This year seems like the year I’ve seen more experimental film at the VIFF than ever before. The latest experimental feature I saw was Forest Movie. It was shot all in Vancouver and it does a lot with the 65 minutes it has.
The film begins with images of a forest and then phases into a young woman sleeping. The young woman was actually dreaming of the forest. She sends a text message to her friend that she can’t meet up: she’s sick. The friend accepts.
What she does right after is put on a jacket and bring along her bag and portable chair. She simply leaves from her apartment suite near Powell St. and Nanaimo St. and walks to a forest inside the city. The visit is simple as she walks across the paved trails over the rocks and branches with her cellphone turned off. A complete getaway. There are times she takes breaks like for when she eats something or feels she needs to write poetry or prose in her notebook. Other than that, just simply walking through the forest.
Then she finds a grassy spot that’s open and surrounded by the trees. She uses that spot as a place to set up her chair and relax. There’s a twenty-minute shot of the area of the forest she witnesses from her chair. It just consists of that view, changes of sunshine or cloud, and the surrounding sounds of the outdoors or her dealing with her chair, bag or notebook.
Night soon falls. She actually fell asleep during her time sitting in the forest. Night approaches. She’s all alone in the dark relying on her cellphone as a flashlight. She rushes to find the exit to the forest, but is lost. Images of her attempt to exit consist of her cellphone light shining or complete darkness with nothing but sound. Morning breaks and we see her walking back to her apartment as if nothing dreadful happened.
No question this film can be defined as experimental. The film is what it is. It’s a story about a young woman seeking tranquility in a forest and is willing to deal with whatever comes to her. The director Matthew Taylor Blais was in the audience and would later hold a Q&A after. Before the film started, he said: “No two people will have the same impression of this film.”
I got what he was after in this film: he wanted us to create our own thoughts, impressions and opinions about this film. That explains why actress Ana Escorse is given no dialogue at all in this film. The film is all about what we see and what we hear. I was open to this. The film gives us images and scenes that try to get us to form our own opinions. For starters, I actually thought the woman really was sick from the texts she sent. I though she went to the forest possibly for natural healing therapy. That scene in her apartment that shows an Aboriginal dream catcher could may have made some, including myself, believe she’s into Aboriginal spirituality and may see the forest as the medicine she needs. Even the scene where you see trees just outside a condo leads you to think this is an urban forest close to downtown Vancouver in Stanley Park, when it’s actually shot in Pacific Spirit Regional Park close to UBC.
Later shots add into the opinions we form about this film. The scenes where she takes out her notebook and writes or draws might get one to think she’s using the forest for creative inspiration. That twenty-minute shot of the forest’s view is an attempt to get us to rely on the background sounds to form our own opinions about what’s happening from this view. The end scene of her trying to leave the forest at night is also one that gets us to rely on our thoughts of what’s happening. The scene with the biggest impact is the scene where the camera makes like we see her escape through her eyes. It consists of the background sounds and the cellphone light cutting in and out. It’s actually the scene with the most drama as one would wonder will she make it? Will she get lost?
Matthew Taylor Blais does a very good job with this film. I was more welcoming with the experimentation in this film than I was in PROTOTYPE. I think Blais’ intro before it began helped me to be more welcoming. It’s an experimental film that pays off and allows the audience to create their own impression. It allowed me to create mine. However it is to say that it does take some creative risks that would be questionable. I welcomed that twenty-minute shot of the forest scenery, but some were not so welcoming. In fact I saw a few people leave the theatre during that scene, including a group of four. That’s one of the risks of creating an experimental film like this. Not everyone is as welcoming as me to such experimentation.
Forest Movie is an experimental film that allows the audience to exercise their imagination and make their own judgements about what’s happening in the story. This is experimental film that pays off greatly.
Before you label Wild a ‘Reese Witherspoon movie,’ you have to see it from start to end. You’d be surprise that it’s not your typical movie from her. It’s more.
The story begins in 1995 with Cheryl Strayed, a young twentysomething, about to start a hike down the Pacific Crest Trail. This comes right after her divorce from Paul, her husband of seven years. One of the many troubles in Cheryl’s life. Cheryl looks to hiking the trail as a chance to reshape her life and gain inner strength. But at first, you will think Cheryl doesn’t have what it takes to do this long hike. It’s an 1,100 mile journey and on top of it, Cheryl is struggling to simply put on her 40-pound backpack, never mind walk with it. And on uneven terrain that includes mountains? Can she do it? Even her best friend Aimee feels she can’t do it.
The hike starts with great difficulty. Walking with the heavy backpack, she has difficulties on the first day such as not even hiking ten miles, being without cooking fuel and being unable to set up a tent properly. The days get stronger over time but it’s still very gradual as the second day she’s made aware of the type of wild animals she would have to deal with.
Over time she would have to find help. On the third day, she asks a farmer for help. He offers to take her to her house but she’s nervous about it, especially since she sees a gun in his car. She later learns he’s a married man and the couple offer her to stay overnight. Over time she meets other people that offer her help from a father and his teenage son to full families to people at various camping goods stores and retailers to hippies in a local California town who pay tribute to Jerry Garcia upon his recent death at the time to three college guys out having a fun hike together to even hikers that also plan to do the trail but eventually fail. Not all were helpful. One was a journalist for a magazine who just took pictures of her and interviewed her. Another was a group of snowboarders on a mountain top who just leave her. Another was a pair of threatening-looking men she met at a well only to be encountered by the bowhunter later looking like he would want to do something harmful to her. Fortunately it doesn’t happen as his colleague tells him to return.
However it’s the alone times of the hike that are the most crucial. In between the times she signs a name on the hike log that includes using a quote or line of poetry from a famous poet, Cheryl is all alone and has the moments of her past come back to her. Moments like a childhood with an abusive father her mother leaves taking her younger brother and her at age 6, going through high school while her mother was returning to complete her graduation, marrying Paul a successful restaurant owner while young, learning her mother has cancer and her dying sooner than expected, having her mother’s cherished horse put down, leaving Paul and hitting the inner city of Portland where she adopts a drug habit and even has an abortion. Those are the memories Cheryl is trying to wrestle with in her hike. Her cheap therapy hasn’t helped but maybe this hike will.
The thing with this film is that it’s not just to show the trip Cheryl took but also the flashbacks to the moments of her life that both trouble her and define her. We don’t just see the bad memories she’s dealing with but we feel them too. We may first just see Cheryl right after she finished her divorce at the beginning but as the trip progresses, we start feeling her situation. We learn of the bond she had with her mother and why her death hurt her terribly. We learn of how her marriage to Paul fell apart. We learn of her drug abuse. We learn of her abusive father she hasn’t seen since she was a small girl. We learn of the cheap therapy she tried at first but didn’t work. We learn of her no-so-close relationship with her brother. Over time, we see why Cheryl wants to use this trip to heal herself and it comes to appear as the right thing for her to do.
The film gives a good sense of inner strength Cheryl acquires over time with the hike. At first Cheryl appears to be a completely amateur camper who can’t get her backpack on right, can’t put up a tent well and can’t cook a proper dinner outdoors. You think she doesn’t have a chance in completing it. You’d think even more so when she comes across threatening creatures like rattlesnakes and cougars along the way. You’d also think that way in seeing she can’t even cover ten miles a day during the beginning of her trip. Sometimes you think she might become a victim of crime as there would be some threatening people she’d encounter, especially that bowhunter. Nevertheless she gets stronger with each and every mile.
However the film also succeeds in conveying the popular saying ‘the journey is the destination.’ It shows Cheryl being enriched by her experience while mentally fighting her troubles of the past. That’s not just acquired from her hiking but also from the people she meets. It’s people like the farmer who first appears threatening but becomes helpful along with his wife, like the hippies she encounters upon the death of Jerry Garcia, like the men at the store who help her reduce her packing, like the various hikers she comes across, and people like the grandson who sings ‘Red River Valley.’ There are many people that enrich her experience. Even those that seem insignificant like that journalist on the road or the three young college boys hiking together and goofing off appear to give some extra richness to her experience. Even the quotes from various authors and poets Cheryl puts in the logbooks add to the richness of the journey.
Another key aspect the film focuses on is people’s attitudes, especially in dealing with the hardships of life. We see Cheryl as she went through a self-destructive path after her mother died and needed a way out. She took the Trail in hopes that it would help her recover. We also see her mother who had also been through hardships of her own but still holds her head high. That scene where she says she doesn’t regret marrying Ronald because she had her and Leif. You think people that are constantly positive are naive and foolish but she shows strength in positive thinking. Even seeing her on her deathbed laughing how she finally gets a ‘room with a view,’ it takes a special kind of person to hold their head high during difficult times. I think it was because of her mother’s positive attitude that Cheryl knew she couldn’t be a victim anymore and needed to heal herself. That’s why she took that hike. Interesting how there are some people like Bobbi who just have that ability to stay strong in hard times and there are people like Cheryl who need to acquire that inner strength.
Without a doubt, the film belonged to Reese Witherspoon. This is not the typical Reese Witherspoon movie. This is Reese playing someone completely different from roles she’s played before in the past and it’s a role with immense depth. Even playing Cheryl at various ages in the film. She comes out shining. Even though this appears to be a one-person film, it’s Laura Dern who does an excellent job as Bobbi and even steals the film at times. She makes being positive in difficult times look smart and strong instead of naive and foolish. Thomas Sadoski did good playing Paul but his role could have been developed more as could have the role of her brother Leif played by Keene McRae and the role of best friend Aimee played by Gaby Hoffman. The various supporting performances were also excellent and added to the film. Even the briefest of performances.
Jean-Marc Vallee does it again. He really made a name for himself last year with the Dallas Buyers Club and he adds to his reputation here. He succeeds in making it the personal story of Cheryl’s it’s supposed to be while adding to the environment of the story. Nick Hornby did a very good job of writing out the story from Cheryl’s memoirs keeping in the key parts of her hike and of her life. The film made a wise choice in keeping the story mostly score-free and let the sounds of the wild and even the chill of silence add to the story. That scene of the bowhunter appearing to either want to rape or murder Cheryl wouldn’t have worked as well with a score. The inclusion of the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘El Condor Pasa‘ is an excellent addition. It’s almost like it becomes Cheryl’s own personal anthem. Also noteworthy are the contributions by Strayed herself where she’s the associate producer and even plays a woman in a truck in the film. Her daughter Bobbi Lindstrom even plays Cheryl as a child.
Wild is a bit of a melodrama but it’s not the least bit boring. It’s a very deep, very enriching story of one woman using a hike to fight her inner troubles. We not only witness her gain inner strength from it, we experience it.
Ever since the late evening of Thursday March 10th leading into Friday the 11th, the story of the Japanese tsunami and aftermath has dominated our headlines. We constantly see images, both professional and amateur, as well as the latest news updates. It’s both alarming and upsetting. It’s also a sobering reminder that something like this can strike close to home, especially if you live on either the east coast or west coast.
The news first broke this past Thursday night or very early Friday morning. A powerful earthquake in the Pacific Ocean just 100 miles east of Japan’s northern coast caused a tsunami that hit the coast of Japan, especially the city of Sendai, really hard. The quake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and is the seventh-highest ever recorded. Replays of the wave’s crashing caught on amateur video has left many shocked. Some who were up during the early morning hours were able to see live footage of the wave as it was travelling towards the west coasts of the Americas. The destruction to the Japanese coast and surrounding areas has been in the news daily. The statistics of destruction and human loss are growing. Many anticipate the final death toll to reach around 20,000.
Another shocking thing about this disaster is that it comes more than six years after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean which claimed a total of almost a quarter-million lives in many countries. That ranks as the deadliest tsunami in history. I’m sure many of us still have images of the disaster fresh in our minds.
Those living near the west coasts of the Americas had the least damage to deal with. Hawaii was hardest hit but there was no loss of life and damage was minimal. Even the west coasts of the Americas had their own damage to deal with but the most damage individual areas faced was one or two million dollars. We were pretty lucky. Nevertheless one thing citizens living on or near coastal land need to remember is that a tsunami can strike at anytime. Where there’s a coast by an ocean, sea or lake, there’s a tsunami danger. The big question is do we know how to take action?
For one thing, warning systems are an excellent start for prevention. First part involves network sensors to detect threatening waves. Second part involves a communications infrastructure to issue timely alarms to permit evacuation of coastal areas. This can beneficial since the tsunami from days ago was distant enough from the Americas to allow ample time for warning. Although beneficial, they are imperfect as in the case for Japan in this instance. Tsunamis can come as fast as 600 miles/hour and the earthquake epicenter for this tsunami was 100 miles east of the coast. This wouldn’t allow for ample time to save enough property or enough lives. Nevertheless new advances in warning are still yet to come. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, an Internation Early Warning Programme was proposed immediately after and it resulted in the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System. I’m sure after the Japanese tsunami, there will me more pressure to follow through on the Internation Early Warning Programme and propose for more technological advancements.
Technological devices are also helpful. One such is the DART buoy: DART standing for Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis. These buoys are held in place off coast to detect possible tsunami threats along with a Bottom Pressure Recording package to detect pressure changes of the tsunamis. The United States has 39 DART buoys in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and The Caribbean Sea. Since 2009, other countries have started to use DART buoys for tsunami detection. Another such is a tsunami warning system like the Pacific Tsunami Warning System based in Honolulu which records seismic activity in the Pacific Ocean. Although not every Ocean earthquake causes a tsunami, the computers assist in analyzing the tsunami risk of every earthquake that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and the adjoining land masses.
Then there’s also local preventative measures. Some are natural, like mangroves, coastal vegetation and coral reefs which helped to cause the least damage during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Others are constructed like seawalls and floodgates. Japan has constructed some seawalls that are as tall as 15 feet to protect populated areas. Seawalls may have to be expanded in the wake of the most recent tsunami. All Pacific Rim countries have organized evacuation routes and practice evacuation procedures. In Japan, such preparation is mandatory for government, local authorities, emergency services and the population. Vancouver even has some disaster relief routes. There’s even preparation information and a program from BC’s Ministry of Safety and Solicitor General. It’s up to the governments to inform the public at risk to be informed how to take action.
The tsunami in northern Japan is a chilling and sobering wake up call to those who live on or near coastal areas. This will undoubtedly leave many questioning if such a disaster can happen to them and how would they respond. This will also leave government agencies time to question whether they have the right technological means to detect warnings necessary for alerts and possible evacuations. Hopefully none of us will have to experience what those in northern Japan are dealing with right now.
WIKIPEDIA: Tsunami.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami>
WIKIPEDIA: Tsunami Warning System.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami_warning_system>
WIKIPEDIA: International Early Warning Programme.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Early_Warning_Programme>
WIKIPEDIA: Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART).Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep-ocean_Assessment_and_Reporting_of_Tsunamis>