VIFF 2015 – 34th Annual Film Festival

Film is a very important medium of artistic expression, entertainment, and for me most importantly – relevance. Just as a classrooms, books, art, music or lectures all provide learning and exposure to other cultures and ideas, equally does the wonder of film. When you couple all of that with relevant topics that interest or affect you, the magic is marvelous!

Again this year I will attempt to view as many films as possible and give you a brief personal response as to how it may be relevant in your life, in hopes that you too will indulge in the fullness of film.

Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John

A great advantage of attending VIFF is that at some showings the director will open the film and is available afterwards for Q&A.  This was true for the September 26th opening of this documentary.  It was great “meeting” Chelsea McMullan as she opened and spoke about herself and the making of the film and its contributors.  She is a Vancouver native and has done other great works that have won awards, such as My Prairie Home.

The film focuses on a family, particularly the children of that family, and the role that their father played — or should I say didn’t play — in their lives.  This will be a topic that will hit home to many viewers, myself included.  It is tough when the families that we grew up in aren’t quite what they should have been, or when our parents let us down.  And in this case, really let them down: one father; two families; two kids in each family with the same name; father murdered.

Overall excellent cinematography and imagery that spans three countries: Canada, Thailand and the Phillippines.

A Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did

I unintentionally chose another film that same evening which had the same focus: dads that you are not proud of.  Perhaps it is a sign that it is time to go back for some of my own therapy?!  Or perhaps it was to illuminate that I didn’t have it too bad after all.  My father was not involved in illegal activity that ended in him being murdered (as above), nor was he part of the Nazi regime that was responsible for the death of millions of people.  That’s what this film is about.

In this documentary by David Evans, he follows two elderly men who both had fathers that served under Hitler. However, each son had quite a different experience of family, of life, and certainly of how they view their fathers’ activities and responsibility. Fascinating really.  What I love about this film is really recognizing how different we are as individuals and the impact our personalities have on how we experience things.  Or as the VIFF write up says “the profound psychological impact of the ties that bind”.  I love that viewpoint.

As the film follows the two sons on a trip to Poland and Ukraine, you will get to have a condensed history lesson and a walk through their ghosts from the past.  For most, it would be quite easy to be appalled by one of the sons’ perspectives, however, this viewer found herself feeling equally sorry for both of them — for different reasons.

Homme Less

This is a fabulous film done by Thomas Wirthensohn (from Austria), and you would never know it was his first film that was longer than five minutes!  Mark Reay is the main actor and the subject of this documentary, a New York fashion freelance photographer/actor/model by day, and homeless by night.

The film does a great job of hilighting the issue of working homelessness.  Given the career choices of Mark and how making it big, or even making decent money, is hit and miss — covering the bills isn’t always easy.  Mark figures that his base monthly expenses of food, health care, and his YMCA membership where he works out and has lockers for his belongings runs at about $1200-1500/month.  This does not include rent.  What is true for New York and a lot of major cities is that housing is very expensive.  And if New York is where your work requires you to be, you may have to sleep on a rooftop under a tarp.

I loved Mark’s vulnerability when admitting that at times he was sad about the girlfriend, or the life, that he doesn’t have. I equally loved his admission of responsibility and choice to some degree of his homelessness.  He admitted in the Q&A after the film (yes, both him and the director Tom were on stage for questions) that his part in it was that he willingly avoids responsibility so there is less pressure.  He is also proud of being a survivor and living off the grid, snubbing the system of sorts.  He further admitted that he probably suffers from a fear of commitment, which would affect not only intimate relationships, but would also stop him from pursuing and attaining larger life goals.  Throw in a twist of irony: he won Volunteer of the Year Award in 2013 for Women in Need, an organization that helps women and children with issues of housing, etc.

Watch the film and find out how a good looking, talented and caring man finds himself shopping for a better tarp to shield him from the elements.


A trip to Argentina will take us to Paulina’s life; a life of a young lawyer (whose father is a judge) who decides to abandon her career to teach the impoverished.  It is an inspiring story of a woman who stands by her convictions, no matter what the cost.  Even when she is sexually assaulted, her convictions interfere with her ability, or desire, to see the men punished.

This is an amazing story of courage, of poverty, of political angst, and a must-see for women who refuse to be victims — in any circumstance.


This was probably my favorite film of the festival. A story of five sisters who are orphans and being raised by their grandmother in Turkey. Life is pretty good and the girls are just girls, until some harmless play in the ocean with some boys from school is reported as “inappropriate sexual contact” and the girls life as they know it is over.

Their home in a community about 1000 km from Instanbul then becomes a prison where they are kept, not allowed to go to school or socialize, and are being trained to be good wives so that they can be married off — one by one.

The youngest sister is the narrator and she can see what is coming, and she’s having none of it!  The story is a great example of courage, determination and female empowerment. A must see and a great glimpse into the Turkish culture and beliefs around women, sex and marriage.

No Men Beyond This Point

This film was a close second for me because the writing and directing was brilliant! A mockumentary about a world where men are no longer needed and becoming extinct. Although the women are slightly concerned about the dying gender, they are not concerned enough to do anything about it. They are quite fine without men, thank you very much!

The story revolves around the youngest man alive (in his 30s) who works as a housekeeper for a West Vancouver all-female family. I must say I absolutely loved how the director starts the film in the 50s and follows how so many things would have been different had there been only women running the world.  No wars, no internet, video games never evolved past Pong, no man ever went to the moon (why spend all that money to put only one there?!).  You get the point.  A satire you will be glad you took the time to see.

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets

This was a well done documentary on the investigation into the death of Jordan Davis — an innocent black teen shot by a middle aged white male who was “defending” himself.  Jordan and his friends had stopped at a gas station to purchase a couple of items.  Their music was too loud for Michael Dunn and shot Jordan dead.

I did have a bit of a hard time with this film being Canadian and not really understanding the gun culture and their right to bear arms. There was not even a debate as to whether or not Michael killed Jordan.  That happened.  What made things difficult was the law in Florida that was being applied to win this case. Apparently in some states you are required to “stand back” or de-escalate confrontations.  However, in Florida you have the right to move forward and defend yourself if there is a real or even possibly an imagined threat to your life.

Like I said, a bit hard for this girl to chew. However, a well done film and worth seeing.

The Pearl Button

One of the things I love about the film festival is all of the countries that I get to visit!  In this film, a trip to the watery Patagonian Archipelago in Chile. The cinematography is amazing in probably one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The trip through history includes visiting the beauty, but very much takes us on a walk through yet another huge atrocity of our time. I’m not sure why seeing this film and the senseless takeover and killing of the natives was surprising to me. After all, it happened here to the First Nations people, in Germany, in Cambodia, etc., etc. All over the world.  I guess I will just never get used to it. Then fast forward to the late seventies, and the government ruler Pinochet again engages in more killings, using the waters as a cemetery.

A bit difficult to endure the injustices, but it is part of our history, and hopefully the reminder will help shape our future for the better.

Three Stories of Love

This was my least favorite of all of my picks. I thought the film went on way too long for the subject matter, although I did learn a bit more about Japanese culture I suppose. I must also admit that it was the last film of the evening, and my fourth that day.  Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew for one day, and this film may deserve more credit!

The story focuses on three very different stories of love lost — a bereaved bridge repairman, an unhappy housewife and a gay lawyer. There are some good twists and turns and definitely something to be learned about the importance of the grieving process.

You will have to decide for yourself on this one, and I am sure you will find yourself at least partially in some of the characters.

Thank you VIFF for another fabulous festival!!

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Considering that this book is the author’s first thriller — she has done a fabulous job! It is a who-dunnit that keeps you reading long after your bedtime as it is hard to put down.

What I like about the book from a psychological perspective is the focus on alcoholism. How a series of events can lead to using alcohol to handle the pain and disappointments of life. For anyone who has misused alcohol or has been close to someone who has, the ongoing dilemma the main character has racking her brain for memories that aren’t quite there due to blackouts will be scarily familiar.

I found the novel to be very true-to-life as it puts out there various characters’ extreme circumstances that really can happen to any of us given the perfect storm. It is a great read and I enjoyed how the author wrote the majority of the book from the perspective of a girl travelling back and forth into London on the train — and what she sees as she passes by the familiar scenes each day.


In its 14th year, Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson nicely welcomes DOXA: “Film plays an indispensable role in bringing new issues, concerns and human experiences to the public’s attention. By viewing our issues we open the door to education and dialogue…”

Please allow me to help open that door by giving you a review of the films that I managed to view during this week’s festival. Once the festival has finished its circuit, they will be available for viewing or purchase.


This film had quite an impact on me, including bringing me to tears a couple of times. The impact resulted from the education I received on the atrocities occurring in Syria, as well as the key role social media is playing in organizing opposition and protests around the world. The film claims that social media itself was a major contributor to the fall of the dictatorship in Tunisia in only 28 days, and in Egypt in only 18 days!! Astonishing. Unfortunately in Syria’s case, three plus years later it has not yet had the same success.

In our world of ongoing political unrest, the problems in Syria were not surprising to me. Another bully in power (Assad Bashar) killing anyone who gets in his way. What was surprising to me was how social media can be used for good in such a powerful way. Having come from a generation pre-internet, it is quite easy for me to see the downsides of social media and the problems it causes today (especially because I have a lot of teenagers in my practice!). So to see that same tool be used for world peace was refreshing.

I would highly recommend that you check out the YouTube clip of this film, and make sure you watch it when it is available after the DOXA tour is over.



Yet another social studies/history lesson, in this great film we learn about war after 9/11, and how complicated actually applying the law can be to seemingly straightforward issues. In this example (one of many) 22 Muslims from China’s Uyghur minority fled China — only to find themselves mistaken for terrorists and ending up imprisoned in Guantanamo without trial for up to eleven years. Excellent documentary to open your eyes . . . which you may wish had stayed shut.


This film is an in-depth, personal look at the victims of PTSD. Filmed at Pathway Home, a facility for veterans suffering from PTSD, we get a first hand experience of not only the pain that the men themselves suffer with, but also that of their families. It is a very long film (142 minutes) and a very emotionally intense film — not for the faint of heart.

As a therapist, this diagnosis and its repercussions are not new to me. However, I would have to say that the intensity shown here of how their pain has stolen their identity as they knew it, and sometimes stolen their lives as well, was an eye opener. I myself had to leave the theatre a couple of times to collect myself.


This documentary had an interesting way of being filmed, referred to as atmospheric. The subject at hand is kids with too much energy and the trouble that gets them in at their rural high school in Quebec. The filmmaker uses long still shots, often with absence of context, with the only dialogue taking place during the student/teacher meetings.

In the beginning of my own career, I specialized in kids with behaviour disorders. Given that, I enjoyed this film as I believe it did a good job of capturing the perspective of the youth that were in trouble, as well as the frustration of the educators and their attempts to rein them in. Good peek into the longstanding issue of disruptive teens in the high school milieu.


I loved this movie!! Setting: speed dating event for 70+. Brilliant. In a culture with an aging population and people living much longer and much healthier, the issue of lonely seniors is on the rise. Out of the 15 men and 15 women that attended the event, an up-close and personal look was filmed with a handful of them. Through the profiling of a few of the individuals, we get to see where they have come from in their life and how they have come to be single (i.e. divorced, widowed, etc.). We also get to understand why they have agreed to attend the speed dating event and what they are looking for. For some it is companionship, some are romantics looking for love, others miss waking up beside someone or someone to cook dinner for. Each of the individuals is beautiful in their own way and the filmmaker does an excellent job of showing this to us.

I loved how one of the women encapsulated this unique age group of singles. She said that she was probably more ready and suited for a relationship than any other time in her life. Not only did she have wisdom and experience from her years, but that she was also completely available: unencumbered by the responsibility of raising children or even having a job. Well put.

Dead Poet’s Society

Yes, this is an old movie (1989).  However if you are like myself, you probably watched it in 1989 and remembered it was a great movie — but do you really remember it?!

I am so glad I took the opportunity to watch it again.  Absolutely fabulous film with fantastic messages for all of us.  Examples from the movie:

  • Carpe Diem; seize the day, make your life extraordinary
  • words and ideas can change the world
  • may the powerful play go on, and may you contribute a verse
  • strive to find your own voice, because the longer you wait, you may not find it at all
  • we all have a need for acceptance, but you must believe that your thoughts are unique
  • the road less travelled: your own walk

So grab some popcorn and re-aquaint yourself with this classic.  It is also nice to see Robin Williams too, albeit sad as well.

The Good Lie

For this film, I won’t even qualify who would most benefit from watching it.  Everyone should see it.  It is important.

Wonderfully done film, giving us a hollywood peek into what some refugees have had to go through in order to end up in our country.  In this movie, Sudanese refugees find their way to Kenya (by foot!) and then are eventually relocated to the United States.

Please take the time to watch this film, and have your children watch it to. I believe we often can have a not-so-understanding attitude towards other cultures in our society —  and refugees are often a target of ridicule and judgement.  I hope this movie changes your perspective.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together”  African proverb

The 100-Foot Journey

This film is about a displaced Indian family that moves to France and opens an eatery across the street from a Michelin-starred French restaurant.

Loved this movie! Tragedy strikes due to a political situation, and a happy thriving family is suddenly homeless and motherless.

I like how “enemies” can change their minds and get along.  I like how family sticks together and supports one another.  I like how people can reinvent themselves.  I like how people find love.

If you are looking for inspiration, this movie is for you.


Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, this is a story of a family seen through the eyes of a boy.

It is a slow story, but good.  Lots of intimate looks at real life through tough times.  It is definitely a sad story, with a cynical main character with opinions worth paying attention to.

I would recommend this movie, as long as you are patient, especially to anyone who has experienced a split family and its dynamics. A warning on that note: it will strike some tough cords.

Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors.  I love her ability to humorously and delicately have us look at the realities of our relationships: marital, friend, and parenting .  This novel is yet another good example of just that.

For anyone in a marriage, or re-marriage, you will enjoy her portrayal of the idiosyncrasies that we all face.  Further, if you happen to be parenting younger children or budding teens, you will also enjoy her poke at that time in our lives.

It is interesting, light but meaningful.  A good read.




This is a great, psychological , brutal movie.  Make sure you have a strong stomach as it is not for the faint of heart.

J.K. Simmons plays the part of a hard ass music instructor at a highly competitive music academy in New York, while Miles Teller is the aspiring student who wants to be the greatest jazz drummer. It’s hard to tell between the two of them who might really be suffering from mental illness.

I like this film as I believe we live in an era where pushing oneself to their limits is not as common as it used to be.  Is this a good thing? Is it not?  I guess you will have to see it and find out for yourself.

What happens when you put abuse of power and a driven perfectionist together?  Whiplash.

Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)

If you haven’t discovered VIFF – it’s a must for next year. The 33rd annual film festival wrapped up on October 10th after 16 days of fabulous films (approximately 350 of them!) from more than 70 countries. It’s a great opportunity to see films that you generally won’t see at the box office. There are numerous categories and genres of films that are shown in seven different venues in the downtown core of the city. Something for everyone at most anytime of the day, starting at 10:00 am and going on through til midnight.

I managed to see five films this year — only a dent in what I would have like to have seen. I think next year I will actually take some vacation time so I can take in more. Here is a synopsis of what I saw in the event that you may want to seek them out for yourselves.

RUN – Ivory Coast

I wouldn’t call this a favorite, but it was interesting to experience a taste of a realistic microcosm of this region of Africa. Personally I enjoy travelling, as I love to immerse myself in other cultures for the purpose of expanding my awareness and knowledge base of others. Film is definitely a close second to actually being able to travel somewhere. This film definitely gives the viewer an opportunity to experience some of their culture and dangers that they are faced with still to this day.

(NOT for the faint of heart. Graphic scenes and disturbing content)

This is a Hindi social problem film which focuses on the harsh realities of human trafficking. The 14 year old Lakshmi is abducted from her rural Indian village and sold into prostitution. I liked how the film gave you glimpses into the lives behind some of the villains as well, as I believe it is also important to humanize all of the participants in these huge social injustices. Understanding of the societal context and the individual circumstances that drives people to do really wrong things is key to ending these problems. If ending them is possible. I hope it is.


Khalo Matabane, a celebrated filmmaker, shares this deeply personal documentary of Mandela’s life. It is personal in the sense that it shares Khalo’s own conflicted feelings concerning the icon’s life and legacy. I really liked how he interviewed world leaders and South Africans on their experience of Mandela — which weren’t always kind. Refreshing, I would say, to not just have the pedestal view of a man of Nelson’s calibre. He was cold. He had a temper. He preached forgiveness in circumstances where people did not want to forgive. And he tried to change a nation for the better. He did his best. All are true.


Fabulous film!! And this one you can see at the big box. It is playing now in local theatres. A must see for parents of teens, but for that matter, just about anyone. As a therapist, I see firsthand the problems associated with the advent of the computer and social media: teens and adults with online gaming addictions; pornography problems; a real change in how everyone communicates (and miscommunicates!); a new avenue for affairs, etc. Because all of these problems are fairly new to society (they didn’t exist when I was a kid!), I enjoyed how the film portrayed these issues and the all-too-common fallout that happens. The more awareness we have, the closer we will come to solutions.

VIFF writeup: This film follows the story of a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives. The film attempts to stare down social issues such as video game culture, anorexia, infidelity, fame hunting, and the proliferation of illicit material on the internet. As each character and each relationship is tested, we are shown the variety of roads people choose – some tragic, some hopeful – as it becomes clear that no one is immune to this enormous social change that has come through our phones, our tablets, and our computers.