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VIFF 2021 Review: Queen Of Glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2021 Shorts Segment: MODES 2

With the Vancouver Film Fest comes segments of short films. That’s my second VIFF goal to see one of those segments. I achieved it when I saw the segment series MODES 2. Six films from six directors from six different nations. They all gave lots to see and hear.

-The Coast (India – dir. Sohrab Hura): The film shows people on the coast of a beach in south India as they swim around and throw themselves to the waves. The film also shows images of a religious ritual, which includes inflicting pain on one’s self. The film also shows images of a nearby carnival. Then ends again with people throwing themselves to the waves.

A video interview from the director says the images are of a religious festival where one begins by facing their personal demons and then ends as they wash their demons away. The images are seen in slow motion with disjointed music added into the score. It’s a very picturesque short film that gives us a fascinating look at people from a world away. It can even give you appreciation for such a festival as the waves form the Indian Ocean are as much of a storyteller as people.

-Happiness Is A Journey (USA/Estonia – dirs. Ivete Lucas & Patrick Bresnan): It’s very early morning of Christmas Eve 2019 at a newspaper deport in Austin, Texas. People gather at 1:30am to pick up newspapers to people’s homes. People gather them in big numbers and know they’ll need a good amount of gas. One of the delivery people is Eddie ‘Bear’ Lopez, a 62-year resident of Austin, who’s been doing this since 1997 without ever taking a day off. The film then follows Bear on his trip. Bear even brings his little dog with him. As he delivers, his trip is long. Ever since people made the move to the online news site of the paper, actual newspaper customers are less and less which means deliveries are further an wider. The film goes along Bear’s long route, which he has completed by 6am.

This is a film, shown with two different simultaneous camera images and consists strictly of the sounds around. No musical score at all. It shows about people who we either take for granted or have shunned their skills away because of our use of technology. It gives respect for a person with a low-paying job who never takes a day off, but somehow finds fulfillment in it. One of the desks in the depot has a sign that says “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Maybe that’s the point the two directors wanted to show. That with a job that is low-pay, facing near-extinction, and something most of us would label a ‘loser job,’ Bear finds some kind of fulfilment. Even if he has to work on a holiday.

-Show Me Other Places (Sri Lanka – dir. Rajee Samarsinghe): This film shows all sort of images: what we see on our computer, the images of suburbia, a birds-eye view of a construction site, friends, common people, and luxurious items. The film shows the many ways we see them: on a computer screen, through a VR viewing mask, and on our iWatches. Many images are seen as is, while some are meshed with colors and even other images.

I believe the point the filmmaker was trying to make was to do about imagery. It was about how we see things and also how she sees them. She allows her creativity to take place and show new and creative ways to look at things we commonly look at. In a lot of way, we’re given a new enlightenment when we see her creative imagery. Really gets you thinking.

-Adversarial Infrastructure (Russia – dir. Anna Engelhardt): The film is about a bridge that is the subject of political controversy. The bridge is the Crimean Bridge which connects a southwest tip of Russia with the Crimean town of Kerch with the bridge’s main part located on Tuzla Island. This is a bridge of great controversy as Crimea has been a subject of huge political debate as Ukraine insists is theirs while Putin proclaims Crimea to be part of Russia. This has been like that since 2014 since the Russo-Ukrainian War started. There was even a phony news story concocted by Putin that the bridge was bombed by the Ukrainian army.

The director showcases news stories with a coarsely-drawn computer map of the area in question and a rough computer graphic of the bridge as it would looked bombed out. The director even showcases how bridges are to be the opposite of walls and connect peoples, while this bridge appears to do the opposite. Or at least the media and the Russian government try to make it do the opposite. Myself being Ukrainian-Canadian, this is something of interest to me. The director is very good at using the various images in presenting a story and getting her message across. A message I personally agree with.

-The Canyon (USA – dir. Zachary Epcar): The film begins showing mostly people living in a new residential development. They’re of people relaxing, doing housework, renovating, exercising, playing tennis, a vide variety of activities. The film then shows images of luxuries and then images of peoples and what they have to say. Then the film focuses on a whirlpool-like area of Lake Berryessa in the Napa Valley of California. They talk of how the areas will no longer appear.

I believe the point of this student film and its various images is trying to make is their believe that new residential areas that are cropping up and attracting people will be empty canyons in the future. The buildings and luxuries they’re enjoying now will be swallowed up into nothingness in the future. The man-made whirlpool in Lake Berryessa conjures up images of how that area will be swallowed up over time. I believe that’s the point where they let the images they show do the storytelling as the students prove their point.

-Corps Samples (France – dir. Astrid de la Chapelle): The film begins with the focus on the year 1924. It’s the year Vladimir Lenin, the founder and first leader of the USSR dies, and the year a British mountaineer fell to his death just off Mount Everest. The only thing in common they have in common: both their bodies are perfectly preserved. The film begins with fossils found on Mount Everest during that time. Then it goes on to various images of fossils, stones, metals, minerals and crystals. It shows natural racks and crystals, and it showcases the minerals and chemicals we use for our everyday needs. It showcases on the images of the body of the mountaineer found perfectly intact after all these years. It also showcases the body of Lenin, perfectly intact in his tomb and a tourist attraction.

The filmmaker is either getting us to focus on either the association of minerals and preservation, and how it mixes into our daily lives and the everyday world, or it could be on the focus on something else. Right at the end of the film, she shows an image of a stone and asks us “Are you looking at the stone or is the stone looking at you?” Hearing that, I think it’s a case where a lot of the film is trying to get you to ask yourself that. Are you looking at the stones, crystals, fossils, and minerals? Or are they looking at you? That question of the end really gets you to change what you think the focus of the film is about. Even see it through a different light.

The six films of MODES 2 are about images and sounds. Some make their points clear, while some aren’t as clear and require your imagination to assume what you think its about. The images may be relate to each or other, or not related at all. The music or sounds may be smooth music, disjointed sounds or raw music. I guess that was the whole point of the MODES 2 short films. It’s six short films on sights and sounds and they want to get your imagination involved, and possibly even share the filmmaker’s imaginations. The films also have a message to say, but they want to convey the message creatively, and they want you to embrace the creativity as much as the message.

Even though I was hoping to see a short segment of live-action stories being played out, I’m glad I saw MODES 2. The films were loaded with images and sounds and done in their very own way. Nevertheless they were very good in sending the messages they were trying to send in their own creative way.

VIFF 2021: Mix Of Online And Live Theatre

VIFF 2021 will increase it’s cinema capacity, but restrictions will apply.

It’s a fall tradition of mine. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) comes back and I end up volunteering for it. It’s a tradition that was broken last year. You can’t blame me. The COVID pandemic severely limited seating capacities and the number of films they could show on screens, not to mention theatre attendance. Last’s year’s VIFF was a case where few shows were shown in theatres and most were screened online. This year, the VIFF makes a big return back to the theatres, if not a complete return.

The International Village which used to allow three of its theatres to show VIFF films during fourteen of its sixteen days isn’t doing it this year. The Centre for the Performing Arts isn’t giving itself to the VIFF this year either. There are five theatres from past years that are VIFF venues again this year: Cinematheque, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU Goldcorp Theatre and the VanCity Theatre at the VIFF Centre. The VIFF also acquired four new venues to facilitate for the fest:

  • Annex Theatre – It’s called the Annex because it’s the annex to the Orpheum theatre. It’s a nice cabaret-style theatre that served the VIFF before as a lecture hall or conference room. This time, it will be showing films throughout most of the VIFF.
  • Hollywood Theatre – Those that remember my blogging from bygone days will know the Hollywood is a theatre in the West Broadway area build back in the 1930’s. Although it’s no longer owned by the original members, it has reopened to become a multi-event stage with mostly theatrical shows and music concerts. During the VIFF, it will return to its original purpose as a movie theatre.
  • Studio Theatre: VIFF Centre – Even before the pandemic hit, there was a fundraising initiative underway at the VanCity Theatre of creating a studio theatre meant for screening local films and give more local filmmakers opportunity. It was finally opened this summer and this is the first VIFF in which it will serve as a venue! Just to the left of the main studio theatre at the VanCity, it’s smaller in capacity but can serve its purpose well.
  • Kay Meek Arts Centre – I think this is the first VIFF venue outside of the city of Vancouver ever. Located in West Vancouver Secondary School, this local theatre is also a major centre for arts in West Vancouver.

This year, I’m back to volunteering. I will be at the Playhouse Theatre and working as part of a ‘skeleton crew,’ which is the minimum number of volunteers a facility can have at one time. This is one of the precautions as part of the pandemic. The second is that theatres will only be at 50% capacity. The third precaution is that people are to have their BC Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport to get into theatres. For those who don’t know what a Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport is, it’s a scanner code the certifies that one has been vaccinated twice.

For those that are still too nervous about going into a theatre, there are many of the VIFF films that can be streamed online. Many of you may remember that the majority of VIFF films from last year can be streamed from wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. Not the case this year as the online screenings can be screened during select times and there are many that have a limit to the number of online customers of that screening.

The VIFF will be starting today and running until Monday October 11th, which is Canadian Thanksgiving. Returning back to the Festival are VIFF Immersed technology exhibits, VIFF Totally Indie Day, VIFF Talks and Masterclasses and VIFF AMP music conferences. For film lineups, there will be 185 films. 73 of them will get a cinema run. Of the sixteen expected to stand out:

  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain – The Opening Gala film. It’s an eccentric biographical film of artist Louis Wain who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Will Sharpe.
  • Petite Maman – The Closing Gala film. The latest feature from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire director Celine Sciamma. It’s a unique story of the mysterious bond between mother and daughter.
  • All My Puny Sorrows – Michael McGowan directs this film adaptation of the novel by Miriam Toews. Alison Pill stars as a young woman hugely concerned for her talented sister.
  • Belfast – A film loaded with potential Oscar buzz. Kenneth Branagh directs this story of the spark of civilian unrest in 1969 Northern Ireland as seen through the eyes of a child.
  • Benediction – Directed by Terence Davies, It’s a portrait of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. It stars Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi.
  • Bergman Island – Directed Mia Hansen-Love. As the village Ingmar Bergman grew up in has been turned into a theme park , two filmmakers, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, ponder their relationship.
  • Drive My Car – A three-hour film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. A recently-widowed theatre director tries to live life again as he puts together a new production, and casts his late wife’s lover as the lead.
  • Everything Went Fine – Directed by Francois Ozon and stars Sophie Marceau and Charlotte Rampling, it’s the story of an 85 year-old man who wants his daughter to end his life, while she tries to change his mind.
  • Memoria – Directed by Uncle Boonmee director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it’s the story of an orchid grower in Colombia, played by Tilda Swinton, who experiences a booming noise only she can hear.
  • Mothering Sunday – Directed by Eva Husson, it’s about a maid in 1924 who spends time with her lover before he is about to marry a younger woman. Can she change his mind?
  • Night Raiders – Directed by Danis Goulet, this is a futuristic film set in 2043 and Canada plans to return to past colonial ways of treating Indigenous children.
  • Official Competition – The film is about a Spanish female film directer trying to direct two male movie stars with big egos. It’s co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat and it stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
  • One Second – Directed by Zhang Yimou, It’s a story of a man during China’s Cultural Revolution who escapes China’s labor camps to see his actress daughter on screen. It’s no easy task.
  • Red Rocket – Directed by Florida Project director Sean Baker, this film is of a washed-up porn star returning to his hometown trying to reconcile with his wife, but also promoting a young teenaged girl to stardom.
  • The Sanctity Of Space – A documentary directed by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson. It’s of the mission to meet with famed cartographer Bradford Washburn whose worked opened up a new world for mountain climbers pursuing Alaska and Yukon.
  • The Worst Person In The World – Directed by Joachim Trier, it’s a coming of age story of a young woman about a young woman who leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.

And there you go. That’s just a brief preview of the highlights at this year’s VIFF. But the VIFF has more films to offer. Way more. It’s worth checking out over these next eleven days.

VIFF 2020 Wraps Up Its First Online Fest

It does seem awkward to do a wrap-up for the Vancouver International Film Festival. Not just because it’s way into December, but because most of the film festival was online! Plus all my VIFF activity for 2020 was online! Nevertheless I feel it’s worth it.

2020 was an interesting festival as it had to resort to mostly online viewing of films. There were airings of films at theatres like the VanCity and Cinematheque, but they were very few and had limited capacity. Despite all this, the online system did give the opportunity to watch many of the films that were part of this year’s Film Festival. There were 102 feature films, 98 short films and 19 talks and events at this year’s VIFF. The number of VIFF Gold passes sold out. Despite the lower number of films, viewership was still good as it totaled over 50,000 online views.

For me, this was a unique experience to view a film festival all all online. I first had a goal of seeing ten films online. There was some time where I thought I had a lot of catching up to do as there were days I didn’t watch. Then it was like the last five days I did a lot of cramming. Like two films a day each day. In all honesty, I prefer watching films in the theatre. Having them in the theatre is better for demanding my attention. If I watch it on a computer, I will easily be distracted by other things online or want to sneak a websearch in. If I’m in the theatre, it’s nothing but that film.

Nevertheless I was successful in seeing fifteen feature films and two shorts segments. I saw six Canadian films or film segments, one multinational set of shorts, four American films, four European films, and two Asian films.Those who know me know my film goals for the VIFF consist of three main goals: one Canadian feature-length film, one shorts segment, and one contenders of the Best International Feature Film Oscar. The goal of a Canadian film was accomplished with Monkey Beach: the first VIFF film I saw this year. The shorts segments I did twice with Programme 2 and Reel Youth. The International Feature contender I was not able to do. During VIFF, there weren’t even ten countries that gave their official submissions to the AMPAS Academy. At the time, none of them were shown at the VIFF. The reason why so few is because the 2020 Oscars will be held on the last Sunday of April 2021 and the other countries were in no rush. During that time, I went with films I felt would best contend: Undine, Father and There Is No Evil. As time passed, it would eventually be revealed none of those films became their nation’s official submission in the category. Looks like this was one goal I had to put on hold this year.

One thing that was not absent from this year’s VIFF was their award winners. Awards were still given out. I’m happy to say that three of the films I saw won awards. One thing about this year’s awards was that because of the nature of the festival, most of the people’s choice or audience award categories could not happen. Thus only one audience award. Included for this year are VIFF Immersed awards for virtual reality that is sponsored by VeeR VR network. Here’s a list of the award winners from this year’s VIFF:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award
Presented by Telus
WINNER: Nuxalk Radio (dir. Banchi Hanuse)
Special Mention: Cosmic (dir. Meredith Hama-Brown)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by CreativeBC, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: The Curse of Willow Song (dir. Karen Lam)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA, AFBS & William F. White
WINNER: Jessie Anthony for Brother, I Cry

Best BC Short Film
Presented by Telus Storyhive
WINNER: Cake Day (dir. Philip Thomas)
Special Mention: Sunken Cave And A Migrating Bird (dir. Qiuli Wu)

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Beans (dir. Tracey Deer)
Special Mention: Nadia, Butterfly  (dir. Pascal Plante)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Violation (dirs. Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Macinelli)

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Call Me Human (dir. Kim O’Bomsawin)
Special Mention: Prayer For A Lost Mitten (dir. Jean-Francois Lesage)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Side Street Post
WINNER: Bad Omen (dir. Salar Pashtoonyar)
Special Mention: Moon (dir. Zoe Pelchat)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: Acadiana (dirs. Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin)
Special Mention: Labour/Leisure (dirs. Jessica Johnson, Ryan Ermacora)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation
WINNER: The Reason I Jump (dir. Jerry Rothwell)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award
Presented by RBC and Cineplex
WINNER: The Hidden Life Of Trees (dir. Peter Wohlleben)

VIFF Immersed Awards

Best Cinematic Live Action
WINNER: Kowloon Forest (dir. Alexei Marfin)

Best In Documentary
WINNER: By The Waters Of Babylon (dirs. Kristin Lauth Schaeffer and Andrew Halasz)

Best In Animation
WINNER: The Book Of Distance (dir. Randall Okita)

Honorable Mention In Animation
In The Land Of Flabby Schnook (dir. Francis Gelinas)

Audience Award
WINNER: Ecosphere: Raja Ampat (dir. Joseph Purdam)

VIFF Immersed Volumetric Market Awards
Sponsored by VeeR

  • Uninterrupted (dirs. Nettie Wild and Rae Hull)
  • A Vocal Landscape (dirs. Omid Zarai and Anne Jeppesen)

Before I wrap up my blog, I’ll give you the other films in which I saw at the fest. All films listed below are Canadian unless otherwise noted:

And there you have it. That’s my wrap-up of the film festival. I know it took me a long time to finish it all up, but I finally mustered the energy after all my work and courses. As for next year, we’ll see how the VIFF is carried out. Will they do more online films? Will they reduce the number of theatres or keep the same number they had in 2019? All I can say is I hope to see the VIFF films back in theatres. I like volunteering and being part of events. Only time will tell how VIFF 2021 is played out.

VIFF 2020 Review: There Is No Evil (شیطان وجود ندارد)

There Is No Evil is four films in one about the topic of the death penalty and how Iran carries it out.Definitely a film that will make people think.

I was eager to watch There Is No Evil because of a lot of the pre-festival buzz surrounding it. it’s a very thought-provoking film.

The first quarter of the film is a simple setting. It’s a man named Hashmet and his wife. They’re coming home in the same car doing daily tasks before they arrive home and picking up the daughter from school. The wife is actually arriving home from work. They talk about plans of going to a wedding and of caring for his wife’s mother. The husband actually works his job in the early morning. After the wife and daughter arrive in their well-to-do home, have their dinner and go to bed, the husband then goes off to work. He wears a uniform of a guardian. He makes his way to a private room with some food. With his job, he has to wait until all lights in a section turn green. There are a few red ones. Then the lights are all green. He presses a button. The button involves a platform men who are about to be hanged stand on. The button he presses drops the platform from underneath their feet and they hang until their deaths: whether it’s immediate or by strangulation of the noose.

The second quarter of the story shows a bunker room for soldiers. It is Iranian law that a young soldier is to assist with the execution process. It can be any one in the bunker area. Pouya is the one chosen. He is completely against committing this act. He will have to perform this act or else he will not receive a completion certificate, which will mean no chances for a good career. He talks of doing mutiny and escaping with his girlfriend. All of the other soldiers think this is too risky of a move. Some even think he’s a sissy. Then the moment for his service comes. Pouya is all prepared and dressed. As they’re walking their way to the gallows, Pouya suddenly revolts against the guard. He then makes his way into another room where he also revolts against the security guards. Pouya then breaks free. He meets his girlfriend in a remote locate. The two drive off where they talk of their future plans for outside Iran.

The third quarter of the film belongs to a young soldier named Javad. Javad is on a three-day leave from his military service. First thing he does on his leave is bathe in the river before seeing his girlfriend Nana, whom he hopes to marry one day. Nana’s family is setting up a memorial service in the house. Javad willingly attends the private service until he sees the picture of who the memorial service is for. It’s for a man Javad helped execute. Javad is brought to guilt over what he did. He tells Nana and she is heartbroken. He tries to convince her of what he did. He said “If we say no, they will destroy our lives.” He can be seen trying to wash his face in the river. To some, it may look like he’s trying to drown himself.

The fourth and final quarter is the story of a couple and their niece. Their niece Darya arrives at the airport after arriving from Germany and they’re excited to see her. The trip is supposed to be a nice get-together, as he takes Darya in the rural countryside. Darya is uncomfortable with the hunting trips as she refuses to kill a living thing. However the get-together is to turn solemn as the uncle has some heartbreaking news to tell. He is dying and has less than a year to live. Darya is heartbroken. However the uncle has two other pieces of news to confess to her. The first is that he used to participate in the process of capital punishment as a soldier. The second is that he is Darya’s father. Darya is upset with all this news. She can’t even begin to look at him in the face. The story ends asking more questions than answers.

The main topic of the film is the death penalty in Iran. It’s good that a film about this topic is made. Iran is second only to the People’s Republic of China as the country that carries out the most executions. Many believe Iran carries out the most per capita. The crimes for execution range anywhere from murder to rape to even crimes considered non-capital in other countries like armed robbery, arson, burglary, counterfeiting and even non-crimes like fornication, blasphemy, homosexuality and adultery. Often when there are hangings, their bodies are out on display in the public streets of the cities. The film shows that those people who do the escorting of prisoners to be executed are soldiers of the Iranian army. Such is a military duty. There may be some soldiers that think it’s the right thing, some that think nothing of it, and some that are dead-set against it. Whatever the situation, military service is mandatory in Iran if you want to have a future of any kind. If you reject your military duty and don’t receive a completion certificate, you won’t be able to apply for a passport or a job. Although the part involving Hashmet has nothing to do with the military, it shows that he can have a well-do-to life through this system. Executioners are well-paid in Iran.

This film presents four different stories of capital punishment. The people are not linked in any way whether it be the people they execute or any family relation so it almost looks like four short films stringed together. The first is of a man who carries out his daily life with a good standard of living by Iranian standards and does his job normally. The second is of a young soldier who is dead-set against it and plans to commit mutiny. The third story is of a soldier who realizes who he led to execution when he’s over at a house for the memorial. The fourth is a man who’s the biological father of the girl and has to confess his past before he dies. These films can stand alone, but they’re all interconnected in this feature film that has something to say about the death penalty, and the systemic regime of Iran that supports this system of rewarding those who carry out the duties.

The film is well-constructed as it sets up for the main topic of the film and the second and third stories are more a case of the rebel and the conformist who regrets what he does. The fourth story is a bit unique as it’s of a man who is nearing his death and he regrets what he did. The fourth story didn’t make the most sense. Often you wonder why the daughter is angry. Is it his past of participating in executions? Or is it his truth he had to tell? It’s hard to understand at that point.

This film is a remarkable achievement for director/writer Mohammad Rasoulof. Just right after the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where his film A Man of Integrity premiered and won the Un Certain Regard Award, he was arrested for ‘endangering national security’ and ‘spreading propaganda’ against the government. He was eventually sentenced to a year in prison and banned for life from filmmaking. Rasoulof is not the first Iranian director to be criminally sentenced. Jafar Panahi who directed 3 Faces was also given a prison sentence and a ban on filmmaking. We should admire these Iranian directors. They’re risking their freedom to tell the truth that the government wants hidden. With Rasoulof, he’s defying his lifetime ban to tell his feelings about the death penalty in Iran. His assembly of four short films into a feature-length film of a common theme is his brave attempt at sending the message to the world. Although it’s a strong assembly until the last film doesn’t seem so clear in its message, it is worthy of admiration and being labeled an accomplishment. I don’t think there was a single standout performance among the acting. There was no single lead performance. All the actors who performed in their vignettes embodied the character and the story well. Also world noting, Rasoulof’s daughter Baran plays Darya in the film.

There Is No Evil has had an impressive tally on the film festival circuit. It started to year off by winning three awards at the Berlin Film Festival including the Golden Bear for Best Film. Since then, it has also won Best Narrative awards at the Heartland Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival and the Philadelphia Film Festival. It’s also won the Audience Award at the Sao Paulo Film Festival and Rasoulof won the Best Director Award at the Valladolid Film Festival where it was a nominee for the Golden Spike Award for Best Film.

There Is No Evil is a powerful film with something to say about capital punishment and the regime that promotes it. The four stories are not related by story but by the common theme. All four have something to say about the subject. A proud accomplishment from a director who could be criminally punished again for making such a film.

VIFF 2020 Review: Inconvenient Indian

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

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

-Thomas King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF 2020 Does It Online

Most of VIFF’s films will be viewed online.

This has been an unusual year. A pandemic has led to the cancellation of various events or had them be conducted under strict limits. The Olympic Games and Euro 2020 were cancelled but league sports continue in spectatorless stadiums. Movie theatres started the pandemic closed off and then to limited attendance with precautions. Most film festivals have had to resort to doing their events online. This is what the Vancouver International Film Festival will be doing this year.

The Show Must Go On

Looking to other film festivals as to how they decided to do their festival during the pandemic, the VIFF has seen how to make a film festival work during the pandemic. The TIFF in Toronto was a strong indicator as it too had most of their films for viewing online with a select few films for viewing in cinema. For those that were to view films in cinema, they had to have face coverings. It was mandatory.

I’m sure that will be the case in the Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque as well as any hall where there will be lectures. Eighteen of the estimated 95 films of the VIFF will be shown in theatres. All films including those with a theatre showing can be viewed online. Tickets are $9 each. However it’s the VIFF Connect passes that are the best deal. They consist of:

  • VIFF Connect Festival Subscription: can view any online film once, can watch any bonus features, and can take part in any online Creator Talk. Membership is included in the subscription. Price: $60 ($30 for full-time students)
  • VIFF Connect GOLD Subscription: All the features of the Festival subscription plus access to specially-curated online content during the festival, a free annual year-round suscription to VIFF Connect and a free VIFF+ Gold membership that’s valid for a full year. Price: $95

It’s not just film happening with VIFF. There are talks and lectures this year too focusing on the craft of filmmaking and film music. For this year there will be:

  • VIFF Talks and Masterclasses: For this year’s VIFF talks, there will be documentarians, animators, HBO cinematographers, creators of comedy series, actors, production designers and even Charlie Kaufman. Some of the events will focus on the craft of writing, storytelling and cinematography. Others will talk about the issues surrounding the stories of the films or documentaries they created. There’s another Meet The Showrunners event this year where the focus is on diversity as well as a special talk about increasing diversity and inclusion in the film industry. Some events are live-streamed while others are pre-recorded. Check the VIFF website for more details.
  • VIFF Amp: Again the focus is on music in film. It will consist of three straight days of lectures opening with a lecture from jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Topics of focus for this year are music in animation, music supervision, song placement and sync licensing, marketing music to filmmakers, composition and production. AMP Passes are $45.
  • VIFF Immersed: Modern technology meets filmmaking and storytelling in this selection of lectures. The lectures will range from dealing with new technologies and new directions as well as focus on the more artistic focuses of film including a special focus on Indigenous XR creation. There’s even a flashback to 2019’s Immersed sessions.
  • VIFF Totally Indie Day: September 26th is the day and it all starts at 10am! Three films in focus will be a documentary, semi-documentary and a live-action film. All films will have a Q&A with the creators. In addition, there will be a special Q&A session with independent filmmakers and how they managed to proceed with filmwork despite the setback of the COVID pandemic. Day Pass is $45/$30 for Students.

Of course the big focus is on the films. Usually I’d have a guidebook to tell you most of the highlighted films. However I’m not so lucky this year. I will pick eight I think will stand out:

  • Monkey Beach – Based on the novel by Eden Robinson and directed by Loretta Sara Todd, this story is about a young Haisla girl who possesses a supernatural gift that is as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
  • There Is No Evil – This film by Iranian filmmaker Mohamad Rasoulof won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Banned from filmmaking for life, this film focusses on life in a repressive regime with special focus on the death penalty.
  • Inconvenient Indian – This docudrama from Michelle Latimer won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the TIFF. The film promises to be more about giving an expression about being Indigenous rather than telling a story.
  • The Curse Of Willow Song – directed by Karen Lam, this looks like a film for Altered States. It’s the story of a young female arsonist just released from prison. Trying to make her way back in the world, she receives supernatural forces from a spirit of the past.
  • Falling – Viggo Mortensen stars and directs in this film about a son taking in his cantankerous father after learning he has dementia. He tries to make peace with his father and the family but it’s a challenge that may prove too hard.
  • The Father – Another story about a father with dementia. This time the director is Florian Zeller (adaptation of his own stage play) and the father is played by Anthony Hopkins and the daughter by Olivia Colman.
  • Ammonite – This stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and is directed by Francis Lee. Set in 1840’s England, a female paleontologist tends to an unhappy young bride of privilege class. A bond soon comes and then grows into something much more.
  • Time – African-American injustice has been a hot topic this year. This documentary by Garrett Bradley focuses on a woman and her struggle to keep her family together as she challenges the justice system over their dealing with her husband sentenced for 60 years for armed robbery.

Those eight films are just a small sample of what to expect at the VIFF this year. The festival is fourteen days instead of the usual sixteen and runs September 24th to October 7th. I’ll be doing a lot of watching from my computer but I hope to have a chance to see at least one in a theatre. Don’t worry. I have my own mask!

Movie Review: Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało)

Corpus Christi

Bartosz Bielenia plays a parolee who poses as a priest in a small town in Corpus Christi.

Just around this time with the Oscars drawing closer, you would’ve thought my interest in the foreign films would be finished, right? When I saw Polish film Corpus Christi was playing, it caught my intrigue with the story. I thought it was worth seeing.

The film begins in a juvenile prison. Prisoners are prone to the same harsh actions, beatings and retaliations of other prisoners. 20 year-old Daniel knows he could be one. He killed someone when he was a teenager and was sentenced to juvenile prison, or ‘juvie’ as it’s commonly called, for manslaughter. Daniel has found a personal escape in religion. A priest, Father Tomasz, performs mass at the prison every Sunday. Daniel is the most willing participant as he even sings Psalm 23 for the mass. Every night he prays the rosary. Parole is nearing for him, which is a relief as one of his fellow prisoners named ‘Pinczer’ is threatening him. He wants to become a priest, but Father Tomasz says he can’t because of his criminal past. They’re not allowed in the seminary. As soon as Daniel achieves parole, it’s obvious he’s not ready for the priesthood as he happily does drugs and has sex at parties. He does however own a priest’s shirt.

For his parole, Daniel has to do sawmill work at a mill in a small Polish town specifically for parolees. He notices a church and introduces himself as ‘Father Tomasz’ to a young girl praying named Eliza and introduces himself as ‘Father Tomasz.’ He’s then introduced to her mother Lidia, the church secretary, and the ailing priest. Daniel is given the job to perform priestly duties. Daniel’s first mass goes excellently, and people believe him to be the temporary priest. Daniel soon notices as he walks around town people praying to a memorial to six young people. They died in a car accident which the driver hit them head-on. The image of the driver, who also died, is not on the memorial.

Over time, Daniel becomes more involved in the community with each mass he serves. He even wins the liking of the town mayor. Daniel even takes the opportunity to help those that constantly pray by the memorial to help overcome their feelings. Eliza and Lidia are among those as Jakub, Lidia’s son and Eliza’s brother, was one of the fatalities. He also notices how some people shout ‘the whore’ when dealing with their grief. He finds out people have been directing their anger to the driver’s widow. When meeting with the widow, he learns that people have been sending her hate-mail.

Daniel tries to think of a solution, but he later learns Pinczer, one of his rivals from prison who was called ‘Bonus,’ knows he’s posing as a priest. He demands 5000 Euros or else he will expose the truth of ‘Father Tomasz.’ Daniel tries to continue on as a priest and even works at making the town confront their unnecessary anger to the widow by showing them all the hate-mail they sent her. Soon her husband is given a proper burial and is attended by all: even those that lost a child in the accident. However it soon becomes apparent that Daniel’s secret will be exposed. It does happen and the aftermath becomes a case where you can watch and draw your own conclusions about the town, Eliza and Daniel.

One thing that caught my attention is that this film is based on true events. It may not be a true story, but it is of a collection of true events. Director Jan Komasa made mention in a Los Angeles Times interview that he has taken notice that there are several unordained men who have posed as priests. Many of those men believe they are doing priestly duties for the right reasons. The issue of fake priests is one that the clergy in Poland know of, but they sweep the issue under the rug. Scriptwriter Mateusz Pacewicz said in the same interview that he became very fixated about the idea of these fake priests and their spiritual passion. He even wrote a short story of it and that would lead him to write the screenplay for this film.

This is a film that will cause a lot of people with strong Catholic values to think a lot about. Some may even be outraged of a positive depiction of a fake priest. What we have here is a young man who found himself in God possibly through prison ministry. Daniel has this problem with him as he’s a killer and he’s reminded his past crimes will not allow him into the seminary. However he sees the town where he is to do his parole duties as his chance to be a priest. We should remember during his short time as a priest, he didn’t do anything to hurt the citizens of the town. He didn’t rob from the people, he didn’t disturb any masses. Instead he became a symbol of help and hope. He helped the townspeople overcome the losses they were enduring. He got the people to stop with their unnecessary hostilities towards the widow of the killer. He even helped the widow get back to being accepted rather than be the subject of a town’s wrath.

The film allows to both question and even make your own judgments about what happens in the story. First off it makes you wonder if Daniel posed as a priest because he feels he was meant to be one or to avoid an act of vengeance from the other parolees at the sawmill. It’s not made obvious but one can even sense in the film that Eliza always knew Daniel was not ‘Father Tomasz.’ I sensed that in the scene where Daniel was asked for his priest card and she says it’s in the laundry she was working with. Even that sex scene between Eliza and Daniel suggests that; an ordained priest would not have sex or else we would be forced to resign. However Eliza knew Daniel was the right man to bring peace to the town. Eliza also wanted healing along with the people of the town, including hard-hearted Lidia. Eliza felt she knew Tomasz could bring healing and was the only other person who felt making peace with the killer’s widow and allowing a dignified burial of his ashes can make the town heal.

The ending will especially get one thinking as what has happened and what has happened next for Eliza and Daniel. Even as Daniel learns after being recaptured that he was meant to be a criminal, he should be thankful he was able to be a priest and had the chance to do the right things while doing so. It’s possible being a priest during that time brought out his best personal traits while prison brought out his worst traits. It’s interesting to see that a killer who poses as a priest was the one that got the town to heal from the tragedy.

I commend the direction of the film by Komasa and the script by Pacewicz. This is a story that will keep you interested from start to finish. It has a lot to say and will allow one to draw their own conclusions of what the overall message of the film is. I don’t think the film is too critical of religion. We should remember Poland is a very religious country and the only European country where more than half of the population (65% to be exact) attends religious service at least once a month. Showing an anti-Catholic film in Poland is sure to spark outrage. I do feel both Komasa and Pacewicz were trying to make a critical statement without being disrespectful to the Roman Catholic Church. The statement being in Poland, anyone can be a priest.

Also excellent acting from Bartosz Bielenia. He did a great job as a man with immense faith but had something to hide. Eliza Rycembel was also very good at playing Eliza. She was good at knowing the truth of Daniel but being supportive in silent manner. Also very good was Alexandra Konieczna. Her best parts were the moments where she didn’t speak, but you call tell her emotions by her body language. Actually the acting from all involved was very believable and very good at telling the story. They were all very good at showing extreme emotion without going over the top.

Corpus Christi is the twelfth film representing Poland to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film).’ It was a highlight at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it won the Edipo Re Award at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and Bielenia won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actor at this past Palm Springs Film Festival as well as the Best Actor award at the Stockholm Film Festival.

Corpus Christi is remarkable as it’s a film that will leave you asking more questions than giving you answers about the story. The film will also get you thinking about morality and how people judge others, or how flawed people deal with their feelings. You will be left thinking at the end.

WORK CITED:

Ellwood, Gregory. “Scammers or spiritually motivated, fake priests figure in Poland’s ‘Corpus Christi.'” Los Angeles Times. 1 Jan 2020. <https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2020-01-01/corpus-christi-delves-into-fake-priest-trend-in-poland>

VIFF 2019 Wraps Up On A Great Note

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

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

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

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

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

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

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

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

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

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

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

Special Mention: Blood Quantum (dir. Jeff Barnaby)

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

Special Mention: Kuesippan (dir. Myriam Verrault)

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: Resistance Fighters (dir. Michael Wech)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award

Presented by RBC and Cineplex

WINNER: The Pollinators (dir. Peter Nelson)

Women In Film And Television Award

Artistic Merit Award

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

Audience Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Return Of VIFF

Cinema

Yes, the three most predominant topics on my blog are either the World Cup, the Oscars, or the Vancouver International Film Festival. And VIFF is back! Yesterday began the 38th installment of the Film Festival. Exciting films and exciting events are expected.

Creator Talks and Master Classes are back again. Slated lecturers for this year include Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan, director Michael Apted, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia actor/creator/executive producer Rob McElhenny, costume designer Arianne Phillips and Oscar winning sound editor Walter Murch. For the Showrunners events, it will be focusing on women in production featuring five female producers or creators. The Decision Makers event will consist of a lecture from broadcasters, networkers and streamers. There’s even a lecture from Public Enemy rapper Chuck D on Fight The Power and its importance in film as well as fun events like a live score to This Is Spinal Tap and a live feminist read of Some Like It Hot. VR films will again have their exhibit at the VIFF Immersed showcase. It will take place at the Annex this year.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1200 volunteers signing up, just like last year. Also like last year, volunteers are required to do a minimum of four shifts. As for my volunteering, I am assigned to work at the Center For Performing Arts, which is the venue showing the galas and feature events. In fact I signed myself up to do the Opening Gala! Now that will be a night to look forward to! Also if there are any other volunteer shifts in other venues, I could accept as along as it works with my time.

This year’s roster of films promises a lot of attractions This year’s VIFF claims to show about 300 shorts and feature films from 72 countries or regions. As of press time, twelve films are official submissions for the Academy Award category of Best International Feature Film for this year; a re-titling of the Best Foreign Language Film. 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. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals. As well, this festival will feature more Asian films than any other film festival.

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

As for highlights, here are some of the films headlining the VIFF this year:

  • OPENING GALA: Guest of Honour – Canadian Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan returns with his latest film about a daughter trying to remember her complicated father. Review coming soon.
  • CLOSING GALA: La Belle Epoque – A French comedy by director Nicolas Bedos of a man who goes time-travelling thanks to his son’s invention. Looks to be something very personal.
  • SPECIAL PRESENTATION: Parasite – Winner of the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. South Korean director Boon Jong Ho delivers a dramatic comedy of a poor family scheming their way to prosperity and things going all wrong.
  • A Hidden Life – This film won the Ecumenical Jury prize at Cannes. Terrence Malick tells the true story of a Nazi evader who refuses to bow down to pressure.
  • Jojo Rabbit – Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Fest. Similar to A Hidden Life but contrary, this film by the Thor: Ragnarok director is an anti-hate comedy set in Nazi Germany.
  • Just Mercy – A film starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan about legendary lawyer Bryan Stevenson who successfully battled incidents of injustice and racism in Alabama.
  • The Lighthouse – Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play two lighthouse keepers in 19th Century Maine who struggle to keep their sanity.
  • Motherless Brooklyn – Set in the 30’s or 40’s, Edward Norton directs and stars as a detective trying to solve the murder of his mentor and one friend.
  • Mr. Jones – Agnieszka Holland’s latest is of a Welsh journalist who visits Ukraine in 1933 and discovers a famine forced by the Communist government and attempts to hide it from the Western World.
  • No. 7 Cherry Lane – Hong Kong director Yonfan delivers his animation debut in a story of a student in 1967 Hong Kong living between love and revolutionary times.
  • Pain And Glory – Pedro Almodovar’s latest, and he reunites with Antonio Banderas! But this is of a distraught director trying to regain his passion for film, and life as a whole.
  • The Painted Bird – This Czech film starring Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel is of a Jewish boy escaping the Nazi Concentration Camps of World War II.
  • Portrait Of A Lady On Fire – This film set in 18th Century France is a story of a female painter commissioned to paint the daughter of a noblewoman. Only to fall in love in the process.
  • The Song Of Names – From Quebec director Francois Girard comes a film of a Holocaust orphan who becomes a big musician but is searching for the son of the British family who adopted him.
  • Sorry We Missed You – This is a drama/comedy by director Ken Loach of a construction worker during the 2008 financial crisis who takes a freelance commercial driver, and regrets it!
  • The Two Popes – City Of God director Fernando Meirelles directs a story of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis meeting and sometimes clashing as Benedict is to leave the Papacy. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star.
  • Young Ahmed – This Belgian film is of a Belgian-Moroccan student who goes from your normal 13 year-old to suddenly showing off an evil side.

So this is what VIFF has to offer fans this year. Not just films to enjoy but events focusing on various aspects of the craft as well. It starts September 26th and ends October 11th. Definitely sixteen days of excitement!

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