VIFF evolving by involving

Still from Evolution of Organic

Photo: still from Evolution of Organic courtesy of Vancouver International Film Festival.

by Robert Alstead

How to stay relevant in the internet age? It’s a question organizers of film festivals across the media-saturated globe are asking themselves. While Vancouver’s film buffs can be depended on to cram in the 16 days of arthouse and overseas fare when the annual film jamboree starts later this month, VIFF, under executive director Jacqueline Dupuis, keeps a watchful eye on the cinema’s shifting sands.

This year’s VIFF program (September 28 to October 13, builds on the changes introduced last year under the “Films Plus” banner with ‘creator’ talks, Virtual Reality events and nights that combine live music from local bands and the moving image. This year also sees a red carpet screening of award-winners from the Toronto-based Buffer Festival, a showcase for “elevated” YouTube storytelling.

While culturally speaking it’s not on the scale of Amazon swallowing Whole Foods, purists may recoil at the creeping influence of internet giants like Google on film festivals. Well, VIFF has a film for you. The excellent and evenhanded documentary You’re Soaking in It shows how the “math men” (and women) behind targeted advertising are working hard to know you better than you know yourself. Trading oceans of user data in a barely regulated marketplace, corporations have developed an invasive, or highly personalized, depending on your view, model of advertising whose reliance on brute computing power makes the golden age of intuitive, brand-oriented advertising look like art.

Scott Harper’s comparison of Madison Avenue versus Silicon Valley is a fascinating one, touching on many disconcerting aspects of our brave new world. It asks important questions about current practices like the risk of de-anonymized data falling into the wrong hands or using facial recognition software to interpret, in real time, our emotional response as we gaze up at the big screen.

Moving from the evolution of advertising, the upbeat Evolution of Organic charts the history of organic farming in North America from a bunch of “ragtag hippies” pioneering biodynamic growing techniques in the 1960s, to a global movement trying to scale that holistic idealism to industrial levels. The film is on firmer ground when establishing its rebellious roots as a response to pesticide reliance in the post-war years. “It smelled like the earth was meant to smell like,” remembers a grape grower after going organic. Ruddy-faced farm folk are good company, and archive material reveals it was fun, felt good and the food tasted better. As director Mark Kitchell brings the story up to the modern day, it becomes clear there’s enough material to create a whole television series, whether it be the Nigiri project using harvested rice fields as salmon nurseries, ranchers using Allan Savory’s earth-renewing, grazing systems, or the no-tillage practices that could help fix climate change. Leaves you wanting to dig deeper.

As VIFF pushes further into the digital arena, it’s also shoring up its role as a platform for homegrown talent. VIFF kicks off with Vancouver director Mina Shum’s Meditation Park, described as a bittersweet comedy starring Sandra Oh and Don McKellar. It tells of a Chinese-Canadian mother who embarks on a voyage of self-discovery in East Vancouver after discovering a woman’s thong in her husband’s pocket. The opening gala is part of a federal government initiative, Movie Nights Across Canada, marking 150 years of Confederation.

Bound to be well attended are the 12 BC films competing in the “Sea to Sky” strand (hashtag #mustseeBC), including films like On Putin’s Blacklist, a sprawling documentary that looks at how Russia’s ban on North American adoptions has hurt potential foster parents and children in Canada. Dissident Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of the State Duma to vote against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, provides fluid commentary on Putin’s modus operandi, while emotional, firsthand accounts by grown-up foster children and activists, including Pussy Riot, bring home the impact of Russia’s LGBT oppression.

A very different local film is Forest Movie by writer-director-editor Matthew Taylor Blais. The program notes are to be taken with a grain of salt; this is a concept film with little story and a very long, locked-off shot of some second-growth forest (looks like Pacific Spirit Park). Should be interesting with a live audience.

Song of Granite, an Irish/Canadian biopic, also likes to linger in its shots. Director Pat Collins uses the screen like a canvas to draw black-and-white scenes in the life of Irish sean-nós (old style) singer Joe Heaney, from his early upbringing in rural Galway to his later years in New York City before dying in 1984. The lead character is laconic and enigmatic, the dialogue spare and the solo songs given time to breathe and fill the room. A classic film festival film.

Robert Alstead made the feature documentary Running On Climate,

More at VIFF

From Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary Human. Photo courtesy of Showing October 10 (VIFF at the Centre) and October 12 (Vancouver Playhouse).

mesmerizing and unconventional

by Robert Alstead

• Koneline: Our Land Beautiful, by local filmmaker Nettie Wild, takes a fresh, even-handed approach to a heated subject: resource development in BC’s Northwest wilderness. The hereditary land of the Tahltan First Nation has been dubbed the “Serengeti of the North.” Now, the land is being opened up to mining companies for its rich gold and copper resources. Wild’s approach allows many individuals to share their different knowledge and experience of the area – whether it be the geologist’s expertise on rock formations or the aboriginal student sharing his disappearing dialect – and builds a mosaic of impressions.

Read moreMore at VIFF

State of surveillance


Edward Snowden in Citizenfour
Edward Snowden in Citizenfour, a first-hand account of the NSAs surveillance activities.

• The gulf between what the US government says it is doing and what it is probably doing has never seemed more apparent than in Citizenfour. A first-hand account of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in June 2013, it demands us to ask why the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities have been allowed to crawl unchecked into so many spheres of our private lives.

The documentary builds like a spy thriller. Director Laura Poitras, who remains behind the camera, describes in voice-over how she initially received an encrypted email from a “senior government employee in the intelligence community” called “citizenfour.” She was chosen because of her previous work, in particular her Iraq film, My Country, My Country, which landed her on a US watchlist. The exchange leads her to Hong Kong where we meet a youthful Snowden hiding out in a hotel room. Here, we remain for a good part of the film as Snowden unfurls his story to select Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and later Ewen MacAskill and we begin to understand the enormity of the revelations.

From the outset, Snowden says he doesn’t want to be the centre of the story. Yet much of the strength of the film comes from Poitras’ portrait of Snowden as a person of integrity and courage. He comes across as calm and collected, albeit, by necessity, hyper-vigilant to eavesdroppers, epitomized by his concern about encrypted passwords or the hotel phone being hacked. In his disclosures, he is almost matter-of-fact. Even passing comments, such as how his NSA colleagues envied the reach of the UK’s surveillance system, drop like bombshells. Placed alongside the testimonies of the US intelligence community’s top brass that citizens are not being eavesdropped on, the impact is even more explosive.

While the film alights on individual stories as they flash up on news networks like the BBC and CNN, Poitras is more intent on giving viewers a visceral sense of what it was like to be in the room as the big debate surrounding privacy and surveillance starts to rage. In true vérité style, the handheld camerawork is a little rough at times, but befits the clandestine nature of the subject matter. The film ends with Greenwald’s tantalizing revelation that Snowden has inspired another major whistle-blower – the details of which are only intimated through handwritten messages on pieces of paper and Snowden’s astounded reaction.

Running at three-and-a-quarter-hours, Winter Sleep, by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a long, challenging watch, not made easier by the fact it centres on the complex, but increasingly unlikeable protagonist, Aylin. As the first snows of winter arrive, the outwardly charming Aylin – a former actor and wealthy landowner – becomes a suffocating presence for his beautiful, young wife Nihal and a looming figure of oppression in his community. The barren Anatolian wilderness with its cave-like houses provides an otherworldly backdrop as events slowly unfold indoors. A slow-burner, at times it is in danger of extinguishing itself with subtitled torrents of philosophical verbiage, but then leaps to life with some beautifully observed and quietly tragic scenes.

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

Antarctica’s golden years


Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Antarctica: A Year on Ice, is about the people who work on the frozen continent.

• Director Mike Leigh is a British institution, producing subtle, sensitive films that run deep, such as the 1996 Palme d’Or winner Secrets & Lies and his earlier Life Is Sweet. His latest work to hit these shores – opening on Christmas Day – is a biopic about the last 25 years of the great English impressionist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Leigh is best known for films with well-rounded characters, but Mr. Turner has been earning praise as much for the visual strengths of his warts and all portrait of the brilliant, but flawed, artist. The ever-reliable Timothy Spall won Best Actor at Cannes 2014 for his performance as the titular character.

Antarctica has been in the news of late. A few months ago, two separate studies by NASA and University of Washington stated the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet was in “irreversible retreat… past the point of no return.” We learned that coming generations could look forward to sea level rises of up to four metres around the world as the ice melted. So the release of the documentary, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, about the people who work on the frozen continent, is a timely one (Vancity, Dec. 5-11).

Director Anthony Powell, a satellite telecommunications engineer turned filmmaker, made the film with his wife over the course of 10 years and, as the title suggests, it charts 12 months on a US base in Antarctica through the white summer nights and the dark winter days. Often humorous, the film is an appreciation of the harsh environment, severe cold, pristine beauty of the natural icescape and the unique culture that has evolved there. Reviews suggest spectacular visuals combine well with an entertaining portrait of the temporary human population and a poignant reminder that, as one of the characters puts it, “These might be the golden years of Antarctica.”

Snow is the backdrop for Force Majeure, a Swedish drama about a middle-aged family man whose world crumbles after a near-miss avalanche incident at a ski resort. When Tomas follows his instinctive urge to run for his life, abandoning his family, the skiing holiday descends into a living purgatory as he tries to come to terms with his action (at Vancity until Dec. 14).

Gemma Bovery is a sensuous, modern take on Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 classic novel, based on Posy Simmonds’ 1999 graphic novel. Gemma Arterton stars as a beautiful, bored and unfaithful wife whose neighbour Martin – also the film’s narrator – wants to save from a very literary tragic ending when she moves next door in rural Normandy (opens Dec. 5).

I don’t watch a lot of sports movies so I can safely say that Next Goal Wins, an underdog story about how the world’s worst soccer team redeemed themselves, is one of the best I’ve seen. The documentary charts the comeback of a team of amateurs from American Samoa, from a devastating, historic 31-0 loss to Australia. The film gives sports clichés a new spin as the team draws on warrior spirit and the help of a fiery Dutch coach – who is carrying his own burden – to climb out of their hole. It is funny, uplifting and insightful. The one-off screening is hosted by DOXA on December 9 at Cinematheque (

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

The fest goes on


scene from the documentary Valley Uprising
Valley Uprising charts the roots of “outlaw” climbing culture in Yosemite National Park.

• These may be uncertain times for cinema, but the Vancouver International Film Festival ended last month on a high note, announcing it set a new box office record: a 10% increase from 2013, the festival’s previous benchmark year. For all the worries about media saturation, people still come in droves for the social experience of watching a film together in a dark room. The 1,800-capacity Centre For Performing Arts in downtown Vancouver was packed to the rafters for the closing film Whiplash.

Out now, Whiplash follows a student drummer (Miles Teller) as he pursues dreams of jazz greatness at a top music conservatory under the tutelage of a brilliant, but terrifying, teacher (J.K. Simmons). The music scenes in the film are tremendous. Such is the skill of the actors and filmmakers, you can forgive the sometimes absurd melodramatics of the story and warm to the big Hollywood-style pay-off.

Whiplash was one of the most popular films at VIFF, but the Most Popular Award went to the Japanese underdog baseball movie, The Vancouver Asahi, based on the real Asahi champions of the 1920s and 1930s. No release date is set yet, but Jari Osborne’s Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story, a 50-minute NFB documentary about the team’s success and impact of the wartime internment policy on the Japanese-Canadian players, is free to view at The Most Popular International Documentary Award went to Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, following the country star’s uplifting farewell tour after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The BC pregnancy comedy Preggoland and All the Time in the World, a chronicle of a family’s back-to-the-land experiment in the Yukon, won most popular Canadian Feature and Documentary.

The much anticipated documentary Valley Uprising, which charts the roots of “outlaw” climbing culture in Yosemite National Park, is part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival’s Fall Series November 12-15 at the Rio and Centennial Theatres. Another is the hour-long Dream Line profiling professional skier Ptor Spricenieks who is “living the dream.” There’s also a mountain bike show. More details at

Film festivals abound this month: the 18th Annual Vancouver International Asian Festival ( runs November 6-9 at International Village Cinemas in Vancouver. Meanwhile, a new one-day music fest debuts at the Vancity Theatre on the 7th. “Render” ( will be “championing innovative and cutting-edge music videos” and their creators. As well as the likes of The Knife (director Bitte Andersson), They Might Be Giants (director Alex Italics) and Asbjorn (director Powerclap), they’ll also be featuring locally made work by Wintermitts (director Artino Ahmadi) and PrOphecy Sun (director Eliot Zee).

The annual Vancouver Jewish Film Festival ( is back November 6-13 at Fifth Avenue Cinemas. The closing film, Under the Same Sun, is an upbeat “what if?” story where two businessmen, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, overcome entrenched divisions in their communities to set up a solar energy company and end up becoming role-models for peace. It was made by a Palestinian director and Israeli producer.

Coming up next month is the Whistler Film Festival (December 3-7). Among the six films competing in the coveted Borsos Competition for Canadian film is Mountain Men, a dramedy about two estranged brothers caught in a Rocky Mountain winter wilderness who must bury their differences to survive.

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

VIFF reviews


Just Eat It documentary
From Just Eat It. The film chronicles a couple’s challenge to live solely from food waste for six months.

• Among the documentary fare at VIFF this month is Just Eat It – A Food Waste Story. It chronicles Vancouver foodie filmmakers Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin’s six-month challenge to live solely from food waste. As they pursue this interesting experiment, the couple dig into the broader issues of industrial food waste, from bananas that are chucked for not having the right curve, to expiry labels and portion sizes. Initially, it’s hard-going, but soon they are showering their dumpster-sourced bounty on friends. They don’t appear to get sick and a staggering amount of their spoil is organic.

The film offers a variety of responses to this waste, including profiling an operation that recycles food as pig swill, gleaning, recycling food through low-income supermarkets for the poor and outlining habits individuals can adopt. Food retailers don’t really get held to account so, by the end, you might be asking yourself why you even bother to pay for groceries.

Another Vancouver documentary is Julia Kwan’s Everything Will Be, an almost elegiac portrait of Chinatown. One of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, this is a snapshot of people in the midst of change – a security guard, shop owners, a struggling artist, a poet, a new age bar owner and a feisty ninety-something newspaper vendor. The film avoids being too nostalgic about the past while acknowledging that modernity and gentrification come at a price. Locals talk fondly of a Chinatown of bustling markets, mahjong nights, handwritten shop signs and fraying brick buildings, much of which are still in evidence. Kwan sensitively contrasts this with the shiny, new face of the city’s condominium developments and real estate marketeer Bob Rennie’s extraordinary project to preserve elements of Chinatown.

German-made, Mexico City-set Que Caramba es la Vida (Das schöne Scheißleben) is an enjoyable look into the world of female mariachis. The music is great, but this is not a concert documentary; the filmmakers’ concern is revealing the sacrifices and tribulations of being a female artist in a male-dominated world. There are some great sequences of mariachi central in Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City and intimate profiles of several mariachi groups that have broken the mold, from a group of now elderly women musicians to a single mum mariachi with a tremendous voice.

Yakona is a loosely told documentary in the style of Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi, featuring lush images, historical re-enactment and recent footage showing the interplay between people and the natural life of the San Marcos River. Depending on your taste, the lack of clear narrative will either be welcomed or a point of frustration.

The one drama I previewed was indie thriller Two Step, set in Austin, Texas. It features an excellent performance by James Landry Hébert as a violent, weasel of a man, who gets by conning seniors out of cash.

VIFF continues until Friday October 10. Post-VIFF, look out for Scandinavian hit The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann). The picaresque tale follows the absurd antics of a vital centenarian who goes on the run from his nursing home and includes his entertaining interactions with key historical figures of the 20th century.

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

Welcome back VIFF

Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon
Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon highlights India’s rainy season as both a life-giver and life-taker.

The first Vancouver International Film Festival under its new boss Jacqueline Dupuis opens September 25 and runs until October 10. A former executive director at the Calgary Film Festival, Dupuis will be helming VIFF ( through the uncertain waters of the digital age. Alan Franey, who stepped down from VIFF’s leadership role last year, remains at the festival as director of programming, bringing continuity.

I’ve seen four feature-length documentaries so far. BC-based Sturla Gunnarsson’s documentary Monsoon looks at how the annual deluge has shaped the daily lives of different people across India. Gunnarsson interviews a range of people from the government director of meteorology – whose pronouncements on the weather must be sufficiently sensitive to avoid roiling the stock market – to the bookkeeper who takes bets on whether the monsoon rains will fall or not. The monsoon season – staring in June for four months – brings most of India’s annual rainfall and is both a life-giver and life-taker. No wonder it is often spoken of in mystical terms. The documentary takes a somewhat scattergun approach in its coverage, but has many memorable parts as Gunnarsson takes us through the elation of the monsoon’s arrival to the lows for families and farmers where the rainfall is either too much or too little.

In his documentary, You’ve Been Trumped, Anthony Baxter exposed the obnoxious, bullyboy tactics of Donald Trump as he rammed through the planning process for a garish golf course on a wilderness site in the North East of Scotland. Now, Baxter’s back with A Dangerous Game, which broadens its scope to look at other extravagant golf course projects for the super-rich. In particular, we meet protesters trying to halt a luxury course above the historical Croatian town of Dubrovnik – with total disregard for local social and ecological values. Very much a sequel, there’s some necessary backtracking over ground from the previous documentary. This time, Trump and his son Donny Jr. descend from their towers for interviews to be suitably skewered.

Marmato follows the rocky fortunes of a small, Colombian town sat atop one of the largest gold deposits in the world. Working with pioneer-era mining equipment, local men make a living tunnelling into the very same mountain their houses reside on. A new vulnerability comes into play as the price of gold rockets and a Canadian company arrives in town with plans to turn the mountainside village into an open-pit, “eco-friendly” mine. Miners, finding their livelihoods threatened, organize and resist. Mark Grieco’s coverage of the stand-off is admirably even-handed while capturing the lives and hopes of the small-time miners in intimate detail with atmospheric cinematography.

We hear a lot about compassion in farming, but what does it look like? Meat and Milk doesn’t directly answer that question – it’s too much pure documentary, observing with next to no narrative voice-over and only a minimalist soundtrack – but it does offer remarkable insight into our relationship with cows in 16 scenes across the world. As expected, industrial farming is not a pretty sight. It’s a world of concrete and steel where the beasts are machine-processed with the hard efficiency of high tech. Contrast that with the lame Hindu cow who is hugged, patted and fed by passers-by. From sloppy birthing to slaughterhouse, windswept mountainside to Vegas-like auction house, this has many striking (and disturbing) images, though it would have benefited from more of a narrative – perhaps more from the autistic woman who provides rare insights into the behaviour of this ubiquitous “prey species.”

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

Blisters and bonhomie


hiker overlooking mountainous terrain
From Walking the Camino: Six Ways To Santiago

• Next month it will be 20 years since I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the medieval pilgrim trail that traverses the North of Spain. So it was something of a nostalgia trip watching Lydia B. Smith’s Walking the Camino: Six Ways To Santiago (Vancity 1-7, 16th and 23rd), a documentary that captures the spirit and sense of fellowship one feels when walking the historic route. Smith followed six “fatefully encountered” pilgrims and their walking companions for some six weeks as they trudged the 500 miles from the traditional starting point of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France in April 2009 to the medieval town of Santiago de Compostela.

As in Emilio Estevez’s enjoyable drama The Way, which was set on the Camino and starred the director’s dad Martin Sheen, Smith explores the pilgrims’ motivations and transformations. They walk for religious convictions, solitude, to heal or for an alternative to learning kite-surfing. Through varied and often magnificently shot scenery, the pilgrims share that sense of letting go of their cares, as well as the superfluous contents of some of their backpacks as they become more seasoned pilgrims. “I found myself losing everything I wished for. I no longer need anything. The Camino brings to you a peace that you can’t describe,” says one of two fit, old gents from BC who provide some lucid commentary on the Camino effect.

What sets the Camino aside from any other long hike is the 1,200-year-old history that seems ingrained into the surroundings and the warmth and hospitality of people along the way – in particular, fellow pilgrims and volunteers who run the string of auberges (pilgrim hostels).

The doc provides a glowing impression of the conviviality of the Camino, balanced with the inevitable blisters, physical pain and sweaty, shared dorms. It doesn’t give you a strong sense of any individual’s journey, but the impression it leaves of the Camino will certainly pique one’s wanderlust.

The Vancouver Latin American Film Festival returns on August 28 (until September 7), with 73 films, including 36 feature-length films. With $5,000 in cash prizes for winning filmmakers in three competitions – New Directors, Documentary, Short Film – as well as an Audience Award this year, expect some high calibre works.

The festival opens with the Argentinian, romantic comedy Lion’s Heart (Corazón de León) about a successful lawyer, Ivana, who falls for a 4.4-foot architect and closes with the hand-drawn, animated feature Anina, about a 10-year-old girl who goes on a voyage of self-discovery after getting into a playground fight. Other highlights include the classic 1968 Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment (much more exciting than the title suggests), the film adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s novella No One Writes to the Colonel (1999).

To give you a sense of the festival’s range, there’s a series of Afro-Cuban films, films in Basque – one of Europe’s oldest languages – a Chilean-Canadian cinema showcase and a screening of films by BC First Nations filmmakers alongside works by indigenous filmmakers from Oaxaca, Mexico. Tickets go on sale August 12 at

The Cinematheque’s annual film noir season is back in August with a dozen classics from the forties and fifties, the heyday of the genre. Among them are new restorations of three classic noirs: The Lady From Shanghai, Gun Crazy and Double Indemnity. The latter is also in a triple bill on Sunday 3rd, along with The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart, and Mildred Pierce, which won Joan Crawford an Oscar for the lead role.

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at

Rites of passage


Ellar Coltrane as Mason in Boyhood
Ellar Coltrane as Mason in Boyhood. Courtesy of IFC Films.

• Last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave his approval for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. After years of government hard-sell and a blitz of pro-pipeline advertising in BC, the PM’s last-minute, tepid approval of the 1,200km pipeline from the tar sands came as some surprise. As crowds roared defiantly in downtown Vancouver against the pipeline, such has been the strength of opposition that the government didn’t even field spokespeople to defend its decision.

There have been a number of documentaries that look at the environmental dangers posed by the proposed pipeline through some of BC’s most splendid and remote landscapes. One I came across lately on Vimeo was the 35-minute Casting a Voice: Pipelines, Bitumen & Wild Fish, free to view at It provides an intimate perspective from Northern BCers who fish the giant, wild steelhead salmon of the Skeena River. Dimitri Gammer’s lovingly made film captures the rugged beauty of the area, but also highlights the dangers the terrain poses for the local ecology and businesses that depend on it. “In this country, the tops of mountains can break off and roll down into the valleys,” says author Rob Brown. “It’s the worst location.”

Free, open-air screenings are back at Stanley Park this month, beginning with the recently released, fun, family film The Lego Movie (Tuesday 8th), along with a series of older classics such as Footloose, Pretty in Pink and Dumb & Dumber. The open-air series runs Tuesdays from July 8 to September 2 at Second Beach. Shows start “at dusk” so pull up a blanket in front of the inflatable screen. The films are put on by a company called FreshAirCinema although, ironically, the main sponsor is still a major oil company. More info at

Making the aging process authentic on screen can be tricky given it is usually accomplished by having different actors play the same character. So in 2002, pioneering director Richard Linklater cast a six-year-old boy for a drama about growing up called Boyhood and then went back for a few days each year until 2013 to continue the story. Here, the boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his older sister (the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater) and divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) age before your eyes.

With his celebrated The Up Series, Michael Apted has documented the lives of the same kids every seven years, starting when they were seven-years-old in 1964 up to the most recent 56 Up. But that was documentary and the 164-minute Boyhood weaves a story of Mason’s growth from first grade to leaving for college.

Along the way, we see Mason dealing with the turmoil of parental discord, family moves, new schools, first loves, lost loves, and so on. The film includes a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue, years in which Harry Potter, Obama and Tropic Thunder become part of the vernacular. “In a way, the film became a collaboration with time itself,” says Linklater.

The film, which is set mostly in Houston, Texas, won the Silver Berlin Bear for best director at Berlin and the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award at SXSW in Linklater’s home city Austin, Texas. It’s out on July 25.

Robert Alstead is making the documentary Running on Climate. Crowd-funding campaign donations are welcome at

The best of flicks and docs


Mia Wasikowska in "Camel Lady"
Mia Wasikowska as the “Camel Lady” in Tracks. Courtesy of Hanway Films.

• Under normal circumstances, a tournament as big as the World Cup must be a big drain on summer audience numbers. When the four-yearly extravaganza of wall-to-wall soccer takes place in Brazil – a nation famed for its flamboyance and flair on the field – it presents even more of a programming challenge. Vancity Theatre’s answer is to have a soccer-themed series of six screenings, including two films profiling brilliant, but self-destructing, talents: José Henrique Fonseca’s new biopic Heleno (23rd, 8.30PM) about the cavalier 1940s Brazilian striker Heleno and Emir Kusturica’s 2008 documentary profile of Argentinian star Maradona, called Maradona (July 7, 8.45PM). The “Beautiful Game” series includes a free, live screening of the tournament’s opening game between the host nation and Croatia (June 12, 12.30PM).

Vancity Theatre also offers its annual Best of Hot Docs showcase. Among the nine titles handpicked from the documentary festival are I Am Big Bird (20th, 6.30PM), a tearjerker that won over audiences in Toronto with its story about Caroll Spinney, the man who, for 40 years, has played Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. There’s also Divide in Concord (21st, 4PM), involving a fiery octogenarian environmentalist, Jean Hill, fighting for a landmark bill to ban single-serve plastic bottles in Concord, Massachusetts. Another that looks fascinating is Slums: Cities of Tomorrow (22nd, 6.30PM), which turns on its head the idea that these make-shift cities are depressed breeding grounds for criminal activity. Rather, as the filmmakers travel through Mumbai, Marseille, the Abitibi region of Quebec, a tent city in the state of New Jersey and a Moroccan slum, they find stories of community and individual resourcefulness and resilience.

The Cinematheque hosts a series of 21 digitally re-mastered and newly-subtitled classics from some of Poland’s most exemplary filmmakers, spanning from 1957 to 1987. The touring series is hand-picked by Martin Scorsese, curated by his non-profit organization, The Film Foundation, and released by Milestone Films. Many of the films reflect a fairly dark and intense Eastern European imagination. Films include the 1970 Oscar-nominated The Promised Land (22nd, 23rd), critiquing the ruthlessness of the ruling capitalist class in the 19th-century, the hallucinatory The Hourglass Sanatorium (6th, 8th), Wojciech Has’s The Saragossa Manuscript (7th, 8th, 9th) and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Hitchcockian noir thriller Night Train (2nd, 5th).

Out on the 6th is John Curran’s Tracks, an inspirational story based on an epic journey by Australian Robyn Davidson, also known as the “Camel Lady.” In 1977, Robyn (Mia Wasikowska) sets out from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean – a 2,700-km walk through unforgiving desert – accompanied by her dog and four unpredictable camels. She receives occasional visits from Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a charismatic New York photographer assigned by National Geographic, whose intrusions on her solitude Robyn grudgingly allows for funding for her trip.

Robert Alstead is making the documentary Running on Climate. Crowd-funding campaign donations are welcome at