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Threading Up the 2006 Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival

2006 VIFVF --
by Jason Whyte

If you’re a film buff and you want to have a different selection than what you normally see at your local megaplex, you might want to give the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival a shot. The 2006 edition, which begins on January 27th and runs until February 5th in my good old home town of Victoria, BC, is quite independent-focused this year, giving us topics such as Mozart (the opening gala presentations of “Mozartballs” and “The Tale of the Magic Flute”), Shakespeare (“The Taming of the Shrew”), the holocaust (“Fateless”), Irish terrorism (“Omagh”), naughty language (“F*CK”) to a selection of the quickly booming Quebec cinema (“Le Neuvaine” is one of the films to beat at the festival this year).

This is my third year covering the Victoria Film Festival (my fifth attending) and every year the festivities get more interesting with festival guests and filmmaking-themed events to add along to the 10 days of film screenings. The festival kicks off on Friday, January 27th with a party at the Laruel Point Inn and finishes on February 5th with a party at the Reef restaurant where all of the festival winners are announced.

For now, here are quick reviews of a selection of films I have had the opportunity to screen prior to the festival:

The films:

The “Burnt Toast” Operas (4/5) – At press time, I have been unable to view all of Larry Weinstein’s wicked-cool idea of operas in modern day settings, however the two that I have viewed at the 2005 Vancouver International Film Festival (“The Argument” and “I’m Sooo Over You!”) have been very impressed with them. Getting to see both Mark McKinney and Colin Mochrie mouthing along to musicals 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.

Carambola (3/5) – Filmed and released in Mexican cinemas in 2003, “Carambola” shows the inner workings of a popular Billiards hall in Mexico City and the various characters within, from the owner (Daniel Martinez) who was once a hustler, and is now making a how-to-do-billiards game with an assistant (Diego Luna from “The Terminal” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien”). I did enjoy the fun of watching Mexican billiards, which does not involve the corner pockets that our traditional pool does and rather involves the ricochet action off of other balls to score points. I just wish the film would move outside of its sole billiards hall location once in a while, as the action tends to wear thin after a while.

Fateless (3.5/5) – From director Lajos Koltai (who is also a well known cinematographer) comes this look at Guyri, a Hungarian boy’s life at the time of the holocaust gives a somewhat different approach to the pain and suffering than Steven Spielberg’s holocaust film did over a decade ago. With that said, the film takes too long to make its point, Guyri’s narration is dull, and gives us some truly awkward scenes with Daniel Craig (the next James Bond) as an American officer who meets Guyri. Still, this film has much to say about the horrors of the holocaust and young Marcell Nagy is very good as the young protagonist we follow. (Note: the film is being screened at the festival digitally by way of a Beta SP tape. The film was originally shot in anamorphic 35mm and I saw a gorgeous film presentation at the 2005 VIFF. The decision to screen the film in digital and charge full price when 35mm prints are available is not only bizarre, it is unacceptable.)

Fetching Cody (2.5/5) – I heard about this film from the Toronto Film Festival last year, where it seemed that Canadian filmmakers and actors were blown away by the fact they could cast Jay Baruchel, a Canadian who now lives in Los Angeles and has done successful work in “Million Dollar Baby”, “Almost Famous” and “Undeclared”, in a wee little Filmed-in-Vancouver indie? I found it very suspicious when the film screened at Toronto yet didn’t come to VIFF a few weeks later, and after seeing the movie, I can see that Vancouver may have screened a few too many Lower East Side pictures in their day and wish to move on. This is a bizarre film that mixes time travel, drug addicts, street life and changing the past that is so cheaply made that white flash edits are used to travel through time. Baruchel is very watchable (if a bit hyperactive) as the lead character, Art.

The French Guy (2/5) – Perhaps the works of Ann-Marie Fleming are just not for me. Her film “The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam” screened at the 2004 Victoria Film Festival and was a disappointment, and here we have a truly bizarre film featuring the always terrific Vancouver actress Babz Chula as a woman who has just returned to her home from brain surgery, and we quickly learn the errors of releasing her too early. Shot mostly in a bright apartment, the film looks a little too Canadian for me (Translation: it was made on the cheap and on a quick schedule) and comes across as too strange and quirky without explaining that much.

F*CK (4/5) – A hilarious and insightful documentary about the evolution of one of the most popular “dirty” words of all time, featuring interviews with historians, comedians and even a few conservative people who object to the very idea of the word. Naturally, the film is not for the easily offended, so please be forewarned that there are 629 uses of the word “Fuck” in the documentary, but never once is it gratuitous. Kevin Smith fans alone are required to view this documentary for his eager participation.

Going Through Splat: The Life and Work of Stewart Stern (3.5/5) – I greatly admire Stewart Stern’s story; a WWII veteran who becomes a screenwriter who has had a lot of his great work taken from him, including his famous script for “Rebel Without a Cause” which eventually went to Nicholas Ray. Stern's storytelling is worth seeing alone, although I did have some minor problems with the documentary’s long takes, slow fades, uninteresting framing and the occasional flashes of stills and movie clips that make it a bit slow. Still, Stern's long great life and story is given a worthy look by his son, Jon Stern, who directed the film.

I am a Sex Addict (3.5/5) -- You may not know who Caveh Zahedi is, but you will never forget him after this quasi-documentary about Caveh's painful sex addiction and the lengths that he goes to feed his problem. The more he does that, however, he keeps getting challenged by new obstacles that eventually begin to tear him apart. Shot on the cheap, the film has a somewhat minimal video look but still remains a brutally amusing look into a guy who just has too much baby batter on the brain. The film is also worth seeing for the quirky nature of Mr. Zahedi, an interesting fellow who I met last year at VIFF 2005 and will not soon forget.

Lie With Me (2/5) – You think that Caveh Zahedi is the only sex addict out there? Meet “The L Word’s” Lauren Lee Smith as an un-likeable, bizarre sex addict who meets a man (Eric Balfour) who is a bit different than she. While there is some gorgeous cinematography and a lot of dedication from Ms. Smith and Mr. Balfour in the lead roles, Clement Virgo’s film seems like it wants to be one of the breakthrough films to use hardcore sex in a mainstream film, but that honor went to Michael Winterbottom’s more successful sex film “9 Songs” which came out last year.

Machuca (4/5) – A simple but effective story of a two children from different political and financial backgrounds in Chile, circa 1973, as their country is beginning to go through a coup. This film screened at the 2004 Vancouver International Film Festival and was a major audience success, so much so that it was screened five times! Don’t be surprised if Victoria adds another screening or two. (Note: Like with “Fateless”, this film is being screened here digitally whereas it was screened at VIFF in 35mm.)

Mozartballs (3.5/5) – One of the opening gala presentations, here is Larry Weinstein’s documentary about how Mozart still influences the lives of people today, showing a few different, if extremely odd, stories of people who are still entranced by the famous composer. One of these characters believes she is the reincarnation of Mozart, and there is a funny sequence where she visits Mozart’s old home in Salzburg, which is now a department store. The documentary takes a little while getting used to, but once its gears start moving it is an entertaining and insightful look into people who are still a little Mozart-nutty.

Le Neuvaine/The Novena (4.5/5) -- Here is a powerful film from Quebec that, like Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions” (2003) 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 is slow moving but intentionally (and beautifully) so, and the final sequences are gut-wrenching as the two unlikely friends come to terms with their problems and find a common bond.

Omagh (4.5/5) – “Omagh” is an intense and painful story about the community reaction to an Irish terrorist group who killed 31 civilians in Omagh, Northern Ireland in 1998. Featuring outstanding acting (particularily from Gerard McSorley who plays the assumed leader of this revolt) and a brutal, documentary style, it should come as no surprise that the film was co-written and co-produced by Paul Greengrass of “Bloody Sunday” and “The Bourne Supremacy” fame.

Paper Moon Affair (3/5) – What starts out looking like yet another “Canadians Living in a Small Town” film turns out to be a fairly curious love story between a local (Brendan Fletcher) and a Japanese woman (Misa Shimizu) who has temporarily moved to the town with her husband who is always working and never seems to be around. Good performances and stirring photography complement what is otherwise a basic story about small town folk in Tofino, BC.

Satellite (4/5) – One of those pesky “American Indies” that comes out as a surprisingly solid look at a free-spirited couple who keep challenging each other to keep their relationship afloat. These aren’t the challenges that would keep two characters away from each other for the running time; rather the challenges keep their relationship interesting. I could have done without a framing device that tells the story from the perspective of a little girl who comes into their life, and yet overall it is an effective love story that keeps these people together instead of apart.

The Sisters (2.5/5) – The transition from stage play to screen can be a difficult one, and it is a movie like “The Sisters” that hasn’t mastered it. Focusing on a lot of characters around a university lounge setting, it follows nine major characters, all connected by family and job title, as they bicker and fight about their conflicted pasts. Although it features a great cast involving the likes of Maria Bello, Eric McCormack, Erika Christensen, Mary Stuart Masterson, Rip Torn and Tony Goldwyn, it still feels less like a film and more of an enhanced stage play with film actors.

A Simple Curve (3.5/5) – The opening of the Canadian Images program at VIFF 2005, this is an enormously likeable indie from writer-director Aubrey Nealon that features a group of clashing characters set in the beautifully filmed Slocan Valley. Kris Lemche and Matt Craven head an interesting cast, and it’s nice to see Mr. Nealon with strong writing and directing energy.

Souvenir of Canada (4/5) -- The terrific "Souvenir of Canada" is about our country, through and through, told from the perspective of novelist Douglas Coupland, who creates a "Canada House" built from a home that is planning to be demolished. The film intercuts the documentary footage with commentary on many aspects of Canadian culture such as the dead-and-gone slogan "Chimo", French/English cereal boxes (and as you may have noticed, DVD covers as well), universal health care and those pesky Canada geese. As well, the film is a sharp commentary on the fellows down south who always poke fun at us and the slight but noticeable differences. You Americans would also be good to watch this film.

Coming soon; ,more coverage of this year’s festival including commentary on the events and film presentations, an interview or two with guests at the festival and reviews of the films playing at the festival. I hope to see you in line!

For more information on this year’s Victoria Film Festival, point your browswer to – Jason Whyte;

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originally posted: 01/28/06 01:48:34
last updated: 02/19/06 16:06:01
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