Six outstanding documentaries from the 2020 ReFrame Film Festival

Sam Tweedle's top picks from the 16th annual film festival held in downtown Peterborough in January

Record collector Chris Flanagan became obsessed with a reggae song called "Jamaican Fruit Of African Roots" he discovered on a thrift shop record, attributed to an unknown musician named Shella Record. This led to a decade-long investigation that Flanagan documented in his debut film "Shella Record - A Reggae Mystery". The documentary is kawarthaNOW arts writer (and fellow record collector) Sam Tweedie's top pick at the 2020 ReFrame Film Festival, which took place January 23 to 26 in downtown Peterborough. (Photo: Shella Productions Inc.)
Record collector Chris Flanagan became obsessed with a reggae song called "Jamaican Fruit Of African Roots" he discovered on a thrift shop record, attributed to an unknown musician named Shella Record. This led to a decade-long investigation that Flanagan documented in his debut film "Shella Record - A Reggae Mystery". The documentary is kawarthaNOW arts writer (and fellow record collector) Sam Tweedie's top pick at the 2020 ReFrame Film Festival, which took place January 23 to 26 in downtown Peterborough. (Photo: Shella Productions Inc.)

Four days, 80 films, thousands in attendance, and an immeasurable amount of inspiration. This is the best way to describe the 16th annual ReFrame Festival that took over downtown Peterborough this past weekend.

Peterborough’s documentary film festival, the annual event was healthier than ever as a multitude of attendees were drawn to Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, The Venue, and Showplace Performance Centre to view films on a variety of subjects — all cultivated to challenge the audience. Featuring films originating from our own community and from around the world, new voices and ideas were shared with appreciative audiences.

With a weekend pass in hand, I took in all four days of the festival, scurrying up and down George Street between King and Charlotte from venue to venue in the attempt to see as many films as possible. The challenge with ReFrame is that you can’t see everything, and must pick and choose from a jam-packed schedule of films all playing simultaneously.

As a result, each individual cultivates their own ReFrame experience. Over the four days of the festival, I viewed 20 films. Personally I am always interested in arts and entertainment, but I also gravitate towards films that speak about social justice, the human experience, and personal stories.

Although all the films I saw had something to say, obviously some special ones rise to the top. With this in mind, I’d like to share those special ones that I saw in my personal ReFrame experience. These are the films that I have kept thinking about for days afterwards, and have already affected the way I look at the world around me.

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Our Dance of Revolution (2019) – Directed by Phillip Pike

Toronto filmmaker Phillip Pike was at Market Hall on Friday (January 24) to present his remarkable film Our Dance of Revolution, which explores the history of black people in Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Our Dance of Revolution combines politics and pride as a 40-year history is examined via the people at the forefront of the community. The film hits all the pulses, from the bathhouse raids of the ’80s, through the AIDS crisis, and culminating with Black Lives Matter. The film also touches on racism within the gay community itself, and the black community’s own struggle against social oppression.

But as political as the film is, it keeps its joy, maintaining a sense of love and respect between the players within the film, which seeps out to the audience watching. The genuine warmth within the film shines, and it remains a uniquely Toronto story. An untapped history is weaved via a path that is still recent enough to remember, but brought together in a coherent narrative.

For more information on Our Dance of Revolution, visit www.ourdanceofrevolution.com.

VIDEO: “Our Dance of Revolution” official trailer

 

The Hottest August (2019) – Directed by Brett Story

Director Brett Story was at Market Hall on Saturday (January 25) to present The Hottest August, her climate crisis film with a difference.

In August 2017, Brett — a Canadian filmmaker living in New York City — took on a social experiment by going into the streets every day and talking to ordinary New Yorkers about their individual perspectives on their future. Still in the early days of the Trump presidency, and with the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally taking place within the middle of the month, Story captures the growing anxiety of a cross section of people about an oncoming American dystopia, and the unforeseeable social, political, environmental, and economic struggle that exists in the future.

Through the film, Story uncovers a common narrative through unscripted interviews with charismatic and often eloquent normal people, who talk about a number of topics that morph into a coherent narrative of the human experience. The Hottest August is a film that paints an intimate portrait of a city and a certain moment in time, and also uncovers a common spirit of survival by people who are living in a tainted American landscape.

For more information on The Hottest August, visit grasshopperfilm.com/film/the-hottest-august/.

VIDEO: “The Hottest August” official trailer

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Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019) – Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

An intimate portrait of African-American novelist Toni Morrison, The Pieces I Am explores how a single mother of two young boys rose up through the white-male-dominated publishing world of the 1970s to redefine the black narrative in her novels such as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Sula, and Beloved.

The Pieces I Am relies heavily on first-person interview material with Morrison and her colleagues — including Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, and Walter Mosely — mixed with archival material to explore her illustrious career as both an editor and author.

In his film, director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is able to get Morrison to step down from her mantel as a modern-day literary icon, and present herself in a very human way, while still presenting her fierce intelligence, confidence, wit, and experience. The Pieces I Am is also a testament to the power of language and the revolution of narrative. After viewing this film, a batch of Toni Morrison books suddenly appeared in my Amazon shopping cart.

The Pieces I Am premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, and Morrison passed away on August 5th, 2019, making the film the last cohesive testament to her legacy.

For more information on Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, visit www.tonimorrisonfilm.com.

VIDEO: “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” official trailer

 

We Are the Radical Monarchs (2019) – Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton

When Anyvette Martinez’s daughter wanted to join the Girl Guides, the Oakland California educator did not feel the current mandate for the century-old organization reflected the needs of her young daughter growing up in a modern world.

Calling upon her friend Marilyn Hollinquest, the pair created a new kind of organization in the same mould, but one that will teach radical politics to young girls of colour and promote sisterhood, strength, independence, and awareness. Made up of girls aged seven to 10 from Hispanic and African-American backgrounds, The Radical Monarchs learn and earn badges in being political allies, understanding positive body and racial identity, and exercising self-defence, while learning lessons about LGBTQ+ history, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo movement.

We Are the Radical Monarchs follows the activities of the pilot group and the formation of the second troop. Through the film, you not only get to know the girls as they share their unique perspectives of the world around them and talk to community leaders, but you learn the unique wisdom the tween girls possess. A search on the Radical Monarchs shows that, since the film was shot, the organization continues to grow with branches extending throughout California’s Bay area.

An endearing portrait of an amazing organization, the women who brought it to life, and the incredible girls who became the heart of it, We Are the Radical Monarchs is rooted in the social nightmare that is Donald Trump’s America, but illustrates a hope for the future where young girls like the Radical Monarchs will become the adult leaders of tomorrow, using the lessons they learn today, to actually make America great again.

For more information on We Are the Radical Monarchs, visit wearetheradicalmonarchsmovie.com. For more information on the Radical Monarch Movement, visit radicalmonarchs.org.

VIDEO: “We Are the Radical Monarchs” official trailer

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Shella Record – A Reggae Mystery (2019) – Directed by Chris Flanagan

Chris Flanagan was at Market Hall on Saturday (January 25) to present his film Shella Record – A Reggae Mystery and to take the audience on his 10-year odyssey to discover the identity of a mysterious song nobody had ever heard.

An Australian record collector living in Toronto, Flanagan was spellbound by an obscure song called “Jamaican Fruit of African Roots” on a bootleg reggae record that he discovered in a northern Ontario thrift shop. The song was credited to a woman called Shella Record but, despite her unique and powerful voice, nobody seems to have ever heard of her.

Flanagan’s search for the story behind one of the best songs you’ve never heard is a decade-long journey into record shops, archives, and recording studios from Toronto to New York to Los Angeles, the centre of Jamaica, and the American heartland. He talks to DJs, record store owners, musicians, sound engineers, music producers, private detectives, and reggae legends to slowly piece together the identity of Shella Record.

Shella Record – A Reggae Movie was my favourite film at this year’s Refrsme festival, giving me a new understanding and appreciation for the reggae industry and once again reminding me that some of the best music ever recorded never finds commercial success within its time. Flanagan came armed with vinyl copies of a new official pressing of “Jamaican Fruit of African Roots”, which were quickly scooped up by audience members at the screening.

For more information of Shella Record – A Reggae Mystery, visit shellarecordmystery.com. You can purchase your own vinyl copy of “Jamaican Fruit of African Roots” at www.shellarecords.com.

VIDEO: “Shella Record – A Reggae Mystery” official trailer

 

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band (2019) – Directed by Daniel Roher

In Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, the final film that screened at ReFrame, Canadian musician Robbie Robertson exercises his talented voice as a storyteller to narrate his musical odyssey and tell the story of The Band.

Via archival footage, photographs, home movie, and new and past interviews with musical icons such as Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison, Robertson takes the viewer from his early days playing clubs in Toronto with Ronnie Hawkins through to the legendary The Last Waltz concert in 1976.

Robertson covers all the notes, from the disastrous tour with Bob Dylan, creating music at the pink house in Woodstock New York, and his relationships with band mates Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel. Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band explores the good times when the energy and joy of music fuses together five men, but is also a cautionary tale of excess and substance abuse during the darkest times. Most of all, the film brings the music and the story of The Band alive in a dynamic way that emphasizes the human experience, while exalting in the uniqueness of The Band’s music from everything else that was coming out during their era.

As a fan of ’60s and ’70s music as well as an avid record collector, I went into the film as someone who has never paid any attention to The Band. After seeing the film, I was in Bluesteak Records first thing Monday morning searching for a copy of Music From Big Pink.

For more information on Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, visit www.whitepinepictures.com/once-were-brothers-robbie-robertson-the-band.

VIDEO: “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” official trailer

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Inspiring and informative, the ReFrame Film Festival is one of the most important artistic events in Peterborough and the Kawarthas. I left with my perspective being challenged and with ideas that are changing the way I think and I write.

I want to thank everybody at ReFrame — the organizers and staff, board of directors, and volunteers — for their hard work in producing such a beautifully run event, and for another year of creating new discussions and idea.

These films bring a bigger world home to our community, and I’m already looking forward to what next year’s ReFrame Film Festival has to offer.

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Sam Tweedle
Since 2013, Sam Tweedle has been writing as an arts and culture journalist for kawarthaNOW, with special attention to Peterborough's theatrical community. However, his career as an arts writer goes back further via his website Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict where Sam has interviewed some of the entertainment world's most notable and beloved entertainers. Sam's pop culture writing has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, The National Post, CNN.com, Filmfax Magazine and The New Yorker. You can follow Sam on Instagram at sam_tweedle_z where he posts about his four greatest loves: cats, comic books, movies, and records. Sam no longer uses Twitter because, as far as he's concerned, it's no longer a thing.

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