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A pop star as a diva, a French hit transferred to New York and making sense of Vancouver’s most recognized art scene

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IS THERE A PICTURE: It was on a trip to Vienna a few years ago that I came to realize how world-renowned some of our local artists had become. There were giant banners all over and ads on the sides of buses trumpeting a gallery show by Rodney Graham. That was big, and this film by Harry Killas and Ric Beairsto explores how it got so. They look at his work and four other Vancouver photographers, Ian Wallace, Jeff Wall, Marian Penner Bancroft and Christos Dikeakos, to illuminate the photo-conceptualism they practice. It’s known as the Vancouver School and brought the city an interesting accolade from a US writer: “The third most important art scene in North America.” The film lightly scoffs at that, but only lightly.


It celebrates the highlights, shows the key works and listens to the artists tell their story. Jeff Wall wanted photos to hang large like oil paintings. Ian Wallace still considers himself a painter. Graham says he’s “a dabbler.” Bancroft explores history and Dikeakos contrasts the old and the new. I didn’t hear a clear explanation of what the Vancouver School is but it seems to be an amalgam of painting, photography and movies. They carefully stage their photos. Wall in particular is seen setting up a work called Boy Falling out of a Tree by coaching a boy doing exactly that, several times. There’s a breezy, casual tone here and old film and sound from the band UJ3RK5 that three of the artists were in add to that. David Wisdom, also in the band, William Gibson, author, and Fred Herzog, photographer, toss in comments and we get a good overview of the scene.  (VanCity Theatre. Friday’s show, where people from the film will answer questions, is standby only. Six other shows are available.) 3 ½ out of 5 

THE WOMAN WHO LOVES GIRAFFES: You may not know the name Anne Innis Dagg but you should. She’s a pioneering Canadian scientist who only recently has been properly recognized for the groundbreaking work she did. She studied giraffes. Motivated by an awe-inspiring sight in a zoo when she was only three, receiving no help besides her own determination, she made her way solo to South Africa when she was 23 and for a year observed, filmed and documented the behavior of the animals. That was years before Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey started their much-better known studies of primates. Apparently people are just not as interested in giraffes.

The film by Alison Reid takes us through several emotional phases in her story. She published widely, wrote a book that became a standard but couldn’t get tenure at any of the three Ontario universities she applied to. A human rights commission denied her complaint; she got out of academia and did more animal study and writing on her own. It was decades later that the organizers of a conference in the US found her, brought her down and honored her. That led to a return trip to Africa and a first-hand look at the giraffes’ current decline. There’s color film from 60 years ago as well as now and rare sights like two giraffes fighting and a male’s unique test to see if a female is in heat. In many ways, this is a fascinating film. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5      

Also now playing …

A DOG’S WAY HOME: This family film is moving and sometimes thrilling (according to Variety) but it wasn’t previewed for critics around here. Too bad, because it was filmed here (and in Ladner and Hope) and directed by sometime resident Charles Martin Smith. You’ll also see local actors sprinkled throughout, people like Ben Ratner, John Cassini and Arielle Tuliao. The dog is a stray kept secretly in a no-pets apartment in Denver. After a visit to comfort a veteran (Ashley Judd) in hospital, it is caught by an animal control officer (Cassini), escapes and has to find its way home. That’s 400 miles. There are wolves along the way and apparently the dog narrates the story. It has the voice of Bryce Dallas Howard. The book by W. Bruce Cameron was very popular with children and he helped write the screenplay.

REPLICAS: Another one that passed on media previews out here and also has Canadian connections. There’s Montreal money and special effects work in here, although it was filmed in Puerto Rico. The story sounds goofy. Keanu Reeves plays a scientist (?) who is trying to transfer human emotions and memories into a computer. No luck but when his wife and three children die in a car accident he tries the experiment on them. To bring them back, of course. Even without having seen it, I can sense a bunch of story problems. That may not matter, though. Eventually all the speculative ideas get trampled anyway as a battle against a ruthless corporation takes over the plot. 


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