The temperature is rising, but instead of sweat, our pores are seeping luminol. Our verdict? The summer heat means that it is time for crime!
A welcome new June tradition, the Toronto True Crime Film Festival (June 14-15 at the Revue Cinema) is now in its second year, spotlighting true crime documentaries, biopics, feature films, and shorts from around the world. We at AOAS love our true crime (SSDGM, y’all!), so, naturally, we’ve been supporters of the burgeoning festival since its inception.
Opening night starts off on a serious note, with Rose Rosenblatt & Marion Lipschutz’s prescient and sobering documentary Bei Bei (2018). Bei Bei is, at its heart, the story of two women: Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai, charged with first degree murder and attempted feticide when her pregnancy terminates after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, and Linda Pence, the steel-willed and compassionate lawyer determined to save her client from a precedent-setting murder conviction and deportation. The film offers a lot of information and no judgment, allowing audiences to get to know Ms. Shuai, understand the local politics underpinning the case, and grapple with the emotionally complicated subject matter. In a political climate in which hard-won (and vital) human rights are slipping away almost overnight, the film almost straddles the line between true crime and horror, particularly during its final minute or so.
Following Bei Bei is Ben Asamoah’s glorious Sakawa (2018). Pairing its morally ambiguous and complex story with absolutely incredible cinematography, Sakawa is the gorgeously shot story of a group of internet dating scammers operating out of a tiny village in Ghana. Intimate and humanizing, the film details the motivations (and techniques) used by the underemployed youth, the circumstances surrounding their decisions to deal in deception, the dreams that they are working toward — and the pervasive poverty that seems to dog them at every turn. While Sakawa would be worth watching for the camera work and sumptuous colour grading alone (not to mention the Ghanaian fashion), it is also gifted with a compelling and fascinating story that complicates our perception of the scammer behind the screen.
In addition to the feature film and short selections spread out over Friday and Saturday, the festival’s Saturday program also includes a lecture by forensic anthropologist Myriam Nafte, a respected advisor and consultant for criminal casework across North America. As per the festival’s website, Dr. Nafte will “define the evolving field of police forensics with an overview of the protocols governing crime scenes, warrants, security, and the processing of physical evidence.” We urge you not to use this knowledge for evil (but you’d better believe that we’ll be taking notes.) This will be followed by a live podcast recording of Zealot, an Australian comedy podcast dedicated to discussing cults. Zealot host Jo Thornely will be joined by local comedian Natalie Norman.
Saturday’s closing film, Lucas Heyne’s Mope (2019), is an insane, tragicomic rollercoaster of a biopic detailing the true story of Steve Driver (Misfits’ Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and Tom Dong (Kelly Sry), two low-level, aspiring porn actors chasing the dream of x-rated fame and fortune. Driven by fierce ambition and optimistic delusions, the duo attempt to build connections in the industry, working with fetish auteur Alex Long (a pitch-perfect and hysterically funny Brian Huskey), a big-league adult film director known to fans as Rocket (David Arquette), and a motley crew of assorted oddballs and eccentrics. The performances are strong, the dialogue riotously absurd, and the story cringeworthy, pathetic, and ultimately heartbreaking, as the film takes a hard turn into horror during the climax. Mope is a singular experience, an unexpected and unpredictable digestif that will whet your appetite for whatever next year’s Toronto True Crime Film Festival has in store.
For the rest of the 2019 schedule (and to purchase your tickets), visit the festival’s website.