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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Santa Barbara Dispatch Day Three

I got a little busy here in Santa Barbara, so catching up. Here’s Day Three …
Friday we caught two films. First up was Necessities of Life, the Canadian Oscar submission for best foreign film. I’d heard many good things about this film, so when I saw it was on the SBIFF slate I added it to my schedule right away, and I’m glad I did — what a moving, original tale.

The film, set in 1952, is about an Inuit man caught up in a tuberculosis epidemic. When Tiivii (Natar Ungalaaq) tests positive for tuberculosis, he’s forced to go to a sanatorium in Quebec City to be treated, leaving behind his wife and two young daughters to fend for themselves in their remote homeland. Tiivii thinks he’ll only be gone for a few weeks, but when he gets to Quebec City he learns he might be confined there for two years or more. He’s the only Inuk at the facility; no one there speaks his language, and he doesn’t speak French. His ward-mates, for the most part, assume that because he doesn’t speak their language, Tiivii is somehow inferior to them; they’re amused when he doesn’t know how to use the silverware, and mock his attempt to eat spaghetti for the first time.
Tiivii’s lonely and worried about his family. He wants desperately to escape and return home, but when he tries and is brought back, he sinks into a deep depression and refuses to eat. He’s growing sicker, and the overworked staff are at a loss for what to do with him, when his nurse, Carole (Éveline Gélinas) has the idea to bring in an Inuk patient from another facility, a young orphan named Kaki (Paul-André Brasseur). Together, the boy and the man strengthen each other as Tiivii takes on the task of mentoring young Kaki on what it means to be an Inuk man, and Kaki helps Tiivii find a reason to live. Performances by Ungalaaq, Gélinas and Brasseur are all fantastic, and the supporting players are solid as well.
The idea of the film is original and well-executed; we feel Tiivii’s isolation and deep loneliness and sorrow at being forced to leave his family, and Ungalaaq’s performance as Tiivii is gentle, warmly intelligent, and bubbling over with humanity. Necessities of Life explores issues around cultural identity and how it feels to be isolated and lonely even when surrounded by other people, and anyone who’s spent time in place or culture different than where they grew up will relate to Tiivii’s struggles to navigate this new community of which he’s become a reluctant member. Tiivii and his wardmates are separated not only by language, but by vast cultural differences, yet ultimately they find comfort and strength in their commonalities. Necessities of Life is an excellent film in every respect, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m even more miffed that it didn’t make it off the Oscar shortlist onto the list of final nominees.
Later in the evening, we caught a screening of Ink, directed by Jamin Winans. The film imagines a world where good dreams are brought to us by Storytellers and bad ones are brought by Incubi, very creepy bad guys with telescreen faces. Eight-year-old Emma (Quinn Hunchar, in a very nice debut performance evocative of Heather O’Rourke’s Carol Ann in Poltergeist) is struggling with her father giving up on life in the aftermath of her mother’s death and a custody battle with her grandmother. When Emma’s soul is abducted to the multi-dimensional dreamworld by Ink, a ruthless mercenary working for the Incubi, who want Emma for their own nefarious purposes, the Storytellers must join forces and fight in both realms to save her.
Ink is an intricately imagined film with an intriguing storyline and a fairly impressive technical execution, given the budget one imagines Winans had to work with. There are some minor issues; Chris Kelly, who plays John, Emma’s father, tends to play the role a little flat and one-note when it could have benefited from an edgier Sam Rockwell sort of vibe, and the character of Jacob (Jeremy Make), a blind pathfinder, got on my nerves (though I attribute that as much to the writing of his part as his execution of it). To be fair, though, my husband loved that character, so it might just be something the role triggered in me. Overall, though, Ink has a pretty decent production value, some very clever ideas, and smart, imaginative writing, and it’s head and shoulders above a lot of mediocre indie thrillers I’ve seen. Someone give this director a Shyamalan-size budget and let him go crazy with it — there’s heaps of talent here in both the writing and directing.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon