50/50, Restless, Breakaway and VIFF picks for Days 3 and 4

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BLOOD IN THE MOBILE: This documentary is an amazing piece of investigative journalism. You've heard of blood diamonds, the trade that finances vicious African wars? The Danish filmmaker Frank Poulsen came to suspect there are blood minerals in his cel phone. Cassiterite and coltan are essential in the wireless industry. They're mined in parts of the Congo where a civil war has been going on for 15 years. Poulsen gets the runaround at the headquarters of Nokia so he heads out to Africa see for himself. In Goma, an army spokesman is evasive about who finances the wars. Another says sometimes war is easier than peace. Poulsen pushes on to a mysterious town called Walikale where a rogue army unit is said to control a mine and some 25,000 workers in virtual slavery. Poulsen finagles his way underground and films a vision of hell. Later he finds a couple of hopeful initiatives for change but more claims from Nokia that they can’t do much. This is strong, committed filmmaking. (Also Oct 8 and 13)

DESERT RIDERS: Last time Vic Sarin had a nice film about a young boy in magical Ireland. This time he's angry. The Vancouver filmaker exposes the exploitation and even abuse of young boys in countries on the Arabian gulf. They're brought there from Bangladesh and other poor areas to be jockeys in the high-level sport of camel racing.


They're promised riches and an education but the stories we hear from some now out of the game are harrowing. Little food. They have to stay small. Camps like pisons, ringed with barbed wire. Accidents and death. Sexual abuse. An organization called Anti-Slavery International takes up their case and causes enough embarassment to spark new laws and, remarkably, some owners to use robot jockeys. How much has really changed isn't clear.  Some of the strongest scenes are back in the poor villages the boys came from as parents explain why they let their sons go or complicit traffickers admit their mistakes. Beautiful photography and an ugly story. (Also Sunday)


Day 4: Sunday …

THE SANDMAN: This could be one of the breakout films at this festival because of its intriguing premise and the deadpan way it plays out. It's a comedy from Switzerland about a man who works in a stamp store but really aspires to conduct an orchestra. He's abusive to people around him and for some reason really can't stand a woman who works in the cafe he frequents and lives above. She practices her singing after closing time. He calls her ugly and talentless. She throws coffee in his face.


Meanwhile,  he’s been leaving traces of sand wherever he goes. He's leaking the stuff and it's getting worse. A TV psychic and a recurring dream push this allegory along into a very entertaining space and a resolution that will have you thinking. (Also plays Monday)


INNOCENCE: This is a gripping version of the did he, or didn't he? story. It's from the Czech Republic and getting its North American premiere. He is a rehabiliation doctor treating a teenage girl for a broken leg. She accuses him of sexual abuse. A cache of lurid e-mails in his computer suggest he's gilty. The girl's history of making up stories raise some doubt. The film then deftly complicates matters. The policeman assigned to investigate has reason to hate the doctor for taking his wife away years before and leaving him a scruffy and bitter man, "a spiteful loser", as his ex-wife calls him. You won't figure out the truth until the filmmakers reveal it to you. They manage to deftly juggle the twists and lurid details, which at one point involved an exact measurement of a body part, to give us a fine genre movie. (Also Tues.)   


BUMRUSH: Weak title but a strong testament that in Canada we can make movies just as violent and twisted as the Americans. You want some torture in a morgue? How about a gang rape? They’re both here along with all the  shooting, dissing and intimidation you expect in films like this. The hostility extended over into real life too. One of the stars was murdered soon after filming ended.

That would be the rapper who went by the name of Bad News Brown. He plays the leader of a Montreal street gang of Haitian immigrants. They’ve been used for small jobs now and then by the Italians and the bikers. Now, Loose Cannon, as the leader is called, wants to take over some of their territory. The war focuses on a strip club, where the owner realizes he’s now up against a new, far more volatile breed of gangsters. He hires some ex-Canadian army types, with experience in Bosnia and Afghanistan, for security. The film has suspense, authentic atmosphere with four languages spoken and a good handle on the underworld scene. Brown has a strong presence on screen, although he sounds like he’s from South Central not Quebec, and his music is on the soundtrack. (Also playing Tues.)   

More in New Movies

Coming back to Downton Abbey, Brad Pitt on a space trip in Ad Astra and Robbie Robertson’s tales of The Band

Also: some angry race relations, a cool Miles Davis, a Chinese surprise and a 5th from John Rambo

Angry history in Official Secrets, dubious flash in Hustlers and a muddle in The Goldfinch

VIFF has just added this: Michael Moore will be here to show and give a creator talk about the film that made his career: Roger and Me. It was the most popular documentary where it premiered at VIFF...
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