VIFF picks with music, scary ships, a relaxing garden and three unusual dramas

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 THE BIRTH OF A NATION: Memories of slavery in the US are amped up with anger and brutality in this powerful film that’s been a hit at Sundance and a source of controversy since then.

That’s because of another memory, an old rape accusation (but not conviction) that’s re-surfaced against Nate Parker. He’s the all-round creator of the film: writer, producer, director and star.

He plays Nat Turner who led a brief but bloody slave rebellion in 1831 that has lived on as a terrifying piece of mythology ever since. The film is worth seeing but tough to take in parts. It only screens once at VIFF, this Saturday evening, and I’ll write about it when it comes back next week.  

THE UNSEEN: It’s almost unfair to link this film with The Invisible man by H.G. Wells. You’re supposed to discover that connection as the movie progresses. However all the publicity material, including the poster, does it and I’ll have to also.

The parallel isn’t that exact anyway. It’s more of a metaphor about a man who is drifting away from family and maybe even the world. It’s a British Columbia film and what better place to retreat to than a sawmill in a small town. 

 Aden Young plays him as gruff and haunted. He’s a former hockey player, now a millwright in a gritty world of dark machinery, wreckers yards and noisy bars. When his ex-wife calls him back to deal with an errant daughter (Julia Sarah Stone), he pays for the trip by carrying a package for a dealer in animal parts (Ben Cotton).

From that point on the story wanders right and left, to a herbal pharmacy in Chinatown, an evil doctor, a downsized mental institution  and some icky body horror. It seems like writer-director Geoff Redknap couldn’t control everything he threw into the story.

There’s simply too much there and some of it feels lumpy. The re-connection with the daughter is the heart of the film and that slowly revealing invisibility problem, combined with the depression that both fear, is the backdrop. Redknap, with a long background in make up-going back to the X-Files, has made a competent but cluttered genre film.  (screens Friday and also a week Friday).


FREIGHTENED: THE REAL PRICE OF SHIPPING: One more documentary. There are a lot of good ones this year. Watching this one you’ll marvel that they’ve been able to find an optimistic note to end on.

Before that they’ve amassed a supertanker’s worth of environmental, economic and social problems brought to us by the shipping industry. Apparently it’s also got financial problems right now but they’re not in this film. There is a huge mass of worrying facts.

 Some 60,000 ships carry cargo across the oceans. Since they’re registered in flag of convenience countries like Liberia and Mongolia (yeah, a landlocked country) they’re subject only to those nations’ laws when they’re in international waters.

Lax environmental regulations, shoddy maintenance and low wages are common. We benefit, though. We get cheap goods out of it. Ships are getting bigger. A triple E class is the size of four football fields.  When there’s a problem it’s hard to establish who owns a ship.

There’s a wreck every three days. Cargo ships pollute more than cars or planes. There’s more, pulled together and well-explained by Canadian documentary maker Denis Delestrac. It’s an eye-opener, especially for us living as we do at a major port.  (Screens Fri, Sun and Wed)  

 PORTRAIT OF A GARDEN: OK one more. This charming documentary is a good antidote to any worries. It’s relaxing, calm and beautiful. For an entire year we get to visit a garden in a Dutch estate and watch a pruning master at work.

The garden boss is with him and they talk as they work. That’s it but it’s mesmerizing. The master is 85 years old and reveals he knows just about everything about tending to large gardens like this.

Watch him thin out the grapes, one by one, so the ones he leaves behind will grow bigger. Also watch him mentor an apprentice because he fears his knowledge will be lost. He’s got quite a few observations on the modern world too. (Fri, Sun and Oct 12) 


Two Trains






The Trap

The Unseen


Birth of a Nation

Killing$ of Tony Blair




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