The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a look at the fight for LGBT rights in Uganda, a drama about Senegalese immigrants’ perilous journey to Spain, and a profile of Toronto’s diverse music scene.
Call Me Kuchu
Directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Activist documentaries are hardly in short supply, but few are as successful at agitating on behalf of their subjects as Call Me Kuchu, a look at the struggle of the LGBT community in Uganda to defeat a bill that would make homosexuality punishable by death. The first feature from co-directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, the film is a powerful if conventionally structured examination of how Ugandan activists and humanitarians have fought to combat the pervasive homophobic attitudes and laws that have labelled sexual diversity a perversion to punish instead of a human right to protect.
Though the filmmakers present intimate profiles of LGBT citizens in crisis—many of whom are in hiding, fearful of violent reprisals after being outed by a radical anti-gay newspaper—the film works best as a cool dissection of how minorities engage in the political process in nations that brand them second-class citizens. Its star is community organizer David Kato, whose charming, graceful presence belies his talents as a policy wonk. It’s not hard to see why the filmmakers have gotten a bit starry-eyed in his presence—nor is it unsurprising to see the narrative go slack whenever he’s absent. Kato’s fate in the last act comes as a shock from which the documentary doesn’t quite recover, but it also serves to further prove the filmmakers’ point that movements of this nature often require a galvanizing force to jolt complacent citizens into action.
Directed by Moussa Touré
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
A sincere but slight homage to the downtrodden humanist dramas of master African filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, La Pirogue feels at times like a rough draft for a fine movie, full of potential but low on impact. Set on the eponymous raft, a scrappy vessel carrying thirty men (and one woman) from Senegal to Spain, Moussa Touré’s first feature is a moving but predictable look at dreams deferred and dashed.
As in most films about a motley crew’s ill-fated voyage, the raft functions more as a symbolic space than a real one—it’s an occasion to put a host of competing ethnic groups, religious identities, and personalities into dialogue in confined quarters, the better to articulate a range of attitudes toward poverty and the future in contemporary African society. Some of these character portraits, like that of local fisherman and reluctant protagonist Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), are strong, albeit dependent on certain cinematic clichés about stoic men with good hearts. Others are more obviously stereotypical, such that characters tend to register only through their most immediately identifiable features, as in a comic strip.
That kind of shorthand in characterization is often the hallmark of allegory, and Touré admittedly gets some good mileage out of his cast’s neatly delineated hopes for new lives in new lands, making each an embodiment of a different thwarted path to success. This approach is at its most successful in a lyrical passage that sees each character briefly narrating his expectations for the journey, juxtaposed against the crushing images of his reality. Elsewhere, though, Touré’s personal touch as a filmmaker is harder to recognize. The closing dedication to the thousands of Senagalese immigrants who went through similar tortured rites of passage is sobering; one only wishes the film had done a better job of bringing more of those individual statistics to life.
The Scene: An Exploration of Music in Toronto
Directed by Josh Jensen
Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street)
The Scene: An Exploration of Music in Toronto delivers what the title promises. It serves as a wide-ranging video document of Toronto’s heterogeneous music community, tracking it through its various permutations across neighborhoods and genres. Unfolding through a series of behind-the-scenes glimpses into musicians’ rehearsal spaces and talking-head interviews with local artists like The Ruby Spirit and The Alter Kakers, the film looks at a cross-section of the financially precarious and alternately exhausting and rewarding business of playing to Toronto’s loyal but notoriously chilly audiences.
Director Josh Jensen has a good eye for places like the Horseshoe and Drake Underground, and is generally attentive to the venues where local musicians either cut their teeth or make it as artists. Although one interview subject does observe in the film’s closing moments that for all the talent the city holds, the fan base just isn’t there, one wishes that the film had spent more time situating Toronto’s scene in the context of those of other major cities. Still, aficionados of artists like Bif Naked and Anvil will be pleased to see them talk about their experiences both locally and beyond, and scenesters of various stripes should find their communities well represented.