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Vancouver International Film Festival Picks for Day 13: Tuesday

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SCHOOLING THE WORLD: This is surely the most radical documentary at VIFF this year. It dares to challenge one of our most cherished beliefs, that education is always good. For instance, the international effort called Education for All is said to be improving the situation of poor people around the world by helping to lift them out of poverty and giving them a chance to share in the benefits of modern life. This film argues it has actually increased poverty, stripped people of their identity and created a mass of consumers for the benefit of corporations. Provocative stuff spoken by several experts including Wade Davis, the anthropologist and writer, formerly at UBC, now in Washington with National Geographic. The film includes many scenes from traditional societies.  4 out of 5

OF GODS AND MEN: Another prize winner from Cannes. This is a quietly powerful study of religious dedication, and its limits. A group of Cistercian monks live a bucolic, spiritual life in Algeria and provide medical and other help to their Muslim neighbors. 

Co-existence is shattered though when Islamic fundamentalists arrive and threaten their community. The eight monks have to make a choice: flee or stay. It's a true story set during a civil war 20 years ago but the modern parallels are strong. Some of France's best actors are in the cast including Michael Lonsdale and Lambert Wilson.  The pace is languid but the ending is devastating.  (Also screening Wednesday) 3 1/2 out of 5

INTO THE WIND: There's a more complete picture of Terry Fox in this film than any I've seen before. He was stubborn. "You couldn't win an argument with him," says his father. He pushes himself dangerously on his Marathon of Hope. He believes in himself. He gets grumpy. He yells at a reporter on the phone. All these and more come out through memories from the people who were close to him, many choice archival clips and most of all through his diary. Amazingly it's not his death nor his ending the cross-country run that's the most emotional part of this documentary. It's when he arrives in Scarborough, Ontario and a huge crowd is there to cheer. That's when he finally saw he was making an impact. Steve Nash and his cousin Ezra Holland did a very good job with this film. 4 out of 5

PINK SARIS: “I am the messiah for women,” says a tough, firebrand named Sampat Pal Devi in a poor region of India. If you can get past the rather self-aggrandizing tone in that line, you can appreciate her good work in this bracing documentary. She’s the founder and leader of a militant group of women named The Gulabi Gang who stand up for abused, shunned, sometimes raped women. We see her help out five different women suffering abuse. Devi takes no guff, rarely even an explanation, when she confronts the wrong doers. We see her berating local police, family members and controlling husbands. At the same time, she’s struggling against problems of her own. It’s a fascinating peek inside a society that still exists in rural India. (Also screens Thursday)  3 out of 5

GARBO THE SPY: Sometimes it’s given the subtitle: The Man Who Saved the World. This is an almost unbelievable story of deception during World War II.  A Spanish double agent working out of Lisbon, Portugal  fed wrong information to the Germans and, in his biggest coup, convinced them to focus their defenses at Calais not Normandy. That enabled the D-Day invasion of Europe. Amazingly the Germans, as well as the British, gave him medals. The code name Garbo acknowledged that he was a persuasive actor. This documentary moves along briskly with historians and writers talking, excerpts from news reels and clips from movies, like Our Man in Havana, Mata Hari and, naturally, Patton.  3 ½ out of 5

RIDE, RISE, ROAR: David Byrne is best known for his band Talking Heads and an acclaimed concert film, Stop Making Sense. Here he brings an extra element into a fairly standard concert performance by bringing three dancers into the show. So while he belts out Once in a Lifetime, Burning Down the House, and 12 other songs, the dancers do their stuff. Its energetic and brings the stage alive, even as backstage interludes between songs tend to dull things down. 3 out of 5

THE UGLY DUCKLING: This Russian version of the beloved fairytale is well-motivated but under-realized. It’s by animator Garri Bardin who uses the stop-motion format  with puppets, clay figures, plasticine and more to tell of the ungainly bird born into a flock of ducks who respond more than once by tossing it over the fence. There are foxes and hunters outside and a rigid Soviet-like society inside. The animation is more primitive than we’re used to but delivers some elaborate action sequences. 3 out of 5


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Also a couple of small but amiable comedies, one of them Canadian

More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

Movie theatres are shut down, so what’s streaming?

Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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