After the Credits Episode 90 – VIFF 2010 Wrap-Up

Colleen (Mary Ostler Wood Butchery & Other Stuff), Khaled (@khaled_ca) and I look back at the 2010 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival, reminisce about a couple of movies and count down our top 5.

Also big shout outs to Rich (@seattlefilmblog) of A Random Walk Through Film and Bill, our Victoria buddy, for pitching in with lists of their favourite festival selections.

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VIFF 2010 Review: The Woodmans

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The Woodmans

Being outside of the art world, aside from the occasional sensation that comes erupting out of some gallery and to national (and sometimes international) notoriety, the Woodmans were outside my limited vision, but the image that accompanied C. Scott Willis’ documentary in the festival catalogue haunted me.

The Woodmans is just as haunting as the image that presents it, an untitled photograph taken by the immensely talented Francesca Woodman who died at the young age of 22, before her art was really recognized. But Willis’ film isn’t simply a documentary of a young, fragile, despondent artist but an exploration, via a look at Francesca’s life within her family and in the art world, of the pressure, often self inflicted, of success.

Predominantly told through interviews with her parents, both successful artists, we come to meet a talented, self assured young woman who was sure of her talent and tackled her art form head on. She was ahead of the curve and as is usually the case, the art world was slow to take notice, but what of her parents? They’re not portrayed as villains, uncaring parents who saw their daughter’s suffering and didn’t step in to help, but the dynamic in this family of artists shaped the driven person Francesca became and her parents, particularly her father George, seemed to see their daughter as more of a colleague than their daughter.

The Woodmans is, essentially, the story of a young artists’ early passing and how her family has managed to overcome the tragedy of loss through their work and how their work has been affected by the death of their daughter. Accompanied by many of Francesca’s photographs, diary entries and films, along with a beautiful score from David Lang, The Woodmans is an immediately engaging, enlightening look at the life of an artist.

See VIFF screening schedule for show times.

Trailer tucked under the seats.

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VIFF 2010 Review: Carlos

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It doesn’t seem right that Olivier Assayas’ new film should be shown as one film rather than a three part miniseries as it was originally intended. The reason this doesn’t seem fair, or perhaps “right” is the better term, is the running time. Clocking in at over five hours (regardless of which cut you’ve seen) Carlos is a marathon session of film viewing but seeing it in one sitting (with one break) is perhaps the only way to truly appreciate the spectacular achievement of Assayas’ film.

Carlos the Jackal was an international terrorist, a product of his time who, like his Argentine counterpart, fought on the side of liberty and was willing to do whatever was necessary for his beliefs but Carlos took his fight internationally, aligning himself, to various degrees, with various groups and eventually, as the film tells it, buying into some of what he was fighting against.

Starting with Carlos’ first assignment, Assayas’ film outlines the rise and fall of a charismatic revolutionary, a man who wowed men and women with his speech and passion and who, for a number of years, was at the forefront of international terrorism. Bringing Carlos to life is Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez who, over the course of five hours, speaks countless languages and woos the audience with his appeal, bringing us into close quarters with a terrorist and presenting a likable persona we find ourselves liking despite our better judgment.

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VIFF 2010 Review: The White Meadows

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The White Meadows

Every once in a while, for me it happens every four or five years, you see something that is so beautiful that it’s nearly impossible to believe it was shot on the planet we live on. Forget the green screens and CGI and let’s talk Tarsem and his talent for shooting locations and making them look like creations of the mind. Out of this real world comes a fantastic tale, one full of tragedy, music, magic and immense, breathtaking beauty. Out of this world comes The White Meadows.

A tale that could easily come from “The Arabian Nights,” Mohammad Rasoulof’s film is the story of a man named Rahmat who travels by boat from island to island alleviating individuals of their secrets and suffering and at the same time, collecting their tears. On his first stop, he picks up the body of a woman who died eight days before, a woman of so much beauty the town elders feared to bury her because the young men in the village would dig her up to look upon her. Curious and now far from shore on his little boat, Rahmat sneaks a peek and discovers, rather than a very dead, very beautiful woman, a very young and alive boy who staged his escape for a chance to search for his father.

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VIFF 2010 Review: The Tree

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The Tree

Charlotte Gainsbourg has made another movie in which a tree plays a large role. Now don’t go running off yet, this new film is thankfully devoid of terror and mutilation though it does still feature Gainsbourg suffering, this time from the death of her husband.

Julie Bertucelli’s The Tree stars Gainsbourg as Dawn, a mother of four whose husband has recently died. She’s depressed and the kids are all dealing with their loss in their own way: Charlie, the youngest, who doesn’t speak, Lou who is mostly keeping busy with his friends and Tim who is looking after the kids and working while preparing to go off to University. And then there’s 8 year old Simone who thinks her father is living in the tree in the backyard. Though at first Dawn thinks Simone is only imagining her father in the tree, she too comes to take comfort in the idea that her husband’s spirit is nearby but as she adjusts to life without him and starts to move on, the tree seems to have a mind all its own and a series of events threatens to break Dawn’s family apart.

Bertucelli’s film which is adapted from a novel by Judy Pascoe is a very sweet and gentle story of family, death and mourning. Though the story could easily fall into the Hallmark movie of the week, the film features a wonderfully nuanced performance from Gainsbourg (always fantastic), a great turn from Marton Csokas (who I always think of as the bad guy) as Dawn’s love interest and a star making performance from Morgana Davies as Simone.

Captured by cinematographer Nigel Bluck are the gorgeous, dream-like landscapes of rural Australia that, combined with the quiet story and strong performances, culminate into a beautiful and touching film.

See VIFF screening schedule for show times.

Trailer tucked under the seats.
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VIFF 2010 Review: Wagner & Me

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Wagner & Me

Wagner has never been my cup of tea but any opportunity to spend time with the fabulous Stephen Fry is one I must at least consider. Add in the fact that Patrick McGrady’s new documentary follows Fry as he comes to terms with the cloud that surrounds Wagner, both his own personal anti-Semitism and the abuse of Wagner’s music by the Nazis, this was one I couldn’t miss.

A very personal film, Wagner & Me beings as a study of the music at the mercy of a very enthusiastic Fry whose energy and passion is catching. He speaks of the music and the history as a knowledgeable teacher and his travels through Europe to the various spots once inhabited and made famous by Wagner almost feel like a pilgrimage we’re privy to follow him on.

Though there are occasional passing mentions of Wagner’s association with the Nazi’s, this isn’t an issue that is really addressed until later in the film with Fry’s visit to Nuremberg and the site of the massive Nazi rallies. It’s here that we learn of Hitler’s passion for the music and it’s here that Fry must come to terms with the fact that the features of Wagner’s music that attracted him also attracted Hitler. So how does a man of Jewish heritage come to terms with the fact that his first musical love also hated his culture and people? One simply loves the music.

Using portions of some of Wagner’s most recognizable pieces and gorgeously capturing the locations that define the composer’s work (like Bayreuth). Fry is granted access behind the scenes and to the most notable pieces of history including Wagner’s piano and original copies of his operas.

What’s best about Wagner & Me is that the film is enjoyable and awe inspiring even for outsiders and though it doesn’t go as deeply into the discussion of the Wagner/Nazi connection as I expected, it’s still a handsomely produced, immensely enjoyable documentary.

The film has been selected as a returning festival favourite and an additional screening has been scheduled. See VIFF’s official website for screening schedule for show times.

Trailer tucked under the seats.
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VIFF 2010 Review: A Film Unfinished

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A Film Unfinished

In the 1940s, the Nazi’s shot an unfinished film about life within the Warsaw Ghetto, a film that for years was used as a document of life within the ghetto. And then a few years ago, a new, previously unseen reel of the film was found, forever changing the meaning of the images we’d previously seen and taken in as fact.

Yael Hersonski’s documentary A Film Unfinished, goes beyond the images on screen and provides a deeply researched, rich history of the film that changes not only the way we look at this sliver of history but how we observe and read images in general. Supported by interviews from individuals who survived the ghetto and recall the filming and even a camera operator who remembers the herding and directing of Jews, we learn the truth of life in the ghetto and the lengths the propaganda machine was willing to stretch to make its point.

What’s most fascinating about Hersonki’s film is that while she meticulously breaks down the film to uncover the fake images, she makes us question not only the validity of this document but of other historical documents through the years. What other bits of history have we misread or misunderstood? And perhaps most importantly, how can we insure that this doesn’t happen again?

A powerful, devastating film, A Film Unfinished isn’t an easy watch but a necessary one and an excellent counterpart to Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure which also explores the meaning of images and how they are perceived.

See VIFF screening schedule for show times.

Trailer tucked under the seats.
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VIFF 2010 Review: The Ugly Duckling

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The Ugly Duckling

FFrom Russia comes one of the best animated films I’ve seen in years. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, animator Garri Bardin’s The Ugly Duckling is a gorgeous achievement in stop motion animation which brings to life the tale of a duckling who doesn’t quite fit.

Hatched from an egg that doesn’t quite belong, he doesn’t fit in the coop he lives in and is shunned by everyone around. We see the little duckling grow up into a still ugly little creature who is lonely but still has a golden heart and true to Anderson’s story, turns into a beautiful swan. Even if the story isn’t new, Bardin’s execution is unique. Told with nearly zero dialogue (outside of a few hilarious songs) and set to Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballets, The Ugly Duckling is a beautifully emotional tale of adversity one that also carries with it a tinge of political underpinnings that will bypass younger viewers but is likely to strike adults square between the eyes.

As with the best animated films, Bardin’s is successful in that it also captures adult audiences. Somewhere between the opening musical number and the hatching of the duckling, I was completely taken and immersed by the style and emotion of the story which seemed to enrapture everyone.

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VIFF 2010 Review: Into Eternity

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Into Eternity

As the credits rolled and lights slowly rose after the screening of Michael Madsen’s documentary Into Eternity, the few hundred people at the screening, myself included, sat in stunned silence. I’m sure many were sharing the exact same thought I had: what are we doing about our nuclear waste?

Madsen’s film takes a look at Onkalo, the nuclear waste disposal facility currently under construction deep in the bedrock of Finland. With gorgeous and haunting visuals accompanied by an equally haunting soundtrack and more than enough silence to allow the contemplation of humanity, it manages to ask questions not only of the future of civilization but also urges us consider our history.

Onkalo is a massive undertaking. One hundred years to build, the facility will have to last 100,000 years before the material to be housed there is innocuous to living creatures. How does one plan for 100,000 years? The numbers are so immense that it’s easy to forget that we’re only at year 2,000. It’s unimaginable but for the people designing and building Onkalo, they have to think this far in advance. How do we communicate the dangers hidden within the rock? How do we remember to forget?

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