|by Greg Ursic
With more than 600 screenings of over 375 films from 75 countries, the 30th incarnation of the Vancouver International Film Festival has something for everyone (and trust me if you can’t find it, you’re simply not looking hard enough). I’d like to say that I wasn’t even born when VIFF began, but let’s just say that I was much younger and leave it at that… In the decade plus that I’ve been covering VIFF, I’ve enjoyed hundreds of films from around the world ranging from the good to the “What on earth were they thinking?” and everything in between and this year has been no exception.
This year's festival venues include Empire Granville 7 (EMP) near Granville and Smithe; Pacific Cinematheque (PAC) near Howe and Davie; Vancity Theatre (VAN) at the Vancouver International Film Centre near Seymour and Davie. We also welcomed back The Vogue near Howe and Davie; - which has undergone a wonderful restoration (too bad it didn’t extend to the bum-numbing seats). We also said goodbye to the Park and the Ridge (my selfish favorite as it is only 10 minutes from my apartment and allowed for last-minute picks…).
Please note, due to my thoughtless decision to go on vacation this year (one can’t turn down a free trip to the Caribbean…) and an untimely bout with the flu, some of the films reviewed here may no longer playing at VIFF, but will be either playing at other festivals, will be getting a release or will no doubt enjoy life on cable or DVD.
Before you settle in, here are a few housekeeping tips to keep in mind:
1) As many of the films are subtitled, please ignore your parents' advice to "Sit up straight", indeed slouching is appreciated by your fellow festival goers
2) Turn your cell phone off, and under no circumstance should you text, e-mail, or answer your cell during a movie as it will only illuminate you and set you up for withering comments or worse
3) Open any noisy snacks (i.e anything wrapped in Saran Wrap, tin foil, etc) before the lights go out
4)Every film is eligible for the Rogers People’s Choice Award so remember to vote for every film you see; you can win prizes as can the filmmakers - ballot forms are in the lobby or you can text your vote
5) Remember to have fun (unless you're watching something that is truly disturbing in which case feel free to display the appropriate emotions...)-
What’s Up? Docs.
Movie reviewers are required to be objective and never play favorites, but I must admit that I am unapologetic fan of docs: there's just something about real stories that draws me in. If you’re also doc fan, you'll be interested to know that many films now have a website where you can sign up and get involved; you’ll find addresses for many in the VIFF programming guide (both online and hard copy).
If you’ve ever pondered purchasing a pachyderm for a pet, check out Lisa Leeman’s One Lucky Elephant first. Leeman documents the touching story of one man (David) and his elephant (Flora), and how after 16 years of working together in the circus, David tries to do right by Flora and send her to live with her own kind. As anyone who’s dealt with them knows, the tenacious teen years are often traumatic, and all the more so when they’re ten tons and act out. Sad, shocking and celebratory, it is a joy to watch.
3 out of 5
Wednesday, Oct 12th 12:20pm EMP
Blood Diamonds (those which have been mined in a war zone) have gotten a lot of press over the years, few people realize their cell phones contain blood minerals. In Blood in the Mobile Frank Poulsen travels to the war-torn Republic of the Congo, repeatedly risking life and limb to expose the trade and ask why none of the major manufactures are doing anything to halt the problem. While Poulsen’s repeated fruitless confrontations with Nokia’s brass grow a tad wearisome, this informative doc is a revelation for consumers and his trip down the rabbit hole to hell to witness extraction first hand is a gritty, claustrophobic nightmare. See it before you upgrade your cell.
3.5 out of 5
Thursday, Oct 13th 11:00am EMP
Decades after Mao’s edict that “Man must conquer nature” caused famine and environmental disaster on a grand scale, the Chinese Government enacted the Environmental Assessment Law which calls for public input on all large scale projects. Waking the Green Tiger follows the law’s first challenge when the government announces a series of dams, one of which will destroy an historic site. Buoyed by gorgeous cinematography, very candid interviews with government officials and regular citizens alike, the film makes a convincing case that the seeds of democracy have already been sown in the nascent environmental movement.
3.5 out of 5
When he of the crappy toupee tries to build a massive golf course in an ecologically pristine area he comes up against Scottish sons (and daughters) of the soil and learns that not everyone’s a pushover. You’ve Been Trumped showcases the cowardice of local politicians and police as they try to appease “The Donald” and shows Trump for what he really is: a crass, arrogant bully who will repeatedly defame people, and whose minions will arrest people on trumped up charges, and sabotage water supplies. A revealing expose, it shames those who should be looking out for the people and will not win Trump any new fans.
3 out of 5
Will be playing at the VanCity Theatre Monday Oct 17th at 8:30pm as part of the VIFF Repeats series
Please note festival passes will not give you access to this screening
A rare sight outside Japan only twenty years ago, you can find multiple sushi restaurants in any medium-sized city today, often on the same block. That success however may well prove to be its undoing; as the fate of blue fin tuna aka the Porsche of the Oceans (because it’s as big, fast and expensive and even rarer than its namesake) demonstrates, with growing demand comes decreasing supply. In Sushi The Global Catch, director Mark Hall, talks to fisherman, chefs, scientists and consumers to highlight the problems and potential solutions, which include sustainable farming, sales, and changing methods of fishing.
3.5 out of 5
Friday, Oct 14th 6:00pm EMP
Thirteen years ago Paco Larrañaga, was arrested for the rape and murder of two sisters. Despite affidavits from dozens of witnesses placing him 500 kms away at the time of the crime, and a complete lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, he was not only found guilty but sentenced to death. Give Up Tomorrow follows the journey to free Paco and in the process exposes a justice system riddled by incompetence and corruption that went all the way to the office of the president. More importantly is Paco’s ability to maintain his not only his sense of dignity and stoic resilience, but optimism in light ofhis impossible situation. Infuriating, informative, engaging and inspirational it is an example of documentary film making at its best.
5 out of 5
Thursday, Oct 13th 10:30am EMP
How to Die in Oregon opens with a terminal cancer patient who, surrounded by his family, takes a fatal dose of medication; as he falls into his final sleep, he says in a trailing, soothing voice “it was easy folks”. Not so for audience. Director Peter D. Richardson takes great pains to outline what Oregon’s 1994 physician assisted suicide law really means - death with dignity, as exemplified by Cody Curtis. The 50 something vivacious, driven and well-spoken mother of two’s journey as she deals with terminal cancer will keep viewers rapt. Respectful, informative, emotional, and surprisingly uplifting the film is even-handed, intelligent and makes one wonder why every country doesn’t follow Oregon’s lead. Bring some tissues
5 out of 5
In 2004’s The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Director Phil Grabsky followed Mir, a young boy, who despite living in abject poverty in a cave in post-Taliban Afghanistan seemed to be perpetually smiling. Clearly Grabsky never tired of his subject, tracking Mir for a decade resulting in The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan. We never see any evidence of the ongoing conflict, but you can see its effects on Mir; though he still sports his trademark smile his face is etched by weariness. Unfortunately out of context shots and haphazard editing, make it hard to connect to the lead and sap the film’s impact.
2.5 out of 5
Thursday Oct 13th 1:15pm EMP
Remember being told “there are starving children in [insert country] who would love to have that?” Too bad supermarkets and agro-corporations don’t have moms. Taste the Waste examines the insanity of consumer driven guidelines that cause fruit/vegetables that aren’t the “right” size, color or shape to be disposed of and the myth of “best-buy” dates (which in Japan is measured in hours). Carefully balancing statistics (the EU throws out 90 million tonnes of food a year) with hard hitting visuals (a wholesaler in France throws out ten tonnes of oranges because a few have spots) and provides a glimmer of hope (forward thinking farmers and companies that are turning household green waste garbage into compost and bio-gas energy). Be warned: maddening, entertaining and educational, Waste may well ruin your appetite.
3.5 out of 5
Koran By Heart follows three 10 year olds - Nabiollah, the wunderkind from Tajikistan, Djamil, the son of a respected Senegalese Imam, and Rifdha a star pupil who hails from the Maldives - as they take part in Cairo’s annual International Holy Koran Competition. Unlike Spellbound, where accuracy was everything, participants are also judged on a set of ineffable qualities such as vocal quality and spirit, in a language which many of them can’t understand. Director Greg Barker delivers an enjoyable nail biter with moments of sadness, surprise and joy, and simultaneously highlights the many facets of Islam and shatters misconceptions.
3.5 out of 5
Thu, Oct 13th 6:40pm EMP
A timid disaffected housewife in the Norwegian sticks is jealous of the shiny new couple next door till their blemishes start to show, spurring a journey of self-discovery that leads to a maelstrom of emotions and a boatload of awkwardness for everyone involved. Equal parts quirky, earnest and hopeful, Happy Happy features a unique score, gorgeous landscapes and a solid cast with a delightful performance by standout Agnes Kittelsen as the put-upon Pollyanna of the piece.
3.5 out of 5
Wednesday Oct 12th 9:15pm EMP & Friday Oct 14th 2:00pm VOG.
Eschewing traditional cinematic narrative, director Nadav Lapid fashions Policeman as a three act play. The first act focuses on an expectant father and leader of an elite anti-terrorist squad under investigation for a raid gone wrong, while the second follows a group of trust fund babies determined to overturn the status quo and come together in the frisson filled third act. Erratic pacing notwithstanding, Policeman's hypermasculinty and none-too subtle subtext are a reflection of Israeli culture at large, the story is insightful, and it boasts a solid cast and several surprises.
4 out of 5
Thursday Oct 13th 9:30pm EMP
What starts out a alcohol fuelled erotically charged one night stand, grows into something far more intimate and revealing when the afterglow wears off in first-time director Anne Émond’s Nuit#1. There is no shortage of skin in the opening 15 minutes, but you will definitely feel more like a voyeur as the characters discuss the most intimate aspects of their lives and struggle to truly connect. The visceral dialogue is sharp and cutting and works thanks to the leads’ willingness to totally commit to it. While often uncomfortable to watch and listen to, it is anything but boring.
3.5 out of 5
Wed, Oct 12th 9:30pmPAC
Friday Oct 14th 4:00pm PAC
When a husband won’t agree to his wife’s request to emigrate she sues for divorce, setting in motion a series of events that will have an impact far beyond their doorstep. The messiness of breakups is a universal theme, but A Separation channels it through the prism of Iranian society which adds a host of subtle and not-so-subtle nuances. Throw in sharp, realistic dialogue and a talented ensemble cast leaving little doubt why it’s Iran’s submission for the Foreign Language Oscar.
4 out of 5
Friday Oct 14th 6:30pm EMP
Creating a credible film-within-a-film requires subtlety and deft storytelling, qualities which are in short supply in Free Hands, the semi-autobiographical story of a filmmaker who works with inmates in order to help the understand what they’ve done and unwittingly falls in love with one of the cons. The strongest thing it has going for it is the bridled passion between the leads, but there is simply far too much filler in between, the dialogue often feels stilted.
3 out of 5
Thursday Oct 13th 3:00pmEMP
Elisabeth Olsen’s searing performance as a damaged young woman who escapes from a cult and tries to reintegrate into society without any notion of boundaries is reason enough to see Martha Marcy May Marlene; the rest is just gravy. John Hawkes is outstanding as the creepy Mansonesque leader and 1st time director T. Sean Durkin’s creative use of lighting, framing and scene structure allows past and present to bleed into one, until you’re not sure if what you’re watching is even real. A disturbing must-see film.
4 out of 5
Friday Oct 14th 3:00pm EMP
The House of Tolerance in question is a turn of the century upper class brothel in Paris, where women ply their trade in the hopes of getting out of a never ending cycle of debt. The film’s depiction of nudity and sex is utilitarian as opposed to erotic and actually becomes boring (which, is probably the intent). It is the relationships between the women and the stark contrast between their lush settings and real lives that provide the story’s focal point, but the story tends to wander, the 1980’s pop soundtrack feels intrusive and it runs about 25 minutes too long.
Thursday Oct 13th 4:00pm EMP
Friday Oct 14th 6:45pm EMP
First time writer/director Aaron Houston shot Sunflower Hour - an American Idol style mockumentary about the search for a new puppeteer for a children’s show - over eight weekends for less than $30K, and delivers one of the funniest films to hit VIFF in years. Boasting a ribald, gallows sense of humour, a talented cast with impeccable comic timing, an over-the-top story arc, and less than pristine production values that only add to its charm, it is an absolute treat. Note: this shot in Vancouver gem is definitely not for kids, or anyone who is easily offended.
4 out of 5
Fri, Oct 14th 4:20pm
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originally posted: 10/12/11 03:11:12
last updated: 09/21/12 03:39:37