VIFF 09 Review: Prom Night in Mississippi



Racism is an ugly thing and something largely associated with a time long past. Once in a while, a film (The Order of Myths) or event (Katrina) happens which showcases just how little society has advanced over the decades. When we see racism, it’s easy enough to chalk it up to a “small group of people” but that’s never been a good response and it’s certainly not one that comes to mind after seeing a film like this one; especially when the issues at hand involve children.

Paul Saltzman’s documentary Prom Night in Mississippi raises a lot of questions, perhaps more than it answers but the questions are big ones (are there any small questions when we’re talking about racism?). Saltzman’s film follows a group of students who attend school in Charleston, Mississippi. On the outside it appears to be a typical high school. The school population is predominantly African American but students attend classes, eat lunch and play sports together but when it comes to prom, segregation is the order of business.

When Morgan Freeman caught wind of this, he saw the opportunity to usher in change. In 1997 he offered to pay for a mixed prom. At the time, he was turned away but not one to give up, he made a similar offer to the class of 2008 and overwhelmingly, the teens agreed (really, who would say no to Morgan Freeman?). That’s the set-up for Saltzman’s documentary which follows a number of the graduating teens through preparations for their first mixed prom. But all is not smiles and happiness in Charleston. Tough the majority of the teens are excited at the changing tide, parents aren’t as keen on the idea of a mixed prom and a few decide to follow “tradition” and organize an all white prom.

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VIFF Announces Canadian Images Lineup

VIFF 2009 Banner

Three days. We are three days away from the unveiling of the entire line-up for 2009’s Vancouver International Film Festival. Each new announcement brings more joy for your truly and looking down this list of films, in conjunction with the previously announced Lions & Tigers, Follow the Money and The Way of Nature line-ups and the sneak preview guide, this year’s festival is already shaping up nicely.

The Canadian Images program is always one of my favourites and this year it looks like programmer Terry McEvoy has outdone himself. On the roster are new offerings from last year’s Canadian Images prize winner Carl Bessai whose family drama Cole is high on my list of must watches as is Reginald Harkema’s Leslie, My Name is Evil. Also on the list are Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother which caused quite the stir at Cannes and a slew of great looking documentaries including Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould and Paul Saltzman’s excellent Prom Night Mississippi.

Be sure to stay tuned to the VIFF website and twitter feed for more updates!

1999 (Lenin M. Sivam)
Lenin M. Sivam’s insightful drama explores the paths of three young Tamil immigrants grappling with gang violence in their Toronto community. Emotional and eye-opening, Sivam’s film explores the challenges and opportunities of life in Canada, and the devastating impacts of experiencing civil war.

65_REDROSES (Nimisha Mukerji, Philip Lyall) BC
In this emotional doc, directors Nimisha Mukerji and Philip Lyall follow Eva, a Cystic Fibrosis patient, as she waits for a new set of lungs. Quarantined from other CF patients, she develops a supportive community online as she faces an uncertain future.

ANA & ARTHUR (Larry Young)
Ana was 63 years old: Arthur just 28. Together the two transformed a farm into a holistic therapeutic retreat. After seven years together, Arthur made a connection with a younger woman. Larry Young’s documentary candidly explores the painfully ephemeral nature of even the deepest relationships.

ANTOINE (Laura Bari)
Five-year old Antoine is blind, but it does not stop him from living an exciting and imaginative little life. In this portrait of a world without sight, director Laura Bari creates a playful film in which all other senses are cleverly translated into the visual.

More titles tucked under the seat!

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Racism: Alive and Well

The Order of Myths Movie Still

When I saw The Order of Myths earlier this year, I was surprised to find that such a public display of race division was still alive and accepted in the US. It’s not to say that I live in an ideal world where racism doesn’t exist but it’s usually a topic that hides behind closed doors, which people discuss in hushed whispers and (mostly) deny in public.

Margaret Brown’s documentary about Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama was an eye opener. A celebration that predates the much more popular one in New Orleans’, things in Mobile are done a little differently with not one but two Mardi Gras parades and celebrations: one for the whites and one for African Americans. Though the individuals live, work and play together when it comes to celebrating Fat Tuesday, celebrations are segregated. There are two parades, two dances and two sets of Kings and Queens of Mardi Gras.

Brown’s documentary is a fascinating watch and though she is given access to the various groups involved in with the floats and organizing of events on both sides, no one really has an answer to why the celebration is still separate. The common answer is always “tradition” or “that’s how it’s always been done” but it makes you wonder why few people ask “When is enough enough? When do you fore go tradition?” And though Brown attempts to get some answers, she leaves the film open ended and rarely does racism rear its head although it’s always in the back of the mind and in full display on screen.

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