Films to see at VIFF on Days 5 & 6: Monday and Tuesday
Once again, coincidentally, documentaries take more recommendations than fiction these next two days. You can find Donald Trump, Wiebo Ludwig, a battered woman and some African street musicians.
There are dramas too, in new or previous recommendations or arriving with big buzz.
Here’s the list:
You’ve Been Trumped
The Water At the End of the World
Crime After Crime
Two films with big buzz
4 films recommended again
YOU'VE BEEN TRUMPED: Memo to some of our local property developers. This is how you get things done. You can learn from a master, Donald Trump. He hypes his projects shamelessly, goes over the heads of his opponants to folks who are properly seduced by the promise of money and, most all, bullies the people standing in his way. If you (accidentally?) cut off their water, take your time bringing it back, all in aid of doing it right. If their property lines don't match what your map says, stake out your line and fight theirs. Get the police to help keep the farmers and nature lovers in check. All of this, and much more, happened when The Donald landed in Scotland to build a world class golf course in an ecologically-sensitive area of sand dunes. Giant trucks were suddenly moving the sand around to reshape the contour and also build a berm because, well, golfers don't want to see a bunch of ugly houses. Arrogance is on parade, press conferences are held and critics are dismissed. But they're also heard and seen protesting in this tough documentary by Anthony Baxter. He was arrested at one point during filming and later had a short verbal tangle with great man himself. Compelling and informative stuff. (Tues., Thurs. and Sunday).
DAY 5: Monday Oct 3
WIEBO'S WAR: I had read about Wiebo Ludwig’s battles with oil and gas companies in Alberta but only had a very thin understanding. This film fills it out tremendously, takes us right into his house and may contain an oblique admission of culpability in one incident. Over all though, it refuses to judge; just to illuminate.
Ludwig lives in an intentional community, a religious commune if you will. Two families farm sustainably in the wilderness, distrust atheists and were moved to complain when gas wells suddenly were drilled nearby. Illness, miscarriages and livestock deaths may have resulted from the flaring of sour gas into the air. They could set their tap water on fire but “an endless pile of letters” brought help from nobody. Ludwig explains, in some testy interviews, that he was forced to go to war with the drillers. That was back in the 1990s and landed him in jail for about a year and a half. Home videos of the RCMP taken by Ludwig’s son help tell that story. Last year, when David York made this film, Wiebo was stirred up again. The latest and closest gas well was a threat to the water supply. Even as it refuses to praise or blame, this is a potent documentary. (Also screens Thursday)
BENDA BILILI: It's too easy. How can you go wrong with a documentary about street musicians from Kinshasa in the Congo, many of whom are disabled or paraplegic, who become famous on a big tour of Europe? It's so inspirational, they'll all say. Well, it is, even though it doesn't work at it. This film is a straightforward encounter with some interesting people doing the best they can, and being rewarded for it. Instead of disability, it dwells on hope.
There are three encounters over different times, actually. A couple of French filmmakers found them, offered to produce an album but had to suspend the effort a few times when they ran out of money. They let us get to know the task-master leader, Papa Ricky who sings "I know we'll succeed someday" and the smooth guitar player, Coco, who sings about a river that separates him from his sister. Then there's Roger, a rural kid who now hangs out in the streets as a busker. He plays a homemade instrument fashioned from a tin can and a single string. It sounds a bit like a mandolin and he shows real talent. "I don't pick pockets," he says, in contrast to another street kid who claims "combing" is the only way. Those kind of gritty details, the hard work of rehearsing and then recording, and a joyous tour of Europe give us a breezy, music filled movie. The band was to play a concert in Vancouver last month but called it off with visa problems. (The film also plays two times next week).
THE JEWEL: High-risk finances provide the meat for another gripping tale about the abuse of money, this time the euro in Italy. Andrea Molaioli, who last time gave us a crackling mystery about The Girl By the Lake, has his eye for detail and his skill with suspense clicking again. The story of a family food firm in Italy that is made to expand, diversify and leverage its resources only to be defeated by greed, corruption and mismanagement is inspired by a real case, known as Italy’s Enron, but also fits our current cynical view of the corporate sector anywhere.
Remo Girone plays the CEO who wants to take the company higher; Toni Servillo plays the financial whiz who suggests the stock market and a few dirty tricks and Sarah Felberbaum plays the absolutely gorgeous niece with even thinner financial ethics. They give us a highly involving movie and make the business pages come alive. (Also Tues.)
THE WATER AT THE END OF THE WORLD: Where is that? It's Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina. It bills itself as the southernmost city in the world. In this film it represents a happy final release for a terminally-ill woman. As a last wish, she asks her sister to take her the 2,500 kilometers down there from Buenos Aires. Both women are short of cash and the sister has her pay cut by half at the pizzeria where she works.
A shaggy accordion player who earns money as a busker offers some direction but also sets off a spark of jealousy between the women. An attempt to rob a bank is a clumsy failure. Still, as the difficulties pile up, the film does not lay on the maudlin mood you might expect about of a doomed person. It stays realistic and gently emotional about a strong, demanding woman and her wishing-to-please sister. The entirely satisfactory resolution comes not from a gimmick or a surprise, but a perfectly credible revelation. Director Paula Siero, an actress herself, keeps the film low-key and pleasant. (Also Thursday)
DAY 6: Tuesday Oct. 4
CRIME AFTER CRIME: Another documentary, one so incendiary you'll be angry and shaken by the time its over. But also impressed by the perserverence of two volunteer lawyers.
Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa, who usually work in California property law, spent eight years of their spare time on the case of Deborah Peagler. She was in prison for first degree murder, charged with sending two thugs to kill the man who beat and pimped her. She was already locked up for almost 20 years by the time a new state law made it possible for abused women to tell their side of the story in court. The film takes us along as the lawyers uncover new facts, holes in the original prosecution, in-fighting in the district attorney's office, and eventually a memo that cast doubt on the whole case. All the while, the parole board refused to let Deborah out and a potential deal with the D.A.'s office was squelched by a cast of characters that belongs in the scandal papers. Yoav Potash, who made this film, helped create a cause celebre and Arnold Schwartzenegger proved a hero in the governor's office. The story has a bittersweet ending, which may help spark your anger. You'll be glad you saw this dramatic film though. (Also Wed. and Tues. Oct. 11)
Plus: the previously recommended: Innocence, from the Czech Republic, Sleeping Sickness, German but set in Africa, Dendera, from Japan, and BumRush from Quebec.
And two films with lots of buzz:
FOOTNOTE has a two Talmudic scholars at odds in Israel. They’re father and son.
MICHAEL is a grim, but apparently riveting film from Austria, about a man who keeps a young boy prisoner in his basement.