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BP gets off too easy in Deepwater Horizon and BC looks gorgeous in Koneline, one of my VIFF picks

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QUEEN OF KATWE: We don’t often see American movies depict life in Africa with this much sensitivity. There are no blood diamonds, warlords or dictators here. There’s chess, in this true story from Uganda. And real atmosphere of village markets, poor slums, streets and schools and envious visions of higher class people. The story as written is riddled with trite speeches and ideas but the depiction of the society and struggles to survive are real.

 

“Your life is what you make it.” Trite, but it has to be said now and then. A young girl gets that advice after she and her mother are evicted from their house, she starts hanging around a youth club and is discovered to have a talent for chess.

Her coach notices that she can see eight moves ahead and plays like a fighter. Her mom is wary because it’s a game of war. She, on the other hand, sees it as a way to move up. “In chess the small one (a pawn) can become the big one (queen).”

The film is built like a sports movie as she plays in a succession of tournaments, enjoys the accolades and becomes a bit too self-important to do chores at home. You’ve seen it before but this a good version, directed by Mira Nair and starring Oscar-winner  Lupita Nyong’o, as the mother, David Oyelowo, as the coach, and Madina Nalwanga, as the chess prodigy with “astounding power.”  (International Village, and a few suburban theatres) 3 out of 5  

 Three more picks to see at VIFF: 

KONELĪNE: Our province really does look beautiful in this new film by Nettie Wild. She’s put together images from the far north around Telegraph Creek that are startling in their beauty and not just landscapes. The first one is of a hydro tower flown over the trees and valley by helicopter. The contrast inherent there is what this film is about.

Outside progress is intruding into the land of the Tahltan people. The most ominous spectre is the Red Criss open pit mine fully permitted by Victoria and being developed by the same company that operates the now infamous Mount Polley mine. There’s every opportunity here for a polemic about industry trampling on aboriginal rights and the environment but Wild holds back on that. Instead she gives us a fair and often elegaic view of the whole scene.

 

There’s a hunting outfitter bringing her horses north. Two aboriginal hunters get a moose and show us why you must never shoot one in the head. Miners extol the “world class deposit” they’re working on. Native women thank God in song for all the fish. The film doesn’t take a side although the loving attention going to stunning vistas of wilderness and nature must mean something.  (Screens Mon. and Oct. 9)   

TOWER: Every time there’s a mass shooting in the United States somebody reminds us of this one. It was the first. But what do we really know about it other than that on Aug. 1, 1966 Charles Whitman climbed up a tower at Texas University and started shooting? He killed 16 people. This film tells the whole story from the first shot to his death by a rookie cop and a store clerk who dared to go up and stop him. It’s told in news footage, new interviews with people who were there and with animation to illustrate key incidents.

 

The most chilling story is of a young pregnant woman who was injured, unable to do anything but lie in the hot sun and got help from a woman who dared to creep over to her side. The whole film plays like a tense and developing drama. Oddly, according to one witness, people there never talked about it. “Society’s crime,” says Walter Cronkite in a clip which seems a bit week since it follows a montage of other mass shootings since then. Most of the film is very powerful. (Screens Mon. and on the festival’s last day Oct 14) 

WEIRDOS: More casual Canadiana from Bruce McDonald. More like his Highway 61 than Hard Core Logo. A road movie with two young lovers on the run, not really from anything except maybe boredom, but to something not-yet-defined. Molly Parker as a nutty artist is at the destination and Andy Warhol wanders in now and then with bland advice and analysis. For instance, he likes Canada. “You’re all kind weirdoes,” he says. It’s a typically quirky outing from McDonald, set in 1976 and dressed up with old hits. Edward Bear anyone? Stampeders? Andy Kim?

 

Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone are the two teens travelling from Antigonish to Sydney in Nova Scotia. He’s new to me; she’s carving out a career as the fresh-faced young girl with an adventurous urge. He’s not sure if he’s gay. Playwright Daniel MacIvor wrote it and though it doesn’t really say much, it is pleasant and entertaining. (Screens Mon and Wed) 

Also now playing:

MILTON’S SECRET: Cineplex isn’t doing the film festival any favors. It’s booked this film for a few days starting Saturday while VIFF screens it today (Friday) and again a week Sunday. Donald Sutherland stars as a wise grandfather to a boy depressed about bullying at school and his distracted, workaholic parents at home. The story is from a book by Eckhart Tolle, the self-help guru who lives here. I haven’t seen it but a friend says there’s too much of his insights about inner peace. But that’s the point, isn’t it, for people who crave it?  At the Park Theatre.

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