The best of flicks and docs

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

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 www.fund.runningonclimate.com

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