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Threading up the 2008 Victoria Film Festival: Visiting that High

The Band's Visit - Do NOT miss at Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

No longer do the “Independent” and “Video” monikers grace the Victoria Film Festival’s name, and I for one am happy for it. Slowly but surely, the Victoria Film Festival is gaining ground and garnering attention, and I for one am looking forward to seeing some of the festival’s films this year.

And besides, the festival has showcased indie films for a long time, and video projection is a part of any festival these days. So good on them to trim out the fat.

I have been attending the Victoria fest for six years now, and it’s picking up momentum. Sure, the festival has its faults like any other, but they’re working on it, and one thing I do admire is how much they support the local scene. So much so, in fact, that the opening film “Motown High” is a story that comes right from the heart of the city. Barbara Hager’s documentary about the famous Vic High School band screens Friday night and the band itself will perform, as always, at the opening gala party.

Aside from the already running director interviews (with a few more to come soon), here is a look at some of the films playing at this year’s Victoria fest:

All Hat (3/5) – I caught this somewhat middling Canadian comedy/drama up at Whistler last fall and was taken aback just at how “middling” it all was. This horse-racing comedy set in and around Ontario’s race tracks and pubs goes from its direction, to its actors (among them: Luke Kirby, Graham Greene and David Carradine…yes, David Carradine) to its comedy, everything seems stuck in a place where it just can’t move outside of its lines. I think it will appeal to viewers who appreciate films about their homeland, but won’t do much action elsewhere. I will say this, though; it’s nice to see Rachel Leigh Cook NOT in a straight-to-video film for once.

The Band’s Visit (5/5 – Best Film of the Festival) – The very best film I saw at last year’s Vancouver Film Festival, I for one love the VFF for picking up this beautifully charming Isreali import about a police band from Egypt stuck in a small Isreal town. The characters, the simple but powerful wisdom and what happens to all the characters in the film is damn near flawless. The simple image of the uniformed band in this town is enough to make you fall in love with film all over again (cliché, I know, but who cares). Like with “The Puffy Chair” at last year’s festival, do yourself a favour and don’t talk to me if you miss the film’s screening.

Beauty in Trouble (4.5/5) – This was a big hit at the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival and I hope it finds its audience here. From my writeup that year: “Hey, I didn’t know Bryce Dallas Howard was a star in Jan Hrebek’s new Czech film! Oh wait, it’s just lookalike actress Ana Geislerova who plays one heck of an attractive mother named Marcela whose husband has just been shipped off to prison and must take up room with her mother and stubborn father-in-law. Marcela’s life is in turmoil until she meets Ezven (Josef Abrham) who has money and a nice large home for Marcela and her two kids to stay in, but has trouble connecting on a personal basis. At the same time, the film is a human comedy of manners, family and the ability to love, and its warm direction by Hrebejk makes this one not to miss at the festival.”

The Counterfeiters (4/5) – One of this year’s nominations for Best Foreign Language Film is this well made Austrian import about a German counterfeiter who is arrested and then used by the Nazi’s to create one of the largest counterfeiting rings in history; money being “created” to fund their war. If I had any problem with this otherwise terrific film, is that it’s too short; at only 98 minutes, I would have loved for the film to delve into the relationships and circumstances even further. Either way, it makes for a good night out at the movies.

Fierce People (2/5) – This long-delayed picture was filmed here in the city of Victoria…over four years ago. And while it doesn’t reach the nadir of Richard Roeper’s somewhat famously negative review of the film last summer on “Ebert and Roeper”, it’s still quite slumming. Its story of a young hippie mother/son combo (played by the lovely Diane Lane and Anton Yelchin, who is the cinematic version of fellow writer William Goss) in the early 80’s as they try to escape New York Life isn’t that original, nor are all the rich yuppy characters that come into their lives. It’s a watchable film, yet it goes so bloody wrong in the last half of the film that it never redeems itself. Lionsgate has been sitting on this film for so long that even Kristen Stewart would remark “My goodness, am I this old already?”

Let Others Suffer (4/5) – Reading the description of this film online, I figured this would be a simple Christopher Guest knock-off, but director Todd Peters takes an idea and completely runs with it in a hilarious and original new comedy. Peters plays a fictional version of himself, a man who wants nothing more than to make a documentary and enlists the inspiration and blessing of Eastern European filmmaker Ivan Libragi. Libragi accepts and films from his viewpoint, watching Todd mess up in brutal yet hilarious fashion.

The Goodtimeskid (1/5) – I hate to be so hard on an independent filmmakers and I give them all credit for trying, but what the hell were these filmmakers on when they made this garbage? The film’s awkward pacing, stiff acting and bizarre storyline, about mistaken identity and a lovely woman -- who inexplicably shows her bush to the camera – is deliriously off-putting. Director Azazel Jacobs may have stolen some film negative from a major Hollywood production (what, no HD cameras were available to you?), but that doesn’t mean that you should make a movie with one.

Hank & Mike (1.5/5) – Dirty Easter bunnies. Chris Klein. Annoying glitzy-pop soundtrack. No comedy whatsoever. NEXT!

Hell on Wheels (4/5) – This was one of my last screenings at South By Southwest last fall, and how cool was it to see a love letter to the city of Austin by way of roller-derby tournaments. Yes, roller derby. Women’s roller derby. A league began in Austin in the early decade, and director Bob Ray photographed it all, from the concept to the struggles, and it ignited a fanbase in that very amazing city. I hope Victoria people get to see this just so they can get an idea of the awesomeness that is Austin and why you should visit it the next chance you get.

Rock Paper Scissors: A Geek Tragedy (3.5/5) – Although I’m still trying to figure out the “Geek Tragedy” subtitle of the film’s title (probably not to get confused with another recent documentary title “Rock Paper Scissors: The Way of the Tosser”), this is still an entertaining documentary about two brothers who create a national Rock Paper Scissors league and have limited finances to do so with. The documentary is a total “fly on the wall”, meaning we get access to the tournaments, the arguments and the troubles with finding the right money to get the show broadcasted.

The Tracey Fragments (1/5) – As much as I admire “The Lovely Ellen Page” and all of her praise for “Juno”, I for one could not stand Bruce McDonald’s latest feature which stars Page as a rebellious teenager in fragmented pieces of video footage plastered all over the screen. This technique barely works in short feature form and is interminable in its 78 minute feature length, which asks us to care about an annoying shrill of a teen who is oh-so-misunderstood. This film caused audible groans in a press screening I attended last fall, which usually never happens.

The Union (5/5 – Best Documentary of the Festival) – GO SEE THIS MOVIE! No matter what your stance on the whole marijuana issue is, this documentary by director Brett Harvey is the most compelling Canadian doc I’ve seen since “The Corporation”; equal parts entertaining, insightful and very funny and presents all the sides of the issue. The show is wonderfully hosted by Adam Scorgie and features interviews from everyone from top BC politicians (including former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell) to Tommy Chong. I found out yesterday that this film’s only screening (on Thursday night at 9:30) has sold out of advance tickets, so get their early. I am hoping another screening is added, hopefully on the weekend, to give more viewers the opportunity to see this great doc.

The Walker (3.5/5) – What a strange film. But I still admire much of it regardless. It is the story of a gay socialite (Woody Harrelson) who accompanies rich ladies around Washington, DC and how he becomes mixed up in a murder mystery. The film is based on Edith Wharton’s novel and directed by Paul Schrader, who is no stranger to controversial material. Yet it is still a strange experience seeing Woody in a role like this.

Well Done (3.5/5) – I prefer medium-well, but that’s just me. I can say the same for this Quebec documentary about kings of the Montreal restaurant world. These are the kinds of chefs that will travel all over the world to find the right ingredients for their culinary delights, and we as a viewer are a fly on the wall as they argue, cook, discuss and drink all over the place. At times the film drags, and there’s a truly horrific sequence where a pig is gutted and slaughtered on camera, yet the experience of the film is memorable long after the credits roll. I still say that “Ratatouille” is my favourite food-ie movie, but this one is in good company.

A few more Victoria Film Festival director interviews will pop up in the next few days. For more information on the VFF, showtimes and ticket information, point your browser to – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/02/08 06:00:41
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