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Silverscreen Jubilee - VIFF celebrates the big Two-Five
by Greg Ursic

Who, with the exception of its creator Leonard Schein, could have guessed that Vancouver’s nascent film festival would grow from a one venue event showing 40 films in 1982 into one of the largest festivals in the world? The Vancouver International Film Festival aka VIFF celebrates its Silver Jubilee this year and shows no signs of slowing down: from Thursday September 28th to Friday October 13th cinephiles will get to choose from over 550 screenings of 340+ films from around the globe and attendance is expected to surpass 150,000 for the fourth year in a row.

With so many films, newbies may be asking themselves “How am I supposed to figure out what’s playing when and where?” The CBC Sneak Preview Guide, copies of which are available for free at numerous locations around the city, provides a brief description of roughly 250 films at the festival. If you want a little more guidance in making your choice, I highly recommend the VIFF Souvenir program – with over 200 pages of in-depth information in full color it’s yours for the paltry sum of $8 (compared to $32 for the TIFF guide). It’s available at all the festival venues as well as selected locations throughout Vancouver including Blackdog Video, Duthie’s Books, Oscar’s Book Warehouse and Videomatica.

You can either browse through its pages for something that strikes your fancy or if you know what you’re looking for turn to the back of the guide where films are listed by Director, Themes and Genres, Country of Origin and the Daily Schedules (there will undoubtedly be amendments posted outside the main venues i.e.
substitutions, added screenings, etc., so remember to check if your show was sold out.) There is also a straightforward index with screening times which is very handy if you’re making a schedule. The guide also includes a handy dandy map with the theatre venues and ticket information. You can also call the Starbucks Hotline with any questions at 604-683-FILM (3456). For those of you who prefer cyber cruising, VIFF has that covered as well

According to the VIFF stats, more and more people are going online to both purchase tickets (the site accounted for more than 60% of ticket sales in 2005) and plan their schedules. Thankfully the website - is incredibly user friendly i.e. when you click on something it actually takes you there (I really need to send the link to the TIFF webmaster…). You can search by Title, Festival Schedule, Films by Director, Films by Country, or type in your question in the Search Program Guide box. Click on to check it out.

Always on the look out for new ways to expand the delivery of services to festivalgoers, VIFF has teamed with ACM Media and to bring you Mobile VIFF. The service allows anyone with a cell phone, PDA or Blackberry to keep up-to-date with any changes and notify you of films that you might be interested in. To help Mobile VIFF help you, you can choose what days of the week you’re interested in catching a film, as well as genre and country preferences, and popularity ratings. You can also vote for your favorite films online. To find out how you can register for the service, go to or call 1-877-303-FILM (3456) for move details. On to the preview.

Volver, the opening gala reunites Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz in a wonderful film about a multi-generational family of women trying to survive life’s challenges. It received raves at both Cannes and TIFF, but alas none of the cast will be present for the screening or the party. The closing gala is The Queen which examines the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair in the days after Princess Diana’s death. There is already talk of an Oscar nomination for Helen Mirren who plays the Queen. The Special Presentations Program includes The White Planet, a documentary about Canada’s arctic, The Host, the tongue in cheek South Korean horror extravaganza and box office smash and of course the much talked about Short Bus which features real rough and ready sex onscreen (there’s actually a decent plot as well).

As VIFF showcases the largest number of East Asian films outside Asia – there are 39 features, 3 mid-length films and 35 shorts this year - Dragons and Tigers: The Cinemas of East Asia gets its own section sorted by country. I’m looking forward to Hana, the story of a Samurai out for revenge who is in love with the girl next door and also happens to be the most incompetent swordsman in all of Japan. My Scary Girl, the terrifying South Korean story of a man who embarks on a relationship with a young woman also sounds promising.

The Canadian Images meanwhile features selections of homegrown films. Ones to look for this year include Everything’s Gone Green an ode to Vancouver, Fido, a Lassie themed tale set in a small town in the 1950’s, except substitute Zombie for collie and you get the gist. The big story though is Sarah Polley’s directorial debut Away From Her which is guaranteed to wow audiences. More on these later.

The Cinema of Our Time program features cinematic achievements from Argentina to Yemen and all countries (well, a lot of countries) in between. Films to watch for include What is it Worth? which examines the business of charity in Brazil, Requiem, the taut German story of the real events behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last King of Scotland a fact-based drama about Idi Amin’s rule in Uganda.

The Spotlight on France returns once again with a selection of solid Gallic entries. Good bets include A Comedy of Power, with perennial favorite Isabelle Huppert as a prosecutor looking into an oil scandal (once again based on real events), and Paris Je T'aime showcases shorts by twenty well-known directors who are tasked with representing their favorite neighbourhood in the city of love.

Last up and my favorite is Nonfiction Features with 50+ docs. Given recent and ongoing global events, there is the expected selection of docs that focus on the rise of Islamic extremism (The Judge and The Fanatic, The Root of All Evil and The Smell of Hatred) and the war in Iraq (Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers and Iraq in Fragments). But it’s not all politics. I’ll be lining up for Into Great Silence the first film that follows those individuals who have chosen a monastic lifestyle (I’ve known more than a few people who would do well to embrace this philosophy..). Other films that have sparked my interest are Excellent Cadavers, a photo essay that examines the integral relationship between the Mafia and Italian politics, and Shadow Company, which examines the growing phenomena of American mercenaries who are being employed abroad where armies fear to tread. Enough previews you say? Well, let’s get on to the main event.

Quick Venue info

Okay, before I start the reviews, it might be handy for you to know where the films are being shown. What follows are the Screening Venues and their abbreviations.

GR - Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, 855 Granville
PCP - Pacific Cinematheque, 1131 Howe [at Helmcken]
RID - Ridge Theatre, 3131 Arbutus St.
VCT – Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St.

Now Featuring

Acts of Imagination
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Carolyn Combs
Screening: Monday Oct 2, 7:00 pm, GR3 and Thursday Oct 12, 11:00 am, GR4

How many ways can you cut an orange? That might have been a better title for this confusing mess of a story that examines the lives of siblings Jaroslawki and his oft delusional sister Katya as they try to build a new life in Canada. While it’s hard not to empathize with the actors when they are forced to utter lines like “It haunts me – you turn me inside out,” they deserve equal blame for their monotone delivery. You can also look forward to weak plot devices, uneven pacing, stereotyping, frantic bouncing camera shots and the lack of any coherent conclusion. There wasn’t a single positive comment after the screening let out.


Away From Her
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Sarah Polley
Screening: Saturday Sept 30, 6:40 pm, GR3; Sunday Oct 1, 2:00 pm, GR4 and Monday Oct 2, 11:30 am, GR3

Adapted from Alice Munroe’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” Away From Her deals with a husband who must watch as his wife of 44 years drifts off into an Alzheimer’s induced fog, subsequently forgetting him and falling in love with another man. Canadian film veteran Gordon Pinsent is stalwart as Grant, the stoic husband who embodies the sacrifices that one makes for love. Julie Christie meanwhile is a study in perfection as Fiona – her mental lapses are subtle and her slide is gradual and I never doubted the sincerity of her condition for a moment. Polley’s direction is consistently solid, the story boasts a natural flow and the script shows a maturity well beyond her years. She also manipulates camera angles to contrast the wide open feel of the couple’s home with the narrow confines of the nursing home, showing how a person’s world shrinks along with their mind. Hands down one of the best films I’ve seen this year.


Comeback Season
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director:Bruce McCulloch

School football god Skylar Eckerman (Shaun Sipos) and devoted family man Walter Pearce (Ray Liotta) are having a bad day as the result of a fluke tumble and a marital stumble, leaving one homebound, and the other homeless. After a night in the crowbar hotel, the mismatched duo-with-a-history end up as roommates next door to the women they’ve scorned. And it’s not a pleasant place to be.

Ray Liotta, looking tired and puffier than usual, embodies Walter as the pitiful man seeking redemption, while Sipos, evolves beyond his character’s initial smugness into a decent guy. Despite the obvious age gap, the duo sustains a genuine camaraderie providing the movie’s best moments. Glenne Headly is refreshing as the wronged wife, shedding tears of pain and joy as she struggles to rediscover life.

Comeback Season's buddy flick premise boasts snappy dialogue, likeable characters, and is more fun than it has a right to be, yet simultaneously succeeds in navigating the heady emotional terrain of infidelity, friendship and second chances.


Everything’s Gone Green
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Paul Fox
Screening: Friday Sept 29, 7:00pm, GR7; Saturday Sep 30, 12:30pm, GR7 and Monday Oct 9, 11:00am, GR4

Ryan, a twenty-something slacker/artist, is convinced he’s got it made when he gets involved in a money laundering scheme, but soon learns that too much is not enough and sadly happiness can’t be bought. Douglas Coupland’s script is an unabashed Vancouver love story, warts and all. He embraces the city’s dual identity as West Coast unique and everywhere USA, the dichotomy of slackers vs “succeed at all cost” capitalists and pokes fun at home invasions. Lead Paulo Costanzo nails Ryan’s confusion as he struggles to rationalize his ethical sleights in pursuit of his newfound green and JR Bourne is hilarious as Bryce a Gordon Geckoesque style go-getter. An enjoyable exercise in biting satire, it remains to be seen whether non-BCer will cotton to the plethora of inside jokes.


Expiration Date
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Rick Stevenson
Screening: Saturday October 7, 9:45pm GR2 & Sunday October 8, 3:30 pm, GR2

Charlie Silvercloud III is a busy man – with only 8 days until he turns 25 and meets his maker under the wheels of a milk truck, he has to break up with his girlfriend, find a suitable burial plot and buy a nice suit. When he meets a quirky kindred soul, he realizes that planning for life may prove even more rewarding.

The successful execution of gallows humor calls for finesse, something the cast and crew behind this film know well: the story eagerly embraces the darkness but balances the morose with a tender back story of doomed love, self discovery and narcoleptic puppies. Sasha Knopf’s beaming bombastic Bessie brilliantly offsets Robert Guthrie’s stunned silent Charlie.


Country: Australia
Year: 2006
Director: Ray Lawrence
Screening Sept30, 6:20 pm GR4, Monday Oct 2, 7:00 pm, GR7 and Wednesday Oct 4, 1:00 pm, GR7

Small town prejudices and the delicate nature of relationships are put under the microscope when an annual fishing trip is interrupted by the discovery of a floating body. The four friends agree that there’s no need to interrupt their plans and opt to secure the corpse and get back to the task of drowning worms. The townspeople are rightly repulsed when they learn of the quartet’s actions and the fishermen’s personal lives are sent into a tailspin. Gabriel Byrne’s performance ranges from stoic to manic and you vacillate between hating and pitying him, while Laura Linney is outstanding as his supposedly unstable wife who in actuality has a firmer grasp on sanity than those around her, and holds the group to a higher standard. The occasional plot hole is easily overlooked in light of riveting, realistic dialogue and haunting scenery.


Little Children
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Todd Field
Screening: Sunday Oct 8, 9:30 pm, GR7 and Wednesday Oct 11, 2:00 pm GR4

Bored, lonely and dissatisfied with their distant spouses, a young mother and stay at home dad begin a friendship that quickly evolves beyond walks with the kids. As the summer progresses they struggle to determine if what they have can sustain them. The release of a child molester into the community makes an already sweltering summer that much more uncomfortable.

Wow. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson are outstanding as the leads and share a palpable chemistry, especially when things don’t go well. And Jackie Earle Haley (last seen in The Bad News Bears over 20 years ago) who plays the parolee, positively oozes creepy. There is also a distinct edge to the writing, whereby regardless how well things are going with the characters onscreen, you’re left with a disquieting feeling that something bad is about to happen (talk about you bad dates). Although it has a runtime of 130 minutes, the snappy dialogue, genuine characters, unusual narration, and great pacing make this flow so smoothly, you won’t even notice the time passing. A must see for drama fans.


Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Rick Stevenson
Screening: Saturday Sept 30, 10:00 pm, GR7 and Monday Oct 2, 3:45 pm, GR7

Sook Yin Lee stars as a sex therapist in search of the ever-elusive orgasm. What sets this apart from similarly themed films is director John Cameron Mitchell’s ( Hedwig and the Angry Inch ) decision to feature unsimulated sex scenes. This in turn almost lead to on-air personality Lee’s dismissal by the CBC (they withdrew their demands coincidentally after buzz around the flick reached a fever pitch) . Hiding amidst the auto-fellatio and orgies are a zippy soundtrack, gorgeous animation and an engaging story of people struggling to connect with others, with Lee delivering a solid, multi-layered performance.


Sleeping Dogs
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Terrance Odette
Screening: Monday October 2, 9:45 pm, GR2 and Wednesday October 4, GR2

I don’t expect to like every character in a story, indeed nasty characters usually prove to be the most engrossing as they provide a certain flavour. Mr. Gloss is not one of those individuals: confined to a long term care facility, he’s blind, diabetic and mad at the world. When he learns that his dog is about to be put down he breaks out to save him and leads hospital staff on a frantic chase. The problem is I didn’t know enough about Gloss to care what happens to him i.e. if you’re perpetually pissed, I want at least an inkling of your motivation. Attempts to reveal a troubled history with his brother and sister-in-law are never fleshed out and the incessant twang of "old school" country music almost drove me crazy. This dog needs to be put down – the sooner the better.


The Valet
Country: France
Year: 2005
Director: Francis Veber

Francois, an average Jean, dreams of marrying his childhood sweetheart, but she’s too busy and wants to remain “friends”. After he wanders into the midst of a spat between a CEO and his supermodel squeeze, Francois finds himself starring in a tabloid. Desperate to avoid a ruinous divorce after his wife sees the picture the CEO concocts a plan whereby Francois and his girlfriend move in together and pretend to be a couple for the milling paparazzi. But the best laid plans, well, you know...

Gad Elmaleh proves more than up to the task as Francis Veber's stumbling everyman with the right mix of pathos and droll humour and French film veteran Daniel Autueil is equally adept as the scheming two-timing CEO who tries to put a price tag on love. In additions, I would have been satisfied just staring at Alice Taglioni’s flirty Elena, but not only can she act, she’s got great comic timing as well. Although I was impressed with Kristin Scott Thomas’ mastery of French, and enjoyed Virginie Ledoyen, they were both sadly underutilized. Ultimately, despite a few plot holes, the brisk pacing, , laugh inducing gags and subtle insights into romance make this well worth the price of admission.


Country: Spain
Year: 2006
Director: Pedro Almodvar
Screening: Thursday Sep 28, 7:00 pm GR7, Friday Sep 29, 9:30 pm GR7 and Sunday October 1, 10:00 am GR7

I'm instantly suspicious whenever a film is feted as "the one to beat" but there's no denying that Almodovar greatly exceeded my expectations. The story, set in the director's old stomping grounds of La Mancha (in Spain), follows two sisters as they struggle with their families, financial woes, buried secrets, deaths - both accidental and otherwise - and the apparent resurrection of their dead mother. Not only does the film look great, Almodovar’s direction is flawless, the editing is superb, and the story flows seamlessly. The panel at Cannes was so enamored of the ensemble cast’s performances that they gave the Best Female performance award to the five leads. Still, it is Cruz who is the film's stand out (and not just because of her spectacular cleavage and prosthetic butt): I’ve been a fan since first seeing her in Belle Epoque over a decade ago and she looks positively radiant here. Cruz plumbs the emotional depths, subtly peeling away the layers of a complex, multifaceted character in a performance that is sure to make her a solid Oscar contender.

4 / 5

What's Up Docs?

American Zeitgeist: Crisis and Conscience in an Age of Terror
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Rob McGann
Screening: Wednesday Oct 4, 8:45 pm, GR5; Friday Oct 6, 1:30 pm, GR5 and Wednesday Oct 11, 10:30 am PCP

While there have been a flood of docs dissecting US government foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 and the imbroglio in Iraq, the origins of Jihad have been largely relegated to the footnotes. attempts to correct this glaring oversight. Through a series of exhaustive interviews director Rob McGann teases out the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism from its roots in the proxy war in Afghanistan to today’s flourishing global movement. McGann reveals how opportunities to stifle the problem were repeatedly squandered and points out that the current administration’s continues to labour under the fallacious notion status that bringing down Bin Laden will lead to the abandonment of his ideas. As fascinating as it is frightening, McGann’s non-partisan doc is a thorough history course that will hopefully open some eyes.

4 / 5

Between the Lines: India’s Third Gender
Country: Germany
Year: 2006
Director: Thomas Wartmann
Screening: Sunday, Oct 1, 3:00 pm, GR1 and Thursday Oct 5, 8:00 pm GR6

Wartmaan takes a look at the fascinating world of the Hijras, men who live as women. What sets them apart from “regular” transsexuals is that most of them have undergone total castration. Though tolerated at auspicious occasions for the belief that they have the ability to both bless and curse individuals, they are generally shunned and often abused. While some work in the arts i.e. teaching dance, begging is their traditional means for survival, and many prostitute themselves as well. A thought provoking film provides a captivating glimpse into an obscure and vibrant society.


The Cats of Mirikitani
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Linda Hattendorf
Screening: Thursday Sep 28, 10:30 am, GR5, Thursday Oct 5, 6:00 pm, GR5 and Thursday Oct 12, 6:00 pm GR5

The friendship between the filmmaker and Jimmy Mirikitani, a homeless octogenarian painter changed when 9/11 rendered his street corner unlivable. Hattendorf took him in and soon learned that the inspiration for many of his paintings came from his internment during the war and the loss of his family in Hiroshima. Poignant, painful and often humorous, The Cats of Mirikitani highlights the strength of the human will to persevere, the power of catharsis, and the desire of people to do good - an absolute joy to watch.


Into Great Silence
Country: Germany/Switzerland
Year: 2005
Director: Philip Groening
Screening Monday, Oct 9 12:15 pm GR6 and Wednesday, Oct 1, 1 8:00 pm GR6

Growing up in the country meant no streetlights, starlit skies and aside from the summer choruses of bullfrogs, nocturnal silence. Hence whenever I’m in need of rejuvenation, I head home for a little de-stressing. I was therefore intrigued by the premise of getting an insider’s look at day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of a silent monastic order in the French Alps. The near meditative state of the piece is enhanced by the monks’ chants and the intrusion of church bells or a cock’s crow is positively jarring. Groening has also captured some wonderful images. Unfortunately the complete lack of narration lead me to my own advance meditative state and by the 90-minute mark (I was somehow under the delusion that it was an hour and six minutes, when in fact it runs 160 minutes) I committed the cardinal sin of reviewers and left – it was either that or distract the other viewers with my snoring.


Manufactured Landscapes
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Jennifer Baichwal
Screening: Wednesday Oct 11, 9:15 pm, GR3 and Thursday Oct 12, 11:30 pm GR3

Baichwal follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he embarks on a through-the-lens view that examines how China's surreal economic growth rate is literally transforming the country's physical geography. Projects like the Three Gorges Dam - which required moving the 1.1 million inhabitants of 13 cities with people and dismantling said cities brick by brick – and mile long factories complete with color coordinated towns and their lockstep employees are the easy shots. It is the literal multicoloured mountains of e-waste -circuit boards, phone dials, etc., - and the associated heavy metal rivers and hazardous dust clouds associated with their reclamation that drives the point home however.


Shadow Company
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque
Screening: Wednesday, Oct 4 7:00 pm RID and Monday, Oct 9 1:00 pm PCP

The mercenary has been a fixture in warfare for millennia, having played an essential role in Egyptian military campaigns as early as 1300 BC. Historically comprised of ethnic or cultural groups – much like today’s Swiss Guard or Nepalese Gurhkas - renowned for their martial skills, the late 20th Century saw the emergence of individuals ready to sell their skills to the highest bidder. The new millennia has already proven to be a goldmine for these self-styled contractors.

Although the US has enlisted the help of mercenaries in previous conflicts, notably Vietnam and Central America, their use in postwar Iraq is unprecedented, with more than 20,000 “Private Military Contractors” currently working in Iraq. Bicanic and Bourque examine what this means for the future of warfare, where private troops unfettered by patriotism or an inherent code of conduct, can operate at will, and whose only concern is the bottom line. Often told in the words of the contractors themselves, Shadow Company provides comprehensive interviews, an illuminating historical perspective and is both enlightening and frightening.


The Trials of Darryl Hunt
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Ricki Stern
Screening: Monday Oct 9, 8:45 pm, GR5 and Tuesday Oct 10, 1:30 pm, GR5

In 1984 Darryl Hunt was arrested and convicted for the rape and murder of a young woman despite a complete lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime. Similar to last year’s After Innocence, The Trials of Darryl Hunt follows the appeals to exonerate Hunt and uncovers evidence of witness tampering and prosecutorial misconduct. Even after being excluded by DNA evidence, Hunt remained in jail years later. Frustrating, outrageous and riveting Trials serves as a reminder that even in this age of technology, justice can be tainted by racism.


Uganda Rising
Country: Canada
Year: 2006
Director: Jesse James Miller,Pete McCormack
Screening: Tue, Oct 10, 3:45pm, VCT and Wed, Oct 11, 7:00 pm RID

The divisive aftermath of Africa’s colonial legacy is examined in Uganda Rising a country that has not known peace since gaining independence in 1962. Embroiled in civil war since 1986, the greatest victims in this tragedy have been the Acholi tribe whose people have been resettled into camps that lack even the barest essentials. Unprotected they are left to the mercy of starvation and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) who indiscriminately massacre them and kidnap their children to serve as fighters.

This is one of those rare must-see documentaries that works on every level – it boasts excellent narration, steady pacing, interviews with an array of experts and victims and avoids deluging the viewer with extraneous information. Please note, the film contains graphic footage that some may find disturbing.


To Play and to Fight
Country: Venezuela
Year: 2005
Director: Alberto Arvelo
Screening: Saturday Sep 30, 11:00 am PCP; Friday Oct 6, 7:15pm, VCT and Monday Oct 9, 10:00 am, GR7

This is one of those documentaries that has all the hallmarks of a guaranteed hit: it tells the story of a renaissance in Venezuela, whereby a quarter million children, including those with special needs, are being exposed to the all inclusive nature of classical music. And there is no denying the success of the program as you watch the astonishingly energetic performances of these youth orchestras that simply exude joy. Interviews with noted classical musicians and conductors are unanimous in their praise for the raging success of the program, even moving some of them to tears. So why didn’t I love it? Because they never tell us how it’s done – aside from a 2 minute 60 Minutes we never learn about the method or how the revolution took hold. I also wanted to see more behind the scenes stories with the kids i.e. how it has impacted their lives. Good but not great.


The White Planet
Country: Canada/France
Year: 2005
Director: Thierry Ragobert and Thierry Piantanida
Screening: Sunday Oct 8, 4:00 pm, RID and Tuesday Oct 10, 7:00 pm, GR7

The geography of Canada’s Great White North – above the Arctic Circle that is - is simultaneously harsh and visually stunning. In addition to awe-inspiring footage including the dancing Northern Lights that would leave most CGI artists drooling and a full moon rising over a barren landscape, the camera captures the struggles of the varied inhabitants that call this place home, including narwhals, caribou, and the requisite ever-cuddly polar bears. The director encapsulates that trademark NFB feel combining gorgeous cinematography with unique scoring choices. Unfortunately the somber, bordering on gloomy, narration makes it difficult to revel in the scenes onscreen, sections of the score are intrusive and the global-warming-is-bad homily felt like a hasty afterthought make for a lukewarm experience.


Contest Stuff

Have you ever been the subject of a Missing Person's report between late September and Mid October?Do you consider popcorn to be the only food group? Does the world "marathon" mean sitting through 6 back to back screenings reading subtitles? Then my friend, you may qualify as VIFF veteran, so why not take our Cinephile IQ test. Accept the challenge and you could win some sweet prizes including free tickets. Lose and your risk perennial shame.. Go ahead. I dare ya.

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originally posted: 09/26/06 17:35:43
last updated: 11/01/06 12:41:35
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