Monthly Archives: October 2021

VIFF 2021 Review: Drive My Car (ドライブ マイ カー)

A young Hiroshima chauffeur (played by Toko Miura) and the director she drives around (played by Hidetoshi Nishijimi) form an unexpected bond in the Japanese film Drive My Car.

Drive My Car is one of two Japanese films I saw at the VIFF on Saturday the 9th. It’s a film that turns out to be more than what one expect of it.

The film begins with Yusuke Kafuku and his wife Oto. They appear happily married at the start. Oto is a housewife while Yusuke is a stage actor, and doing very well. Oto frequently gives Yusuke story ideas which he could one day adapt and direct, even while they both have sex! They were parents to a daughter, who died at a young age 20 years earlier. They still hold a religious memorial for her on the anniversary of her death. He has just finished doing a play with rising young Japanese actor Koji Takatsuki. Soon after, he is given an assignment to do a directing job in Russia. Just before he is to board the plane at Narita, he’s told of a one-day delay. He goes back to his house, only to find Koji having sex with Oto, which they don’t notice. Days later, Yusuke has a car accident and learns of glaucoma in his right eye. Yusuke tries to recover, but soon, Oto dies of a hemorrhage.

Yusuke needed two years to recover from this all. It started affecting his work as he had trouble dealing with his first role after her death: the role of Vanya in Uncle Vanya. His first project is to co-direct a multilingual adaptation of Uncle Vanya with a Korean director names Lee Yoon-a. It is to be staged in Hiroshima during a theatre festival. One thing is that Yusuke meets a young woman named Misaki. She is to be his driver from hotel to theatre. Yusuke doesn’t like the idea of a driver. He wants to do his own driving. However festival insurance rules means having a driver for the directors is a must. One of their directors from years past died in a car accident during production. That’s why directors for this company have drivers. Yusuke reluctantly agrees to allow her to drive his Saab.

The drives to and from the theatre start without conversation. Misaki simply drives Yusuke to the theatre. Some friction starts when Yusuke wants to use the car’s tape player to recite his lines: something he commonly does as he rehearses shows. It starts with friction, but she complies. Yusuke and co-director Lee start the auditions for the play. They audition many actors from various parts of Asia and other countries. The languages vary from Japanese to Korean, Taiwanese and even Korean sign-language. One of those auditioning is Koji. Koji switch from television to theatre after his career was one tabloid scandal after another. You can tell Yusuke has feelings of contempt for him. Yusuke declines to be an actor himself in the production because of how emotional Chekhov’s works are too emotionally draining.

The film starts read-through rehearsals. Most are Japanese-speaking, but there’s also Korean-speaking, a Taiwanese-speaking American and the woman who does Korean sign-language. Koji has also been cast in the play. Both Yusuke and Lee go through the rehearsals. The friction is no bigger than your typical friction on a theatre set. Misaki continues to drive Yusuke and the two start to develop conversation. Misaki is a chain-smoker and just briefly tells Yusuke of the death of her mother in a landslide disaster.

As the play starts progressing to the physical rehearsals, where an LED screen above flashes the dialogue in many languages to the audience, the play gets its common friction. If there are any hostile feelings between Yusuke and Koji, Yusuke keeps it to himself. He has to get along with Koji as they are producing. One night, the director Lee invites Yusuke to dinner at his house. Misaki is also invited. Lee meets the wife, who is the actress who is performing in sign-language. It’s a happy marriage.

One night Yusuke and Misaki go into the town for drinks. They come across Koji. Koji is at the bars hoping to get away from it all. However people trying to get his photo annoys him even to the point he gets violent with one. Since Koji is too drunk to drive, he gets a ride with Yusuke from Misaki. During the time, Koji confesses his affair with Oto. He tries to give Yusuke words of comfort of what a wonderful woman Oto was. He even tries to suggest that it was through Oto they meet by fate here.

Just a week before the show is about to start, it was learned that Koji is under investigation for committing manslaughter from that night at the bars. The play continues rehearsals despite the temporary detainment of Koji. After the rehearsal, Yusuke allows Misaki to go to the area where the landslide that took her mother happened. They go to the area. Misaki starts letting out her feelings and breaks into tears. There, Yusuke also confesses his failings to Oto after the death of their daughter. He too is in tears and they embrace together. Uncle Vanya is then staged with Misaki watching from the audience. She watches the ending scene with intensity where the actress playing Sonya signs about the need to stoically carry on living in the face of crushing disappointment. The film ends in a questionable way.

This is a rare story. This is a case of a director of theatre being escorted by a young driver who’s the same age his late daughter would be. We don’t notice it at first, but both are hurting inside and both need healing. Over time, they are mostly silent. Then over time, they strike up an unlikely friendship that eventually takes them to where they grieve together. One is first tempted to think around the middle of the film, Yusuke would soon be romantically interested in Misaki, but that’s for you to judge for yourself.

It’s not just about Yusuke and Misaki. It’s also about Yusuke trying to make peace with himself as the husband who failed. Maybe he blames himself for Oto’s premature death. It’s also about making peace with Koji, Oto’s ‘other man.’ In a lot of ways, it’s about Yusuke criss-crossing with a lot of people as he’s on his journey to heal and make peace. He’s a man trying to heal from his failed marriage and his driver is trying to heal from her mother’s death which she blames himself for. Yusuke is a television actor who quit television for theatre after his daughter’s death. Koji, the ‘other man,’ quit television for theatre with the scandals of his behavior plaguing his life. Yet they find themselves working together in the film. It could be a case where the fates are a case where Oto brought them there to forgive each other, as Koji suggested.

The mixing in of the story of Uncle Vanya being done in multilingual fashion adds into the story. I think that’s the point of the story. I believe it’s to show how art is universal in its feelings and connections. Art transcends language barriers to deliver the feelings of love and hurt we all share. Even the detail of the play that’s being staged in Hiroshima has a bearing of importance in this story.

This is a smart film about a director who is trying to make peace over the sudden death of his adulterous wife. The inclusion of a ‘chauffeur’ who herself hasn’t fully come to terms with her mother’s death in a disaster and the young actor in his play who was one of his wife’s ‘other men’ adds to the story of the healing process for both the director and the driver. One glitch about the film is that it goes for a long period of time. Possibly too long. Even at the start, forty minutes of story go by before the opening credits roll. The story in itself is almost three hours long. It’s a very good story that deals with universal human emotions intertwined with art, but it is drawn out for too long of a period of time. You’re left wondering if all that time was really worth it.

This is a very good film for director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi. He’s had renown before for his filmmaking like Wheel Of Fortune and Fantasy and Happy Hour. Here he creates a smart film of three people that need healing and how it’s through the power of art that they are able to make it happen and be given the will to live despite all that’s happened. There are some noticeable mistakes like the length of the film and the ending that gets you wondering, but it’s still a good film to watch. Hidetoshi Nishijima does a great performance as Yusuke being a man that needs healing, but doesn’t show it on the outside. Toko Miura is also very good as Misake. Just like Nishijima as Yusuke, she does a good job of playing a character with hurts she tries to keep hidden until it all comes out that moment together. Masaki Okada is also very good as the troubled Koji. You can tell despite the ego on the outside, he has some personal feelings underneath.

This film has already won an excellent amount of awards. The film won the Best Screenplay Award and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Palme d’Or. The film was also a nominee for the Best Feature Award at the Chicago Film Festival and a nominee for the Audience Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The film was recently selected as Japan’s entry in the category of Best International Feature Film for this year’s Oscar race.

Drive My Car is a film of two individuals who meet by fate, but help each other heal. It does a good job of mixing the story line with the art of theatre and the mixing of languages, but it’s too long of a film. A good story, but too elongated nevertheless.

VIFF 2021 Review: Queen Of Glory

The sudden passing of a doctoral student’s mother becomes a path of self-discovery, transformation and learning of her Ghanian routes in Queen Of Glory.

It’s not that often that I see American films at the VIFF. Queen Of Glory caught my attention and it turned out to be a very nice story.

Sarah Obeng has been a doctorate student at Columbia University as long as she can remember. Approaching thirty, she’s thinking of abandoning her Ivy League career and follow her married-with-children lover on a cross-country trip. She’s tired of the same life of studying, preparing for an Ivy League job, dinner with her religious mother and sharing an apartment with a male roommate who’s not her boyfriend. Then things change suddenly. Her mother has a fatal heart attack. Being the only child and more responsible than her own father, she has to take care of the funeral preparations.

Dealing with her mother’s cremation and memorial service isn’t the only thing Sarah has to deal with. She also heads back to her mother’s house as her father had arrived from Ghana. She will tend to him and hope to reconnect with him. On top of it, she has to deal with her mother’s Christian bookstore in the Bronx, named King Of Glory, that didn’t have a post mortem business plan. All this happening just as Sarah’s life was about to take off. She decides to continue studying at Columbia temporarily. She also decides to sell her mother’s Christian bookstore, but spend some time in it to understand the business. She meets Pitt, an ex-con with facial tattoos who has been loyal to the business and her mother. Especially since her mother is one of few people to give him a second chance. She also finds time to take a break from all the stress when the next-door Russian-American family welcomes her in and gives her dinner.

Lots of things change over time as the funeral nears. First there’s the Ghanaian community that wants to hold a traditional funeral. They’re surprised Sarah had her cremated before. She has to do all the cooking of traditional Ghanaian food for the services. Then she has dinner with Lyle only for him to deliver some shocking news. The attempt to reconnect with her father is not working as well as she wants it. He is more interested in watching football on television and falls in love with a New York woman, which outrages Sarah. As Sarah works at her mother’s bookstore with Pitt, they start a friendship. However this is put to the test as potential buyers of the bookstore arrive, upsetting Pitt.

The day of the funeral/memorial service happens. Sarah is all dressed in a new red dress and hair. You can tell she’s ready, nut not ready. There, she’s greeted by other members of family and members of the Ghanaian community. There she’s able to properly mourn her mother’s death. Over time she’s able to make peace with her father and found a solution to her mother’s business that pleases her and Pitt.

Immigrant identity is a common theme in a lot of films. It’s about living in your current country while still maintaining a personal bond to your motherland or fatherland. We have seen this motif done many times in films about Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and Jewish-Americans, to name the most common. Last year, there was the story of Minari of a Korean family and their attempt to achieve their own American dream. Very rarely do we see a story of an African-American and ties to their motherland or fatherland. There have been a lot of African immigrants coming to North America in the past few decades. I’m sure there aren’t enough stories of them and their experiences. This is a great story of a young Ghanaian-American as she deals with her identity. This is something you rarely see in the cinema and I’m glad it was made.

It’s not just about a Ghanaian-American daughter. It’s of a daughter who is trying to establish herself and so much happens to her at once. Over time, she gets her biggest personality changes and has a new outlook on life and herself. She starts as business-like, making decisions about her mother’s funeral and her business. Then she starts to learn a lot more from the people around her. She gets to experience more from the Ghanaian community: a community I don’t think Sarah was too close to before. She learns more about her mother’s Christian bookstore. This is more than a business. This is a place a lot of people liked and a place where an ex-con gets a second chance, thanks to her late mother. It’s right after her immediate decisions were made she learns just how apart she was. The community wanted a traditional funeral, but Sarah rushed the cremation. Also Sarah learns how much the business meant to Pitt after she put it on sale. All this happening within the days of her mother’s death and the funeral. You can understand how stressful this would be for Sarah.

This film is an accomplishment for Nana Mensah. An American born to Ghanaian immigrants herself, she has had moderate success as an actress. In film, it’s mostly been bit parts in films like The Mysogynysts, Like Father and The King Of Staten Island. Television success has been better as she had recurring roles in An African City, New Amsterdam and13 Reasons Why. This film she directs, writes and plays the lead protagonist is definitely an achievement. It’s very multi-dimensional and it gives a quality story of a daughter and her sudden changes just as tragedy happens. She does a good job of portraying a young woman who’s hurting inside, but trying to hold it all in and keep it under control. Meeko also does a very good job with Pitt. He does a great job of playing a character you least expect to be the one that will change Sarah’s outlook or one who Sarah seems least likely to befriend.

The film does a very good job in telling its story. It divides from the world Sarah knows to the world her mother knows and the world of her ancestry. It tells the story well in color with presenting images in black and white of a traditional Ghanaian funeral. It shows the story of Sarah and the bookstore while occasionally cutting to images of the man nearby selling Ghanaian movies outside. It also shows what it’s like to live or work in the Bronx. All these added aspects add to the atmosphere of the story.

The film has had a good share of awards and nominations in the film festival circuit. It was a nominee for an American film award at the Champs-Elysees Film Festival, nominee for a New Visions Award at the Reykjavik Film Fest and a Best Film nominee at the Warsaw Film Fest. It’s also won the Best New Narrative Director award at the Tribeca Film Festival and the New York Women in Film & Television Award at the Hamptons International Film Fest.

Queen Of Glory can be seen as a triumph for actor/writer/director Nana Mensah. It’s an excellent story of how one can discover themselves during a time of grief and of great personal change. It was a great film to watch. Meeko is also good to watch as Pitt. He does a great job of playing the most unlikeliest of men that will help change Sarah’s outlook.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Scary Of Sixty-First

Supernatural hauntings of a New York apartment and a ring of famous sex offenders spark intrigue in a pair (played by director Dasha Nerasova and Madeline Quinn) in The Scary Of Sixty-First.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is an American film that’s part of the VIFF’s series of Altered States films which set one up to expect the unknown, unusual and even bizarre. Here, bizarre is an understatement.

The story begins close to Christmas with two female friends, Noelle and Addie, searching for an affordable apartment in New York City. The come across one place in the East Side which is grand in size and has just been made available after the recent death of its tenants. The realtor however makes clear that at an affordable price any place they accept is taken as is. The girls find a place in New York’s downtown area. They are willing to clean everything up even though it was left behind with a big mess, including a moldy turkey with a dead mouse found in it. After their cleaning, they decide it’s worth staying in temporarily.

They have no problem living together, even though Addie has a boyfriend named Greg. Addie is at a crossroads in her life. She doesn’t know whether to move on and establish herself, or live with Greg. One day, a young woman visits the place while only Noelle is home. She introduces herself and informs Noelle that this suite was owned by Jeffrey Epstein before he was arrested. Just when both Addie and Noelle were already starting to sense the bad vibes of the place, it gets even worse when they notice blood underneath the mattress. They find a tarot card with a provocative image that they feel holds a clue to the place.

The other woman and Nicole start having a tempestuous relationship. It almost appears the place is becoming more like Noelle’s and the other woman’s instead of Noelle’s and Addie’s. As they both are trying to get a better understanding of the place, Addie is feels drawn to the place, despite also sensing the danger of it. Addie starts having an interest in Prince Andrew as the woman tells Noelle of the stories involving Prince Andrew to the place. Things turn for the bizarre as while she has sex with Greg, she shouts in a demonic voice for him to imagine her underage. That creeps Greg out and starts the friction in the relationship. The woman and Nicole are especially freaked out by Addie’s frequent masturbation, child-like behavior, and fixation with Prince Andrew memorabilia.

As the woman and Noelle get further and further into the Epstein connection with this place, they have had enough. They go to a crystals shop where they think the man who runs the store will know what the tarot card means and will have a good sense of what’s wrong inside. The man turns out to be creepy as he appears to deride them both of what he senses in their aura. However once they show him the card, he’s convinced of the problem and warns them to leave.

Then one day, Addie arrives to the place appearing like she’s possessed by a demon. Both of the women notice Addie worshiping whatever appears to be in the place. The two have to go in, fearing the worst. The end culminates in something you would not at all expect no matter what you had anticipated. It’s even a surprise for Addie, Noelle, the woman and Greg.

This is truly a bizarre story. The story already begins on a creepy note about a house left over by deceased people which the two have to clean up themselves, only to discover a moldy turkey in the fridge with a dead mouse in it! The bizarreness just starts there and continues into weirder territory. The weirdness grows with the mention that this was owned by an associate of Jeffrey Epstein, then comes mention of Prince Andrew, and the bizarreness grows and grows after that. Sometimes, you’re left wondering what the main theme of the film is about? Sex-offenders? The supernatural? Bizarre possessions? What is the main subject? There were even other people leaving the theatre wondering what was the point?

Despite the bizarre story, I give credit to Belarussian-born Dasha Nekrasova. This is a very ambitious film she directs, co-writes with co-star Madeline Quinn and acts in. It’s a very daring story as it reaches into the supernatural, the provocative, and even the taboo. However it’s a story that gets you wondering what is the overall point? Yes, the ending is different from what one would expect, as one should be, but it doesn’t make sense in the end. Sometimes you wonder what was the film aiming to be? A scary drama? A scary comedy? A load of shock value? What exactly?

Despite my confusion with this, I will say the acting from Dasha was very good as she did an excellent job with her part. even the scenes where it didn’t appear to make much sense. Actually if anyone should understand this story, it’s Dasha. Madeline Quinn was also very good as Noelle. Being the co-writer of the story, she would most likely be the only other person who understands the story best. Betsey Brown was also very good as Addie. Being under a bizarre possession opens the door for bad acting. But Betsey pulled it off well. Mark Rapaport is also good as Greg. He has the luxury of portraying possibly the sanest character in the story!

Despite the weirdness of the film, this film has attracted awards mention. At the Berlin Film Festival, it won the Best First Feature Award and was nominated for an Encounters Award and a Teddy Award (given to LGBT films) for Best Feature Film. At the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival, it was nominated for a New Visions Award for Best Motion Picture. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, many critics see this film as a tribute to the bad horror movies of the 80’s. Maybe these film festivals and critics are seeing something in it most of us didn’t.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is definitely far from your conventional story. However it’s a film that is often too weird or too bizarre in either subject matter or story line to make sense. Sometimes you’re left wondering what was the point? The story or shock value?

VIFF 2021 Review: Drunken Birds (Les oiseaux ivres)

A Mexican migrant worker in search of the woman he loves (played by Jorge Antonio Guerrero) is the centerpiece of the Canadian film Drunken Birds.

Drunken Birds is Canada’s official entry in the 2021 Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film. It’s a film that meshes French with Spanish and Chinese to create a film that stands out.

The story begins with a Mexican family inside an apartment in Montreal. We learn of a man who’s searching for a woman named Marlena. Flash back many years ago. Workers for an arrested drug lord in Mexico chase down a car with a burning top. They then chase a worker for the cartel by the name of Willy down. They know what he’s been doing behind the drug lord’s back the whole time and they warn him at gunpoint.

Flask forward to the present to the Becotte farm near Montreal. The boss, Richard Becotte, is the latest to run a vegetable farm of his family going back many generations. He’s fair to the Mexican migrant workers who agree to work, but strict. Show up at 5:30am or no pay for the day. There are many who are returning, but there are some new men, including Willy. Willy does his work along with the other men, but he doesn’t really care about the pay. All that matters is he finds Marlena. In fact while the men communicate on Skype or Zoom with their wives, children and other family, Willy uses his time to search for Marlena, who has gone by a pseudonym. He has a feeling Marena lives in Montreal.

Flash back to many years ago. A Chinese art studio is given orders to either make replicas of legendary paintings of painting versions of photos. One of the photos is the picture of the Mexican mob boss. Flash to months later but still in the past, police visit the house of the drug lord some time after it was raided and the boss arrested. They talk of admiration of how they brought this tyrant with many riches down. They also notice a letter from his young wife Marlena that appears to be a suicide note. Instead it was a letter Marlena concocted with the help of Willy to plan her escape. Turns out before the raid, Willy was the ‘other man’ of Marlena. Marlena’s true love. A love that had to be kept complete secret. Four years ago, the two decided to escape together, but go their separate ways after that. Willy has been searching for Marlena for four years. He’s tried places in Mexico, knowing her pseudonym. Now hes here in Montreal hoping he’ll be able to find her here once and for all.

However the Becotte family have friction of their own. Last year in their cornfield, Julie had an affair with one of the workers. Daughter Lea knows about this and she confronts her mother about this, even mentioning Richard knows about it. This is hard to deal with as now Julie is starting to take a liking to Willy as she drives him off to a place. Meanwhile Lea is becoming an adult and she rebels against her parents. She’s trying to fit in with her friends and even try her way into the Montreal night club scene. She’s willing to try anything, including drugs and prostitution. Actually racers for the Montreal Grand Prix are in town from around the world. Lea is hoping to hook up with one of the racers and make some money. Her pimp gives her a pager and puts a drug in her mouth. She does win a driver and gets taken into his hotel room, but she leaves him, and the pimp’s phone, behind. She’s on the streets and dreams of being met up with the racer in his car, but awakens to find herself beaten up by the pimp.

Willy notices a beaten Lea in tears. He takes her in his arms and tends to her. However Richard comes in and mistakes Willy as the man who beat Lea up. Willy is in pursuit and tries to run off. However in a rainy night as he is chased in by a truck back to the Becotte farm, Richard has his men and he’s ready to square off with Willy. Richard shouts spiteful things to Willy and the Mexicans, blaming them for what happens to Lea. As the men try to beat Willy up, the Mexicans defend Willy and start charging at Richard’s men. Willy is able to find his way out and hide in a cornfield. Richard tries to search, expecting Willy to come out, but to no avail. Richard soon learns he has to make peace with his family. In the end, willy didn’t stop running. He made it to Montreal for his main goal: to find Marlena. The film ends in an expected but unexpected way.

This is a unique story. It’s a story of two worlds. The world of the past in Mexico and the world of the present as part of a farm. It’s a story of a man in search of the woman he loves and the story of a family that appears falling apart. It’s a story that deals with the issue of migrant workers and how they’re treated by their bosses in Canada. At the same time, it’s a story that blends in a colorful romance. It’s like two films in one in many ways. It’s not easy to mix the two, but it’s done successfully here.

In a lot of ways, this film shows a lot of similarities between both scenarios. Here we have Willy who’s the object of the kingpin wife’s desire. It’s a desire they have to keep well-hidden or else Willy will be killed. Both have to move on after the kingpin is arrested and his mansion raided. In Canada, we have the farm-leader’s wife who falls for the migrant workers. Willy becomes one of the men she falls for. It’s a case for Willy that both world’s collide with him. He has to cope with the aftermath of the raid and the immense possibility of never seeing Marlena again. He also comes across the possible danger of Richard crossing his path if he knows that he’s one of the workers Julie falls for.

Even though Willy is the centrepiece of the story, it’s not just about Willy. It’s about the Becotte family. Julie has her affairs with some of the migrant workers. Lea is upset with what she sees and claims Richard knows. Meanwhile Lea appears she wants to establish herself as an adult and she feels that means choosing her own direction, even if it is dangerous. When you see Richard and his men attempt to square off against Willy, blaming him for what happened to Lea, you can easily get the feeling Richard knows of Julie’s affairs and feels he has to take it out on at least one Mexican worker. Before he takes it out, you could notice by the look on his face he most likely blames himself for his family’s failures.

This is an impressive work from Serbian-born Canadian director Ivan Grbovic. His films like La Chute and Romeo Onze have won acclaim at past film festivals. This film hasn’t won as much acclaim outside of it’s Oscar entry. It did however earn a Platform Prize at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). This is an impressive film that blends in modern storytelling with imagery of classic films and common Mexican dramas. What we have here is an excellent film that’s as much a joy to watch as it being a story that will keep you intrigued.

Jorge Antonio Guerrero is excellent as Willy. His performance as a man caught between his passion and always having to be on the run keeps you on the edge of your seat and hoping he succeeds in finding Marlena. Claude Legault is also very good as Richard. He does a good job of playing a man that’s supposed to be tough on the outside, but is hurting on the inside. Helene Florent is also good as the flirtatious Julie who later has to confront her wrongs. Also excellent is Marine Johnson as Lea. She does a great job of playing a teenager angry with her home life and wanting to break free, only to find herself more entrapped by her choices.

Drunken Birds is more than just a film with a story. It mixes modern drama with a social message and traditional Mexican drama to give the viewer a story that’s a delight to experience.

VIFF 2021 Review – Handle With Care : The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew

The Vancouver streetball team ‘The Notic’ are the centre of Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew.

If you’re a fan of streetball, you should know who the Notic are. The documentary Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew tells the story of their formation, rise, fall, afternath and reunification. There more than meets the eye in this film.

The story begins with two Canadian-born brothers from Uganda: Jonathan and David Mubanda. Growing up in a country like Canada, they feel like outsiders. Feelings also shared by Joel ‘Joey’ Haywood, son of Jamaican immigrants. They discover they have a love for basketball and they’re dazzled by watching NBA games and the tricks of the players. They succeed in making their high school’s basketball team and they recreate some of the moves. However even if they play well, it gets on the nerves of their white coaches. One of them tells one of the boys to stop playing ‘jungleball.’

Streetball and 3-on-3 tournaments was something new at the time. That caught the attention of Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas. They were a couple of teenagers graduated from high school and undecided what to do with their lives. Their first dream was to start a punk rock band. However when they saw streetball and the play from these boys, it changed their attention and they saw a new use for their video cameras. Within time, their group of boys who gave themselves the name ‘The Notic’ would grow and include Mohammed Wenn, Jamal Parker, Dauphin Ngongo: also immigrants of first generation Canadians. In 2000, their first video of their play, entitled ‘The Notic Mix Tape’ was released.

The video was intended to just be a video strictly for them and their friends. Over time, they would sell copies of the video on the street. Little did any of them know at the time the sales would skyrocket. But while the popularity of the Notic was growing, so was the size of the group. One was discovered at a 3-by-3 tournament. His name was Andrew Liew: a Bruneian immigrant who went by the name ‘6 Fingaz’ because he had a sixth finger on his left hand! They were also joined by Rory Grace: a white boy with delayed puberty who came from a troubled family background, but delivered some mad skills on court. Rory was nicknamed ‘Disaster.’ Actually all the boys had unique nicknames: Johnny Blaze, Where U At?, David Dazzle, Delight, Kinghandles and Goosebumps.

Next tournament was a streetball tournament in Vancouver in May 2001. That’s where the Notic really got their breakthrough and wowed the crowd. All of them were strutting the stuff and sure enough, Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas had their cameras in hand. They were catching their every move. They also caught their moves as they were ‘chillin’ out by the Surrey Skytrain Station or in the gymnasiums or in their houses. Then they caught a big break as they were invited to a tournament in Seattle. There they stole the show and it was Disaster that blew everyone away with his trickery.

Soon the Notic phenomenon was born. As Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas were busy making their next video, the Notic caught the attention of ESPN and Slam magazine. They were given interviews and Slam! magazine dedicated a seven-page article that included the players and the filmmakers. A website in the UK that promoted streetball had the Notic video on and it got over 100,000 hits a month during its heydays in 2001-2002, kids were coming up to members of the Notic and getting their autographs, even EA Sports recuited them to be the models for their streetball video game where they were paid $5000 each.

Then the Notic 2 was released in 2002, but that’s when the friction was starting. Jermaine was unhappy he was not included as part of the Slam! article. Many of the players were unhappy that their videos were getting a ton of views but they weren’t seeing a single cent for themselves. On top of it, all eight boys were teenagers growing into adults. Soon they were learning that streetball was no way to make a living as an adult. They all had to find their own direction.

Only Joey Haywood took basketball into the colleges. When he didn’t make it into the NBA, he was signed to a Danish basketball league. Joey now holds coaching sessions. The other boys, they found careers or paths of their own. One found work at a mosque in Edmonton, one is a contractor for interiors, another found work in promoting a charity. Rory is the one who had the most trouble since as he felt lost after the split-up of the Notic. He first dabbled in drug dealing and became in addict himself. He spent time in jails and in rehab, but lost custody of his sons. We see as he’s being reunited with his second son. One thing that hasn’t changed with the Notic is they still dazzle and inspire young players from around the world. The spirit of the Notic lives as Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas screen for all members Notic 3 made from kept videotape of Joey.

This is quite a story. It’s the story of a group of boys who were able to dazzle the world with their play of ball. It’s commonly called ‘streetball’ but I’ve often called it ‘freestyle basketball.’ You can look at this story many ways. You could even see the Notic as a group of ‘Next Generation Globetrotters’ straight out of Vancouver. This is a story of young boys who were either immigrants or first generation Canadians trying to find themselves where they felt like a misfit elsewhere. They either felt like they were substandard in school or they were dealt with racism around them. Basketball was their escape. Basketball made them feel like they belonged. Streetball was where they stood out. Their experience as part of the Notic proved to most that yes, they do have what it takes to make it. Eventually they would have to learn they were able to succeed without streetball as adults. However it was being part of the Notic that gave self-confidence to most when they needed it.

The story reminds you that not everything is grand. Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas did acknowledge they were young filmmakers who did not know how far their grainy videos would go. They didn’t know bootleg copies would find themselves around town. They didn’t know uploaded versions of their video would make itself worldwide on the internet. They were young filmmakers who didn’t know about the obstacles and pitfalls of the business. And the eight boys that made up the Notic, you can understand why they would become angered and feel like they were done wrong. Jeremy and Kirk do acknowledge the wrongs they did and that they weren’t as transparent. I guess that exlains why the main title of the documentary is Handle With Care. Also it shows that as Rory saw the Notic as a way out of his troubling family life, it was his everything. When the Notic split up, he was lost and that’s what led to his downward spiral. It’s a story you hear over again of young starts who hit the big time, see it as their everything, and then are lost when the big time disowns them. That was Rory’s case.

This is an excellent documentary from directors Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas. In a lot of ways, it’s a case of a documentary as they are preparing to make the Notic 3. It stars as a case where the two meet with Haywood and come across old videotapes not shown in any previous Notic videos. We shouldn’t forget Notic 3 was never made; the Notic split up before it could be made. At the same time, making Notic 3 was not easy. They had to confront former members who felt they were ripped off in their fame. Jermaine is especially angry. However he makes peace with the two as they acknowledge their past mistakes. In the end, all eight of the former Notic players meet on a basketball court in 2019 to see the screening of Notic 3 and they celebrate reminisce of the old times. When you watch the documentary, you can see it as one of three things. You can see it as the Notic members telling their stories, you can see it as the documenting of the making of Notic 3, or you can see it as Jeremy and Kirk trying to make amends for past business mistakes and trying to make it up to the boys. Either which way, it’s inciteful to watch.

Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew is a documentary worth watching. It will remind you of the heydays of basketball in the 1990’s and early-noughts. However it’s much more. It’s about a group of lost boys who opened doors for themselves by doing something they loved to do. Also it’s two filmmakers set up to make right past wrongs.

VIFF 2021 Review: Flee

Flee is an animated documentary of Amin: an Afghani refugee living in Denmark who always felt he had to hide his true past from everyone. Including the man he loves.

Flee was the first time I was able to see an animated film at the VIFF this year. It isn’t just an animated film. It’s part-story, part-documentary that tells a lot about a remarkable story.

The story begins with a man named Amin. He tells the story of his life and his ordeal. He tells it in fluent Danish. He first tells of his story of how he had to flee as his whole family had been killed off. This is a story he also tells his boyfriend Kasper. This is on the verge of Kasper about to buy a house for him and Amin. Meanwhile Amin is undecided whether to accept living with Kasper or accept a teaching job at a university.

The interviewer then takes Amin to a private place. There, Amin can tell the true story. It starts when he reflects of his childhood in Kabul. His biggest memories are of being four in the mid-1980’s and running down the streets with a Walkman with pink earphones in his hand and wearing a dress! However the harsh realities hit Amin and his family in 1989 when Amin turns eight. The Mujahideen have taken over Afghanistan, just two years after the Soviets withdrew from the nation. Their father has been captured and they don’t know what happened to them. Fearing they’ll be next, Amin, his mother, two sisters and brother seek refuge on a plane. The plane takes them in Moscow as the USSR is one of few countries willing to take the family in because of their status.

Life is not very good for the family in Moscow. Even after the fall of communism, they can only do limited work, live in a cramped flat and constantly be harassed by corrupt policeman who heckle them for being different. They know they will have to flee to another country if they are ever able to be free for once. However their only hope depends on human traffickers. They all want to flee to Sweden. The eldest brother is the only one who can work. It is he who will have to provide the money for these trips.

The first trip, which involved being in a car failed and they found themselves back in Moscow. The second trip involved the whole family travelling at once. This involved a long walk through the woods with others right in the coldness of winter. It then led them all to a fishing vessel where they had to hide themselves in the fish trap. The feel of the boat trip was nerve-wracking with the water splashing. Then water started coming in, which involved the passengers coming out of the trap to get the water out. Fortunately a cruise ship discovers the boat. Unfortunately, the cruise ship calls Estonian police to rescue the passengers. That meant back to Moscow.

The long wait is frustrating. The mother is getting older, the siblings including Amin himself are growing and missing out a lot on their future, and the oldest brother is having the frustration of his future being squandered to saving up for these illegal immigration stings. It’s frustrating, but they can’t go on watching Mexican soap operas and being harassed by Moscow police forever. Finally the brother finds a new illegal immigration operation. It’s way more expensive than the ones in the past, but this has excellent chances of working. However this involves each of the family members to go alone.

Amin is to go with one other teen male. The agent gives both boys strict instructions to obey. The trip starts with both of them being inside a van and lying down. During the trip, Amin senses a feeling he has toward the other male. The male gives him his gold chain. Before they board the plane, the agent gives the two plane tickets and passports: Amin for Denmark and the other boy for Switzerland. They all go on a flight to Istanbul. As the flight lands, the agent advises the two to do everything he instructs them to do and once they arrive in their country of destination to tear up the passport and tell officials their story. After the agent leaves, the two depart but not without one final goodbye.

Hours later, Amin arrives in Copenhagen, tears up the passport, and tells his story of being a completely orphaned Afghani refugee. As he’s transported to safety, he looks out the window of the car and sees freedom, but can’t feel it or sense it. He spent years living in a shelter living with various families and pursuing excellent grades in school. Then one day, he receives a phone call. It’s his brother in Sweden. Amin learns his brother found refuge in Sweden from his own trip from the trafficker.

Time would improve for Amin. Soon he’d learn all of his family including his mother had found refuge in various places in Europe with his two sisters also living in Sweden. His life has improved as he has been able to become a strong academic and even had lecturing jobs at American colleges. However he’s still had to keep his true life a secret from his boyfriend and his homosexuality a secret from his family as Afghani culture considers homosexuality to bring shame to the family. One day, when the brother and sisters get into conversation about Amin not being married, he then outs himself to the shock of all. The brother then tells Amin to get into the car. Amin is uncertain and fearful about what will happen next during the car ride. The brother takes him to a gay bar and hands him some money. They knew all along! Inside the gay bar, Amin discovers a freedom he never thought possible. The film then flashes forward two years later showing how Amin’s life has improved.

This is definitely a story about a current hot topic: refugees and illegal immigrants. It’s constantly an issue. As long as there’s political oppression and corruption, there are going to be people fleeing. Refugees and illegal immigrants probably feel they have something to hide about themselves. Even if they become legit citizens of their country, they feel they still have something to hide and they have to lie for their freedom. Roughly they’re still mentally ‘on the run.’ Even the fact that the subject has to tell his whole truth under the pseudonym Amin Nawabi adds to this factor. It becomes evident when Amin first tells the interviewer of his story of his family deceased. Then when he’s in a private room, he tells the truth. It’s also evident how he’s unsure whether to commit to marrying his boyfriend Kasper and instead accept an offer at an American university.

Amin’s story is definitely a story of intrigue. This is a story of a man who pretty much feels he has his ‘life on the run.’ He had to flee his home of Afghanistan with his family and first settle in Russia, only for all to find another nation to live in. This is a case of three attempts and the frustration of wondering if you’ll ever be free. This is about feeling that you have to hide the truth of yourself even though you’re now living in a free country. This is about even hiding a truth about yourself that is forbidden and seen as shame in your home country. I think that’s the point of the story. About hiding things. It starts off as a case that Amin has a lot to hide. However over time, he opens up. Hidden truths about himself no longer become a taboo. It’s a case as we see the story unravel over time just as we get to the part where he outs himself to his siblings.

This is a story of from a life of refuge to a newly discovered freedom. When you look at it, Amin’s freedom in Denmark is the best thing to happen to him. We all see he had to deal with life in Russia along with his siblings. Even without attempts to immigrate, Russia was no place for them. Not as they were constantly being harassed. Afghanistan was no place for them either as their father may had been killed and they would be in pursuit. It’s especially no place for Amin as his sexuality was obvious at a young age. If he had not fled from Afghanistan in his lifetime, he could have been executed for his homosexuality. That really gets you thinking. Especially when we recently heard about the return of the Taliban to power. It’s something how Amin is born in a country with the harshest attitude towards homosexuality and finds himself in one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage!

I give top accolades to writer/director Jonas Poher Rasmussen. He’s done films about people’s struggle with homosexuality before. The story does a very good job as it goes from the interview to the re-enactments of Amin’s past. From running down the streets listening to Take On Me to the family forgetting their problems as they watch Mexican soap operas, it does a good job of telling the story while mixing other elements in the background. The images do a great job in capturing the drama of the time. The voice acting was also very good. The animation from Sun Creature Studio did an excellent job of depicting the story in both the present and the past. The addition of the music of the times and of the Mexican soap operas also add to the story.

Flee is a great animated film about a man who feels like he has always had to be on the run. On the run from danger, on the run from authorities, on the run to achieve freedom, and on the run from how he was meant to live and who to love. It’s an eye-opener and a delight to see at the same time.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a troubled eccentric artist with a passion for cats in The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain.

Have you ever heard of artist Louis Wain? I should hope every cat lover has heard of him. You may have seen his art in the past, but may now know it. The film The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is a colorful portrait of a colorful artist.

The film begins set in 1925. Louis Wain is in a mental institution. On the radio is a voice giving support for the troubled Louis Wain. He talks of how Wain fascinated us all with cats. He also talks of the need to raise funds to bring Wain to a better mental institute that allows him to paint and be with cats. The film then goes back to 1880. Wain is 20 years old and his father has passed. He is the first-born of six and the only son. His father’s passing now puts on him the responsibility of being the family breadwinner.

This is not a responsibility Wain can do easily. He has a history of losing jobs and his drawings and paintings are not exactly the type that can win the general public over, nor newspapers looking for illustrators. This is troubling for all the family members, but it’s oldest sister Claire who really lets Louis know through her frustrations how much of a pressure this is. On a train trip, he meets businessman Asim Chaudhry who sees his drawings and gives him advise. Wain’s drawings do attract the attention of Sir William Ingram: the Managing Director of the Illustrated London Daily News. Ingram gives him the opportunity to draw for the paper, but on a part-time basis. This, along with other odd jobs, is enough to provide for the family and allow them to hire a governess to teach the three youngest daughters: Emily Richardson. Emily is ten years Louis’ senior, but Louis can’t help but take a liking to her. During this time, Louis also keeps his drawings of his inspirations and fears inside a personal journal of his own.

Over time, the money Wain is able to provide goes so far, adding to the frustration. Wain’s fast swimming at the Turkish Baths gets on people’s nerves, even though Ingram is willing to tolerate it. Louis keeps on having recurring nightmares of drowning in a capsized ship: nightmares he’s had since childhood and may explain the scar underneath is lip. Louis’ feelings to Emily are feelings he feels he has to keep hidden, but there’s Shakepeare’s The Tempest the whole family plans to see in the theatre. Louis invites Emily by slipping the ad under the door, and she accepts. Before the Show, Emily reads his journal and is surprised by the paintings and drawings. During the play, it goes into a scene of a story boat trip, which causes Louis to leave for the bathroom. After he’s finished, he sees Emily. Emily reveals she read his journal and understands him and they kiss for the first time!

The romance of Louis and Emily does not go well with the family. They don’t want to be the source of scandal because of the class-gap and age-gap of the two. At the same time, Louis learns of photography from a boxing match he watches with Asim. Asim tells him that photography can replace illustrations for newspapers in the future. That does not settle well with Louis not just because of his job, but he feels photography lacks the imagination and electricity of drawings. Then one day, the closeness of Emily and Louis gets to the point Claire has to fire Emily. It’s then he asks Emily to marry her. He reveals to her he doesn’t care what others think of them both. Emily accepts, revealing she doesn’t care either. The two find a home in the countryside to avoid controversy and they have a happy first six months.

Then the news come Emily has fatal cancer. Louis agrees to live with her the final years of her life. Then one rainy day, they hear a meowing out in their yard. It’s a kitten and he’s freezing. The two take him in and they make a pet out of him. Making a pet out of a cat was seen as odd in British society as cats are seen as either nuisances or only good for catching mice on the farm. However the two decide to make a pet out of the cat and name him Peter. For the next three years, it’s just Louis, Emily and Peter together. However Emily’s condition deteriorates. Louis doesn’t know how to deal with life without Emily, but Emily encourages him to continue to live on and not be afraid to make his imagination come alive.

After Emily dies, Louis secludes himself and is broke. Claire gets on his case for that. However it’s after this time, he learns the more he hurts, the better he paints. He starts creating cat drawing and cat paintings. The images depict cats as charming, cute and mischievous. The works attract many a reader of the Illustrated London News. His cat paintings start selling like nobody’s business. He even gets honorary memberships to cat societies in London who always saw cats as pets long before the mass public did. This brought him considerable fame, but not fortune. It’s after receiving a lot of debts he confesses to sister Claire he didn’t copyright his works and people are copying and getting their own piece of the action. The only way he can make money is through his original paintings. Ingram came to the rescue and gave him additional work in illustrations.

Then in 1900, Peter dies. Wain is heartbroken. Soon he learns the harder he grieves, the bigger his imagination grows. He then paints multi-colored pictures of cats that take his art in a new direction. It grants him bigger fortune, which comes in time as Marie is diagnosed as schizophrenic and needs to be sent to a better hospital. Unfortunately the luck runs out after a few years and fortune went just as fast as it came. He attempts to market his work in the United States, which attracts the attention of William Randolph Hearst and Max Case. The trips to New York give him a bigger fascination with electricity, but the boat trips also bring back his recurring nightmares of drowning on a ship.

Bad business decisions continue to get Wain sudden riches and back into debt. Over the years, Wain loses people close to him like his mother, sisters Marie and Claire and his mentor William Ingram. Then in 1925, he has a violent mental outburst that puts him in a metal hospital. Asim sees him in the hospital. He notices his drawings lack the magic he once had. Also Louis appears dead inside as there are no cats. This allows Asim to team up with H. G. Wells and his three surviving sisters to start a fundraiser to help bring Wain to a better hospital where he’s allowed a better quality of life where he can draw, paint, be around nature, and cats. The hospital where he spends his last years is much better and it allows Louis to again experience his image of paradise. The paradise he and Emily possessed together.

I’m sure anyone who’s seen Louis Wain’s art may have mixed feeling about it. Some will think it’s not for them, especially people who don’t care for cats or can’t stand them. Others will wonder how one can call cat pictures art? Some can even look at some of his more colorful pictures of cats in his latter years and even see them as ‘psychedelic!’ Hard to believe they’d have this ‘psychedelic’ look many decades before the psychedelic look of the 60’s that is iconic of the term ‘psychedelia’ would come to be.

The film also shows how Louis Wain possessed a lot of traits that are common among even the most famous artists. Firstly it shows Louis Wain’s imagination: one common artistic trait. It takes you into his love of cats and his fascination of electricity and how he turned it into his art. It shows how he used his imagination to create his paintings. The best artists always did. His imagination gave Brits a new look towards cats. No longer were they seen as good just for mousing or nuisances. They could be seen as pets. The film also shows you the eccentricities he had during his lifetime. Artsy people are known for possessing eccentricities. The film showed how Wain was both a non-conformist and what we call today a ‘slacker.’ He didn’t care what society thought of him when he married Emily, and neither did she. Artists are also still seen as non-conformists in the way they lived. He was unable to maintain a real job and a steady income sweating it out; another common trait we see in a lot of artists.

The film includes the family pressures he faced, being the oldest of the Wain children and only male. Wain had to act as a provider to his family and his artistic talents were more of a hindrance in that aspect. Especially financially as there would be times he’d starve, times he’d prosper and times when his riches were all squandered. Many of the best artists would not receive their renown in their lifetime and some like Van Gogh starved. Wain received his renown, but still had periods of poverty. The film also takes one into the heartaches he experienced in his life like the death of his only wife Emily and the death of his first cat Peter. Even though he would have many cats since, Peter would still remain his beloved and he would never get over his death. It showed the deaths of his two sisters, his mother and his biggest mentor. He noticed the more he grieved the better and the more imaginative he painted.

The film also takes you into Wain’s mental torture. It’s a common belief among people that an artist should be the type to suffer for their art. Artists have been known to be people that suffer inside and Wain was no exception. One will notice early on in the film as they learn Louis had recurring nightmares of drowning upon a sinking ship. That was a nightmare that would never leave him. Many people into art want to see artists draw out or paint out their pain. Wain reminds us that even artists that do supposedly ‘happy’ pictures like his cat paintings also can possess inner demons and they make one their own worst enemy as much as they make them an artistic genius. Being type-two bipolar himself, director Will Sharpe let it be known about Wain and what it’s like to have those troubles.

Biographical films have changed a lot in the last twenty years. Most of the time, you see the story unravel itself over time without narration. Very rarely do you see a modern biographical film go from start to finish about their lives. This film does a lot of ‘traditional’ ways of going about the biographical film, but instead of it being a setback for the film, it enhances it. Hearing the narration from Olivia Colman is a delight to hear. Also the narration of the film actually adds humor to the film and the story. Seeing Louis Wain’s life unravel from the turning point of his life in 1880 up to his death in 1939 actually helps make the film instead of hinders it. The film even includes moments in his life that become picture perfect moments for his drawings and paintings. The film even shows times in Wain’s life when it becomes moments for his best work. However it’s shown imperfectly and sometimes becomes uneven with the story. I’ve seen biographic films of artists before. Often they try to mix the life experiences and mentalities of the artist in with some of their biggest art works. This film does it very well for the most part, but there are times when it comes off as lacking consistency or out of place.

This is a very good work from director Will Sharpe. He’s co-directed two films before with Tom Kingsley, but this is the first film he holds his own in. The film he directs and the story he co-wrote with Simon Stephenson is an impressive artistic biography. It’s as much of a comedy as it is a drama. It follows the ‘traditional’ way of making a biographical film, but it’s more of a benefit than a drawback. These aspects make the film. The layout of the film also works for the most part, despite the flaws being noticeable. Nevertheless it does tell us a lot about Wain. It reminds us that he was a troubled man who did not make a lot of smart decisions, had a tough family life and was mentally troubled. However it was his imaginative way of looking at things, his view of the beauty of the world, his love for cats, and the reassurance of Emily’s love for him that gave him his drive to create.

Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job in his portrayal of Louis Wain. He did a great job in showing both the comical side and the tragic side of the man which made the film impressive to watch. There weren’t too many standout supporting performances, but Claire Foy was very good as Emily Wain. She was very good in playing the woman that understood his mental troubles and still loved him. She was also good in showcasing how she was the one who inspired Louis to paint his imagination and to still continue to inspire even after her passing. Of the sisters, Aimee Lou Wood was the standout as Claire: the sister who was frustrated by Louis’ misdoings, but ended up admiring him as she was about to pass. Toby Jones was also an occasional scene-stealer as William Ingram, as was Taika Waititi as Max Case and Adeel Akhtar as Asim Choudhry. Standout technical elements are the cinematography by Erik Wilson and the score by Arthur Sharpe: Will’s brother.

The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is more than just a biographical film of an artist. It takes one into the mind of the artist in his inspiration and of his troubles. Sometimes it doesn’t make complete sense or appear all together, but it is an excellent film that will get you interested in the artist and his work.

VIFF 2021 Shorts Forum: Programme 3

I had already fulfilled one of my VIFF goals of seeing a segment of short films when I saw MODES 2. However I was hoping that for short films, I would see something less experimental and more in the lines of either documentaries or live-action storytelling. I had my opportunity when I saw the shorts segment entitled Programme 3. They were seven films by Canadian directors that were all unique in their films and their messages.

-Flower Boy (Canada – dir. Anya Chirkova): It’s summer. Nav is a musical dreamer. He plays music from piano to guitar to his analog synthesizer at parties. His girlfriend Sarah is a painter who has artistic dreams of her own. She even painted a portrait of Nav with a flower instead of a head. For summer income, Nav works at a laser tag ground where he does the typical duties and the co-workers talk of how much they hate the job and the boss. As the months pass, Nav grows further in love with Sarah, but knows summer will end and he will be heading to college in another province. Also during the job, the 60 year-old boss shows Nav that he had music dreams too, as a rock ‘n roll drummer. The boss shares with him his passion. As summer ends, he makes a decision that a surprise to all.

This is a nice picturesque story. The images do as much of the storytelling as the dialogue. The story is pretty much a celebration to any and all artistic dreamers. Even for those who eventually went on to pursue real jobs. Those who’ve had artistic dreams of their own when they were young can identify with this story of see themselves in some way somehow. This also works well for me because I had dreams of being an actor when I was younger and, well, I turn 50 next September. It’s a reminder of no matter how old you get or even how successful you are at your real job, the dream never dies. Even if it’s in an against-all-odds profession, it’s still worth it to chase the dream and never stop dreaming!

-Things We Feel But Do Not Say (Canada – dir. Lauren Grant): Genevieve is hurting, but does not make it obvious. Later we learn what’s been hurting her. The pregnancy that’s supposed to be, isn’t. It’s a miscarriage. She tries to keep it inside, even to her husband, but you know it’s going to come out. She goes with him to the doctor’s appointment and tries to keep a poker face about it, but you know it will come out. Then it does. She then returns back to her work, greeted warmly by her friend, and carries on with her day.

This isn’t just a story about a miscarriage and the hurt one feels. It’s also about trying to hide emotions and go about daily life, even though one is hurting inside. The body language actually does more telling about the story and Genevieve’s feelings than the dialogue. That’s what the film is for the most part. About unspoken feelings we hold deep inside.

-Tla-o-qui-aht Dugout Canoe (Canada – dir. Steven Davies): Joe martin is a 66 year-old man from the Tofino First Nation. His profession is making dugout canoes: canoes made from trees that are dug out from the trunk. He is skilled from teachings from his late father. The skills he uses to make the canoes, like the hand-carving and painting, are centuries-old traditions passed on from his people. The skills and canoes were scorned upon by the Canadian government decades ago who had a system to assimilate the Indigenous people, robbing them of their culture and language and sending them to Residential Schools where they were abused and neglected mercilessly. Joe is now free to make his canoes. His daughter Tsimka uses the canoes he made to take visitors on tours of Clayoquot Sound.

This is one of two documentaries that’s part of ‘indigiDOCS.’ This allows the canoe maker to tell his story of his craft and how it’s important to him and his people. At a time when Indigenous peoples are going through Truth And Reconciliation and working to take back what was stolen from them in the past, like their languages and cultural rites, this is an important documentary. You learn of the skill of how it’s important for the maker and his people and why it’s worth keeping alive and worth passing on to generations.

-News From Home (Canada – dir. Sara Wylie): It’s March 2020. A daughter makes a phone call to her mother. She has anxiety and she’s scared. She doesn’t know what to do. She wants to fly back to be with her mother, but her mother advises it’s not a smart idea. This breaks the daughter’s heart. She’s scared and frustrated to tears. She just doesn’t know what to do. Another phone call some days later. The daughter again calls the mother. The daughter doesn’t have the same frustration she had during the first phone call. She reassures her mother she’s calmed down, if imperfectly. The mother says things of reassurance. It ends with a friendly goodbye.

This is a film that consists of recorded phone calls, home movies, and the images of the rooms inside the hose where the calls took place. No actors or people present. One thing we should not forget is it’s in March 2020 when the COVID pandemic hit Canada and all these social restrictions and isolations started taking place. There was a lot of fear among people about what would be next. I too anticipated this could be the next Influenza. This film captures the moment. Even reminds us of our own first moments of dread when this all started. However it also shows the moment of relief and reassurance over time. It even shows the close bond of family. It’s that bond with someone who reminds us things will be fine that we all need.

-Indigenous Dads (Canada – dir. Peter Brass): The film is a documentary. It’s an interview of four Indigenous fathers from across Canada and of various Indigenous Nations including Brass himself. Two are fathers of two, one is a father of four, and one is a father of one. All of them share their feelings of what it was like when they became a father for the first time, both positive and negative. All four talk about how fatherhood made them grow and change as men. All talk of their love for their children. They also all talk of how they teach their children of what it is to be Indigenous and how they even remind them of the racism they can face. They also all talk about their hopes and dreams for their futures and what they want their children to grow us to be.

This is an important documentary short. It’s very inciteful. This shows a side of being both a father and being Indigenous that we rarely see. It’s an eye opener to this subject. It reminds you of the immense responsibilities these men have to face and are willing to face head-on, despite how hard it is. They speak their hopes, their joys and their fears. There are times of great emotion as well. I’m really glad I saw this.

-Srikandi (Indonesia/Canada – dir. Andrea Nirmala Widjajanto): Anjani, a young girl in Indonesia, is about to start college. This comes in the aftermath of the death of her father and as her mother is about to sell the house. Something her daughter is out protesting over. Soon, her daughter discovers something. She comes across her father’s puppet studio. Her father’s profession was the traditional Indonesian puppetry of Srikandi. She discovers she has been taught the skills of Srikandi by her father, even though Srikandi is traditionally forbidden o females. Anjani makes a decision about her career path to her mother. Her mother is not happy with it as it won’t guarantee a steady income, but Anjani is firm in her decision as he is days from leaving for Jakarta.

This is a student film from a Vancouver Film School student. Andrea Widjajanto is born and raised in Indonesia and came to Vancouver to study film. This is another film about artistic passions burning inside one’s self. This is also as she faces the heartache of the death of her father and the time in one’s life where she’s reached the college age and now preparing for a path she is to pursue for the rest of her life. This is a good film as it involves an artistic puppetry few people from outside Indonesia know about. It also reminds you that this desire to pursue your dream with the pressure from others to pursue something more bankable and steady is universal. It transcends cultures and borders. The dream to pursue one’s dream is universal. Despite the story taking place half a world away, one can relate to the story.

-Together (South Korea/Canada – dir. Albert Shin): It’s a seaside motel in South Korea. Two strangers who met online with fake names, a young-adult female who goes by the name Happy Virus and a middle-aged male who goes by Rabbit Doll X, are there. They are here for one reason: a suicide pact. Both have a cooking element and chemicals ready to do the job. During the time there, they talk about their lives and what they’ve been through. They take an interest in each other and even laugh and have a mini-party of just the two of them. It gets to the point the woman feels she can’t go through with this.

This is a story by Korean-Canadian director Albert Shin that treads on a serious subject matter. It’s of a common thing in South Korea of the type of suicide pact where two strangers with suicidal feelings meet online to commit their suicide together. Shin taps into human feelings as well as ethics and morals. In the end, he delivers a story that goes from potentially tragic to life-affirming in the end.

Overall these seven shorts have their differences, but they share a lot in common. All are from either Canadian directors or students in Canada. Some are documentaries or docudramas, while some are live-action. Most are in English while two are in different languages. All speak a message about the human spirit and human feeling.

Each of the seven films of the VIFF Shorts Segment Programme 3 either contain an aspect of life that we can all relate to or they will open our eyes. All of them are valuable to watch. I’m glad I had the chance.

VIFF 2021 Review: Zo Reken

The driver of the minivan in Zo Reken, Pascal Antoine, is a fictional driver. The passengers are real minivan passengers and they have a lot to tell.

What do I look like in this vehicle?

This van draws attention for all the wrong reasons.

I’m sure most people outside of Haiti have never heard of a ‘Zo Reken.’ The documentary Zo Reken is as much about the vehicle itself as it is about the political and living situation in Haiti.

The film begins with Pascal Antoine performing his music at a night club. After the show, he and his bandmates have drinks and then pack their gear up in a vehicle they call a ‘Zo Reken’ and head off. We learn a ‘Zo Reken’ is the nickname in Haiti for a Toyota 4-by-4 Land Cruiser minivan. It’s named after the ‘Zo Reken’ drink which consists of letting a shark bone sit in it. The vehicles most commonly called a ‘Zo Reken’ in Haiti are normally used to transport humanitarian aid to hospitals or various other sites.

However a violent coup to overthrow Haitian president Jovenel Moise has happened and brutal protests in the streets of capital Port-au-Prince have occurred. The nation is in a strict lockdown and Zo Rekens are no longer allowed for humanitarian aid. Antoine hacks a Zo Reken and uses it to help transport other Haitians around the capital. One thing is he will have to find routes along the bumpy roads that don’t collide with the violent fiery protests. Also he must he aware of people he passes throwing rocks at the vehicle.

The first passenger he transports is a man up a hill and avoiding barricades of fire set by protesters. As the man is transported, he talks about the humanitarian aid from non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s as they’re commonly called, that it’s more hinderance than a help. In a lot of ways, he sees the humanitarian aid from the NGO’s and international community as broken promises from these nations. They promised to bring Haiti out of the poverty and recover, but the poverty continues, as it has for decades. That explains why he and other Haitians see the Zo Rekens that transport the aid representing the NGOs or the continued repression, or simply power.

Later on, he transports another man. This Zo Reken is intended to be a vehicle to protectively transport many people across the capital during this turmoil. Soon this Zo Reken comes to represent a bus for many Haitians who otherwise would have to walk on foot. The second man he transports talks about the hidden anger among the impoverished to the rich. He understand why many would want to throw rocks at the Zo Reken. Anything that represents the wealth gap is seen as a target of wrath from the people. The types of people he transports along the way are various. He transports one man as he’s to have a job interview for a very rare opportunity for prosperity and timeliness is make-or-break. He transports a woman passenger and she has a lot to say of the situation for the women in Haiti.

The Zo Reken he drives soon finds itself in part of the drama. A man is badly injured during the protests. Protests have been violent to the point they’ve claimed a lot of lives. Pascal has to transport this man to a hospital. It’s not an easy thing as he has to avoid other protesters and barricades. He comes across one barricade: a burning trunk of a tree. He has to find detours to get the man to the hospital as one person carries an IV bag. It’s like this Zo Reken becomes like an ambulance.

late at night, Pascal is relaxing outside a bar, sitting outside his Zo Reken. His friends come and drink, but they speak their mind about all that has happened in recent days and what is happening in the country. They talk of the rich and powerful and how they kill the people and how they may face their own comeuppance one day. They talk of the international community that they feel they do not help the nation and more the cause of the problem than the solution. Many feel feel they don’t want international aid and feel that it’s better off Haiti hold its own and develop on its own terms. They have that much of a lack of trust to foreigners. The documentary ends with Pascal driving the Zo Reken off as we see a rear-view image of the path he’s leaving behind.

The driver Pascal Antoine is fictional. Pascal acts as the driver of the Zo Reken each and every time. The passengers are real. Their situations are real. The Haitian riots of 2018-2020 and the overthrow of president Jovenel Moise are real. Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the Americas. The country has been through decades of brutal rule, whether be it in the form of dictatorships or democracies. You can go back as far as 1957 with the Duvaliers until Baby Doc fled the country in 1986, then Aristide in the 1990’s and now Moise.

What you have is an angry country. Most of the nation has known nothing but a lifetime of disease, death and poverty. The nation is mostly known as the world’s biggest producer of baseballs, but their economy is not known for much more. You have a big gap between the rich who own most of the nations wealth and the poor who struggle for simple change to get food to eat. It’s like the coup d’etat to overthrow Moise exposed a lot of anger inside the Haitian people. It was like their anger was inside a bubble and the bubble burst.

The Zo Rekens became a huge presence after the 2010 Haitian earthquake that claimed anywhere from 100,000 to 160,000 Haitians and affected 3,000,000. As aid workers are not allowed in the vehicle and one man uses it to transport people, you can hear from people the voice of the common Haitian. You hear the anger of what people feel in a country with a huge wage gap and poverty all around it. You hear the anger they have towards the international community upon the failure of these nations to live up to the promises of helping build up a stronger Haiti. You hear the anger of the neocolonialism percieved among the people. You hear the anger people have towards the soon-to-be-deposed president and their feelings that he was worse than the Duvaliers. You hear how people fear for the most vulnerable during this critical time in their nation.

As you hear their voice, you can easily see why these Zo Rekens during a time of political turmoil are now seen as oppressors to the people. As you see Pascal wash the Zo Reken in the morning, you can feel he can’t wash away its bad image. Equally, you can also see why this depot holding the medical supplies and various goods for transporting could be seen as a bigger villain than the Zo Rekens that transport those goods. As you see the depot holding these goods in place, you sometimes wonder why is this depot holding everything in place? Why can’t the hospitals simply have these items in need rather than have them waiting at a centralized depot? Why should the Zo Reken take all the blame from the people?

This documentary is a very good eye opener. It sheds a light on a nation few people outside of it know of other than the time it makes the news. Most of the time, the news is dreadful, whether it be of a deposed ruler or of a natural disaster that devastates most of the nation. As Antoine transports the people in the Zo Reken, you hear the voice of the common Haitian among the passengers and those just standing outside. You see the wrath and contempt of the people as the Zo Reken passes them on the street. You even see how Antoine uses the Zo Reken in a crisis situation as it transports a wounded protester to the hospital. During the film, you’re left with the impression that this is the biggest help this Zo Reken did in its entirety in Haiti.

Admiration from writer/director Emanuel Licha. He creates a scenario of a fictional driver in a real crisis situation. He does a good job of not just showing life in an impoverished country like Haiti, but a scenario that exposes poverty through a global lens. What you see happening in Haiti can happen in other impoverished countries too. The marginalization of people in Haiti and the anger of the people can represent the anger of people in any impoverished nation in the world. Pascal Antoine may be the fictional driver of the Zo Reken in the film, but he does a good job of being the centrepiece of this documentary. Him being the central focal point helps as you see Haiti unfold as we watch this documentary.

The documentary Zo Reken is a big eye-opener. It not only introduces you to a country most of us don’t know enough about, but fills you in on the people too. The people are shown as they are in a heated moment in Haiti’s history and what you hear from their mouths say as much about them as their personal feelings.

VIFF 2021 Review: Kicking Blood

Alanna Bale plays a modern world vampire who faces a life-or-death decision in the Canadian thriller Kicking Blood.

Right during the first week of the Vancouver International Film Festival, I fulfilled my first VIFF goal of seeing a Canadian feature when I saw Kicking Blood. It also became my first Altered States film of the VIFF. It’s a vampire story that’s something.

Anna celebrates her birthday with a slice of cake and with Bernice and Gus: two of her co-workers at the library. During the shift, Bernice is upset Gus is leaving her for another woman. That night, Gus is about to make love to Anna. He thinks he’s the one in control. What he doesn’t know is that anna is a vampire. She delivers him the fatal bite!

Somewhere else in the city, Robbie is an alcoholic who’s being booted out of the house of a young woman who’s been looking after him. She caught him making out with her fiance! Robbie finds himself out on the streets. Anna walks by him. She sees him with a bottle in his hands. However she notices something about him. Somehow she’s willing to take him in. She’s able to let him live in her place and feed him well. He is expected to recover from his alcoholism, if he says he’s willing to change. Anna conducts business as usual at the library. She has her friendly conversations with Bernice. She then comes home to Robbie. She learns she has feelings toward him. Feelings of love. But she doesn’t know how to deal with it.

One night in a nightclub, two men named Boris and Ben are having fun and drinking. There they meet what appears to be a woman alone named Nina. Ben is attracted to her. He tries to get closer to her, but Nina knows he’s married and trying to hide it. Soon it’s the three of them with Ben doing cocaine. They’re having good conversation. Anna joins the conversation. However it’s apparent Ben will become Nina’s latest victim. She does eventually bite the life out of him.

It becomes apparent there is a trio of vampires in the town: Anna, Nina and Boris. They bite people out of their lives and then live off their possessions. Anna is very good from hiding it from Bernice and Robbie: two people who mean a lot to her, but how can she keep it a secret? It shows in her restraint as she wants to make love to Robbie, but she can’t get any closer. How is Robbie going to find out? That also hits her as she learns from Bernice she won’t take her pills and will rely on her inner strength and her mentality on her physical condition. A vampire like Anna can’t have connection to humans. How can Anna make this work?

The trio’s next victim is an artist who lives alone. They visit her in her apartment as she’s making a sculpture. They first ask her questions about her art, but then they shift the focus on how her art may be remembered after her death. The questions of her art seen after her death continue, which the artist kindly answers them. Then Nina bites the life out of her. Instead of enjoying this, it’s a turning point for Anna as she shows huge concern.

The last incident of vampirism affects Anna. She knows as a vampire, she can’t connect with humans emotionally. Problem is she has been connecting with humans as she watches Robbie go through his alcoholic withdrawal and as she visits Bernice in the hospital as she’s dying. She is reminded she has human sensitivity. She can’t have that as a vampire If she does, she would have to identify with mortal humans. She reveals her identity to Robbie, but he is shocked and leaves her. While at a bar, he meets Vanessa: an old flame from his college days. The two start heating up.

However the time is coming for Anna. This is the time she will have to choose between life as a vampire or human mortality. First she confronts Vanessa with Robbie. The two face off right in the middle of the road as Nina and Boris arrive. Vanessa is the latest victim. Then the two remind Anna that Robbie is her last chance. One bite of him will keep her immortality active. Refusing to bite will lead to her death. The ending is slow and more about intensity than effects, but dramatic and unconventional.

I’m sure we’ve all seen our fair share of vampire stories. From the classic stories of the legendary Count Dracula to the teen craze of the Twilight series, vampires still intrigue us and captivate us. This is a unique story of a young female vampire who’s part of a trio of vampires. As they welcome themselves in other peoples’ lives, they kill them with one bite and take material things of theirs. Anna is a vampire who works a librarian job, but pursues her victims. Often you’ll understand why a librarian like Anna has so many luxuries. However it’s an odd twist when she takes in a homeless alcoholic like Robbie. Often you wonder why would she? He has nothing to take from. Would he still be one of her eventual victims? More on that later.

The thoughts continue when you learn of the vampire trio she’s a part of. It’s after she meets and tends to Robbie that she starts to reconsider her life as a vampire. She has feelings for Robbie and doesn’t want to kill him, but her vampirism is her immortality. Should she continue to be a vampire and have Robbie as one of her victims? Or will she choose the life of mortality? That she’d rather die than kill Robbie? Even with the presence of Boris and Nina, it gets you wondering. Does she like being a vampire? Or is she controlled by the other two?

The film has Robbie as the surprising secondary character. Anna meets Robbie on the streets right after his previous ‘keeper’ booted him out and with a bottle in his hand. You’re left wondering why would a vampire like Anna take in a man like Robbie who has nothing? Would he be her next victim? Even later as she houses him instead of giving him a fatal bite like all the others, you wonder why is she keeping him alive? Is it something in herself that she sees and only Robbie can bring that out in her? Is it Robbie that gives her the change of heart? Boris and Nina remind her that her biting is her key to immortality and that a vampire is not to connect or empathize with humans. But Robbie is the human that does exactly that. Even though her best friend Bernice is the first human to get her to connect as a human instead of maintain her vampire separation from humans, it’s Robbie who best conveys Anna’s human feelings. It’s also Robbie, as he goes through alcoholic withdrawal, who sends the message to Anna of the vampirism withdrawal, a fatal withdrawal, she could face. Is it worth it?

This is a film full of a lot of twists and surprises. The vampire legend is always full of various elements of the legend. I’m sure many stories play with the legend. One thing that caught my attention is how these vampires are perfectly unaffected by the sunlight. Most vampires are either affected by sunlight or the light is fatal to them. The trio of vampires are unharmed by the sunlight, but it’s the nighttime where their vampirism comes to life. Maybe that’s the trick. They act like everyday humans by day, but their vampire side comes out at night. Even the story of how another woman tries to steal Robbie from Anna adds into the drama. For the most part, the story makes sense. If it’s a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces fit well. The story however carry itself out in a slower-than-usual pace. It settles more for the intensity of the situation, rather than the sensational images of bites of the flesh. Also I feel we learn the fact that Anna is part of a trio of vampires later in the film than we should. However those who come to a film about vampires and are huge fans of seeing ‘vampires in action’ may be disappointed. The ending works, but there were even small bits where it had some flat moments, or could have been better. Like Nina’s last line.

I give top marks to director Blaine Thurier. He does a very good job in directing the play he co-wrote with Leonard Farlinger. I like how he plays along with the legend and creates a unique story of vampires in the modern world. It even gives you the feeling of a vampires-next-door story! Also very good is the acting from Alanna Bale. Playing a character that goes from an everyday girl to a vampire at night to a vampire with human feelings is not an easy task. She does a very good job of it and keeps her focus well. She makes it work. Luke Bilyk is also very good as the recovering alcoholic Robbie. He does more than just play a recovering alcoholic. His role is also that of human feelings and feelings of love to Anna. He does a very good job of showing the importance of Robbie in the story.

The film also has a lot of great supporting performances too. Rosemary Dunsmore was great as Bernice, the librarian who gives Anna her human feelings. Vinessa Antoine was also very good as Vanessa, the woman who tries to win Robbie away from Anna. Ella Jonas Farlinger (daughter of scriptwriter Leonard Farlinger) and Benjamin Sutherland were good as the two other vampires, but their roles lacked dimension.

Kicking Blood is not your typical vampire story. It does offer a twist in the common vampire story that delivers the unexpected. Despite it’s small but noticeable glitches, it will still keep you at the edge of your seat.

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