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VIFF - West Fest Still One of the Best
by Greg Ursic

Vancouver is once again set to welcome the annual cinematic orgy (not literally of course), that is the Vancouver International Film Festival aka VIFF. Now in its 29th year, this year’s festival runs from September 30th - October 15th and will feature just shy of 600 screenings of 360 filmfrom over around the world on virtually any topic you can imagine. My goal is to help steer you towards some films that you might find enjoyable, and generally make for a more pleasurable festival experience, whether you’re a newbie or a festival vet.

So why should you listen to me? A damn good question. As a VIFF repeat attender - this is my 11th one - I’ve also attended TIFF and SIFF, and have sat through about 1000 festival films between them, and reviewed several hundred of those, so I have some time in the seats as it were. That and I’ve already had a chance to check out a whack of films.

Unlike TIFF, the acquisitions centre of the world (or simply the centre of the world as they like to believe) which has become a proving ground for the Oscar wanna-be films, VIFF tends to be more laid back with a more diverse selection of films, many of which, like the Loch Ness monster, you’ll never get a chance to once they leave. But with 100’s of film on tap, each with multiple screenings at various venues, what’s a newbie to do? How do you know what to see or get to the venues? And what do you need to take? Relax, that’s why I’m here.

The festival kicks off with the September 30th gala screening of Barney’s Version based on Mordecai Richler’s novel which stars Paul Giamatti as Barney, a philandering TV producer as he stumbles through three marriages and four decades and also features Dustin Hoffman as his father. The Anniversary gala this year is Score: A Hockey Musical the story of a hockey phenom who becomes an overnight sensation and is put off by the sport’s “drop-the-gloves” mentality. The closing gala is The Illusionist (not to be confused with the Ed Norton flick of the same name) the second animated film by the creator of The Triplets of Bellville about an aging prestidigitator in Scotland, which has been getting raves. But there’s so much more.

Returning series include the Canadian Images. the largest collection of Canadian films onscreen; Dragons and Tigers the most humongous series of Asian films outside Asia is lead by Aftershock the Chinese blockbuster about the aftermath of the 1976 earthquake that devastated China Cinema of Our Time, a collection of films from around the world; Spotlight on France , which should be self explanatory; The Ecologies of the Mind, dedicated to issues environmental, including the debut of Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie starring everyone’s favorite septuagenarian saver of planets and Nonfiction Features, which offers up the usual collection of fascinating docs including much anticipated The Inside Job,about the most recent financial fiasco. There are also a couple new series; Africa Today, created to showcase the deluge of films dealing with the continent and Spotlight on Cannes, the films that premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival. There has been one other novel change this year.

In years past, advertising firm TWBA V\Vancouver worked with VIFF to create a series of shorts (several of which went on to win major awards) that ran before the films. This year, rather than having unrelated shorts they’ve created a short film, with one segment showing each day of the festival, and If you miss one day of the festival you’ll be able to catch that day’s short at . On the final day of the festival they’ll run all 16 clips together. Based on their past work, I’m really looking forward to this one.

Picking your class schedule or navigating your company’s org chart is child’s play compared to the labyrinthine machinations required to ensure that you see as many films as humanly possible in the 16 days allotted. Show up for a random screening and you might find yourself in the Kazakh remake of Gigli (and no one deserves that..). To fine tune your flick picks, a good starting point is the film synopses online at which is broken down by genres and series and is search-able. You can also avail yourself of the extensive coverage online or pick up one of the local papers.

Once you’ve made a list of potentials you’ll want to when and where they’re playing to make sure you can actually get to them, since there are screenings throughout the day every day the festival runs. If you think the film(s) you want to see are going to be really popular and you don`t want to risk missing it, you can purchase advance tickets online or call 604-683-FILM (3456). If you`re planning on putting it on plastic, take note, VIFF only takes VISA and the person who bought the tickets has to pick them up.

Tickets cost $12 for evening screenings, $10 for matinees and seniors and you can a student 5-pack for $50 (just remember your student card). Film junkies might want to look into a pass which range from $150 for the Pass to the Park which lets you see every film playing at the Park for the duration of the festival all the way up to the Platinum Pass Plus for $2,500 which gets you reserved premium seats at every screening, tickets for the Gala and Party of your choice, a T-shirt, program catalogue and attendants who carry you to every screening on a gilded litter (okay, not too sure about the last part…). For more info on ticketing or passes, pop online or give them a call. Finally as the majority of the films in the festival are unrated, you are required to purchase a $2 membership for the festival (don`t blame VIFF, it's actually a government rule) and you will be asked to show at each screening, so don`t lose it.

VIFF's Venues

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 and
The Park Theatre (PRK) near Cambie and 18th.

All the venues are easy to get to on transit: just grab a #17 or #4 downtown and get off the nearest cross street. For The Park, you can either go downtown and catch the Canada Line to King Edward and walk several blocks to the Park, or grab a 99 B-line and get off on Cambie and grab the Canada Line (you could also wait for the Cambie bus at Cambie and Broadway: it will drop you off closer to the theater, but they run infrequently). Now that you know where you’re going here's a few suggestions.

A couple more things to consider. First, if you’re viewing three or more screenings a day aka Xtreme Movie Viewing as we veterans like to call it pretend you’re planning for an 8 hour flight - Lululemon sweats or relax fit jeans (you`re going to be in the dark anyways right?) and you’ll also want to layer because while it may have been sunny when you left the house you might be greeted by a torrential downpour on the way home. A small umbrella is also a good idea.

If you`re settling in for a marathon session food becomes a concern. You are free to avail yourselves or the offerings at the concession stand, or if downtown, the many local eateries within walking distance. As the theaters are a tad more relaxed about outside food during the festival, you might want to consider bringing some snacks. If you follow this route, use small easy to open reusable containers carried in a backpack. Avoid using plastic wrap or anything crinkly that sounds like chipmunks on speed as these could incite your neighbours to violence. And subtlety is the key here people: do not stand by the entrance to the theatre chomping on your peanut butter and sardine sandwich, or ask the concession stand if they can heat up your burrito - they will not be amused, and may well ask you leave. You also may want to bring along some handy wipes if you’re a messy eater. And let’s not forget the other thing associated with eating: bathrooms.
A crucial planning point for any movie marathoner is to stay away from super-sized liquid anythings, or try to get an aisle seat so as not to bother too many people. Also keep in mind that most of the venues have small bathrooms so get in early or you’ll wait (a quick tip: the bathroom on the second floor at the Granville 7 is largely unknown and the biggest one there - don’t tell too many people).

Finally, cell phones are considered the Devil’s devices by festivalgoers and they are far less tolerant that regular moviegoers. If your cell goes off expect to be yelled at by several people until you turn it off. And don’t even think about texting. Unless you are a doctor on call or enjoy being the object of scorn, turn it off before you go in.
In closing, do some prep, show up at the venue of your choice about a half hour early (especially if you’re picking up tickets or if you think it’s going to be a really popular film) and keep an open mind and enjoy all the festival has to offer. See you in the lineup.


Moments after processing, former tough guy Rune, knows that he’s at mercy of the vicious alpha dogs that run the prison. He ingratiates himself with the powers that be when he discovers a novel method of drug smuggling but an unlikely friendship puts it all in jeopardy. R will no doubt be compared to last year’s Prophet, and while they share the same gritty premise, there are no flights of fancy in R, redemption is in short supply and the constant din almost becomes one of the characters. Thanks to directors Micheal Noer and Tobias Linholm’s documentary backgrounds the film looks more like a doc but there are several flat sections that drag down the pacing and the ending feels a bit arbitrary.
Plays: Sun, Oct 10th 9:15pm EMP Th 4; Mon, Oct 11th 4:20pm EMP Th 2

Emily Carr’s initial foray into art did not go well: stifled by conservatism she suffered a nervous breakdown and stopped painting for 15 years, only to rediscover her inspiration while living among the First Nations. Winds of Heaven showcases not only Carr’s wonderfully expressive paintings whose brilliant colors leap out at you, it is also framed by intoxicating shots of the verdant Haida Gwaii, and an equally entrancing soundtrack. Seamlessly narrated, it also features some wonderful vintage turn-of-the-century film footage of Vancouver. Director Michael Ostroff provides riveting insight into the life of a fascinating artist who though she went largely unappreciated in her time, defied convention and delivered an astonishing body of work that is revered today. A must-see for art fans.
Plays: Sat, Oct 9th 6:30pm EMP Th 7; Sun, Oct 10th 4:00pm EMP Th 7;Wed, Oct 13th 1:00pm EMP Th 2

If you like going to house parties or clubs where you don’t know anyone and have to struggle to avoid tripping over drunks while inhaling clouds of unwanted second hand smoke, then maybe you’ll enjoy Chicks the improv “dramedy” by Sophie Letourner. Featuring a cast of nameless 20 something who engage in pointless booze-filled debates while avoiding life is poorly shot, acted and executed. Think of it as Friends only without the comedy, camaraderie, or charisma. The only thing worse than this dark, grainy stream of consciousness exercise is the possibility that these emptiness is that these narcissistic misfits represent our future - I think I need a drink.
Plays: Fri, Oct 8th 11:20am EMP 7 Th 2; Mon, Oct 11th 7:00pmVAN

After learning English in Australia, Orasarali Olibui uses his new found skills and a digital camera to tell the story of his tribe, the Mursi of south western Ethiopia, which lives without running water or electricity. Their only possessions are cows to signify their wealth and the Kalashnikov’s they use to protect them. Olibui distills the frustration and desperation of the Mursi as they try to cope with being driven from their traditional lands, an influx of tourists and the ongoing intertribal warfare that threatens their very existence making the title for Shooting With Mursi a disquieting double entendre.
Plays: Tue, Oct 12th 6:45pm EMP Th 2; Thu, Oct 14th 1:30pm VAN

When the ravishing daughter of a local nobleman is bitten by a rabid dog in the market, the Cardinal orders her sent to a convent to determine if she requires an exorcism. When the young novitiate sent to observe her is enraptured by her beauty, you know nothing good can come of it. Hilda Hidalgo’s Of Love and Other Demon’s is more a work of art that a film; painted with broad strokes it features iridescent fauna, lush scenery and the stunning lead’s bouncing gorgeous locks mesmerizing. Unfortunately it proves to be too pensive for its own good; the story moves at a glacial pace and spends too much time in silence, and your attention is likely to have waned by the time the predictable conclusion unfolds.
Plays: Fri, Oct 1st 9:15pm EMP Th 4;Sat, Oct 2nd 10:30am EMP Th 7;Sun, Oct 3rd 12:15pm EMP Th 6

Juan is having the mother of all bad days: when he shows up early for his new job as a prison guard, a freak accident leaves him stranded when the convicts take over the prison. Not only does he have to blend in to survive, he struggles to keep an already desperate situation from exploding into bloodshed with nothing but his wits to guide him. Daniel Monzon’s Cell 211 swept the Spanish film awards for a simple reason: it’s a damn good film. Boasting a tight multilayered script that adds politics and morality to the prison milieu, it is bolstered by outstanding performances from Alberto Amman and Luis Tosar, steady pacing, a few surprising twists and you could cut the tension with a shank.
Plays: Oct 3rd 9:30pm EMP Th 7; Fri, Oct 8th 4:15pm EMP Th 7

The ethereal moody opening shot for Armadillo sets the tone for this doc about a Danish combat unit being shipped off to Afghanistan. Director Januz Metz insinuates himself into every aspect of the soldiers’ lives whether they’re watching porn on guard duty, getting the news of fallen comrades or hitting the dirt during a firefight. It is their changing mood however that proves most revealing, as the initial optimism gives way to boredom, fear and a reduced sense of purpose as evidenced during their ever shorter calls back home. Metz captures the surreal nature of soldiering, with a shot of recruits playing an online war game in their downtime then seamlessly transitioning to a live firefight. A visceral piece of film making with multiple storylines and distinct characters, it is superbly directed and edited to maximize its impact on the audience.
Plays: Oct 2nd 2:50pm EMP Th 1; Sun, Oct 10th 3:20pm EMP Th 5; Wed, Oct 13th 9:15pm EMP Th 4

When a father chooses to spend time contemplating his lime tree rather that attend his oldest son’s funeral it understandably leads to confusion, recriminations and aggravates festering familial wounds. In Family Tree directors Olivier Duscatel and Jacques Martineau use the machinations of a family in crisis to tease out the little known dark secrets of France’s occupation, a time when it wasn’t only political indiscretions that can could get you locked away without trial. Guy Marhand’s commanding presence is equaled by Francoise Fabian who plays his quietly suffering wife. Add a talented supporting cast, a bracing story, steady pacing and a serene setting and you have an engaging story.
Plays: Fri, Oct 1st 4:00pm EMP Th 2; Sat, Oct 2nd 6:15pm EMP Th 4; Tue, Oct 5th 10:15am EMP Th 7

The say the first casualty of war is truth, but in Russian Lessons it gets eviscerated, blown up and set on fire. When war breaks out in Northern Georgia (the country not the state) two journalists (husband and wife team Andrei Nekrasov and Olga Konskaya) set out for the front from opposite sides of the border to cover the hostilities. What they find is evidence of Russian foreign policy run amok and a propaganda campaign worthy of Wag the Dog, which the foreign press, swallows hook line and sinker. Shocking, infuriating and fascinating, it’s investigative journalism at its best. Note, there is some pretty gory footage so be warned.
Plays: Thu, Sep 30th 9:00pm PAC; Sun, Oct 3rd 1:30pm VAN

In A Somewhat Gentle Man Stellan Skarsgard plays against type as a newly paroled inmate who just wants to be left alone to tinker with cars and spend time with the son who thought he was dead. But when women aren’t throwing themselves at him, his old gang is trying to get him to pick up where he left off. Skarsgard acquits himself brilliantly, whether called upon to be besotted or bewildered and when he’s called upon to be violent, he remains resigned and subdued, which is even more amusing (think actual repercussions from Three Stooges antics). It’s a dark, thoroughly enjoyable little comedy with some unexpected twists.
Plays: Fri, Oct 1st 7:00pm PRK; Sun, Oct 3rd 1:30pm EMP Th 7

Angelin Preljoca’s Snow White definitely ain’t for the kiddies: wordless and darkly intense, it also oozes sexuality (seriously, the Queen dresses like Dominatrix, Snow White doesn’t act very virginal as she prances about in nearly nothing and we won’t talk about the deer…). The dance sequences - mostly classically staged ballet, with some interpretive dance, overhead kaleidoscope sequences reminiscent of Busby Berkeley and a touch of Cirque de Soleil showmanship thrown in for good measure - are riveting, and buoyed by an eloquent, powerful score. And the wonderfully imagined, yet minimalist sets and precision lighting prove that you don’t need CGI to get your point across. It’s a joy to watch even if you’re not a big ballet fan.
Plays: Fri, Oct 1st 7:00pm VAN; Wed, Oct 6th 6:00pm EMP Th 7; Fri, Oct 8th 11:00am VAN

In King’s Road young man returns to the crappy trailer park of his birth in Iceland’s backwaters with his “business partner” to borrow money from his dad, but thanks to the global crisis, everyone’s broke (except grandma who carries her money around in a stuffed seal). The characters are written to be quirky but come off as clueless simpletons, the pacing is awful and I didn’t so much crack a smile during the entirety of this mess. Fans of The Trailer Park Boys may find something to laugh at here, but if you’re not attuned to their brand of humour I’d suggest you give this one a wide berth.
Plays: Sat, Oct 9th 4:00pm EMP Th7; Tue, Oct 12th 6:45pm EMP Th7

When the Hays Code was brought in to clean up Hollywood in1930, it created a boom for underground filmmakers and the non-studio theaters that showed their work. Elijah Drenner examines the symbiotic nature between these entities in American Grindhouse and shows how these auteurs, working on the periphery influenced trends seen in the movies today. Running the gamut of the exploitation genre including blaxploitation, women in prison, roughies and more, it is packed with dozens of rare clips, and interviews with several of their creators. An enjoyable romp, it’s a shame that we don’t get to see it in an actual grindhouse and experience its full effect.
Plays: Sat, Oct 9th 10:00pm EMP Th 1Mon, Oct 11th 3:20pm EMP Th 5

A planned roadblock to protest the actions of the police sparks a verbal sparring match between two cousins over their beliefs, and whether the ends justifies the means. There are some clever ideas in Two Indians Talking especially when it comes to stereotypes, familial responsibilities and the very notions of what is right and would have made for a solid short. Unfortunately they pad the runtime, most notably with the clumsy introduction of two women - one intended as set dressing the other an intellectual foil - which completely saps its momentum and it never recovers.
Plays: Wed, Oct 6th 9:15pm EMP Th 4;Fri, Oct 8th 12:40pm EMP Th 5

While the Soviet government was clamping down on artists whose work didn’t fit within doctrinal guidelines, Igor Savitsky, a low-level archaeologist was busily criss-crossing the country buying banned art - with government money- for his Museum in Uzbekistan’s outback. The Desert of Forbidden Art features captivating interviews with some of relatives of the artists whose work he saved and presents a stirring cinematic travelogue. But that pales next to the visual feast of amazingly varied and vivid pieces which explode on screen in a burst of colours that will leave you gob smacked. Even in light of recent threats to the museum from Islamic fundamentalists, the film proves that you can’t eradicate creativity or the beauty it produces and not everyone is willing to sell out.
Plays: Sat, Oct 9th 3:20pm EMP Th 5;Sun, Oct 10th 6:00pm EMP Th 5;Thu, Oct 14th 10:45am PAC

Feathered Cocaine follows Allan Parrot, the former falcon trainer for the Shah of Iran, and the first legal exporter of raptors, who has spent the past decade trying to end the lucrative trade - a single bird can fetch a million dollars - which is decimating their ranks. His mission, which has taken him around the globe has seen him threaten, beaten and arrested. But when he uncovers the whereabouts of the world’s most infamous falcon smuggler who also happens to be America’s #1 enemy, the reaction from the Pentagon and the CIA is not to be believed. With its cool title and a fascinating story you simply can’t go wrong with this one.

Who says you can’t make a good film on a shoe-string budget? Ben Wheatly’s Down Terrace features a mom and pop (and dysfunctional son) criminal enterprise as they try to flush out the people who ratted them out them out to the cops. Things get complicated when sonny’s expectant girlfriend shows up on the doorstop. Boasting genuine performances (most of the actors are related in real life), a series of unexpected twists, a decidedly warped sense of humour and a lot of dead bodies, this dark little gem is a bit of a slow starter, that quickly finds its stride. And it will keep you guessing to the final frame.
Plays: Sun, Oct 3rd 11:00am EMP Th 2; Thu, Oct 7th 9:15pm EMP Th 4

After sitting through yet another ode to obscurity by Catherine Breillat I have to ask “Why in the hell do you keep going back!?!” Her reimagining of Sleeping Beauty doesn’t even bear a passing resemblance to its popular namesake. Aside from some nice scenery and an occasionally amusing lead, the story is an inchoate mess that incessantly wanders off on random tangents, and doesn’t care a lick about any of the characters, the pacing is awful and the ending feels completely random (and doesn’t make a lick of sense within any context). When the credits started to role on this disaster not a single person clapped and. Miss it!
Plays: Wed, Oct 6th 10:30am EMP Th 7;Thu, Oct 7th 4:15pm EMP Th 7

David Byrne fans will no doubt be thrilled with Ride, Rise, Roar, his unique concert tour for his newest album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which marks a reunion between the former Talking Heads front-man and producer Brian Eno. More than just a simple concert doc, it features some uniquely choreographed dance sequences that involve not only the back-up singers, but Byrne as well and props ranging from guitars to office furniture. Marked by a wonderful organic flow, with some nifty behind-the-scenes stuff ranging from arranging to the creative choreographing process, a wide selection of songs (that play from start to finish) and Byrne is at the top of his game vocally.
Plays: Sun, Oct 10th 2:30pm EMP Th 4;Tue, Oct 12th 6:40pm EMP Th 4

Grand in scope both theatrical and tectonic, Aftershock, follows a fractured family over three decades in the aftermath the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, one of the greatest tragedies in recent Chinese history. Featuring stirring performances (save possibly one of the worst by a Caucasian in the whole of cinematic history), impressive special effects, and a story runs the emotional gamut from heart wrenching agony to joy, its take on Chinese society borders on the iconoclastic. While it would have benefitted from some judicious editing near the end (it runs about 20 minutes too long), it is without a doubt one of the most powerful and touching films at the festival.
Plays: Sun, Oct 10th 6:15pm PRK; Tue, Oct 12th 10:45am EMP

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originally posted: 09/28/10 16:20:17
last updated: 10/08/10 19:18:00
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