FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
• This has not been the easiest of years for the Vancouver International Film Festival to prepare for. The closure of the Empire Theatres Granville 7, which had provided the Festival with multiple screens in an affordable, central hub for 11 years, presented organizers with a challenge.
Fast forward to September and VIFF is back with a new set of venues: three screens at Cineplex Odeon International Village, SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, the Vancouver Playhouse and the 1,800-seater Centre for the Performing Arts. Despite concerns that the new owner of the latter venue – the evangelical Westside Church – would not accommodate the annual fall film frenzy, VIFF is programming three films daily there for each of the fest’s 16 days, including the opening gala on the 26th. East Van will welcome VIFF’s use of the Rio this year while, downtown, the Pacific Cinematheque and VIFF’s home base, Vancity Theatre, complete the circuit.
This year’s smorgasbord of 350+ films – 200 of them features – includes lauded new films from Cannes like the raw, lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La vie d’Adèle), which won the Palme d’Or, and Koreeda Hirokazu’s Jury Prize-winning Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru), in which a father is forced to question his assumptions about fatherhood after discovering his son is not biologically his.
Ken Loach’s documentary Spirit of ‘45 provides a warm, nostalgic look at the achievements of post-war Britain, where the Labour government strode out of the rubble of war to reduce national poverty and inequality. With his unabashedly partisan view, Loach weaves a persuasive narrative through the eyes of those who lived it, with copious archive footage that makes socialist wisdom sound like manna from heaven.
Among the environmental documentaries, The Last Ocean recounts the struggle to protect the population of toothfish – marketed as “Chilean sea bass” – of the remote and relatively pristine Ross Sea in Antarctica. The great white south is captured in all its icy and fearsome glory, with the loveable penguin population playing a starring role. As marine scientists navigate the layers of government in a bid to establish a conservation zone, international fishing fleets continue to press for access to the area’s dwindling bounty. It left me questioning the efficacy of the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) certification.
My sense of desperation probably hit rock bottom watching A River Changes Course. Kalyanee Mam’s controlled, vérité portrait of three Cambodian families depicts traditional fishing and farming life in collapse. Forests are being torched, rivers fished out and teens are being driven into the low-paid work of migrant labour or garment manufacturers for the West. This is the bootprint of globalization most vividly conveyed.
Gentler on the spirit is Breathing Earth: Susumu Shingu’s Dream, Thomas Riedelsheimer’s account of Japanese windmill artist Susumu Shingu’s global quest for a location for his eco village project Breathing Earth. With his oscillating, tumbling sculptures and hypnotic mobiles, he wants to help us re-connect with nature. The doc meanders hither and thither, much like one of the delicate, kinetic contraptions, but the shared fascination of artist and filmmaker in the invisible power of wind is quietly restorative and inspiring.
The full Viff programme goes online at viff.org on September 5. The Vancity Theatre box office (open daily from noon to 7PM) opens on the 14th and the glossy catalogue comes out on September 19.
Robert Alstead writes at www.2020Vancouver.com