful travel agent attempts to get through to the old man. That’s when things start getting dark and uneasy, becoming a slow, but subtly menacing thriller that gradually strips away layers of Safari’s madness. It’s as rigorous and perceptive of a depiction of increasingly disturbing behaviour as audiences are likely to get this year. A Very Ordinary Citizen isn’t fast paced, but the chills build so subtly that the viewer won’t know what hit them.
Screens: Sunday, November 6 – 7:30pm – Workman Theatre (651 Dufferin Street)
I, Olga Hepnarova
The titular 22 year old figure in writer/directors Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s austere, black and white psychological drama (played brilliantly by Polish rising star Michalina Olszanska, who made waves last month in Toronto After Dark favourite The Lure) made sensationalistic headlines in Czechoslovakia in July of 1973 when she purposefully and deliberately drove a truck into a crowd of people, killing eight and injuring twelve. At her trial, instead of pleading insanity, she demanded the death penalty, suggesting that she always knew what she was doing and that she was a product of the sick, constantly bullying society that made her. Weinreb and Kazda have made a resolutely downbeat affair that would make Lars von Trier give pause, but in terms of documenting how society can create a monster, the filmmaking duo have created a primer in understanding the sometimes tragic motivations that can make monsters out of good people. I, Olga Hepnarova will linger in the memory long after the viewer watches it.
Screens: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 – 8:30 pm – Jackman Hall at the AGO
The best Canadian offering from the festival is Josh Laner’s documentary about a locally legendary modern artist from Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown East Side. Ken Foster has gained some notoriety for his ability to create evocative, somewhat skewed cityscapes, most of which he sells himself on the streets to feed his crack addiction. It’s that very addiction that Foster credits with calming and maintaining his schizophrenia. Laner spends lots of time getting to know Foster, who’s at turns both candid and cagey about his lifestyle, and frames the film around Ken’s attempts to reconcile his mental illness, his addictions, and the massive ego that he possesses (one truly befitting of a great, serious artist). Deep down, Ken knows he’s a good at what he does, and that makes his struggles all the more fascinating and tragic to behold.
Screens: Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – 8:30pm – Jackman Hall at the AGO
A Family Affair
One day without provocation, Dutch filmmaker Tom Fassaert got a call from his 95 year old grandmother in South Africa, Marianne. Rob, Tom’s father, always maintained he was an orphan, so Fassaert never knew much about Marianne. What he uncovers is a disturbing, harrowing, and emotional tale of the scars left behind after years of physical and emotional child abuse. The longer Fassaert presses and the more he learns, the more painful the film becomes. This is a tough, uncompromising, and deeply personal family history, and one with the power to open the eyes of lots of families who might unwittingly be falling into the same patterns. A Family Affair is proof that healing emotional wounds and traumas can often be more impossible than physical injuries.
Screens: Thursday, November 10, 2016 – 6:00 pm – Jackman Hall at the AGO
Another charming film from Canada is this year’s closing night film, which entertained and delighted audiences earlier this year at Hot Docs. Jeff Petry and Nathan Drillot’s Wizard Mode tells the remarkably, upbeat story of 26 year old Robert Gagno, a thoughtful, articulate, and soulful young man with autism who just so happens to be one of the best pinball players in the world. At every turn, Gagno has to battle his anxieties and physical and mental tics in his quest to be the best. Autism and pinball are two topics that are often inscrutable to the uninitiated and uninformed, but Petry, Drillot, and Gagno guide viewers through the world of Wizard Mode with open hearts and open arms. It’s a truly lovely film, and perfect for those not wanting to sit through some of the film’s heavier, potentially triggering fare.
Screens: Saturday, November 12, 2016 – 7:00 pm – Workman Theatre (651 Dufferin Street)
For a full list of films showing, special events, directions, tickets, and more information, check out the Rendezvous with Madness website.