VIFF 2020 Review: The Curse Of Willow Song

The Curse Of Willow Song is about a troubled orphaned girl (played by Valerie Tian) who possesses a curse that haunts her, but could just save her.

Most of the familiar VIFF categories from past years are back for the online festival for this year, including Altered States. The first Altered States film I saw was the locally-filmed The Curse Of Willow Song. It was something else.

Willow Song is a troubled girl. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who both passed away, she followed in her older brother Mission’s footsteps to live a life of crime to survive. Manual labor wasn’t enough for her. Only the arson she committed landed her a prison sentence. She’s done with her time but she spends her time in a detention centre in Vancouver as she works to build her life. Her one friend is Flea, another girl at the detention centre. Flea appears to be the only one she can trust right now. Willow is not allowed to see any close family, especially her brother, for fear she will return to her criminal ways.

It is very hard for Willow to reintegrate back into society. One labor job that appeared to have steady work ended as the boss accepted an opportunity in Edmonton. The detention centre doesn’t seem to be working well to help her get back on her feet. The society she’s around has a contemptuous look at young Asian-American females. On top of that Wolf, the pusher from the place she burns down, keeps harassing her how much she owes him.

She gets relief when she least expects it from Dani: a figure from her past. Dani has found a place for Willow to live all the way out in Surrey in an abandoned Warehouse area that has common housing amenities. There, Willow is able to have a set-up similar to that of a comfortable home. One thing. When Willow sleeps at night, there appears to be something dark and mysterious growing on the walls.

Despite her new shelter, Willow knows she still has issues to deal with. She still has to reintegrate herself back into society. Also she has to avoid any contact with Mission or Wolf. That’s not an easy thing to do as she tries to get a labor job, but the boss just pays attention to her physical and racial features. He hires her, but drops her after the first day. Obvious sexual harassment. Walking down the streets of East Van, she does bump into Wolf. He hasn’t forgotten her. He still wants the money from her and won’t stop until she does. In addition, she meets up with Flea, but Flea appears to have turned her back on her. The growth on the walls continues to get bigger and bigger.

Soon, Willow’s secret shelter doesn’t stay secret for long. First to know is Mission and his gang where they go to conduct some activities. It’s only after an altercation with others that they go. Flea finds Willow’s whereabouts and they appear to have made peace. Only it turns out Flea gave Wolf the info about her secret place. Wolf and Flea then go over to her place. Wolf is ready to chase her down and kill her. Willow tries to run and hide herself wherever she can, but Wolf is determined. Willow tries to hide herself in a room full of chairs. Wolf is determined to get to her, but something happens to Willow as she’s hiding. When Wolf gets to where she is, Willow has become this monster of black smoke. She can attack Wolf and there’s nothing he can do. Flea tries to search for Wolf, but Willow has a surprise for her.

This is definitely a horror-thriller movie. However it does a lot more. It sends a message about some Asian-Canadians who slip through the cracks of the system. This is in the focus of Willow: a young Asian-Canadian female. She’s orphaned, best at skilled labor, and has been with her brother’s crime ring. Seeing how Willow wants to get back on her feet but the system either failing or falling short does send a message about problems that are out there. What happens to Willow often happens to many other girls too. I guess that’s why it’s shown in black and white. Because of the black and white world Willow lives in.

Another unique element is the thriller aspect of the film. The ending where Willow turns into this bizarre deadly spirit is bizarre to see. I actually read in an interview with director Karen Lam that she mentions of “psychokinesis (PK), where people can create an energy when under extreme stress that resembles a poltergeist.” That’s something unique. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen something like PK in a film, especially used by the protagonist. It was evident that Willow had her PK growing over time as it grew on the walls before her big confrontation with Wolf when it really came out.

This is a great work from writer/director Karen Lam. It’s a film that does keep you intrigued with the protagonist and what will happen next. The film was nominated for ten Leo Awards (BC’s equal to the Oscars) and it won two including Best Director for Lam. It’s well-deserved as this is a film that really succeeds in telling its story and keeping the audience intrigued. Also excellent is the acting of Valerie Tian. She does a good job of playing the protagonist with a troubled past and something supernatural she doesn’t know what to make sense of. Ingrid Nilson is also excellent as the traitorous Flea. She’s good at playing a lot of street girls that will befriend you one minute, then take what you have the next.

This film is part of the VIFF series Altered States. Many of you know that I’ve been seeing a lot of Altered States films for many VIFFs of the past. Those we the thriller/horror films that were shown at the Rio Theatre during their 11:30 weekend shows until they dropped them after 2018. Altered States are back this year and they’re mostly all online.

The Curse Of Willow Song is more than just a film of a young woman with a supernatural gift. It’s also a film with messages about our society and discrimination. It definitely knows how to end in unexpected manner.

VIFF 2020 Review: Call Me Human (Je m’appelle humain)

Call Me Human is an intimate look at Innu poet Josephine Bacon and her past and present life that makes for her poetry.

I’m glad I started my last day of the VIFF watching the documentary Call Me Human. I never knew of poet Josephine Bacon until I saw it. I’m glad I did.

The film is an intimate look at poet Josephine Bacon. It’s also a look at the friendship between her and the documentary’s director Kim O’Bomsawin. She was born in Innu territory in Pessamit, Quebec. Like other Innu children in her community, she was forced to grow up in the Residential School system in Canada. It was there she endured the abuses and the pressures to abandon her culture and language. Her young adult years would mean trying to make a living. She’d escape her village to live in Montreal, sometimes sleeping with her friend in abandoned places. She would find work as a director and lyricist. She would work as a translator and interpreter with Elders and would listen to their words closely.

It wouldn’t be until after she turned 60 that she learned that she was a poet. She feels she’s not a poet. She feels she has a natural way of storytelling. Her first collection of poetry would not be published until 2009. It was in both French and Innu and it received renown for its importance of cultural preservation and storytelling. Bacon has continued to have poetry books published. She has won numerous literary awards such as the Prix des Libraires de Quebec, the Indigenous Voices Award, and the Order of Montreal.

The film is more than a biography. The film also features a lot of imagery of Josephine as she goes to various places. She’s often seen with other members of her Innu community. It is there she senses a culture whose traditions and ways of life are dying as the younger Innu are more modernized. She is seen looking out to the natural landscapes. It is in her and her culture that she has this feeling. She is seen at places of her past. It is there where she tells of her past history, both bad and good. She is seen over at a friend’s house for a dinner on Innu-cooked fish. It is there we see the life-long connections she established.

The intention of the film is not just to get us to learn who Josephine is, but to experience what it is that makes her poetry. We see Josephine in many dimensions. She calmly tells the stories of her life, but you can tell when heartbreak is in her, even when she doesn’t show it. We see her looking out to nature both with awe, admiration and sadness. She loves the beauty but she quietly hurts because it is stolen land. Her readings of her poems are done across a lot of imagery from landscape images to personal images to animation. Her poems may be in French or in Innu. All of which paint a picture of who Josephine is and how she finds her voice.

The appearance of the Innu ways is as important as Josephine’s use of the Innu language in some of her poems. Innu is a language spoken by only 10,000. The Innu ways were common before residential schooling tried to get children to abandon. Now the difficulty is modernism. There’s fear the traits and traditions will be lost. That’s why Josephine’s poems are so important. They keep the Innu language and the Innu ways of expression alive. That has a lot to do with why she has won so many awards. Those who see this documentary will be lucky to meet a gem of a talent.

Top respect goes to director Kim O’Bomsawin. Kim is not just the director of the film but comes across as a friend. She helps Josephine as she goes from place to place. She even helps with radio interviews, visiting friends and is there who Josephine accepts an award. Kim does an excellent job of showcasing Josephine’s poetic voice as well as the land that Josephine embraces and the traditions she tries to keep alive.

Call Me Human is more than a documentary about a Canadian poet. It’s also about a people and a way of life that was suppressed and oppressed at first but is now experiencing a revival thanks to people like Josephine.

VIFF 2020 Shorts Segment: Programme 2

Those that know me will wonder if I will get my shorts fix at the VIFF this year. The answer is ‘Yes.” VIFF had twelve different shorts segments showing online. The shorts I saw were part of a segment titled Programme 2. Nothing fancy this year for the title. However the short films gave a lot of variety to watch and also a lot of Canadian directors to watch out for.

-Toward You (dir. Mayzam ‘Sam’ Motazedi): A young Iranian-Canadian girl dreams of becoming a socially-conscious slam poet. Problem is wherever she tries to do her act, like an Iranian rug store or an Iranian grocery, she gets booted out. Her biggest fan is a family member she lives with. He’s deaf but he can hear her as he puts his hand on her portable speaker. He has a problem. He has a bad health condition and he’s addicted to smoking his hookah pipe. He even forgets about the day she’s to perform at a show she booked. Distraught, she goes to perform at a senior’s center. The nurses find her act hard to deal with and end it. Despite it, she’s applauded by the seniors. She returns home having to deal with the ailing man.

Up until the end, it was a very good film. It shows a good story about a young girl with a creative passion and a dream. It also shows the difficulties she had to deal with in her own life. However the ending didn’t make a lot of sense. I feel it ended on the wrong note, or the ending didn’t appear like its purpose was justified.

-Zoo (dir. Will Niava): Three young adult males of different races are having their ‘fun’ in Montreal. They cause vandalism, act like tough guys and smoke weed al to their pleasure without a care. Then when they’re in a parking lot, a man dressed in normal clothes comes to inspect the boys. He then sets his sights on the black male whom he especially sees him to be a troublemaker. He tries to arrest him, but he does something brutal to him, leaving him what he appears to be unconscious. The man leaves him behind and it’s up to the boys to take him to the hospital.

No doubt the message is about police brutality on black people. That’s a hot topic because of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In fact, the film maker makes the message seen at the end. I believe the film maker was sending the message that Canada’s no angel either. The interesting thing is the man who arrested him and assaulted him wasn’t even wearing a uniform. Was the man an undercover policeman? Or was he a citizen taking the law in his own hands? Does get you thinking.

-Even In The Silence (dir. Jonathan Elliott): It’s a film with a poem in an Indigenous language in the background as the story is told of a young girl and her boyfriend. They’re madly in love, but things go wrong at a party involving a lot of drinking. She drives him home but they get into an argument and a car crash happens. Sometime later, through embracing her culture, she’s able to find healing. She goes to the area of the crash to lay flowers, and she feels his spirit again.

This is a very brief film with a lot of focus on both the poem and the visuals. It attempts to send the overall message through both means. It’s use of Indigenous language is also important as it’s about young Indigenous people trying to find healing through tragedy.

-Spring Tide (dir: Jean Parsons): Emily and Hannah are two teen friends who just want to relax during their summer days. Maybe meet some boys. They do attract the attention of two older boys who are doing work for a nearby business. Their names are Zach and Austin. They develop conversation with the two boys and Emily catches the attention of Zach. She tells him a humorous story and she attracts him. One night, Zach brings her to his hotel room. She declines his sexual advances and Zack acts like a jerk. Later on, he confesses something to her. At the end she tells Hannah of her experience.

The film is a reflection of a teen girl and her first sexual experiences. It reminds you of how summer is that time when sexual curiosity and expérimentations happen. At the same time, it’s not just about sexual curiosity. It’s also about the two characters. Both are either a teen or a young adult. Their immaturities are made obvious in how they treat each other privately. However it soon becomes a case where Zach shows his insecurities. He goes from a jerk to being the insecure one almost instantly. That’s pretty much it. It showcases the behaviors as much as it showcases the moment.

-Laura (dir. Kaayla Whachell): Laura is in a detention center. She has been arrested for abandoning her child in a motor vehicle. She is met with an Asian-Canadian lawyer. He tries to ask her about her Indigenous heritage or her family history. Laura tells of her own stories of her childhood and how she met her husband. When their baby was born, she was happy as can be. Sometime soon the marriage was falling apart. Then right in the middle of the road, she has an anxiety attack. The lawyer is trying to get to the root of the problem, to see if it has to do with being in an Indigenous family or community, but all Laura wants is her baby back.

I think the message of the film is trying to say how non-Indigenous in the legal system seem not to be able to deal with Indigenous people well. This lawyer appears well-meaning and seems like he’s trying to get to the root of the problem, but Laura is frustrated. She has a mental condition that causes these attacks. She’s in danger of losing her baby, but she feels the lawyer doesn’t get it. He seems not to be paying attention to her issues and desires. It sends a strong message. Both about the justice system and about problems in Indigenous communities.

-Canucks Riot II (dir. Lewis Bennet): The film consists of found footage during the 2011 riot after the Stanley Cup finals game which the Vancouver Canucks lost to Boston Bruins and a riot ensued. The film shows footage of the crowds before the game, during the game, during the rioting and aftermath.

The film isn’t exactly an original film. However it does show a lot of interesting images of the whole incident. There’s footage of people in the crowds shouting “Riot 2011′ before the game begins, sending a message there were people who came to riot, just like during the 1994 Stanley Cup finals (which Vancouver also lost). There were scenes of acts of human selfishness and chaos. There were scenes of people committing the acts of vandalism and looting. There were scenes of an interviewer interviewing a young student from another country who’s both excited and appalled at what he saw. This film sheds a lot of light on the riot and allows you to draw your own conclusions.

Parlour Palm (dir. Rebeccah Love) : A woman brings a parlour palm plant into the house she shares with her lawyer husband. It appears the relationship is going fine at first. However time will tell a different story. He is overworked and she feels ignored. She keeps on hearing bad environmental news and that causes her to go deeper in depression. She tries to get his attention with the artistic creations she shows, but she gets interrupted by him. Then one night, she finally decides to give him a show. It’s a show where she just lets it all out ‘everything is falling apart!’ It causes him to want to call the emergency crew. However he gets the message in the end.

This is a bizarre story as it involves a woman who appears to have a lot of artistic dreams of her own. She tries to use her artistic performance passions to get his attention, but it appears not to work until the very end. This is a unique story about a relationship that is doomed to end. Two differing personalities and one personality who appears to just explode all of a sudden. You have to get into the characters to fully understand them and the story. It’s funny that this is the one short that doesn’t have a social message, ends in the heaviest fashion.

The films I saw were seven unique films that had a lot to tell. Some had a social message. Some offered a ray of hope. Some just told a story. Some did on a bad note wondering what will happen next. I admire short films as a way for up-and-coming director to express themselves creatively. Often short films are a means to lead the director to bigger and better projects in the future. I see potential in all the directors here. One would be interested in what the next film they create will be.

I was able to complete another one of my three main VIFF goals of watching a shorts segment thanks to Programme 2. I’m glad I saw them. They were all good to watch. Also who knows? This may lead to something bigger and better in the future.

VIFF 2020 Review: Cured

Cured is a documentary that retraces what is arguably the first hurdle cleared by LGBT activists and would pave the way to rights gays and lesbians have today.

The VIFF presents a lot of documentaries and a lot of LGBT-themed films. Cured is an LGBT-themed documentary that focuses on what one arguably considers the first hurdle they had to overcome.

The documentary begins with an introduction of the American Psychiatric Association. In 1952, they published their first edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They included a chapter on sexual disorders. At the top of the list was ‘homosexuality.’ No doubt it was controversial. Psychiatrists bought it up, had ‘treatments’ and ‘therapy methods’ invented to ‘cure gay men and women, and really created a stigma. Most outraged were the gays and lesbians. They would hate how something like this would demonize them and how they lived and loved.

Once it was declared a form of mental illness, and had treatments listed, people were sent to hospitals like Utica, NY for painful treatments like electroshock therapy or in extreme cases, a lobotomy. However there was a slow but sure number of LGBT people that would start things to get this overturned. The first was a lesbian group led by couple Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen. They were joined by Frank Kameny. During the 1960’s they worked to start support groups and organize rallies to spread awareness and end the negative stigma the public had towards gay people. Besides fames sexologist Alfred Kinsey published shocking studies in 1948 of a good percentage of men engaging in same-sex behavior.

After gaining a lot of support, the next step was to influence the APA to remove homosexuality form the list of mental illnesses. They would soon find support among doctors. There was one psychiatrist, Dr. John Fryer, who not only supported them but was gay himself. There were times they had to go to meetings and rallies involving the APA and ‘crash’ them. During the meeting they ‘crashed’ in San Francisco, they encouraged doctors to come sit with a homosexual and listen to what they have to say. For two hours, many doctors were willing to do so.

Over time, there were a growing number of doctors with the APA who soon adopted a gay-friendly attitude and were supportive of the group’s pleas. However there were still stubborn naysayers like Drs. Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides who were determined to have it kept listed as a mental illness. Gay and lesbian groups would hold information booths at APA rallies with titles like ‘Gay, Proud And Healthy.’ Then would come a meeting in 1972 to have gay activists openly speak to the APA. Dr. Fryer would be one of the speakers, but with a clown mask and under the name Dr. H. Homosexual to keep him from losing his job. In 1973, the APA soon removed homosexuality in its list of neurological disorders. However it would still be subject to a vote at a 1974 APA meeting. The majority voted in favor of the removal.

You think of all the milestones LGBTs have made over the past fifty or so years. There was Stonewall, decriminalization of homosexuality, allowing gays to teach and own houses, lobbying for funding for AIDS research, allowing gays in the military, and the legalization of gay marriage. It’s easy to forget this is one of the most important moments in LGBT history. and arguably their first victory in the US. We shouldn’t forget LGBTs have been through worse. There was a time centuries ago gays and lesbians were executed worldwide. In fact Thomas Jefferson’s recommendation that gays be castrated was a ‘liberal’ recommendation during a time when they were hanged. It was a universal norm throughout most of history that a man should love a woman and a woman should love a man and that’s that. Anything else was deviant and criminal. So it should be no surprise a national psychiatric association would label same-sex attraction a mental illness. I’m sure the US wasn’t the only nation that did so.

This is a documentary that’s an important lesson for LGBT people to know. I’m sure there are a lot of young LGBT people who still don’t understand why many in the heterosexual majority consider them inferior. But like Bill Maher once said: “If you think you have it tough, go read history books!” Today’s LGBT young people have it better than any generation of LGBT young people before them. In the past, such young people would be subject to disowning from family, criminal prosecution, and way back having next-to-nobody to turn to. Since the history of humanity on the planet until just after World War II, the gay or lesbian lifestyle or attraction was universally condemned and even criminalized and you could easily lose your job if your ‘secret’ was unraveled. The moments in this documentary are a good indication of the feeling and the attitudes of the times. It’s also important for young LGBT people know how pride movements started out or came to be. They’ll learn of people who started pride at a time when there was no one to turn to and a time when fierce opposition was eventual. The LGBT activists of that era were especially important in paving the way to the liberties, freedoms and social acceptances today’s LGBT people have today.

This documentary is also beneficial today for two main reasons. The first is that there are still people, mostly religious leaders and their followers, who still believe that homosexuality is a mental illness and conversion therapy is the answer. Many will remember advertisements starting in the late-90’s about faith-based conversion therapy programs. If the failure rates of programs from psychiatrists were high, what do you think that says about these unproven faith-based programs? It’s all a political game. The second is that it shows how something that starts off as a grass-roots movement can grow into something nationwide and have a big impact. Even paving way to the civil liberties and rights LGBTs have today.

Top marks go to directors Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer. This documentary may not be too original in terms of style, but it’s excellent with interviews, both original and archived, and rare footage. They have the facts together in stringing this story together about what is an important part of LGBT history and celebrates a lot of lesser-known or forgotten founders of the LGBT movement. It’s also important that they show the shocking footage of the electroshock therapy and other ‘conversion’ methods used in the time. Because the LGBT of today need to know what the past had to fight,

Cured is a documentary about history being made by those who made the history. It’s important history for today’s young LGBT’s to know what those of the past have overcome. It’s especially relevant today since there are many opponents who harbor those similar thoughts today.

VIFF 2020 Review: Jimmy Carter: Rock And Roll President

You’ll learn about US President Jimmy Carter (second-right) and his love of Rock ‘N Roll, and it’s musicians including Bob Dylan (second-left) in Jimmy Carter: Rock And Roll President.

Jimmy Carter is the first American president I heard of. So you could imagine a documentary like Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President would naturally catch my attention.

The opening image of the documentary starts in the empty Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. That’s where Jimmy experienced most of his knowledge and influence in his life. It was the church where he was taught his values. It was in a multi-racial town like Plains where he was taught to see African Americans as equals instead of below whites like him. It was his father and how he helped with management of the family peanut business that he learned of hard work and integrity.

One unknown thing about Carter is it was music he connected to most. Carter collected records from a wide variety of musical genres from blues to country to gospel to even rock ‘n roll, which was something presidents before him didn’t want to connect with at all. His first connection started with folk. He took an interest in the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, especially the song Maggie’s Farm.

His first touch with Rock ‘n Roll came in 1971 as he was campaigning for the Governor of Georgia and stopped by the Macon office of Capricorn Records. There he experienced the music of the Allmans, the Charlie Daniels Band, and Marshall Tucker. Carter struck up a friendship with Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden and the two formed a campaign strategy. During the time, Carter was listening in to recording sessions and developing friendships with the musicians.

When Carter was elected governor of Georgia in 1971, he did a lot to improve the reputation of the state of Georgia as well as the south. The south could be seen as a place where progress was being made instead of clinging onto its racist past. The big surprise was in 1974 when Bob Dylan was invited to see Cater. Jimmy’s song Chip was a big fan of his music. Jimmy complimented Bob on his music and Bob was shocked to how a leader of government, a member of the establishment, quoted his songs back and showed a liking to them.

That same year, Carter announced his intention to run for President. His campaign started with him $300,000 but he knew how to have musicians connect with voters. His biggest help came from the Allman Brothers Band as they helped to raise funds for him. Carter wasn’t simply using them. He was friends with the Allmans. Then in 1976, Carter held a Florida benefit concert with the Allmans, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker and The Outlaws. However it’s not to say Jimmy didn’t have rivals. Edmund G. Brown, who was also running for the Democratic candidacy, also held a benefit concert with many acts including his girlfriend Linda Ronstadt.

In the end, Carter won the 1976 Democratic ticket. During his acceptance speech, he quoted a line from a Bob Dylan song of “a generation busy being born, not busy dying.” When Carter was elected president, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin sang at his inaugural balls. During his presidency, rock stars visited the White House. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stopped by in 1977. That same year, Willie Nelson smoked a joint on top of the White House with son Chip. In 1978, Carter had a pig-roast dinner with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

The documentary then focuses less on his association with rock musicians and more on how he served as president. His presidency was one of many great international feats. His goal was to bring back accountability and integrity to politics that appeared lost after the resignation of Nixon. His biggest achievements were in international relations. He wanted to improve the reputation of the US in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. His biggest achievement was the Camp David Summit in 1979 where he was able to strike a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

However things turned on him in 1980. The Islamic Revolution in Iran that started in 1979 had many American held hostage and they still weren’t free. The boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow failed to put pressure on the Soviet government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Back home in the US, there were economic problems. The KKK were even starting anti-Carter rallies. By the time the next election came, Ronald Reagan won. Despite losing, Carter made last-ditch efforts to free the hostages in Tehran. They were finally freed January 20, 1981: the day he left office.

The film continues into his charity and mission work he has done since leaving office. His work has been both national and international. His most famous effort is the Habitat For Humanity housing projects he helped build for low-income families. Even at the age of 96 (which he turned on October 1st), Carter is still at it. Some say his biggest moments came after his presidency.

In retrospect, I think the title is misleading. Yes, Carter liked rock ‘n roll. Yes, Carter had many a rock ‘n roll act as a supporter for his presidency. Yes, the documentary does point it out. However rock ‘n roll wasn’t the biggest thing of his presidency. It does make for something interesting how he had a love for music and how he had many musicians as friends. Nevertheless I found it a bit inconsistent with how the documentary focused on it during the first half but appears to have forgotten about it during the second half.

I was very surprised to see a CNN documentary as part of the VIFF roster. Usually I’d expect to see documentaries that are more creative or more experimental. Not that I’m complaining. I will admit this is the least original or least stylish documentary that I saw at the VIFF. Despite it, I found it very informative and very intriguing to watch about a president I continue to admire to this day. The documentary left me convinced that Carter is way more Christian than Donald Trump ever was. Carter lived out his beliefs.

I give credit to director Mary Wharton and writer Bill Flanagan for creating the documentary. Even though it appears boring in terms of documentary style, it was not short in terms of giving the information. The film did a good job in presenting a president who was a man of dignity and kept his work. Our modern world make it look like being a person of dignity look like a weakness because of how cutthroat the real world is, especially in politics. The film does show how tough it was for someone like Jimmy Carter to be President. Some of today’s politicians would label Carter a ‘marshmallow’ by today’s standards. Nevertheless, it also shows Carter as the President the USA needed in the eyes of the World. He was there to redefine the American South and he was there to redefine the USA after Vietnam and Watergate.

Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President may be one of the least creative documentaries at the VIFF this year. Nevertheless it does make for a good biographical documentary for a president who appears underappreciated during his time.

VIFF 2020 Review: Reel Youth Film Festival

Has it been five years since I last saw the Reel Youth Film Festival? It’s been a long time. Nevertheless having VIFF online gave me the chance to see it again.

This year’s films were a mix of films that looked like they were done by youth and films that were obviously directed by 20+. Some looked very professionally done while some make the amateurishness obvious. All of them did have themes and messages that appeared to be directed to the youth or would be of youth interest.

This year, there were eighteen films. There were five Canadian films, but only two local. Film entries for this year came from the United States, Brazil, India, Bulgaria, Spain, Australia, Romania, China, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Iraq and the UK. Films were a mix of animation, documentary to live-action fiction. They ranged from drama to comedy to informative.

Topics were of a wide range. Even with this pandemic, there was one Canadian film by a teen girl about the struggles of physical isolation and only being able to reach out through a computer. There was another from India of a woman using her creativity to work from home. There were other themes of focus like breaking social barriers, generation gaps, regaining silence in a world full of noise, choices that can change one’s life, a future of pollution, overcoming loneliness with your passion, dealing with post-war trauma, and dealing with autism. There were also some light-hearted films like an animated film about monkeys and baby aliens.

The two themes that most stood out among the short films were themes involving racism and racial identity, and sexuality. With racism being a hot topic in 2020, the Fest didn’t stray away from it this year. One film was about a black girl admitted into an all-white private school and made to feel inferior. Another is of a Mexican-American girl and how she deals with the identity of herself and her people at a time with calls of ‘build the wall’ from Trump and his supporters. There were two films of Inuit people. One was of an elder from Nunavut who passes down to the younger generation hunting skills, cultural traditions and the language. Another film focuses on Inuit youth and what culture means to them. The film ends with them doing traditional throat singing.

As for films about sexuality, there were three. One was a documentary about a Vancouver drag performer who performs by the rule “Don’t do drag for free.” Another was a drama of a girl from China returning home after her grandmother’s death; a grandmother who rejected her after she spoke of her orientation. The third was a comedy about a girl who never had a first kiss from a boy. She realizes she’s a lesbian and gets her first kiss from a girl during the first snowfall.

They again had the ballot for the three favorite films of this year. This year’s ballot was completely online. I had lots of problems trying to access the online ballot. So it looks like I will have to post the picks of my Top 3 here:

  1. Monochrome – The story of Essence, a 17 year-old girl who’s the only black student in an all-white private school. The teens and students don’t hesitate to make her feel like a misfit. She feels like the only way to fit in is to assimilate herself. It’s a very powerful message about the racism we don’t always notice.
  2. Little Swallow Coming Home – A Chinese film about a young girl who returns home after her grandmother died. The memories of how her grandmother rejected her when she came out as a lesbian flood her mind and make her nervous. Then she notices a photo with a message from her grandmother saying she always loved her. It’s a reminder that LGBT struggles are universal. Not just at home.
  3. Dayo – A man named Dayo is lonely at home. But when he walks into the kitchen, he’s an artist and beloved for his culinary confections by the customers and his co-workers. It’s a brief three-minute animated film, but it packs in the charm in its time.

This year’s Reel Youth Film Festival didn’t offer too much in terms of local film. Nevertheless the Festival was very good at providing a wide variety of films from around the world with common themes relating to young people.

VIFF 2020 Review: Inconvenient Indian

Inconvenient Indian allows author Thomas King tell his side of history with his thoughts present, and showcase Indigenous artists paving their own self-controlled direction for the future.

“You have to be careful of the stories you tell, and you have to watch out for the stories you are told.”

-Thomas King

Inconvenient Indian is another documentary I saw at the VIFF. It was another documentary that had something to say.

The film begins with an Indigenous man wearing body makeup and a traditional headdress is on top of a horse in grassland just outside Toronto. He looks onto the buildings of the city. He is not happy. The story then goes to Thomas King in a vintage taxicab driven around downtown Toronto. The theme is the same in both scenes: stolen land. His driver wears a coyote headdress and occasionally glances at the camera. This is a scene that will return many times as the legend moves forward throughout the documentary. During its scenes, it will include King’s parable about a cunning coyote who envies a flock of ducks and plies them with promises, only to continuously ask for more.

We see King at his destination: a vintage cinema. King seats himself in the middle row alone, popcorn in hand. As King watches the screen diligently, many young Indigenous people also enter the theatre soon after. What they see on screen is beyond displeasing, but infuriating. They see past depictions of Indigenous people that are rude, mocking and insulting. They see Nanook Of The North, which was really a fake documentary where the Inuit played stereotypes. They see various scenes from old ‘Cowboys and Indians’ movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age where the Indigenous person is always seen as the bad guy to fight. The lines from the films are especially abhorrent to hear like ‘Indian on the warpath,’ or ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian!’

King reminds us: “History is a story we tell about the past.” We’re reminded that elements of popular culture are part of a war against the white powers that be in North America. It’s a battle that goes back centuries when people left the ‘old country’ to create settlements in the New World. They set up their settlements often by fighting Indigenous tribes through wars over their land. I don’t have to explain what happened to their land. One thing to note is that various types of Indigenous people’s ways of life died off. Some tribes of Indigenous peoples died completely. King even regards Indigenous artifacts in museums as, “voiceless objects from the past, unthreatening and without agency.”

Even if it’s not the wars and stolen land, it’s also about a National Government’s past attempts to suppress Indigenous peoples’ identities, languages, heritages and ways of life. The most infamous being the Residential School system. For those outside Canada who don’t know, the Residential School system was a Government-run system where Indigenous children were taken from their homes and brought to white-run schools where they were taught to speak English and live the way of white Canadians. The schools were run by religious clergy: mostly priests and nuns. The children who didn’t do away with the Indigenous language or traits, or found it hard to, were subject to physical and verbal abuse by the teachers. Many children suffered neglect over their well-being (including fatal neglect) and many were also victims of sexual abuse. I myself have come to see residential schools as a form of apartheid.

Problems still continue. The Indian Wars and Residential Schools are a thing of the past, but we’re now dealing with the aftermath. Today you’ll see in the news stories of Indigenous peoples try to battle police and politicians over developments or plans to be done on their land with their protest blockades. Residential Schools created an aftermath of people unable to parent well because they were taken from their homes. The countless abuse they suffered led many of them to alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and suicides. The last twenty years have brought the past of Residential Schools to the forefront of national discussion and efforts for reconciliation to be made. Present problems still continue with lack of clean drinking water and additional poverty on reserves, continued high crime rates and substance abuse rates, and a higher-than-average dropout rate in schools. The documentary reminds you of this.

The documentary also shows you something else. It shows you young Indigenous people in the arts who are taking their culture and the pasts of their people, and even their own pasts, and adapting it into their own artistic expressions. The artists in focus are a Metis cultural painter, a Cree artistic painter, an Innu filmmaker and documentarian, an Inuit filmmaker and VR creator, and a rap duo of various First Nations:

  • Christi Belcourt – Metis artist who specializes in beadwork art and floral patterns. Her patterns carry on the traditions of the Metis and First Nations people, but they’re not all just to please eyes. Some of her art have political messages. She herself is the daughter of a Metis activist and has published some books on First Nations/Metis issues.
  • Kent Monkman – A Cree painter who specializes in painting historical narrative from his point of view. In the film, he speaks his anger of how his people have been treated since European settlements and especially of the creation of Canada in 1867. The paintings in his 2017 exhibition, a response to the Canada 150 celebrations, resemble Baroque or Renaissance Era paintings, but they speak of his anger and wrath of the past history and of the mistrust he has towards today’s powers that be.
  • Alethia Arnaquq-Baril – An Inuk filmmaker. Her films range from short animated films to feature-length documentaries to live-action storytelling. Her films speak volumes of the discrimination, struggles and hardships of the various Indigenous peoples. One of her films, The Grizzlies, played at the VIFF two years ago. Devoted to keeping tradition alive, the film shows her getting a traditional Inuk tattoo applied on her forehead.
  • Nyla Innuksuk – Inuit Film maker and VR creator. Past films include short fiction like a hunter using traditional skills to survive and a short documentary with singer Susan Aglukark. VR work includes work on a VR series allowing the viewer to envision Indigenous life in the future with futuristic characters. The film shows her working on her first feature-length film: a sci-fi story of teen Inuit girls fighting off an alien invasion.
  • A Tribe Called Red – A rap duo whose members are of the Mohawk and Cayuga nations. Rap has always had a reputation of being the voice of the voiceless and A Tribe Called Red use it to speak their voices. Their songs mix modern hip-hop and dance sounds with traditional Indigenous music and beats. Their songs also carry a political message. They themselves are also Indigenous activists who were part of the Canadian Pipeline and Railway Protests from February of this year.

The stories of the above artists and their works are mixed in with images of King’s tale of the coyote with the cab scenes, the images of the Indigenous man riding a horse into Toronto and an Inuit man hunting a seal and making use of everything from the seal he hunted including meat, blood, intestines and fur. A mix of screen narrative, storytelling and real life presented as one.

The final scene of the film shows the young adults and Thomas watching the Indigenous images created by Indigenous actors, directors and writers. They’re happy to an extent. The film then shifts to Indigenous issues and disputes that have happened in recent time. This represents the fight is still ongoing.

Thomas King wrote his narrative The Inconvenient Indian back in 2012. The film isn’t an exact adaptation of the book, but passages of what King says in the book are voiced over in the film. The book itself is an examination of North American history. King even presents the point of view as if Columbus didn’t discover America, America discovered Columbus. He also comes across an eyebrow-raising conclusion ‘White people want land.” Essentially the film reminds us that history seen from two different eyes will have two different points of views. Most white people have been taught the history of North America with the white Colonials looking like the good guys and the Indigenous looking like the savages. We’re reminded of that when we see the predominantly white crowd watch the re-enactment of the Battle Of Little Bighorn leading to Custer’s Last Stand. The film reminds you Indigenous people will see history from a very different outlook. That it’s really the white soldiers that are the savages.

The film does shed a lot of the negative moments of the past; moments many white people in North America still consider triumphs. The film shows how white North American’s and others still like to ‘toy around’ with Indigenous culture. We saw that almost a full year ago how the wealthy Park family in South Korea ‘toyed around’ with it in Parasite. However the film then shifts to Indigenous showing their side of the story and spreading their message through art. Seeing it leaves you convinced this is more than just Indigenous people creating their own art. It’s also them responding to the art and history told by white people in the past. Now they have the power to tell their stories. Now they can speak how they really feel. Now they can tell their version of history through their eyes. Now they can create characters that are a true example of their peoples. Now they can be empowered to create and manage their own media. Now they can create their own visions for the future.

You’re left convinced while watching the documentary that only Indigenous peoples can best create Indigenous stories and Indigenous characters. And understandably so. You watch all the insulting depictions of Indigenous peoples in past Hollywood movies and you’re reminded of this. Even getting an uncomfortable reminder you actually enjoyed seeing that. Even I was uncomfortably reminded of the days as a kid when I played ‘Cowboys And Indians.’ It’s no wonder Marlon Brando had Sacheen Littlefeather refuse the Oscar on his behalf back in 1973. When I think of how we no longer see ‘Cowboys And Indians’ movies anymore, I think Sacheen’s refusal has a lot to do with it. People won’t tolerate insulting or mocking depictions of their race anymore. They will be in the audience and they will let you know it if you dare try.

The film is unique that it blends the history of oppression and genocide with the mix of art created by the Indigenous peoples. A lot of feeling goes into what they create. It’s a lot of feeling that they have from what they’ve experienced in their own lives and what they’ve seen happen to their families and neighbors. The film also shows how art created by Indigenous people can lead to something better in the future for the people. You have the current generation of adults 20-50 who are reviving cultural heritages and languages past generations of their family were forbidden to have. You’ll have young people getting a positive image of Indigenous people instead of always seeing them vilified. The film is as much about hope as it is about outrage.

Top respect should go to Michelle Latimer with adapting King’s narrative and showcasing the various arts. Latimer herself is Metis/Algonquin. She mixed King’s narrative with the showcased arts and artists and the moments of history and infamy very well to create not just a documentary and an exhibition, but a vision for the future. Also I admire the National Film Board of Canada for contributing to this. Usually national film bords will only endorse films that only showcase the positive of their nation. NFB won’t shy away from a film that showcases the negative aspects of a nation, like racism. The film comes straight from the TIFF after winning the Best Canadian Feature Film Award and the Grolsch People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary.

In a year where racism is a hot topic, Inconvenient Indian is a documentary worth seeing. It shows what the powerful effect of a depiction of a race in entertainment media can do to a race. And how a race responds with their own art.

VIFF 2020 Review: Time

Time is a documentary of how Sibil Fox Richardson (left) fights for the freedom of her husband Robert (right).

Normally I don’t like to see documentaries. I’ve seen enough one-sided documentaries in the previous decade to turn me off them. However I took an interest in Time. Injustice to African-Americans has been a heated topic this year and I felt Time was worth seeing.

The documentary consists mostly of filmed footage from court appearances, church appearances and camera phone videos of various moments and shown in black and white. The film begins with Sibil Fox Richardson trying to get a result back from the legal system for the freedom of her husband Robert. Robert was sentenced to prison for 60 years for an armed robbery he committed. It was his first offence. It’s a sentence many, including Sybil, feel is unjust and she’s working to get him freed.

The story is a long process as Sibil is trying to get a result or even a simple answer from the Louisiana Justice Department. It’s been a long wait over years. Each time she’s been calling, she gets a message that they don’t have a result or even an answer for her. Even when they give Sibil a due date when they’ll have it ready, it’s the same response: no answer.

You may ask how did this all start? It was in the 1990’s when Robert and Sibil had plans to start a business of their own. They planned on starting a sportswear store of their own in Lafayette. It seemed destined for promise as sportswear was all the rage in the 1990’s and Lafayette is a big football town. However business didn’t go as well as they hoped. The two decided to rob a bank in 1997; Robert did the robbery and Sibil drove the getaway car. They were eventually caught and convicted. Robert’s sentence was 60 years in prison and Sibil’s was 2 1/2 years.

Since Sibil’s release, she’s been able to get her life together. She’s been able to maintain a successful career, become a responsible member of the community, and has had six children — all boys including two twins — through Robert. She’s also done a very good job of raising her sons. Her oldest son graduated from a medical college. Her twins are also very good academically. One son is on the school debating team and plans to pursue a career in justice.

One thing is still missing. Robert is not free from prison. His prison sentence was excessive. Sibil has stayed loyally married to Robert during the time and it has been her goal to get him out of prison. It’s a goal in which she’s been struggling with for years involving lawyers, court appearances, legal department negotiations, and even media interviews. She even has a life-sized picture of Robert in his prison uniform glued to a cardboard cutout in the kitchen. It’s a reminder to her and her sons what she’s fighting for.

The battle is undoubtedly a personal one. She loves Robert unconditionally, but it’s hard seeing him imprisoned. It’s hard for her to see it both as a wife and as a mother. She knows how hard it is for her sons to see their father imprisoned. It’s hard when the Justice Department promises something by a certain date, and even has a time limit by law, but they don’t have the answers and it is delayed. She’s polite about it over the phone to whoever she calls about it, but her angry feelings become obvious once she hangs up. It’s also a personal burden for her with her being the getaway driver of the robbery. She served her time, raised her family well, received forgiveness from others, but something’s missing. She may have been forgiven by others, but she never asked her own mother for forgiveness. She’s even seen at her local church during a service asking for forgiveness from her community.

SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending. However at long last, Robert is free. We see the video of the day Robert is released and driven home by Sibil. The trip ends with a kiss: the first kiss during Robert’s freedom! The family celebrates with a backyard barbecue. The final act of the celebration is the family can take the cardboard picture of Robert and burn it on the barbecue.

This is a case of the right documentary at the right time. Systemic racism has been a very heated topic of 2020. George Floyd isn’t the first African-American to be killed at the hands of police. Police brutality has caused the deaths of many African Americans for decades. However when the news and video hit the public eye, the outrage grew. It was like the outrage over a common injustice had been hidden for so long and just exploded at that moment. Like a bubble bursting. It’s especially frustrating when they live in a country with a president who denies the wrongdoing and wants to label protesters ‘thugs’ and ‘extremists’ all for the sake of winning the upcoming Presidential Election. And talk from right-wing media pundits who remind the public of crime statistics involving African Americans aren’t helping to put out the fire either. The outrage was not restricted to the United States. Protests were worldwide as people were united in solidarity not only of what happened in the US but of racism in their own countries.

This documentary is about another failure of the system towards African-Americans: the justice system. In the 1980’s, a lot of Tough On Crime acts were enforced into law. This has especially hurt African Americans as prison populations escalated and African Americans make up more of the percentage of prisoners that white prisoners. Much of the problem is predominantly black neighborhoods being overpoliced and black convicts receiving harsher prison sentences. While crime by whites have gone either overlooked or underpunished.

The documentary gives a very good example of this injustice. It puts a human face on what it’s like to be the wife of a husband of a harsh prison sentence. Times like these make you wonder what they’d give a white man who committed the same crime. Sibil comes across as a strong woman who’s determined to beat the odds on the outside, but her inner frailty soon becomes obvious. She ends a phone call with the justice board politely despite the disappointing news, but speaks her anger about how she feels about it. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind about the racism she senses once the call ends. She’s proud of how her sons have grown up but she is still upset that they’ve all only own their father behind bars. She talks of how difficult, but necessary, it is to keep her family intact. She even wrestles with the personal demon of being part of the crime. She served her full sentence long ago and appears to have more than made up for it, but personal things like repentance to those she hasn’t repented to still bother her. The use of personal camera work is best at showing the human side of the matter because it gets the honesty of what’s happening.

The film focuses on the injustice, but it also focuses on rays of hope. Getting Robert freed from prison isn’t the only ray of hope in the film. The first ray of hope is seen in Sibil’s own life and parenting. Sibil is an oddsbeater. She refuses to make a repeat offender of herself. She’s become a responsible person in her community and church. She acknowledges the past wrongs she and her husband did and wants to move forward. As for parenting, statistics state children of parents in prison most likely grow up to become criminals themselves. That’s not the case for her sons. Their oldest graduates from a medical college. Both of her twins do well in high school and one is active on the school debating team. He plans on pursuing a career in justice. I’m sure seeing the unfairness his father endured is probably what fuels his ambition. The husband’s freedom is also a symbol of why it’s important never to quit on doing the right thing. There are a lot of injustices to overcome, but it’s worth it no matter how hard it gets.

The biggest praise should go to director Garrett Bradley. This film won the Best Director award in the US Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival (the first African American director to win this award), the Charles Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and the Filmmaker Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Bradley does an excellent job in showing the images that tell the story. With straight film footage that doesn’t have a voiceover and allows the main subject do most of the talking, we get a no-nonsense undistorted story and a proper unmanipulated point of view. Filming takes places from multiple angles and we get the truth exposed. It presents the solution, but also with the huge problems it overcomes. Showing the images in black and white is appropriate because while justice shouldn’t be black and white, the system has turned it into a black and white issue. Even titling the film Time adds to the film’s quality. It’s about time served, time to rebuild your life, time to make a family happen, time to raise your children, more-that-necessary time behind bars and the seemingly-endless time to make justice for your husband happen. Above all, the time to tell the whole story and time to expose the problems in achieving the solution.

Time is more than just an excellent non-nonsense documentary that does an honest portrayal of its theme. It’s the exact documentary we need at a time like this. Also it’s a reminder that ‘Liberty and Justice for all,’ should mean all! No exceptions!

VIFF 2020 Review: Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach is about a young Indigenous woman, played by Grace Dove (left), who possesses a supernatural gift that’s as much of a curse as it is a blessing.

DISCLAIMER: I know you’re all getting my first VIFF review just after it ended on October 7th. Thing is I’ve been bogged down with work and taking online courses which left me with little energy to do reviews. Now imagine me adding film-watching to the mix. Yes, that would take all my energy away! Now that VIFF is over, I can finally post reviews over time. Most of the films I believe would still be accessible via streaming services.

Lots of people who are into VIFF have a lot of reasons to want to see Monkey Beach. I wanted to see it because it’s a novel I studied in an online University course fifteen years ago. Those that see it will be happy with what they saw.

The film begins in East Vancouver. Lisamarie Hill thought she could get somewhere after leaving her town in the reserve, but she’s ended up rock bottom. Her friend tells her she needs to return to get her life back together…and then disappears.

Lisa returns back home. It’s like a prodigal daughter welcome. The parents are happy to see her back, her brother Jimmy is happy to see her back, relatives are happy to see her back, old friends are mostly happy to see her back. Her grandmother ‘MaMa-oo’ is happy to see her back. However she’s uncomfortable with returning. She knows of problems going around the reserve plus it doesn’t offer too much of a promising future. Even her younger brother Jimmy, who showed huge potential to be an Olympic swimmer, missed the Olympic trials because a work accident broke his collarbone.

One night while she is sleeping, she notices the trickster come to send her a message. She is haunted by the trickster. She knows because she inherited a gift where she can sense future events to others, including dreadful events. It’s a gift she first learned of as a child. She learned of it during a family vacation during her childhood at Monkey Beach. She remembers the vacation well. It was her family, Ma-ma-oo, and Uncle Mick. It was a vacation full of many warm memories of family togetherness, but also of a memory that haunts her. She remembers that of a mythical creature in the woods. Something mysterious and she can’t remember what he looks like, but she knows he’s haunting.

Returning to the reserve reminds her of a lot of uncomfortable things. First, Uncle Mick is long gone. He had a big influence on her life where she was taught to be proud of her Indigenous heritage. It’s a pride Mick taught out of anger as he was taught in a residential school and suffered the abuse at the hands of the priests and the system. Mick taught Lisa and Jimmy how to be defiantly proud to be Indigenous, but Lisa shouting “**** the oppressors,” at school didn’t go well with her parents. Also missing is Ma-ma-oo. Ma-ma-oo was key in teaching Lisamarie many Haisla skills and traditions.

It’s not just of those deceased. It’s also in the reserve. She’s noticed how many of her friends had lives that fell apart. She noticed the hostility of Josh, one of the older young adults, towards others. On top of it, Jimmy is dating Karaoke: Josh’s ex-girlfriend, and Karaoke is pregnant. Jimmy has been playing it cool, but she senses something’s not right.

Over time, the visions become a lot more frightening. Lisa has every reason to be concerned. She had frightening images of the deaths of Mick and Ma-Ma-oo before they died. She has visions of something terrible about to happen to Jimmy. Her parents however don’t want to hear about her visions. Soon she learns of bad things waiting to happen. It becomes evident as Josh disrupts a rap performance at a party with his angry rant. Plus Karaoke reveals the shocking secret that the baby is not Jimmy’s but Josh’s, out of a rape. On top of that, the images of the trickster become more and more frequent.

Lis then decides to take the boat out to the ocean. Her parents are nervous, but she is insistent as she senses something bad will happen to Jimmy out on a fishing boat. She has every reason too because Josh is on the boat too. She’s able to sense that Josh is about to fight Jimmy and is out of control. She makes her rush trying to find Jimmy, but has to return to Monkey Beach to face the demon who’s been haunting her. She comes prepared with a mask made by Uncle Mick and a drum. She is ready to meet the being head-on and face whatever comes to her. Part of her battle includes making a trip to the underworld. The film ends in surprising, but positive, fashion.

This is a unique story. It’s a story of a young woman dealing with the harsh realities of the world she’s living in as well as dealing with a supernatural gift that risks being a curse. It’s a story of a young Indigenous woman struggling to exist when the two most influential people in her life have passed. Ultimately it becomes a story of triumph when she learns that she ultimately learns she is a person of strength and she has the support of her deceased ancestors behind her.

Indigenous culture is very present in the story. Culture is most present during scenes of Lisamarie being taught the ways of her peoples from Ma-Ma-oo. It’s like a rite of passage to pass on the traditional ways to the granddaughter. Culture is also present in the appearance of the mythical ‘trickster.’ However the harsh realities of Indigenous communities and Indigenous peoples are also very present. We see it in Uncle Mick when he talks of his time at residential schools. One can often assume it’s this racist abuse that fuels his defiance and Indigenous pride. We see it in the reserve as there appears to be so little future available for the young and they’re left confused which direction to pursue. We see that in the angry attitudes, especially in Josh. It’s a story that does not stray away from realities. In fact the realities shown at the reserve in the film are common realities sees in many reserves.

The film will have people interested in the storyline coming to see it. The film will also have some people in the audience who have already read the novel. For those that don’t know, the novel Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson was released in 2000. It won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize of 2001 and was shortlisted for a Governor General’s award in fiction. Way back, I took an online University course in Canadian literature and Monkey Beach was one of the novels we studied. I liked the story because it was set as Lisa was a teenager in the 1980’s. I’m not Indigenous but some memories of that period of my time reminded me of some moments of my own teenagehood. There were even times while reading I had the feeling Ma-ma-oo was my own grandmother.

For someone that’s read the novel, I came in with my own expectations of what I was most expecting to see included in the story. I know it’s a challenge to adapt a 300-page novel to film. I know it’\s a matter of including some things, but also leaving other things out. I was figuring since most of the novel is about Lisa in her teen years, I was anticipating most of the film story would also be about Lisa’s teen years. Instead they went for a bigger focus on her time as a young adult returning to the reserve. The film did focus on her years as a young girl and as a teenager, but less than I hoped. Also the novel did more focus on Jimmy and his swimming pursuits, but was only seen briefly in the film. The film was also too brief on the focusing of Ma-ma-oo’s death.

I think in retrospect I’ve still been doing a lot of questioning whether they put in the right parts for the story or if they left out a lot of parts I feel were crucial. I think a lot of people who have read the novel would also be left questioning if the film adapted the novel well, if not properly.

I admire the work done by director Loretta Todd. She did a very good job in directing and co-writing with Johnny Darrell and Andrew Duncan the story for the film. The film’s imperfections are noticeable, but it doesn’t take away from the better parts of the film. There are more positive qualities of the film than flaws. Grace Dove did an excellent job as Lisamarie. Grace has had professional experience before as the host of a television show and acting in The Revenant. She does very well as the young protagonist struggling to make sense and to find herself. Adam Beach was also excellent as Uncle Mick. He delivers a role excellent of a man divided between pride and hurt. Tina Lameman was also good as Ma-ma-oo, but I feel her role could have been more developed and had more presence in the film. On the negative, I felt the role of child Lisa was underplayed by the young actress. That could have been directed better.

In short, Monkey Beach is an imperfect depiction of the novel. It leaves wondering if certain scenes can be done better. Nevertheless it does have a lot of positive qualities and makes for a film, and a story, worth seeing.

VIFF 2020 Does It Online

Most of VIFF’s films will be viewed online.

This has been an unusual year. A pandemic has led to the cancellation of various events or had them be conducted under strict limits. The Olympic Games and Euro 2020 were cancelled but league sports continue in spectatorless stadiums. Movie theatres started the pandemic closed off and then to limited attendance with precautions. Most film festivals have had to resort to doing their events online. This is what the Vancouver International Film Festival will be doing this year.

The Show Must Go On

Looking to other film festivals as to how they decided to do their festival during the pandemic, the VIFF has seen how to make a film festival work during the pandemic. The TIFF in Toronto was a strong indicator as it too had most of their films for viewing online with a select few films for viewing in cinema. For those that were to view films in cinema, they had to have face coverings. It was mandatory.

I’m sure that will be the case in the Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque as well as any hall where there will be lectures. Eighteen of the estimated 95 films of the VIFF will be shown in theatres. All films including those with a theatre showing can be viewed online. Tickets are $9 each. However it’s the VIFF Connect passes that are the best deal. They consist of:

  • VIFF Connect Festival Subscription: can view any online film once, can watch any bonus features, and can take part in any online Creator Talk. Membership is included in the subscription. Price: $60 ($30 for full-time students)
  • VIFF Connect GOLD Subscription: All the features of the Festival subscription plus access to specially-curated online content during the festival, a free annual year-round suscription to VIFF Connect and a free VIFF+ Gold membership that’s valid for a full year. Price: $95

It’s not just film happening with VIFF. There are talks and lectures this year too focusing on the craft of filmmaking and film music. For this year there will be:

  • VIFF Talks and Masterclasses: For this year’s VIFF talks, there will be documentarians, animators, HBO cinematographers, creators of comedy series, actors, production designers and even Charlie Kaufman. Some of the events will focus on the craft of writing, storytelling and cinematography. Others will talk about the issues surrounding the stories of the films or documentaries they created. There’s another Meet The Showrunners event this year where the focus is on diversity as well as a special talk about increasing diversity and inclusion in the film industry. Some events are live-streamed while others are pre-recorded. Check the VIFF website for more details.
  • VIFF Amp: Again the focus is on music in film. It will consist of three straight days of lectures opening with a lecture from jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Topics of focus for this year are music in animation, music supervision, song placement and sync licensing, marketing music to filmmakers, composition and production. AMP Passes are $45.
  • VIFF Immersed: Modern technology meets filmmaking and storytelling in this selection of lectures. The lectures will range from dealing with new technologies and new directions as well as focus on the more artistic focuses of film including a special focus on Indigenous XR creation. There’s even a flashback to 2019’s Immersed sessions.
  • VIFF Totally Indie Day: September 26th is the day and it all starts at 10am! Three films in focus will be a documentary, semi-documentary and a live-action film. All films will have a Q&A with the creators. In addition, there will be a special Q&A session with independent filmmakers and how they managed to proceed with filmwork despite the setback of the COVID pandemic. Day Pass is $45/$30 for Students.

Of course the big focus is on the films. Usually I’d have a guidebook to tell you most of the highlighted films. However I’m not so lucky this year. I will pick eight I think will stand out:

  • Monkey Beach – Based on the novel by Eden Robinson and directed by Loretta Sara Todd, this story is about a young Haisla girl who possesses a supernatural gift that is as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
  • There Is No Evil – This film by Iranian filmmaker Mohamad Rasoulof won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Banned from filmmaking for life, this film focusses on life in a repressive regime with special focus on the death penalty.
  • Inconvenient Indian – This docudrama from Michelle Latimer won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the TIFF. The film promises to be more about giving an expression about being Indigenous rather than telling a story.
  • The Curse Of Willow Song – directed by Karen Lam, this looks like a film for Altered States. It’s the story of a young female arsonist just released from prison. Trying to make her way back in the world, she receives supernatural forces from a spirit of the past.
  • Falling – Viggo Mortensen stars and directs in this film about a son taking in his cantankerous father after learning he has dementia. He tries to make peace with his father and the family but it’s a challenge that may prove too hard.
  • The Father – Another story about a father with dementia. This time the director is Florian Zeller (adaptation of his own stage play) and the father is played by Anthony Hopkins and the daughter by Olivia Colman.
  • Ammonite – This stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and is directed by Francis Lee. Set in 1840’s England, a female paleontologist tends to an unhappy young bride of privilege class. A bond soon comes and then grows into something much more.
  • Time – African-American injustice has been a hot topic this year. This documentary by Garrett Bradley focuses on a woman and her struggle to keep her family together as she challenges the justice system over their dealing with her husband sentenced for 60 years for armed robbery.

Those eight films are just a small sample of what to expect at the VIFF this year. The festival is fourteen days instead of the usual sixteen and runs September 24th to October 7th. I’ll be doing a lot of watching from my computer but I hope to have a chance to see at least one in a theatre. Don’t worry. I have my own mask!