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Get ready for some Very Intense Films and Festivities - VIFF's back in town!
by Greg Ursic

As our Indian summer slowly fades into fall and Vancouverites swap swimsuits for sweaters, cinephiles are looking through their film festival preview guides and getting their lists ready for the 31st annual VIFF (aka the Vancouver International Film Festival). Running from September 27th to October 12th, they will be screening a mix of 380 films - short and feature length - from 75 countries (and they’re making some late additions as I write).

Trying to figure out which films to see is a challenge if you happen to be a discerning cinephile Given the sheer volume of films; think about it - even if you manage to pack in 100 films, that leaves almost 300 films you won’t see. Oh sure, you could consult the online oracles, but even then you’re looking at hours of painstaking research. Worse yet, you could simply play “Pin the tail on the Screening”; sure it might work, but you may end up wandering into an experimental doc that looks at existentialism in mainstream animation (and I’m sure there is one out there…)

To start with the basics click on to take you to the main festival page for VIFF, and you can browse the VIFF program guide, a fully searchable version is available online at . Or, if you prefer to hold one in your hands and don’t have a smartphone or tablet, you can pick up a hard copy at several different retailers around town including: Black Dog Video, Chapters, Limelight Video, Oscar's Art Books, Zulu and Theater venues (see below). The guide provides not only synopses on the feature films and short programs, there also basic information about the festival (tickets and pass information, venues, etc.,) The 200+ page guide also has a handy dandy pull out schedule that you can take to the festival with you - all this for $10, the price of two grande lattes, and so much more filling.

So now that you’ve booked your time off, picked your movies and ordered your tickets, there’s nothing left to do but to show up right? Wrong. What follows are a few valuable fine points that will make your experience more efficient and pleasant.

Quick Venue info

Here’s a quick listing of the Screening Venues as listed in the guide and their abbreviations.

GR1-7 - Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, 855 Granville (at Robson)
PCP - Pacific Cinematheque, 1131 Howe (at Helmcken)
VCT – Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St
VOG - Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville St (and Smithe)

First, forget about parking on Granville unless you recently sold some Vancouver real estate (and if you did, well, bully for you….) so if you’re not within walking distance you’re probably want to take transit and as fate would have it the main venue Empire Granville 7 Cinemas is right on Granville and most major bus routes downtown stop right in front of it. The Vogue is roughly a block south on Granville, while the Vancity Theatre is a block east of Granville (walk down to Seymour Davie and you can’t miss it) and the Cinematheque is a block west of Granville on Howe. There’s also a map on page 2 of the guide or you can Google map it…

Festival Eats, Etiquette, Etc.

Always make sure that you give yourself ample time in the event that transit is late. Which brings me to my second point: always try to be at least a half hour early for the screening start time so you can get in early and get a good seat, whatever that means to you. Also remember that certain rows are set aside for pass holders so it’s not a complete free for all. Also remember to check out the daily boards outside the theater for up-to-date info i.e. sold out screenings, added screenings, new movies (it happens), cancellations, etc.

Weekend and evenings tend to be pretty crazy, so the more weekday morning screenings you can fit in the better. And if you’re going to do some extreme viewing (more than three movies a day) you’ll need to plan for sustenance. Note, outside food is normally frowned upon, but VIFF is a bit difference (sort of like what happens in Vegas…), but the key is subtlety here people: as long as you’re not walking in with carry-out trays from Timmies or a Big Gulp and MickeyD’s bag, the staff will likely overlook your indiscretion.

If you decide to brown bag e.g. make sandwiches the night before, you’ll not only save yourself a fortune, you’ll know what’s in it. Just remember not to use crinkly plastic or aluminum foil or the accompanying noise you make trying to unwrap your origami creation during the screening may well your being promptly pelted with pointy popcorn, and no one wants to lose an eye (hey, you never know what’s in that butter substitute...) You may also want to consider some Gatorade, or better yet, good old fashioned H20 to keep you hydrated, and a couple Power Bars for those early morning screenings.

If packing a lunch isn’t your thing, there are at least a dozen food outlets within a one block radius of the Granville 7 including a McDonald’s, Burger King, , pizza, sushi, donairs, etc. And if you go venture into the bowels of the Pacific Center Mall – you enter through Sears at Robson and Granville – you’ll find a food fair by The Bay with a host of international choice (some of which even border on healthy).
Now that you know how to avoid starvation, what to wear?
Remember you could be spending upwards of ten hours in the same clothes, so you’ll want to go with function over fashion (unless you’re really willing to suffer to look good…) I suggest going with layering; loose fitting clothing is always a good idea given our less than predictable weather and you will definitely want to have comfortable shoes. A light windbreaker and a collapsible umbrella are also indispensable. You may even wish to consider bringing one of those inflatable donut pillows or a regular throw pillow to avoid “Busted Butt Syndrome” a malady affecting many extreme movie viewers. As a good friend used to say “it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!” Okay all done. Almost.

Before every screening, the volunteer announcing the film will ask everyone to turn off their cell phones, pagers (some people still use them), Blackberries, laptops, et al, or put them on vibrate. And then, roughly 10 minutes into the screening, at least one phone will go off. And in some cases people will, astonishingly, answer said phone and start to carry on a conversation. Do so and risk being strangled by your fellow filmgoers. For the love of all this holy, DOUBLECHECK to ensure that your mobile device of choice is silenced so that it will not go off, and if it does, unless you’re a surgeon on call (and really should you be at a movie if you are?) duty do not have any conversations on it unless you are on the aisle can immediately run out of the theatre to do so.

The festival volunteers are extremely helpful, indeed without them, there would be no festival - they help with everything from ripping tickets to greeting all the filmmakers/actors who attend the festival and everything in between. These cheery individuals possess a wealth of knowledge and are usually called upon to multi-task and If they can’t answer your question, they’ll find someone who can. Please note, contrary to some attendee’s beliefs, volunteers are not omnipotent – it is not their fault that there was a problem with the projector or that the show you were dying to see was sold out. So please take the second or two it takes to say “good morning” (adjust accordingly for time) or “thank you” if they’ve helped you with something. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll feel better as well, because after all, we’re here to have a good time.

With the prelude over, let's get on with the shows!

The Best of the Fest, the zest and all the rest

A quick rundown of the rankings:
1 to 1.5 Don’t waste any your precious festival time on this one
2 to 2.5 Check it out only if you have some time to kill
3 to 3.5 Definitely worth the price of admission
4 to 4.5 Make room in schedule even if you have to move things around
5 Miss thisflick and you will wallow in regret till your dying days

If a math student doodles in calculus class, what does a bored graphic artist do in cartoon class? This is one of many questions that might have provided some much needed levity in the surprisingly gloomy Cartoon College which follows students - including a Mormon in the midst of a crisis of faith and a 61 year-old archaeologist - as they tackle the Master of Fine Arts program at the Center for Cartoon Studies. We learn that cartoonists tend to be eccentric, outcasts, are often derided for their choices, and stand little chance of making a decent living. Unfortunately directors Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, try to track too many stories instead of finding one or two that will resonate with the audience. At least the musical score is interesting.
2.5 out of 5
Sep 29 02:50 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 04 03:20 pm Empire Granville 5
Oct 05 06:30 pm Pacific Cinematheque

Dennis is a mountain of a man who also happens to be as meek as a mouse. Unable to meet a woman he sneaks off to Thailand in search of a mate without telling dear old mom master of the guilt complex. Disappointed with the services of a “matchmaker”, he seeks some solace in a local gym and discovers a potential soul mate

Elsebeth Steentoft displays dark, subtle menacing as a the manipulating mom, but it’s Kim Kold who carries Teddy Bear, evincing a believable vulnerability and shyness despite his gargantuan girth as he struggles to cut the apron strings that bind him. There are no grand gestures here, rather it is a dignified, quiet character study that taps into the universal desire to love and be loved, and is a joy to watch.
4 out of 5
Sep 28 06:00 pm Empire Granville 3
Oct 02 11:40 am Empire Granville 3

The oxymoron that is Fox News provides ample comic fodder, but few people appreciate how seriously media monopolies have lead to the sorry state of journalism in the US. Director Jean-Philippe Tremblay’s Shadows of Liberty contains a host of riveting interviews that detail the ongoing gutting of the first amendment, including three journalist’s whose careers were destroyed when they tried to break stories that might make sponsors look bad. With a dwindling free press and continued deregulation we’re faced with a situation where “He who has the gold, decides what’s news.” A scathing indictment of the “entertainment as news” mindset Shadows should be on everyone’s “must-see” list.
5 out of 5
Oct 05 03:20 pm Empire Granville 5
Oct 09 08:45 pm Empire Granville 5

An apprentice cameleer must contend with the harsh realities of his trade, which include sandstorms, starvation and bandits and a looming war. But all of that pales in significance with the announcement that the woman he loves has been promised another.
The love story in Camel Caravan feels forced and the lead actress’ whining grows intolerable. Thankfully, cinematographer Yakov Baihaiti’s vivid rendering of the starkly beautiful yet minimalist desert setting, including the endless and seamless sepia soaked dunes are enthralling. Add in a striking score and a clever allegory that highlights the clash of cultures and story feels almost surreal at times.
3 out of 5
Sep 28 06:00 pm Vogue Theatre
Oct 01 10:30 am Empire Granville 7

The women in Bad Weather, ply their wares to boatloads of “visitors”, are largely indifferent to the fact that the small island they call home is literally crumbling around them. Director Giovanni Giommi had several compelling stories to choose from; the young prostitute and her husband who try to survive on love or the imam who ministers to the group, instead he drags in global warming, sex workers’ rights, and everything in between, giving them all short shrift. Most egregious is his unfathomable decision to allow the village idiot to ramble for more than fifteen minutes. Weather is a mess you’ll do well to miss.
1 out of 5
Sep 28 12:40 pm Empire Granville 5
Oct 02 09:15 pm Empire Granville 5

The centenary of the fierce patriarch of the Shamanov clan coincides with the return of the prodigal son Viktor, an ex-con and “businessman”, who has run afoul of his sketchy contemporaries. As the family prepares for the party, old animosities resurface, and the razor thin veneer of civility disappears leaving them oblivious to the approach of a band of well-armed strangers.
The huge cast of motley characters in Dom: a Russian Family are occasionally darkly entertaining, the oft moody settings create palpable tension and there are some clever twists. Unfortunately the film’s glacial pacing make the 149 minute runtime feel like three hours, the subtitles race by at warp speed and muddy plot points further hamper potential enjoyment.
2.5 out of 5
Oct 02 12:15 pm Empire Granville 5
Oct 05 04:00 pm Empire Granville 7

While clearing the detritus from The Flat belonging to his recently departed grandmother Arnon Goldfinger unearths a cache of correspondence between his grandparents and a high ranking SS couple, leading him on a to understand the “how’s” and “why’s” of what happened leads to the discovery of long-held family secrets and more questions. The incongruous nature of the story is fascinating and examines the concept of nationality, the fragility of memory and the very nature of friendship. More importantly, even when dealing with disturbing elements Goldfinger eschews melodrama or judgement.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 27 03:45 pm Empire Granville 5
Sep 30 06:45 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 02 03:15 pm Empire Granville 1

Carbon offsets are a novel idea: if company A exceeds government emission levels they can purchase credits on a stock exchange from a “cleaner” company or companies that actively reduce carbon emissions i.e. by planting trees. But as director Amy Miller demonstrates in The Carbon Rush , legions of “sustainable” projects are anything but: a huge garbage incinerator in India and charcoal manufacturing in Brazil are actually net polluters, and many projects displace - and even kill - locals. In many instances the only thing green about them is the cash they’re raking in. Maddening and educational it proves that like anything, sustainability is in dire need of oversight.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 29 08:45 pm Empire Granville 5
Sep 30 10:45 am Pacific Cinematheque

When Cecile returns to her family’s villa she is decidedly annoyed by the arrival of Jamie the pretty virginal exchange student from Iowa who is diverting attention of her childhood crush. Antagonism turns to détente as the two bond over wine and family history, but things take a turn for the strange when her brother’s surprise arrival sends Cecile into a panic.
The Unlikely Girl is of those films that could have easily gone wrong, yet it is elevated by capable performances, especially Hande Kodja whose Cecile is as disturbing as she is enthralling, clever writing that keeps you guessing, and the refusal to provide a neat Hollywood ending. Thoughtful and entertaining, this is one flick that won’t let you coast.
3.5 out of 5
Oct 06 06:00 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 07 12:00 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 11 02:00 pm Empire Granville 6

The latest entry in the “food porn” genre is Step Up To The Plate which documents the passing of the torch from father (renowned chef Michel Bras) to son (Sebastien). The plethora of exquisite shots of gustatory delights is almost as overwhelming as the labyrinthine processes and voluminous ingredients used in their creation. But director Paul Lacoste ensures that it’s the relationships that carry the film, showcasing the principles’ connection to the land, their work and families. A little slow at times it’s sumptuously photographed, insightful and humanistic and will appeal to non-foodies as well - just don’t go in hungry.
3.5 out of 5
Oct 09 09:15 pm Empire Granville 2
Oct 11 10:30 am Empire Granville 2

A hot twenty-something who eschews familiarity, Hemel tries to shock people at every opportunity and wanders aimlessly from one sexual encounter to next, a habit she learned from her father. Their relationship (which borders on incest), grows tense she learns that dad’s looking at tying the knot and she embarks on her version of self-examination.
It’s pretty telling when not even sex scenes can raise a spark of interest among viewers, but that is Hemel’s fate: the film’s aimless narrative provides little to involve viewers, the dialogue is pointless and the tangential storylines are distracting. Most importantly, you don’t care about any of the characters.
1.5 out of 5
Oct 06 09:30 pm Empire Granville 2
Oct 09 02:00 pm Empire Granville 2
Oct 11 11:00 am Vancity Theatre

A decade after civil war ravaged Sierra Leone, Lakka Beach - a former high end tourist destination - still struggles to recapture its day in the sun. Daan Veldhuizen - a resident in the village for half a decade - documents the daily struggles and hopes of the inhabitants, including a restaurant owner, a fisherman and an aspiring rapper (who looks stunningly out of place in his faux bling). Despite some interesting insights, their impact is diluted by Veldhuizen’s distracting stream of consciousness directorial style and uneven pacing, which makes Stories From Lakka Beach feel overly long at 76 minutes.
1.5 out of 5
Oct 07 06:30 pm Empire Granville 5
Oct 11 08:45 pm Empire Granville 5

In the ironically named A Respectable Family Arash returns to Iran after two decades of self-imposed exile to teach at a university, only to be stymied by censorship and refused an exit visa. His nephew promises to secure a visa if Arash visits his dying absentee father, a brutal war profiteer; but his nephew has more than good will in mind.
Despite capable acting and writer/director Massoud Bakhshi successful dissection of the misplaced notion of respect in a corrupt system, his characters are painted in such broad strokes and their machinations are so patently obvious that the story doesn’t ring true; choppy editing and a nonsensical ending further adulterate his vision.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 27 01:00 pm Empire Granville 2
Oct 01 10:30 am Empire Granville 2
Oct 03 06:45 pm Empire Granville 2

Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature film, proves that the viscera doesn’t fall too far from the tree. In a world obsessed with fame, paparazzi stalkers are passé; the newest thrill for fan(atic)s is getting injected with the latest celebrity viruses. When Syd, a technician at the leading genetics lab tries to score some cash on the side by hosting the newest bug, things go horribly awry.
The premise boasts a certain relevance given the current cult of celebrity, and the stark, almost sterile settings provide a brilliant contrast, especially when the blood starts flowing. Unfortunately the dense narrative is often confusing, suffers from laboured pacing and runs on far too long. No doubt dad Dave is still proud.
2.5 out of 5
Sep 29 09:30 pm Empire Granville 7
Sep 30 02:20 pm Empire Granville 7

First time writer/director Kristine Cofsky also stars in In No Particular Order as Sarah a twenty-something self-described wrecking ball stumbling through life and a series of anonymous one night stands much to the chagrin of her strait-laced sister. When a real relationship presents itself Sarah must decide if she’ll give it a chance or be sidetracked by her obsession with a married man and reverts to her transient sexual habits.

The combination of Cofsky’s capable direction, realistic dialogue and girl-next-door charisma keep the story moving forward, which is why it’s such a shame that the supporting characters aren’t more fully fleshed out as it could have been a much more engaging film.
3.5 out of 5
Oct 10 09:15 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 11 12:15 pm Empire Granville 5

From the shocking opening shot until the credits roll there is a not a wasted frame in Beware of Mr Baker, the story of iconic drummer Ginger Baker, who, when he wasn’t perfecting his prolific percussion skills for the likes of Cream and Blind Faith among others, was fully engaged in the Sex and drugs aspects of the Rock and Roll lifestyle. Jay Bulger’s skillfully directed unapologetic warts and all doc is also edited to perfection (kudos to Abhay Sofsky for his painstaking work especially the speed of sound musical montage near the end)- there isn’t a wasted shot in the entire runtime - which also features a wealth of archival footage as well as interviews with the legion of musicians he inspired. Balancing the mastery with the mania it is hilarious, occasionally touching and will appeal to doc and non-doc lovers alike.
5 out of 5
Oct 02 09:30 pm Empire Granville 1
Oct 06 03:00 pm Empire Granville 1

Jeff Lau sends up everything Hong Kong cinematic with his latest mythopoetic/romantic/comic/action flick East Meets West. Featuring a virtual who’s who of Chinese actors it’s the story of a father/daughter duo who try to rescue his girlfriend from a heartless Chinese businessman, when a freak accident reveals that they are part of a group of immortals. Then things really get complicated.
The over-the-top plot devices and slapstick deliver decent laughs, the cast is clearly enjoying themselves and the varied sound track - which includes 60’s hit, classical music and Canto pop among others - is thoroughly enjoyable. The problem is they can’t sustain the silliness: an hour in the novelty gives way to repetition and turns towards tedium.
2.5 out of 5
Oct 01 06:20 pm Empire Granville 3
Oct 04 03:00 pm Empire Granville 3
Oct 08 09:00 pm Empire Granville 3

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originally posted: 09/26/12 15:38:43
last updated: 10/02/12 05:55:03
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