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VIFF films highlight sex traffic, class conflict

Actress Nadezhda Markina in "Elena". Photo courtesy of

At the Vancouver International Film Festival, a brave documentary unveils high profile criminal organizations and uncovers a government failing to protect sex crime victims. In another film, a woman concocts a Machiavellian plan to help her undeserving offspring. Here are some of the most riveting pictures to see at VIFF:

Elena  -- directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev   (Russia)

 Director Andrei Zvyagintsev has ensured to leave the audience in a constant cliff hanger through long shots and dark cinematography in this masterfully crafted noir thriller that reflects on class divisions in modern day Russia.

Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is a former nurse, married for second time to Vladimir (Andrei Smirnov), a wealthy businessman she has met 10 years ago in a hospital. These days, she is more of a caregiver than a wife, leading a dull life in the luxurious apartment that she shares with her consort.

It's only while visiting her adult son from a previous marriage, Sergei  (Alexey Rozin), who lives in a modest neighbourhood, that she really lightens up. 

The problem is, Sergei is reckless and careless and depends on his mother’s constant -- and completely un-merited -- financial aid to pay his bills.

With a troubled teen grandson ripe to be drafted into military, Elena again comes to the rescue of her troubled relatives and asks Vladimir to help with his college tuition.

In a surprising turn of events, Vladimir ends up in the hospital and firmly refuses to help her grandson. Elena finds herself in a moral dilemma, and is forced to take a harsh action to help her kin. (Sat 8th, Mon 10th at Empire Granville 7)

Will the Real Terrorist Will Stand Up? Directed by  Saul Landau (U.S.A)

Saul Landau’s latest documentary approaches the rocky U.S.-Cuba relations in the last 50 years -- and the Cuban-exile in Florida.

After Fidel Castro took power, most right-wing Cuban supporters of president Fulgencio Batist, fled the island. For them, Batista’s government had its problems, but was good toward the people. Once settled in Florida, the Cuban exile sought to combat Castro’s government to shake the system, with full backing by the U.S. government.

The CIA concocted psychological strategies recruiting Cuban exiles to ignite fear among the population in Cuba. They blamed Castro for many acts of terrorism, such as the bombing of an Havana hotel in the 1990's where an Italian tourist died. The FBI did not arrest the perpetrators, even through they were well aware of who caused the bombing.

When Castro’s government infiltrated the right-wing groups in Miami via five Cuban spies, the FBI threw them in jail to avoid exposure.

Landau's Will the Real Terrorist is an exhaustive investigation that includes interviews with one of the Cuban 5 serving a life sentence, Gerardo Hernández, former Cuban U.N. ambassadors, Cuban "freedom fighters", former Cuban agents, Cuban exiles and exposes the ill-fated U.S. policy that has privileged Cuban exile masterminds and their perpetrators to get away with their crimes.

One of the subjects in the film succintly observes: "Miami is the only city in the United States with a foreign policy." This film is a must-see for anyone interested in the hidden side of U.S. foreign policy. (Fri 7 Granville 7 & Sun 11 -Pacific Cinematheque).

The Price of Sex (Mimi Chakarova, U.S.A.)

Bulgarian photojournalist and filmmaker Mimi Chakarova's  award winning documentary  The  Price of Sex features Eastern European women, human trafficking survivors -who bravely share their unflinching stories --  while unveiling and effectively denouncing a highly organized crime that brazenly spreads worldwide under the watch of governments and law enforcers plagued with greed and corruption.

After the demise of communism in 1989, Eastern Europe fell unprepared to capitalism. Many lost their social benefits and jobs overnight, forcing families to migrate to the West.

Desperate girls and women steeped in poverty became easy targets for human traffickers and were attracted under false promises of legitimate jobs such as a waitresses or babysitters in foreign countries.  However, they were mercilessly forced in to sex slavery, enduring rape, beatings, isolation and depression.

The Price of Sex is the product of an extensive 10-year project that has taken Chakarova to  Moldova, U.E.A., Greece, Bulgaria, working undercover and getting incredible access in  the hot spots for this criminal activity. The film includes interviews to activists fighting against this plague as well  to those who benefit from it. (Wed, Oct 12 at Pacific Cinematheque).

Other films to watch

Planet Yoga (Canada): Director  Carlos Ferrand explores his personal experience with yoga through a journey that leads from San Francisco to Vancouver, from Nunavut to Paris and finally to India, featuring yoga gurus and interviews with yogis,  yoga teachers and seriously injured people who have  benefited from yoga spiritually and physically. Ferrand’s documentary covers the historical aspect of this ancient practise, its evolution and its surprising propagation from East to West. See trailer. (Sat, Oct 8th, Fri,Oct 14 -Granville 7).


ORA (Canada):  A short experimental  film directed by director Philippe Baylaucq that brings  together contemporary dance and breaking through filmmaking. For this 15-minute flick, the Ontario-born director uses for first time ever  infrared 3D thermal cameras -- restricted to medicine, science and the military-- following six dancers whose luminous bodies leave traces of their movement  against the black background, inviting the the audience into the heart of the shifting space the dancers inhabit. (Fri, Oct 7 - Pacific Cinematheque, plays with The Co(te)lette Film.)

Check for screenings and tickets.

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