Captain America's fight, Susan Sarandon as a meddling mother and DOXA's documentaries
MIGRANT DREAMS: The temporary foreign workers program has been controversial here in BC too but this film looks at it in south western Ontario. It’s startling. Workers from Indonesia and elsewhere talk about extortion, having to pay for services that should be free, paying kickbacks and getting threats if they don’t pay. “Nobody trusts anybody,” someone says. Naturally no farm owner or government type agreed to talk so but activists do. Enough that a “recruiter” has been charged and will be tried. We don’t have the whole story but this is quite a black mark on Canada. (Screens Saturday)
NO LIMITS: I was afraid this would be extremely hard to watch. It’s John Zaritsky’s update to two films he made about the Thalidomide tragedy, the worst drug disaster in history. It produced 1000s of deformed babies in the 1960s. I didn’t relish seeing the evidence but it wasn’t unbearable at all. Yes, putting on your pants is hard when you don’t have arms and there are even worse problems. But there’s an optimism among most of the victims in the film. And what really makes it worth watching is the new background information Zaritsky has assembled, about the German company that developed the drug, its history working for the Nazis, its promotion of the drug even when it knew of its problems and its refusal to join a compensation order that some victims in Australia won in court. Startling and well-researched. (Saturday)
WE CALL THEM INTRUDERS: Canadians are the top miners on earth but we’re not well-liked in parts of Latin America or, in this film, in Africa. In Tanzania, village people who used to pan for little bits of gold in the rivers, or more recently, in the slag heaps of the Barrick-owned mine, are now chased off, even roughed up by security guards. Their traditional livelihood is gone. In 2009, a toxic spill killed livestock.
In Zambia, First Quantum Minerals of Vancouver runs a copper mine but few locals get jobs there and when they were promised a new town settlement all they got was corrugated iron for a roof. They had to build the houses themselves. The film tells all this in detail, shows how Ottawa, our banks and pension plans help these companies and calls for ethical standards imposed on them. (Sat. and Mon.)
SUD EAU NORD DEPLACER (SOUTH TO NORTH): This French film goes to China to watch the latest giant construction project: three channels to bring water from the south to arid Beijing in the north. Mao thought it up in 1952; it took 50 years to get approval and is now happening.
We get huge scenes of earth moving machinery and bridges, channels and overpasses being built, as well as complaints from people who have to move. In one remarkable session they talk angrily about mistreatment, broken promises and corruption, even though, as they say, they could be tossed in jail for speaking up. Farm land, meanwhile, is being destroyed. Site C is small fry compared to this. (Screens Sunday)
PISTOL SHRIMPS: On a lighter note here’s a wacky film from local filmmaker Brent Hodge, the man who last told us about the My Little Pony cult. He pops down to Los Angeles this time to watch women play basketball. They’ve got an informal league, claim to know little about the game but compete anyway. The team he follows has got some entertainment industry people on it (a lawyer, two writers, a woman who was on The Bachelor and Aubrey Plaza, the only one we recognize because she’s on the TV show, Parks and Recreation). Her team, a perennial loser, is suddenly on a winning streak. A couple of guys cover it all doing play by play on a podcast. This is a fun film that also gets across the joys of working together to chase a dream. (Wed. and Sun. May 15)
WIZARD MODE: Robert Gagno of Burnaby became the world pinball champion a couple of weeks ago. He was already getting close when a film crew followed him around for this documentary.
We see him at tournaments (he goes to about 30 a year) fretting over his flipper work, laughing off mistakes, and yes, even tilting the machine a couple of times. We see him at home talking about wanting to show the world they’re wrong about him He’s got mild dyslexia and didn’t “fit in with the regular kids.” We also see him as a child in clips from home movies. Even now he’s got a childlike innocence. This film is brisk and sprightly and in its own way inspiring. (Wed. and Thurs.)