FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
• 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 www.nfb.ca 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 www.vimff.org.
Film festivals abound this month: the 18th Annual Vancouver International Asian Festival (www.vaff.org) 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” (www.renderfestival.com) 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 (www.vjff.org) 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 www.fund.runningonclimate.com