The film festival has made a fine gesture to honor Rob Stewart whose last film Sharkwater Extinction played there twice. VIFF has announced a new prize to start next year called the Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award to honor environmental film making with impact. There’ll be a $5,000 grant attached. It’s a fitting tribute to the Canadian activist who died while making his film about illegal shark hunting.
Speaking of Canadian, five of my VIFF picks today are that or have a Canadian connection. Glad to highlight them among these recommendations.
This Mountain Life:
What Walaa Wants:
Inside My Heart:
MOUTHPIECE: Patricia Rozema’s latest is a thoroughly entertaining study of that age-old testy relationship, mother and daughter. But check out how off the wall it is. Mom has died, Cassandra is told on the phone. She insists she’ll deliver the eulogy. Brother, aunt and others don’t want that but she presses on and for two days frets over what she will say. Nice platitudes? Nah. The truth? She has to, but what truth will she tell? We spend the rest of the film flipping through the possibilities. How we do that is distinctive.
The story started as an experimental stage play in which two actors played her. One was her spirited side; the other was amiable and reticent. Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who played those roles, and in fact wrote the play, act in the movie too. Their play is opened up. Memories aren’t just spoken; they spark flashbacks. A glimpse of a store in downtown Toronto recalls the day when mom took her there to buy something. And so on, many instances, and with three more Cassandras at various ages in these scenes. Eventually we’ve got a full portrait of how she and mom related to each other. Among other thoughts, she was harshly critical of her for turning into a stay-at-home mom. “You wasted your whole life.” But can she say it? Her two sides debate right up to the moment she gives her speech. Songs and a couple silly scenes I could do without but the rest is very good. (Tonight [Monday] and tomorrow evening.)
THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE: The visuals are strong as you would expect but the philosophy is even stronger. The people who talk about living in the mountains say they lift you spiritually. They soothe your soul, says one. "I feel like I'm in touch with the whole cosmos," says another. Grant Baldwin, the Vancouver-based director, cinematographer and composer, is urging us to experience them. Very few of us do, he says in an on screen note, even though BC is 75% mountains. He makes his points through several enthusiasts.
First, and repeatedly, there's a mother and daughter duo travelling by foot, occasionally on skis or on a raft, through the coast mountains from Squamish to Skagway, Alaska. That's like walking from here to Mexico. It takes them five months, and the camera is there for all the aches, cold, exertion and joy. Every once in a while the film veers to other mountain fans, a skiiing nun, an artist who's been off the grid for 50 years, a climber in the Kootenays who says colors are more vibrant and his hearing is more acure in the mountains. There's a chilling and detailed description of three people caught in an avalanche, one buried several meters deep. You’ll learn a lot about tat danger and in the rest of the film feel the inspiration from our province’s most prominent geographical feature. (Screens Tues evening and Thurs afternoon)
LAST SUMMER: This is an exceptional film about childhood. It starts with fun and play as four boys in Wales run around, swim, catch fish by hand, jump from high into the water, and enjoy an easy and strong friendship. They’re from two nearby farm families. It’s an almost classical picture of boyhood.
Then a tragedy destroys the idyllic time. It comes suddenly, I won’t elaborate, but the results are terrible. Two of the boys are taken away by social services. One of the others tries to protest, but adults don’t listen to children. That point is made over and over. The police don’t even talk to them when they investigate. They do misjudge an older brother. The fate of a beloved dog is also in dispute. There’s a mystery to unravel, and the four boys to be accorded some respect by listening to them. The four newcomers who play them are superb, especially the strong-willed Davy played by Noa Thomas. The film becomes highly emotional and if it weren’t for a let-down ending that doesn’t really fit, it would be one of the best in the festival. (It screens at 4:15 this afternoon [Monday])