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Threading Up the 2010 Victoria Film Festival

Victoria Film Festival - January 29 to February 7
by Jason Whyte

This year’s edition of the Victoria Film Festival is turning sweet sixteen. Having attended since 2002, I have watched this festival grow and grow into a big event in downtown Victoria. It’s a good time to be a film fan in this city, and over the next ten days there is a large selection of narrative features, documentaries, short films and events to keep any film buff entertained.

Victoria is another stop on my annual film festival journey, and thanks to my visits in Vancouver, Whistler and Austin last year I am thrilled that the festival staff have decided to include these films in their lineup. Here is a brief look at twenty-three feature films and four short films playing at this year’s VFF.

Bridge Life: Finding Our Way Home (3/4) – A somewhat short documentary (under 70 minutes) on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Florida activist Dan Sheffer went to Houston (busloads of people from New Orleans were moved into the stadiums and conference areans there) attempting to rescue a group of people and help them kick-start their lives back in his home town. It’s an interesting subject and a story about a group of people that we come to care about in such a short running time. It's a worthy documentary of a horrible time in American history that we should never forget.

The Coca Cola Case (3/4) – What if the Coca-Cola corporation was guilty of mistreating its union workers in the plants down in Colombia? Would you stop drinking their drink? Hope for change? What about those poor drivers who make less money in a day than you do in an hour? This documentary follows a few key characters, including an activist who fights against corporate, capitalist America and a Pittsburgh lawyer who clearly has a lot weighing him down. Despite an annoying title sequence that mimics the Coca-Cola logo, this is a fascinating documentary that is guaranteed to not only start a few arguments but might encourage you to bypass the Coke machine at the concession stand.

Collapse (4/4) – The best, most frightening documentary of 2009 is rocking this festival. I have seen documentaries that ask us to get up and attempt to make change on this planet. From “The Corporation” to “Capatalism: A Love Story”, the filmmakers have urged us to visit their website or write their government and demand a change to come. So what if a film came along that told us that we’re, for lack of a better word, fucked? That we’re going to run out of Peak Oil at some point in the next fifty years and we’re going to have to learn how to live without material resources? Michael Ruppert is at the core of this film, a man who is deeply smart and awfully opinionated, and his words rocked me to my core. Whether you agree or disagree with Ruppert, this film will encourage you to think about what is left, what we can do and what we should be doing.

Cooper’s Camera (3/4) – If you saw “Ham & Cheese” at the Victoria Film Festival all the way back in 2004, you might have recalled a little world premiere starring Mike Beaver & Jason Jones about two comedic actors who just aren’t that funny. Years later, my friend Warren has been making quite the name for himself in Toronto and Los Angeles, finding success in feature films and music videos. Even “Cooper’s Camera” is not his latest film, but one that was at VIFF last fall as well as a small release in Toronto and Vancouver in November. This is what I would consider an “extreme” family dysfunction movie involving celebrating Christmas, a video camera, and a zany cast of characters including most of the same cast all doing what they do best.

Defendor (3/4) – It’s great to see Woody Harrelson really gain the respect of critics and audiences alike these days (“Zombieland” and especially “The Messenger” which is generating Oscar buzz), and his latest film where he plays a truly unique kind of superhero will really strike a cord with audiences. He’s not exactly the kind of hero that he thinks he is, and the relationships he has with his friends and a prostitute (played by the stunning Kat Dennings from “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) give the movie a unique voice. Harrelson’s performance earned the Best Actor award at the Whistler Film Festival this December.

Excited (3/4) – Bruce Sweeney has been a hit and miss filmmaker with me, from outstanding human dramas like “Last Wedding” to bizarre messes like “American Venus”. Here, “Excited” is a human comedy about a man who has a particular sexual problem that causes a damper on his personal relationships. That is, until an understanding woman comes along and changes everything. Or does she? Like most of Sweeney’s films, this is set in Vancouver and he shows a total love and respect for the city and its characters.

I Killed My Mother (3.5/4) – This film seems to be following me around; originally viewed at last fall’s Vancouver International Film Festival and as well a selection at last December’s Whistler Film Festival, this is an award-winning film from 21 year old director Xavier Dolan, who also stars in the film as a bitter teenager who is at his wit’s end with his crazy mother, played to absolute perfection by Anne Dorval. Dolan shows remarkable promise with this film and I’m excited for more people to see it. I’m also stoked to hear reactions to a scene late in the film where Dorval absolutely steals the show, of which earned applause at the screening in Vancouver.

Lebanon (3.5/4) – Imagine a war film entirely from the perspective of a tank’s interior, and that might give you an impression of this claustrophobic war film. (“Das Tank”? Alright, so maybe that’s a bit corny.) This is set in the war between Isreal and Lebanon in the early 80’s and features a few young military that see the entire perspective of the war through a viewfinder of the tank’s gunner. The film is full of great, powerful moments both in character and wartime, including the opening shot of a tank amongst a field of sunflowers.

Lost Cause (3.5/4) – Here is a movie that is so deliriously funny, so out there that I have to thank directors Steve Leonard and Caroline Labrèche for trusting their respective guts and just going with it. Leonard plays the title character, who is visited by a ghost of his future self and assists him with trying to find his current self at thirty years ago. To say more would simply spoil the insanely funny film that follows. The movie has a rough indie look to it, but that’s only the beginning of its charm; I for one was amazed at the lengths that Leonard goes to make us laugh and how he has absolutely no fear in trying to wow us with the craziness of it all. This has the potential to be a comedy classic down the road, and I’m hoping the film gets more notice down the rocky road of indie-film distribution.

Love at the Twilight Motel (3/4) – A documentary about the inhabitants of a rather nice-looking motel in Miami that is normally rented by the hour; this “fortress” of a hiding spot has a private entrance and is used for affairs, drug use and ways to exclude oneself from the outside world. Alison Rose has a unique approach to filming the characters that don’t have a problem being identified to those that want to remain anonymous (by only focusing on one area of the face), and all of the hotel’s inhabitants are fascinating studies.

Love Simple (3/4) – If only love was that simple. Instead, we have two people who enjoy each other’s company but just can’t reveal their real selves to one another. There is a lot for people to relate to here; the things we hide when we first meet someone to the lies we build to keep the relationship going. Even with some technical roughness of the direction, the two leads are excellent and the film is full of interesting characters and the unique stories they have.

Made in China (3.5/4) – I witnessed this film win major awards at the film section of last March’s South By Southwest and I for one am proud of director Judi Krant and her team for what they accomplished. The film stars the immensely likable Jackson Kuehn as an inventor who goes to China to get his secret invention made and all the run-ins that go along with it. I was particularly moved by a simple scene on a train where Jackson tries to talk English to a woman that doesn’t speak any. As for the invention, it is one out of pure genius, as is the movie that goes along with it.

Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space (2.5/4) – A middling documentary that pretty much sums itself up in its title, Pax Americana is about all the orbiting space objects around our planet and just how much control they have over our daily lives. There’s a particularly scary sequence suggesting what would happen if all our satellites shut down, making this a good suggestion for a double bill with “Collapse”. Strong points for the use of Amon Tobin’s score, and the narrator is the same one who led us through “The Corporation” a few years ago.

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (3/4) – A documentary from the company that released the outstanding “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” last year, director Omar Majeed takes on the Muslim youth musicians that are spreading like wildfire all over US and Canada. It began with a book by Michael Knight in 2003 and in 2007 he traveled to find out more about the changing force of music. Even the music chapter of South by Southwest gets a shout-out. There’s nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.

Terribly Happy (4/4) – It’s always great to see a selection from Fantastic Fest hit Victoria, and this one is no exception. An odd, beautiful piece of work from Denmark about a policeman who comes to a small town outside of Copenhagen and quickly learns that this town is not all its cracked up to be. The cats talk, there’s a girl wheeling around a noisy buggy…oh and let’s not forget a bog outside of town that permanently has a car stuck in it. Note: this is not in the program book but does screen the first Saturday night of the festival at the Odeon. If you are attending the film fest, do NOT miss this screening!

Three Blind Mice (3/4) – From Australia, Matthew Newton’s feature film involves three Iraq troops on their last night in Sydney before being shipped away. One of them clearly doesn’t want to go back and goes AWOL with a lovely woman he meets at a bar, and the other creates trouble when he calls for some escorts that he forgets to show up for. This is a funny movie with some pretty serious undertones, and is well made and acted.

Unmade Beds (3.5/4) – The rare film I saw twice at Vancouver last fall, Unmade Beds is about two immigrants in East London who are searching for meaning in their lives. There’s a young boy from Spain who is looking for his father and a French girl (the striking Deborah Francois from the Dardenne Brothers film “L’enfant”) who is trying to find love and meaning when the world appears to be slipping away from her. It sounds a bit moody, but director Alexis Dos Santos has a keen eye for young life and has fueled it with some absolutely striking photography (mostly hand-held) and an outstanding soundtrack. As the closing film of the festival, this is a great way to go out.

(Untitled) (3/4) – Jonathan Parker’s film about the art scene in New York is a sly jab on the whole “What is art?” joke and the people who create forms of art that perhaps their kid could draw. Adam Goldberg and Marley Shelton are terrific and very funny as artists who try to get financial assistance without compromising their vision (an interesting parallel between the independent and studio film systems), and it’s fun to see examples of visual and sound art involving dropping chains into buckets. What IS art, really?

The Wild Hunt (2.5/4) – If you checked out “Darkon” at the 2007 edition of Victoria, you might want to check out Alexander Franchi’s unique film on the whole role-playing scene. Filmed on an actual gaming site in Quebec, the film shows all the relationships and characters that inhabit this side of the world. It certainly gets dark and dreary towards the end, but the film’s finale is a doozy.

Year of the Carnivore (3/4) – Sook Yin-Lee, who will perhaps forever be known for her controversial role in “Shortbus”, makes her directorial debut telling the story of a small, quirky girl who has a rather unique job as security at grocery store. A pretty lonely gal at the start, her life is changed when she meets a rocker who sets her on a journey of not only love but sexual experimentation. Let’s just say things get a little bit weird after that, but it’s very funny and wild.

The Yes Men Fix The World (3.5/4) – A huge hit at last March’s South By Southwest, where the continuing antics of Yes Men Andy Bilchlbaum and Mike Bonano and their quest to make change on this helluva flawed, media-driven planet get even more bold and challenging. You think showing how fast food chains really get their food was bad? Try posing as reps from Dow Chemicals and apologizing for the goings-on in Bhopal. It’s a big film with big issues, but also one with big laughs too, which is very important.

ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2/4) – I know what you’re thinking. It has the word zombies in the title, so it has to be great, right? Sadly, despite a fun opening this dreary, overlong zombie flick from director Kevin Hamedani set in a Pacific Northwestern town just doesn’t work in the end and has too many characters and too little action and zombie mayhem fun. The zombie lovin’ Emily Hagins would run laps around this flick.

Short Films: I’d like to mention a few short films playing at select short programs as well as Scott Amos’ unique CONVERGE program, which screens short films in stores and restaurants around the city.

Everything’s Coming Up Rosie – Jereme Watt’s fascinating short film is about a very unique girl who has autism, and we see both her real and imagined worlds. Rosie is played by Jodelle Ferland, who you may remember from the films “Tideland” and “Silent Hill”. This is playing in the Converge program.

Funky Prarie Boy – The best short film I saw at last fall’s VIFF, this is set in the early 80’s and about the friendship that builds between a young boy and the only black kid at his school. A very funny and touching story about growing up and learning about people, this is playing in the Strange Bindings program.

Instant – Don’t ever crazy glue yourself to anything. This brief comedy, which has a man crazy glued to a counter, will alternately make you laugh as well as freak out. This is playing in the Strange Bindings program.

Next Floor – Like with “I Killed My Mother”, Denis Villenvenue’s (Malestrom, Polytechnique) brilliant short film has followed me from festival to festival. This wacky short involving a unique dinner party I saw at Vancouver Film Festival in 2008, then in Whistler that year, and then screened twice at Fantastic Fest last September. I’m hoping it can finally be released on DVD with one of Villenvenue’s films. This is playing in the Converge program.

Be sure to read our VIFF '08 interview with producer and creator Phoebe Greenberg by clicking HERE!

Be sure to follow instant, live updates of the Victoria Film Festival on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Watch for upcoming interviews with filmmakers at the festival, as well as full reviews of films in competition.

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 01/29/10 06:05:30
last updated: 02/05/10 05:43:33
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