Reviews: Sweet Virginia is noirish, The Dancer, flashy, and two films on Indigenous issues

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The Musqueam fought to save an ancient burial site, the c̓əsnaʔəm of the title. They speak eloquently about honoring their ancestors and how intimately they feel their connection to the land. The statements from many familiar personalities, Wendy Grant-John and various Guerins, Points and Sparrows, were taped for a museum installation. They were re-edited for this film by local filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who has both Blackfoot and Sami (Norwegian indigenous) in her background. It’s a respectful film, but, except for the news footage from the protest, rather static. Listen though for the recurring hints about other sites some of the Musqueam want returned to them. (VanCity Theatre)  2 ½ out of 5  

IN THE SPIRIT OF RECONCILIATION: This one is also about a major issue for indigenous people, the harm done to them in the residential schools. But unlike other films, the horror stories are few. The focus here is on getting past them and using forgiveness to rebound. It’s a central tenet of Christianity and, no surprise, the film was made by a Catholic priest. Father Larry Lynn of the Vancouver diocese went to the Northwest Territories to hear these stories. One woman does recall some horrible experiences.

Others touch more lightly on the loss of language and culture and one man, a former territorial councilor, points out that many residential school victims, in a spirit of rebellion, became politicians.

The film promotes a large dose of religion to help with healing. Several speakers offer testimony about a Return to Spirit Program the church runs in the NWT. “I learned to forget, forgive, little by little,” one says. Seems too easy but the message is:  when you share your stories, healing happens. The film has its world premiere Wed. at 7:30 p.m. at SFU downtown. It’s free but you should register for tickets at

BIG TIME: Here’s a fascinating and upclose look at a world-class star architect. Bjarke Ingels is Danish and has done high-profile projects in New York, Paris, various Danish cities of course and right here, the currently under construction Vancouver House beside the Granville Bridge. It only gets one mention but we see his creative ideas in many others. A ski run atop a power plant? Sure, it meets a childhood dream. Unusual lines, twists on architectural customs and incorporating the real needs of people occur regularly in his work. In the film he often stops and draws to explain more.


Time Magazine named him among the 100 most influential people in the world. Imagine what kind of world you want to live in, and create it, he suggests. He’s casual and easy going, then tense and paranoid when he talks about headaches caused by a cyst in his brain. The film takes us right there for his MRI. That’s how intimate it gets, the result of several years of filming by director Kaspar Astrup Schröder, who curiously omits Bjarke’s  “ladies man” reputation. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5

EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL, week 2:  There are still 11 more films to go, including tense thrillers, Oscar submissions and even a couple of Christmas tales. (Details at , in their program guide or in the ad in the Georgia Straight).

I’ve seen these three:

NIGHTLIFE: This is a tightly scripted, taut mystery from Slovakia that’ll keep you engrossed trying to make sense of the clues. A high-powered lawyer who has just won a controversial case is found bloody and near-death at the side of a busy road one evening. For the rest of the night as he’s in surgery and the police investigate, his wife tries to keep some facts hidden. There’s been an attempted “media assassination,” one character says. The story, based on a real event, is well known over there but not well-enough explained for us. It’s got suspense, though, chilly atmosphere and strong acting. (Plays tonight, Friday) 2 ½  out of 5

THE COMMUNE, which played at VIFF, is a drama about the 1960s fad for communal living from the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. Remember his incendiary films The Hunt and The Celebration? This one has the same iconoclastic spirit. He shows the idealism that drove the movement and then the harsh realities that often sprung up. We see co-operation cracking and jealousy and feelings of rejection rise. Vinterberg is passing on what he knows. He grew up in a commune. (Monday evening) 3 ½ out of 5

THE TEACHER: This final film in the festival is also the strongest of the ones I’ve seen. It’s been here before, early in Sept.


Zuzana Mauréry plays a scary and corrupt teacher in Czechoslovakia which was still a Soviet country back in 1983. She presents herself as welcoming and friendly but actually exploits the students and their parents. The parents can’t get rid of her though because she’s the Communist Party rep at the school. The rumors, the charges, demands to take action and fears of retribution all come out at a noisy parents meeting and, when some of the students start rebelling, in family arguments at home. The film isn’t heavy but the condemnation of the corrupt use of power is strong.  Director and co-writer Jan Hrebejk based it on a real incident he witnessed as a child. (Also Monday night) 4 out of 5

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