FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
• The annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is not just about mountains and it’s not just about film. The fest, which launched in North Vancouver in 1998, includes films and guest presentations on a whole bunch of outdoor adventuring activities over its nine-day run, including snowboarding, kayaking, cycle touring and trail-running. (www.vimff.org)
But mountain highs do form a big part of VIMFF, which takes place at the Centennial, the Rio and the Cinematheque from February 7 to 15. For example, The Last Great Climb (61-mins.) offers the vicarious thrills of trying to scale the sheer rock face of the remote Ulvetanna Peak (Norwegian for “wolf’s tooth”) in Antarctica. And the genre-bending Valhalla (64 mins.) takes an almost mystical view of surfing the white powder. This back-to-nature fiction about a dude’s search for the fire of his youth is ultimately an excuse for some serious planking action, frequently in slo-mo, occasionally naked, in BC and Alaska’s stunning outback, distilled into a heady brew with a sixties-ish soundtrack and psychedelic visual effects.
A standout of the festival, Jillian Schlesinger’s gripping documentary Maidentrip (81 mins.) rarely gets above sea level. Maidentrip follows 14-year old Dutch girl Laura Dekker’s two-year voyage to become the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe by sailboat. Shot mainly by Dekker herself, the video diary captures both the excitement – and sometimes tedium – of her epic 27,000-nautical-mile trip, as well as the growing pains of a fiercely independent adolescent girl.
Schlesinger weaves additional “vérité” and family footage into the film to reveal Dekker’s background: divorced parents, a lonely upbringing with a dad who was always working and her escape to sailboats from a young age. Dekker proves herself brave and hugely capable, coming through fierce storms and adapting well to the solitary life aboard her trusty 40-footer, Guppy. There’s an amusing eloquence to some of her updates such as her wonderful declaration of frustration one day: “I could have just kicked the waves to the moon.” A rain storm after a period of calm is “…really super, awesome.” Youthful naiveté is rarely so inspirational.
Shifting gears, Paolo Sorrentino’s visually exquisite and surreal The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) has an Oscar nomination in the Foreign Language Film category. Toni Servillo plays the suave, chain-smoking journalist Jep Gambardella, who on his 65th birthday starts to reflect on his life with a sense of melancholy and uncertainty. After writing a single, celebrated novel about his first love as a young man, he has risen to the pinnacle of his ambition to be the “king of the high life” in Rome, epitomized by the wonderfully debauched exuberance of various party scenes with Rome’s fashionable elite. Jolted by unexpected news, Jep wanders Rome’s ornate streets and buildings, observing the humanity, looking for answers to life’s big questions. There is not much of a story, but Sorrentino paints a visually rich tapestry where surface trickery and gaudiness belie sweet intimacies, inevitable loss and mystique. The film oozes style in every frame, teasing at something deeper.
Robert Alstead is making Running on Climate, runningonclimate.com