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Film festival's waterfront screening looks at influential recording studio with soul

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Wilson Pickett at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.

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Wilson Pickett at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.

Day 2 of the Gimli Film Festival sees a diversity of films, including a depressing Manitoba-made historical drama, a disturbing documentary on how privacy is becoming obsolete, and two regionally specific rockin' docs.


On today's schedule:


Mad Ship

(11 a.m. at Venue 1, Gimli Theatre)

Mad Ship is about a Scandinavian immigrant (played by Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who makes the mistake of attempting to build a farming empire on the Canadian Prairies during the Dust Bowl. Faced with unrelenting personal tragedy, he loses his mind, builds a ship out of the farmhouse he lost in a foreclosure, and attempts to drag it across the Prairies with a notion of sailing back to Norway.

The tale sounds something like Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, but this is a Canadian drama, so the madness depicted here is not in any way magnificent or perversely admirable. Loosely based on the true story of a Saskatchewan immigrant who went similarly mad, this is a story pretty much drenched in pathos.

Directed by David Mortin, this shot-in-Manitoba drama boasts decent production values and solid performances for its low budget. At its most insightful, it plots the emotional fireworks roiling under the surface of the seemingly stoic prairie farmer.

If the film does not prove as moving as it should, it's because the filmmakers fail to make us invested in these characters and their relationships. One might care about Tomas and his wife more if there was any texture or lightness to their love story. As it is, it seems to be a marriage based on mutual silent suffering, and the calamities heaped upon them eventually engenders more impatience than sympathy.

As with so many Canadian films, Mad Ship is so determinedly downbeat, you have to wonder what kind of audience the filmmakers were expecting to attract. 'Ö'Ö 1/2

Continued 6

Terms and Conditions May Apply (11:30 a.m. at Venue 3, Aspire Theatre)

If one is confused by the recent story of Edward Snowdon's whistle-blowing on the NSA's massive intelligence gathering on U.S. citizens utilizing social networks such as Facebook, director Cullen Hoback's doc provides all the background you could want.

Hoback documents how the simple act of agreeing to Internet "Terms of Service" agreements can literally be the equivalent of letting government and business into your home to rifle through your stuff. Use Twitter or Facebook? So does the government, as you can see when a schoolboy is questioned by the Secret Service for posting his concern about President Obama on his Facebook page, or when an English tourist tweets about his (poorly phrased) plans to "destroy America" on a vacation to L.A. In Egypt, protesters used social media to strategize, but that approach could just as easily make them targets, as anti-royalty protesters discovered prior to the wedding Prince William and Kate Middleton.

It's an illuminating and important doc that may very well result in closing your Facebook account. HHH


The Sheepdogs Have At It (7:30 p.m. at Venue 2, Lady of the Lake Theatre)

If the music business is a flavour-of-the-month kind of proposition, the Saskatoon band the Sheepdogs offers up something as basic and true as vanilla, and just as delicious. Their music -- two guitars, bass and drums -- is fundamental. Their lineage -- the Allman Brothers -- is classic rock and roll.

So how does a contemporary band like that find an audience?

Winnipeg director John Barnard answers that question with an approach that is as unpretentious as the band itself, documenting their leap from prairie obscurity to sudden fame courtesy of a Rolling Stone magazine cover story.

You can see it in Barnard's choice of interview subjects: Forget rock critics, dude, let's hear from the band members' moms.

Director John Barnard will be in attendance at the screening. HHH


Muscle Shoals (10 p.m. on the Beach Screen)

Many of the classic songs one might assume were Motown were actually recorded in a little Alabama town in a nondescript music studio: Percy Sledge's When a Man Loves a Woman, Wilson Pickett's Land of 1000 Dances, and Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Loved You).

Directed by Freddy Camalier, the documentary Muscle Shoals is an utterly fascinating history of how this podunk town became a centre of the pop music universe in the '60s and '70s under the tutelage of legendary producer Rick Hall, a man who had as many personal demons as the most troubled rock star.

Bear in mind, the musicians who initially formed the famed rhythm section of Hall's Fame Studios were all white guys, recording with some of the most important black recording artists of the day in the most racially charged days of the civil right movement ... in Alabama.

The stories come fast and frequent, including Aretha Franklin's drama-charged recording session (that essentially jump-started her career in 1967), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards recalling the Rolling Stones' laying the tracks for Wild Horses and Brown Sugar and Percy Sledge's amazing career jump from hospital orderly to soul star on the strength of his When a Man Loves a Woman.

A documentary may not seem an obvious choice for Gimli's free beach screenings, but the sheer pop power represented by Muscle Shoals should make for a rockin' good time. HHHH


The Gimli Film Festival runs until July 28. For complete festival listings, go to

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2013 C1

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