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Drama with laughs

Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad

Review by Derek Martin

You can almost smell the rink fries and hot chocolate when you enter the Studio Theatre at Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. From the rusty bolts on the steel truss to the canteen in the corner, the room has been transformed into a local hockey arena. We watch from the “ice”, over the boards, to where the action takes place on and around a battered tier of bleachers. From the usher with the Leafs jersey to the old rink-rock anthems on the p.a., attention to detail has been paid, and by the time the lights dim the mood has been properly set.

Island actor Bryde MacLean plays Donna, a quiet single mother, and Festival veteran Matthew Campbell is Teddy, an uninhibited loudmouth and single dad. The action revolves around their awkward courtship during a hockey season. They cheer their kids on (each in their own way) while gradually revealing more of themselves—in his case inevitably, while she is drawn out with more reluctance. Unlike in some romantic comedies, they are people with real problems and serious issues—you’re not always sure they should get together. But Teddy possesses some poetry under his bluster, and Donna is slowly finding a way to emerge from a difficult time.

In spite of the drama, this odd couple generates a lot of laughs. From the emotional roller-coaster of watching their kids (who we never see, but who come to life vividly thanks to Matthew and Bryde), to their clashing views on life and hockey, there is a humour that comes from the strong relatability. We know this place and these people—if we haven’t actually been them at some point.

Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad was first produced by Nova Scotia’s Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company, and has had great success across Canada in several productions and tours. It’s a fun addition to the Confederation Centre’s summer season, and plays to August 29 at the Studio Theatre in Charlottetown.

I’d Like To Thank The Academy...

by Derek Martin

On September 28, 1993, City Cinema screened its first movie for the public, Strictly Ballroom. Fast-forward some 1, 700 movies and it’s our 20th anniversary! Check our listings for some special events. We’ll be reprising Food & Film with the appropriately named Haute Cuisine—see the movie, then enjoy a meal based on the film. For some fun around Halloween we’ll have The Movie Repairmen fix Atom Age Vampire—a live comedy/film performance in the style of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. And we are finalizing details for an exciting filmmaker visit in November.

Creating a downtown cinema was Peter Richards’ inspired idea, and I have to thank him for that, as well as the amazing support The Buzz and its great staff have given us—thanks Nancy, Yanik, and Maggie, and former Buzzers!

City Cinema was started on a shoe-string, with the help of a few small investors and our charter members, who bought memberships to a cinema they had never seen. Myself and anyone who has been to a movie at the cinema owe them a debt of gratitude.

In 2002 we joined the Film Circuit, a division of the Toronto Film Festival. Founded in 1989, Film Circuit is TIFF’s successful film outreach programme, bringing the best of Canadian and international films and artists to communities across the country. They do a fantastic job of helping with programming and film traffic, as well as special guests, early release screenings, posters, and all-round moral support. Thanks to all the hard-working Film Circuit staff who have had my back over the years, and currently to manager Meaghan Brander and my booker Laura Good, and the print traffic crew!

Last year the non-profit Charlottetown Film Society was formed to take over the cinema, and we are making steady progress towards that goal. I thank all the dedicated board members and supporters who share the vision of a future City Cinema, not very different from the one we have now, but community owned and ready for the next 20 years.

A huge thanks of course to all our staff and volunteers past and present - too many to name but all-important to our success. You have torn several hundred thousand tickets, scooped (and swept) truckloads of popcorn, hand-cranked miles of film, thank you!

For this issue of The Buzz, thanks to long-time volunteer Peter Rukavina for helping with the statistics, to our friends who shared their cinema memories, and again to Peter and The Buzz for putting it all together.

It’s been great fun working as a cinematic match-maker, searching out the best films for our discerning audience. I think it says a lot for Charlottetown and the Island that they can support a cinema like this when many larger communities haven’t been able to. Thank you all for coming to the movies and sharing this experience with me. Let's keep doing it!

Top of the Lists

I Remember the Time…

Top of the Lists

Derek Martin researches the City Cinema archives

by Derek Martin

Our Top 20 Films by Attendance

I love documentaries but they drive me crazy—they are the most unpredictable genre to program. The hugely entertaining Academy Award winner Man On Wire was one of the most acclaimed films of its year. It is still the second-highest rated film (of any type) on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it ranks 1,446 on our list—we could have fit our entire week’s audience into one screening with room left over. But when a documentary does well there is no stopping it—and so our best film of all time is Bowling For Columbine, and there are three more docs in the top 20.

Our number two film, The Piano, made City Cinema in some ways. Not only did its huge success help us catch up on a lot of our bills from getting the place open, but it introduced us to hundreds of new customers. It’s one of two New Zealand films in the top five.

Another Island film, though not explicitly set on PEI, The Ballad of Jack and Rose was filmed here and involved many Islanders in its production, and is not surprisingly number three.

The rest of the list represents a good cross-section of the City Cinema blend, the serious, the funny, the quirky (two Charlie Kaufmann films!), and is mostly international—less than half are American.

1. Bowling For Columbine
2. The Piano
3. The Ballad of Jack and Rose
4. Whale Rider
5. An Inconvenient Truth
6. The Red Violin
7. Billy Elliot
8. Amelie
9. Bend It Like Beckham
10. The Hours
11. Midnight In Paris
12. Quartet
13. Life Is Beautiful
14. Trainspotting
15. Shadowlands
16. Being John Malkovich
17. Ladies In Lavender
18. March of the Penguins
19. Super Size Me
20. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Our Top 10 Canadian Films

If you were going to introduce someone to Canadian film I think this list would be a great place to start. Great to see two Maritime films in the top three!

1. The Red Violin
2. New Waterford Girl
3. The Hanging Garden
4. Barney’s Version
5. Exotica
6. The Sweet Hereafter
7. The Barbarian Invasions
8. La Grande seduction
9. Away From Her
10. Looking For Anne

Our Top 5 Filmed On PEI

These are the best from our regular schedule—not on the this list are the many great Island productions have screened at Festivals and special events at the Cinema, from JoDee Samuelson’s wonderful animations to Dave Stewart’s movie review series And Yet I Blame Hollywood and all between.

1. The Ballad of Jack and Rose
2. Looking For Anne
3. Picking Lucy's Brain
4. Jiggers
5. The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights

Our Top Ten Directors

No surprise to see Woody Allen at the top here, he could have a top-ten list all to himself. Most of the other directors impress with the variety of their work. Interestingly, though two of the British directors have done westerns we’ve screened, Clint Eastwood hasn’t. Sarah Polley may be catching up, but Deepa Mehta leads the Canadians with a great record going back to 1994’s Camilla.

1. Woody Allen (20 movies)
2. Stephen Frears (10)
3. Michael Winterbottom (9)
4. Stephen Soderbergh (9)
5. Richard Linklater (8)
6. Pedro Almodovar (8)
7. Mike Leigh (8)
8. Robert Altman (7)
9. Deepa Mehta (7)
10. Clint Eastwood (7)

Our Top 11 Actors

Judging from this list, the key to keeping busy as a movie actor is to have the ability to move comfortably between leading, supporting, and ensemble roles, and from big budgets to small. We’ve shown less than a third of Julianne Moore’s movies, and it’s still been more than one a year. From Short Cuts in 1993 to last year’s Being Flynn, she is a star who makes you forget she’s a star. Fittingly, she appeared in The Fugitive—a film we never screened, but whose trailer was the first piece of footage ever to grace our screen as we tested our projector during installation. As I write this Sam Rockwell is once again helping to send people home with a smile with his performance in The Way Way Back, and Cate Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine is coming up. Canadian Sandra Oh, whose first film Double Happiness we screened in 1994, has managed to keep busy in film despite a major television career—maybe we’ll see more of her now that she’s leaving Gray’s Anatomy.

1. Julianne Moore (21 movies)
2. Cate Blanchett (18)
2. Ewan MacGregor (18)
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman (17)
4. Sam Rockwell (17)
6. Patricia Clarkson (16)
6.Catherine Keener (16)
6. Judi Dench (16)
9. Paul Giametti (15)
9. Emily Watson (15)
11. Sandra Oh (14)

Stay with the Program

by Derek Martin

City Cinema

Congratulations to The Buzz on 20 years of terrific coverage of Arts & Culture on P.E.I.! I’m usually too busy planning future programmes to spend much time looking back, but anniversaries inevitably inspire a trip to the memory bank.

I’ve written here before about being a fan of Peter’s Sunday Cinema, volunteering at his offshoot Off The Wall Video, and our startup of The Buzz and City Cinema. We began downstairs at 146 Richmond, just a couple of doors over from the Buzz’s present, sunnier, spot. As it is doing now for cinema, the digital revolution was remaking publishing. Peter was the right person at the right time to bring us up to speed with this enduring, inclusive, credible, locally focused monthly. Inspired by similar magazines nationally, but making it his own, Peter’s Buzz has combined articles and listings with a positive attitude to nourish our cultural lives, as artists and as audiences. I would not want to imagine City Cinema or PEI without The Buzz.

Desktop publishing was well underway when we started, but the internet was just learning to walk. Peter Rukavina first showed us the nascent World Wide Web through Mosaic, the browser that helped create it, but there wasn’t much content online, and access was through dialup to UPEI. My movie research involved haunting Tweel’s gift shop for the latest newspapers and magazines. Rather than the thumb drive I use now, Peter would get a stack of photos every month for the Cinema page—eight-by-tens from a proper press kit if we were lucky, maybe something clipped from a Premiere magazine if we weren’t. The review quotes were hand-typed rather than cut and pasted—not quite moveable type days, but a lot has changed in what feels like a short time. Now I’m booking some titles even before their release dates, using early reviews from film festivals and foreign releases to assess and publicize, something that wasn’t possible before the net—at least not on my budget!

The technological changes come to mind because they have had such a big impact for a programmer like me whose work involves gathering so much information. And because not much else has changed. Peter’s wife Nancy and son Yanik coming on board at The Buzz has been wonderful. The addition of colour gave our listings a fresh feel and helps better convey the look of a film. But our visions remain the same, even if time and tech have given us some shortcuts to achieving them.

Rewind to 1993

The first City Cinema schedule appeared in the October 1993 Buzz. Here’s what screened during the cinema’s first month.

Strictly Ballroom

Dir. Buz Luhrmann, Australia.
Johnny Stecchino
Dir. Roberto Benigni, Italy.

Utz

Director George Sluizer, UK/Italy/Germany.
Tous les matins du monde
Dir. Alain Corneau, France

Peter’s Friends

Dir. Kenneth Branagh, UK/US
El Mariachi
Dir. Robert Rodriguez

Map of the Human Heart

Dir. Vincent Ward, Australia/France/ Canada
The Long Day Closes
Dir. Terence Davies, UK

DIVA

Dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, France
Talk about gettin off to a good start!

(I wonder what Buz Luhrmann has been up to lately?)

Farewell to Film

City Cinema undergoes transformation to digital projection

by Derek Martin

As many of you have read here, City Cinema is undergoing a dual transformation—from a private company to a community-owned non-profit, and from running 35mm film to a 2K digital projection system. The changes won’t make much difference for the average trip to the movies, but digital projection will have some advantages, and there will be more opportunities for community involvement and enhanced programming.

The Charlottetown Film Society Inc. is the group working to take over the Cinema. With the help of the generous supporters who bought lifetime memberships when the announcement was first made, the Society has been able to incorporate and start making plans. The conversion to digital is a reflection of industry standards, with 35mm film projection rapidly being phased out. The conversion is also very expensive, so between City Cinema and the Film Society, plans are underway for some special events to raise money and to have some fun!

The new digital equipment will be installed in mid-September, and City Cinema will be having a special event to say a fond “Farewell to Film” forever—probably the last regular 35mm screenings the Island will see. We plan to have a film-maker in attendance, and there will be a reception and giveaways of City Cinema memorabilia—film reels, posters etc. Final details will be announced in mid-August.

Tickets will soon be on sale for The Film Society’s first Summer Lottery. First Prize is a weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival Sep 14–16, with tickets to the Closing Night Gala and Party. Second prize is a year’s free admission to City Cinema (2 tickets every week), and Third prize is a terrific DVD library from distributor filmswelike. Tickets are $5.00 each or five for $20.00, and will be available at the Cinema and other locations tba. Draw date is September 2.

The Film Society is also offering some special memberships. They have a limited number of Founding Memberships available for $100. Founding membership includes discounted admission to the end of 2013, voting membership in the Society, a permanent acknowledgement in the lobby, and admission to a Farewell to Film screening and reception. A handful of Lifetime Memberships remain, they are $1,000, and include all of the above, with discounted admission for life. For more information you can write the Film Society at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or talk to Derek at the Cinema.

City Cinema Evolves

The Charlottetown Film Society incorporated to run cinema

by Derek Martin

It doesn’t seem that long since City Cinema opened in September 1993, but we have customers now whose parents started dating there! It has been a terrific adventure so far—on top of the over 1,600 films we’ve shown in our regular schedule we have done hundreds of screenings for non-profit and private groups, hosted film festivals and film-makers, and had live performances from music to comedy to the CBC Poetry Face-Off.

As you may know, the cinema industry is undergoing a major change as 35mm projectors are being replaced with digital ones. This is an expensive proposition, and likely means upgrades and replacements down the road. In England, Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe, the government has stepped in to help smaller cinemas manage the change, but not here. Hollywood has subsidized the larger exhibitors’ transition to digital with some of their savings (no film prints to manufacture), but as we’re not showing many first-run Hollywood films that doesn’t apply for us.

After much thought, discussion, and research, I have decided on the best way forward for City Cinema. The Charlottetown Film Society has been incorporated as a non-profit group that will acquire City Cinema, oversee the transition to digital, and operate it as a community owned non-profit. Combining City Cinema’s long-term success (we are now finishing a record year at the box office) with the non-profit model that has proven itself in many other Canadian cities will put the Cinema in an excellent position to continue as a vital part of our cultural life for years to come.

The Charlottetown Film Society’s mandate is “To act as a vital contributor to Prince Edward Island’s film culture by offering regular presentations of significant and diverse cinematic works,” and “To provide opportunities in our community for the study, appreciation and celebration of film and the moving image as culturally significant art forms.” We have no plans to change the programming beyond adding more screenings and special events where possible, and movie-goers should notice little if any difference after the transition is complete.

The founding board members are long-time Cinema volunteer Frank Connolly, Louise Lalonde, a filmmaker who also runs PEI’s Screenwriter’s Boot Camp, and Emma Fugate, owner of E Accounting Services. We will be having our first Annual General Meeting in late September to elect a full board, and in the meantime we will be starting our fundraising, and forming committees. General memberships will go on sale sometime in the summer, but we are now offering ten $1,000 life founding memberships as part of our initial fundraising. The life memberships will be immediately valid at City Cinema, and will include a free rental of the cinema for a private screening, and permanent acknowledgement in the lobby.

To volunteer with the Society, to buy a lifetime memberships, or donate any amount, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or through Derek at City Cinema.

What’s on the Menu?

A report from the Toronto International Film Festival

by Derek Martin

The CounterfeitersThis year there were 349 films at that great movie buffet, The Toronto International Film Festival. I got my guide, about the size of the PEI phone book, a couple of days before leaving, and drew up a want-to-see list of about 60. I managed 31, less than ten percent of the menu, but still a tasty sampling. Here are some notes on the most interesting titles.

Empties, from the Czech father-son team behind Kolya, is a winning feature about a retired school teacher who finds a second career at a supermarket’s bottle return window, where he plays matchmaker while nursing his own frustrations. Funny and touching, but definitely not sticky-sweet, it has a lot to say about love, lust, marriage, and trying to grow old with some dignity in a rapidly changing world. Growing old also figures in The Savages, from the point of view of a brother and sister who must oversee their estranged father’s entry into a nursing home. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are a treat to watch in this painfully plausible, often funny, and ultimately touching story.

The Counterfeiters is the true story of the WWII concentration camp inmates who were forced to use their skills to counterfeit first British, then American money. Briskly paced, suspenseful and moving, it shows the moral quandary of men desperate to survive but loath to help the Nazis. Another foreign-language title, The Pope’s Toilet is what might have happened had Ken Loach and Roddy Doyle decided to make a movie in Uruguay. Based on true events, it looks a community hoping to get rich when the pope visits. Plans are laid to sell sausages, cakes, and souvenirs, and for Beto, an outdoor toilet the pilgrims can pay to use. It’s an insightful and bittersweet slice of life from a country I knew little about.

From the unpredictable Rolf de Heer, whose Ten Canoes played at the cinema recently, comes Dr. Plonk, a slapstick silent black and white feature. An entertaining, physically rambunctious time travel adventure showcasing some very gifted performers, it’s about a scientist in 1907 who invents a time machine to gather proof of the impending end of the world. Another unexpected delight was Dai-Nipponjin, an hysterically funny, deadpan, documentary-style look at a fifth generation monster-fighter who can‚t live up to the family name. Daisato is a middle-aged loser who swells up to building size to fight ‘baddies,’ but can’t get any respect—or TV ratings.

The comedies Lars and the Real Girl and Juno were two favourites, both with pitch-perfect scripts and performances. Juno is faster-paced and hipper, a Knocked Up for the My Space crowd, while Lars is gentler and twisted in a sweet, small-town way. Another, darker, comedy was Just Buried, from Nova Scotia. It takes a while to find its tone, but has some great moments and fun performances, including PEI’s Martha Irving as a grieving German widow with a yodelling son.

Special mention to La Citadelle assiégée, a documentary about a column of driver ants invading a termite nest. It has all the wonder of a great nature film, and the suspense and action of a war movie.

Finally, I predict a Best Picture nomination for the Coen brothers‚ No Country For Old Men, a faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel that nonetheless echoes much of the Coen’s previous work. Funnier than most of their comedies (when it’s funny), it’s the bloody and brilliant story of the aftermath of a desert drug deal gone wrong. More please.

Moving Experiences

City Cinema owner reports on the Toronto International Film Festival

by Derek Martin

 Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie in Away From HerI imagine a minister would need, from time to time, to get away from his responsibilities and re-experience the pleasures of simply taking in a service in a church not his own. That's how I felt on my break from City Cinema to attend this year's Toronto International Film Festival in September. I saw 25 movies in 9 days. A lot, but I was a slacker compared to many of the people I met—a 40-film festival was not unusual. It was a strange temporary life. I got up at 7:00 in the morning to watch movies all day, isolated from the rest of the world. Of course, the movies took me back, often into a more intense reality. But I was in a comfortable chair.

I attended the Press & Industry screenings, spread between the upscale Varsity Cinemas and the homier Cumberland just a few blocks away. With 352 movies to choose from, some planning was required. I had mapped out the first few days like a student planning courses, allowing for travel time, line-ups, and even an occasional sandwich. I planned most of my “must-sees” for the early days, and left time for word-of-mouth movies and random discoveries.

This was the 38th Festival, and it showed in the organization. The screenings relied heavily on volunteers, and they were amazing. They should run Air Canada. With hundreds of people queuing up for shows in eight different theatres (at the Varsity), lines snaked all over the place, sometimes cut into two and three pieces, but it never felt disorganized. Someone was always there to answer my questions, and all the industry screenings I went to started exactly on time.

I can't cover all the movies I saw here, but I will mention a few I'm looking forward to screening at City Cinema. In the Canadian film department Congorama and Away From Her were both outstanding. Congorama tells the story of a Belgian engineer who travels to Quebec after learning he was adopted there. The story, involving the design for an electric car, a town full of families named LeGros, the Congo, Expo 67, and an emu, has a lot of twists but is never hard to follow. A solid mix of humour and substance. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie lead a strong cast in Sarah Polley's Away From Her, an adaptation of Alice Munro's short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain.” They play a couple dealing with her move into a home and the losses they face. Moving but never depressing, with some deliciously funny moments you wouldn't expect in a drama about Alzheimer's.

There were several war films, each with its own merits. They all looked amazing, from the high gloss of Black Book's World War II Holland, through the stony fields and lanes of rural Ireland in The Wind That Shakes the Barley and the lush but deadly Laotian jungle of Rescue Dawn, to the mix of the fantastic and the real in the civil war Spain of Pan's Labyrinth. This last was one of the best of my festival, combining a young girl's mythic quest with the harsh realities of fascist oppression to create a gripping, multi-layered story.

I liked almost all of what I saw, but some were outstanding. For Your Consideration, from Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman) kept the improvisational style of his earlier films, but not the documentary frame. The result was a sharp, relentlessly funny look at the Hollywood awards season. In 10 Items or Less director Brad Silberling took a step back from the big studio polish of Lemony Snicket to deliver an immensely pleasing low budget flick about an actor (Morgan Freeman) researching a role in a supermarket, who winds up on a series of small adventures with a Spanish cashier. Stranger Than Fiction was just quirky enough. Will Ferrel gave an effectively subdued performance as a man who starts hearing a voice narrating his life, while Maggie Gyllenhall and Emma Thompson were pitch-perfect in supporting roles. Anyone curious about what exactly John Waters' limits are will have to watch This Filthy World, his candid one man show that answers that and many other disturbing questions with twisted wit and decadent charm.

With so many films to choose from I created my own “festival within a festival.” Anyone can. While I was fortunate enough to have an industry pass, the Toronto Film festival is one of the most publicly accessible in the world. It's a religious experience for movie lovers.

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