MIFF - The Independent Mississauga Film Festival
July August 2011

by Courtland Shakespeare

It could be the biggest box office year of all time. So far, we’ve seen Thor, Green Lantern, Cars 2, Transformers 3, Pirates (4) and another X-Men (5). Still to go this summer, we have Harry Potter (8), Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Smurfs, and yet another Conan (not with Arnold).

There may still be some unexpected surprises for 2011. No one this side of the Atlantic predicted The King’s Speech coming to the throne as last year’s favourite.

Even though it ranks among the top films with a respectable $135 million domestic and $405 million worldwide, its production budget ($15 million) was only a tenth of what blockbusters usually cost.

It’s not the kind of film a Hollywood studio would ever dream of making. That’s why it’s so important to have a worldwide independent film movement and festivals such as Sundance in Utah, the TIFF in Toronto, and the MIFF here in Mississauga. “I know how hard it is to break into this industry,” says Matt Campagna, founder of the Mississauga “Indie” Film Festival and an established filmmaker himself. “I’ve worked the long nights and drank the stale coffee. At MIFF, we give you a platform to show off your movie to the industry.”

The festival helps independent filmmakers connect to distributors. See their website for a complete list of this year's selection ( Last year, 40 per cent of the films were picked up.

This year’s festival running July 20-24 features the extraordinary final film of George Hickenlooper who died last year from an accidental overdose at the age of 47. Casino Jack stars Kevin Spacey and Kelly Preston and is a Canadian-made film shot in and around Hamilton.

Described as a political satire, the film is about the notorious Jack Abramoff who was convicted of fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion in 2006 and spent time in federal prison. He just got out last December (2010).

Two-time Academy Award-winner, Kevin Spacey (American Beauty and Usual Suspects) is the perfect actor to play Jack. While Abramoff has been portrayed as a greedy, selfish criminal who scooped about $85 million from Native American tribes and was a powerful lobbyist in Washington, he became the scapegoat for his accomplices. Unlike heartless thieves like Bernie Madoff and Kenneth (Enron) Lay, who spent all their ill gains on themselves, Abramoff was a charitable man. He was also extremely charismatic and funny. People loved him. They still do.

There are also some rare and fascinating short documentaries at this year’s MIFF. No one can ever forget September 11, 2001 in New York, but most of us don’t know about the small northern town of Whitehorse and how it was rocked by their own “terror from the sky” on the very same day.

With the film Never Happen Here, Yukon filmmaker Max Fraser collected interviews and footage of the jumbo jets that were forced to land in his town. They were escorted by military fighter jets, who were instructed to shoot the planes down if they deviated from their altered flight plan. Schools were evacuated as the area went into a state of high alert. Locals thought it was the beginning of a war.

For a unique and fascinating inside story of thrill seekers, the fest is also featuring a short documentary directed by acclaimed audio tech Dale Sheldrake. Although he is known for being a supervising ADR editor (dialog) for a ton of TV including The Borgias, The Tudors and Queer as Folk, he has also worked on feature films including David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991).

Recently, however, he turned his talents to directing his “doc” about a family of stunt performers. Called Helldrivers, it peers into the world of Paul Riddell, his wife Toby and their two children who have been stunt drivers all their lives.

The term “Hell Drivers” was originally coined by Lucky Teter who began touring fairs and racetracks with his show featuring cars jumping and crashing back in the 1930s. Teter was killed during a stunt that went wrong in 1942.

Crashing through flaming barricades, colliding head on, and driving on two wheels, the shows were really popular in the ‘50s when many in the audience didn’t own their own cars.

Riddel’s company Imperial Helldrivers is one of the few thrill shows left. “Anyone under 40 years old doesn’t know what we do.” said Larry Rich (one of the Imperial team). “We’re a dying breed.” says Toby, who has personally wrecked approximately 1,500 cars over her career.

Director Sheldrake travels with the family and reveals how the contemporary economy is making it impossible to sustain this form of entertainment. It now takes a quarter of a million dollars to mount a show with new and old cars, trucks, props, insurance and travelling expenses.

Meanwhile, in the big, corporate studio world, $100 million is about average for some of this summer’s most anticipated films. They include Cowboys & Aliens and Captain America.

Directed by Jon (Iron Man) Favreau, Cowboys is adapted from a 2006 graphic novel. With an army of producers including Ron Howard and Steven Speilberg, the screenplay is by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (among others). Orci and Kurtzman are hot writers these days, having crafted the 2009 Star Trek as well as the Transformers movies.

The cinematographer is Matthew Libatique (no surprise there) who was DP on Iron Man and last year’s Black Swan. The film stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde (Tron Legacy), Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano (the older brother from Little Miss Sunshine) and the amazing Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption, Highlander). It looks like this could be the biggest hit of the year.

The other hot release is Captain America: The First Avenger. “Cap” is truly an archetype of the modern comic book. He goes back to World War II when he was created by the legendary team of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941. Recipient of a “Super Soldier Serum” and an indestructible shield, Cap wears the stars and stripes as living symbol of freedom and liberty. Kirby and Simon created him for Timely Comics which went on to become Marvel. Kirby created and drew such characters as The Fantastic Four, The Inhumans, The Hulk, Silver Surfer, Thor and many others.

The film is directed by Joe Johnston, who was a visual effects art director with ILM on the original Star Wars and Raiders films. The picture stars Chris Evans who played the Human Torch (Fantastic Four). Hugo Weaving plays the Red Skull. He is best known for his role as Agent Smith in The Matrix and also for starring in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. life.

While all the sound and fury of the blockbuster film industry may simply signify nothing, the small independent films are full of amazing images and stories at a fraction of the cost. Be sure to check it out.