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.
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!!