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Searching for a Lost City, eyeing the wildlife of China, honoring the guru of better cities

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There’s extremely rare film of a mother snow leopard who has to protect two cubs from animals trying to get at them and hunts for meat to feed them. Her kills aren’t seen but are explained like this: “She must take life to give life.” The film lays out a philosophy in which death is not the end but part of a circle of life. Oddly it doesn’t mention that the animals are in danger from rampant poaching, which the director dealt with in a previous film. Safe and endearing seems to have been the goal this time. Done.  (International Village, Marine Gateway and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5   

CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY: This is a major tip of the hat to Jane Jacobs, the urban theorist whose 1962 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sparked a revolution in thinking and planning. Sadly, watching the film you’re likely to lament what’s happening to our own city these days. She wrote about vibrant neighborhoods; ours are being allowed to go dead. She didn’t see high-rise density as healthy. We see it forever swelling. Vancouver did follow her thinking when it fought off a freeway into the downtown but that was years ago.

 

The film recites her theories about how cities function, “organized complexity” and “an ecosystem,” and pits them against the modernists who wanted to rebuild. The film is just as much about her theoretical enemy as it is about her. That would be Robert Moses the urban renewal czar in New York City where she lived in the 1960s. He promoted tearing down the slums and putting up housing projects. He wanted to cure a disease; she saw it wasn’t working and joined various campaigns to fight back. One killed an expressway plan and incidentally ousted him. She later moved to Toronto and helped stop the Spadina Expressway. The film highlights some clever tactics, like a ribbon-tying (as opposed to ribbon-cutting) ceremony that got a lot of press. The film is valuable viewing for people who want to fight city hall. It’s brisk and speedy with lots of content and actors reading the words of the two opponents, Marisa Tomei as Jacobs and Vincent D’Onofrio as Moses. A panel discussion will follow Tuesday’s show. The speakers include an architect, an urbanist, reporter Frances Bula and former city planner Brent Toderian. (VanCity Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5

THE STAIRS: The title takes on a symbolic meaning here. Drug users and homeless types often spend their nights in stairwells. They have lingering memories of sleeping there. One man  remembers the stairs as “my home” in this film that lets us hear from people few of us ever listen to. I guess we don’t imagine they can talk particularly well. But Hugh Gibson found three highly articulate and intelligent folks to tell him about their lives. He filmed them over a period of five years around Toronto’s Regent Park public housing project and found them to be marvelous storytellers.

 

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