Tag Archives: Canada

VIFF 2020 Review: The Curse Of Willow Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2020 Shorts Segment: Programme 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2020 Review: Reel Youth Film Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2020 Review: Inconvenient Indian

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

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

-Thomas King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life During COVID-19: One Month Later

Physical Distancing

Until the number of new cases drops considerably, physical distancing is the new norm.

COVID-19 still affects our daily lives. However some may not have the same effects they had like say just a month ago. Some things are starting to open up more, but some still remain closed. Even those that have opened up have set restrictions and limits. I will highlight in this blog how much has changed since my first COVID-19 blog.

Reopenings, But With Restrictions

I don’t know how soon we’ll ever get back to normal; the ‘normal’ we had before this pandemic hit. One thing I know is it won’t be anytime soon. Keep in mind that reopening of indoor things and places will be done in phases. I’m sure phases will be based on the maximum capacity allowable with the given square-footage. Statistics of new COVID infections and active infections will also play a factor geographically.

Restaurants are starting to open up more. Even during the worst of the pandemic, restaurants that could offer delivery service still functioned. There were even two walk-in places — a local fast-food place and a Domino’s Pizza outlet — that were open for people to walk in and order. Both times I placed my order, I was told to stand outside to wait for my food to be ready. I didn’t mind because this is a pandemic. However lately restaurants have started to allow people to dine at, if not dine in. When I mean ‘dine at,’ I mean the patio areas of restaurants are set up and open for customers to dine. Outdoors has a way-lower rate of contagion. The restaurants that could allow dining inside had to have a big capacity and I’m sure they had to limit the number of dine-in patrons.

Most stores that were open from mid-March to the end of May did so with the number of people in at one time. However there were some popular stores in Canada that were closed completely during Phase One of the pandemic like Best Buy, Winners and Ikea. Winners reopened, but there was a maximum number of people allowed for a long time. I remember on the day of reopening, I had to stand in a lengthy line and it took fifteen minutes. The maximum allowable was 75 at once.

Ikea Lineup

I had to wait 30 minutes in line to get into an Ikea.

When Ikea reopened at the beginning of June, it came at the right time as I was planning to put up new curtains. I went on a Sunday 14 days after it reopened to purchase a curtain rod. When I arrived at 4pm, there were gates to mark the line-up where people could stand in line and where to be separate. It wasn’t just on one side. They had that line-up but the opposite side too. That was annoying since the line I was in was lengthy enough. Funny thing is there’s a third line-up area if the line-up gets even longer! Anyways theirs was a situation where there was a maximum and they could only let in ten at a time just after ten were seen exiting. That left me waiting in line for around thirty minutes! Also don’t ask about the returns line-up. I had to wait an hour to return something small!

Medical offices started to reopen at the beginning of June. The only medical office I could enter during the big closings was the blood clinic for donation. Even then, they had to limit the number of donors at once and it was strictly by appointment. Booking appointments were hard as availability could be anywhere from one day three weeks from now to the other option which would be two weeks later. Once I was able to donate, they still had to take my temperature from a distance and have me wear a face mask.

At least they allowed me in. When I had a really painful ordeal with gout in May, I didn’t walk to the drop-in clinic 300m away. I limped there! Only to learn the doors are locked and can only take over the phone. Even when I called, they still had to book an appointment with the drop-in doctor for me and they had to call me at that time. That’s the way it was with a lot of doctors’ offices during Phase One of the pandemic. It had to be either strictly phone appointments or they had to use their smartphone to send images or videotapes of the problem. Mine was strictly a phone call with the doctor. She did forward the prescription to the pharmacy. You can imagine my relief once I got the pills!

They may be a day late and strictly phone only, but it was way timelier than my dental ordeal. My tooth broke in the middle of May. I called up the emergency line and left a message. The dentist then called back and said they can’t work on it until the dental offices open up again. They didn’t open until June 1st. The problem was annoying because the tooth would scrape against my tongue. It was that annoying. You can imagine how relieved I was for my appointment. But even then, I was warned that there was the chance of catching COVID. I had four questions to answer before I could be done. All had to be the No answer. I also had to get my temperature checked from a distance. Then I could get my tooth done.

Reopening With Regulations

Church questionairre

To be among the maximum 50 to attend service at my church, you need to let the priest know and answer a questionnaire before you can enter.

Some places have reopened with set limits. Firstly churches are limited in terms of capacity. My own church has two services on Sunday. Anyone who wants to attend has to let the priest know by the day before because there is a maximum of 50 people allowed in the church building and parking lot at one time. Even after you let them know and he says it’s good to come in, there’s still four yes/no questions to answer about your health. Only if you answer no to all four are you fine to enter the church for mass. For those that can’t attend mass, they can view it on the Facebook page or the YouTube channel just like we all did at the start of the pandemic. In addition, the summer used to be a case where there would be a single mass in both languages. Possibly because of the pandemic and to keep as many people from being left out, the two separate masses in English and Ukrainian will continue.

COVID hair

My COVID hair: four months in the making!

Secondly, it’s not just churches that are reopening with regulations. Barbershops and hair salons reopened at the start of June too. Yeah, we’ve all heard the term ‘COVID hair’ or ‘Corona hair.’ That’s what happens when the hair salons all close. You either have one of your family members cut your hair (One you can trust, I hope!) or you wait. I waited and boy was my hair long and hard to control. After the long wait, I finally got my hair cut in the second Friday of June.

The barbershop I often go to reopened. A lot changed. The barber wears a face mask, clients have to wear a face mask too, and he has to clean and sanitize the seats after every person he works on. On top of it, the price is raised an extra $5 to deal with the new methods of sanitizing.

Barber

To get my hair cut, my barber demands you wear a face mask, like most hair salons demand now.

I have no problem with paying the extra money. I was sensing there would be something like this. The news weeks earlier talked about reopening but charging a ‘COVID tax.’

Libraries closed during the pandemic. I remember well because I was to attend an info session on cryptocurrency in the middle of March. The session was cancelled because the library had to close. Any books to be taken out or viewed had to be online books. Libraries reopened during the last week of May, but it was limited to book pick-up at the entrance. I went to pay an overdue fine but they are not taking it right now. I’m sure even if the library building does open to the public again, there will be a limit on the number of people who can enter and it will be months before the internet computers for public use will be allowed to be used again.

Open But Still Closed Enough

White Rock beach

On my last visit to White Rock beach, not as many people on the beach in many areas.

Over time, playgrounds would slowly start to open up for children to play. Swings, spinning wheels and slides are now back and active again. Many natural tourist attractions and natural parks have been reopened. However there are still some closures. I noticed when I went to White Rock a month ago. White Rock is known for having a long beach and many walk-in food huts mostly for ice cream and fish and ships. It also has a lot of dine-in restaurants. At that time, most dine-in places weren’t open. I don’t think many could allow for dining in with that little of space. The small huts for ice cream and fish and chips were good, but there had to be distances in the line-ups. I was able to get an ice cream. For parking, half of the lots were closed off. For beach access, most of the walk-on access was gated and there were limited ways to enter for most of the beach. Also the White Rock Pier was completely closed off due to the pandemic. It’s a narrow pier of eight feet of distance so you can understand.

White Rock Pier

The White Rock Pier is closed off because of the pandemic.

You remember how in my original COVID blog I talked about cancellations of events? That’s the same thing with July 1st which is Canada Day. Usually there would be parties and picnics and fireworks blown off. This was not the case this year. Instead there were ‘virtual’ Canada Day events for people to do online. There were fireworks shows but they all had to be livestreamed. If there were any fireworks shows for us to visit, they would have to be private. Also any Canada Day picnics would have to be private get-togethers. What can I say? When a pandemic happens, that’s all you can do.

My Own Daily Life

As many of you know, I was put on a leave of absence from my job back in April. It will end this Monday. That makes it a good three months in which I’ve been away from my job. During the time, I’ve kept in contact with my supervisor from my job. She likes to keep in touch. We had two socially-distant get-togethers. I had occasional get-togethers with my cousin. We had to be distant each time. I also had coffee with another cousin. Each time we all had to sit eight feet away. Getting together is possible as long as you’re distant.

A lot of places I like to go to, like libraries and dine-in restaurants, have mostly been closed or delivery only. I only dined out at one place: on Canada Day. Even with dining allowed in the patio, there were chair placements and table separations due to COVID restrictions including the maximum of two at a table. There were also restrictions in the indoor dining room. Whenever I go shopping or for any other errand, I still wear my gloves. Wearing a mask depends on the situation. If it’s a crowded place or there’s a noticeably big amount of people, of course I’ll put it on.

Buses started resuming regular service on June 1st and back to fare paid. I remember going on a bus trip from Surrey to White Rock. It wasn’t packed to standing room only, but all the seats filled up. This was one of those cases I’d put on my face mask. Especially since there was a shady-looking man who sat near me and made a phone call about drugs. I was hoping he’d get off the bus soon. I did get off five minutes after he did. Nevertheless, it becomes nervous when a person with a shady personality is close to you. I’ve seen some shady types who appear like they don’t care if there’s a pandemic or not.

Looking Ahead

Re-openings and lifting of restrictions happen in phases, and the phases are reliant on statistics. I’m sure no matter where you are in the world you are, the COVID-related restrictions that have happened relate to the deceleration of the frequency of new COVID cases and decline of active cases and will continue to do so as numbers change. There are some places where because of the numbers not being reduced, COVID restrictions remain unchanged. There are even some places like Brazil that have just recently experienced their own COVID ordeal.

Canada is lucky that the numbers of new COVID cases are declining. We did have some increases over the past week, but they are not as big as the new-case statistics of April and May. There were provinces that were hit hard and still have an impact. In BC and Manitoba where my parents live, the COVID cases were not the hugest of impact and experienced excellent rates of decline. That allowed for better phased openings.

I know I talked about being away from my job. During that time, I made some good use out of it. Actually I was lazy the first week. I felt I owed it to myself for working a lot of hours in my life. Just to wake up without an alarm and do whatever I want for a full week. I didn’t sleep in as much as I hoped. It’s hard to sleep in a place with no air conditioning. Nevertheless during the time, I used it as chances to visit as many outdoor places I’ve never seen before or outdoor places I enjoy going to. It worked out great. I added some new photos on Google Maps.

When people are laid off from their jobs during the pandemic, people do a lot of various things with their time. Some did baking, some spent more time with their family, some even resorted to indoor workouts. I did a wide variety of things. Online, I did some teleconferencing with people from a home business I recently took an interested in. I will be taking an online course on mutual funds in two weeks. I was ‘late to the ball’ for other teleconferencing. I received emails from ARMA (Association of Records Management and Administration) about info sessions on Zoom. I only started seeing them in June. Basically the biggest thing I did was apartment repairs. Over the years I left a lot undone. With all this free time, I finally had the chance to do it. I accomplished a lot. Of course there’s more I’d like to do, but I’ll see if I still have the drive, and the money to buy the stuff.

As for entertainment, you could tell with so many cancellations, television and YouTube replayed a lot of classic events. The NFL channel did a lot of virtual games, NBA replayed a lot of great moments and did stats, UEFA did a lot of ‘virtual’ Euro games, and FIFA has #WorldCupAtHome where they replay a lot of great past World Cup games. Right now is World Cup 1990. Even entertainment channels are replaying a lot of past shows. The Eurovision channel has #EurovisionAgain where they replay a Grand Final of the past, get people to vote for their favorites, and have a charity at the end to donate to. All of which remind you if you’re confined inside, you don’t have to compromise fun. Also during this time I’ve become a big fan of the show Ridiculousness. It’s become my new ‘guilty pleasure’ show!

The good news is my leave of absence will end as of Monday. Work at my full-time place has slowly but surely become busier and busier over time. I look forward to starting again. My work computer has been sitting in a box for three months! They say laziness is addictive. I hope that doesn’t happen to me. I hope I can readjust fine. I’m sure it will start as mostly working at home with the possible odd day or two working from the office. I’m sure any place that does have office work will have to have a lot of restrictions and precautions to protect people or they will be fined. Inaddition, I was told that I will be having some new duties to take care of. I’m willing to change or learn new duties, as long as I learn at a pace I can handle. Also you remember I told you about the CERB payments in my last blog? I received two such payments. I’m glad I don’t have to apply for more. Actually if you apply for CERB and you are actively involved, you can be charged criminally. I was reminded right when I applied for my first of the conditions required to eligible and that making a false claim can be subject to criminal penalty. I also heard from one person that with CERB, you will have to pay 20% of it back come next tax time. I have the money in savings set aside in case.

Winners shelves

One clothing mega-store is half-full of merchandise. Shortages will be common for months due to the lack of shipped goods.

At least I’m working again. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that there’s no guarantee of work back. The pandemic has left a lot of uncertainty behind. A lot of small businesses and a lot of big businesses have had to either file bankruptcy or also completely close. Many have reopened, but it’s a question about how hard did the pandemic hit their business? Will they be able to continue? We’ve seen ads encouraging people to support small businesses. I have mostly shopped at small businesses that I’m familiar with. I hope they stay strong. Even big businesses will have problems as they may get less shipments of items customers demand. I recently went to a major clothing store near where I lived. The aisles and racks are normally loaded, but they weren’t that time. I talked with one of the cashiers and she said that incoming merchandise is less frequent. It used to be daily but not anymore. Something like furniture to sell comes in every week or two. I’m sure that business isn’t the only big business experiencing this. This economic recovery won’t be easy. I think every nation got hit hard.

Cancellation of events still continue, even locally. The fireworks festival of Celebration Of Light that’s held in late-July is cancelled. The Concours d’Elegance classic car show I like to see just before Labor Day is cancelled for the year. My retreat to Palm Springs in August is cancelled. Makes sense because of big-time travel restrictions. The Vancouver Film Festival, or VIFF, will continue but it will be completely virtual with the films they will be showing. I’m going to miss volunteering this year, but I will support the online VIFF.

Since I’m talking about VIFF, there’s a lot of talk about the arts suffering because of the pandemic. It’s easy to see with a lot of planned shows being cancelled and a lot of schools or training centres having to rehearse or work online. That’s become the new norm. Even the choir I sing for had to cancel out its show for June. We did rehearsals via Zoom every Wednesday evening starting in March in hopes of doing a show. When it became obvious a show wouldn’t be possible, our rehearsals became sing-alongs with our favorite songs over the years. My situation with the choir may be minor compared to the more organized arts companies, but this pandemic has the arts communities calling out for help in keeping things alive and active for the future. I don’t think the arts will completely die. I’m sure the arts have taken worse hits in history and have still triumphed. Nevertheless, it will be a fight for the future.

Also there’s talk from health professionals and medical board leaders that there is a big possibility of a Second Wave of COVID that could come in the fall and it could be worse. I hope not with all the prevention we’ve been doing. That will really cause a lot of financial damage that would definitely be irreparable. There’s already a lot of crazy things happening right now. Like just this week as the US saw a steady drop in new COVID cases for the past weeks, there’s now a sudden jump in cases that have reached record highs! Times like these make me glad my Palm Springs retreat was cancelled. Also airlines in Canada and the US have resumed more of their regular business and are accepting up to capacity. I just hope they have regulations like all wearing a mask and the right air filtering on board.

That’s all I have to say for my COVID update for now. There’s a mix of things that either look optimistic or look pessimistic or fearful. Only time will tell what happens as far as how the pandemic goes and its impact on the economy and people’s own lives. Me, I just want them to find a cure and a vaccine fast. Enough is enough!

Life During COVID-19

Vancouver Sunday 1

When COVID-19 hit the outside world, everything ground to a halt. This is what Downtown Vancouver looked like on a Sunday in April.

I’m sure the COVID-19 virus, or as most would call the ‘Corona Virus,’ has changed your life to one almost unrecognizable to the way it was when March started. I know mine has had a lot of changes. However it’s a crazy time we’re living in now. Not as crazy as it was in March or April, but still crazy enough and showing no signs of immediate relief. A virus that seemed to exist in a city half a world away has now infected six million people worldwide. Here’s what I noticed over the time.

I know this will be the wordiest blog I’ve ever written, but I have to get all this off my chest.

The Pandemic Looming

The news of COVID-19 was catching our eyes as far back as February. It made brief news in January, but the news in February was about a pandemic in the Wuhan province of China that was looming. There was the fear that it might be carried to the outside world. Eventually it did hit the outside world and we’re now still fighting it!

News had already hit Canada of our first cases. Our first death happened in the second week of March and it was a 78 year-old in a Richmond hospital. It was evident that our lives would soon change. That would become the case the following week. It was then when things like social distancing, working remotely and the closure or limit of non-essential services. I even remember the last time I ate out. It was a get-together of former employees of my job at a pub just a ten-minute walk away. It was on March 14th and pretty much the last weekend where people could meet inside a restaurant. Then everything changed the following week.

This was a concern for me. For a long time, I’ve compared to COVID to other pandemics or epidemics of the past like the Spanish Flu or the Bubonic Plague or the Plague of Justinian. When we had our social restrictions– actually there are still regulations in BC as I speak– I often wondered “Did they handle it the same way back during influenza?”

Cancellations, Cancellations, Cancellations

To the disappointment of almost everyone, it appears every event worldwide had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. At that dinner with former co-workers, I remember the pub had their television on one sports channel and one golf channel. The news of first the NBA cancelling the rest of their season and then the news of the NHL cancelling the rest of their season sent a message about how serious this problem is. Even the golf channel talked of PGA and LPGA events that were cancelled. Interesting how nowadays, the sports channels have been replaying past sports events. That has been successful in lifting the mood of things, to an extent.

More cancellations were on the way. The Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled, the Euro 2020 football event had to be postponed for the following year. Pressure became a case that the Tokyo Olympics that were slated this summer were also postponed until 2021. Cancellations are also happening locally too. In Greater Vancouver, events like the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in June, the Celebration Of Light in July and the Pacific National Exhibition for around Labor Day had to cancel out as there’s no certainty the pandemic would end around their times. Winnipeg’s Folklorama had to cancel out their festival for August completely. It’s a pain and a headache, but it’s best to do so as right now no relief is currently guaranteed for their times.

Occupational Shock

I’ll bet there may be just 10% of the world where COVID-19 has not changed their job situation one bit this whole time. They must be few and far between or just plain hermits. If you haven’t lost your own business, or lost your job because of a temporary layoff, then your work setting will definitely have changed.

How many of you have had to move your desks from your office to you own home? How many of you still working use Zoom to communicate with your meetings? If you work for a small restaurant or even a big franchise, has it shut down or is it now just strictly pick-up or delivery? That’s what the normal has been under this time.

As for me, I was informed through my job that I would have to work from home. We would have to have all our computers set up with the right VPNs and the right communicative software to work from home. I remember my supervisor drove me in the afternoon to my home with all my computer equipment in a box. It was a unique three-week experience using all the software. The most I’ll say about my job is that I work for a financial agency that works on behalf of various clients. One thing is that the work slowed down because of restrictions placed in dealing with customers. We all noticed the work getting less and less as the Inbox had little work to do. Eventually I received the call I was placed on a Leave Of Absense. My banked vacation time had to be paid out before I could go into the unpaid part four weeks later. As of now, I’m still waiting for the call back to work. I’m not expecting things to resume once clients want us working for them again.

Right now I’m not too worried about my job. My work computer has been shut down and I have it sitting in a box. I still have my work badge. I also still have my medical and dental happening. Also, I don’t know if your country gives out emergency benefits during a State Of Emergency, but Canada has a wide variety of assistance programs implemented during this time. I applied for the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) which is a monthly income supplement for people that have been either laid off or receiving less than $1000 in a month’s period. Currently that’s my income. We’ll see what time holds.

Social Distancing: You’re Lucky To Get Around

shoppers spacing

In March, lines were made with tape and paper for markers.

You hear it all the time nowadays: lines like ‘Stay Home’ or ‘Stay two metres apart.’ To think at the beginning of the 2020, there was no such term as ‘Social Distancing.’ However that’s one of the things about this outbreak. Most of us never had to wear a surgical mask in public. That all changed when health officials made speeches recommending us to wear them.

Businesses sure changed. I mentioned about my time in the pub. That was the last dine-in weekend. Now restaurants have either closed completely or they make it strictly pick-up or a delivery service like Skip The Dishes. Fast food or coffee chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks have closed their restaurants and only allowed for drive-thru pick up. Few stores were open, except for those with essential services. Grocery stores and pharmacies were open. Furniture stores or clothing stores were not. Hair salons were closed off completely. Drop-in doctors offices were closed and they could only be a case where the doctor phones you. In some cases, you would have to send a video of your condition or ailment to your doctor. I know I had to do an appointment over the phone when I had a case of gout in my foot and it was too painful to walk.

bus seat

To keep buses at half-capacity and passengers distant, signs like these were put on seats to prevent sitting.

Also how many of you go into a store and see lines or marks on the floor requesting you to stand 6 1/2 feet or 2 metres apart? I saw that in stores right in the middle of March just shortly when my work-at-home situation started. Even some entrances placed limits on the number of people who can be inside a store and had markers outside signaling where in line to stand. I’m sure there are some buildings that would demand you wear a mask to enter, like hospitals I’m sure.

Bus transportation is still there, but it has limited capacity. For two weeks, I would not get on a bus until I was invited by a family member to visit them. I was nervous when I got on. I didn’t have a face mask so I used my scarf if I had to. Plus I would almost always go outside wearing leather gloves. Buses in Greater Vancouver are free until June 1st. Skytrains and Seabuses are still fare paid. The buses would only allow for entry on the side door and were half-capacity to limit the number of people riding and the space in between them. There were even markers on the chairs which were not to have people sit upon. Skytrains and Seabuses did not have the same signs on seats to limit people, but the capacities were smaller than usual.

Playtime Is Over

The crazy thing about all these social distancing measures imposed by civic, regional or even federal laws is that they kept on getting stricter and stricter as the numbers got bigger and bigger. That’s the nature when a ‘state of emergency’ is declared. I remember leading to the end of the second week of March, the law was that places should have no more than 250 people gathering in one place. Then it became a case of no more than 50 people in one place. It’s not as severe as some places that demanded lockdowns or even a limit of 10 people in one place, but it was still crazy enough to put a limit on things.

I also remember when I went for mass at a Ukrainian church that weekend, the priest gave the option to use a disposable wooden spoon to put into the mouths of people. He was willing to use the common metal spoon used for everyone, but their mouths had to be opened wide. Also at the Roman church that Sunday’s evening, the church was half-filled with people sitting far apart from each other. That was the same in the Ukrainian church with only immediates sitting close to each other. Since then, churches have limited their services to online services. That was the case even during Easter. I know because I’ve watched many a mass online.

closed playground

Caution tapes on a park swing sets is a familiar site during this pandemic.

However the biggest area you’ll notice it most is in parks and playgrounds. Ever since the pandemic, swing sets, spinning wheels, monkey bars and sandboxes have been closed off. If anyone is to be in a park, they are to do it in the natural areas or on one of the benches. The pandemic was that much of a threat. Even now the swing sets are showing no signs of reopening.

Shopping: All You Can Hoard

It never fails. A pandemic or a problem happens, and then people flood to grocery stores to hoard all that they can. I got my first experience of this type while living on my own not during a pandemic or outbreak, but of a water crisis. Many years ago, Greater Vancouver had a problem with E-coli in the drinking water. People had to boil their water for some time or buy bottled water. You can imagine people would rush to stores to hoard bottled water during that period.

store hoarding

This is all the paper products that was left at a grocery store Monday March 16th.

Now we have the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, a lot of stores have had their shelves ransacked for various items. The biggest of this pandemic pandemonium was three to four weeks ago. There was the hoarding of drinking water, of pasta, or rice and of meat. However the hoarding that got the most notice was toilet paper. People rushed in to hoard toilet paper more than any other item during that period. The hoarding of three to four weeks ago got so bad, stores posted signs that said ‘Limit 1 (or 2) per Customer.’ Even then, that was still not enough to prevent the hoarding. I remember going into a pharmacy looking for paper towels two weeks ago. Even a set of two rolls of ‘PT’ was enough for me. When I got there, the store had the ‘Limit 1 per customer’ sign, but a two-pack of paper towels was the only paper product on the shelf! That’s right! All the toilet paper and facial tissue were sold out and this two-pack of paper towels was all that was left. Talk about lucking out!

Now things are a far cry from the hoarding. Toilet paper have found their way back on the shelves, but they still go quite fast as well as paper towels. Cleaning products are one item that aren’t necessarily hoarded as much as they were in March but they still go faster than they did before. Leave it to a pandemic to change everything!

Attention To The Statistics

worldometers shot

Paying attention to the daily statistics changes at Worldometers is a daily habit of mine.

It’s a question whether paying attention to the daily COVID-19 statistics is a smart idea or not. It could be smart because you need to know where you’re area stands in terms of probability of infection. It could not be smart because it can promote fear and panic. As if this pandemic hasn’t caused enough fear and panic already!

It first started with the live facts on YouTube back in the middle of March. I came across a live video from NAV MED VIDEOS which features live videos of COVID-19 statistics that were constantly updated once each nation released more facts. The NAV MED VIDEOS live video is still live and is still active in updating. However over time, I switched to the Worldometers site. I find a site with the stats more convenient than a Youtube video. Worldometers also gives constant updates about the latest statistics and the latest numbers. They’re also still active. They do a good job of updating the stats for Canada, but I don’t like how they don’t break it down province-by-province the same way they break it down for the US state-by-state.

The biggest reason why I pay attention to the statistics is to get a good sense on how soon things will get back to normal and how soon the numbers will go down. Another reason is also to see just how big of a threat the virus would be. Numbers of cases per population is very telling. I admit the numbers during March and April looked very distressing. However the number of new cases reported on a daily basis have showed an unsteady but sure decline. If there’s one positive thing to say about the overall statistics, it’s that there are more cases of people fully recovered than active cases. Another positive thing is in terms of closed cases, we have an 87% survival rate. Nevertheless we can’t be sitting pretty yet. Actually there’s no such thing as ‘sitting pretty’ as far as COVID statistics go. In fact right now, Canada ranks 11th overall in terms of total number of deaths. All of us have to wait for numbers of active cases and new cases to get lower to resume more activities we used to do.

COVID In My Dreams

Now this is something totally crazy, but it should be seen as eventual. You know a pandemic or an outbreak is a part of your life when it’s in your dreams at night. It happened to me twice during the third week of March:

  • During the evening of Monday that week leading into the morning of Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day), I dreamt I was traveling by automobile through various areas of the city of Vancouver. I then found myself about to enter a library in a new building in South Vancouver. When I enter the library, I found it very hard to breathe; almost impossible to inhale. I think I struggled in taking three breaths. Then my alarm clock went off. I woke up and I was breathing normally. You can imagine my relief! Looking back, I don’t think it was exactly a dream about me having COVID-19 exactly, but shortness of breath is a COVID symptom.
  • The evening of the Friday that week leading into the morning of the Saturday, I dreamt I was going to a community college of various buildings and floors. The whole time, I attempt to practice social distancing despite having to move fast from place to place. I’m by the elevator of the second floor of some building. The door opens up and a young woman comes to me in a hostile manner: “You! You bumped me! You jerk! Don’t you know it’s dangerous? You could’ve infected me!” You can imagine my relief when I woke up.

I haven’t had any other memorable dreams of COVID-19 since then, but it’s interesting how an outbreak can be part of your dreams so soon.

Those Risking Themselves

For the first 2 1/2 months, almost everything was closed down or in limited function. The biggest business that did not see business decline with the pandemic is the health system. Now more than ever, nations need health officials and hospitals functioning like never before. The problem is it’s extremely tiring for health officials and nurses constantly tending to patients. I’ve heard of hospitals reserving a single floor as a COVID ward. Those nurses would be working the most hours, be under the most stress and would be under the most threat to catch the virus themselves.

Nurses aren’t the only ones who face threats of COVID on the job. Despite seating restrictions on public transit, bus drivers also face threats of contagion. That was especially highlighted in April when Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove died of COVID. Just a week and a half before his death, the 50 year-old Hargrove posted a video where he talks of the difficulties doing his job during this pandemic. He even talked of a female passenger coughing without covering her mouth. I was upset with his death but I was most shocked to hear of a full-grown adult not covering their mouth when they cough.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores still operated during the pandemic, but they had to take precautions and limit their hours. Cashiers would have to work behind a plastic protector or wear a see-through visor to protect themselves. They would only handle cash if they wear gloves. If you have a credit card, you had to run it through yourself with no putting it through any plastic. Some places won’t even allow paper or coin money for fear of contagion. Also at convenience stores and gas bars, no more self-serve coffee. The cashier does it for you. That’s what happens when a contagious disease hits.

The COVIDiocy Of COVIDiots

I don’t know what you’ve been doing for precautions. As for me, I’ve been doing my utmost. I think it was the dreams I had that most did it to me. Or it could be because I know a COVID test involves inserting a cotton swab far into your nasal passage. I sure as hell don’t want something like that! That explains why I’ve been doing my best to keep 2 metres apart. When I meet up with people, I keep the space standard of 2 metres. I try to be preventative instead of afraid. I take my vitamins as I normally do, I still go out shopping, I still jog down the sidewalks of Burnaby and New Westminster, but I make sure I’m a good distance away from others each time. Plus I still wear my leather gloves when I’m outdoors.

I will admit I do get nervous especially if I’m in a crowded area with a lot of people. I’ve seen it many a times. I see groups of people at a beach or park. Whenever I see that, I think ‘I hope they all live together in the same house.’ I also still see people either crowding or too close to each other at bus stops, I see some grocery stores with too many people inside. Whenever I’m in such a place, I make sure I get away from it as soon as I can as well as avoid close contact to others. Even when a single person goes in the same direction I’m going in an indoor place, it makes me nervous. I impulsively think they have disregard to social distancing measures and I feel like saying to them: “What the hell is wrong with you?” I don’t say it to them, but I’m tempted to.

And then there are those that are either careless, ignorant, or defiantly rebellious. Those are the subject of the new word created for 2020: COVIDiot! Some of the most noteworthy is young people. Now don’t think I’m knocking this generation of young people; the belief of ‘Live fast, die young, leave a pretty memory’ has transcended generation after generation. However the constant belief of being young and invincible doesn’t even change during a pandemic. We see it as groups of young adult crowd close together at a beach or public place. Just two weeks ago, I saw a group of twelve teens meet together outside my apartment building door. Only two live inside any of the apartments.

However the biggest news of the ignorance of COVIDiocy has to be during March when spring break in Florida still continued and beaches were still crowded. Further firestorm came when one of the partiers said in a news interview: “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, it won’t stop me from partying.” The news stories also showed how the reporter was talking to the partiers about the possibility of contagion. The young man said “Well, let us handle it in our own way.” I know young people don’t want to stop partying, but a pandemic should make one think twice.

And COVIDiots include the pundits, the fringe media and conspiracy theorists. They’re a class of COVIDiocy of their own. They include American religious ministers who say this pandemic is God punishing America for tolerating abortion and same-sex marriage. Please, COVID is a virus! Not a punishment! There are even people that are denying COVID exists and that it’s all a conspiracy to hoard rights. Alex Jones must be desperate for a crowd. It’s sick he brings his own children to the rally and hugs supporters. Besides, some that claimed it to be a hoax have made themselves sick of COVID, and some even died. There are those that stormed state halls to protest the social restrictions, claiming it’s unconstitutional. There are a lot of right-wing types that believe that state and federal laws protecting from a health hazard is a threat to constitutional rights. And finally there are religious ministers who violate state regulations on indoor gatherings and open their doors to their churches. Some number to over 1000 and there’s no social distancing at all. I take it they forgot the scripture “Thou shall not put the Lord God to the test.”

First Signs Of Relief

This past month of May, we’ve been seeing the statistics of new contagion go down steadily. The daily statistics are still high enough to keep certain restrictions active, but allow some restrictions to loosened. This week, churches will reopen, but to a maximum capacity of 50. Transit will resume to regular fare paid, but with seating restrictions still implemented. Hair salons are reopening, but some will charge a COVID tax and all will demand their clients wear a mask. Some non-essential stores like Winners opened last week, but with limitations on how many can enter. The number of people allowed depends on the square footage of the store. Dental offices will reopen starting June 1st. That’s beneficial for me because I have a cracked tooth and I will get it fixed on Friday the 5th.

Reopenings are not immediate. In a pandemic, they have to be gradual. I’ll admit it has been annoying having such a limit of places to go to and waiting outside. I’ll admit it’s annoying not being able to have a haircut. I even dream of the day I can return to dining in at a restaurant. However I will gladly comply as this is about preventing a pandemic from reaching devastating numbers at home.

Despite all the chaos and bad news that has happened, there has been a lot of good during this pandemic. People and companies have become more charitable and groups have supplied food donations to others. There have been nations during frightening contagion rates put under lockdowns or confinements to their homes and buildings. The confined responded by singing from their balconies or even doing aerobic classes to other tenants across to the other apartment. The human spirit won’t die!  There’s also a greater appreciation for nurses and health professionals. They, more than anyone else, have the hardest duty of fighting the pandemic up front with the patients they see. They have to work longer hours and under harsher conditions. Here in Canada, we have a habit of thanking them every evening at 7pm when we go out and bang the drum or clank the pots. We want them to know how thankful we are for them. I’m sure there are other salutes of ‘thank you’ done differently around the world.

So for my concluding paragraph, I just have to say the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It shows signs of waning down, but reopening things will be a slow steady process. Despite things not being as bad or as fearful as it was in March, it’s still something worth taking seriously. We may not have the same big numbers of daily new cases, but the new case rates are still worth taking seriously. Plus it’s only now they’re testing out possible cures or vaccines for COVID-19. It’s frustrating trying to protect yourself. It’s also frustrating for the doctors, nurses and hospitals too. It’s most frustrating for those with the COVID-19 and their families. Nevertheless it’s important to stay strong right now. The statistics of COVID-19 have been ugly and are still worth keeping an eye out for, but we should remember all this is to protect ourselves until a cure and a vaccine is found. We also shouldn’t forget that the human race has been through worse. There was the Influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1919 that killed around 100 million. There have been smallpox epidemics many times in history including one in Japan in the 8th Century that killed 1/3 of the nation’s population. There were Cholera pandemics in Asia in the 19th Century that killed millions of people. There’s especially the Bubonic Plague or Black Death in 14th Century Europe that killed 1/3 of the continent. Or even the Plague of Justinian that ended the Roman Empire.

We all have to stay strong and be as preventative as we can. We have the chance to prevent COVID-19 from claiming even its FIRST million lives. There have been excellent efforts of people doing their parts and there have been people acting careless with a false sense of invincibility. We should all work to make this pandemic a thing of the past. When they stay at home and you live in a high-risk area, you stay at home! All I can say right now is whatever the situation is in your home country right now, stay cautious and continue to protect yourself.

VIFF 2019 Wraps Up On A Great Note

CinemaYep, it’s been a month since VIFF 2019 ended, but the enjoyment of the Festival is still there. The VanCity Theatre will bring back a lot of the films that were shown during the festival. I hope to catch what I missed out the first time.

The 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival ended on Friday October 11th. There were big crowds throughout the festival as the films had a lot to attract. There were over 300 films from 72 countries or regions.

This year, there weren’t the Hub events, but there were a lot of ‘VIFF Live’ events. One was a lecture from rapper Chuck D, another was a pair of humorous film critics, a couple of airings of some cult classics, and even a feminist read of Some Like It Hot. There were two Master Classes organized by the Directors Guild of Canada. The first was with Atom Egoyan and the second with Batwoman director Holly Dale. Creator Talks were back and they ranged from costumers to producers and sound designers to even decision-makers like networkers, broadcasters and executive producers. VIFF Immersed was back but it was very restrictive in attendance. I will elaborate on that later.

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

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

WINNER: The World Is Bright (dir. Ying Wang)

Special Mention: Anthem Of A Teenage Prophet (dir. Robin Hays)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by CreativeBC, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open (dirs. Elle-Maija Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA, AFBS & William F. White
WINNER: Elle-Maija Tailfeathers for The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

WINNER: One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (dir. Zacharias Kunuk)

Special Mention: Blood Quantum (dir. Jeff Barnaby)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Murmur (dir. Heather Young)

Special Mention: Kuesippan (dir. Myriam Verrault)

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger (dir. Alanis Obomsawin)

Special Mention: My Dads, My Moms and Me (dir. Julia Ivanova)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Side Street Post
WINNER: At The Bottom Of The Sea (dir. Caroline So Jung Lee)

Special Mention: The Physics Of Sorrow (dir. Theodore Ushev)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: Acadiana (dirs. Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin)

Special Mention: Labour/Leisure (dirs. Jessica Johnson, Ryan Ermacora)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: Resistance Fighters (dir. Michael Wech)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award

Presented by RBC and Cineplex

WINNER: The Pollinators (dir. Peter Nelson)

Women In Film And Television Award

Artistic Merit Award

WINNER: The Whale And The Raven (dir. Mirjam Leuze)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Parasite (dir. Boon Jong Hoo)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Coup 53 (dir. Taghi Amirani)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature
WINNER: Red Snow (dir. Marie Clements)

VIFF Most Pupular Canadian Documentary Award
WINNER: Haida Modern (dir. Charles Wilkinson)

As for my volunteer experience, it was a unique experience volunteering for the Centre for the Performing Arts this year. This was the cinema that would have the biggest attractions this year. The very first film I officiated for was the Opening Gala and for Guest Of Honour. Yes, one of the best things about volunteering for VIFF: seeing Gala shows! For that, I was mostly in charge of line control and directing people to standing in the right line. It went quite well. After the show, I was one of the people who collected ballots for people to rate the film on a scale of 1-5.

I was scheduled for a total of four shifts, but there were some changeabouts on the schedule. So that meant after the Opening Gala, I only did two more. The second Centre shift was a case where I did line control for the film Parasite. That was something because the show sold out well in advance. I had to direct people to not only stand in line at the end of the line, but make way for the entrances of the stores. The line-up was three-quarters around the block before things got moving. I did mark the end of the line well and direct them all into the theatre. By the time I got them all in, I was too tired to see Parasite for myself. My third shift at the Centre involved scanning tickets for two shows. Scanners worked fine during the first show, but mine couldn’t work for the second show. So my shift ended there. That gave me enough luck to see Mr. Jones.

I did three at the Centre, but volunteers are to do a minimum of four. I was able to make up for it by doing three other shifts whose requests were sent via email. I took two of them at the Playhouse and another at the main VanCity theatre. Both times at the Playhouse, it was a case of giving people ballots before the show and taking the ballots after the show. For VanCity, I did it for a three hour-long documentary that had an intermission. It was possible to take ballots during the intermission, but I got very few. Each time I took ballots, I joked “This is one case where democracy works!”

Once again, there was a volunteer party one week later. It was good as I was able to make conversation with people I volunteered with. I also met up with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time. They served Chinese food, BC wine and craft beer. There wasn’t anything too big for a show. Just music played by the DJ. Nevertheless it was a good night.

As for the films I saw, here’s a list of them as well as the hyperlinks to the reviews. I have the country of origin in brackets and an asterisk marking those that are their country’s official Best International Feature Film entry for this year’s Oscars:

I fulfilled my film-watching goals for this VIFF. Shorts segment? I did it on the first Sunday with To Live In Infamy. Feature-length Canadian film? I did it on the Opening Gala and added one more in the final week. A country’s official Oscar entry in the Best International Feature Film category? I saw three. Minimum ten films? I saw eighteen in total.

I didn’t see everything I wanted. I was hoping to see a VIFF Immersed exhibit again this year. This time instead of the Centre for Digital Media, it was at the Annex Centre and there was a limit of fifteen tickets per ninety-minute exhibit. The one show I had the availability to see was sold out online and I was told to come back for the volunteer line-up. However it was a school showing and it was all reserved. Whenever I don’t get what I want, I try to find a show to see at the last minute. That’s how I saw To Live To Sing. Volunteers had a very good chance of getting into shows for free, but it was always a risk with films in huge demand. That would be my case when I wanted to see Those Who Remained. All the passholders and ticket holders filled the theatre and there was no room for volunteers. You take your chances.

One additional thing about my filmwatching. I was hoping to have again this VIFF that they did away with this year was the late-night showings at the Rio Theatre. The VIFF would have shows on the Friday or Saturday nights that started at either 11:00 or 11:30 and usually ended at 1am or shortly after. They would be films that were part of their Altered States selections. I would take full advantage of it and even watch the one shown on the last day of the VIFF as a way to end my VIFF experience that year with a bang. They didn’t have them this year because they didn’t really draw that huge of numbers. Despite that, I was able to see two or three of the Altered States films at the Rio during the 930/945 times. For Friday the 11th, I saw Greener Grass at the Rio which started shortly after 7. However I didn’t end my VIFF at the Rio. Instead I ended my VIFF at the Playhouse with The White Snake. Despite the change, I still ended my VIFF with a bang!

It’s funny how back in 2012 when the Granville theatre was about to close, newspapers said VIFF was in trouble. It’s 2019 and the VIFF is still active. It does make steps to adapt to the changes but it’s doing very well. Again in 2019, VIFF did a great job of bringing the world of film to the big screen. For many, this may be the only chance to see such films on the big screen. There have already been big screen releases for Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse, and Parasite, and there are more to come like White Snake. However we’re in a time nowadays where more is expected of a film to hit the big screen. The pressures of blockbuster superhero movies and other action films to bring in box office money demonstrates how much more restrictive box office releases are. There will be a lot of films at this film festival that will either be shown on Netflix or other streaming sources. The numbers of such are increasing. It’s a very tight time for independent film. It’s not like the breakthrough years of the late-80’s or early 90’s. It’s a good thing we have film festival like the VIFF to give such films a chance for better exposure.

So to conclude, I have to say it was an excellent experience I had this year. I didn’t have the Platinum Pass this year and I didn’t see everything I wanted, but I was happy with what I saw. No real disappointments. No film I thought was a waste of my time. VIFF 2020 is anticipated to be from September 24th and go until October 9th. Yes, I plan to be back to watch and to volunteer!

VIFF 2019 Review: A Brother’s Love (La femme de mon frère)

Brothers Love

A Brother’s Love is a comedy about a brother-sister relationship in danger right after the brother meets the love of his life.

I know it’s my goal every VIFF to see one Canadian feature film. That was achieved during the opening gala with Guest Of Honour. The second chance I had was with the Quebecois film A Brother’s Love. This was a film that presented a bizarrely intriguing story.

The film begins with a college looking for a new professor for their philosophy department. They think they find it in Sophie: a recent PhD graduate. Sophie lives with her brother Karim in the same apartment. She appears to be co-dependent on him. She struggles going from job to job, but he is doing very well as a psychologist. They appear to be the thinking-people’s type. Then they have dinner at their mother’s place. Their parents are divorced, but not estranged. The parents appear to be the more free-wheeling type compared to the children. Karim enjoys seeing them dance, but it appears like something is eating at Sophie’s head.

One day, Sophie goes to her doctor with Karim escorting her. She seeks an abortion. This is her second one and Sophie has no intention of having children. Sophie goes about her professor job soon after, but is constantly late. She is soon fired. Soon Sophie learns that Karim is dating her doctor Eloise. Sophie is shocked about this and doesn’t know how to take it. Sophie feels she has to lose her frustrations while watching an episode of the Kardashians or the latest in trash TV.

While Sophie still struggles with getting a new job, Eloise introduces Sophie to a man: a male midwife named Jasmin. The meeting between the two of them go well and there’s the potential of meeting up again soon. Karim, Sophie and Eloise then have dinner with the parents. During the dinner, they talk about their future plans together including marrying and having a family. Soon Sophie has an outburst at the dinner table and takes it out on everyone. Eloise and Karim especially.

Sophie needs time alone from them. She finds it in a date with Jasmin. She finds Jasmin to be a man she can finally feel comfortable around and have conversation with, even her most philosophical. She later apologizes to Karim and learns that the closeness between the two is still there despite both going different directions.

The film doesn’t just focus on the complications of relationships, whether they be about intimate relationships or even family relationships, but also of the personal traits and personal mindsets that create such friction. Sophie has a doctorate in philosophy and possibly because of it, she overthinks a lot. That’s evident when she tells her new boyfriend her thought on monogamy. She always speaks her beliefs about her issues and about life. Sometimes it appears like she creates her own troubles of the mind or she doesn’t know what to think. Most of her insecurities seem unnecessary. Everyone else appears like they’re mostly well-balanced or carefree. She does try to adopt the common carefree attitudes of others at times, but it’s a personal struggle. The struggle reaches boiling point at the dinner table when she takes out her frustrations on Karim and Eloise. However it’s Jasmin who’s the one who can truly teach her to calm down and learn to live life well.

It’s a bizarre story. We have a philosopher sister and a psychologist brother. The brother’s there for her during her troubling times and even gives her a place to stay. The brother falls in love with her doctor which leaves Sophie feeling she’ll be lost. On top of that her temperament and philosopher mind-set causes friction with those around her. Basically Sophie is a confused person. The brother/sister relationship between her and Karim appears to be more than a relationship. She appears to have a reliance on him as she fears she can’t make it out in the outside world. Once Karim dates Eloise, she fears she might lose him. The story is very much a psychological comedy as it does involve a lot with human behavior and people’s thinking patterns.

This is the first feature-length film written and directed by Monia Chokri. She has had a good career as an actress in Quebec and has acted in two films by Xavier Dolan: Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways. It’s an impressive debut. It’s imperfect, but it does tell a lot and show a lot. One would have to know these personality types in order to fully understand them. Knowing that Xavier Dolan has delivered stories of people with crazy mindsets, it’s tempting to think he may have had some inflence on the film. He is actually not credited with anything here. Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, who also acted in Heartbeats, is great as the main protagonist. The film is all about Sophie’s personality. The personality has to be all there for the story to work and make sense, and Sophie delivers. Patrick Hivon is also good as Karim as well as Evelyne Brochu as Eloise. Coincidentally, Brochu acted in the Dolan film Tom At The Farm.

A Brother’s Love has had its acclaim. It won at the Cannes Film festival the award of Un Certain Regard – Jury Coup de Coeur. It was also a nominee at the Hamburg Film Festival for the Best Young Talent award.

A Brother’s Love can’t be described in a single work. It has a lot of intellectual moments, it had intimate moments and it had moments of insanity. Nevertheless the film comes together at the end and makes better sense after you’ve left the theatre.

VIFF 2019 Review: It Must Be Heaven

Elia Suleiman

Director/writer/actor Elia Suleiman plays himself trying to get his film of Palestine made in It Must Be Heaven.

Saying It Must Be Heaven is a Palestinian film can give a lot of people the wrong impression at first. It’s a film that is enjoyable and worth seeing.

The film begins with a Christian religious ceremony in Nazareth, Palestine. They’re to enter the church, but it’s locked. It’s locked by the custodians who want to be alone drinking up. The priest and those part of the mass are angry. They barge in and get violent with him.

Life in Nazareth is not a pleasant experience for filmmaker Elia Suleiman. Elia has been experienced some downtime since a close friend of his died. Elia still has their wheelchair, walker and other personal items.  Wherever he goes, it appears people have a surly attitude. He goes to a restaurant and there’s an argument over the wine. He lives on the opposite end of an apartment where a father and son live in opposite suites and exchange insults. The few times when the Palestinians are nice to each other are when they know they’re being observed. Once outsiders leave, they go back to being their grumbling selves. The one Palestinian in Nazareth who looks to have a pleasant attitude is a young gardener who tends to Suleiman’s lemon tree, against Suleiman’s will. Suleiman tells him he doesn’t want him to trim it, but he comes back.

Elia seeks inspiration for his script. However he has to seek financial support from outside of Palestine. He goes on a flight to Paris and the flight gets turbulent as is goes over the Dinaric Alps. When he arrives in Paris, the Paris of people’s fantasies is alive. He sees it as a city of romance, a city of nice fashionably dressed women at a cafe having a good time together.

Then the realities of Paris start. His hotel suite is right next to a fashion house and their LED ad shines out a lot of lights that make it hard for Elia to sleep. He sits outside his window and looks out onto the street. He’s on the subway and sees a tattooed punk try to look menacing to him. He sees someone put a plastic bag underneath a car parked just outside. A bomb? The police come on Segways to check, but notice nothing and move away. He sees a homeless man lying around nearby and the police arriving to give him food. Suleiman is there during Bastille Day. He finds himself lost in a crowd during a military parade.

Elia knows he has business to deal with in Paris. He meets with a film producer, but the producer tells him that his film isn’t Palestinian enough. Elia tries to work more on his script. He notices that a bird has flown into his hotel suite. He welcomes the bird at first. However problems arise when Elia is typing on his script and the birds wants Elia’s attention. The bird hops onto his laptop and Elia gently pushes him aside. The bird repeats, but Elia’s had enough. He decides the bird need to fly back out in the open.

Elia then sets his sights on New York. Before he does, he has a day where he just wants to relax. He goes over to a park area, but notices a woman dressed in an angel costume with the Palestinian flag on her torso. A group of police try to pursue her, but she makes it a case of ‘catch me if you can.’ When they do catch her, she mysteriously disappears. Returning to his hotel that evening, he sees the car that had the bag placed underneath it is towed away. The bag is still visible.

When Elia arrives in New York, he is taken to a hotel by a cab driver who tries to develop conversation. The cab driver asks where he’s from, and Elia responds “Palestine.” The cab driver slams on his brakes and talks about how surprised he is to see a Palestinian. He’s never seen one before! He meets with a pretentious film professor. The professor wants his story to embody the Palestinian cause in the best way it can. He goes to a meeting held by a Palestinian-American group. The crowd is too enthusiastic for the leader to handle so she demands they all give one clap for each speaker she announces.

Then the meeting with the producer happens. Before he does, he is met in the waiting room with Gael Garcia Bernal who is his friend. Bernal has read over his script and he is very happy with what Suleiman has written. The exec however is uninterested in funding a ‘Palestinian story.’ Before Suleiman is about to return back home, he walks around New York and notices how Americans everywhere, even in the supermarkets, carry guns over their shoulders. He arrives back in Nazareth and notices that the gardener is back pruning his trees. The film ends with Suleiman in a discotheque with young people dancing to a song celebrating Palestine.

The film has a message to say, but instead of it speaking its message, it allows the message to be told in the images it shows. The film says its messages in what Suleiman sees. We see the world through his eyes. Nazareth looks to be this unhappy place in the middle of nowhere. Suleiman thinks that he will have a better time in the cities he will visit: Paris and New York. He can escape the unpleasant attitudes, the violent actions of others and fear of terrorism. He’s in for a surprise. In Paris, he notices what could be a car bomb placed underneath a car. The bomb never goes off, but it does remind you it has its own threats. Even in New York where there are still memories of 9/11, the threat of terrorism is there too. Bad manners? Suleiman witnesses as a stranger on a Paris subway tries to look menacing to him. Over in the part, an elderly lady tries to get a seat, but a young man on a bike beats her to it with no regrets. He’s reminded there’s rudeness there too. He’s also reminded of military preparedness and vigilance too as the Bastille Day parade has a military march and Americans in New York show their weapons openly. what he thought he’d leave behind in Palestine is still there in Paris and New York.

The film also feels about the difficulty of being a Palestinian in the outside world. Elia may be Christian but he defines himself as a Palestinian. He finds it hard enough living in Palestine, but finds it challenging to define himself to others. The meeting with the producer in Paris shows the French are interested in showing an image of Palestine, but one common or friendly with French audiences. The meeting with the taxi driver also adds to the feelings of confusion with his identity. He goes to a Palestinian-American rally that supports the cause, but doesn’t get too much out of it. How can a Palestinian relate to a Palestinian-American? Even if they share the same cause, they don’t have too much in common.

The film is less about the words spoken that it is about what one sees happening. This is pretty much a film of what Elia Suleiman sees through his eyes and he lets the images and moments do the talking instead of him. There are very few instances when you see Elia talking. It’s very rare in a film where the protagonist doesn’t even utter ten words.  Almost all moments of the film, including moments when he appears to be in a conversation, show him being a silent observer or a silent responder. That adds to the humor of the film, and Elia wants the film to blend humor with the theme and message of his story. Yep, even moments where you see Elia being dead silent get us laughing. It’s part of the film’s ironic dry humor. Some could say Elia’s wit is a lot like Woody Allen’s. You be the judge.

This is the first film in seven years for Elia Suleiman. His last one was 7 Days In Havana. This is a film he directs, writes, and plays lead. He does a good job in letting the images tell the story. Even during his mute moments, he adds to the humor of the story. It’s a silent humor that you have to get and understand while you watch this film. The inclusion of music in the various scenes adds to the story and fits it well.

It Must Be Heaven is Palestine’s official entry in the Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film; a retitling of the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film has won a lot of acclaim. Acclaim includes a win for Special Mention at this year’s Cannes Film Fest as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, a nomination for Best Film at the Seville Film Festival, and a nomination for Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto Film Festival (film had production in Canada).

It Must Be Heaven is a film with a lot of wit and dry humor. Its silence of much of the story and of its main protagonist actually speaks volumes and is the film’s best quality.