From Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary Human. Photo courtesy of viff.org 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.
Mesmerizing slo-mo shots of huge electricity towers being planted by helicopter, for the 344-kilometre Northwest Transmission Line, sets an ambivalent tone early on that pervades the film: the newly erected towers lined into the distance stand as both a testament to human endeavour and as a scar on the vast, natural landscape. A richly textured sound design helps evoke an otherworldly, almost dreamscape atmosphere throughout the film. Later, we see live salmon dangling in a large steel capsule at the end of the chopper’s line as they are transported upriver beyond an impassable rock slide. In years past, the fish would be moved by human chain. The times are a changin’ – aboriginal hunters shoot moose by truck, while white hunters carry bows and arrows, and both are seeing much less game. See Koneline at VIFF (October 3 & 9) and at Vancity Theatre (October 28-November 10).
George Gittoes’ documentary Snow Monkey, about a group of street children in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, is unconventional to say the least. The avuncular, ponytailed Aussie taught a whole posse of street kids to make action flicks about their lives on the street. This is the film about them making their films. Gittoes himself is at the heart, both as teacher and father figure to the youngsters, documenting their stories, supporting them, buying them ice cream. The kids are amazing, truly resilient in the face of Dickensian conditions and endless violence, often inflicted upon each other. At a meandering 148 minutes, it is an unusual concoction of reportage, first-hand stories and B-movie style film clips, but the overall impression is raw and real.
Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) employs a very different observational and still documentary style. The camera is a cool eye on two very different worlds on Lampedusa, a small, border island near Sicily, switching between scenes of the quiet life of the locals and the desperate plight of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea from Africa. There’s no voice-over and the soundtrack is largely limited to what is shot: the slap and crash of the changeable sea, a migrant rap or the traditional playlist of the local radio station. The director’s rigorous, stylistic purity allows the long shots to quietly speak volumes. A young local boy’s war play takes on a new significance when juxtaposed with footage of traumatized migrants, huddled in the hundreds on coffin boats. In one haunting scene, the coast guard in hazmat suits and facemasks pile twitching, diesel-drenched bodies onto rescue boats. “It’s the duty of every human being to help these people,” says the local physician as he shares some of the horrors he has encountered. Yet it seems indifference reigns. (October 5, 12 & 14.)
Portrait of a Garden (Portret van een tuin) is either going to be your idea of fascinating or like watching paint dry. It follows two amiable male gardeners, of advanced years, as they work through a calendar year in a Dutch estate garden. As they prune away, they share tips for increasing crop yields and size of the fruit or bemoan the lack of variety in agriculture and suchlike. The format can be a little plodding, but it is easy-going and enjoyable to see the turning of the seasons. If you want to know why basket willows are better than plastic ties for your vines, this is the film for you. (Oct 2 & 12.)
A few more VIFF films on my to-see list: Human, the latest from Home director Yann Arthus-Bertrand (October 10 & 12), sponsored by Common Ground; Seasons (Les Saisons), by the people who made Winged Migration (October 2, 7 & 12); and the Aussie aboriginal crime thriller Goldstone. (October 7 & 10.)
Robert Alstead made the climate justice documentary Running On Climate, runningonclimate.com