Reviewer Ed Farolan

xUyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd

Canada 2014 Dir. Patricio Henriquez | Date and Venue May 6 @ pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

If Kafka and Camus were alive today, they would certainly be amused by this documentary which is the true and factual version of their novels. What a tragic absurdity this is, and yet, it repeats itself in so many ways and in many circumstances where innocent people are imprisoned for years only to find out they aren't guilty.

Henriquez is an award-winning filmmaker from Quebec. He was trained in film-making in Chile, but left after Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. His 98-minute fim is superb, and so far, the best I've seen in this genre.

In this well-organized documentary, he relates how 22 Muslims from China’s Uyghur minority fled China, but were unfortunate enough to be rounded up in the months following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The film follows their journey from China to Afghanistan and Pakistan where they were caught, and then brought to the detention prison at Guantánamo. They were imprisoned there without trial for more than 10 years.

In- depth candid interviews with lawyers, translators and three of the Uyghurs now resettled in other countries around the world, bring to light this absurd yet shocking injustice made to them. This film will be followed by a Justice Forum discussion.


xHow to Change the World

Canada/UK 2015 Dir. Jerry Rothwell | Date and Venue April 30 @ 7pm | Vancouver Playhouse, 600 Hamilton Street

This is the opening film of this year's DOXA's Fest and will be preceded by opening remarks and a post-film Q&A with the filmmaker and special guests. The birth of ecology and concern for the planet started with Greenpeace, and the main protagonist was Vancouverite Bob Hunter, a young journalist who, inn the fall of 1971, volunteered to take a leaky, antique fishing boat dubbed “The Greenpeace” into the centre of the cold war.

This was the hippie era, and I belonged to this age of "Make Peace, not war", and as a graduate student in the United States, I participated in love-ins, protests against the Vietnam War, while here in Vancouver, "we have the biggest concentration of tree- huggers, draft-dodgers, shit disturbing unionists, radical students, garbage dump stoppers, freeway fighters, pot smokers, vegetarians, nudists, Buddhists, fish preservationists, and back-to-the-landers on the planet,” in the words of Hunter.

Rothwell does an excellent job documenting the birth of Greenpeace and Hunter's bio, with interviews and archival footage showing the effects of media, to shape pubic opinion. Hunter knew all too well the importance of media as he filmed Greenpeace's activities. The first protest was against the American plan to conduct nuclear tests on Amchitka island in the Arctic. This first campaign succeeded in generating enormous media attention, and the stage was set for Greenpeace’s next, and perhaps most legendary campaign-- saving the whales. The organization’s main participants included Rex Weyler, Walrus Oakenbough (AKA David Garrick), Patrick Moore, and Paul Watson.

Then came saving the baby seals in Labrador which gave enormous media attention because Brigitte Bardot joined this campaign. Today, the campaign continues even after Hunter's death in 2005, with Paul Watson, considered an eco-terrorist, the most aggressive of the group, with his Sea Shepherd Society, battling whale hunters in the high seas.

How to Change the World is a testimony to Bob Hunter’s prophetic call for radical action. And today, we see this protest continuing with such movements as Al Gore's campaign to solve the climate crisis. And it all began in Vancouver in 1971.



USA 2014 Dir. Albert Maysles | Date and Venues May 10 @ 7pm | Vancouver Playhouse & May 10 @ 9pm | Vancity Cinema

This is the closing film of this year's DOXA fest, a tribute to the legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles who recently died this year at the age of 88. This is his last film and it's about Iris Apfel, an American iconic figure in interior design. a true American original. At age 94, she's still full of energy walking through flea markets, thrift stores, and glamorous New York parties with her 100-year old husband Carl.

So if you're over 90, there's still hope for you to dress up and be yourself. That's what makes this documentary unique: it is a tribute to the individuality of the American lifestyle. In her own words, Iris questions the uniformity of people wearing the same black dresses and as an example to her individuality, she dresses up with clothes away from the norm: eyeglasses almost as big as her face, and colourful necklaces, bracelets, and accessories adorning her fragile body.


xMars Barb

Canada 2015 Dir. Milena Salazar | Date and Venue May 3 @ 4:45pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

Salazar interviews Barbara Keith, a Surrey resident, who paid $33 to go to Mars. At the time of filming, she was one of 700 from 2000 applicants chosen by Mars One, a Netherlands project to go one-way to Mars to establish a human settlement there. It's down to 100,and I'm not sure if she made it to this group. The final round will select 24 who will form the crew. According to the timetable, these 24 should be selected this year. Whether this is a hoax or not, I don't know. But Salazar does an excellent documentary in this monologue of Barbara Keith who is a cleaning lady, as she cleans an office, runs barefoot on a clay track and field wearing a Mars T-shirt, and inserts archival footage of the moon landing. This 10-minute film is part of the Canadian Hobbies Shorts Program.


xOrion, The Man Who Would Be King

UK 2015 Dir. Jeanie Finlay | Dates and Venue May 2 @ 8:30pm & May 9 @ 2:30pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

Two years after Elvis Presley died, a mysterious singer who wore a mask came into the scene. He had Presley's voice and moves, glittery jumpsuits, and some believed that this was Elvis reborn partly because these fans wanted to believe that Elvis was still alive. In this excellent documentary, Orion's friends and family are interviewed about this man behind the mask.

Archival footage of Orion and his roots are constructed superbly by British filmmaker Finlay who will be in attendance for Q&A on the May 2nd screening.


xThe Age of Love

USA 2014 Dir. Steven Loring | Date and Venue May 10 @ 2:45 The Cinematheque, 1131 Howe Street

The filmmaker is a professional documentarian, an MFA graduate in Documentary Film Studies, and a recipient of various awards.His focus is on creating films that examine the cultural and interior lives of unfamiliar and overlooked populations. And this film is precisely that: unfamiliar and overlooked beople in their 70s and 80s. We can see in this film how his experience as a filmmaker shows-- the right close-up shots, the right questions to ask, the precise editing.

Here he does something out of the ordinary: A speed dating event for seniors in Rochester, New York. He interviews some of the 30 seniors involved in this event--a woman who looks for dates online, a man obsessed with Disney World, a champion body-builder in his 80s, an unmarried woman who wonders if she should have settled down with a man she didn’t love, and others. He then follows up on a few couples as they go on their dates, and , focuses on one couple who apparently becomes successful as lifetime partners.

As a senior, I found this a bit strange, because even as a widower or a divorcee, I wouldn't want to participate in an event like this. Maybe just for the kicks, as some seniors in this film felt, but to each his/her own in seeking or not seeking a partner at this very late stage of life.

However, from a documentary film perspective, I found Loring's film exceptionally good.


xLe cose belle

Italy 2013 Dirs. Agostino Ferrente & Giovanni Piperno | Date and Venue May 4 @ 8:30pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

The filmmakers starting filming in 1999 when the four protagonists were in their early teens, and after around 12 years, they returned to Naples to catch up with them and find out how they were doing as young adults. I liked the way the film was made, by doing takes of them today and then doing flashbacks of each individually when they were in their teens. That way, you keep track of who's who. This film will definitely be a candidate for an award in this year's fest.


xHaze and Fog

China 2013 Dir. Cao Fei | Date and Venue May 5 @ 3:45pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

This film selected by guest curator Zhang Yaxuan under the special section "Wild Grass" provides the viewer a glimpse of cinematic trends in today's China. Here the filmmaker studies characters living in a high rise complex in Beijing. We see affluence and with it, people no longer trying to survive, but rather living in ennui, and through this boredom, do quirky things: people dressed as Zombies roaming the hallways, a dominatrix in stilettos and leather whipping a naked man, a pregnant woman dancing the tango in a supermarket as she shops, a man fumbling away as he imagines to be a Kung-fu hero, a woman in her bathtub with balls painted like watermelons, and so on.

It's interesting how China, today considered a first world country, is like any developed country today in Europe and America, rich and in its richness, produces people who don't know what to do with their affluence and act bored and listless.


xThe Ceremony

Sweden 2014 Dir. TLina Mannheimer | Dates and Venue May 7 @ 9:15pm & May 8 @ 3:00pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

If you expect S/M sex in this film, you'll be disappointed. There's hardly any sex; most of it is a bunch of interviews with dominatrices and submissives, and a few scenes of men submitting to the commands of a dominatrix who orders them to act like animals. What's different in this film is the theatrical nature of S/M.. It takes sadomasochism to a more cultural and intellectual level, and not the violent SM we tend to associate it with.


xHit 2 Pass

Canada 2014 Dir. Kurt Walker | Date and Venue May 9 @ 7pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

The very first film I made was when I was doing graduate work in Media Communications in the US, and it was similar to this one. I called it Fellini 13 & 1/2, and I tried to do my version of Fellini's films combined with Joyce's stream of consciousness. I flunk the course. And so, seeing this film, I now realize how bad my film was. It had bad camera angles, no rhyme and reason, no logic, poor editing, etc.

I think I'm also flunking this film for the same reasons. It starts off with what the film is about: getting ready for a Demolition Derby in Prince George, but then, it goes off tangent with an interview with an aboriginal who talks about his roots. And it ends with cars driving through a highway, a children's playground, and a house shot at night with very poor lighting. I guess when you do your first film, you don't really know what you're doing, and the result is this amateurish film.


xMadame Phung's Last Journey

Vietnam 2014 Dir. Tham Nguyen Thi | Date and Venue May 10 @ 6:45pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street

This filmmaker was inspired to make this film because as a child, she and her family moved each time her father was assigned to a new hydroelectric dam project in Vietnam. Like herself, she watched travelling performers who roamed about the country. She then decided to join a troupe of travelling performers to come up with this documentary. The troupe was led by Madame Phung, a transgender woman, and the drag queens with her would dress up and perform like Vegas showgirls.

This is an interesting documentary as it captures the problems and the hardships troupes like this go through. We see in this film how the troupe members are harassed, sometimes propositioned. The dirty work of building, then breaking down the stage, and then travelling to the next town are other difficulties they encounter.

Compared to Europe and North America, the gays and transgender people in poor countries are sadly in dire shape. The "last journey" in the title refers to what happens to Madame Phung at the end of the film..

© 2015 Ed Farolan