Tag Archives: Canada

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group E Focus

Of course the group I’m most interested in is the one which Canada’s in. And Canada has some strong challengers like Cameroon, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Just because Canada comes as one of the top-ranked teams, it doesn’t mean they will waltz their way to the Round of 16. However many players of Team Canada are saying they believe this to be their best team ever. Midfielder Desiree Scott agrees: “You’re always going into these major tournaments wanting to win the World Cup, I think all teams want to say that. I can say, personally, I know this World Cup we say we want to win, but it’s the first time in many years that I truly believe we can.”

Whatever the situation, Group E promises excitement as the other three teams have pulled upsets before and are capable of pulling an upset here in France. So without further ado, here’s a look at 2019 WWC’s Group E:

Canada-Canada (5): It was losing all three games at WWC 2011 that really changed the Canadian team. In came coach John Herdman who helped them all become better players and even won Olympic bronze in 2012. They had continued success at the 2015 Women’s World Cup where as host nation, they made it to the quarterfinals and even delivered Canada’s first WWC win of a knockout match since 2003 (which I saw live). At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Canada won bronze again. Canada also won the Algarve Cup that year and last year, they finished second at the CONCACAF championships.

In 2018, John Herdman was moved to the Canadian men’s national team. taking his place is Danish coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller who was assistant coach the previous five years and even coached Denmark’s national team at the 2007 Women’s World Cup. The team has a mix of young and experienced players like captain Christine Sinclair, midfielder Sophie Schmidt, defender Kadeisha Buchanan who won the Best Young Player award at the last WWC, midfielder Julia Grosso, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. Canada has not has a single loss in 2019 accumulating wins against England, Scotland and Norway and drawing against Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. However in 2018, they did have losses to the United States, Germany and France. If Canada’s on here in France, they could  just get Canada’s first Top 3 finish, or even a win!

Cameroon-Cameroon (46): Cameroon come as underdogs to the tournament, but don’t be fooled. Cameroon qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics and at the previous Women’s World Cup in Canada, they progressed to the Round of 16! At the last three Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon has had two runner-up finishes and their most recent being third.

In Cameroon’s games this year, they won against Croatia, but lost to Spain and China. Most of the team’s play has been against Cameroonian clubs and Spanish clubs. Despite being unknown how well they do, Cameroon could pull an upset in France. Plus you can trust the Cameroonian communities in France giving them a big boost in the crowds.

NZL-New Zealand (19): New Zealand is a team that should not be taken lightly. Sure, they have it easy in qualifying with getting the Oceania berth ever since Australia transferred to the AFC. However they’re more capable than you think. They may have never won a game at the Women’s World Cup, but they have won two games at the Olympics and even qualified for a quarterfinal in 2012. They’ve also made the Top 4 of three of the last four Algarve Cups.

These past twelve months, New Zealand has had some good key wins against England, Mexico, Norway and Argentina. However they’ve also had losses to Japan, Australia, South Korea and the USA. However don’t count New Zealand out as a possible contender here in France. They may try for their first WWC win here, but they can achieve a lot more too.

Netherlands Fixed-Netherlands (8): If there’s one team that can prevent Canada from topping Group E, it’s the Netherlands. Netherlands surprised everyone at the previous Women’s World Cup when they not only qualified for the first time, but made it to the Round of 16. At the Women’s Euro in 2017 which they hosted, they won. This was one of only two times Germany didn’t win the Women’s Euro. And to boot, they made it to the final of the 2018 Algarve Cup.

In the last twelve months, the Netherlands has continued to play well. They’ve had wins against Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and Denmark, even draws against China and Switzerland. They’ve also had losses to Spain, Poland and Norway. 2019 can be a new chapter for the Dutch team.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

I have to go with my best hunches here and pick Canada to top the group with the Netherlands second. The way things look right now, I’m picking New Zealand for third.

And that’s it for my look at Group E. One last group to review before the 2019 Women’s World Cup begins!

WORK CITED:

van Diest, Derek. ‘Canada bringing its best to FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.’ Toronto Sun. 3 June 2019. <https://torontosun.com/sports/soccer/van-diest-canada-bringing-its-best-to-fifa-womens-world-cup-in-france>

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Oscars 2018 Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m good at keeping count of all the years I’m able to see all the Best Picture nominees, but I don’t know how many consecutive years I’ve seen the shorts. However I did it again this year. I lucked out and saw all the shorts for this year’s Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film categories. There were a lot of differences of the films, but a lot of similarities too. Here’s my review of the films:

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS:

The col thing about this year is that two films — Fauve and Marguerite — come from Canada. More specifically, Quebec. The five films nominated are very different in genre and story, but all are deserving of their nominations:

Detainment: dir. Vincent Lambe – This is the most controversial of the five films. February 12, 1993 started off as a day in which two 10 year-old boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson simply played truant from school and stole items from nearby stores. That all changed when they saw 2 year-old James Bulger standing outside the butcher shop unattended. The film focuses intensely on the police interrogations. Both Thompson and Venables are interrogated separately. Both boys’ parents are in the room listening in, and in complete paralyzing shock.

The film is based off of some of the recorded interrogations of the two boys. The film appears to be a character study of the two individual boys. Thompson appears defiant and remorseless while Venables is constantly lying and frequently cries, even hysterically. The film also relives the moments such as when adults butt in and how they walked Bulger the long distance to the track where he died. It becomes gripping without getting too disturbing.

NOTE: The film has attracted a lot of controversy because of its subject matter. The James Bulger murder is a murder that still upsets the UK, especially Liverpool, to this day. The mother has gone on BBC speaking her anger and demanded the film be removed from the list of nominees. That’s why even though I think it’s the best film of all five, I feel it should not win the Oscar. I don’t see it trying to bring any sympathy to the two boys, but it still upsets many from the UK to this day.

Fauve: dir. Jeremy Comte – Two boys, Tyler and Benjamin, are playing an innocent power game. They first do it around an abandoned train. However they decide to take their game to a surface mine for a concrete factory. Then the game becomes deadly as Benjamin finds himself sinking in the wet cement. Tyler tries to help, but to no avail as it stops him too. Any help from Tyler helps to no avail. Then the aftermath as a woman offers a ride home tells a lot.

The film is a good short story. The story starts off as simple fun and games, but then turns to a dark tragic drama when you least expect it. Even the ending leaves you asking questions at the end. Very good short.

Marguerite: dir. Marianne Farley – Marguerite is an elderly lady nearing the last years of her life at home. She is nursed on a daily basis by a young nurse named Rachel. One day, she overhears a phone conversation between Rachel and another woman. It sounds romantic. Later, Marguerite notices Rachel’s phone in the bathroom and sees romantic photos of Rachel and the other woman. One day, Marguerite unearths a photo album. The photos are back in the 1960’s and are of her and another woman named Cecile. It brings back memories of the two. Cecile would later marry a man. After being put to bed early because of a fall, Marguerite confesses in her bed to Rachel of Cecile and why she never ‘loved’ her.

This is a story that is slow, but it tells a lot. It’s about two women, both lesbians, who are a product of their times. One couldn’t love a woman because it was considered a ‘mortal sin’ and was criminalized. The other is free to love another woman without guilt. It’s there where they share their special bond at the end. That’s why I declare this my Should Win pick.

Mother: dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Marta is relaxing at her place with her mother around. Her son Ivan is on the coast of the French Riviera with his father on vacation. Soon Marta receives a phone call from Ivan. Ivan is alone on a remote area of the coast. The father abandoned him. Nobody except a strange man is around. The battery in Ivan’s phone is dying. Soon Marta calls the police, but the police have no way to locate Ivan as Ivan doesn’t know where he is. Then a second phone call from Ivan happens. That leaves Marta even more frightened and causes Marta to rush out.

The film’s best attribute is that it captures the moment. It’s between cellphones and Marta’s domain. The qualities are what we know and what we don’t know and it builds on the suspense. The weakness is that it appears to be part of a film rather than a full film. It feels like it has a beginning and a middle, but no end. I’m sure the purpose of the director was to give us a film that leaves us in suspense, but it leaves you wondering what was the point of this partial-film? Social message? Suspense story? What?

Skin: dir. Guy Nattiv – Troy is a ten year-old boy growing up in a remote area of the southern USA. The father, Johnny Aldd, is bringing him up to be rough and tough. The father even teaches Troy how to shoot a real gun with the help of his neo-Nazi friends. One day at a supermarket, Troy smiles at an African American man just simply buying groceries. Johnny gets angry and shouts racist slurs, but the black man walks off calm, collect, but angry and lets him know it. Johnny response by getting his friends to rush over and beat the black man up near his van while his family watches in horror, and Troy watches on.

Days later, Troy and Johnny go out somewhere, but the father is captured by a van of African American men. They put a sleeping injection in Johnny and a tattoo artist goes over his racist tattoos, leaving you wondering what will come. After eleven days, Johnny is dropped back at his home. The tattoo artist completely covered him in black, to Johnny’s horror. As Johnny tries to come home, his wife and son react in fear. It ends with a surprise ending.

No question the main theme of the film is about racism. However the film is also about cliques and breeding fear into people. The film can say that the culture of fear can also be why the United States has a gun problem. Seeing how neo-Naziism exposed its face in the Unite-The-Right rally in August 2017, this is a film very relevant to our times. Even with its bizarre story and surprise ending. That’s why I pick it at my Will Win pick.

ANIMATED SHORTS:

This makes for a very eclectic five films chosen for this year. One of the films is from a Canadian animation company. However there are two American films that hint they may have some Canadian ingredients:

Animal Behaviour: dirs. Alison Snowden and David Fine – Various animals walk into a psychology group meeting with a dog doctor leading the meeting. All have a problem to confess. However problems arrive when a gigantic ape with an anger problem comes in. He doesn’t want to be helped. The pig, the leech and the moth are all cooperative, but the ape is disruptive. Then the ape confesses his problem, but also throws a fit in the process and all havoc is wreaked. Right at the end, and with all the damage done, the ape appears helped and will be back next week.

This is some clever 2D animation that may appear simple and crude by most, but fits the story well. Also the whole story of all the animals involved and their problems makes for funny hilarity.

Bao: dirs. Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb – A Chinese-Canadian woman makes dumplings for her busy husband, but one comes alive. She raises it to be like her own baby. She mothers it with her caring nature, but the son grows up out to be rebellious and even leaves to marry a white woman he loves. She can’t handle it and eats him. Heartbroken after ‘eating’ him, she wakes up to find out it’s just a dream. She’s a mother going through empty-nest syndrome and the child dumpling in her dream was mirroring her own son’s life. It ends on a happy note.

This is the short shown before Incredibles 2. Once again, Pixar adds another excellent writer to its dream team. Director Domee Shi started as a storyboard artist for The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. Here she has a chance to let her creativity flow with a charming story which transcends race and delights people of all ages and backgrounds.

Late Afternoon: dirs. Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzales Blanco – Emily is an elderly woman who is constantly tended to by Kate. Frequently Emily’s memory goes back to her past from moments in her childhood and her carefree nature and then to moments in her young adulthood. Her memory keeps going in and out. Then at the end, she’s reminded Kate is her daughter.

This does seem like a heavy short as the story appears to be either about Dementia or Alzheimers. The use of animation helps with the drifting of Emily’s mind from the present to the past back to the present again. A very good short, but it may be too deep for some.

One Small Step: dirs. Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas – Luna is a Chinese-American girl with dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lives with her father, a shoe cobbler. He has always let Luna know how much he loves her with the shoes he crafts for her and with his business. He uses his money to promote Luna’s dream. As a young child, Luna cherishes every minute of her father. As she grows up, she becomes more distant from her father and even too busy with her college work. Things take a turn for the worse as she starts failing courses and is denied acceptance into astronaut training. Then one day she comes home and learns that her father has passed. Heartbroken, she then turns her life around and starts a new ambition. This leads to the happy ending we all want.

The story is a very good story as it deals with a common theme of father-daughter relationships. The story may appear heartbreaking, but ends with the positive energy it began with. The animation was excellent and the story, with no dialogue at all, told us a lot. I call this my Should Win and Will Win pick.

Weekends: dir. Trevor Jimenez – A young boy living in downtown Toronto in the mid-1980’s is divided between the time between the homes of his father and his mother. The father is more playful with an imagination into samurai swords. The mother is more serious while she’s dating a man who doesn’t take well to the boy. As the stories shift between the two world, they become intertwined with the boy’s dreams and the dreams tell a lot about the realities of the home lives he’s going through.

Trevor Jimenez has been a storyboard artist for Pixar films and has his chance at doing his own short film. It’s all hand-drawn which adds to the effect of the story. The point of this story was to mix the eerie dreams with the boy’s unfriendly reality. It does a great job in creating the right environment for the film and the drama.

And that’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Last year I was better at predicting the shorts winners, but this year looks to be very open. There are some that look like clear winners, but anything can happen in these categories. It will all be decided on Sunday the 24th.

2018 Grey Cup Preview

GreyCup Image

It’s the football event that defines us Canadians. Grey Cup Sunday is back. This year marks the 106th contesting of the Cup. Again it’s East vs. West. Like 2016, it’s Calgary vs. Ottawa.

FIFTH TIME FOR EDMONTON

This marks the fifth time the Grey Cup will be contested in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. The Stadium, which was built in 1978 to host the Commonwealth Games, is one of the biggest in Canada. It features a basic capacity of 56,302 and can be expanded to just over 63,000. Since 2016, the Stadium has been named ‘The Brick Field At Commonwealth Stadium.’

One thing about Edmonton is that they really love their football. It was announced back in February that they’d make Grey Cup festivities twice as big as they were in 2010: the last time Edmonton hosted. The five-day festival which started on Wednesday is to include things like a ZipLine, an artificial hill and a multitude of musical acts and theme parties. Since the Grey Cup would be taking place around the annual Santa’s Parade Of Lights, the event would be combined into one parade. For entertainment, The Reklaws will perform prior to the game as part of the Sirius XM Canada KickOff Show. The half-time show will be performed by Alessia Cara.

And Now The Game

As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be a 2016 rematch of the Calgary Stampeders vs. the Ottawa RedBlacks. The Stampeders are the heavy favorites again, but there are no guarantees in sports. The RedBlacks could win their second Grey Cup in only their fifth year of existence.

stampedersWEST: CALGARY STAMPEDERS

The Calgary Stampeders not only lead the Western division but the whole CFL too. They come as the heavy favorites for this year. But this is a constant repeat. This is the third year in a row the Stampeders have topped the CFL in Regular play and won the West Final. The thing is they lost the Grey Cup both times as the heavy favorite. In no way will they want this to be their third loss of the Cup in a row.

Going over their regular season, Calgary has had thirteen wins and five losses. All of their losses were from teams in the West. In the West Final, they won beating Winnipeg 22-14. They had just lost to Winnipeg three weeks earlier in regular season. That alone can send the message that Calgary can overcome a lot. Calgary has the best defense in the league and they will present a challenge when put to the test. However Ottawa does have a tough offence, which I will touch on later. That could be the one thing standing in the way of Calgary avoiding a three-peat of Grey Cup losses. Not to mention weather could be a factor. I still remember last year’s Grey Cup and how it snowed heavily. The snowy slippery field was too much for Calgary that day.

ottawaEAST: OTTAWA REDBLACKS

The East teams don’t have as jam-packed the combined talent the West does. However the Ottawa RedBlacks turned out to be the only team from the East this year to have more wins than losses in regular season. Their record of 11 wins and 7 losses would have them ranking third in the West. However don’t let sabermetrics fool you. They did beat the Eskimoes, the RoughRiders, the Lions and the Bombers in at least one game. The only loss to an East team was to a game against the Argonauts back in August.

The RedBlacks lost both their games against the Stampeders in the regular season, but both games were in June and July. The RedBlacks are a different team now. Calgary may have the best defense in the CFL, but Ottawa has a tough offense to match. On top of it, Ottawa has a star quarterback in Trevor Harris. In fact Harris scored a playoff-record six passes during Ottawa’s 46-27 win in the East Final. They could just pull another upset.

FINAL PREDICTION

I know it’s tough to pick. Sure, it’s easy to think Calgary’s going to win it, but I thought that in the last two Grey Cups. I think Calgary will do it this time 30-25. Plus the weather will look good for tomorrow.

So there you have it. That’s my prediction for tomorrow’s Grey Cup. I knew I had to complete my VIFF Wrap-Up before I gave my Grey Cup prediction. Glad I had the energy to do both. We’ll see who wins tomorrow!

VIFF 2018 Wraps Up Another Good Year

Cinema

I know I’m late in doing my VIFF Wrap-Up blog. It’s been a crazy time. It’s not just seeing a total of twenty-one films but craziness involving work, a computer with faults, illnesses and injury, and post-secondary classes. Nevertheless I finally have the ambition to complete it today.

The 2018 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 12th. There were big crowds throughout the festival. There was a lot to see with over 300 films from almost 70 countries and territories.

The 2017 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 12th. Crowds came again and again. There was a lot to offer with over 300 films from 69 countries. There were at least fifteen films that are official entries for the Academy Awards category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year. Fourteen films made their World Premiere at the Festival (six were from Canada and four were from BC), one their International Premiere, 38 their North American Premiere and 42 their Canadian Premiere.

Oscar Bingo

How about that? I got 21 out of 24 at VanCity’s Oscar Bingo…

The VIFF again offered Hub events and special lectures on film making topics from various professionals in its many fields.  There was the VIFF Immersed virtual reality exhibit in which I will reflect on later in this blog. The Director’s Guild of Canada held Creator Talks. The first Saturday was Totally Indie Day with focuses on independent film from project to creation to promotion. There was the VIFF AMP conference which was a series of talks about musical promotion, primarily in film. There was even a Sustainable Production Forum on topics of how to makes films through environmentally-friendly means to promoting environmentalism in films.

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

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

WINNER: Broken Bunny (dir. Meredith Hama-Brown)

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

Best BC Film Award
Presented by the Harold Greenberg Fund, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: Edge Of The Knife (dirs. Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA & William F. White
WINNER: Freaks (dirs. Zac Lipovsky & Adam Stein)

Canadian Film Awards

Narrative Features

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

WINNER: Edge Of The Knife (dirs. Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown)

Special Mentions: Genesis (dir. Philippe Lesage) & the Grizzlies (dir. Miranda de Pencier)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: When The Storm Fades (dir. Sean Devlin)

Special Mention: M/M (dir. Drew Lint)

Documentary Features

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: The Museum Of Forgotten Triumphs (dir. Bojan Bodruzic)

Special Mention: A Sister’s Song (dir. Danae Elon)

Short Film Awards
Best BC Short Film
Presented by CreativeBC
WINNER: Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) (dir. Amanda Strong)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Lexus
WINNER: Fauve (dir. Jeremy Comte)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: EXIT (dir. Claire Edmonson)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: The Devil We Know (dir. Stephanie Soechtig)

Special Mentions: The Silence Of Others (dirs. Almudena Carraceco & Robert Bahar) & Samouni Road (dir. Stefano Savona)

Vancouver Women In Film And Television Artistic Merit Awards:

Award For Drama:

WINNER: Mouthpiece (dir. Patricia Rozema)

Award For Documentary:

WINNER: What Walaa Wants (dir. Christy Garland)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Finding Big Country (dir. Kathleen Jayne)

VIFF Most Popular International Feature
WINNER: Shoplifters– Japan (dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Bathtubs Over Broadway (dir. Dava Whisenant)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature
WINNER: Edge Of The Knife (dirs. Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown)

#mustseebc Presented by Storyhive
WINNER: Finding Big Country (dir. Kat Jayme)

As for my volunteer experience, this was a different time. I was originally given office work to do over at the head office. One of the more difficult things was that the office positions were only announced just two days or even a single day before the shift. That didn’t fit very well with me as I work a job from 830 to 430 and if I were to take one of those positions, I would have to let my place know a good three working days in advance, especially this time of year. I did however do a variety of volunteering. I did some ushering over at the SFU and International Village cinemas as well as the Centre For Performing Arts. I did some work over at the virtual reality exhibit, which I will focus on a bit later. I helped serve one morning at the VIFF AMP conference over at The Annex which I will also touch on a bit later. I ended my volunteering with the takedown at the International Village. Their takedown was Thursday the 11th: the day before the VIFF concluded. It was late at night and we finished at midnight. We were rewarded with free passes to VanCity Theatre films. The rewards of being a volunteer.

There was a volunteer party at the VanCity the following Friday. It was great. We had catered food with a Southern USA atmosphere. It consisted of a mix of vegetables and meats like pulled pork and roast chicken. There was also the VIFF bank playing bluegrass.

Platinum Pass

…and I won a VIFF Platinum Pass!

For those who didn’t know, I won a Platinum Pass on the day of the Oscars. How did it happen? The VanCity Theatre, the main venue for the VIFF, had their annual Oscar party and their Oscar Bingo Contest. How Oscar Bingo works is you fill out your predictions for all 24 categories on the bingo squares. Here’s how good my predictions were. I was the first to get a row. I soon got a second row, but that was it for minor prizes for me. At the end of the night, I got 21 out of 24 right. The Oscars were that predictable. Plus I took a gamble on guessing The Shape Of Water to win Best Picture, and it paid off! As the night ended, I found out one other person had 21 out of 24 right. We both won Platinum Passes! It was exciting as I would experience having a Platinum Pass for the first time.

As for the films I saw, here’s a list of them. I have the country of origin in brackets and an asterisk marking those that are their country’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry:

I’m happy with the choices I saw. Some I was able to choose well in advance while some I chose because of the time. Some I wanted to see I did. Some I wasn’t so lucky. Like Can You Ever Forgive Me? showed at the same time as Boy Erased. I can only choose one! However I did achieve my usual VIFF goals of seeing one shorts segment, one Canadian feature and one nation’s entry for the Best Foreign language Film Oscar. It was crazy juggling having my volunteer pass and my Platinum pass on the same chain. Often if I wanted to see a film, I’d use my Platinum Pass and I’d get any seat I wanted! That was the best thing about having a Platinum Pass.

The biggest thing I learned about having a Platinum Pass this year is that they’re best for people who have all sixteen days of the festival available. I see a lot of seniors with the Platinum Passes and they make good use out of it. They are the ones that can see five films in one day, if they have the tenacity to do so. I still had my jobs to attend to during the time so that really kept me from seeing a lot. Also volunteering kept me from seeing a lot too. I remember I told one of the VIFF supervisors during Oscar night “Even though I won, I still plan to volunteer.” It was a double-edged sword to do both volunteering and own a platinum pass as most of the time, you’re outside the action. If I ever pay $900 for a Platinum Pass in the future, it will be after I retire.

Virtual Reality

The VIFF isn’t all about big screen films. It also includes virtual reality films.

There were two things I attended as a volunteer that I could not attend for free via my Platinum Pass. That was the VIFF Immersed virtual reality exhibit and the VIFF AMP conference. If I wanted to attend it, I would have to pay full admission. Being a volunteer was a good experience in both cases. For virtual reality, I learned quite a lot about a new means of film making and animation. I’ll admit I haven’t caught onto the VR craze. I had my first experience with VR at the exhibit as volunteers were allow to try things out. It was nice to try two of the VR films; both films were made in BC. I also assisted in showing a VR exhibit to students from a Vancouver high school who were on a field trip. My shift was ending just as they were about to set the place up for ticketholders. As my shift ended, I tried a state-of-the-art animated VR show called Fire Escape. It was too technical for me to handle. It’s good that the VIFF have a virtual reality exhibit. One thing we shouldn’t forget is that VIFF focuses on all formats of film: not just feature-length. They also focus on writing in film and even music in film. It was a good experience to attend the VIFF AMP conference for the morning. I was given the duty to have musicians onstage sign waivers for VIFF promotional videos. I learned a lot from some of the musicians and producers and agents about the challenges of getting music promoted in your film as well as the worldwide promotion of music in general.

So overall I’d say it was an excellent VIFF and a unique experience this year. This was the first year I saw over twenty films! Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 26th to October 11th, 2019 and should also be a unique experience. No doubt I will be back to volunteer!

VIFF 2018 Review: Edge Of The Knife (SG̲aawaay Ḵ’uuna)

Edge Knife

Tyler York plays a Haida man who’s inner monster overtakes him in Edge Of The Knife.

One of my goals each VIFF is to see a Canadian feature-length film. I had the good fortune when I went to see Edge Of The Knife. Not only is it a Canadian feature, but possibly the only feature-length film ever completely in the Haida language!

The film begins with the carving of a wooden mask and then burning it in a fire. The story begins with a meeting of two Haida families over at the Haida Gwaii in Northwestern BC in the 19th Century. It’s an annual fishing camp the families have together. Adiits’ii is the oldest son of and close to the family of Kwa and his son Gaas, who sees Adiits’ii as his mentor. Kwa’s wife Hlaaya finds his appetite for challenges to be too reckless for her son. However Adiits’ii often feels belittled by his own family. Sometimes Kwa makes him feel inferior.

In the evening, Adiits’ii decides to take Gaas onto the waters on boat. Overnight a storm hits the coast. The families fear the worst for Adiits’ii and Gaas. The next morning, the bad news. Gaas is found dead on the coast. Adiits’ii is missing and presumed dead. However Adiits’ii is still alive. He’s in a remote forested location and feels he can’t return because of the reactions from others he fears. Secluded, he becomes overtaken by a huge spirit. He transforms into a Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid — the legendary Haida Wildman  — and his behaviors become feral and even demonic. The whole family searches for Adiits’ii. Kwa and his wife are first to discover Adiits’ii, but lashes out at him wanting to kill him. The wife tries to stop him, but that leads Kwa to speak out his belief of who he thinks Gaas’ true father is. The families work to get Adiits’ii captured before they can free him from his possession. They set up a trap and they succeed. It’s at a ritualistic ceremony that involves prayer and piercing of the chest that they have to free Adiits’ii from the possession of the Gaagiixiid. The film ends with Adiits’ii carving out a mask out of wood, the very mask seen at the beginning, and burning it. At the end, we notice it’s in the image of how Adiits’ii was when possessed by the Gaagiixiid.

As far as film quality goes, this is a film I’d call great, but not excellent. The story is very good as it focuses on physical actions and unspoken feelings. However I have seen Canadian films with better dialogue and better story lines. Culturally, this is an excellent film as it captures the Haida culture and the Haida language without any interruption of the English language. Also it captures Haida mythology with excellence. It introduces us to the Gaagiixid. I am not familiar with Haida culture at all, but the film gives me a good understanding about the mythological belief of other beings. We should remember that Adiits’ii is a person with personal demons. He feels like the misfit and he feels like he’s belittled. Although he doesn’t say it, it’s obvious. After the accidental death of Gaas, it’s his guilt that gets the best of him and runs away. It’s there when he turns into the Gaagiixid. I believe the Gaagiixid is all about his personal demons and bad self-image. He had to conquer the Gaagiixid inside of him to truly come to peace with who he is and what he did.

This is an accomplishment of a film as far as culture goes. First off, this is a film done by not one, but two First Nations directors: Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown. Secondly, this is a film done completely in the Haida language. This is a film that is essential for the language. At first, Haida was the only language the people spoke. However with the happenings of past history and with modernization, there are only twenty fluent Haida-speakers left. Even though there is educating young people inn the Haida language or even a resurgence of bringing back the language, the struggle is still there. This film does an excellent job in displaying the language and the culture of the Haida people. The idea of the film came back in 2011 by University professor Leonie Sandercock. In making the film, those involved received a Partnership Development Grant of $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, so even arts funds knew of the importance of this film to be made. Also to create a time before European settlers arrived really involved a lot of effort. The whole

Also the film has been widely welcomed and celebrated by the Haida peoples and other First Nations peoples of BC. I remember a couple of times during the VIFF, I was waiting to see a film after Edge Of The Knife over at the theatre I was to attend. Each time I was in line, I was given the news that there would be a 30-40 minute delay of the start of my film. As Edge Of The Knife finished, I saw more than just people exiting. I saw some dressed in traditional First Nations costume. Some even brought drums and performed a song of celebration. When I saw that, I felt I had to see Edge Of The Knife when I had the chance. This was more than just something. I’m glad I did.

Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown did an excellent job in directing and creating a world far back in the past and appear authentic. The script by Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Sandercock was not too intense in terms of dialogue, but it does present a very good story that’s more about emotions and image-based. Tyler York did a very good job as Adiits’ii. His acting was more about what was inside of him rather than what he said. Willy Russ almost stole the show as Kwa. The actors involved are more of a Haida community rather than actors by profession. All did a very good job. The film was light on special effects, but the effects fit the film and the scenes right. It didn’t need more effects than necessary.

Edge Of The Knife may not be the best Canadian film I’ve seen or even the best of subject of First Nations peoples. However this is a very culturally-important film that deserves to be shown. It also tells its story in both an entertaining and mesmerizing way. Definitely worth seeing.

VIFF 2018 Shorts Segment: Escape Routes

Cinema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF Is Back!

Cinema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PyeongChang 2018: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

Two days ago, I did a blog focusing on the foreign athletes to watch for at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Now it’s time for me to focus on the Canadians to watch out for. We may not have the superteam we had back at the Vancouver 2010 Games, but we’re still a winter sports superpower and feature some top contenders throughout the sports. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadian athletes to win a total of 30 medals including nine gold. That’s third only to Norway and Germany. Without further ado, here are some Canadians to look out for:

Mark McMorris – Snowboarding: Now Saskatchewan doesn’t come to mind to most in terms of producing top-notch skiers. However the hills and mountains are high enough to breed some good snowboarders. Mark McMorris is one of the best ever. He already has 16 X-Games medals, including seven gold, won in both the Slopestyle and Big Air events. He’s also famous for being the first ever to perform a ‘cork 1440’ in slopestyle. His feats and charming personality have made him a huge celebrity for fans of snowboarding and extreme sports.

Major titles have eluded him in the past. His best result at a World Championships is a silver in 2013. As for the Sochi Olympics, McMorris had broken a rib two weeks before. His bronze in Slopestyle is actually seen by him as a miracle. Here in PyeongChang, he wants to win gold. He has two chances: in Big Air and Slopestyle. In both events, he will face rivalry from Norway’s Marcus Kleveland, who is the first ever to do a ‘cork 1800.’ In Slopestyle, he will be challenged most by the US’ Red Gerard and Japan’s Hiroaki Kunitake. In Big Air, he will face rivalry from American Chris Corning and his Canadian teammate Maxence Parrot. The hills in Korea will determine his fate.

Kaillie Humphries – Bobsledding: Women’s bobsledding has only been contested four times in the past, but Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse are already the only female double-gold medalists. However Kaillie appears poised to achieve a feat none of the male bobsledders have ever achieved: winning the same event three times.

It’s not to say it hasn’t been without its difficulties. After Sochi, she traded partners with Melissa Lothholz. She has won two World Championship silvers since. Here in PyeongChang, she will have former hurdler Phylicia George as her partner. As her former partners of Heather Moyse and Melissa Lothholz, they will both compete in PyeongChang with different drivers. Humphries’ attempt to return to the top will be challenged by the German sled driven by Stephanie Schneider and the American sled driven by Elana Meyers, which actually won at last year’s Worlds. PyeongChang could be the final chapter for Kaillie’s legacy in the sport.

Pyeongchang medalsAlex Harvey – Cross Country Skiing: Cross country skiing is in Alex Harvey’s blood. His father Pierre competed in cross country skiing in 1984 and 1988 and gave Canada its best ever results at the time, and they weren’t even Top 10 finishes! That just shows how much progress Canadians have made in nordic skiing. In fact Alex himself delivered two Top 10 finishes at the Vancouver Games, including a fourth in the Sprint.

Harvey has won a medal at every World Nordic Championships ever since the Vancouver Olympics including two golds: the most recent being in the 50km last year. He’s hoping to win the Olympic medals that have eluded him throughout his career. However he has only made the podium in three World Cup events this season. His biggest challenges come from Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and two Norwegians: Martin Johnsrud Sundby and rising 21 year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. PyeongChang could finally give him the break he’s always been pursuing.

Mikaël Kingsbury – Freestyle Skiing: Canada has won three of the seven golds in men’s moguls skiing. There’s Jean-Luc Brassard in 1994 and Alexandre Bilodeau in 2010 and 2014. Mikaël Kingsbury is seeing to make it four for eight. Kingsbury has developed a top reputation in the event. He first finished third in the 2010-2011 World Cup season but has come out on top every World Cup season since including this year.

Major events have been his weakness. He’s been on the podium for moguls at every World Championship since 2011 but has only won gold once: in 2013. Also it was in Sochi in which he, not Bilodeau, was the Canadian most expected to win gold, but won silver instead. He will be challenged here in PyeongChang by Japan’s Ikuma Horishima, who handed him is only World Cup defeat this year, and Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Reikherd. This could be Kingsbury’s year.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – Figure Skating: Ah yes. Figure skating. Ever since 1984, Canada has bagged at least one figure skating medal in every Olympic Games since. Many expect 2018 to be Canada’s strongest team ever. Leading the pack is star ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The pair have been inseparable on the ice since 1997 when Tessa was eight and Scott was ten. Their skating magic has resulted in Olympic gold and silver as well as seven World Championship medals, including three gold.

After they won silver at the Sochi Games of 2014 behind their American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it appeared they won everything they needed to and retired after Sochi. However they returned to amateur competition starting in 2016 and acquired former Canadian ice dance pair Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon as their coaches. The plan worked to success as they returned to the top of their sport. Of course they want to end their careers with a final gold medal, but they will face challenges from all three American pairs, most notably Maia and Alex Shibutani, and the French pair of Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This is their chance to end their Olympic careers as they started.

The Canadian Hockey Teams: The news broke months ago. The NHL won’t allow any of their players to play at the Olympics. This is not permanent for the Olympic Games, but it is a drag for many who enjoyed. Heck, opening the Olympics to NHL pros allowed Canada to win gold in three of the five occasions. It does not however mean Canada doesn’t have a chance for the gold. Canada’s men’s team consists of pros, but mostly from the American Hockey League, the predominantly Russian Kontinental Hockey League, the Swedish Hockey League and Switzerland’s National League. Canada’s team is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze with Sweden to win and Russia to take silver. Chances are the Canadians could surprise.

As for the women, Team Canada has always made it to the gold-medal final of every Olympic tournament since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut back at the Nagano Games of 1998. The inaugural competition is their only loss of the gold. The team in PyeongChang is coached by Lauren Schuler from that team in Nagano consists of thirteen from Sochi 2014 and ten newcomers. All but one play for Canadian teams. However Team Canada has finished second to the US at ever Worlds since the Sochi Games and the Americans promise to be the Canadians’ toughest rival. They’re coached by Cammi Granato who was part of the US’ gold-medal winning team in 1998: the US’ only victory in women’s hockey. Can Team Canada make it five in a row? Only time will tell.

Canada’s Curling Teams: If hockey is our national past-time, curling would rank second. Many people wonder how? It’s a gift from Scottish immigrants to us. Canada has a habit of blending things from the ‘old country’ into our national fabric. Our love for curling has paid off on the Olympic level. Ever since curling was officially added to the Olympic program at the Nagano Games in 1998, all ten Canadian teams have won medals and have even won gold five of the ten times. Sochi was especially a treat as it was the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s team won gold.

As for the lineup in PyeongChang, the men’s team is headed by Kevin Koe who headed the Canadian team that won at the 2016 Worlds and the women’s team is headed by Rachel Homan whose team won the World Championships last year. New for Pyeongchang is mixed doubles curling. Canada’s team is headed by Winnipeggers Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris. Both have gold medals from past teams: Kaitlyn in 2014 and John in 2010. However they’re not the favorites as Swiss pair of Jenny Perret and Martin Rios beat the Canadian pair 6-5 to win. As of yet, Canada has never won gold at the Mixed Doubles Worlds. Could this be their year to finally shine?

And there you have it. Seven Canadians to watch out for in PyeongChang. There’s many more to talk about but I’ll let the action at the Olympics do more telling. It all starts Friday the 9th at 3am PST. Can I wake up that early to see the opening ceremonies live? We’ll see.

VIFF 2017 Wraps Up

Cinema

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

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

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

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

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

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

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

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

Canadian Film Awards

Narrative Features

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

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

Documentary Features

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

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

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

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

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: BLUE (dir. Karina Holden)

Audience Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2017 Review: Indian Horse

Indian-Horse-Film-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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