Chasing Shakespeare @ Montreal International Black Film Festival

chasing shakespeareA more modern twist on the Greek-Shakespearean tragedies is a tricky thing.  You are up against expectations created by the brilliance of the originators of the genre; I, for one, wouldn’t want to go up against The Bard.  Director Norry Niven does and for the most part succeeds.  He is aided in his endeavour by the strong script by James Bird.  Bird and Niven both demonstrate themselves to be strong storytellers.

William Ward (Danny Glover – Lethal Weapon, The Color Purple) is at his dying wife’s (Tantoo Cardinal – Dances With Wolves, Legends of the Fall) bedside reading excerpts from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  As he walks through his empty feeling house during lightning storms he sees visions of his wife throughout the house.  Now back at his wife’s bedside outside under a tree she dies. William sits there remembering their love story, which is anything but typical.  This is his attempt to reconnect with the love of his life even after death.  William’s son (Clarence Gilyard Jr. – Die Hard, Top Gun) believes his father is losing his mind.

As a young man in the year 1972 William (Mike Wade) meets Venus (Chelsea Ricketts – Missionary Man), a member of the Lightning Clan which is a mystical Native American family living in Arkansas.  They meet as Venus is trying out for the role of Juliet in the school production of Romeo and Juliet.  She does not get the part because she is Native American.  Soon after their meeting the two fall in love.  Being in love is all fine and dandy except it goes against the vision of her life and love seen by her now deceased father.  Fate muddles things up when William’s father gets ill and as a result he cannot follow Venus to Broadway.  Venus is going to New York in order to find her destiny.

Soon after her arrival in NYC Venus falls ill and realizes that her life is in jeopardy.  William’s father dies so he is able to join Venus in New York.  An electrical storm brings about something special in William’s past and present.

What strikes you first about the film is how beautifully filmed (other than the terrible special effects), romantic and mystical it is.  It is the type of film that they don’t make enough of anymore in that it is a true family film of the ilk that you can sit there and have cry over in the company of your family members of many ages.  It is also very relatable allowing everyone to take something away from it after watching.  We can all remember the first time we fell in love and how incredible and all encompassing those feelings were.

Several things separate this film from other gushy romantic pictures.  Not your typical love story in that it is joyful and heart wrenching at the same time.  While there are plenty of poignant (you will shed some tears) it is in the end very hopeful.  Smartly it is able to make some comments/observations about race relations in the United States without hitting you over the head with it.

The film was the opening night film of the Montreal International Black Film Festival and director Norry Niven and actor Danny Glover were both in attendance.  The night was a special one for Danny Glover as he was awarded the festival’s 2013 Humanitarian Award.  The award was in recognition of his activist and humanitarian works.

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