Personal and public tragedies unfolding in both the past and the present, including a brother’s death, will hover front and centre when Canadian filmmaker Richard Bell appears in Sidney Thursday to discuss his movie Brotherhood.
The movie — which will close out its run at the Star Cinema on Thursday after first appearing on Aug. 14 — tells the story of teenaged boys and their male adult leaders making life and death choices after a freak storm capsizes their canoe. While drawing inspiration from real-life events in rural Ontario in the 1920s, Bell frames the movie as a commentary on the Boy Crisis. Its theorists lament that boys find themselves falling behind their female peers in many areas for a multitude of reasons in warning of societal dysfunction, an idea that has received opposition from feminist and other circles.
While the movie features female characters in flashbacks, its largely male cast led by Brendan Fehr (Night Shift, Roswell) and Brendan Fletcher (The Revenant) lacks diversity and Bell readily admits the movie would not receive financing in today’s climate. But this aspect neither diminishes its story-telling power nor its contemporary relevancy, he said.
When producers asked Bell to show them how the movie would be relevant (he started work on it in 2011), he had a “light-bulb moment” after studying academic and popular literature that addresses the Boy Crisis, a subject that rose to the forefront with the Columbine Massacre but also has literary antecedents in characters including Peter Pan, Pinocchio and various myths.
“In the 1920s, people were just as concerned about boys, because a lot of their fathers did not return from the war,” he said. “And if they did, they were just a shell of the human they were. So boys had to grow up pretty fast.” In fact, community leaders of the era considered camps like the one shown in the movie as a corrective to the listlessness of boys, a condition then blamed on contemporary media.
This question about the movie’s contemporary relevancy has since gained tragic personal dimension following the recent death of Bell’s older brother at the age of 47 because of a fentanyl overdose.
“That question has a new relevancy for me because my brother really was a lost boy,” said Bell, who learnt about his brother’s death from his younger brother, while attending a barbecue in Ontario hosted by one of the cast members. This loss led Bell to abandon his plans for a promotional tour of the movie through Ontario, flying home to be with his mother in Vancouver, from where he called the Peninsula News Review.
Brotherhood is also running against the larger backdrop of various social justice movements (Me Too, Black Lives Matter) and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in the ’20s again oddly and these movements are making great strides, and I really hope that men and boys don’t get left behind in these big conversations about mental health and wellness and empowerment and self-love and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “Right now, I feel like manhood is being demonized. The villain right now is the straight, white male. My brother was a straight, white male and he was no villain.”
The movie also comments on the current pandemic. For one, the real-life characters inspiring the movie were alive during the Spanish Flu and one of the adult characters in the movie lost his son because of it. The movie also poses questions about the level of sacrifice that individuals are prepared to make during an existentialist, unforeseen crisis.
“Brotherhood is about a kind of nobility and selflessness, a kind of sacrifice that is so pure and seemingly more and more rare, that I hope people will walk out of the film wanting to be a little bit better,” he said. “I truly feel that people show who they are in an emergency.”
Bell will discuss this and the other subjects after the 3:10 and 7 p.m. showings on Thursday.
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