FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
• 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 www.fund.runningonclimate.com