|by Greg Ursic
Back for its 32nd year, the Vancouver International Film Festival (aka VIFF) has too many films to count (okay, technically 341 films from 75 countries, with over 500 screenings, but it’s a lot…) and has something for everyone (and if you can’t find one you like, you’re clearly not trying).
The categories are as follows: Altered States (The Dark and Disturbing), Arts and Letters (Quirky and Cultured), BC Spotlight (Local Men/Women Make Good), Canadian Images (National Identity) Cinema of Our Time (Enter the Drama), Dragons and Tigers: The Cinemas of East Asia (Cinematic Buffet),Galas and Special Presentations (special screenings) International Shorts (swift and sweet), Nonfiction Features (Give it to Me Straight Doc!) and Spotlight on France (The Gallic Gourmet). The festivities run from September 26th to October 11th.
In order to help you narrow down your choices, you can start by logging onto www.viff.org (just remember not to do it during a screening so as not to raise the ire of your fellow moviegoers) and check out the searchable list. If you prefer something you can actually hold in your hands and write on, you can also pick up a mini guide from one of the local retailers or download one from the site. This will give you a quick sampling of films, and includes a schedule that you can mark up and keep with you at all times. Or you can pick up the official program guide that will list all the films along with a brief description. All the above resources provide information on tickets, show times, and venues.
Speaking of venues, since the former Granville Cinemas are no more, there is a veritable smorgasbord of cinematic sites this year and once again all venues are on or near major transit routes. And more importantly, as almost all of the venues have stadium-style seating, you won’t need to see your chiropractor after craning your neck trying to read the subtitles (but in case you do, let me know and I can give you a referral to a great one...)
The Venue Menu
CINE - The Cinematheque, 1131 Howe (at Helmcken)
VCT – Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St (at Davie)
CENT - The Centre for the Performing Arts- 777 Homer Street (at Robson)
New Kids on the Blocks
IN08-10 - Cineplex Odeon International Village (three screens) - 88 W Pender St (at Abbott - Stadium Skytrain Station) (bonus: free parking - just remember to keep your ticket stubs)
RIO - Rio Theatre (RIO) - 1660 East Broadway (at Commercial - near Commercial Skytrain Station ) (note: as liquor is served at this venue, guests must be 19 or older unless otherwise specified).
SFU - SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU) 149 W Hastings St (between Cambie and Abbott - SFU Woodwards)
PLAY - Vancouver Playhouse (PLAY) 600 Hamilton Street (at Dunsmuir
Like any good boy/girl scout, you want to be ready for whatever the festival may throw at you. First, Read a bit about the film so you know what you’re getting in to - this helps to avoid that awkward moment when you’re sitting with your Christian meet-up group watching NUNs a sex farce about naughty underachieving neuroscientists. You may even want to check out a few reviews online from reviewers or sites you trust, and be on the lookout for reviews that say things like: “The best film of the year” (posted in January), “An iconoclastic animated interpretation of the French New Wave” or anything with a bounty of “!!!”’s.
Always know where your screening is and what time it starts - there is nothing (okay, maybe a few things) worse than showing up for your 10 pm screening at The Rio to find out it was actually at 10 am at Vancity.
If you can swing it, check out weekday screenings wherever possible as you’ll stand a better chance of getting in to the flicks you want to see. If you can’t get away early (and really, if your job is interfering with your moviegoing you really may want to consider a career change), always try to get to theater early (at least 35 minutes if possible) especially if you going to an evening screening on the weekend. Even if your screening is sold out, the festival may schedule another screening (and the most popular ones often get make it to the Vancity after the festivals so keep your eyes peeled).
Remember to dress appropriately; unless you’re going to a Gala screening followed by a party, leave the suit at home. Instead you may wish to embrace your inner Lululemon, especially if you’re planning on settling in for three or more movies a day, as you want to be as comfortable as possible. In addition to a light windbreaker, you may want to pack a fleece (it can get chilly) and a small collapsible umbrella especially if you’re changing venues.
Before every screening, there will be the inevitable “Please remember to turn off your cell phones, pagers and other devices” announcement. You’d think this was unnecessary, but sadly in my 13 years of attending VIFF I have been to less than a half dozen audience screening where someone’s phone did not go off. So for the love of all that is unholy, turn off your toys or at the very least put them to vibrate. And under no circumstances should you be checking your phone or texting; if you do, note, film festival audiences are nowhere near as subtle as “regular” and you could well be stoned. That also extends to conversations - leave it till the film is over.
One very important aspect of film festivals that may people don’t realize is that aside from funding (which is obviously essential), without volunteers, the festival simply could not take place. The festival volunteers are always friendly and helpful and if you manage to stump them with a question, they’ll always find someone who can answer it. 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 Good, The Bad and the Huh?!?
A quick rundown of the ratings:
1 to 1.5 Unless you’re a masochist, walk on by.
2 to 2.5 If you have a free ticket and time to kill, it’s an option
3 to 3.5 Definitely worth the price of admission
4 to 4.5 4 to 4.5 Make room in schedule even if you have to move things around
5 Miss the flick and you will wallow in regret till your dying days
The melodramatic break-up in Soft in the Head’s opening sequence sets the tone for what follows and it ain’t pretty. The story (and I’m being generous here) follows Natalia, an alcoholic twenty-something as she crashes through life and alienates everyone she meets, until she finds acceptance with a group of misfits. Of course the peace proves to be short-lived. Between the atrocious writing - which borders on insulting (notably the Jewish parents and the mentally challenged son who are glaring caricatures), the amateurish acting and the grating one-dimensional characters there is not a single redeeming quality to recommend this fiasco.
1 out of 5
Oct 03 09:00 pm CINE
Oct 04 01:15 pm SFU
It’s not often that former dictators inspire whimsical fare, so in that regard Tito on Ice is an achievement. As the filmmakers drag a horrible papier-mâché dummy of Tito around the country they illuminate some interesting pre and post war history; for example who knew that underground comic books were huge in the former communist country (which may explain the crazy stop motion photography and weird animated sequences or that Slovenian nationalism was whipped into a fervour after the war? Though quirky and informative there is nothing that binds the disparate elements together, and it feels like a stream of consciousness exercise.
2 out of 5
Sep 27 07:00 pm CINE
Oct 06 08:45 pm CINE
Oct 08 4:45 pm CINE
If marathons and ultra marathons are simply too run-of-mill for you then the Four Desert Series might be up your alley: each leg is a six day 240 km trek across four of the world’s most unforgiving deserts and competitors have to carry everything on their backs. Desert Runners follows the travails and triumphs of four competitors looking to complete the Grand Slam - all four races in one year. As you realize the true scope of their endeavour which is exacerbated by any number of unseen obstacles and witness their physical and emotional agony you can’t help become engrossed. Add stunning cinematography to the mix and you have an eminently watchable film.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 26 04:45 pm CINE
Oct 01 06:30 pm PLAY
Oct 03 04:00 pm PLAY
If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that moviemaking isn’t conducive to relationships, which makes the four decade association between Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman all the more remarkable. Ullmann’s recollections of their often turbulent times together are highlighted by personal letters (some of which she recently discovered) and brilliantly mirrored with sequences from their films, which provide an intimate insight into their private lives. While the repeated use of black screen as a means of transition is annoying, the story is touching, genuine and occasionally disturbing, serving as proof that love takes many forms and that with respect relationships can endure.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 27 02:30 pm CINE
Oct 04 12:00 pm CINE
Oct 11 07:00 pm CINE
The premise of Fanie Fourie's Lobola is simple: Fanie asks Dinky to be his date for his brother’s wedding and she agrees on the condition the he pretend to be her boyfriend to get her father off her back - the twist is he’s white, she’s black, and they live in South Africa. What could have been a very heavy movie is instead a light-hearted rom-com that embraces the conventions of culture clash and tackles the obvious issues with tact and humor. The understated writing, novel role reversal and charismatic leads -who share genuine onscreen chemistry - combine to make this a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 27 09:15 pm CINE
Oct 02 04:00 pm CENT
Oct 09 09:15 pm CENT
While the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 prohibited development of the continent, the protection did not extend to the surrounding waters and in 1995 fisherman turned their attention to the pristine waters of the Ross Sea and the Antarctic Toothfish aka Chilean Sea Bass which had the misfortune of being plentiful, easy to catch and tasty. The Last Ocean follows the efforts of scientists to save the species from extinction, and demonstrates how to construct a grass roots movement even when up against big business and governments and educates viewers about one of the last frontiers on the planet. Its stark otherworldly landscapes - both terrestrial and aquatic - are simply a bonus and you may actually leave the theatre with a grain of optimism.
3 out of 5
Sep 27 04:30 pm RIO
Oct 09 06:15 pm SFU
A decision to ride the rails north in search of the American Dream proves treacherous for a group of poor Guatemalan teens in La Jaula de Oro ; when they’re not bickering amongst themselves, they’re being hassled by cops, or held up by bandits and then things take a real turn for the worst. A less gritty version of Sin Hombre, it maintains an undercurrent of constant tension and realism owing to the improvised dialogue and an emotive cast. Interspersed with moments of humor, it also tackles themes of classism and racism and packs a surprise punch.
3 out of 5
Sep 28 04:00 pm IN08
Oct 03 09:00 pm RIO
Oct 05 01:00 pm IN09
Gore Vidal was a multifaceted individual: upper class by birth, he was a slave to the spotlight, a moth to the glitterati, a celebrated intellectual and a self-made man. An iconoclast who came out long before it was fashionable, he continually railed against conservatism and militarism in government. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia includes a cornucopia of source material (the video of his 968 debate with William F. Buckley is worth the price of admission alone), interviews with people who knew him and offer interpretations on his enormous body of work and best of all, a running dialogue with the man himself. Displaying unique insights into an amazingly talented individual, it is a worthy testament.
4 out of 5
Sep 27 12:15 pm CINE
Oct 03 01:15 pm CINE
Oct 08 09:00 pm CINE
The events in The Closed Circuit - a trio of crooked Polish bureaucrats frame, imprison and torture the owners of a fledgling hi-tech firm in order to get them to sign over ownership of the company - border on the absurd. Until you realize it’s based on true events. A nail biter from the outset, the tension in this taut thriller rarely wanes thanks to its solid script, near-perfect pacing and sterling performances from the cast. Equal parts engaging, entertaining and terrifying.
4 out of 5
Oct 02 03:40 pm PLAY
Oct 08 09:15 pm PLAY
To hear fisherman tell it casting a fly upon the water is as close to nirvana as one can get without being religious, and those who can tie a great fly are the gurus of their faith. Kiss the Water pays homage to self-taught master tie flier Megan Boyd, a Scottish recluse and who was awarded the British Empire Medal and whose work is still cherished by paupers and princes alike. Even if you’ve no interest in fishing, her story is buoyed by spirited interviews intercut with scenes of serene pastoral beauty and lively animated sequences bursting with color that give it an almost fairy tale feel. While it runs a bit long in sections, Kiss is entertaining, informative and pretty to look at.
3 out of 5
Sep 29 06:15 pm SFU
Oct 01 01:30 pm VCT
Oct 05 10:30 am IN09
Director Ryan McGarry, himself an ER doc takes you into the action (or more often than not inaction) as he follows a cohort of residents in LA County Hospital’s C-Booth - considered to be the birthplace of Emergency Medicine. Code Black documents the disturbing transition from results-oriented medicine to a system obsessed with bureaucracy and the bottom line when the ER moves to a new facility and even patients with life-threatening issues must wait up to 15 hours to see a physician. The unique cast of characters is compelling and you share in their frustration and applaud their efforts to mend a broken system. Adrenaline charged, it is fascinating and maddening. Warning: there is some serious gore.
3.5 out of 5 [ /b]
Oct 03 11:10 am IN10
Oct 05 07:00 pm SFU
The brothers in Another House have different ideas about what to do when their dad descends into dementia - look after him or put him in a home? Their decisions lead to tension and the dredging up of resentments old and new. The film’s setting - a cabin on a lake - is idyllic, constantly bathed in mist creating a dreamlike state, mirroring the father’s foggy world. The dialogue is sharp, exchanges between the cast feel genuine, and Marcel Sabourin (the dad) manages to convey volumes with a simple glance. It’s therefore a shame that the story becomes repetitive and has tendency to drag.
3 out of 5
Sep 29 06:45 pm IN09
Sep 30 01:00 pm IN09
After the devastating Haitian earthquake in 2010 promises of aid flooded in from around the world; the money itself however has yet to emerge. A damning indictment of the “aid trap” Fatal Assistance documents the troubling system where in-fighting among donor countries is the norm, foreign contractors suck up the majority of donor funds, photo-ops take precedence over results and a plethora of NGO’s pursue pet projects without consulting or involving the locals, often duplicating the same work. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. It will give you pause before you pull out your wallet for the next big disaster.
3 out of 5
Sept 27 06:45pm IN08
Sept 29 11:00 am SFU
If you’re looking for big bearded Belgians belting out bluegrass, look no further than The Broken Circle Breakdown . The story follows an eclectic couple - Didier fancies himself a cowboy and Elise is an inked up tattoo artist - through love, laughter and loss. The film features a carefully fractured timeline which enhances the story without becoming gimmicky, the dialogue is razor sharp and the leads deliver nuanced yet brutally honest performances. The wonderful musical performances are simply the cherry on top. With the exception of a overly long rant near the end, Breakdown is near pitch perfect.
4.5 out of 5
Oct 06 01:30 pm RIO
Oct 09 09:00 pm PLAY
Made in secret with an uncredited cast and crew, Manuscripts Don’t Burn, tells the story of the Iranian Government’s attempt to recover and destroy an manuscript which details the attempted assassination of a group of journalists. The script has a tendency to wander, and some of the characters are not fully realized but the actors do an amazing job capturing the “agents’” matter-of-fact attitude as they torture and murder witnesses. Riveting viewing and more insidious than any slasher flick it drives home the importance of free speech.
3 out of 5
Sep 27 06:45 pm SFU
Oct 05 01:20 pm IN08
Without water life as we know it is not possible, and many feel that it will become a primary source of conflict in the twenty first century. Watermark documents the effect of our efforts to enforce dominion over this most precious of resources and the consequences of those actions. The cinematography is exquisite, showcasing amazing vistas and conveying the power of the medium. Unfortunately there is virtually no exposition, the scenes lack context and fail to link the disparate pieces, muting the potential mpact of the piece
3 out of 5
Oct 10 06:15 pmm CENT
Sam's friends host a New Year's Eve party to help her get over a recent breakup, only to discover that living life online can have fatal consequences. Antisocial provides a novel approach through its utilization of social networking as both a plot point and storytelling device. Successfully co-opting elements from flicks like 28 Days and Resident Evil, it's also funny, suspenseful, features a capable young cast and showcases just the right of amount of blood and gore to keep you on your toes. Now the question is: do you have the guts to like them on Facebook..
3 out of 5
Oct 09 04:45 pm CINE
Oct 11 11:30 pm RIO (19+)
Despite promising support for whistleblowers there have been more prosecutions of whistleblowers under Obama than ANY other president. Adam Winfield discovered this the hard way when he tried to report that soldiers in his platoon were killing unarmed civilians: he received death threats from his comrades and was eventually charged with murder by the US Army. The Kill Team exposes the Army’s disturbing new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and includes interviews with soldiers who nonchalantly admit to killing for fun, and lurid stories of body parts being collected for trophies. One of the year’s most chilling docs, it is fast paced, thoroughly researched and demonstrates why the “War on Terror” has been a dismal failure.
3.5 out of 5
Oct 02 08:45 pm IN09
Oct 05 11:00 m SFU
Oct 08 12:15 pm CINE
To assert their sovereignty in the Arctic, the Canadian government relocated (translation: dumped on a beach with no shelter or provisions) a group of Inuit from Northern Quebec to Resolute Bay. Arctic Defenders documents the struggles of this and other groups -pawns in a geopolitical game - to highlight another dark chapter in our history. But it’s not all doom and gloom: the doc also explains how, after three decades of struggle, this lead to the creation of Nunanvut, the newest and largest territory in Canada. This is one history lesson that won’t bore you (and there are some gorgeous scenery to marvel at should your mind start to wander).
3 out of 5
Oct 02 06:45 pm IN09
Oct 04 03:30 pm SFU
In the midst of the “Troubles” in Belfast Terri Hooley determined that he could make a difference by opening a music store, only no one came (possibly because he set up shop on the most dangerous street in the city). And then he discovered Punk. Good Vibrations is one of those movies that is unabashedly fun, and refuses to be dampened even when some nasty incidents occur. It is buoyed by Richard Dormer’s gormless expression and boundless enthusiasm; when he experiences a punk epiphany his joy is infectious. An all-round entertaining flick.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 28 09:15 pm IN10
Oct 06 04:15 pm RIO
What are they doing with those scalpels? Why are those people so docile and obedient? These are some of the questions that arise while watching Borgman, the tale of a family who come under the Svengali-like sway of a impish little man and his mysterious acolytes. Borgman bears the hallmarks of an absurd arthouse piece, yet is suffused with a gallows sense of humour, but it’s the carefully cultivated air of mystery (are they cultists, vampires, demons…) and the sense of impending doom that provide ongoing tension and expectation. A dark weird little film, it will leave you unnerved.
3 out of 5
Oct 04 11:30 pm RIO
Oct 05 03:45 pm RIO
Ex-con Vic moves in to her uncle’s sugar shack in the woods (he’s paralyzed and doesn’t really have much say in the matter), alienating the neighbours in the process. When her girlfriend moves in things get even testier and there’s unseen trouble on the horizon. Vic and Flo Saw a Bear is one of those movies that begs the question “Why was this made?”:the storyline is practically non-existent, the dialogue is awkward, there is zero chemistry between the leads and the “twist ending” makes no sense as there is no context or history to support it. If you’re looking to kill some time go grab a coffee instead.
1.5 out of 5
Oct 05 09:00 pm IN8
Oct 07 02:00 pm VCT
Tired of watching his spoiled kids mistreating people and spending cash like they’re in a competition, one-percenter German “bankrupts” his company forcing his family in to exile, in the hopes of teaching them a lesson. We Are the Nobles has the makings of a droll French farce, but is all Mexican, which means even more spice. Despite its premise, social commentary is kept to a minimum, and it focuses on role reversals, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. Predictable yet pithy, it makes for an enjoyable diversion.
3 out of 5
Sept 29 09:00 pm CENT
Oct 03 04:00 pm RIO
In Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve, Jim Bruce’s reveals that in one of life’s cruel ironies, the Federal Reserve (created in 1913 to avoid a repeat of the 1907 panic) has actually been directly responsible for the biggest financial meltdowns to hit Wall Street. Featuring a parade of interviews, and a dizzying array of facts and figures he paints a convincing picture that the American economy is anything but laissez-faire, and that the 2008 bust could easily happen again and even tackles the Greenspan myth of the Federal Chairman who could do no wrong (he did, repeatedly). The material is pretty dense for novice viewers and Wall Street gets off a little too lightly, but there’s no arguing it’s interesting and comprehensive.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 29 04:15 pm CINE
Oct 05 09:00 pm CINE
Oct 08 11:00 am SFU
If you walked into A Field in England knowing nothing about it, you’d think it was a historical drama about the English Civil War. And you’d be right - for about a minute. It’s actually about a man on a mission and the deserters who accompany him, until they run into an alchemist and everything goes to hell due to magic, mushrooms or both. More or less. Shot in black and white it’s visually impressive, but once the psychedelics kick in so does the auditory/visual assault - get ready for a dizzying roller coaster ride. If you like being confused, this is the movie for you.
2.5 out of 5
Sep 28 11:30pm RIO
Sep 29 04:20 pm IN10
Imagine that someone discovered substances that could cure alcoholism, help people overcome PTSD, or relieve pain without nasty side effects. And what if said drugs were banned due to draconian laws enacted by vindictive politicians to punish counter-culture adherents. Of course the fact that they can’t be patented has nothing to do with it… From Neurons to Nirvana presents the history of psychedelic drugs, some of which have been used for millennia and debunks the myths surrounding them. Chock full of interviews with a legion of experts, as well as some pretty funky visuals, it calls for reasoned dialogue and more research into possible applications.
3.5 out of 5
Sep 29 09:00 pm CINE
Oct 01 04:00 pm VCT
Oct 09 02:00 pm RIO
Remember to check back for more reviews throughout the festival. Happy viewing!
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3583
originally posted: 09/22/13 11:46:13
last updated: 10/08/13 18:07:21