The Mountain Thief

•March 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Gerry Balasta’s The Mountain Thief
Friday, April 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Friday, April 1, 2011 at 9:00 PM
Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 9:00 PM
Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 7:30 PM
Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 9:00 PM
Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 9:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

The Mountain Thief is a story of triumph over unusual circumstances. It is the first narrative feature film shot in the garbage-collecting town of Payatas in the Philippines, where the living conditions are possibly the most horrific in the world. It was also the first film that was made with a cast culled from the scavengers of a garbage-collecting town, from the graduates of the town’s only acting workshop. In a world of monstrous mountains of trash, a man named Julio and his son confront their ultimate fight for survival as they seek refuge and redemption from war and hunger. Together, they navigate territorial rivalries and intense desperation among scavengers, surviving – and finding love – despite horrific living conditions. Julio, involved in a murder incident, must prove his innocence to avoid his family’s banishment and ultimate starvation.


From the Philipino Express March 16, 2011

A unique film will premier in Winnipeg at the Cinematheque on April 1. The Mountain Thief is the first narrative feature film shot in the garbage-collecting town of Payatas, Manila, ironically called Lupang Pangako or Promised Land. It is also the first film with a cast culled from the local scavengers who are graduates of the town’s only acting workshop.

Directed by New York-based Filipino filmmaker Gerry Balasta, The Mountain Thief is part of a philanthropy effort called the Mount Hope Project, initiated by the filmmakers to help the scavengers who acted in the film. Two of the children in the film received medical care, including surgery for one child with a foot deformity, in late 2009 through supporters and fans of this film.

So far, The Mountain Thief has been selected to play in more than 16 film festivals in Europe, the US and Canada. The film was selected for the prestigious 2008 Independent Feature Project’s (IFP) Narrative Rough Cut Labs and was showcased at the IFP Film Week Rough Cut Lab showcase. It also won the Special Jury Award at the 2010 San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival and the Prix du Public at the Culture & Cultures Intercultural Film Festival in France. Director Gerry Balasta also received The George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award in 2010 for The Mountain Thief.

“Growing up in a town in Manila, I still remember that when a strong wind blew from the west, we had to cover our noses, says Balasta on the film’s web site. “If I close my eyes today, I can still smell the sickening stench coming from the country’s largest dumpsite. To this day, I am haunted by this memory, because I knew back then that people were born, lived and died in those monstrous mountains of trash. After I moved to the US, I realized, that it is essential for me to share this disturbing yet ultimately hopeful story of man’s love for life and his ability to endure.”

The Mountain Thief is the story of Julio and his visually impaired son, Ingo, who must fight for survival as they seek refuge and redemption from war and hunger among mountains of trash. Together, they navigate territorial rivalries and intense desperation among scavengers, surviving and even finding love, despite their horrific living conditions. When Julio is involved in a murder he must prove his innocence to avoid his family’s banishment and ultimate starvation. The film reveals the unimaginable realities of people living in extreme poverty and what happens when their tenuous hold on hope and survival is threatened.


From Uptown Magazine March 30, 2011

Not quite scaling garbage mountain
Filipino import The Mountain Thief takes a heartfelt stab at a remarkable subject, the result is lacklustre

Director Gerry Balasta would seem to have the eye of a born filmmaker.

The Mountain Thief, which Balasta also wrote and produced, is a striking, noteworthy film for more than simply its visual riches. It’s the first narrative feature shot in the garbage-picking town of Payatas in the Philippines, the world’s largest such community.

Basically, the people survive more or less atop a gigantic heap of trash, through which they scour for the rudiments of life. The very act of committing such a place to visual record lends the film importance; people need to see to believe that such squalor is a simply a fact of life for more than some may care to imagine.

It’s surprising, then, that The Mountain Thief is such a beautiful film to behold. Scenes feel warm, rich and saturated, and Balasta’s use of colour is almost luxurious; the simple detail of a bright orange basketball stands out in stark relief in one shot. Even shots of people moving about on the slopes of garbage have a sense of grandeur.

In this regard, the film is reminiscent of the 2010 New Zealand import Boy, which opened last November’s Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. Set in a run-down Maori community, the film focused not on the suffering of the inhabitants, but rather their cheerful resilience; similarly, it also used bold colours and sharp cinematography, but to craft a more energetic, affirming film.

The Mountain Thief, by contrast, simply doesn’t share the same optimism, contrasting visual splendour with bluntly presented scenes of substance sniffing. There’s no problem in the film’s difference of approach. The story it tells, however, just isn’t as good in its own way as Taika Waititi’s. Nor is at as assured a piece of filmmaking.

The film focuses on a cluster of connected characters in the community, as they interact and each in turn do what they can to get by. Eventually the focus becomes an incident of violence for which Julio (Randy Cantonjay) is blamed, although what actually happened is at first obscured. Facing banishment from the community, his family’s already precarious existence becomes desperate.

Yet the film, for some reason, doesn’t quite take hold, with that mountain of garbage almost feeling like it recedes into the background. Which would be fine, were the foreground action more compelling.

But it’s not. The problem seems to be in the telling: the cast, made up of actual residents of Payatas, are talented, but evidently amateur nonetheless. And while Balasta displays some strength as a filmmaker, he has the lack of assurance that comes with inexperience; it often feels as though his shortcomings are offset by the technical acumen of his cinematographer.

In fact, based on the opening and closing titles, the story The Mountain Thief seems to want us to care about more is that it got made at all. It’s been a potentially life-changing experience for those involved, no question, and the movie may likely find an enthusiastic audience in Winnipeg, which is home to a large Filipino community.

As a critic, however, I have to report on the worth of the film as a film, not as a news item curiosity. Balasta has clearly demonstrated he may very well yet make a great film. And the film he’s made this time is certainly interesting and worthwhile.

But ultimately, The Mountain Thief isn’t nearly as good a movie as its subject deserves.

– Kenton Smith


Deco Dawson vs Marcel Dzama

•March 26, 2011 • 1 Comment

Official release from Deco Dawson April 16, 2010

McRoberts Law Office LL.P. has issued a notice of copyright infringement to The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art. As a result the artwork in question has been taken down.

McRoberts Law Office LL.P., on behalf of their client filmmaker Deco Dawson, sent The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Canada’s premiere contemporary art museum, on Friday April, 9th 2010, a notice of copyright infringement and demand to cease and desist from further exhibition the work The Lotus Eaters by Canadian artist Marcel Dzama. The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art immediately removed The Lotus Eaters from the exhibit.

The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art is presently showcasing a major exhibit entitled “Of Many Turns” on the recent work of international visual artist Marcel Dzama. Alongside drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations the museum was also showcasing a 19 minute short film credited to Marcel Dzama entitled The Lotus Eaters (2007). The content of The Lotus Eaters is made up almost entirely of a short film written, directed and produced by filmmaker Deco Dawson in 2001 entitled FILM(dzama).

The Lotus Eaters appears to be a retitled and very slightly reedited version of FILM(dzama), lacking the original music, opening title and end credits, and also lacking any credit attributed towards Mr. Dawson, his crew, the performers or funders of the project. Mr. Dzama has assumed full credit for the film and has, according to online archives and videos, been exhibiting the film, whole or in part, unauthorized, in galleries, installations and publications as his own work since 2005 and has conducted media interviews as the work’s creator.

The original work FILM(dzama) based on the artist Marcel Dzama and produced in agreement with the artist in 2000, was released in September 2001 at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the festival’s “Best Short Film Award.” The film went on to receive mass critical appeal and has screened at over 100 film festivals worldwide.

Deco Dawson is recognized internationally as an innovative, independent filmmaker with a recognizable visual style as evidenced in FILM(dzama). Deco Dawson has worked with major artists such as filmmakers Guy Maddin, Gary Burns, Noam Gonick, visual artists Louis Jacobson, Adam Pendleton, Glen Ligon, Sarah A. Johnson, and bands Metric and Inward Eye among others. His 14 short films have screened internationally at hundreds of film festivals and Mr. Dawson has been host to retrospectives of his work around the world.


From the Winnipeg Free Press April 22, 2010

Winnipeg artists involved in copyright dispute

Two Winnipeg artists are involved in a copyright dispute that is earning national attention.

The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (MMCA) has stopped screening a film by New York-based artist Marcel Dzama after he was accused of plagiarism by experimental filmmaker Deco Dawson.

At issue is Dzama’s 19-minute film The Lotus Eaters, which he made in 2005 and which Dawson claims borrows uncredited footage from his 23-minute 2001 production, FILM(dzama).

The Globe quotes Dawson as saying he asked Dzama to give him proper credit for using the footage but Dzama did not reply. He then had his lawyer notify the MMCA of Dzama’s alleged plagiarism.

Dzama, 35, was born and raised in Winnipeg, where he first achieved prominence as part of the Royal Art Lodge collective. He moved to New York in 2004.

Dawson, 31, a noted director of numerous experimental films and a one-time collaborator with Guy Maddin, still lives here. His Dzama effort was named best Canadian short film at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival.

The MMCA is in the final days of a three-month retrospective of Dzama’s work.


Side by side video comparison of FILM(dzama) and The Lotus Eaters

Deco Dawson’s FILM(dzama)

Robert Brown and the Manitoba Board of Film Censors

•March 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Dear Sir,

Your refusal to allow the University of Manitoba to show Kiss by Andy Warhol represents an attitude prevalent 200 years before the birth of the motion picture. I hope your mores do not extend to other art forms. Do you allow reproductions of Rodin’s Kiss statue to circulate?

If today’s filmmakers, painters, writers, etc. had to meet you standards we would be at a point of development which would be rotting with age.

I hope your provience and your country get abreast of the times, or even at a point at least where the rest of the continent was 100 years ago. Meanwhile you have suppressed a harmless, but important film which by its simplicity is an intense visual experience, from the eyes of hundreds of college students who are curious enough to spend an evening seeing New American Cinema.


Robert K. Brown


For more info see Jonas Mekas and the Manitoba Board of Film Censors.

Cineflyer Radio March 21, 2011 on CKUW 95.9FM

•March 23, 2011 • 4 Comments

Episode 4
Host: Ryan Simmons
Guest: Ulysses Castellanos

The Road Ended at the Beach, and Other Legends: Part 3 Curated by Brett Kashmere

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Road Ended at the Beach, and Other Legends: Presence and Absence Curated by Brett Kashmere
Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 2:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Introduced by Chris Gehman

Part 3: Presence and Absence

Personal explorations, exhumed family histories, and counter-narratives: Part three of The Road Ended at the Beach and Other Legends turns further inwards, gathering subjective interventions with the past, small monuments for the departed, and reflection on the elusive nature of moving images. Loss, mourning, and remembrance weigh heavily here. Beginning with Mike Cartmell’s enigmatic, invented etymology of the self, In the Form of the Letter ‘X’, several of these films employ stylized treatments and formal manipulation–via hand-processing, superimposition, optical printing–to mine the gap between reality and representation. Also prevalent is the use of first person voice-over to grapple with the pain of looking back and to give expression to the silences of history and memory. Marian McMahon’s Nursing History, Gary Popovich’s Elegy,and Steve Sanguedolce’s Sweetblood revisit painful episodes from the filmmakers’ pasts to find meaning and comfort in the present, while Sarah Abbott’s Froglight and Janis Cole’s Shaggie: Letters from Prison tender contrasting approaches to the process of memorialization. The program concludes with Mike Hoolboom’s (nearly) image-less White Museum, which speaks to an uncanny truth of photographic media: that images always point towards people, places, things that are not there. This notion of presence and absence joins the work in this program, which attempts to manifest what is unseen in plain sight, making the private public, the invisible visible.


In the Form of the Letter “X” by Mike Cartmell
Nursing History by Marian McMahon
Froglight by Sarah Abbott
Elegy by Gary Popovich
Sweetblood by Steve Sanguedolce
Shaggie: Letters from Prison by Janis Cole
White Museum by Mike Hoolboom

Scenes From the Floating World Curated By Chris Gehman

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Scenes From the Floating World Curated By Chris Gehman
Friday, March 25, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Introduced by Chris Gehman

The cinema allows artists to construct spaces that cannot be experienced in any other way, to work with figures and images detached from their ordinary context and returned to life in an imagined cinematic space. With one partial exception, each of these works centres on the body as it inhabits the floating world of the cinematic screen.


self-portrait in alterNation between descension & ascension by Jude Norris
Ville Marie by Alexandre Larose
Whose Toes by Barry Doupé
Very Good Advice by Jenn Norton
Aritifices #1 by Alexandre Larose
sea series # 8 by John Price


From Uptown Magazine March 24, 2011

Entering the weird, wonderful world of alternative cinema
Two programs of boundary-pushing yet accessible shorts screen this weekend at Cinematheque

Think of the motion picture screen as a portal between very separate realms of being.

“Consider it not as a door to a fictional world, but rather to parallel or alternate reality,” explains Chris Gehman, a filmmaker, critic, and past Toronto International Film Festival programmer. It’s a world, he says, where the constraints of our world become mutable — and where issues difficult to represent, whether through language or image, can be mined.

The push past the surface realism of conventional cinema to mysteries beyond is what connects two free featured programs this weekend at Cinematheque: Scenes from the Floating World, which plays Friday night, and The Road Ended at the Beach and Other Legends: Part Three on Saturday afternoon. Gehman will introduce both screenings.

A simple example of Gehman’s concept is self-portrait in alterNation between descension & ascension by Jude Norris: a simple, even funny single shot of the artist trying to walk down an up escalator. Intended as an installation piece, Gehman says it’s precisely the looping repetition that makes it significant.

“It suspends time,” he explains. “And thus it makes you think about what you’re seeing.” (Indeed, there’s the added subtext of Norris, dressed as identifiably “Aboriginal,” caught hamster-like in a distinctly “Western” space.)

Then there’s Alexandre Larose’s Ville Marie, an almost psychedelic marriage of ethereal music and disquieting sound and optical process. The film won a special jury award for best Canadian work at the 2010 WNDX Festival of Film and Video Art in Winnipeg.

“The filmmaker reshaped footage of a fall through space using an optical printer,” Gehman explains. In effect, Larose stretched time to better approximate the sensation of falling — or perhaps, the terrifying way we experience falling in our nightmares.

The realm of the subconscious and the emotional is the territory of Steve Sanguedolce’s Sweetblood, featured on Saturday’s roster. What’s striking about the film — a montage of still photographs over which we hear snippets of seemingly personal confessions –— is that it doesn’t so much tell as it does evoke a story: it leaves us to fill in the blanks of the events and life experience presented.

“It works on the register of emotion,” says the program’s curator Brett Kashmere, who is also a filmmaker, writer and visiting assistant professor at Oberlin College in Ohio. “The concrete, factual details therefore aren’t explicit — and don’t need to be.

“They’re beside the point.”

The films collected in this installment of The Road Ended at the Beach series at Cinematheque once again focus on the work of the so-called Escarpment School, a body of Canadian filmmakers that share certain thematic and formal concerns.

“I see the Escarpment School as part of the Canadian documentary tradition,” Kashmere says.

However, he points out that the work is quite apart from the “traditional” documentary: it’s more personal, more experimental. This may be one reason why associated filmmakers like Mike Hoolboom (White Museum) and Gary Popovich (Elegy) have been largely neglected by Canadian film textbooks, despite enjoying acclaim internationally.

“The films are like a critique of the prevailing National Film Board approach to docs,” Gehman says. “The Escarpment School is very much about recreating documentary filmmaking.”

The personal is very much a concern in this latest collection of films, largely organized around the theme of portraits and family history. “Like many ES films, these deal with memory,” Kashmere says. “And of course, memory isn’t necessarily reliable.”

What such films get at, Gehman says, is the illusion of reality conventional film storytelling presents. “This kind of filmmaking better approximates how we actually live. And it presents a more authentic emotional texture.

“The featured filmmakers are not being obtuse, or trying to create puzzles to baffle the viewer. They’re dealing with very real, human experience: the material isn’t difficult, in and of itself.”

Indeed, some of the work is simply wonderful to experience as pure visual sensation — like Larose’s Artifices #1, which turns everyday examples of light into abstract, moving riots of colour and pattern. Or Jenn Norton’s Very Good Advice, the final images of which transform the Toronto skyline right before our eyes.

“Relax a bit,” Gehman advises the uninitiated viewer. “And just let the films happen.”

– Kenton Smith

Horror Vérité curated by Ulysses Castellanos & Theo Pelmus

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Horror Vérité curated by Ulysses Castellanos & Theo Pelmus
Friday, March 26, 2011 at 8:00PM
Atomic Centre
167 Logan Ave (at Martha St.)
Pay What You Can

**Screening to be followed by performances by Ulysses Castellanos and Jessica Evans**

Horror Vérité showcases works that combine horror movie and documentary film aesthetics, exploring the dichotomy between the “real” and the “unreal”. In today’s world, we have learned to equate the low-definition immediacy of YouTube videos with “reality”, while documentaries sometimes use images from real life more horrific than horror films. Yet, documentaries and horror films are both fabricated products, composed of images arranged and intended to elicit a response. How are we to know what is real? By blurring the line between reality and artifice, the horror film presents us with a reality that is terrifying, implying that similar events could just as easily happen to us. Danger is imminent.


Death Match by Jorge Lozano
Watch My Back by Jorge Lozano
Transference by Jorge Lozano
Idle by Jorge Lozano
Satanistic Concepts by Zorica Vasic
Camp B by Zorica Vasic
Neuter by Zorica Vasic
Shooting Range by Zorica Vasic
Brent’s Woundrous Balls by Jennifer Matotek
Screaming Head in Space by Jubal Brown
Teletubbies Rising by Jubal Brown
Untitled (Putting on The Ritz) by Jubal Brown
Fame Fame promotional spot by Jubal Brown
Halloween by Jubal Brown
Richard K Laughing in Hell by Jubal Brown
Wedding Dress by JP