Friday 19 May 2017

The Current Festival Cinema - Rod Bishop extols a film you apparently wont be seeing at any festivals, MY THESIS FILM (Erik Anderson, 2016)

Here’s a film you won’t see at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

In fact, you may never see it, which is kind of what the film is about.

It’s a head-on confrontation with political correctness and identity politics. Not everyone is prepared to face up to these blow-back effects from left-liberal activism.

The film appeared on my list for the Film Advisory Panel at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. For more than a decade I’ve been watching these unsolicited fee-paying films hoping to make the Sydney program and this one was Canadian. Priority viewing was requested as the 2017 Festival would include a “Focus on Canada” section.

I have never been surprised the way I was surprised by Erik Anderson’s blithely titled My Thesis Film. Without doubt, it’s the best student film I’ve ever seen, although it’s a very atypical student film.

For starters, it’s three hours long with an Intermission and Erik Anderson is also considerably older than his fellow film students in the MA production program at York University, Toronto, Ontario.
Before embarking on this mammoth thesis film, Anderson had completed several shorts and two features, although, to borrow Ivan Sen’s phase, they were made on “sub-atomic budgets”, the features for less than $5000 each.

And much like Sen, Erik Anderson is multi-hyphenate – he writes, directs, produces, edits and plays himself as Erik, an anguished, talented film student whose education and possibly his subsequent career, is dynamited by political correctness and identity politics.
The film opens with a title card

For the first hour Erik struggles, unsuccessfully, to get his earlier films screened in Canadian Festivals (“If you have to pay the entry fee, you’re not going to get in the festival”). He is forced to abandon his thesis film on race relations as being a white male making a film about blacks is “just wrong” and unlikely to be accepted by the faculty staff and his fellow students.

He then pitches what he expects to be a politically neutral idea - he will film the first book of Plato’s Republic. This doesn’t go down too well either and at the pitch session it’s clear he must cast a woman as Plato and women as the other Greek philosophers, otherwise it won’t be funded. He refuses and becomes the only student refused funding for his thesis film.
In his 47-page account of the production, Anderson refers to his character at this moment as “morally bankrupt in the eyes of the iconoclast zeitgeist of the social media era”.

Erik Anderson
In the second hour, Erik, now a film school outcast, returns to his family home in suburban Victoria and takes on menial jobs in a local café. At night, he sits, bemused, while the same politically correct arguments consume his family dinners.

In the third hour, he returns to university with a bullet-proof idea – he will face up to his politically correct shortcomings and make a film about why he wasn’t allowed to make a film in the first place. He is begrudgingly funded.

Anderson then takes point blank range at identity politics, victimhood, rewriting history, being “offended by ideas”, trigger-warnings, gender politics and the cronies who are consistently funded by the Canadian film assistance program.

With three hours to make his stand, Anderson’s casting, direction of actors and penetrating dialogue is so far superior to most student films, it’s more than capable of holding its own with any “indie” production from North America.

Yet the film has no profile at all.

On-line, there are only the February 2016 York University entries regarding Anderson’s MA candidacy and his 47-page account of the production.

And that’s it. No reviews, no festival screenings, no blogs, no IMDb entry, nothing. It’s like the film doesn’t exist. It’s completely off the radar and nobody, it seems, wants to show it.

16 months after completion, if it can’t make it into a special Canadian “focus” in Sydney, it’s not going to make it anywhere. Seems the left-liberalism that pervades international film festivals and their audiences is just too uncomfortable with people like Anderson no matter how talented they are.
Film festivals really are isolated cultural bubbles where everyone with similar political sentiments relates to each other inside the safety of the bubble.

They may just have ignored the greatest filmmaking talent to emerge from Canada since Xavier Dolan. But then again, if ever there was an identity-politics-director-at-large, it would be Xavier Dolan.

It’s a very cruel business at times, this film business thingy.

Editor's Note: UPDATE: Apparently Anderson’s film has expanded to include a section of Plato, and the brave programmers at the Montreal World Film Festival both programmed it, and bestowed the best student award on it. 

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