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Event Recap: Critics Night Presentation of The Dead Lands with Jason Gorber

Roughly once a month, an acclaimed, well versed local film critic presents a film at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto and then conducts a casual Q&A following the screening. A master class, if you will (and yet one where you can feel as if amongst friends, candidly debating film). This month the erudite Jason Gorber (featured critic of CTV News and Twitch Film) presented The Dead Lands, a viscerally electrifying New Zealand film.

Directed by playwright turned director Toa Fraser (Giselle, Dean Spanley), the film is a rhythmic take on pre-colonial Maori culture, as viewed through the eyes of Hongi (James Rollerston) who embarks on a fateful quest to avenge his father’s death.

The sagacious Gorber (who had recently interviewed Fraser) shared some fascinating insights into the film with the enraptured crowd. The following are some of the highlights.

  • Director James Cameron presented the film just the week prior as “he has a fetish for aboriginal iconography, as seen in Avatar” 
  • One audience member remarked that the main character of the film reminded them of a young Tony Jaa
  • Gorber remarked that “there is a distinct musicality to the performances”, which ties in to Fraser’s previous film (Giselle) and its focus on ballet, as well as dance being an integral part of Maori practices
  • The film was New Zealand’s official entry for Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Academy Awards
  • Director Toa Fraser fought for some of the characters to be dressed in a distinct shade of blue as it reflected the tui bird, a bird native to New Zealand, and would represent a sense of nature in conflict with itself
  • Prior to the film’s world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, respected programmer Jane Schoettle selected the film as one of her top picks and named it the “coolest story” film

The Dead Lands is currently available on VOD and iTunes.

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.