VIFF picks for Wednesday and Thursday
CINEMANOVELS: A good idea develops cracks as you watch. Improbabilities and inappropriate choices bring them on. Believing in the story becomes hard. That’s was my experience with the new one by Vancouver filmmaker Terry Miles. For instance, there are too many sex scenes here. Sure, Lauren Lee Smith is gorgeous and did even more in Lie With Me but here they harm the story. As one of the producers she should have ordered there be less sex. Then, what are the chances that a woman in Vancouver had a father who was an esteemed director of French art house films? And that when he dies and she agrees to organize a retrospective, she finds an expert on his work living right in her apartment building. It can happen but not likely.
The film is more credible when she starts watching her dad’s films and recognizes the ideas his characters were struggling with reflect his own life. She starts trying to understand the father she never knew and find an explanation for why he had no time for her. She even visits the actress he may have had an affair with (portrayed by Gabrielle Rose). It’s a story line with great promise and eventually pays off in a potent catharsis. Getting there is shaky though. (Wed. and Oct 10)
The documentaries …
SALMON CONFIDENTIAL: VIFF regularly brings us films about environmental outrages anywhere on earth. Here’s one from right here in B.C. If it’s all true, it’s scary. The issue is what diseases are fish farms bringing into our waters and are they part of the ongoing decline of the salmon stocks?
Independent biologist Alexandra Morton has been tracking it for years and could be tossed in jail if Ottawa’s Bill 37 (currently in limbo) is ever passed. It says she (or anybody) cannot talk publicly about diseases in farmed animals. The film by Twyla Roscovich shows her doing a lot of that, as well as taking samples from the rivers, buying fish at the Great Canadian Superstore and in one section getting hold of a salmon from a fish farm that an eagle dropped. The farms won’t give her samples and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans won’t even talk to her. She’s on the track of three viruses. Three labs have found them; DFO’s has not.
The film is a good overview of the controversy and a committed demand for action. There are great scenes of wildlife; gross glimpses of damaged salmon; interviews with experts and some choice clips from the Cohen Commission investigating the salmon decline. It went into extra time to hear about the viruses and Ottawa’s attempt to muzzle its scientists. (Wed and Thurs)
ARCTIC DEFENDERS: It’s only the program notes that are dull. The film is not. They say it’s about the creation of Nunavut as a separate territory. Yes it is but that doesn’t tell you about the disgraceful history the film illuminates. It ranks up there with the internment of the Japanese and the residential schools for Indian children. In the 1960s, Inuit families were plucked out of Northern Quebec , dumped on shorelands in the Arctic and told to live there. It was part of Canada asserting our claim to the Arctic which started early last century with setting up RCMP posts and continues these days with an annual Stephen Harper visit.
Survivors tell harrowing tales of the hardships that hit them when winter came. The RCMP shot their dogs so that they couldn’t leave. The film by John Walker, one of our most accomplished documentary makers, then shows how their anger led to a political movement that won land claims and a government of their own. Walker tells the story with passion, a deep personal interest and indignation. And great archival footage; a priceless extended clip from CBC-TV’s Front Page Challenge, for instance. (Wed. and Thurs.)
CHI: This documentary about the last days of Vancouver actress Babz Chula is so intimate, I felt like I was intruding by just watching. Filmmaker Anne Wheeler, one of her many friends, went along with her to India where she hoped the traditional ayurvedic medicine would treat her cancer.
Six years of chemo and other regimes (including a mastectomy) didn’t stop it. Six weeks in India gave some relief but only temporarily. Wheeler shows us the treatments and Chula’s attempts to keep her spirits up, and then her return to Vancouver and her final hours. It’s a moving and loving account but raises a couple of questions. Is it proper, even these days, to document one person’s path to the end quite this closely? And I was hoping to get an idea of why Chula was so intensely revered in the Vancouver acting community. I didn’t get that here. Maybe there will be more of that in the dramatic film she inspired, Down River made by another close friend, Ben Ratner. It plays Saturday. This one plays Thurs and Sunday.