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The 2005 Vancouver International Film Festival – Another Year Gone, Baby

VIFF 2005 -- Diving Into History
by Jason Whyte

“Who in their right minds would go see five movies a day?”
“Hi, my name’s Jason; nice to meet you.”

And so, with this writing (which I am forced to post a bit late due to illness), another wonderful year at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival has come to a close. This year has brought another year of wonderful memories as these eyes saw over 90 movies in 15 days, battling sleep and eating horribly. As with last year, I went through a complete emotional experience to see multiple movies a day in downtown Vancouver, going on a vacation around the world. And I think that this year was my best year yet as I fully concentrated on the films themselves.

This year, my mission to cover the event was somewhat different than years past. Last year was a prime example of trying to fit in as many movies AND parties as I could and the result was missing many important screenings as well as suffering festival burnout on more than one occasion. This year I wanted to relax my party-going and focus more on the films of the festial rather than getting sick (which I still did, but not as bad as the near-doctor-visiting sickness that I had at VIFF ’04). This year I went sick on seeing nearly five movies a day, everyday, at the festival, and I kept to a stubborn schedule of refusing to leave the Granville 7, the Pacific Cinematheque, the Ridge, the new Vancity Theater and the Vogue before coming home.

On Friday, October 14th, I attended the Closing Gala screening of the Dardenne Brothers’ wonderful “L’enfant” (see below) where the end of festival awards were announced, and to my astonishment, This year I seemed to have had different schedules than others involved since I hardly saw any of the winning films!

On the Canadian front, Sean Garrity’s thriller Lucid won the Best Canadian Feature at the festival, and was unseen by me. It was selected by the Canadian festival jury which included Nathaniel Geary who won a similar award back in 2003 for his film “On The Corner”. Jamie Travis won the Best Young Western Canadian Director of a short film for “Patterns” and Carly Pope won the annual Women in Film and Television award for her performance in “The Hamster Cage”

In Dragons & Tigers news, Liu Jiayin found herself with the coveted Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema for her film “Ox Hide” which was another film on the roster that I missed due to conflicting with other screenings. I’m telling you, this festival has to run another week so I can see everything!

And finally, on the audience front, “Live and Become” from Isreal was the People’s Choice Award for Most Popular International Film. “A.K.A. Tommy Chong” was declared the runner-up in this category. And on the Canadian front, “Eve and the Firehorse” from Julia Kwan was voted the most popular, with Jean-Marc Vallée's “C.R.A.Z.Y.” a strong runner-up (which doesn’t surprise me; one of the sold-out screenings at the Vogue elicited a standing ovation!)

As for the rest of the films at the festival, the following lists and commentary reflect my own viewpoint on the best and worst of the festival. Without further ado…

The Top 10 Films at this year’s VIFF:

#1. Accused – Here is a film that was sort of a dark horse at this year’s VIFF. Only two oddly placed screenings during the fest and both not very well attended, here is a stark and powerful film about a man accused of molesting his 14 year old daughter. The film moves at a Hitchcockian pace with Troels Lyby giving one of the best performances I have ever seen as the troubled Henrik, who goes through a complete state of emotions as he battles not only his daughter but his personal demons. Here’s hoping that this film finds its path in distribution.

#2. Manderlay – Once again, damn you Lars von Trier! Here is a filmmaker who keeps pushing the buttons and delivering every time. His follow-up of sorts to “Dogville” (which was on my Top 10 of 2004 but did not play at VIFF) takes Bryce Dallas Howard into the Nicole Kidman role, where she stumbles across the Afro-American town of Manderlay and the resulting 138 minutes show how her character, Grace, helping change the town. “Manderlay” features Trier’s usual, searing look into Americana through the eyes of a foreigner.

#3. Cache (Hidden) – Here’s something funny; “Manderlay” was not the film causing the critical and audience divide at VIFF this year. It was this film, Michael Haneke’s brilliant study of fear and how a stalker may or not be finding their way into a shell-shocked family unit. Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche are flawless playing the married couple and it has some truly outreagous, sudden moments of shock that blew away the audience at our screening (see “Best Audience Moment” below).

#4. L’enfant (The Child) – The Dardenne Brothers are masters at being precise and exact with their form of visual and poetic storytelling, and their latest film “L’enfant” is disarming at how clear its intentions are and how much the film overwhelms our senses. The film tells the story of a young couple who decide to abandon their child for money and how the decisions the father makes takes him on a complete, emotional downward fall. It is amazing to see how quickly we come to care about these characters, as messed up as they are.

#5. The White Diamond – Werner Herzog has the great “Grizzly Man” in cinemas right now and if there is any justice in the world, his recent docu about the flight of jungle airships to film rainforests in Guyana will find its way to as many theatres as possible. The story is told from the perspective of Dr.Graham Dorrington whose journey is a personal one; his friend and colleague died 12 years previous on a similar expedition. Herzog is a master of character, timing and nature; there is a beautiful moment where the camera looks down a Guyana waterfall and the locals object to the inside of the waterfall being published, since it is an aspect of their culture they wish to remain private. Our imaginations run wild at what could be beyond that aqua.

#6. Takeshis’ – Japanese filmmaking guru Takeshi Kitano plays himself – twice – in a perplexing but fascinating and endlessly entertaining look at celebrity and wannabe celebrities, and the aspects of stardom that some people truly desire. The story features both Kitano as a desperate clerk who gets a sudden revenge of movie violence and Kitano as a power mad celebrity who rejects the wannabe Beat Takeshi, and a whole bunch of sequences that come right out of those strange dreams that we all have. Features totally inexplicable sequences that will make you question not only what is happening but the nature of Takeshi himself.

#7. Le Neuvaine – Here is a powerful film from Quebec about death and life that reminded me of Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions” (2003) which proves that the Quebecois understand that death is really a part of life. The film follows the progress of a friendship between a doctor (Elise Guilbaut), who is suicidal over her dark past, and a grocery clerk (Patrick Drolet) who is deeply religious and caring for his dying grandmother. The film’s final sequences are gut-wrenching as the two unlikely friends come to terms with their problems and find a common bond.

#8. Water – Deepa Mehta’s beautiful new film was the opening gala film at this year’s VIFF, continuing the tradition where the film festival always opens with a strong film (for the record, I loved both “The Barbarian Invasions” at VIFF ’03 and “Being Julia” at VIFF ’04). The final film in Metha’s elemental trilogy (following “Earth” and “Fire”) set in the late 1930’s at the time that Mahatma Gandhi is just coming into power and follows a young child, already a Hindu widow, who must live in the Indian slums before meeting people that will change her life. Beautifully acted and filmed.

#9. Paradise Now -- Like “L’enfant”, here is a movie that is simple and to-the-point, but an emotionally powerful film about two men in Palestine who agree to run a suicide bombing mission in Tel Aviv and the bitter struggle when one of them changes his mind. The film wisely stays away from commentary on the outside world and focuses on the decisions that these two men face for the future of their society. The film already has a distributor (Warner Independent) so here’s hoping the film gets seen in the right places.

#10. The Squid and the Whale – One of the most entertaining films I saw at VIFF this year, Noah Baumbach (who has been a frequent collaborator with Wes Anderson) has designed a film set in 1987 that oddly reminded me of the earlier dramas of Woody Allen, about the realities that two young brothers (both outstanding performances by Roger Dodger’s Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, son of Kevin) face when their parents divorce. The parents are played by Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels, two of my favorite actors giving quite possibly their best work (especially Daniels, who has never been better) as writers whose work keeps challenging each other.

I must also make mention of several other films that I really enjoyed: Look Both Ways, This Divided State, The Gronholm Method, Shanghai Dreams, Kissed By Winter, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Omagh, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey & War Hospital.

The Five Worst films at this year’s VIFF:

#1. Sound Barrier – "Sound Barrier" has an idea and one that is easy to understand, yet the film’s execution is one of the most painful ordeals I have sat through at VIFF since the pro-Bush documentary last year. Amir Naderi’s experimental exercise is about a deaf-mute boy who is searching for a tape recording of what happened to him in his past and the film spends not five, not ten, not even thirty, but over 45 minutes of searching through boxes and boxes in a private storage. The film’s following sequences where the boy finds the tape and tries to discover his past are endless, turgid and bad, bad filmmaking. If it was the director’s intent to make us feel awful AND cheated, then he succeeded.

#2. Princess Raccoon – Oh Suzuki, where have ye fallen? Here is one odd film that plays like Japanese Kabuki Theater, starring Zhang Ziyi as a raccoon princess in a perplexing storyline involving theatrics, odd musical numbers and dim, washed out cinematography. What was one of my most anticipated films at this year’s festival turned out to be one of the worst.

#3. Little Man -- Here is what starts out as a good natured film about a lesbian couple who give birth to a baby over 100 days premature, and the struggles that both women have to face when the baby is taken to the NICU ward of the hospital. Sadly, the problem is that the documentary is done so poorly, with bewildering interview footage shot at odd and strange angles, not to mention that the film’s director is Nicole Conn, the mother of the child featured in the story, which is a bad choice because it gives us little perspective for opinion on the story; and the way that she details this by forcing far too many close-up shots of the baby, annoying baby talk, bad music and clichéd narration, sinks what is otherwise a good thesis for a documentary.

#4. The Dark Hours – Why oh why do I keep giving Canadian films a chance? Here is a piddling Canuck horror flick with an ending taken almost straight from “Haute Tension” added with awful acting, a twisting plot for the sake of a twisting plot just to keep people awake (didn’t work on me) and not nearly enough gore or nudity which is the norm in films like these.

#5. The Bridesmaid – A gorgeous female temptress (Laura Smet) who oh so annoyingly demands proof of her lover’s love by way of murder, betrayal and sacrifice that I don’t know who would stay with her for more than a day or two. Turns out that the bland Phillippe (Benoit Magimel) would, and I couldn’t buy either of their stories for a minute. Director Claude Chabrol, who has done much better work in the past with “The Ceremony” and “Nightcap” hits a stalling point with a despicable lead character and a dim-witted man who falls for all of her booby traps.

The Five Best Short Films at this year’s VIFF:

#1. Big Girl – A simple but elegant examination of an nine-year-old (played wonderfully by Samantha Weinstein from last year’s “Siblings”) who tests her mom’s boyfriend to a series of games to prove that he is worthy of her mom’s attention. The film keeps the action at the perspective of the little girl and it shows us a fun and unique look of an adolescent’s wild imagination.

#2. My Dad is 100 Years Old – Guy Maddin is known for his foray into the weird and the unknown, and his latest short which stars Isabella Rossellini (who also worked with Maddin in “The Saddest Music in the World”) paying tribute to his father Roberto…by playing him in a series of different characters.

#3. Optical Sound – It is rare for a short to be simply “fun”, but here we have a quick, widescreen-filmed short set to the sounds of “Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers” that is as experimental as it sounds. Quirky, fun and it sounds wonderful.

#4. The “Burnt Toast” Operas – Getting to see both Mark McKinney and Colin Mochrie mouthing along to musicals in modern day settings is something that has to be seen to be believed. Here’s hoping that CTV or CBC airs these one day before a comedy special.

#5. London Calling – Although not technically a new short, this 16mm presentation of Nagasaki Shunichi bringing his 1982 version of “Heart Beating in the Dark” (which was screened at VIFF this year along with his 2005 remake) to the London Film Festival and the people that he met (including a very young Dragons & Tigers programmer Tony Rayns) was a fun little curiosity that showed an eager filmmaker primed to show his new movie.

Other Awardable Mentions

Best Audience Moment: “Cache”, the shocking scene of violence: There is a moment in “Cache” where a character makes a sudden and shocking exit from the film, and it is a scene – which I can not give away – where the entire audience gasps in horror, myself included, at the sequence. The moment of horror is more powerful than any of the recent cut ‘em up horror pics of today, and the fact that the whole audience was caught up in the moment is the reason I still love sharing movies in a packed audience.

Coolest Filmmaker Award: Doug Sadler One of my favorite parts of the festival was doing an interview with “Swimmers” director Sadler, who provided the meat and bones to a fantastic article for my coverage of VIFF. Sadler is an interesting indie filmmaker from New York with a strong feature film, and is bound to be a strong filmmaker in the future.

Coolest Filmmaker Award, Runner-Up: Aubrey Nealon Here is a youthful, early 30’s filmmaker -- whose “A Simple Curve” opened the Canadian Images program at this year’s VIFF -- who I met back at VIFF ’03 with “Falling Angels” director Scott Smith. I ran into Nealon at the Brightlight Pictures Red Carpet Gala prior to this year’s festival and he remembered me before I did him; the two of us shared a car ride down to the pub down at Bosman’s pub after that closing gala party and much alcohol was consumed. Mr. Nealon has a strong film under his belt and I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

Best Presentation & Venue: Granville 7 Once again, if you wanted to see a movie properly presented at this year’s VIFF, the Granville was the place to be, with top-notch film projection and sound (although some of the cinemas still need Dolby Digital capability to deliver better sound). Cinema #7, with its THX certification, Dolby Digital sound, 664 seats and a mammoth size screen, is THE place to watch cinema. Mention must also be made of the repertory cinema The Ridge, which is also a cinematic paradise with great projection and sound.

Best Seat Award: Vancity Theatre If you saw a screening at the new film center this year, you already know about the uber-comfy, double arm rest seats that make watching any film a breeze. These seats made up for the discomfort of the seats at the Vogue and Cinematheque.

Best Party: Volunteer Gala After all of the film festival subsided and many fans went home, the Volunteer Gala party which commenced on October 16th was the most joyous bringing together of friends and fellow film fans I’ve ever been to. My warm thanks to volunteer Sebastian Balon who was kind enough to supply a ticket for the fun; for everyone else, it is worth becoming a volunteer just so you can come to this party. Swear.

Most Walked-Out Award: Sound Barrier, 4, Princess Raccoon (triple-tie) I must triple-tie these three disasters of filmmaking since the walkouts were in such high count that I stopped counting after a while. In a way, I don’t blame any of them.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly : Usual comments and grumblings on the interesting stuff at this year’s VIFF:

The Good:

Ticketing System: This year, the Door Entry Ticket program for the Granville 7 was back to its usual process where everyone gets in the big line and the tickets are evenly distributed. Last year they tried to have the door entry ticket people go up and down the line with tickets to get into the cinema which failed miserably.

Scheduling and the Granville 7: Like the last two years I have been here, it was incredibly handy to have the majority of the screenings take place down at the Granville which I lovingly refer to as Ground Zero. To get your tickets early on in the day was wonderful to keep a tight and frequent schedule, running from one screening room to the next.

Vancity Theatre: What a nice little cinema held within the new Film Center. Featuring 185 comfy seats (see above in the “Best Seat Award” category) raked in a tiered fashion with projection capabilities including 35mm, 16mm and all forms of video, the theatre I’m sure will have a fanbase for years to come. If I have one complaint, it would have to be with the choice of masking on the screen, which is more in the form of “Grid Masking” with black strips to move around to accompany the different formats and aspect ratios, with the unused portions of the screen clearly visible. Many who I talked with during the festival noticed this screen as well and were distracted. Cover it up!

The Festival Wranglers: I have to mention the festival managers down at the Granville 7 this year, who were there every day from sunrise to midnight moving traffic, seating people, checking the technical aspects of the presentations and making sure that everything was on schedule. Great work! The Vogue was the only venue that started late, most likely to seating over 1100 people! Mention also must be made to the festival volunteers, who were all hard working and helpful; and being true film buffs sure helped things as well.

David Bordwell’s Cinemascope Lecture and following Bonjour Trisette screening: This was a treat that I could not pass up. On a sunny afternoon on October 3rd, David Bordwell, a professor as well as one of the Dragons and Tigers jurors, met with a group of film buffs at the Vancity Theatre to discuss the aesthetics of Cinemascope from its origins, its differences to other formats of widescreen photography (by way of showing DVD stills and 35mm frames) based on previous teachings and books that Bordwell has written. As a former projectionist as well as a cinematography buff, I relished every moment of Bordwell’s eager attitude as he delivered information that I truly wanted to listen to.

The lecture then followed with a gorgeous restored print of Otto Preminger’s 1958 Cinemascope classic “Bonjour Trisette” which showcases all of the uses of widescreen composition, color and black-and-white balance as well as showing the differences of yesteryear technical aspects. It was a wonderful afternoon and my thanks to Mr. Bordwell along with the VIFF staff for arranging this lecture and screening.

Brightlight Pictures Party: I mentioned it briefly on my festival primer article since I was so short on time, so I must make another mention of the pre-festival part that brings together many filmmakers, actors and media all under one roof…oh, and there’s free booze involved. Lots of photos taken, lots of hands shaken, and even a surprise guest or two; it was an interesting moment of the festival to see Chris Kataan – who is in town shooting a movie – arrive a bit late at the party and be a compulsive loudmouth who made absolutely no sense. Then again, what do you expect from Mr. Corky Romano himself…

The surprise screening of North Country: Although not involving the festival, I did see a surprise screening of the festival entry “North Country” at the Park cinema a mere two days after VIFF, where local theater owner guru Leonard Schein is running a Festival Film Series to sneak preview up and coming films. The screening of “North Country” was a nice surprise since I missed its VIFF screening to see “Accused”, my choice for best film of the festival, instead.

The Bad:

Latecomers, talkers, shining flashlights: Once again, I am blown away by the fact that latecomers get a personal usher and are fed into the single empty seats at the back of the cinema – normally where I am at – and don’t go to the empty seats in front where they belong. What’s worse is that the said ushers will shine very bright flashlights all over the auditorium to seat them, not knowing that sometimes that light will shine on the walls and possibly even the screen! And I don’t understand the people that will come up to 45 (yes, 45) minutes late to a show! It isn’t as irritating, however, as the many talkers during several screenings, some of which even forced me to move to another seat.

Kristin Kreuk, Nowhere to be found: I believe the “Smallville” hottie was out of town working on a movie in Ashcroft, hence her complete disappearance from VIFF this year and my third year of not running into her. Oh well; I met “Flower and Garnet” star Jane McGregor again this year at the Brightlight party, so my meeting gorgeous British Columbia actors is still occurring. Yes, I’m a flirt.

Personal health and Weather: One of these days I will have to talk to a nutritionist and explain myself and question how I can better prepare myself for next year’s festival. I could certainly do without the two colds that I received during this year’s fest! It also didn’t help that it was raining or cold/overcast throughout the festival; last year’s incredible reign of sun let me go do festival sans jacket, which keeps things much less…bulky.

The Ugly:

This is normally the part where I would talk about the fact that the Visa Screening Room at the Vogue is a lousy place to watch movies, with its stiff, back-breaking seats and lousy film projection from a noisy booth that scratches film. With that said, it was announced this year from festival director Alan Franey that the Vogue has been sold and is being turned into a restaurant. One part of me is relieved that I won’t have to sit in those seats anymore, but it was sad to see that Franey and his clan couldn’t make purchase of the landmark, put some money into the place and restore the venue to make it a top place to show film and music. Earlier in the festival, a friend and were checking out Franz Ferdinand at the Orpheum up the street and one of the first things we agreed on is that this would be an awesome place to move the Visa Screening Room to in 2006. With 2500+ seats, great acoustics and lots of room to move around; I would pretty much lock myself there for all of VIFF should the place find its new home there. It’s a thought, anyway, but one that must be thought because we need a venue that seats over 1000 people (The great repertory house The Ridge seats about 830 and Granville #7 seats 664 people, so count those out).

Final Thoughts:

This year’s Vancouver Film Festival was a changing one for me. Gone was the attitude where I wanted to get into every party and schmooze and instead get involved with the aspects of cinemagoing which is what any film fan should be doing in the first place. As for the people who balk at someone seeing five movies a day, do me a favour and try doing this at the VIFF for one day. It’s a challenge, but you’ll be hooked afterwards for doing it. What I also learned this year is that the VIFF is one of the only places where you can do multiple movies a day, as opposed to Toronto or Sundance where you stand in line all day and wind up going home with only 2-3 movies under your belt.

As we go into the 25th anniversary of the festival in 2006 (which will be running from September 28th to October 13th) I am hoping that new and exciting things will happen with the new Film Centre, as well as hopefully finding a new Gala venue to withstand the many film fans who are eager to check out what new cinema lurks around the corner.

There are so many moments from VIFF 2005 that I will remember, but there is a moment this year I will never forget, and ironically it was a moment I created: I was with a small group of people at Kingston’s Hotel after the closing gala screening, and we all were talking in a circle over many pitchers of Heineken. When it came to me, I delivered a long and exhaustive speech on my love of VIFF and its supporters, and ended with the following words: “This is the best year that I’ve been at the festival, and the reason is because of all of you and all of those that could not be here, that this is a community of people who are passionate about film and want to reach out to find that next film fan. I love you all, I’m so happy to be here; I’M DONE!” Everyone applauded. The words “I’ll see you next year” could not be truer.

Thanks to Beverly Edgecome, VIFF Media Co-ordinator and Jennifer Wesanko for assistance with the festival, as well as Greg Ursic, Chris Parry, Sebastian Balon and all of the volunteers and festival staff involved with this year’s VIFF. Comments about this article are encouraged; you can reach Jason by sending an email HERE.

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originally posted: 10/24/05 06:19:15
last updated: 11/04/05 17:02:08
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