Category Archives: VIFF – Festival and Reviews

VIFF 2018 Review: United Skates

United Skates

United Skates is a unique documentary that shows how vital roller skating is for those that do it, and why roller rink closures hurt.

It’s usually good to take a break and watch a documentary that doesn’t have a political agenda heavily shown. I was able to see that in United Skates.

The film begins by showing various African-Americans going out and having a good time on skates. Very soon we see some of the more sensational moves that are frequently seen at the rinks. They’re stylish or they’re acrobatic. Whatever it is, they’re all out to have a good time. Young or old, single or with family, they’re all out to have fun. This is a phenomenon that has been going on for decades nationwide. A place where various African-American skaters have their own moves and their own fanfare.

Soon into the movie we learn how roller rinks are considered a top getaway for African Americans. Roller rinks may have had their biggest heyday in the late-70’s and early-80’s for most Americans, but African-Americans kept it lasting long after that. It was a getaway from the harsh realities of daily life. It was one place they could take their kids away from the harsh realities of urban living. It was also a place where the first hip-hop and rap artists found a stage to perform on. Yes, roller rinks were an integral part of the early years of hip-hop culture. When night clubs and radio stations, even the soul and urban stations, wouldn’t give those artists their time, roller rinks gave them their stage. Coolio and Salt ‘N Pepa can vouch for that. There are even scenes in Straight Outta Compton that show NWA perform at roller rinks during their early days. In fact there was even a case in the 90’s where two roller rinks in Los Angeles would be the different domains of two rival gangs: the Bloods and the Crips. When one rink closed, the other rink became neutral territory for the two.

The documentary shows how roller rinks have gone from commonplace nationwide starting in 1982 to disappearing gradually starting in the 90’s to today being probably one tenth of what it was. Modern times have proved to be a very trying time for roller rinks. Gentrification has been a pressure with turning a lot of top recreational areas into land for condos. Roller rinks, commonly seen as something of the past, have fallen prey and have seen closures. If an African-American family wanted to take their family to a roller rink, they would have to travel a longer distance.

We even meet a family from Los Angeles before the closure of the World On Wheels rink. The mother has a huge love for roller skating as she has been doing it since her child hood. She was able to share that same love with her children. When they go to World On Wheels, it is family time. It is time for the kids to show their decorated skates, time for all to show off their moves, and a time for the son who has behavioral disorders a place to avoid getting in trouble. Then World On Wheels closes in 2013. They show closing day. The rink tries to make a party of it. Young and old come to have fun one last time. We see people in their late-50’s early-60’s — people that were a part of the ‘roller boogie’ heyday– skate around with the same love. The closing day is as much a day of heartbreak as it is of fun.

Then the rink closes. We see how the owner tries to take everything out of the rink from the lockers to the concessions. We also see how the family tries to cope. They drive hours to a different rink, but face heat because the wheels their skating with are too small.World On Wheels welcomed their skating wheels with open arms. Also the rink has an urban night or soul night. African-Americans undergo security checks. There’s no security checks for white families. It’s obvious the family doesn’t feel welcome here. It gives a sense that these rinks are out to exclude African-Americans. The pressure hits the family hard too as the son committed a crime and has to spend time in prison. The film shows other rink closures too and how much it hurts those that love it.

However like one former rink owner says, patience is the true test for anyone. Over time, there would be skate clubs abounding over social media where people can go out an skate, whether it be in parks or outdoor rinks. Also World On Wheels reopens after popular demand. The re-opening is welcomed with open arms. And the family that was the centrepoint of the story can now skate as a family wearing whatever wheels they want to. We also see the son, just out of prison, having fun again.

It’s obvious the film has a point. The film obviously is showing how roller rinks are important for the vitality of African-American families. It was roller skating where there were a lot of segregation protests. Even roller rinks in the 60’s were a focal point as African-Americans simply wanted to skate on the same rinks as whites. They didn’t want to be confined to blacks-only church halls. It also shows how important roller rinks were towards hip-hop musicians. However the documentarians Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler allow the people to tell their stories. There’s no narration here. Some graphics that tell a lot but it’s the people from the owners to the families to the hip-hop musicians who tell their story about roller rinks and why they don’t just simply love it, but consider it a key part of themselves. You can bet the audience will feel the energy. There were many times people were cheering on the moves and they gave the film a big applause at the end.

United Skates has a point to say, but it doesn’t just simply say it. It shows it. It also makes you open your eyes and notice that roller rinks aren’t simply a relic from the ‘roller boogie’ phenom. They’re now and they vital.

NOTE: The website of United Skates has a page where you can donate to keep roller rinks open. Their goal isn’t just to show how important they are, but also to get the viewers to help keep them open. If you want to donate, go to: https://www.unitedskatesfilm.com/donate

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VIFF 2018 Review: Studio 54

studio 54

The documentary Studio 54 is where co-founder Ian Schrager (right) finally tells the story of how he and Steve Rubell (left) did illegal dealings in the night club iconic with the disco era.

There are some things iconic with disco from the 1970’s. There’s the film Saturday Night Fever, the music of Donna Summer, and the night club Studio 54. Co-founder Ian Schrager has mostly been quiet about his years of Studio 54 and how he and Steve Rubell ran it. In the documentary Studio 54, he finally breaks his silence.

The film begins as Ian Schrager is about to have the book of Studio 54 published. Ian starts talking about his upbringing. He grew up in Brooklyn. He came from a neighborhood mostly of working class Jewish families who worked in hopes that their children would have a better life. Ian met Steve Rubell in college. He attended Syracuse University where he earned a BA and later earned a JD from St. John’s Law School. It was through a fraternity at Syracuse that he met Steve Rubell.

It was the mid-1970’s. Two important things were happening. Firstly, Manhattan had lost its charm. It became dumpy and seedy with the times. Instead of being this place of charm and pizzazz, it had fallen on hard times where it was full of crime and X-rated lewdness and trashiness. Secondly was the emergence of disco music and its style of partying. Already in areas of Brooklyn and Queens, there were night clubs or discotheques that were very popular with their free-spirited dancing and flamboyant styling. The feel of disco came at the right time as it was right after the end of the brutal Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal left many Americans disheartened. It’s like Ian said, “People were tired of being serious.”

Ian and Steve took it into a chance for opportunity. The first thing they did was rent out a theatre that was originally an opera house and was last used as a CBS Studio. Steve and Ian hired workers, most gay men, for months to do all sorts of construction and all sorts of decorations. They also hired Jack Dushey as their financial backer. It was their vision to create a night club no one on earth had ever seen before. Even before opening day, they went around advertising to celebrities that this was the place to go to.

Opening day, Studio 54 is a big hit.Celebrities do show and lots of people from the public were let in too. From that period on, you had what could be an oasis from the real world as you had all sorts of people of race, gender, sexual orientation and class status getting in and having a good time. While people mostly shunned others out in their day-to-day lives, people came together in Studio 54 and had a good time. The place was seen as a must-visit for celebrities and they had a blast with the dancing atmosphere and the special one-of-a-kind effects and decorations in the place. News had come about that Studio 54 was the place to be.

However there were some realities that would come about. First of all Studio 54 was known for Ian and Steve to go out into the crowd of people outside and pick-and-choose who got in. They let in a lot of people, especially gay men, but they left others out. At first people were understanding, but a backlash would soon brew. Also there was the hidden secret that there were people using drugs in Studio 54. The club had a reputation for freeness and drugs were part of it. Then there was the fact that Studio 54 couldn’t wait for their liquor license at first and relied on catering permits during their waiting period to serve liquor. The authorities didn’t overlook that and soon they had Studio 54 closed temporarily. It put a damper in a lot of attendee’s lives. It was within time that Ian and Steve finally did get the liquor license.

However the success of that would only be temporary. Soon Steve gave an interview to Playboy that was ‘Only the mafia does it better.’ He also said ‘don’t tell the IRS about our practices.’ That’s all it took for the club to get raided. What was found was cocaine with the intent to traffic and $2 million in unrecorded under-the-table money. The arrests of Schrager and Rubell made headlines. Soon Studio 54 was no longer the place to be. The club reopened, but for a life of only a few months. The two hired Roy Cohn and had recruited an army of lawyers to defend their case. In the end, the two plead guilty and were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. They were let out after serving one year each.

After Studio 54, both Rubell and Schrager looked for other ways to succeed after their release. They tried their hand at opening new night clubs that fit with the 80’s times. Constantly before the opening, Rubell would be interviewed about Studio 54’s infamy. Rubell would confess that they did a lot of wrong things and that they both changed and smartened up. Rubell’s time to redeem himself after Studio 54 was short-lives. Rubell had AIDS and he died of it in 1989. Schrager was luckier as he would later open the night club Palladium and manage the Morgans Hotel Group. Ian married twice and has fathered three children. He even received an unconditional pardon from Barack Obama in January 2017; three days before Obama stepped down from his presidency.

The documentary is a film that allows Schrager to tell his whole story and break the silence of what he was holding back for a long time. Over the 35 years since his release from prison, Schrager has worked to make Studio 54 a thing of the past and establish himself as a responsible successful businessman. He has succeeded in doing so and even gives lectures for people involved in business.

However the film also reminds us of what we knew of Studio 54 and what we didn’t know. For a long time, it was seen as a place for celebrities, disco dancing and culture of freeness. It was a place where hundreds of celebrities came to visit or eventually became regulars. It was also a place which gave many gay men a sense of belonging. We should not forget that the 1970’s was a time when a lot of laws criminalizing same-sex activity were being struck down and declared unconstitutional. Gay men who were long seen as outsiders or scums of the earth were now given a sense of belonging and a sense of freedom and Studio 54 was the place in New York to do it. Even Steve Rubell who kept his homosexuality hidden from his own family found Studio 54 as a place where he could freely love.

One thing is that the image of Studio 54 as a place for celebrities and dancing would make it too iconic to the disco era. Many claim that it was the closure of Studio 54 that led to the end of the disco era and the slow fading of the freeness that came with it. We should remember that the 1980’s would come about heavy stock trading and Wall Street becoming the place to do intense business. There was also the AIDS epidemic as it not only took the life of Steve but the lives of many construction men and dancers. The documentary does give the sense that when Studio 54 died, that’s when these ugly realities came to be. The documentary even shows of Ian and Steve’s friendship and how it was something that still lived on after Studio 54’s demise. Upon Steve’s death, Ian felt it was like losing a brother.

Studio 54 is unique for that it tells all from those survivors who had a big impact in the business. There’s Ian and there’s Jack. There were also some men who did a lot of the construction and renovating. There was also Steve Rubell’s brother who told his side from what he witnessed of Steve. The film includes a lot of imagery through photos and footage. The film also includes a lot of disco music that was part of Studio 54’s heyday. Seeing Studio 54 almost takes you back to that time and you can feel the freeness of that era.

Studio 54 is the ideal documentary for those who still fondly remember the disco era of the 1970’s. It brings back a lot of memories and tells you things you never knew about the place to your surprise.

VIFF 2018 Review: Patrimony (Tátova volha)

Patrimony

A mother and daughter, played by Tatiana Vilhelmova (left) and Eliska Balzerova, share mother-daughter time during a trip to solve a family secret in Patrimony.

For my first feature of the VIFF, I saw a Czech film entitled Patrimony. The film makes for an entertaining comedy about a subject one would not find comedy material.

The film begins with a funeral for a musician: a trumpeter. The wife, a fashion designer herself named Eva, finds herself lonely and she feels she will be left completely alone. The daughter Tereza is also hurting. She calls his phone just to hear the answering machine to hear his voice. Meanwhile she’s also struggling with her battle with cancer. Despite being helped by her husband, she feels she needs time to be with her mother.

As the daughter visits, the first thing they do is lay his ashes to rest; at least the urn as the mother wants them on his cactuses. However the daughter stumbles across a possible secret in her father’s coat. She sees a drawing of her father and a child. It’s not hers. She notices it’s from a boy names Tomas. Tereza has always been raised to think she was an only child. Could her father have fathered a child with another woman? Even her mother confesses that both she and Ludwik had extramarital affairs. It is from that revelation they decide to go on a trip to find Tomas, using Ludvik’s Volga Gaz 21.

The first visit is with family members in a nearby town. They learn more about Ludvik and his past. They also encounter a lot of crazy happenings inside the house as she has three daughters of various ages to look after. As they go on to their next place of visit, both women discover a sense of freedom when they go from place to place from country farms to town carnivals. Eva herself finds herself interested in other men. However Tereza is not immune from realities as she still has her cancer battles and the status of her marriage in question. Also revealed from Eva is that she was just as adulterous as Ludvik during the marriage.

The next place they visit is an elderly person’s home. One of Ludvik’s ex-lovers is there. She herself has a lot to say about Ludvik and even gives away another big secret they never knew. No doubt that gives Tereza a lot of concern on her mind. At the same time, it appears Eva doesn’t want the ‘love son’ of Eva to be a reality.

It’s then a visit to a family member out in the countryside. They’re a couple who farm apple trees. The husband used to lead, but he now has a mental condition where he’s despondent most of the time, but suddenly becomes the farm boss in an instant. During the visit, her husband comes to assist. It’s there where he confronts her on the status of the marriage. She gives him the hard truth. Just as he’s stating his case, the farm head goes back into his phase as the ‘farm boss’ and orders those around to get to work and pick apples. All including Eva, Tereza and her husband help out.

It’s there where the husband confesses his truths about the marriage and gives Tereza a day to think it over. It’s also through that visit that they learn the Eva knew about Tomas all along and even played step-mother at times. She kept it a secret from Tereza the whole time. The film ends as the two are in pursuit of Tomas and Tereza has made her decision about the marriage.

There are two unique things about this film. The first is that it makes a comedy of what would consider to be a dark situation in people’s lives. One would think the grieving process of a death, a bout with cancer, and learning of a family secret would not combine into a comedy, but it does. It does it very well with a mix of humor and drama. The film however doesn’t stray away from the emotional aspect of the situation and what has happened. Nevertheless the blend of the humorous and the serious works here.

The second thing about the film is that you think the story is about one thing, but it turns out to be about something else in the end. You think that the film would end with the daughter and the mother seeing the son Tomas. However it doesn’t end that way. Instead it’s about hidden truths unraveled. At first it’s made to look like a truth Eva doesn’t want to know, but instead it’s a truth Eva tried to hide from Tereza. Who knew that Eva made a better closer mother to Tomas than Ludwig did? At the same time, it’s about a mother/daughter relationship as the two are slowly healing together as they’re going on this pursuit. The rockiness of Tereza’s marriage is brought to light, but that too is helped by the trip, in a surprising way.

One of the common themes of the film is the topic of death and the nearing of the end of one’s life. It begins after the death of Ludvik. It starts with a focus of how Eva will live without Ludvik. It also focuses on Tereza and her bout with cancer. She thinks it’s fatal while the mother reminds her that her chances of survival are still very good. It deals with family and ex-lovers who have either felt the strains of aging or are themselves in the closing chapter of their lives. It’s a theme which is dealt with in good sensitivity in this film but also blends in humorous elements. It’s a tricky job to do where the fine line can easily be crossed, but Jiri succeeds in doing it.

Jiri Vejdelek directs and co-writes with Iva Jestrabova an excellent story that’s full of real feelings and emotions, but also made comical at the same time. Eliska Balzerova does a very good job of balancing the dramatic with the comedic in her acting. Tatiana Vilhelmova is also very good as the daughter coping with everything around her. However the two show an excellent mother/daughter chemistry that makes this story work. The supporting characters also did their jobs well as their characters came across as believable and very three-dimensional.

Patrimony is a very smart Czech comedy that’s very entertaining. It follows a smooth story line, but it doesn’t end the way most would anticipate it to. Maybe the plot you thought it would be about wasn’t the main plot after all.

VIFF 2018 Shorts Segment: Escape Routes

Cinema

With every VIFF, it’s a goal of mine to see at least one shorts segment. I had the good fortune of seeing a segment as my first VIFF show. The segment titled Escape Routes consisted of six shorts by Canadian directors. Three of them were filmed in BC. All six were intriguing to watch.

The Subject (dir. Patrick Bouchard): We see a body on the table. We see a spike coming out of a foot at first. Then we see it start to be dissected. What’s happening is a whole lot of imagery happens around his body and coming from out of his body. Then when he’s dissected in his upper chest, we see a steel inside.

What’s happening in this film is the animator dissecting his own body. This film is the animator using self-dissection to show what his works are all about. His emotions, his memories, his fears, all go into his work. A couple of religious entendres may be telling how it plays into his fears. Even the artistic patterns that form around his skin give a picture about what the animator is saying about himself and how it plays into his works.

Girl On A Bus (dir. Matthew B. Schmidt): The film begins with people questioning about a girl who disappeared. Then the film shoots to a scene on a bus. A teenage/young adult female is one of the passengers and she’s just relaxing and looking at Instagram photos. The bus takes a break at a gas station along the highway. She uses the outside bathroom and changes her hair, makeup and clothes to something very different and takes social media pictures. The driver can’t recognize her and thinks a passenger is missing. As police are questioning the ‘missing girl,’ she gets interrogated and gives misleading questions. She mentions she’s running away but doesn’t say why. She leaves the interrogation booth. A picture from a child identifies her as the missing, but she walks away when asked.

At first, it seems like a nonsense film. A girl changes her look but is labeled missing? Then you get the sense of what’s happening. She says she’s running away but gives a vague answer why. When told to stay at the booth as the police leave temporarily, she leaves. When asked if the photo of her on a child’s pad is her, she doesn’t answer and walks away. It makes more sense later on. She comes across as a girl who wants to escape from it all. It’s not apparent exactly the reason or reasons why, but it’s obvious she wants to escape from everything. Only on social media would she want to be around people. I can identify because I had those same feelings when I was her age. A very good short story of a film.

Best Friends Read The Same Books (dir. Matthew Taylor Blais): The film consists of no sound at all, but of images of plants, colors, bushes, parks, coasts, and the director reading a book in various places and various seating positions on a bench. The film ends with a set of colors.

I’ll take it for what it is. This is the director trying to film in an abstract sort of way. The images, around various areas of Greater Vancouver, are meant to tell about his surroundings and reading the same book.

Train Hopper (dir. Amelie Hardy): The film begins with a passage of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America. Then cuts into a video of a young man who’s a customer service agent working at his desk with his headset. Later we catch the young man around trains on the train tracks. Then we see him hopping on the trains between the cars and going along for the ride. We even see his self-recorded videos of him during the trips. Within the second-half of the film and video footage, we hear the man talk about his dreams and his imagination and why he takes these trips, which include trips crossing into the United States. The film ends with audio of Ginsberg’s America.

The film begins with a statement that the Beat Generation is not dead. The whole film is a picturesque reminder that even in this day and age, there are still young people who still dare to dream, who dare to still want to live their dream out. This film shows it with this young man who’s a customer service agent by profession, but dreamer by passion. An excellent cinematic portrait.

Acres (dir. Rebeccah Love): The story begins with a young man working on a farm. Later on, his sister, her husband and a former girlfriend of his join for dinner. They talk about him managing his father’s farm after his death, as well as a dispute over use of the land that will require legal attention. The sister and brother-in-law leave for home but the ex-girlfriend decides to stay overnight. Possibly to help him with his situation. She is a photographer by passion. The two were in love while they were in college. This is happening while they’re talking of a way to properly mark the burial site of his father’s ashes. He had ambitions of becoming a businessman, but passions in his life that involved travelling caused him to leave everyone behind, including the family and even her. She tries to get to the bottom of this. Especially since this caused their break-up. Eventually they do rekindle.

The film is a picturesque way of showing a real-life situation. It’s a quiet situation, but one that needs to be discussed and resolved. The filmmaker does it with good storytelling and honest dialogue.

Biidaaban (dir. Amanda Strong): This is the one short that’s fully animated. There’s one young person of Indigenous decent, Biidaaban, and an older Sasquatch shapeshifter Sabe. They live in the same dwelling. They communicate with what you first think is a smartphone, but is actually a mystic rock that creates images and dialogue. Biidaaban seeks to collect sap from maple trees in a neighborhood. Sabe will assist Biidaaban. As they collect the sap, they are suddenly taken over by spirits and enter into a mystical world.

Upon the film’s Q&A, we learn the film is not just about Indigenous legends and myths. It’s also about gender-fluidity as Biidaaban is a gender-fluid youth. From what I remember about the Q & A, the gender-fluidity does tie in with Indigenous culture. The whole film was very dramatic and very mystical. The genre of animation allows the viewer to feel the imagination of the film and capture the mysticism.

All six shorts were very intriguing to watch. Even with one more thrilling than the other, and one not trying to be thrilling at all, all had something to say. Sometimes you wondered if all six fit the term Escape Routes. Some of the subjects or plots in a film or two didn’t look like physical escapes at all. However many of them turned out to be escapes of the mind. Escaping isn’t just about a road to somewhere.

Escape Routes was an excellent selection of six Canadian shorts. Each were different in their own way. All of them had something to say. And all would come off as an escape from something. You had to see it to know it.

VIFF Is Back!

Cinema

Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival is back for 2018. Yesterday began the 37th installment of the Film Festival. This year promises more excitement, more films and more events.

The biggest thing VIFF will have for this year is Creator Talks and Master Classes. Slated lecturers include The Good Place writer Michael Schur, Canadian writer/director Patricia Rozema, production designed Paul Austerberry, director Paris Barclay, rapper RZA and a Showrunners event where they feature nine writers all on one stage. There will be other events too like giving director Jean-Marc Vallee a Tribute Award and a fundraiser event featuring Jane Goodall.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1200 volunteers signing up. Bigger than last year. One thing that’s changed is now volunteers are all owed to do a minimum of four shifts. That’s different from the old minimum of 32 hours. Volunteers and free films are the same situation as last year. As for my volunteering, I will do a wide variety of things like assist with the virtual reality exhibit over at the Centre for Digital Media, do ushering duties at the International Village, or do office work for the Exhibitions team.

This year’s roster of films promises a lot of attractions This year’s VIFF claims to show over 300 shorts and feature films from 84 countries or regions. As of press time, 14 films are official submissions for the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. One thing is that while most films are shown twice or three times during the fest, there will be more films that will get only one showing during the fest. There will even be a fourteen-hour three-film trilogy at the VanCity Theatre. La Flor by director Mariano Llinas will be shown as the three films will be aired consecutive nights. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals.

This year’s top sponsors include Telus, Telefilm Canada, Christie screens, CinePlex, Delta Airlines, Lexus and Creative BC. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards again.

As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:

  • OPENING GALA: The Hummingbird Project. Canadian director Kim Nguyen highlights competitive stock trading in this film starring Salma Hayek and Jesse Eisenberg.
  • CLOSING GALA:  The Front Runner – Jason Reitman delivers a film chronicling the rise and fall of Democratic candidate Gary Hart. Hugh Jackman plays Hart while Sarah Paxton plays ‘other woman’ Donna Rice.
  • Boy Erased – Rising star Lucas Hedges stars in this film about a young gay male forced into conversion therapy by his heavily-religious family.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Melissa McCarthy stars in this biographical film of Lee Israel: one of the biggest literary fraudsters of modern time.
  • Cold War – A Polish film about a showbiz couple who try to love and perform just shortly after the end of World War II. Director Pawel Pawlikowski won Best Director at this year’s Cannes festival.
  • Collette – Keira Knightley stars in this film of revolutionary French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette. Her relationship with her husband comes into play.
  • Everybody Knows – Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who’s won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar twice, directs Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in a story about mistrust and deceit.
  • The Favorite– Yorgos Lanthimos, whose most famous work is The Lobster, returns with Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz starring in this comedy on who can win the most praise from the queen.
  • The Grizzlies – The story of a teacher who tries to start pride in a Nunavut town by building up a local lacrosse team.
  • The Happy Prince– British actor Rupert Everett writes, directs and acts in this film of the last years of Oscar Wilde.
  • Non-Fiction – Olivier Assayas tells a humorous story of the marriage of an actress, played by Juliette Binoche, and her publisher husband who’s fearing the ‘death of print.’
  • The Old Man And The Gun – David Lowery directs what is believed to be Robert Redford’s last film as an actor as bank-robber Forrest Tucker.
  • A Private War –  Rosamund Pike stars in this biographical film of war correspondent Marie Colvin.
  • Shadow – Chinese film from Zhang Yimou directs a kung fu romance that promises to be an unforgettable story.
  • Sharkwater Extinction – Rob Stewart directed 2006 documentary Sharkwater highlighting how important sharks are to the ecosystem. This sequel shows the threats sharks face in today’s world.

So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 27th and it all ends October 12th. Definitely lots to enjoy

VIFF 2017 Wraps Up

Cinema

This year, I’m late again in wrapping up my experience at the VIFF. Actually I’m way earlier than last year. This time, I publish my wrap-up just three weeks after it ended.

The 2017 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 12th. Crowds came again and again. There was a lot to offer with over 300 films from 69 countries. There were 19 films that are official entries for the Academy Awards category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year. Eleven films made their World Premiere at the Festival, nine their International Premiere, 37 their North American and 46 their Canadian Premiere.

The VIFF again offered Hub events and special lectures on film making topics from various professionals in its many fields. There was the Buffer Festival dedicated to the topic of online film making which included lectures on such filmmaking and even a Q&A featuring a lot of top Canadian YouTube personalities.

The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by the Harold Greenberg Fund, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: Luk’l Luk’l (dir. Wayne Wapeemukwa)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA & William F. White
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Canadian Film Awards

Narrative Features

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Black Cop (dir. Cory Bowles)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Documentary Features

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Unarmed Verses (dir. Charles Office)

Short Film Awards
Best BC Short Film
Presented by CreativeBC
WINNER: Rupture (dir. Yassmina Karajah)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Lexus
WINNER: Shadow Nettes (dir. Phillip Barker)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: The Crying Conch (dir. Vincent Coi)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: BLUE (dir. Karina Holden)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Indian Horse (dir. Stephen Campanelli)

VIFF Most Popular International Feature
WINNER: Loving Vincent – Poland & UK (dirs. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Faces Places – France (dir. Agnes Varda Jr.)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary
WINNER: Shut Up And Say Something (dir. Melanie Wood)

#mustseebc Presented by Storyhive
WINNER: Shut Up And Say Something (dir. Melanie Wood)

As for my volunteer experience, this was a unique experience in doing driving for the VIFF for a change. It wasn’t all about driving VIPs or those involved in film. There was one Friday just days before the VIFF where we had to bring two cars, an SUV, a moving van and a hauling truck from a Langley rental agency over to the VIFF theatre. It was crazy because this was my first time learning on how to drive an automatic car. All my life, I’ve started cars by turning the key. This was completely different and even had me freaked out. Nevertheless things got easier over time.

Our shifts were mostly simple. We’d wait at the Sutton Hotel to find out who we’d be picking up and from where. My first day was a Tuesday and it was confusing as I was getting used to driving the downtown Vancouver streets for the first time. Believe me, Burrard St. has very limited left-turn options and it was annoying. The second trip on my first day driving was crazier as we had to drop some people off at the back entrance of a hotel. The entrance is located at a ramp to a parkade and there was a car being us trying to enter the parkade as I was dropping the people off. vacating the hotel was a headache. The days after were easier as I mostly had to pick people up either at the Sutton Hotel or at the theatres and drive them to the airport. There were even a couple of times I had to pick people up from the airport and bring them to the Sutton Hotel. One of which I was transporting an orchestra’s musical instruments in the moving van. That was definitely interesting. On closing Friday, I was with five people who had to bring five of the ten vans back to the auto dealer’s headquarters. I thought I knew my way, but Surrey’s highway system is extremely confusing and I got lost. I did make it there, half an hour late.

As for films, I feel I saw a good variety of film. I saw thirteen feature-length films and at least one shorts segment. I was lucky to see at least three Canadian features. I saw a lot of foreign films. I saw two films that were official Oscar entries for the Best Foreign Language Feature category. I even saw an African film for the first time. I saw at least three Altered States films that were either bizarre or ridiculous. The biggest standout for this year’s films I saw had to be experimental films. I saw three such films: two Canadian. One was good while the two others came off as either a failed experiment or just something ridiculous. That’s one thing about experimental films. You have to welcome them first and then make your own judgement after.

For the end of the VIFF, there was a volunteer party held the Saturday after closing. Volunteers were treated to films shown at this year’s VIFF. Three of the best. After that, they were treated to a Mexican buffet and to karaoke singing. It was fun and I even sang three numbers. I always sing at least one Elvis number at a karaoke party!

So there you go. The 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival ended very well and it was another good year of films and volunteering for me. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 27th to October 11th, 2018 and should offer a lot, if not more. I may end up being an usher or I may end up driving again next year. I’ll see what they have to offer me. In the meantime, see you next year!

VIFF 2017 Review: Housewife

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Clementine Poidarz (left) submits herself to a ‘master of the mind’ (played by David Sakurai) in Housewife.

It’s my tradition to end the VIFF by seeing the very last film they show. It’s always on the final day and at the Rio Theatre at 11pm. This year, it’s Housewife: a horror-thriller from Turkey in English. It wasn’t just the last showing at the VIFF, but its only showing at the Festival and a Canadian Premiere too.

The film begins on a snowy day 20 years ago. Seven year-old Holly lives a quiet life with her family until one day, her sister menstruates. Her mother reacts chaotically as if it’s a curse and kills both her sister and her father. Flash forward twenty years later. Holly is married, but the memories still haunt her from that horrific night. Her husband wants to start a family, but she pops birth control pills without him knowing.

One day, a childhood friend meets up with Holly again. They reconnect after all these years. The friend even invites Holly to an event her and her husband will be attending called ‘Umbrella Of Love And Mind.’ Holly comes to the event with her husband. The two couples are having a nice time together. Then the event starts. The event gives an impression it’s like a bizarre cult. The audience is introduced to a charismatic mastermind by the name of Bruce O’Hara. Bruce picks Holly right out of the audience as the first person he ‘demonstrates’ on. He’s able to get her mind to travel to another level and even into her fears. Holly and the crowd are impressed, but her husband is unhappy and mistrusting.

Holly carries on with life after the event, but the memories are now mixed with bizarre visions of murder. Holly goes back to Bruce for help. He continues to put her under his mind control. Meanwhile the husband is getting upset. He feels this is all a hoax. Finally Holly goes back one last time. The dreams are now of Bruce committing murder on Holly, ripping off her face and even wearing it! The movie ends on a bizarre, if not ridiculous, note that makes the film look like it’s incomplete or missing a lot of stuff to make sense.

The thing about the film is that it attempts to create the intrigue of a thriller it should create, but later comes across as confusing and even clumsy at the end. The opening looks promising as the opening scene shows some elements of Carrie in it. Actually even before you go to see the film, you’d get a sense that this would be a horror film, or something close to it. The master-of-the-mind who comes off like a cult leader is where you first start thinking if this will help the story or make it look ridiculous. Especially when he comes dancing onto the stage with ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’ playing in the background. It’s as the story moves into the second half that it starts treading into areas that are either confusing or ridiculous. The film even ends on a bizarrely ridiculous note that gets you wondering what the point of this story is.

It even gets you wondering what is director Can Evrenol trying to do as far as it being a thriller movie? Is he tapping into common thriller elements? Is he trying to create new thriller elements for the cinema? What is he trying to do? I left thinking he didn’t accomplish too much in the 80 minutes of the film, except add a lot of bizarre gore that makes you wonder what its point is. Maybe if he and co-writer Cem Ozuduru gave the film more time and better script, we’d get a better understanding of it, possibly even a decent understanding of it.

The acting was not the best. This is Can’s first English-language feature and he hires either Turkish or European actors for the roles. You can notice the accents. Lead protagonist Clementine Poidarz did well with her role, despite noticeable imperfections. David Sakurai looks awkward and even wooden in his role as Bruce O’Hara and even looks like he isn’t fully in character at times.

Housewife is Can Evrenol’s first attempt at an English-language feature and his first feature-length horror film. It’s not much of an accomplishment since its imperfections are very noticeable.

And there you have it! This is the fourteenth and last review of all the films I saw at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival. Quite the experience. My wrap-up is coming soon.

VIFF 2017 Review: Animals (Tiere)

Animals

Birgit Minichmayr (right) is caught between a troubled marriage and disturbing images in Animals.

The Altered States series at the VIFF provide for a lot of films that cross into the genres and subject of horror, paranormal and the supernatural. Animals is a Swiss film that taps into the supernatural with mysterious results.

The film begins with a suicide outside an apartment building in Austria. A young woman falls to her death. Soon after, a couple by the name of Nick and Anna are to leave on a long trip in the Swiss Alps. Nick rents his suite out during the trip. The taker is a woman named Mischa, who looks very similar to the woman from the floor above.

The two then go on their vacation. Nick is a celebrity chef and Anna is a children’s book author. You can tell the marriage has been going through a lot of difficulties. Some things, like how Nick doesn’t want to have children, are said, but some aren’t. Then all of a sudden, Nick accidentally hits a sheep on the road. The collision kills the sheep and damages the car, but the two aren’t hurt seriously. Later that night, Nick receives the dead sheep wrapped up.

Back at the apartment, a man comes knocking to win back the love of Andrea. He keeps insisting in tears that he wants her back terribly and that his life is nothing without her, but Mischa keeps insisting: “I don’t know you.”

Nick and Anna try to go on with their lives and their marriage after the collision. However Anna is very suspicious of infidelity. Especially after she sees Nick get too friendly with a waitress by the name of Andrea. An attack by a robber on Anna from their car late at night seems to reconfirm Nick’s love to Anna. However Anna had a dream days earlier that Nick was the one who pulled her out, which is why she’s uncomfortable. Nick keeps notes of recipes that he is to use for some of his shows, but Anna is suspicious. Anna gets what she suspects; there is another woman in Nick’s life. When she tells him the news, it appears that Nick hears something completely different. It’s like he’s deaf and in another world.

Back at the apartment, Mischa is in love with another man. Two men are outside her apartment how they were both loved and neglected by her. Days pass and Nick comes across a news article about a ‘horrific sheep collision’ on a country road. The picture of the incident shows Nick looking distraught with a woman being carried away in an ambulance. Nick is shocked. That can’t be since they both survived the incident. They next day, another collision with a sheep happens. This time Anna is taken away in an ambulance. The film ends with a surprise, albeit too rushed.

The film focuses on a wide variety of common themes in a thriller. It focuses on the supernatural, a case of image versus reality, the power of dreams, and even the foretelling of the future. Nick and Anna are living out a slow but intense personal drama in their lives. However things intertwine right after they rent the house to Mischa. There are images of the future, not all pleasant. There is a barrier of communication, or Nick could be in another world of his own. There is a housesitter who either looks like a person who used to live at the apartment or is the same person with a completely different identity. Plus there are the animals that appear to tell something about what will happen in the future. There’s the sheep on the road, the birds that hit the house, and the cat that talks in French. The film can often be seen as including many thriller elements Alfred Hitchcock included in his films. It’s not just the birds reminding one of The Birds. It’s even the feel of the unknown, the mysterious and even the feel of being chased down that adds to the Hitchcock feel in this film.

The problem with this thriller is that it sometimes moves too slowly. The film has a lot of moments that create suspense, but it drags on in a pace that can be too slow for a thriller of such. I can understand why directors would want to slow scenes down for the sake of creating the intensity of the moment, but it appeared to take too long. The film creates intrigue, but it doesn’t keep its feel of the thriller consistent. It also seems like Swiss-born Polish director Greg Zglinski is trying to pack too many elements into the film. It’s impressive that it uses a lot of common thriller elements like the supernatural, the power of dreams, and the future happening in the moment, but it gives a sense that something’s missing. On top of it, Zglinski and co-writer Jorg Kalt appear that they don’t have the story stitched together properly. It’s a film that like a puzzle set that needs to be pieced together, but it doesn’t feel like it’s pieced together well. Even the ending that shows two completely different emotions on Nick gets one wondering.

The film’s actors are the highlight of the film. Birgit Minichmayr does a very good job of playing the wife caught between a fading marriage and this mystery happening before her eyes. Philipp Hochmayr is not given very much range in his role, but he does a good job in what he is given. Mona Petri also does a good job with her multi-personality role as Mischa/Andrea. In addition, the music by Bartosz Chajdecki adds to the drama of the film when it’s there.

Animals is a thriller that shows a lot of potential at first, but comes off as slow, not all together and even incomplete at the end.

VIFF 2017 Review: Indian Horse

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Indian Horse follows the life of Saul Indian Horse (played here by Ajuawak Kapashesit) and his struggle with himself and his Indigenous heritage.

I was lucky to see a lot of Canadian film this year at the VIFF. The last Canadian film I saw was Indian Horse. It touches on a dark moment of Canada’s history, but it also gives a ray of hope.

The story begins with Saul Indian Horse in a rehab clinic for alcoholism. He is around other First Nations people who tell of their experiences being raised in a Residential School. It’s there where Saul needs to make sense of his past.

His first memories come back to 1958: before he was taken to the School. He had a grandmother who spoke in her Ojibway language and still practiced Indigenous spirituality. Her daughter, Saul’s mother, was raised in the School. It changed her terribly. She called the mother’s religion blasphemy and would only speak English. The grandmother would be undaunted and would comment on how she was drinking the ‘white man’s drink.’ Their first son, Saul’s older brother, was to be home from the School temporarily, but was terribly sick. Eventually the brother died. Saul never saw his parents again.

It was just Saul and his grandmother shortly after. The grandmother took Saul to a remote location to try to hide Saul from being taken by authorities to the School, but she died. The authorities did find Saul and took him to the School. The first day was terrible. Saul was joined by a boy named Lonnie who spoke nothing but Ojibway. They were told how they would be made to speak English, revoke their ‘pagan Indian religion’ and not act like ‘savages.’ It all started with the cut of Saul’s ponytail.

The School was where the First Nations children were ‘schooled’ and ‘raised.’ They weren’t taught much in school as far as education went, but they were taught a lot of the Catholic religion. As far as ‘raising’ the children, the priests and nuns ‘raised’ them through abuse and humiliation, even keeping them captive in the basement cage at times. Saul witnesses it all and is even victim to the abuse. He witnesses Lonnie constantly beaten for speaking Ojibway, Lonnie’s failed escape and being held captive for punishment, one girl held captive for behavior and even dying in the cage, and her sister later committing suicide.

Saul did find a way out of the horror. There was one priest, Father Gaston, who appeared to be less strict than the others. He introduced the boys of the school to the sport of hockey. The school had a hockey team and the boys were allowed to watch Hockey Night In Canada. Saul wanted to play but he was too small at first. Fr. Gaston allowed him to tend the uniforms and clean the ice. That time allowed Saul to learn skating for himself and to learn hockey…using frozen horse turds as pucks. Fr. Gaston is astounded by Saul, but the head priest is reluctant to let Saul on the team. After a year, Saul is allowed on. It was a smart decision as the team came the surprise winner at many games with Saul outpowering and outplaying players way bigger than him.

Saul improves so much over the years in hockey, he’s allowed to leave the school early to play for a team on a nearby reserve. Before he leaves, he promises Lonnie he’ll see him again. He’s given a rooming home by an Indigenous couple who are empathetic to what he went through. He even blends well with his new team: The Moose. The Moose are not just a team that plays well, but a team with a brotherly bond. Whenever they win, they celebrate together no matter who the big star is. When they go to a bar to drink, they stand their ground against any bigoted white men why try to fight them.

Years later, Saul is offered a big opportunity to play with a team from a big city, and play professionally for money. The coach, Jack Lanahan, makes an offer in from of Saul’s teammates. Saul refuses at first, but his teammates encourage him to go for it. Saul accepts. Saul is the only member of the team that isn’t white and the team makes him feel like a misfit. On the ice, things aren’t any less discomforting. The crowds taunt him and whenever he scores a goal, they throw Indian figures on the ice. The media isn’t any kinder as a drawing depicts him as a warrior and even the journalist writes him as a warrior. Saul can’t take it anymore and he quits the team, and hockey as a whole. Years later, Saul is doing menial jobs like dishwashing for a restaurant. As he walks the streets of the town, he sees so many First Nations people with drinking problems. Then one day he notices Lonnie on the street with a bottle in his hand. That leads to Saul dealing with his own bout of alcoholism.

It’s 1989. Saul was hospitalized with liver problems. The doctor tells him any more drinking, and he will die soon. Saul check into a rehab centre specifically for First Nations people. There he hears many residential school stories similar to what he endured or what he saw happen to others. One of the counselors ask him if he ever cried. He never has; Saul has always made himself stoic in emotions. He’s asked to go retrace his past. Saul goes back to all the places he knew. First place he returns to is the residential school. It’s no longer running and is now just a shabby building. As he tours the place, he’s reminded of the memories of the ice rink where he learned to play, of the basement where students were locked up, and even the stairway where we learn Fr. Gaston used to perform ‘abuse’ on him. Saul returns to the land in the woods where he lived as a child before being sent to the school. It’s there Saul cries for the first time. It’s also there where he experiences a reconnection with his family and his indigenous heritage. This time he feels the pride. Then he returns to the reserve and is welcomed by his foster parents and The Moose with open arms.

This film is remarkable because it touches on a subject that remains the darkest blemish in Canadian history. The residential school system was set up with contempt in indigenous culture. The white English-French Canadians who ran Canada over a century ago always saw indigenous culture as ‘pagan,’ ‘wicked’ or ‘demonic.’ They felt they were doing the right thing by ‘whitewashing’ the indigenous people. Instead they created a huge mess that was very hurtful to the indigenous people. I attended high school in downtown Winnipeg and I saw firsthand the social problems the indigenous people endured from the late 80’s onward like alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, teenage pregnancies, gang violence and suicides. One scene that stuck out for me was when the white authorities were taking Saul away to the schools as his grandmother lay dead beside him. They only cared about taking Saul: they didn’t care about the recently-deceased grandmother at all. What does that tell you?

It’s only until revelations of abuse at the schools, both physical and sexual, surfaced in the 90’s after the system was dismantled that we finally got our answers why the indigenous had all these problems. It’s only now since the beginning of the 21st century that efforts have been made to reconcile and to clean up this mess. The stories experienced by the children that were put in the schools were echoed in the 2012 novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. The novel has earned huge renown and even won awards since its release. The story of Saul is a story commonly echoed by many indigenous people that were ‘prey’ to this system.

Now adapting Wagamese’s novel into a film would prove to be a challenge. This was a story that needed to be told, no matter how painful the details. However the goal was not just to simply create a film, but create it in a ‘movie’ format so it can be viewed by a wider audience. Direction ended up in the hands of Stephen Campanelli who actually has a reputation in Hollywood as a cameraman, mostly for Clint Eastwood’s films. Campanelli has become Clint’s most trusted ‘camera eye’ since The Bridges Of Madison County. Scriptwriting was given to reputed Canadian scriptwriter Dennis Foon, but not without consultation with Wagamese himself.

The film had to include a lot of important elements of what happened both in the lives of the protagonist and what the indigenous peoples endured over the decades. However if this was to be a movie, the film had to be made into something watchable. The days back in the 90’s when we used to admire directors like Harmony Korine and Lars von Trier who’d take the unwatchable and shoved it in people’s faces are long gone. Making it ‘watchable’ would be a huge challenge. The subject of child abuse is never easy to write about. Seeing images of bigotry toward the indigenous children makes it additionally harder to watch. I don’t deny that anyone who went through the system will say that the depictions of abuse were ‘light’ in comparison to their experiences. However they were very good in telling exactly what they went through. The priests and nuns insulted them, humiliated them and even tortured them whenever they did wrong or didn’t live up to their standards. I may be Catholic, but I felt a lot of wrath towards the priests and nuns who taught at the schools when I was watching. I even thought: “They’re in hell now!” However the film also pointed to their mindset too. The film gave the impression that the priests felt the using abuse to teach and punish was the right thing to use not just on the indigenous, but in raising children as a whole. We shouldn’t forget there were people back in the 50’s that thought using abuse to raise children and punish them was the right thing.

Another element the film had to include was the common prejudices indigenous people received which helped lead to their lifelong identity crisis. The image of indigenous people has always had a difficult time. I don’t want to get started about all those ‘cowboys and indians’ movies of decades past. Imagine an indigenous child watching one of those. How’s he supposed to feel about his identity? The film does a good job in showing the identity crisis the indigenous continued to face just after Saul leaves the school. They would face prejudice whenever they’d go into a bar or any other place mostly filled with white people. Whenever an indigenous would make news of an accomplishment, they would be subject to journalism depicting them as a ‘warrior.’ That scene of Saul reading over that news story is something very common. There are a lot of white people who think that depicting the indigenous as ‘warriors’ through sports names like Redskins or Tomahawks are doing the right thing. Instead it only adds to their inferiority complex.

I think the purpose of the film is to show Saul’s experience as an indigenous person from childhood to adulthood as difficulties shared by most indigenous people in Canada. Throughout the film, I was thinking that this film is not based on a true story. It’s based on a thousand true stories. I’m sure there are many indigenous people who will see the abuse or bigotry or feelings of inferiority happening to Saul and the people around him and feel that this is their story too. This is a mirror of what happened in their lives too.

However going back to how this film was to be in a ‘movie’ format, it still needed to be watchable. There were certain harsh truths that could not be hidden from the movie, but the story is about finding a way out of the harshness and even finding a feeling of belonging after it all. The story of hockey makes for excitement and gets you cheering for Saul. Those in the audience who never read the novel want Saul to come out the winner. Even after we see all that Saul has been through, we want Saul to come out triumphant after all the ordeals he had been through in his life. The ending is the highlight because the end scene of Saul’s recovery and coming to terms with his past shows a ray of hope. All of Canada has seen the harm the system has done to the indigenous people. Even the indigenous peoples of Canada themselves don’t want to hurt anymore. They want to live their lives and be seen as people deserving of respect. The end scene may be a bit simple and may be seen as ‘sugar coated’ by some, or even a ‘prodigal son’ moment by a few, but it’s also part of the theme of hope. That scene where Saul returns to his foster parents and the Moose greeting him is a reminder of those that will never leave you no matter what. There are people that will find you when you’re lost.

Director Stephen Campanelli and writer Dennis Foon did a very good job of bringing the novel to the big screen in movie format. There were some noticeable imperfections and even a thing or two that could have been done better, but that doesn’t stop this for being an accomplishment for Canadian cinema. As for author Wagamese, unfortunately Wagamese died on March 10th of this year at the age of 61. It’s unfortunate Wagamese didn’t live to see its debut at the TIFF. Many in the indigenous communities say he’s still here in spirit.

The actors did a very good job in their roles. All the actors who played Saul did very well, but the standout had to be Sladen Peltier who played Saul at 9. He never acted before, but he was excellent. Forrest Goodluck was also very good too. The 19 year-old from Albuquerque has professional experience already through roles like Hawk in The Revenant and has two films to be released soon. Even newcomers like Ajuawak Kapashesit and Bo Peltier were impressive. The film shows a lot of good young indigenous talent in Canada that have a promising future. The music was a good mix of original score by Jesse Zubot and modern-day indigenous music or indigenous pop.

I know I’ve often said about Canadian film that there’s two groups: Quebec and English Canada. I’ve often elaborated how Quebec is the class of the field while English Canada is struggling with its identity in film. This is a film that I feel can change that. This is a very professionally-done film about a story that creates a lot of intrigue and gets one hoping for the protagonist. Oh, remember I said that Campanelli was a cameraman on many of Clint Eastwood’s films? Well, Eastwood himself is an executive producer of this film! This film was a big hit at the TIFF and won the Audience Award at the VIFF. I heard during a Q&A that this film will have an American release in April. That could open more doors for Canadian film in the future.

Indian Horse attempts to do something tricky in film making: attempt to make a ‘movie’ out of a hard subject in Canadian history. It succeeds in doing so, albeit imperfectly, and even serves as a ray of hope for the future.

VIFF 2017 Review: The Party

The Party

Patricia Clarkson (left) and Kristin Scott Thomas face the chaos at what is supposed to be a celebration in The Party.

Can you imagine a party where everything that could go wrong does? The British comedy The Party is a film that shows exactly that!

The film begins with Janet waiting for her party to begin. She just won a seat in parliament. The party is expected to be a private one with her husband Bill, best friend April and her husband Gottfried, close couple Martha and Jinny and her son Tom. Bill is frail and not in the most pleasant of moods. April has a very blunt mouth and isn’t afraid to say what she believes to be true, no matter how spiteful. Gottfried appears not to be with his wits. Tom is trying to keep his cocaine habit a secret. The couple of Martha and Jinny appear to be the only guests who have it together. Of course, they’re happy as they’re expecting triplets.

The party is supposed to go smooth, but April appears to be saying something to start a spat anytime soon. Gottfried is always embarrassing April. Tom’s frustrations about his marriage are becoming obvious. Nevertheless Janet is toasted by all.

Then the chaos begins. Janet first receives a text from a man wanting her back in her life, to which she declines. Bill announces he’s dying to all. Janet is broken, but he’s vague on what his condition is.  Only Gottfried appears to believe him and is willing to help him. Then unfaithfulness has been revealed about both Martha and Jinny and it threatens not just their relationship, but the birth of their children. Then Bill admits to Janet, he’s been seeing another woman. Janet is infuriated. Only Gottfried stands by his side. Tom does more coke and contemplates hosting himself, but later throws the gun in the garbage. Janet is upset by the whole thing with no one but April to give her words of comfort. However Janet soon finds Tom’s gun in the garbage. Then Bill reveals to Tom the ‘other woman’ is his wife. Tom responds by punching Bill. Bill appears dead on the floor and is being resuscitated. Martha and Jinny try to look like the happy couple they were. Then Janet goes to the door after hearing the doorbell. It’s the other man. To which, she points the gun at him: “You said you loved me. You liar!”

At first, I thought The Party would be a political film. I was tempted to think that at first glance. Instead it became the perfect location for a single-location film. It does a very good job in packing in just about anything and everything that can destroy all seven involved in the story. One thing does lead to another and the results are crazy. However a story like this about a party where everything goes wrong for everybody has to have situations that don’t come across as ridiculous. You have enough slapstick movies doing that.

To make a party where everything goes wrong, but still look intelligent takes a lot of effort in writing. It succeeds in doing that. The characters in which the actors adapt had to make the comedic situations work. The situations looked quite believable, despite the banality of all of them happening at once. Even the most bizarre situations didn’t come across as looking stupid. This is one of the best over-the-top comedies I’ve seen in a long time. The over-the-top elements aren’t even physical or slapstick; it’s all about the story and characters. Even filming this comedy in black and white added to the film.

The biggest accolades in making this bizarre story work goes to writer/director Sally Potter. This story packs in a lot of comedic punch that appears to work every time and does not cross over the line into stupidity and ridiculous. It takes a lot of effort to create something like that and make it work, and Potter made it work. Everyone who saw it the same time I saw it was laughing a lot. It’s hard to pick who the biggest performer was. Kristin Scott Thomas was definitely the protagonist, but Patricia Clarkson was able to steal the show with whatever she said each time. Bruno Ganz and Timothy Spall owned their moments by playing their characters well. Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer also grabbed their moments, and Cillian Murphy knew how to come out of nowhere to get his moments too. Basically it’s not on the strength of a single actor, but of all seven in the ensemble. They all made this comedy work with whatever they did or said.

The Party is 71 minutes of tragicomedy energy of the best kind. It’s a reminder of how writing rather than cheap one-liners is what works best in comedy. I guarantee you will be laughing.