Toronto can add another film festival to its already considerable roster. This past weekend, first annual Bite Me! Toronto International Body Image Film and Arts Festival took place at the NFB’s Mediatheque before an enthusiastic audience. The festival, brainchild of journalist and scholar Jill Andrews, was conceived as an entertaining and accessible way of discussing body image; by this the festival was successful. Here are some quick reviews of the films, some of which will be playing at other festivals, whilst others are available online.
Killing Us Softly 4
Director: Sut Jhally
The Killing us Softly series is quite well known amongst women’s studies scholars. Put simply, the series argues that the image of women as portrayed in popular media is at best psychologically destructive, and at worst contributes to violence against women. The documentary is essentially a taped lecture delivered by academic Jean Kilbourne, along with visual aides in the form of print and television advertisements. Kilbourne is eloquent, passionate, witty, and demands attention; this being said, the fact that Kilbourne is the only word makes this documentary feel like an editorial.
The Story of Furious Pete
Director: George Tsioutsioulas
‘Furious’ Pete Czerwinski is a one-time anorexic who not only overcame his illness, but has become one of the foremost competitive eaters in the world. For those unfamiliar with the ‘sport’ (or entertainment?) of competitive eating, this documentary is certainly a good introduction; watching Pete in action is incredible. Unfortunately, the film loses focus towards the end. However, ‘Furious’ Pete himself made and appearance at the festival and fielded questions.
Ebony Chunky Love: Bitch Can’t Get a Date!
Director: Lonnie Tristan Renteria
Keith Price is a stand-up comic; he is also black, gay, overweight, and grew up in Texas. As it turns out, this combination of traits, along with a dose of unflinching honesty, makes for hysterical comedy, insightful commentary, and a successful documentary. The less successful portion of this documentary consisted of interviews with a sociologist who didn’t really add much to the film that Price himself didn’t cover.
Director: Jesse Epstein
This documentary short is about a ballet dancer who believes that his nose (which is large, and, in his words, ‘Italian’) is preventing him from advancing in the ballet world. What follows is an honest reflection on art and aesthetics.
Director: Jesse Epstein
34x25x36 is a short about the manufacture of mannequins; as one designer says, “There are no perfect bodies. We make the perfect bodies.”
A Question of Beauty
Director: Colleen Furlotte
Director Colleen Furlotte puts a straightforward question to twenty-nine women, aged ten to seventy-four: what is beauty? The result is meditative and surprisingly funny.
Directors: Nimisha Mukerji, Philip Lyall
65_REDROSES is a documentary about what it is like to be young and dying. It concerns Eva Markvoort, a young woman from British Colombia who suffered from cystic fibrosis, and follows her as she waits for a lung transplant. 65_REDROSES does not cut away when it would be comfortable to do so. Indeed, its portrayal of disease is unflinching, from the first few minutes of the film when Eva begins to cough horribly, to the end, when Eva discusses her chance of survival. Filmmaker Philip Lyall was present for some discussion.
Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project
Director: Chas Brack
Sakia Gunn was a black lesbian murdered in 2003 in an apparent hate crime. This documentary discusses Sakia’s life, portrays the sentencing of her murderer, and claims that her story was ignored in the media due to her race and sexuality. It contains some powerful moments, such as the victim statement of Gunn’s best friend, Valencia Bailey, who shook as she told killer Richard McCullough, “Your rage has caused me twenty-three months of sleepless nights.” However, the film is also unfocused, disorganised, and prone to tangential thinking; hopefully, the director will re-cut the film and fix these problems.
Colour of Beauty
Director: Elizabeth St. Philip
This short concerns black model Renee Thompson, who is struggling to make it in an industry that has a marked and measurable preference for white women. Beautifully shot, this documentary is a revealing look inside an industry that seems behind the times.
Director: Sophie Richer
The only narrative entry in this year’s festival, Avec Elle looks inside a year’s worth of romance, distilled into two complementary internal narratives. It is unusual (and refreshing) to find a film about a romance involving two women and not have it be about homosexuality.
So that was the festival. I am assured that it will happen again next year, though I hope that it will occur closer to the academic year, when more of the festival’s target audience will be in town.
– Dave Robson