2016 was seen as a weak year for comedies, unless they were animated. Possibly the most overlooked gem of 2016 was the Irish musical comedy Sing Street. I passed it up when it first came out, but I finally saw it recently. I’m glad I did.
We see Conor Lawlor strumming his guitar in his bedroom. Conor is a 15 year-old boy living in a shabby suburb of Dublin in 1985. Right now, Ireland is going through difficult times. It’s economy has been hit hard and many young people are fleeing to the UK, most notably London, for a future. His family is also going through difficulties as his father is struggling in his architecture practice and is struggling in his marriage and drinks excessively. Because of that, Conor is taken out of his high-class Catholic school and put into an all-boys free state school in Synge Street. A move older brother Brendan objects to, knowing how terrible the priests are there.
Things don’t go well for Conor on the first day. Being the new kid, he gets bullied. On top of it, he has the principal Br. Baxter giving him a hard time because he’s wearing brown shoes instead of black shoes in the dress code. Conor does end up with a bully name Barry but he makes a new friend in Darren who has big-time entrepreneur dreams. Conor also meets a 16 year-old girl named Raphina living at the orphanage nearby the school. He learns that Raphina is a budding model who’s headed to London. Conor impresses Raphina saying he’s in a band.
Now it’s up for Conor to create the band with the help of Darren. Darren is quick to act as Conor is introduced to Eamon: an awkward looking teen with a passion for music and can play many an instrument. Conor is able to meet a local black teen who is mostly shunned away from the others and two other awkward but musically-inclined students from his school. They start out pretty flat together and create a demo tape of popular 80’s songs. Conor gives it to Brandon but he’s unimpressed. He instructs Brandon not to be a cover band but do their own original stuff. That helps Conor to meet with Eamon to compose a song about his infatuation with Raphina: The Riddle Of The Model. The boys try on various costumes for filming a video and Raphina even volunteers to be their makeup artist and ingenue.
The song and video impress Brendan, feeling they’re off to a good start. However Conor’s rocker image of dyed hair and makeup gets on the nerves of Br. Baxter who insists in turning all boys into men at the school. Baxter even grabs Conor and washes the makeup off his face in a bathroom sink with hot water. But Conor and the band are undaunted. They continue making music and Raphina even advises that Conor be known as Cosmo. Conor develops the self-confidence to stand up to school bully Barry. The romance between Raphina and Conor heat up too, despite Raphina claiming an older man is her boyfriend. Conor even talks of sailing to London with Raphina.
However things soon take a turn for the worse. Conor’s parents are on the verge of separating with the mother moving in to her new lover’s place. Plus Raphina doesn’t show up when Sing Street are shooting a Back To The Future style video for their song Drive It Like You Stole It. Raphina later revealed she was set to leave for London, but her boyfriend abandoned her. A disheartened Conor breaks up with her. The breakup affects Conor in writing new songs for the band.
However it’s Brendan who encourages him to get back with Raphina and get back into playing. It’s through Brendan’s own personal feelings of past failures that drive him to give Conor the advise. Sing Street have a chance to perform a gig at school. Conor even offers Barry a chance to become a roadie for the band to escape his abusive household. The band performs their gig to the delight of the school and a condescending Br. Baxter looking on in disappointment, but they saved the best for last. The film ends not as one would expect but one that would leave the audience happy and hopeful.
I won’t deny this is a common story you’d expect to see in a film. I’m sure the story of a person growing up in a trash-bin of a city starting a band has been done before. The thing with this story is that for a common story like this to work again, the characters have to connect with the audience. They have to make the audience want them to succeed. The film succeeds in making the audience want Conor, or should I say ‘Cosmo,’ and Sing Street to succeed. The film succeeds in making the audience want Conor win Raphina’s love. The film succeeds in making the audience want the bullying of Barry to Conor to end and for Conor to get even with Br. Baxter. The connection of Conor with the audience is one of the biggest elements of magic in this story.
It’s not just the connection of Conor with the audience. It’s the connection with Raphina too. You get a sense Raphina is the right one for Conor, despite being confused about her love to her older boyfriend. However you get a sense that Conor will win her love. Raphina believes in the band and believes in Conor. You can see it in her eyes. Also Raphina shares Conor’s dreams of leaving for London. Seeing how unpromising Ireland looked with its economic drabness back then and the people seeing the priests as ‘rapists’ leaves you sensing life would be better for the both over in London.
It’s also the connection with Brendan with the audience too. Brendan is the first character in the film outside of Conor that’s easy to like because Brendan believes in Conor’s talents. Brendan’s also the type of brother that would be honest about how Conor is doing. Even after he disses what Sing Street does at first, he will give Conor words of encouragement. He will give Conor music albums to give him a sense about what makes rock and roll. It’s Brendan’s embrace of music in both its past influences and future directions that become a huge boost for Conor. However it’s also Brendan’s past failures that we get a better understanding. We see why Brendan pushes Conor in that scene after the parents’ separation and he throws a violent fit over his past failures. Because Brendan views himself as a failure who doesn’t have a chance, so he wants Conor to chase his dreams and be the one that has what it takes to go to London. It’s easy to feel for Brendan. It’s also easy for a viewer to see their own feelings of failure and regret in Brendan too.
With this being a film about a rock and roll band, the music has to be as important as the story itself. Brendan’s embrace for music is a big quality of the film, but it has to rub off on Conor as he’s the one with the gift of music. The film gets focused on the themes of music like themes of love, themes of heartache, themes of frustration, themes of emptiness and themes of hope. We learn about the ‘happy-sad’ feeling that we all get, but may not know it. The ‘happy-sad’ element is definitely influential in music. Now once all the themes and elements of music are put together, the film has to have catchy songs. The film succeeds in doing so with songs like Riddle Of The Model, Drive It Like You Stole It and Brown Shoes. Brown Shoes made the perfect end-number for the school show. Even music from other musicians like Duran Duran, The Cure, The Jam, and many others add to the theme of music in the film. The film is as much about music as it is about love and dreams.
Writer/director John Carney succeeds in delivering an enjoyable film to the big screen. Music has been a common theme in past films of his like Once and Begin Again. He succeeds here again in delivering a film that’s enjoyable and keeping you engaged in the story. The film featured a very good debut performance for Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who was 16 years old when this film debuted at Sundance 2016. Ferdia is actually a singer who has performed professionally as a child in Ireland for years. This is his first acting role and he does an excellent job. Lucy Boynton also did a very good job in playing Raphina. The best thing is she made Raphina appear older than she really was. Jack Reynor was also very good as Brendan. He made Brendan into a likeable character, but also made you feel for him too.
Sing Street is a musical comedy that delivers excellently. It delivers a story and characters that connect with the audience very well. It also delivers entertaining music, which is what a film about a rock and roll band should do.
I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:
-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.
The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.
-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.
I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.
-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?
It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.
-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.
Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.
-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.
And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS
This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:
-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?
It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.
-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?
It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.
-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.
They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.
It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.
-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.
Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay? Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.
-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.
At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.
And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.
With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.
I’ll admit I’ve been delaying my wrap-up to this year’s Vancouver Film Festival for the longest time. Heck, VIFF 2016 ended exactly two months ago! Hey I’ve been bogged down with work, school and this surprisingly blizzard-like weather which is extremely rare in Vancouver. On top of it, VIFF stats I was hoping to get after the Fest didn’t come. Nevertheless I feel a wrap-up is still worth publishing even if it’s this late.
The 2016 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 13th. This was the first VIFF since 2011 that took place during Thanksgiving weekend. Crowds came again and again. There was a lot to offer with over 300 films from 70+ countries. There were even VIFF late night Hubs around the VIFF theatre held during the first ten days of the festival. I missed my chance because I was thinking of catching a hub during the second week. I didn’t know they ended that soon. Maybe next year.
The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:
BC Spotlight Awards
Best BC Film Award
Presented by the Harold Greenberg Fund, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: Window Horses (dir. Ann Marie Fleming)
BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA & William F. White
WINNER: Hello Destroyer (dir. Kevan Funk)
Recognizes the outstanding work of a female key creative on a BC-produced feature or short.
Presented by TELUS
WINNER: Cabbie (dirs. Jessica Parsons, Jennifer Chiu)
Honourable Mention: Here Nor There (dir. Julia Hutchings)
Canadian Film Awards
Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Window Horses (dir. Ann Marie Fleming)
Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Never Eat Alone (dir. Sofia Bohdanowicz)
Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Living With Giants (dirs. Sebastien Rist, Aude Leroux-Lévesque)
Honourable Mention: Quebec My Country Mon Pays (dir. John Walker)
Short Film Awards
Best BC Short Film
Presented by CreativeBC
WINNER: Here Nor There (dir. Julia Hutchings)
Honourable Mention: Srorrim (dir. Wayne Wapeemukwa)
Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Lexus
WINNER: Ceux qui restent/Those Who Remains (dir. Mathieu Vachon)
Honourable Mention: Fish (dir. Heather Young)
Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
WINNER: Parent, Teacher (dir. Roman Tchjen)
Honourable Mention: Old Man (dir. Alicia Eisen)
Radcliffe Foundation Refugee Crisis Awareness Short Film Competition
Presented by The Radcliffe Foundation
WINNER: Helpful Hand (dir. Alex Nagy)
VIFF Impact Award
Presented by Leonard Schein to one of the nine issue-oriented documentary films in the Impact Stream
WINNER: Power to Change – The Energy Rebellion (dir. Carl-A. Fechner)
VIFF Industry Builder Award
Presented by MPPIA to celebrate BC Creates with support from Western Economic Diversification and CreativeBC
2016 Honoree: Chris Carter
Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh)
VIFF Most Popular International Feature
WINNER: I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach)
Runner up: The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Human (dir. Yann Arthus-Bertrand)
VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary
WINNER: Spirit Unforgettable (dir. Pete McCormack)
#mustseebc Presented by TELUS Optik Local
WINNER: Cadence (dir. Alex Lasheras)
As for my volunteer experience, it was all at the International Village this year and it was a good experience. I had a mix of shifts from early morning to late evening to middle of the day. I volunteered both during the Sunday and Monday of thanksgiving. I also volunteered all day Thursday the 12th. I had more chances this year to watch films than I did last year. Last year, I only had the luck of seeing one during my volunteer work. If you can ask me what my favorite film of the ones I saw was, I would have to say it was the first one I saw: Barakah Meets Barakah. It was entertaining and very intelligent.
For the end of the VIFF, there was a volunteer party held the Saturday before Halloween. Volunteers were treated to films shown at this year’s VIFF. Three of the best. After that, they were treated to a Jackrabbit Slims party which consisted of the VanCity Theatre turned into a 1950’s diner, like in Pulp Fiction, and people treated to hamburgers, cupcakes, a complimentary drink and dancing to a jukebox. It was fun and it had me looking forward to next year.
My New Blog
One of the things I’ve been thinking about this year is the way I do blogging. This is nearing my sixth year. I’m not getting the amount of hits I was hoping to this year. Blog topics that normally get a lot of hits on my site didn’t this time. In fact this year is set to have the least amount of total hits for the year since 2011. I won’t quit blogging but the lack of hits have taken away from my ambition and I don’t post as often as I normally do, as you may have noticed.
One thing I’ve thought of doing is setting up one blog focused on a single topic. The first single-topic blog I’m starting is about the Vancouver Film Festival and it’s called VIFFin’ It Up. It will consist of reviews I’ve seen at the VIFF and reviews of VIFF films I saw after the fest. It will also consist of news related to the Fest and the usual annual previews and wrap-ups. If you want to follow it or enter your email to subscribe, just click here. Right now I just have the intro. Over the days, I will post reviews and previews of past VIFFs starting with 2011: the first VIFF I blogged about.
So there you go. The 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival ended with continued success if not a record and fun for all volunteers. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 28th to October 12th, 2017 and should be bigger and better. Hopefully next year I’ll attend a hub. See you next year!
One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:
-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.
The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.
-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.
This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.
-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.
Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.
-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.
No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.
-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.
This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.
-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.
This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.
-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.
This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.
In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.
Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.
Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival starts again. Today begins the 35th installment of the Film Festival. This year will not only be exciting because of what to see but also what new additions are happening.
This year’s theme is: “Expand the frame.” Part of the aim of this year’s VIFF is to make the Festival more accessible and more creative. One of the new additions is the VIFF Hub. The Hub and surrounding area will be the location for lectures and exhibitions surrounding film and art. There will even be art exhibitions, virtual reality exhibits and music performances from DJs, local performers and performers from around the world. Some events are free of charge as long as you’re a VIFF member while some may be ticketed events. The VIFF website will explain it all.
Film is still the centre of it all. There will not only be films shown but lectures from industry professionals as well. Directors, producers and actors will appear at some showings for Q&A’s including an appearance of Tatiana Maslany. Deal-making will also be included in the process. This year, for the first time, there will be an IMAX film shown over at the Telus World of Science for the Closing Gala.
As for volunteering, this year there were 1100 volunteers signing up. Way higher than the usual 800 that serve the required 32 hours of work. Because of that, volunteer seating will be limited during many films or not allotted at all. Nevertheless I should be able to get in to see a lot of good films. This year promises to have hundreds of shorts and feature films from 73 countries, including five ‘globetrotting’ films. As of press time, 13 films are official submissions for the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. A footnote worth adding is A Flickering Truth from last year’s VIFF is New Zealand’s official entry in the category for this year. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals. This year’s top sponsor is no longer Rogers but a more local big name in telecommunications: Telus. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards.
As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:
- OPENING GALA: Maudie – A biographic film of Canadian folk artist Maude Lewis starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.
- CLOSING GALA: Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience – An IMAX spectacle of the universe from the beginning of time to today. Written and directed by Terrence Malick and narrated by Brad Pitt.
- American Honey – A drama about a teenage orphan trying to grow up. Directed by Andrea Arnold and stars Shia LaBeouf.
- The Birth Of A Nation – This Sundance’s hot ticket and the hottest thing to come from the fest in years. Nate Parker writes, directs and stars in this drama of a slave rebellion that occurred decades before the Civil War.
- Elle – The latest black comedy from controversy-causing director Paul Verhoeven. Isabelle Huppert plays a video game CEO with a lust for power and revenge.
- The Girl With All The Gifts – A British zombie drama directed by Colm McCarthy and stars Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close.
- Graduation – A Romanian drama of a doctor doing what he can to insure his daughter gets into a presigious university. Director Cristian Mungiu won Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Fest for this.
- The Handmaiden – A Korean drama of a pickpocket who plays a Japanese maid of an heiress whose fortunes he plans to steal. Divided by chapters and loaded with sensuality.
- Human – A documentary by French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It focuses on the world from on high from positive things like love to even negative things like murder.
- I, Daniel Blake – This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, this film focuses on a man getting his disability status reassesses and denied benefits. Ken Loach’s look at one man rivaling the system.
- Julieta – Pedro Almodovar is back! Spain’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Oscars, Almodovar returns to the heart-on-the sleeve melodramas with female lead characters he’s most famous for.
- Manchester By The Sea – Another highlight from this year’s Sundance. Director Kenneth Lonergan showcases a story of a man (Casey Affleck) returning to his Massachusetts home after the death of his brother and trying to sort out his family’s past.
- Milton’s Secret – A Canadian hot ticket directed by Barnet Bain, it’s a unique story of how a troubled 12 year-old teenager finds relief from the frustrations of his life through his grandfather. Stars Donald Sutherland and Michelle Rodriguez.
- Moonlight – Director Barry Jenkins showcases a drama of an African-American man struggling to come out despite the past troubles that haunt him.
- Toni Erdmann – Germany’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Oscars, the film tells the story of a woman frustrated with her conniving father and his female disguise that irritates her to the point of leaving him behind after her promotion.
So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 29th and it all ends October 14th. Lots of excitement to come.
Hi all. With the Golden Globes coming this Sunday night, it is the time where I make my predictions for the winners. For this, I not only predict the Winner but also the Most Likely Upsetter who could pull the biggest surprise. So without further ado:
Best Motion Picture, Drama
Most Likely Upsetter: The Revenant
Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner: The Martian
Most Likely Upsetter: The Big Short
Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: Leonardo diCaprio, The Revenant
Most Likely Upsetter: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner: Matt Damon, The Martian
Most Likely Upsetter: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: Cate Blanchett, Carol
Most Likely Upsetter: Brie Larson, Room
Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner: Amy Schumer, Trainwreck
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner: Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies
Most Likely Upsetter: Idris Elba, Beasts Of No Nation
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Winner: Thomas McCarthy, Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: Ridley Scott, The Martian
Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: Adam McKay, The Big Short
Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner: Son Of Saul (Hungary)
Most Likely Upsetter: The Brand New Testament (Belgium)
Best Animated Feature Film
Winner: Inside Out
Most Likely Upsetter: Anomalisa
Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner: “See You Again”, Furious 7
Most Likely Upsetter: “One Kind Of Love”, Love & Mercy
Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner: Carter Burwell, Carol
Most Likely Upsetter: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Okay, so I decided not to give a Most Likely Upsetter prediction for the television categories. Hey what can I say? I’m better at predicting the movie awards. Plus with a lot of categories appearing radically different from last year, it makes it all the much harder. So here are my TV predictions for the winners:
Best TV Movie or Miniseries: American Horror Story Hotel
Best TV Series, Drama: Game of Thrones
Best TV Series, Comedy: Veep
Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Best Actor, TV Series Comedy: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Viola Davis, How To Get Away With Murder
Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Gina Rodriguez, Jane The Virgin
Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall
Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Queen Latifah, Bessie
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall
Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Regina King, American Crime
And there you go. Those are my predictions for Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. I don’t think I’ll completely be in sync with the Hollywood Foreign Press but anyways tune in to see the winners and the show.
DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know this is a month late but I’ve had some busy times and two colds plus I was waiting for some certain facts that took forever to come. Nevertheless I decided to finally publish this VIFF wrap-up today.
The Vancouver International Film Festival wrapped itself up the night of Friday, October 9th. The sixteen days were full of excitement throughout the city. It was also quite warm which allowed for some people to pass up films in favor of savoring whatever sunny weather we’ll have left for the year. Nevertheless this year’s VIFF was still bustling. The format that worked the two previous years continued to work again this year. The three Tinseltown theatres gave the VIFF four extra days.
Volunteering was also good this year. Funny thing is this year we were only to do a single theatre this time around. I originally requested to volunteer for the VanCity theatre. Thing is it was loaded with volunteer requests. They asked me to do one of the other theatres. I obliged to do Tinseltown. That worked for the most part but the thing with me is I like to volunteer on both opening day and closing day: the two days Tinseltown isn’t part of the VIFF. That led me during the volunteer training to negotiate with one of the heads of volunteering and she gave me the option of doing Cinematheque those two days. I was happy with that, especially since I could get free popcorn.
Volunteering started off somewhat easy on opening day at the Cinematheque. Things became a bit more difficult when I worked the Tinseltown theatres. There one would have to deal with big crowds. Almost reminding me how busy it was over at the late Granville 7. There was even one time Tinseltown was so booked with volunteers, I was asked to volunteer the Sunday at the nearby SFU theatre. One film was a special event film where one corporate sponsor was giving people popcorn. Problem was food couldn’t be allowed in the theatre. You can imagine how peeved the people were. I also remember how busy closing Friday was. I had to do something over at the Centre for Performing Arts in between volunteering at the Cinematheque. Hey, film fests are busy things.
As for films I watched, I saw fourteen including the Reel Youth shorts fest. The feature-length films I saw came from Canada, USA, UK, Germany, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Greece, Ireland, India and Denmark. I saw a lot of good live-action movies as well as some good documentaries. I think the edgiest film I saw was Nina Forever. Hard to say what my favorite was. I found 100 Yen Love the most entertaining and A Flickering Truth to the the most eye-opening documentary I saw. I was hoping to see some Canadian live-action but it just wasn’t to be this year.
Anyways here is the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival by the numbers:
–140,000: estimated gated attendance
–710+: Film and Television forum delegates
–930+: hours of film screened
-520+ accredited industry guests
–549: public screenings
–370: films shown (shorts and feature length)
–99: Canadian Films and shorts shown
–85: countries entering films
–114: Canadian premieres
- 35: North American premieres
- 24: International premieres (first screening outside home country)
- 11: World Premieres
-198: meetings with industry leaders and delegates at VIFF Industry Exchange
–104: guest speakers
–14: entries in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars shown
–16: days of showing films
–9: screens showing films
–7: theatres participating in the VIFF
Now I know some of you want to know the award winners. Here they are:
ROGERS PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
-BROOKLYN (UK/Ireland/Canada), dir. John Crowley
VIFF MOST POPULAR INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM AWARD
-INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN (Sweden), dir. Stig Bjorkman
VIFF MOST POPULAR CANADIAN DOCUMENTARY AWARD
-HAIDA GWAII: ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, dir. Charles Wilkinson
VIFF IMPACT: CANADIAN AUDIENCE AWARD
-FRACTURED LAND, dirs. Damien Gillis & Fiona Rayher
VIFF MOST POPULAR CANADIAN FILM AWARD
-ROOM (shared with Ireland), dir. Lenny Abrahamson
VIFF IMPACT: INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE AWARD
-LANDFILL HARMONIC (USA, Paraguay), dir. Brad Algood
#mustseeBC Award (for most anticipated BC film)
-TRICKS ON THE DEAD, dir. Jordan Paterson
BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM AWARD
-SLEEPING GIANT, dir. Andrew Cividino
EMERGING CANADIAN DIRECTOR AWARD:
-THE SOUND OF TREES, dir. Francois Peloquin
BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM AWARD
-BLUE-EYED BLONDE, dir. Pascal Plante
MOST PROMISING DIRECTOR OF A CANADIAN SHORT FILM:
-NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL, dir. Kathleen Hepburn
BEST BC FILM:
-FRACTURED LAND, dirs. Damien Gillis & Fiona Rayher
BC EMERGING FILMMAKER AWARD:
-THE DEVOUT, dir. Connor Gaston
Those were awarded at Friday’s closing gala. After the VIFF closed, VIFF repeats happened at the VanCity theatre until Thursday the 15th. The volunteer party went from being held close to the end of the fest to being held on Halloween. It all started at the VanCity theatre as volunteers were treated to three circus-themed thriller films. The first one was held at 10 in the morning and was 1933’s Freaks which is frequently shown on Turner Classic Movies. The second was the 1960 British film Circus Of Horrors. The third and last was 1966’s Berserk starring Joan Crawford. Goodies and pastries were around for us to much on. Of course there were candies. There were prizes given away as well as prizes for costumes. Then the festivities ended with a three-hour dinner and dance at a nearby cabaret. It was a fun Halloween, that’s for sure. Great to see this year’s VIFF end on an exciting note.
So there you go. The 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival ended with continued success if not a record and fun for all volunteers. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 23rd to October 8th, 2015 and should be bigger and better. It’s 10 months away but I still can’t wait. Anyways we’ll see how things go for next year’s VIFF. See you next year!
2013 was a focus more on young film makers. 2014 was still a majority of young filmmakers but did more focus on film directed to young people rather than focus on the age of the directors. Films made for young people by directors 20+ in age were more welcome that year than the previous one. This year was return to more focus on filmmakers up to age 19 and less focus on films by directors 20 or older.
This year there were 19 films. Seven were from Canada with four from BC. Six were from the United States with entries from Latvia, Kosovo, Iran, Georgia, India and Australia. Films focused on issues but they also had some fun too. The fun films included an animated short of a man and his dog on a stranded island, a boy asking another boy out and redoing it until he gets it right, a dating situation that can best be described as ‘a gas,’ human life from a dog’s eye view, life that starts in a smalltown and takes you back there, an animated film of a mantis’ first date and a simple task of getting a selfie with a 20 foot pink elephant that’s not so simple.
Issues however was the top focus of the festival and the shorts did speak about their issues. Issues included homelessness, bullying, missing indigenous women in Canada that often go overlooked, harassment at work, youth poverty in Canada and young disabled people.
Some of the films included dramatic settings such as a friendship between a man and a dog in tough times, emotional states relating to colors, a young person’s journey through life and the unfriendliness of our modern times, especially in urban India. There were some films that were biographical or focal like the homeless shelter cook from San Antonio, teenage musicians from BC with dreams that seem ignored by the school system and an 85 year-old woman with the self-confidence of a movie star.
Despite a lot of issues, there were films with messages of hope. Messages focused on homelessness in San Antonio, finding joy in pain the way Charlie Chaplin did, being comfortable in your own skin and making a disabled child feel like they’re not a misfit. Even a plotless short from Iran of a young grandson in a house with a leaky roof trying to keep the rain off his sleeping grandmother seemed like it had a message to say.
I think that was the point of this year’s selected shorts. These were films that focused on life, on emotions, on issues of concern, on problems and on hope. They all had something to say whether it be humorous or whether it be serious. Some had top-notch cameras or animation quality. Some were amateurish in writing, acting or even conveying their issue. Nevertheless all had their qualities that made it worth showing to the audience.
Once again, we were given our ballots to select our three favorite films and our favorite local film. Here were my picks:
- Love On Wheels – A Georgian film of a wheelchair-bound boy who’s accompanied by his father (actually played by his brother) who’s also in a wheelchair so that he doesn’t feel cut off from the world.
- Priorities – An animated short from Latvia of a man and his dog stranded on a deserted island during a rainstorm. Excellent animation quality.
- The Second Right Off Main Street – An Ontario short of an adolescent growing up in a small town, moving away to pursue bigger and better things and finding himself back in his town.
- Local – 1 in 5 – About a bully a teen girl can’t seem to stand up for herself against: poverty. Title reflects the statistic of youth poverty in BC. Filmed in New Westminster.
And there you go. That’s my look at this year’s selection of shorts at the Reel Youth Film Festival. If you know a young filmmaker, I recommend you let them know of the Reel Youth film society.
“When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?”
-popular internet quote
A Flickering Truth is the first documentary I saw at the VIFF. I’m a bit mistrustful of documentaries but this was an eye opener.
The film opens with some Afghani men looking for a job. The job pays lousy even with their pay boosted 4 times the amount of their original offer. The boss, Ibrahim Arify, seems like a dictator giving orders and belittling his workers and his abilities. Then you see what business this is: Afghan Film. Over time, you see what their mission is. Their job is to restore many old films to show the Afghani people on a national tour.
Over time you will see this is no vanity effort. Afghan Film is more than just a film company. It’s a building archiving both the entertainment films and film footage of news events. Inside the building of Afghan Film are films that had to be kept in private rooms and hiding places. We’re dealing with film in a country that has gone through corrupt tyrannous rule for about half a century. The company came about while Afghanistan had a king. The king was friendly and helped the Afghani people mostly live well despite their impoverished conditions. Then he was deposed in a coup d’etat by his uncle in 1973 and it was downhill from then on. More than five years later his uncle was hanged and the Soviets invaded. The Soviets left in 1987 and the Mujahideen took over. Then the Taliban in 1996. After war was declared to oust the Taliban, Afghanistan became a democracy and more freedoms were restored. But not without daily threats on people’s lives that continue today. Even standing in a line-up to vote in an election is a threat on your life. That’s Afghanistan.
Afghan Film was a company that was under thread of the constant regimes and the tyranny that came with it. As we watch Arify get the project under way, we learn what type of films Afghan Film has kept hidden and has ready to show. They show archived footage, mostly in black and white of Afghanistan’s moments of history from military marches on camelback in the 1930’s to footage of the king’s visit to Washington in 1963 and a warm reception from President Kennedy to footage of the royal family swimming at the palace to even the most brutal aftermaths of war and political upheaval. Their final film footage was of the 1996 hanging of President Najibullah by the Taliban.
Afghan Film is not just film footage. They also have archived many entertainment films they’ve had hidden. Many of the films were of war dramas but there were also many romance films. They even archive Afghani films made during the silent era of the 1920’s and even a drama made back in 1936: films that came to be long before Afghan Film was founded.
What Afghan Film was saving this whole time was a part of Afghanistan’s cultural and historical identity. What their saving it all from and why becomes very obvious over time. Seeing of what the films of archive and entertainment contain are easy to see why the various political regimes and especially the Taliban would consider it a threat. We see films of kings and rulers, of luxury, of fields of poppies, of feelings of love, of conscientious thought, and even women without burkas or veils. Seeing the images and one’s knowledge of the Taliban can easily see why the Taliban would consider it a threat. In fact, film or even television entertainment of any kind was not allowed during their control of the entire country. Much of the film we see in the documentary is only a small portion of the film from Afghanistan. Most of Afghanistan’s films have been burned by the Taliban. All those hidden films they bring out and even recover in hiding places are the lucky ones.
We see the importance of saving the films. We also see the huge task of restoring the films and having them ready to show the crowds. It’s a challenge as they can only do so much themselves. Sending them off to foreign countries to do it for them is also a challenge as restoration is not always guaranteed. There’s one scene where one film which was sent to South Korea for restoration makes it back unrestored because the company was too busy The company did send a letter of apology. They show the difficulty of planning the national tour. Sure, the Taliban doesn’t control the whole of Afghanistan anymore but there are many areas especially around the border of Pakistan where Taliban control remains. We’re even reminded of the current situation of Afghanistan when we see the shattered glass of the former Afghan Films president’s apartment from a bomb blast.
The restoration and national exhibition of the films are not just simply a mission but also a mission of personal nature for the past president Isaaq Yousif and his successor Ibrahim Arify. Yousif has been president of the company for many decades. He was orphaned at 13 and was never matched with a woman in his lifetime. The film was his life. We see films he acted in when he was younger. He’s one who has survived the various regimes and civil wars in the country. There was a time the Afghan Film office was even his personal home. Ibrahim Arify was luckier as he fled Afghanistan in the 1980’s to live in Germany. He married an Afghani woman and had three children. His wife and two of his children are afraid to set foot in Afghanistan. Life in Germany helped make Arify a good business man and admires those of his colleagues that stayed behind, even those that were killed. The mission is almost like a ‘passing of the torch’ from Yousif to Arify especially since this happens during the last year of Yousif’s life. We even see Yousif’s grave.
The restoration is completed and the films make their tour. Arify has to return to Germany as Afghanistan is holding an election and foreigners risk having their lives threatened. The tour starts in Kabul and will be an outdoor showing. Security is there. Popcorn is popped. The crowd enjoys what their seeing. The tour visits many town halls and schools and is a huge success and shows promise for the future.
The most revealing moment of the documentary comes at the end when the people are watching the films. All this that has survived regimes and destructive wars. As the films are shown, the cameras focus on the people viewing. The most profound images are those of the children. They’re watching images of times when Afghanistan was prosperous, films of people not afraid to speak their emotions and women not restricted to what they wore. As the children watch, who knows what confidence it will give them towards their own future?
This documentary is a revealing introspect from Pietra Brettkelly. She not only shows us the films but the people behind restoring them and the country that’s it’s taking place. It’s like we’re looking inside-out into Afghanistan, what the country is been through and why this is so important. Hearing Arify and Yousif talk about the country and its history in both its positive and negative aspects sheds a light on what we’re dealing with. Hearing Arify describe the Afghani people as lazy by nature does get you thinking too: “If the Afghani people weren’t so lazy, the Taliban wouldn’t have lasted a week. People think I act like a dictator. You have to be like a dictator to get the people to do their job right.”
Actually that was a quality Brettkelly included where she lets the men in the film tell their story. Even the female actors of films past give a unique introspect. The film is an excellent documentary that appears put together very well. I don’t know if it tells the whole history of Afghani film but it tells a lot. It even presents the events leading to the exhibition in a very good manner. It may appear a bit disorganized at times but it does it very well.
A Flickering Truth may not stand out from many documentaries as we know it but it does show something unique and a story that deserves to be told. It almost makes those words from Churchill, whether he really said them or not, look very true here.