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A Critic’s Best Cinematic Experience of 2019

A look back at fall of 2019, where a theater full of Canadian's experienced Wakaliwood like never before.

It’s 11:45 p.m. on a crisp fall night.

I stand alone in line among an army of film goers waiting to enter Ryerson Theater for what will be my final film of the Toronto International Film Festival. You hear the usual chatter. It almost feels like an internet forum actualized. However, tonight there is a clear uncertainty in the air dancing with a palpable excitement.

“This film is from UGANDA! That’s crazy right?”
“I didn’t even know there was a film culture out there.”
“Yea? Well, this thing is supposed to be nuts.”

I sit there quietly among the buzz.

In fifteen minutes I will enter the theater and be reminded why cinema is still the world’s most powerful tool.

It’s not simply the end of a year, it’s the end of a decade.

A decade defined by technological advancements, new frontiers, and a dread among film goers brought on by the former. In most circles you might have heard about the slow death of cinema brought on by superhero films and streaming services. Introducing the principle of Occam’s Razor to this problem might eventually lead one to the fact idea that studios are spending money on bad movies. Few speak on the stale methods and ideologies on studios green lighting pictures, or an art form that has been crudely shaped into a marketing tool.

It’s far too simple to get lost in these ideas and lose that love for art. Discussing the politics of cinema is but a shadow to discussing the value of it, yet more often than not the politics win over the room.

Crazy World, my final film at TIFF this year would put the politics aside for a theater full of people and allow us to experience something special. It didn’t come from AI or a group of University marketing graduates. It’s TRULY came from love for an art form and expression.

Sitting down in the theater, I’m brought back to the energy I felt before experiencing PARASITE. No one knew what they were getting themselves into here. There were no stars for us to expect, just a clip of the film – a simple 30 second clip that gave you just enough. PARASITE came to this festival a Cannes’ winner at the very least.

It feels like Christmas morning, and I’m wearing all kinds of Howard Ratner-esue grins.

This TIFF has been filled with incredible films that I adored, but it all sat under the shadow of an accident that happened to me in the opening days of the festival. My car rolled over in an accident, and admittedly the events were with me every moment of every day. Cinema was supposed to be this place to escape, but for better or worse, cinema was making me face my demons in a dark theater with hundreds of other people.

I’m all for the therapeutic power of Cinema, but I was desperate for an escape.

The lights dimmed and Peter came on stage to do his thing bringing the director of the film, Isaac Nabwana, with him. Joining Isaac was another man, the film’s MC, VJ Emmie. Yes, this film was going to have an MC, and confusion was setting in.

Isaac’s speech wasn’t the typical run of dialogue you got from the other filmmakers that had been on the circuit. His was one that undoubtedly was coming from his heart. Having just gotten his passport in time to get to the airport and make a flight, this was all foreign to the Ugandan filmmaker. He didn’t even have the chance to see his kids before he left. He trusted that they’d understand. His heart poured out to the audience in adoration of Toronto and the festival as he stood there in a Jacket provided to him by TIFF.

This wasn’t what I’d become accustomed to and it was making me very excited. It made us all very excited.

Then the film began.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of the plot in the film. Arguably, it’s beside the point and you should definitely experience this yourself. What I will note is that the film opened up with a clip from the “Ugandan Agency Against Piracy” that set the tone. The agent that spoke with us, fully in uniform and armed with a rifle, told the audience that they’re coming all the way to the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL from UGANDA (not for real , but beside the point) and they’re using special technology to track piracy within the theater. A man walks in and stands beside VJ Emmie. They’re breaking walls with sledgehammers and not looking back.

Half way through the film an alarm goes off. The agent is back on the screen and there seems to be someone pirating the movie. A fax is coming in with the perpetrator… Peter. The man standing beside VJ Emmie walks over to Peter pulling him from his seat. He can’t believe what’s happening. None of us can and the theater is in a complete uproar. Literal tears stream down my face during the most unnecessary intermission I’d ever experienced. 

Throughout the film that features the most kick ass ensemble of young action stars to grace the screen, VJ Emmie booms into the mic. There are moments when I can barely even understand what’s happening on screen because of it, yet somehow the only thing that seemed to balance out the energy of the film was this “narration”. Imagine watching a film with your very energetic friend for the first time, and they just won’t shut up! It reads like an annoyance, but coming from Uganda, where theaters would always have an MC, or a VJ as they refer to it, Emmie understood the ebb and flow of the film, getting the audience to the right point every time. One would argue that you couldn’t experience crazy world without it.

The film sat at about an hour and washed over you like a Saturday morning cartoon on cocaine. I was engrossed by every single frame, taken away by the very power of cinema. There is a ton of fun to be had in the hour, but what it came down to was this: the film was created to talk to people about a truth in Uganda, and that truth is that children are kidnapped and murdered for religious reasons. This film, while filled to the brim with mayhem and comic action, spoke to very real things for Nabwana and his family. You reach the end of the film to find out that a number of the cast had passed away in fact. 

This wasn’t a film coming from the safe haven of Hollywood… it was real, and that sat with me for a long time.

A Skype call with the entire cast back in Uganda cemented that feeling. A small room filled with faces that didn’t know that they were now stars to a theater full of Canadian film goers filled the theater screen as well all waved back to Uganda. 

Walking out of the theater I juggled my joy with the weight of what I had just watched. “How do I even review this film?” I asked myself as I walked towards my rental car in the middle of the night. It was undoubtedly my experience of the festival, and it might even be the film that said the most to me, but it was also roughest looking one. It was the one that wasn’t made with a celebrated crew or cast. I can’t review this off a purely technical basis, as that’s robbery to the culture.

Arriving at the rental I stopped in my tracks realizing just how far away this film took me.

So, here we are. It’s 2020 and cinema is on track to die. Everyone’s talking about it. Steaming. Superhero movies. Death. No one’s talking about this film that was made for nothing, by people who truly wanted to say something though. Only one of the items in this paragraph are truly terrifying.

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton is a Toronto based filmmaker and creative mad man. Legend has it that he spent most of his childhood locked away in a cell beta testing Netflix.