2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Last year, I was only able to see the Oscar-nominated short films online through VIFF Connect. This year, they returned back to the theatre. I had the good fortune to see the nominated films for both the Animated and Live-Action categories. All the films are unique and deserving of their nominations. Here’s my review of the nominated films for Animation and Live-Action:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Affairs Of The Art (dir. Joanna Quinn) – Beryl is a struggling artist. She comes from an eccentric family. She has a sister whom, as a younger child, had a fixation with deceased animals and dissecting them. It paid off for her as her sister has done a very profitable post mortem business in Los Angeles and has attracted many big name celebrities. Beryl has always had an obsession with drawing and colors and has a goal of being an ‘artiste of note,’ but it’s only paid off very humbly for her. How can she make it work?

This is a charming animated film. Full of quirky drawings with a quirky story and charming characters. Not to mention very colorful 2D animation. It’s a story that will get you either laughing or weirded out. You will find yourself liking it in the end.

Bestia (dir. Hugo Covarrubias) – This stop-motion animated film tells the story of a Chilean woman. She has a good relationship with her dog. The outside world on the other hand, she is savage to. She is cold and calculated in every move she does. She cuts her meat in sinister fashion. Whenever she plays music, it’s in cold fashion. And she’s cold to the people she meets. She just comes as a very sadistic emotionless person.

The character is inspired by a female prison guard who is one of the most infamous Chileans ever. The film in stop-motion is done excellently giving a cold feel of the story. Although most of us outside of Chile may never know this person, it does an excellent job in capturing someone cold, merciless and emotionless. Also a reminder of how Chile still harbors silent wrath over some of its past infamy.

BoxBallet (dir. Anton Dyakov) – The film is a story of two people. One is a female ballet dancer, slender and graceful. The other is a male boxer, rough and laden with visible scars. Boy meets girl and opposites attract. But can it result in love? What unfolds is a love story between two people that one would not expect to see happen.

This is another charming 2D animation story. It has its own quirky style of animating and telling the story. The visuals are comedic and entertaining to watch. The story does seem odd at first, but the relationship and the story does come across as right in the end. Very enjoyable.

Robin Robin (dirs. Dan Ojari and Mikey Please) – This is a sweet fable of a robin who is raised by mice since birth. The mice have a habit of stealing from humans houses. But every time they attempt stealing, the robin gets the ‘who-mans’ angry and after them. It happens every time. The Robin breaks the top rule of their stealing: “Don’t attract attention.” And now they’re down to the last house in the neighborhood. On Christmas, the robin wants to prove to the mice, and a cat who’s pursuing her, that she can be a good mouse and steal the Christmas Star. In her attempt she fails again, but she later learns a lesson of self-acceptance.

This is a charming story, a fable put to good visuals, Kind of what most of us expect of animation. Aardman Animations, the studio famous for the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun The Sheep movies, does an excellent job in telling the story with great visuals and great characters in its short time. A charming delight for all to see. It’s because of this I give it my Should Win and Will Win picks.

The Windshield Wiper (dir. Alberto Mielgo) – Inside a cafe, a man is smoking a whole pack of cigarettes and reading a newspaper. Then he poses a question he asks all of us: “What is love?” The film then goes over his narrative of how humans view love along with visual images of dates, encounters and even dating apps.

The film is a 2D film full of visuals that are key to telling the story. It gives us colors and various images that we can identify with and also add more significance to what the man is talking about. Funny thing is in these 2D images, we can see us. Sometimes it makes it look like humans nowadays are more clueless about love than ever!

To sum up the five nominated films, all are good in their storytelling. Some are 2D and some 3D. All have their own different style. No two are alike. What’s most surprising is that none of the films shown before the Disney Studios or Disney Pixar films were nominated this year! Most years, one of the films is nominated. That’s a surprise!

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Ala Kachuu: Take And Run (dir. Maria Brendle) – Sezim is a young girl in a village in Kyrgyzstan who dreams of going to college. Her friend Aksana is supportive of her and arranges an interview with the college for her. She even gives her a brief driving lesson. This does not sit well with Sezim’s mother who wants her to be more traditional. One day while working at the bakery, three men come looking for one of her female co workers. The co-worker is absent for her shift. They first leave, but then return to abduct her and have her married off to a man she never met before. This breaks Sezim’s heart because she had so many future goals. Her mother is very approving. The village is supportive of this and her husband acts loving to her. However Sezim is frustrated and needs to find a way to escape. Can she seize the opportunity?

This is an excellent film from director Maria Brendle. It deals with the taboo of marriage-by-capture or “bridenappings.” This is something that is happening in many countries. In most of them, they’re illegal, but law officials are too laxed to enforce the law. Traditionalists often embrace it as the way to be. Often the woman is pressured to stay in the marriage by the society and even her families. This story puts a human image to this taboo issue. Even seeing of how her mother is approving of this sends a message of one of the barriers to stop it. That scene where Oksana is searching for Sezim, but her mother talks scornfully to her about her independent way of living also adds to how traditionalism adds to this problem. Even the attitude of traditionalists to “city girls” says a lot about this issue. It’s because of how a hot but taboo topic is tackled is why I give it my Should Win pick.

The Dress (dir. Tadeusz Lysiak) – Julia is a woman with dwarfism in her thirties who works cleaning motel rooms. She’s been single all her life. Her best friend, Renata, her co-worker for years, is a full-grown divorced woman and the mother of three. Julia often confides to Renata her personal feelings. Julia hates feeling like a misfit. She strongly feels if she was “normal-sized,” she’d have a man in her life. One day, she attracts a patron named Bogdan. She later learns Bogdan lives in the same building as her. Bogdan has been showing attraction to her, but it’s hard to date since he has a trucking job where he frequently goes to Kyiv and back. Could she finally have a chance at love? Julia always dreamed of having a nice dress. Renata helps assemble a dress for her for the big night. The big night between her and Bogdan finally happens, but it turns out to end not how she expected at all.

This is a story you want to have a happy ending. Like finally Julia meeting the man of her dreams. Finally Julia’s in love. Instead, Bogdan turns out to be a misogynist. The ending of the film leaves you wondering if the overall message of the film is about the way women are treated. Julia learned Bogdan gets misogynist in his lust, but Renata has an abusive husband. Maybe the message is saying that it doesn’t matter whether a woman is full sized or small like Julia. Women share the same struggle with their treatment from men. I mean the story appears to be one about a woman with dwarfism searching for a purpose or a belonging but maybe it was meant to be something else.

The Long Goodbye (dirs. Aniel Karia and Riz Ahmed) – The film begins with an Indian family in the UK getting ready for a wedding. Everyone in the house is excited and panicking at the same time. They all want to look their best but will they be ready? However the simple concerns about being dressed properly end as they notice a group of white nationalists enter their area with a van and a gun. Riz is the first to notice and warn the family, but it’s too late. The nationalists enter and demand the family get out of the house where they are lying down on the street. Then one of the men shoots five of his family. Riz gets up and does a rap full of anger about British imperialism and how his people have been treated by the UK in history.

White nationalism is on the rise in many countries, including the UK. Something that many were hoping to see become a thing of the past has seen a recent resurgence as many right-leaning politicians in the world have help embolden racists and stimulated in them a will to be more vocal. Most threatened are the racial minorities. Like families from India who come to settle in the UK. And this is where Riz starts his angry rap about where he’s from. They came to the UK to get a better life only to get this racist incident. He doesn’t know whether to see the UK as a country of opportunity or this monster who’s constantly running his people through the mud time and time again. The mix of drama and Riz’s rap really makes a strong angry statement. He concludes it well when he says “Where I’m from is not your problem, bro.” That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

On My Mind (dir. Martin Strange-Hansen) – It’s morning in a bar in Denmark owned by a husband and wife named Preben and Louise. Louise doesn’t have too many customers to serve which allows Preben to do accounting of all the receipts from the previous night. A depressed-looking disheveled man comes into the bar and asks for a large amount of a whisky. His name is Henrik. As he’s drinking, he notices the bar has a karaoke microphone. He asks Louise if he can do a song for his wife: the country song “Always On My Mind.” The problem is the karaoke system isn’t on until the evening. Henrik can’t wait until the evening. He has to do it now. He even gives the two 500 Krone to do it. Preben is stingy about it, but Louise is more willing. Preben begrudgingly allows him one chance. Henrik starts singing and Louise records his singing on his smartphone, but it’s interrupted by a message. Henrik attempts to do it again, but Preben cuts the power to the screen. He’s had it with him, especially since running the karaoke machine is costly. He even gives Henrik his money back, but it’s there when Henrik explains the reason why this is so important; his wife doesn’t even have an hour to live. It’s there when Preben is willing. Henrik is finally able to complete his rendition of the song and play for his wife to hear, even if she’s brain-dead when he plays it for her.

At the end of the showing of the shorts, I was with some Danish students who said it’s very common in Danish student movies to have it set in a bar. I never knew that. Whatever the situation, this is a good story. You think it’s one thing but it turns out to be something more instead. You think it’s a simple karaoke song, but instead it’s Henrik’s last opportunity to tell his wife he loves her. Even though she’s brain-dead, he senses she got the message. The film gets you believing in the human soul and it convinces you the love between Henrik and his wife is eternal. Not just “til death do us part.”

Please Hold (dirs. K. D. Davila and Levin Menekse) – A young man named Matteo is just living his life normally when all of a sudden, a police drone, gun and all, has let him know he’s under arrest. He’s ordered to enter the automated police car which takes him to the automated holding centre. He’s instructed to go to his cell, where he’s unattended and supervised by video cameras. He can see a lawyer, but it’s through an online legal service where lawyers meet through Zoom-style meetings. Making phone calls to anyone is very costly and credits can be earned back through time or hobbies automatically delivered. That’s especially frustrating since Matteo is in danger of being sentenced to over 20 years in prison. He needs a lawyer bad. He takes a knitting hobby which he slowly earns credit. He does get the lawyer money he needs from his mother, but the appointment fizzles out, leaving him extremely frustrated. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a very unique “What If” scenario. We have computers and Zoom meetings taking care of a lot of our duties. Can we really trust an automated justice system or police drones? Sure, the flesh-and-blood police have lost a lot of our trust, but replaced by computers? This film seems to think computerized technology can’t replace human interaction. Also Matteo’s scenario of being in a prison where he can only communicate through automation could even remind a lot of people of the pandemic and of its tightest days of how people had to confine themselves to their houses. A lot of ways you can look at this film.

To sum up the nominated Live-Action Shorts nominees, all of them are very good films. There are a lot of stories that are well thought-out and some stories that end up being more than what one originally expects. Some have topics that are very relevant to what’s happening now, like about racism and sexism. There’s one that focuses on a futuristic topic and fancies what the future of justice will be like, which is nothing to fancy over. And there’s one about a universal topic of love beyond death that has always been one of thought and continues to be one of thought.

And there you go. This is my summary of the films nominated for the Oscars for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Hope you’re lucky enough to catch them in the movie theatre like I did. Some may be seen on streaming services or YouTube, but the big screen experience can’t be beat.

VIFF 2021 Review: Drunken Birds (Les oiseaux ivres)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2021 Shorts Forum: Programme 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2021 Review: Zo Reken

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

What do I look like in this vehicle?

This van draws attention for all the wrong reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2021 Review: Kicking Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2020 Review: Violation

Violation is a revenge fantasy co-written, co-directed and starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer.

DISCLAIMER: I know we’re well into December and the VIFF ended almost three months ago, but I have been too busy with work and my part-time courses. They all left me with no time for me to finish my blogging. Now I have the time and I aim to finish my last five VIFF blogs over this next week.

Violation is another Canadian-made feature I took an interest in. Especially since it’s part of the Altered States slate of the VIFF. That film is definitely something else!

The film begins with a woman and a man alone in a cabin. They appear to be ready to engage in something sexual. Even something kinky and involving bondage. The woman ties the man’s hands up and he is excited for what he thinks he’s going to get. He’s waiting for it, but instead she hits him hard across the head and he’s unconscious.

The film then flashes back to the beginning. Miriam is a woman on the edge of a divorce and with a new boyfriend, Caleb. She goes on a getaway with her younger sister, Greta, whom she hasn’t seen in years. The getaway is in a cabin by the lake just outside the woods and joining Greta is her fiance Dylan. The getaway looks to be a good time to relax and reunite with family members.

However all that changes one day. Miriam decides to sleep for awhile during the daytime, but Dylan enters in for more than just a visit. You can tell that Dylan violates her by the mere image of her eye and her look of horrific shock.

Returning back to after Miriam hit Dylan, Miriam has a lot of cleaning detergents and tarps. It’s clear she wants todo more than just kill Dylan. She assumes Dylan is already dead after she first hit him across the head, but even with Dylan’s face covered, Dylan regains consciousness. She has to kill him, and she strikes his head again and continues until he’s sure he’s dead.

It doesn’t end there. Miriam now has to dispose of Dylan’s body. Trying to do that is very hard as she will have to decapitate him and saw off his body… and clean everything up so it’s all unnoticeable. She even has to have his body drain of blood above the bathtub. She does that with immense difficulty. She then saws off his head and legs and wraps his whole body in a tarp. After all that, she takes his bagged body and burns it to the point it’s nothing but ashes blowing in the wind by the lake. It may be over but Miriam is not the same. You can tell as a Russian couple are arguing nearby a shore and she interferes to tell the man to leave his wife alone. The look on her face at the end says it all.

The film then flashes back to before the whole murder and disposal happened. Miriam and Greta are out for a carefree swim on the beach. They get into good conversation about memories, but Miriam has to tell Greta the truth about Dylan. Miriam tell her but Greta does not believe her. In fact, Greta gives her a reaction of betrayal. The film ends with the look on Miriam’s face just before she’s about to commit the murder.

Right before the film was about to begin, one of the VIFF emcees said that the directors are known for making films of uncomfortable viewing. This film has a lot of uncomfortable things about it. First off being a rape, then a murder during a sex act, then a dismemberment. It does give you the impression that these filmmakers want to do some unwatchable elements Lars von Trier may have not tapped into. The rape wasn’t graphic, but we get a sense of what’s happening by the sex sounds of Dylan and the wide-eye of Miriam. The dismemberment was very graphic. I wondered how on earth they were able to get a realistic-looking fake body to do the scene. The first attempt at murder was graphic as well as the successful second attempt.

Actually the scene where Dylan thinks he’s about to have sex with Miriam was quite graphic. When I saw the erection, I wondered if it was real or not? I’m no prude, but I’ve always considered an erection on film to be the stuff of porn. So when I saw that scene, I was thinking “I hope that’s a dildo!”

The film attempts to tell a story of a woman who’s a victim of misogyny and plots her revenge. The film shows how the whole incident changed her. You can tell as she reacts when she comes across a Russian couple arguing after she finished with the murder. I’m sure misogyny and men who act as sex predators is a major message of the film. However I think the film mixes things up in the storytelling. You’ll notice it’s not chronological from start to finish. It’s a lot like Pulp Fiction where it goes from one time period of a story to the next and mixes it up in various scene. This film does the same thing too. However the arrangement of the story seems like it didn’t make sense to have one scene one place and another scene one place and to have the image of Miriam before she commits the murder at the very end. I don’t think the placements were well-placed. I get the ending, where they show the look on Miriam’s face and it showed a person irreversibly changed, but I think placement of sequences could have been better.

Despite its flaws, one of the film’s best storytelling qualities are the various filmshots. The rape scene is only scene through the eye of Miriam. That image and the sounds accompanying are all you need to know to get the message. The overhead shots of the lake area aren’t just picturesque scene shots. They’re also shots sending the message that anything can happen in the remote outdoors. The scene of Dylan’s ashes all in the air and around the lake area send the message that Miriam is leaving it all behind. And by leaving it all behind, it’s everything: Dylan, sister Greta, Caleb, and especially the life Miriam once led.

This film is a very good work for directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer. They have written and directed many short films before and some shorts together. This is the first feature length film for both as writers and as directors. It’s flaws are noticeable, but it definitely succeeds as an ambitious work. I strongly believe I will see better from both of them in the near future. Madeleine also does an excellent job in embodying the character with both the emotional and psychological transitions throughout the story. This is a story she co-wrote so it makes sense that she knows the character inside out. Outside of the role of Miriam, there weren’t too many other roles that were well-developed. Anna Maguire’s role as Greta was the only supporting role that showed any depth. Jesse LaVercombe’s role as Dylan was too two-dimensional as the predator who appears charming at first. The additions of the music of Andrea Boccadoro and the cinematography of Adam Crosby add to the film.

Violation has won awards and earned nominations at many Canadian film festivals. Directors Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli have received the most acclaim with the Emerging Canadian Artists award at the Calgary Film Festival, a Rising Stars award at the Toronto Film Festival, a Best Canadian Film nomination at Toronto, a Best Canadian Feature Nomination at the Montreal Film Festival and a Discovery Award nominee at the Directors Guild of Canada Awards.

Violation is a story about being violated by a predator and getting revenge. However it’s a story that’s not put together the best and ends on a confusing note. Hard to make sense what the film was trying to be.

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 was addicted to drugs and 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 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 addiction and 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. There’s just 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, a recovered drug addict, 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.