Heartrending welfare stories in I, Daniel Blake and reviews of five other films at VIFF

They include films on the arms industry, an infamous piece of TV history and fictions about a gay birdwatcher, a hockey tough guy and teen lovers on the run

Manchester By the Sea is the film everybody wants to watch at the Vancouver International Film Festival. So do I. Its first screening is Thursday.

And here I’ve got six other films to recommend for that day or Friday. The first on this list is my favorite so far at the festival.

I, Daniel Blake

Shadow World

Kate Plays Christine

The Ornithologist

Mean Dreams

Hello Destroyer

I, DANIEL BLAKE: You’re going to come out of this one buzzing, maybe even gasping, with the emotions it has put you through. Ken Loach’s latest study of people at the bottom of the economic scale is humane, powerful and angry, and believe it or not, very funny.

Well, early on, before the anger rises. It’s his best film in some time and the jury at Cannes recognized that when it gave him their top award, the Palme d’Or.


His film follows the frustrations of two people dealing with England’s welfare system. Daniel, played straight by a comedian named Dave Johns, is a carpenter who can’t work because he has a heart problem.

He wants the English version of a disability allowance. The bureaucrats cut him off and repeatedly promise the “decision maker” will phone to explain. Nobody does. Daniel is told to apply on-line but computers are new to him. Fumbling with them and with bureaucracy is where the humour is.

The mood gradually darkens when he also tries to help a young single mother with two kids get social assistance. Only the food bank ladies display any caring. Everybody else cites rules. The scenario feels real and the actors don’t feel like performers at all. This is the best film I’ve seen so far at VIFF. (Screens Wed and Oct 14) 

SHADOW WORLD: Duke University political philosopher Michael Hardt puts it this way: “We’ve entered into a permanent state of war.” That would certainly explain Syria.

This film explains much, much more. War is really good business. Diplomacy? These days “you don’t deal with anyone. You smack ‘em.” And how about this one? “Politicians are much like prostitutes only more expensive.” Those are just a few of the choice observations by a batch of pundits, journalists (including Seymour Hersch)  and ex-generals (like Wesley Clark) who talk in this documentary.

It’s a bit too arty at the start but then gets into pungent statements about the world arms trade. Tony Blair, like in another film in this festival, is called a dedicated arms salesman.

Barak Obama doesn’t come off too well either and there’s a clip of an activist heckling one of his announcements. Reagan, Cheney, Rumsfeld are all here in video clips, as well as George W. and the man who threw a show at him. This is a potent blast at the weapons industry directed by Johan Grimonprez, from Belgium, and based on a book by Andrew Feinstein, a former South African politician now living in England. (Screens Fri and Oct 13)    

KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE:  I can’t tell whether this is a drama or a documentary. It feels like both as it follows an actress hired to play a tough role and preparing for it by trying to understand the character she’s to portray.

It’s demanding and delicate because the character is a Florida TV newscaster named Christine Chubbuck who one morning in 1974 killed herself on air. A dramatic movie version is also on the way and trivia fans know that the incident inspired the movie Network.

Chubbuck too was  upset with television news. After her local station was sold to a network, her serious story ideas were being dropped in favor of fluff. Kate Lyn Sheil talks to people who knew her (most not very well) and finds she had a “simmering intensity” and suffered from depression.

More in New Movies

Will Smith and Eddie Murphy come back strong, Meryl Streep follows the money and one final VIFF pick

And there’s more: a scathing portrait of Trump’s role model and Xavier Dolan’s latest look at “friendship”

Four good ones at VIFF take us to The Vatican, India, the Arctic and Hong Kong:

We watch two Popes, Hindu thugs, Ottawa’s control of the Inuit and a trippy dream in Hong Kong

Smile with the Joker, at VIFF grieve along with Daughter and protect our coast for the whales

Also: explore Niagara Falls for its reputation and catch a couple of notable German films
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