FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
One of the less cut-and-dry eco docs at VIFF this year is Windfall (October 10, 13) a relentless attack on wind energy seen through the prism of a small town in upstate New York where industrial wind energy became a divisive local issue. It raises important issues about just how “green” large wind turbines are and looks at the process of introducing wind farms: the US subsidies system, we are told, is set up in such a way that local communities receive a miniscule percentage of revenue from wind farms. Yet people living near wind turbines say the shadows and noise affect their health. The big issue is one of aesthetics and, ergo, real estate values. People don’t want them in their backyard. To be honest, I found this documentary infuriating at times. I’d have preferred fewer townsfolk talking about how unsightly, noisy and unnatural these 400-foot wind turbine “monstrosities” are and a more balanced look at the ecological cost compared to other forms of electricity to really convince me that the wind energy industry is the malignant force the filmmakers want me to believe it to be.
Russian drama My Joy (Park Cinema, 3, 4) is perhaps the most grimly ironic title in the festival program. A young truck driver takes a tortuous shortcut through a rural backwater and his life takes a turn for the worse. The everyman, lead character, Georgi, is physically and psychological battered down by a series of humiliating and shocking incidents – particularly at the hands of soldiers and policemen. Spanning both a contemporary and post-Second World War time frame, the film meanders here and there, inevitably descending into a colder, darker place. It’s effective – heart-wrenchingly so on occasion – but “joy” is in short supply here.
Reverse (Empire Granville 1, 8) from Poland, largely set in a black-and-white, post-War Warsaw, is similarly dark in tone, although it is spiked with black comedy, particularly some memorable elements of extreme farce. When mousey poetry editor Sabina brings a debonair man back to the small apartment where she lives with family, her mother and bedridden grandmother are overjoyed for the shy, sensitive 30-year-old spinster. But this is Stalinist Poland and when secrets ‘out,’ the results can be calamitous. While the uneven story veers into the absurd – particularly in its depiction of Sabina’s admirers – it retains credibility and force thanks to the strong character portraits provided by the three central female characters.
On a very different tack, local adventurer and independent filmmaker Frank Wolf will be presenting Mammalian, a documentary about his epic canoe trip with buddy and fellow Vancouverite Taku Hokoyama. (Empire Granville 6, 11; Pacific Cinematheque, 13). The idea behind the 2,000-kilometre journey from Yellowknife to Rankin Inlet was to share insights into this expansive northerly wilderness, its indigenous people and wildlife. There’s little time to address issues of climate change while portaging through thick bush and being constantly nibbled by flies, but you get a good sense of the ruggedness of the land. The two guys are a fun team to tag along with and prove that you have to be slightly nuts to make this kind of trip with those kinds of flies. (Note: Mammalian plays with Cry Rock.)
VIFF closes on October 14 with The Illusionist, a sweet and lovely looking animation from the creator of The Triplets of Belleville. It’s currently scheduled for a Christmas Day release so more about it later. In the meantime, if you can get tickets, I strongly recommend it.