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VIFF picks: New work from Patricia Rozema, a cinematic ode to our mountains and some very funny Animal Behaviour

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ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR: This is a treat for anybody who loves animated films and to laugh. It’s a very clever send-up of therapy groups with each character acting a very personal problem, some whining it, some not wanting to talk much at all. These characters though are animals: a pig, a bird, a preying mantis, a leech, a cat and then a gorilla. He denies he has anger issues but soon shows some.

 

The doctor leading the circle is a dog who tries to be accommodating to everybody’s species-specific problem. The pig overeats. Of the mantis he acknowledges that sexual cannibalism is “still a taboo for some”. The gorilla’s outbursts are more difficult but the film does explore the question of to what extent must we tolerate individual quirks. It’s all done with humor, as written and drawn by two locals, Alison Snowden and David Fine. They won an Oscar years ago and have been working in animated series since then. This one is 14 minutes long and you’ll find it in the guide as part of the program The Curtain Calls. It’s grouped with six other short films on a range of subjects. (Screens tonight and next Monday afternoon).

SCIENCE FAIR: This one will make you feel good about the world. It has teenagers who aren’t foul-mouthed cynics. They’re amazingly talented and inventive science kids competing in a mammoth competition run by the Intel Corporation and filmed by the National Geographic people. We visit with and then follow nine of the 1,700 who entered the contest. One from Germany has revitalized an experimental airplane wing that never caught on. A girl in South Dakoka is studying teen risk taking. One is into machine learning, a trio of boys have a specialized stethoscope and a girl in Brazil is researching new drugs to fight the Zita virus.

 

The range of their interests and the brain-power they’re harnessing leaves you amazed. And optimistic. Some are wonderfully confident. “I have too much to give to the world,” says one. There’s tension because as one says they work all year and then have 10 minutes to convince the judges. The film doesn’t end the way you expect but satisfies intellectually. (Screens Tues and Fri evening)

WHAT WALAA WANTS: isn’t easy to get. She’s a Palestinian living in Nablus, actually in Balata, a nearby refugee camp. Her mother is just back from eight years in an Israeli jail and her brother is caught throwing stones at a checkpoint. She wants to get into the Palestinian Security Forces, police if you will, and later into the Palestinian Authority, the government. But she’s headstrong, a trouble maker. Her mother is against it. She goes anyway.

 

Director Christy Garland, born in BC, now in Toronto, filmed Walaa over a period of six years to catch this compelling picture of her. She participates in familiar teenage hijinks and uses Facebook and then decides she wants to carry a gun. We watch her training and get scolding from her officers. “The military won’t adjust to you,” she’s told forcefully. How can she be accepted as a soldier? The film does a fascinating job of showing her development. And more than that, it shows clear what a long standing refugee camp is like (it was started in 1950) and what her life is like there. She’s particularly upset at the treatment her brother got from the Israelis. We also get the wider context: marches in the streets and news of children stabbing soldiers. It’s a close-up view we don’t get very often. (Screenings are at 10:45 this morning and Wed. Evening. The director will attend both.) 

INSIDE MY HEART: This affecting documentary puts you close to three refugee families and through them the current crisis. They arrive in a crowded open boat at the Greek Island of Lesbos having heard that Europe will be kind to them. But as they sit and wait for months in a holding facility they lose some of that faith. Europe’s freedom and democracy is “an illusion,” one woman says. “We’re dying a slow death.” This film by Canadian photographer and now documentarian Debra Kellner, produced by local mining magnate Frank Giustra and his Radcliffe Foundation, gives an intimate view of the lives of these people.

 

We get stories about where they came from (Afghanistan, Syria), see the intense concern they have for their children and watch their frustration build as they’re prevented from heading north. In one sequence we overhear a phone call to a smuggler who can help but wants more money than they have. When they do move, one family is split up, one gets to Portugal, the third lands in Sweden where chances of getting asylum are better. They think. The kids play in the snow and make friends at school but, again, the family waits. This is a very humanistic look at the crisis. You get to know these people because the camera is right there with them. (Screens Monday evening, tonight, and a week Monday afternoon. )

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