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The 2005 Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival - A Primer

Vic Fest '05 begins on February 4th!
by Jason Whyte

Well lookie-loo, here I go again; another year for the “Film Festival in My Backyard”. This year’s edition of the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival is about to begin, and 2005’s selection of films, events and things-to-do over the ten days is one of the best yet. This year’s focus is distancing itself greatly from the star-power of the last several years and instead focusing on the films themselves. Of course, you’ll be hearing from me talking to festival guests and covering the same fun events that happened at VIFVF 2004 (that’s part of the fun!), but this year it’s about the movies.

There is always something to do during the ten days of the festival; see the shows, gab with fellow festival-goers, take part in a film forum or find one of the many parties. This is the fourth year that I’ve attended the festival and I couldn’t recommend it more for anyone who wants a peek at the experience of the industry, but do not want to get wrapped up in all of the industry excess that a festival like Sundance, Toronto or Vancouver can bring. As mentioned before, there’s always something to do for film fans in Victoria, but it won’t take up your movie-going time, either.

And speaking of movie-going, I and some of the other EFC/HBS staffers have had the opportunity to view some select films in competition at the festival, running February 4th-13th. More reviews and coverage will soon follow, of course, but without further ado, here is a look at some of the films worth seeing during the festivus.

Hot Pick of the Festival:

Rhythm Is It! (5/5) – Here may very well be the best film that will screen at the Victoria festival this year; a wonderful, inspirational documentary from Germany about teaching arts to children that speaks on many levels. British composer Sir Simon Rattle and choreographer Royston Maldoom join forces to teach dance and arts to over 200 children who will be performing a Stravinsky ballet to the public. The camera watches carefully as it balances the struggles of the teachers along with the students, and it culminates in a thrilling final sequence where all of the talents come together. -- Read another review by Stephen Groenewegen HERE.

Reviews of Films in Competition:
(note: all reviews by Jason Whyte unless otherwise noted)

Beat The Drum (3.5/5) – A problematic and somewhat troublesome film on South African culture, the AIDS virus and how it is impacting society, and yet the film works for the unbelievably amazing lead character named Musa (Junior Singo in the best child performance I’ve seen since Jenna Boyd in “The Missing”), a young boy who goes on a complete emotional journey to not only find his father in Johannesburg after his small village is run down by a mysterious illness, but it is also a telling story about a boy who finds himself in a changing world. The film rests on the shoulders of this wide-eyed child, and the film comes out a success because of him, even if some of the subplots simply don’t work and the final resolution is somewhat laughable. This film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Urbanworld Film Festival.

Being Caribou (3.5/5) – Co-winner of the Best Canadian Feature Film award at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (it shares the award with the fellow film festival entry “What Remains of Us”, reviewed below), this is a gutsy, slightly activist document of two newlyweds who follow a fleet of Caribou as they migrate from Yukon to Alaska, and then back again. I’d call these people crazy, but since the land is rumoured to be drilled for oil by the American government and in doing so may harm the Caribou species, it becomes an important film about man versus nature. Or just George W Bush, who makes a frequent appearance in the form of a plastic doll.

The Boys and Girls From Country Clare (3/5) – "The Boys From County Clare is kind of a topsy-turvy movie, with the familiar character actors in the lead and the good-looking romantic pairing in supporting roles. If Miramax picks up the rights, you can almost guarantee a [theatrical poster] that focuses on Andrea Corr and Shaun Evans with Bernard Hill and Colm Meaney nowhere in sight.” --Jay Seaver, Read Jay’s full review HERE.

Clean (4/5) – Maggie Cheung won Best Actress at Caanes this year for playing Emily Wang, a woman on a journey of self-discovery. A rocker, a jailed drug addict with a son under another person’s care, Emily must come to terms with not only her son but where her life is going to go. Director Oliver Assayas tells a simple, human story with deeply conflicted people and the decisions they must make to provide their future.

Exist (3.5/5) – Esther Bell’s mini-budget, digital-video feature is a drama about the people behind activism. A group of activists in Philadelphia are all sharing a dingy apartment that is busted up by the police; one of the squatters, John (Tunde Adebimpe) is under investigation for brutality towards the police, and one of the other young activists, Top (Nic Mevoli), who left a good, secure family to join the activists, is asked to help find him. Bell’s small-budget allows her freedom to run with her ideas. It uses its topic of activism to build interesting characters and situations, rather than hammer home a “point”.

@festibercine.ron (4/5) – A hilarious film from Mexico that is a satire on people doing whatever they can to get into film festivals. A filmmaker named Pacheco tries to make it into the industry by making his Spanish film into English, despite the complete objection from all of his peers. Pacheco shows no signs of tact or subelty; blindly harassing festival directors, publicists and producers, he’ll stop at nothing to get his film seen. But even when his film DOES make it into a Latin America festival, Pacheco quickly becomes a joke. This is a hilarious look at film festivals and finding your way into one, and it works as a curiosity for anyone who wonders how these pesky festivals work in the first place.

Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse in Love (4/5) – “Graveyard Alive is a fun romp through some familiar zombie territory with a contemporary spin on the horror flick genre.” – F.R.O.S.T.Y, Read the full review HERE.

I, Curmudgeon (3.5/5) – Here’s a documentary on miserable people and how they act; while it may seem to be at first to be a documentary on grumpy wailing, it is a unique documentary on people angered on the simple things (what people do in their lives, how they act, and so forth). Featuring interviews with curmudgeons Harvey Pekar, Andy Rooney and even director Alan Zweig holding up a digital camera to a mirror, it takes a while to find its ground but it comes out a funny and entertaining experience.

Jimmywork (4/5) – What a weird idea for a documentary, but it works: Jimmy is a 50 year old schemer who drinks, gambles and makes gourmet cat food on the side. Somewhere, a tick appears on his shoulder as he wants to further move along in his life, and plans a scheme. What’s fascinating about Jimmy is the way he pretends to be a successful Hollywood producer putting together a Northern Quebec rodeo, but when that doesn’t work, he tries to pull off a heist. Filmed in grainy black-and-white, this is a very funny movie that turns somewhat horrific towards the end but remains a unique document on a strange individual. Simon Sauve’s debut about his wacky neighbour Jimmy Webber opens the Victoria Film Festival this year. Read full review by Jason Whyte

The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess (2/5) -- Mostly a film beloved by the Vancouver film-makers crowd, Bruce MacDonald’s new film about the Vancouver tabloid superstar/lover of-a-convicted-killer Gillian Guess looks cheaply made and oh-so Canadian styled that it didn’t surprise me to learn that several different versions of the film were made before release. You can’t buy the film for a second, even if Joely Collins’ performance is very good, as is the music score by Broken Social Scene. It’s not enough.

Millions (4/5) – “[A] a warm-hearted, good-natured, color fully-wrought, and altogether lovable little Christmas-themed Brit-com...and it comes from the director of the phenomenally nasty zombie flick "28 Days Later"! Say what you like about filmmaker Danny Boyle, but you certainly can't accuse the guy of playing the same notes over and over.” Scott Weinberg, Read Scott’s full review HERE

Overnight (4/5) – A documentary about Troy Duffy, the director behind the cult favourite “The Boondock Saints”, which I will be viewing soon in anticipation of this documentary. Fellow critic Jay Seaver has seen “Overnight” and he writes – “Overnight is an entertaining movie and a useful parable about a man living the dream and then pissing it away because he couldn't grasp how lucky he was. You'll laugh at Troy Duffy and probably come away with some small feeling of moral superiority. Just keep in mind the likely motivations of the filmmakers.” Read Jay’s and The Ultimate Dancing Machine’s reviews HERE.

Primer (4.5/5) – This is one heck of a fascinating movie about time travel and chaos that was so challenging and so confusing that I wish there was another screening directly afterwards so I could make more notes. (There are two screenings at the Victoria Film Festival. Better purchase two tickets in advance.) That said, this independent feature from Shane Carruth was shot for around $7,000 on the 16mm format, which is what I’d like to see more of these days in an era of digital this and high-definition that. This is an edgy and unforgettable gem that rewards on multiple viewings. -- Read more reviews of Primer HERE.

Public Lighting (3/5) – A somewhat odd video-film about different characters. Mike Hoolbloom has made a career out of making short video-films about people and nature. The film nearly defies description and trusts the audience will follow along the narratives of people who are either confused or at loss to describe their existence. It may feature some truly unique and “out there” sequences, such as a AIDS victim who subtitles his thoughts alongside a Madonna video, a model named Amy who narrates her nude photography directly to the audience, or a fascinating sequence featuring Philip Glass’ music, but it all connects in Hoolbloom’s themes of loss and how they connect us all.

Python (4/5) – I’m into the weird, unexplained connections of cinema, how stylish, unpredictable visual clues give away even deeper ones, and this Lativian film is about as off-kilter as they come. It features a nasty school teacher, a lost snake, a lost monkey and a piece of doody in the attic (stay with me here). Features long, unbroken takes where the silent images are just as amusing as the outlandish comedy sequences; it reminded me a bit of the everlasting images in “Songs from the Second Floor”, the Swedish masterpiece where the entire world was coming apart at the seams. “Python” is just about as weird and kooky.

Rosy-Fingered Dawn: A Film on Terrence Malick (3/5) – Terrence Malick is a force to be reckoned with, so it’s no surprise that a documentary has come out about him, although Malick is never seen or heard from in any sorts. Rather, this Italian documentary features numerous participants from Malick’s actors and crew members as they discuss the controversial work of the auteur behind “Badlands”, “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line”, his only three films in a thirty year resume. (Malick is coming out with his latest, the partially 70mm-filmed “The New World” later in 2005) The film is not always successful; inter-cutting between interviews and black and white/color imagery to support what the actors are discussing tends to drag after a while. Hopefully a future document on Malick will delve further into the recluse of his mind. Somebody has to have home footage of him somewhere.

Scaredsacred (3/5) – Velcrow Ripper’s documentary about visiting particular disaster “Ground Zeroes” is a fascinating idea and should have provided a fascinating look into cultures shocked, but Ripper’s dull approach, which includes lazy narration and redundant visit sequences, bogs down the overall experience. Just when you think the film has made its point and is nearing the credits, we get another reel of another visit in the exact same passion. I give Mr. Ripper definite credit for an amazing idea and having the energy to spend all of this time on a very personal journey, but the overall experience fails to challenge the viewer.

Sex Is Comedy (3.5/5) – Finally seeing a release stateside, Catherine Breillat’s surprisingly effective “Sex is Comedy” is a movie about filming particular explicit sex sequences that drove me up the wall in Breillat’s “Fat Girl” in 2001, an unnerving film about the sexual awakening of two sisters. Breillat is known for going to the hilt with sex and nudity (her film after this one, the dreadful “Anatomy of Hell”, features hardcore sex sequences that goes beyond sick), but her toned down approach here works, as well as the difficulties that face a film with “mature themes.” The film may work even better for those who haven’t seen “Fat Girl.” – Full reviews by HBS/EFC’s Erik Chilress and Peter Sobczynski can be read HERE.

Show Me (2/5) – I like the actors, I give it points for trying to venture away from typical Canadian filmmaking, but I just didn’t buy it for a second. It played at last year’s Vancouver Film Festival, and here’s what I wrote: A preposterous, Toronto-based thriller about a woman who is kidnapped by two window-washing punk kids, taken to her log cabin and then engaging in a cat-and-mouse battle of wits that would never, ever happen outside of cinema. Very little of the film is much rewarding except for some good performances and a surprising inclusion of “Broken Social Scene”, one of my favourite bands going right now, over the end credits.

Two Great Sheep (3/5) – My, another foreign film about the hardships of small village folk. Call it “A Time for Drunken Sheep”. Set in a rural area of mainland China, a town finds itself poor and helpless until two prize-winning sheep come into town who believe are the key to solving the problems of the land. They come under the care of Uncle Deshan (Sun Yunkun) who quickly becomes annoyed by the stubbornness of the sheep (requiring a special diet, refusing to “do their business” and unwillingness to sleep outside). It’s a good idea for a film and I wanted to like it more, but the film, through its bizarre edits and wandering dialogue, doesn’t hold up as much as it should. It does look great, mind you.

Vares: Private Eye (3/5) – What starts out as a visually amazing piece of Finnish noir (I never thought I’d EVER write those until this moment, but there you go) turns into a violent bloodbath where the lead character, a private eye named Vares, is hardly seen for most of the film. Vares (Juha Veijonon) is a boozing, private detective on the trail of Russian mob money by way of Eeva, who is engaged to one of the mobsters connected to the case. The film, shot in High-Definition Video, looks gorgeous if a bit on the David Fincher side and has us entertained for a while, but it then devolves into something that feels like something connected to Tarantino-worshippers.

What Remains of Us (3.5/5) -- A middling documentary about the Chinese rule over Tibetans that really hits a stir of controversy by filming footage of Tibetans watching video footage of the Dalai Lama’s teachings – which is a big-no no. The film works as a look into a struggling place in the world that is denied their culture, although its flat approach and dull narration never really gives us a reason to see it in the cinema. But if you’re interested, that’s your only choice; during the festival screenings of this film, there will be full bag checks for cameras and cell phones with pesky cameras in cell phones…a big no-no due to the non-permission of the participants. And because of that, it will never be released on home video. This film tied with “Being Caribou” as the Audience favourite for Best Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Weird Sex and Showshoes (3.5/5) – Based on a novel by Vancouver Sun entertainment writer Katherine Monk, this is an entertaining, if marginally slight, look at the mystery of Canadian cinema. Featuring interviews with some of the top Canadian industry (Atom Egoyan, Don McKellar, Robert LePage, Guy Maddin, Mina Shum, among others) it asks the question “What is Canadian Cinema?” and struggles to find an answer. This is fine, because the talent and creativity of our culture is so broad that finding an answer is near impossible. At only 60 minutes, I felt it could have extended a bit further into the successes, failures and struggles of our industry, but what’s here is entertaining and informative.

Other films to look forward to at the festival: “Rory O’Shea Was Here”, the counter-opening film to “Jimmywork” at the festival, the world premiere of the documentary “Beethoven’s Hair”; the Oscar-nominated documentary “Born into Brothels”, the Canadian independents “Saint Ralph” “Some Things That Stay”, “The Limb Salesman”, “Cable Beach”, “Lies Like Truth”, “White Skin” and “Littoral” plus many shorts programs. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the midnight-madness screening of “Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace” from the director of “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter”…if you’re into that kind of thing.

A Tribute To Bill Plympton:

Bill Plympton is one of the oddest animators working in the industry today. Using traditional hand-drawn animation, he communicates his off-kilter ideals and fascinating visuals into wacky stories from his unpredictable mind. His short film “Guard Dog” (4.5/5) which tries to answer the myth of why dogs bark at innocent creatures, has just been nominated for the Best Animated Short at this year’s Oscars. It is featured here at the festival before a screening of ”Hair High” (4/5), a wonderfully realized new feature featuring voices by Dermot Mulroney, Keith Carradine and Beverly D’Angelo that is a take on “Carrie” and “American Graffiti” set in a high school with greaser hair, erected chickens, and many other outlandish set pieces. The film pretty much defies description (although Scott Weinberg from EFC/HBS has taken it upon himself to try, and you can read his review HERE). Give it a try.

Also screening at the festival is Mondo Plympton (4.5/5), a brisk, 80-minute documentary featuring Plympton’s shorts, banned commercials, clips from his live-action features and animated interviews with the wacky filmmaker. It’s a real treat to see the evolution of Plympton’s work here, and befitting to see that he really hasn’t changed that much since he began, which is a good thing. He keeps his ideas basic and yet still challenges us with each new visual.

Mr. Plympton will be in attendance for all screenings for his films, but you better not ask him any “boring” questions (“What are you working on next?” for example), as they are easily answered in his “Mondo” documentary.

Stuff To Do:

Gala Opening and Party: The festival kicks off on February 4th with a screening of Simon Sauve’s “Jimmywork” (reviewed above) where Sauve will be in attendance for a Q&A session. The festivities then kick off at the Laurel Point Inn where filmgoers, filmmakers, musicians and guests all come crashing together to celebrate the opening of the festival.

Various “Meet and Greet” with the Filmmakers: Various get-togethers have been planned so that interested filmgoers can come together with talent. Not only is it easy to meet up with talent at screenings, but programs like the free “Martini Talks” at Laurel Point Inn, “Triple Shot Talks” that brings together a filmmaker at Solstice Café and “Sips n’ Cinema” featuring Michael D. Reid bring the viewer even closer.

Godzilla vs. Tatu: Presented at the Fifty-Fifty Club, a series of short films in the vein of James Bond and Godzilla are projected against multiple screens with live music accompaniment. This sounds like a fun way to experiment short films with music and should be worth checking out.

Master Classes, Film Forums and Interactive Futures Panel: The annual Master Classes feature today's top, hard-working producers and filmmakers who will share their secrets on making movies in today's industry. The classes will set you back about $110, but I've been told they are worth it. A bit lower in price, the Panel Discussions gather festival guests to discuss more broader topics in regards to the challenges faced AFTER your film is made and you want to get it seen, be it by a film festival or into distribution. And making its debut this year, the Interactive Futures Panel entitled Trigger Points Pacific will bring together top industry professionals and producers from Western Canada to discuss co-production opportunities.

Cine-Kids: Presented over an afternoon at the University of Victoria, two films are screened along with some workshops including film and animation for families. The cost is very low (only $5 for the classes; the same price for the screenings) and is recommended for children who are interested in movies and want to experience what it’s really like to make a movie.

Closing Party: On February 13th, the final closing party announces the festival winners and features any filmmakers that are still at the festival that weekend. It’s a quiet but intimate experience that nicely closes out the festival. I’m trying not to think about the festival ending at this point, of course.

So that’s about it at this point. Watch and over the next two weeks for more reviews, reports happening from the festival and even an interview or two. I hope to see you in line!

For more information on the festival, a full list of films and events, attending guests and where to purchase tickets, visit Special thanks to Nora Arajs at VIFVF for assistance with this article. --- Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/04/05 06:06:17
last updated: 02/04/05 06:24:30
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