The 17thVancouver International Film Festival

Director Alan Franey opened the 17th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival at the Hotel Vancouver last September 10th. Canadian film SUCH A LONG JOURNEY by Vancouver's Sturla Gunnarsson will premiere at the Opening Night Gala at Famous Players' Capitol 6 Theatre on Thursday, September 24th.  The film is based on the Governor General's Award-winning novel by Rohinton Mistry, and stars Roshan Seth and Om Puri. The Film Festival will run from September 25th to October 11th. Interviews with directors as well as reviews of the films follow.

Trade Forum Producer Melanie Friesen also announced the list of award-winning guest speakers, including industry heavyweights Robert Towne, Conrad Hall, Paul Schrader, Roger Frappier, Nik Powell, Leon Gast, Jan Roelfs, Laszlo Barna, Don McKellar, Brent Boates, Thomas Burstyn, and Anne Frank, who will be appearing at the 13th Annual Film and Television Trade Forum October 7-10. A review of Trade Forum events appears at the end.

Here are our reviews:

In the Navel of the Sea

Sa Pusod ng Dagat

Philippines, 1997

Pepito (Jomari Yllana) narrates the story of the townsfolk of a small fishing village. He recalls the death of his father in a night-fishing accident when he was still very young. His widowed mother, Rosa (Elizabeth Oropesa), is the village midwife, and Pepito helps her in her work. As he experiences puberty, he feels embarassed helping his mother doing a job that is traditionally a woman's profession. A beautiful teacher, Mrs. Santiago (Chin Chin Gutierrez), comes to the village to teach the children to read. Pepito has a crush on her, and one day, he follows her to her home and comes to her after a fight with her husband who leaves her because she cannot have a child. Pepito tries to console her, and he ends up sleeping with her. Meantime, his mother is pregnant by Pepito's godfather (Pen Medina). She tries in vain to abort the baby, and decides to commit suicide than to bear an illegitimate child.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya tells a simple small town story, set in the 1950s, and unravels the Filipino way of thinking on the meaning of birth and maternity, fecundity and barrenness, myths and superstitions, and religiosity. For example, there is the Good Friday crucifixion scene where a man is actually nailed on the cross to commemorate Christ's death. Then there's Apo (Rolando Tinio), the "witch doctor" of the village also known as "ambularyo", whose task it is to cure ailments, and also diagnose causes of illnesses, mostly caused by the "maligno", or evil spirit. This award-winning play by Jun Lama won the prestigious Palanca Award in 1996. Diaz-Abaya is a well-known and accomplished director of Filipino film, having directed and produced more than a dozen quality films since 1980. An excellent film. Five Stars! Last showing October 11 at 9:30 pm at the Paradise Theatre. --Ed Farolan 

Too Young

Ye Maque

Taiwan, 1997

This technically lean first film by Director Huang Min-Chen presents the story of two high school students who are cut off from the mainstream. One is bored and aimless while the other is rebuilding his spirit after a suicide attempt. They form a close frienship. The film has many close-up shots, a bird on a ledge overlooking the city, the pavement as a motorcycle speeds along, the feet of a buddhist monk as he walks and prays, which lend a stark quality and mood to the film. Lonely bird shots frequent the film in Huangs attempt to portray the aspirations of youth. Huang is onto an interesting theme in the film, the specialness of adolescence, and in his view , the most important phase in life, yet the film lacks the length ( 40 minutes) and the story development to fully explore the theme. -Ross Pink

Open Bodies

Les corps ouverts

France, 1997

1998 winner of France's Prix Jean Vigo, this short film ( 47 minutes) is the tale of an Arab, French- born young man, Remi, played with feeling and vulnerability by Yasmine Belmadi, who is blown across a sexual and emotional landscape. The theme of a searching and rootless youth is well demonstrated as he traverses male and female sexual intimacies, boredom in school, hopeless dreams of an acting career, and a menial job. The film evokes powerful images of a young man seeking love and security. Ironically, his  sexual liberalism is contrasted well with a poignant and strong relationship with an aging and ill father who cares deeply for him. Brief glimpses of the father-son relationship provide some of the most powerful and intimate moments in the film. Even within his own circle of friends and family ,Remi appears an outsider, not understood or known by them ,yet a part of them.

Director Sebastien Lifshitz captures well the aimless, emotional and individualistic qualities of the period between youth and manhood with a rich texture of images from the Parisien world that Remi inhabits.-- RP


USA, 1998

This short documentary (50 minutes) , directed by Ellen Bruno, is a series of interviews with mountain girls from Burma who have been sold to Thai brothels in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by a repressive military dictatorship, and persecution of the Shan, Naga, Karen and Mon minorities has been well documented. The poverty and isolation of these groups has made them targets for business agents who prey on young women and lure them away from their families, selling the girls, some as young as twelve, to brothel keepers who turn these innocent and fragile victims into virtual sex slaves. The documentary is strikingly simple, yet slowly .the viewer is drawn into the world of these girls, who relate their horror and degradation at the hands of brothel keepers and the numerous clients they must service each day. In one poignant moment, a girl of about fifteen relates that the neighbours had one daughter and a roof of tin on their hut. The girl was sold by her parents, unwittingly, to brothel agents who always use the line that they will help the daughter to get a job in the city so that she can help the family. The family and girls, ignorant, fall into this trap time and time again. Overall, the documentary presents a picture of weak, abused and vulnerable girls whose abuse of their innocence and fragility is an evil that the film struggles to shed light upon.The film is the winner of the 1998 Golden Spire Award (San Francisco).--RP

Timeless, Bottomless Bad Movie

Napun Younghwa

South Korea

Despite the fact that this movie was partially "handed over" to street-kids to make and record images the director, Jang Sun-Woo, cannot abdicate responsibility for a film that resonates with cheap sensationalism and empty delivery.  There is no moral or message here than could not have been produced in a finer product. Moreover, the film records such an absence of vividness and depth about the street-kids of Seoul that one wonders how this could reasonably be described as the subject matter. Cinema verite has its place, but this film is little more than a home movie gone sour which is a disappointment, given that Sun-Woo could have elevated the message, thus delivering a more powerful and durable film. --RP


Israel, 1997

This 358 minute documentary  (7 parts) traces the life of Israel, as well as the author/director (Ron Havilio) as he treads through the beginnings of the nation of Israel, which was just about the time he was born.  These "fragments" delve on differect historical aspects, with footage from other Israeli documentraries, including wars, riots, terrorist attacks, etc.  The first part was my favorite:  Mamila, the district that bordered the Jews from the Palestines when Jerusalem was divided in two by the English after World War II.  Ron Havilio who had travelled to Paris, Africa and other places of the world as a child, because his father was with the Mossad and later became a diplomat, nostalgically comments, as he eloquently narrates his episodes in English and summarizes his monumental film, 12 years in the making: "In my childhood, Jerusalem was divided...a frightening no man's land.  As an adult, I sought to understand the world into which I was born...fixing images, faces, fragments of a life that would otherwise have been erased from memory."  This documentary was a winner in the Observer Documentary Prize at the Edinburgh Film Festival.--EF

Razor Blade Smile

Great Britain, 1998

This Jake West satire on vampires was frantically amusing, and I could tell from the wild bunch of an audience who cheered, whistled and laughed during the show.  West picks up Anne Rice and Brian Stoker and fuels the story with James Bond 007 antics, as our vampire heroine kills, makes love, and shoots her way to unburden the boredom of having lived for more than a century.  For fans who love to walk on the wild site, this Vampire Wild West show is just the thing for you!--EF

The Revolution of Silence

I epanastassi tis siopis

Greece, 1997

Director and writer Myrto Paraschi, narrating her subjective documentary in English, does a scholarly research about early Christian Asceticism, searching for an understanding of  those men whose faith drove them into desert solitude.  Her journey takes her through the deserts of  Egypt and the Middle East where the landscape bears witness to monasteries and caves/cells where these ascetics lived once upon a time. A deeply interesting documentary for metaphysical/theological philosophers and those potential ascetics who might want to try out the monastic/ascetic life. Now, why a woman would be interested in this type of a research boggles my mind.  However, this 82-minute documentary was excellently executed.--EF


Chile, 1998

This charming film from Chile by director/writer Sergio Castilla was totally enjoyed by the audience who also asked the director, who was present during the showing, interesting questions about the film.  When asked about the motivation behind the film, Castilla declared that he saw himself as the exiled child who returns to Chile after a long absence because of the dictatorship in the post-Allende era.  The movie is about eight-year old American-born Ivan (Sebastian Perez) , the "little gringo", who returns to Santiago with his middle-class, bourgeois parents, like many political exiles, who had left Chile in the mid-seventies after Allende's death.  He loses himself in the mean streets of the city, and in his short 3-day adventure,  fends for himself  and meets Flaco, a street vendor whom he hires  to take care of him during this time, by paying him from his dollar savings from New York.  Funny events take place during this sojourn while his panicked father searches for him frantically. An excellent movie which, by the way, was the biggest box office hit in Chile last year.--EF

Deep Crimson

Profundo carmesí

Mexico/France/Spain, 1996

This award-winning film by Arturo Ripstein, considered Mexico's greatest director, was inspired by a newspaper article about the real-life story of two 'lonely hearts' killers:  Ripstein comments: "It moved me deeply...Their failure, their daily despair, their loneliness, their mad love...their insignificant, pathetic lives."  The movie was well acted and directed.  But somehow, I found the film despites its wittiness, savagely macabre; a black comedy I found totally engrossing, yet disturbingly bizarre.--EF


Saskatchewan/Ontario/Great Britain, 1998

Veteran British Director Piers Haggard delivers a simple film about a simple, fading prairie town called Conquest in Saskatchewan.  Pincer Bedier (Lothaire Bluteau) is a young banker trying to rejuvenate the rural economy in the hope of keeping the twon alive.  Most of the residents in this isolated town are over 70. But a young English drifter, Daisy MacDonald (Tara Fitgerald) arrives and is stuck in this town because her red Alfa Romeo breaks down.  While waiting for it to be fixed, she sticks around, falls for the young banker and his fanciful dreams, and they live happily after?  Well, I don't know.  Perhaps not.  zzthe only young couple in this town of oldies? What is the message?  Perhaps, the writer, Rob Forsyth, wants to say: "Let's bring people in these small towns instead of flooding the disgustingly large and over-congested cities".  I don't know.  Might be thought to consider, you young, idle city folks.--EF

Brandon Teena Story

USA, 1998

This documentary filmed by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival.  It chronicles the life and death of the 20-year old transgenderite Brandon Teena who was brutally raped, beaten and later murdered by two men, in the American heartland of Nebraska, in the rural town of Falls City, in 1993. The film was well documented with actual interviews from the deputy sheriff and the two men who were charged with the murder.--EF

In That Land

W Toj Strane

Russia, 1997

Director Lidia Bobrova who was present during the October 3rd filming of this show spoke to the audience afterwards and answered questions about her film.  I asked her where she got all her actors, and she answered, through a translator, that they were local people of the village, except some of the male actors who were local actors in the region.  But all the songs and music that were sung by them were improvised.  And I could see the naturalness in this film, this "slice of life" of a small, remote village in Russia, where people work to the bone, and drink vodka to their graves.  "I just wanted to show you a small town from far-away Russia", Bobrova commented.  A Ukrainian  who was in the audience commented that Northern Alberta where he now lives is just like that.  And true enough because I did live in Edmonton, and there's no difference. No wonder Ukrainians liked living in Alberta.  It reminds them so much of home. Four stars. --EF

Life is Beautiful

La vita e bella

Italy, 1998

This wonderful story of a father's sacrifice for his son during World War II is a very moving and touching story.  It starts off with a lot of humour from Italy's most beloved comic, Roberto Benigni who directs and stars as Guido, a Jewish waiter sent with his 5-year old son to a concentration camp. This film was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and also won alsmost every major prize at the Donatello Awards, equivalent to Hollywood's Academy Award.  A Must See.  Five stars! Last showing October 7th, 2:30 pm at the Caprice.--EF


Great Britain, 1998

Director Shekhar Kapur who made it to the international scene in 1994 with his film Bandit Queen, comes up with another magnificent production of another queen, England's greatest monarch, Elizabeth I.  Kapur concentrates on the early years of Elizabeth, her love affair with Lord Robert Dudley, her development from a trembling, powerless girl to the legendary "Virgin Queen" to a formidable, strong and stalwart monarch.  Acting by Cate Blanchard as Elizabeth was flawless. Cinematography by Remy Adefarisin was excellent.  And music/sound  by David Hirschfelder was astounding. Another must-see.  Last performance October 10th, 4 pm at the Ridge.--EF


Australia, 1998

If you want to cry, this is the movie to see.  Nadia Tass directs this superb and heart rending story of an eight-year old girl , Amy, who has become deaf and mute after seeing her rock star father electrocuted and killed while performing in a concert. Mother and daughter encounter Robert, a jobless musician, who claims that Amy sings! Tanya, Amy's mother, thinks this is a horrible joke, but finds out that this is true.  The film ends in the healing of memories Amy who, with the help of a kind psychiatrist, overcomes her trauma.Because of the popularity of this film, it was given a third showing last October 2nd.--EF


Australia, 1998

Another Australian film.  Funny, funny!  Everyone was cracking with laughter, and an enthusiastic applause from Vancouver after the show.  I love these Australians.  They make you laugh, they make you cry.  They like playing on your emotions.  But this film by David Swann was really good.  Twelve-year-old Joey (Daniel Kellie) was just fantastic and his great granddaddy Albert (Warren Mitchell) was just great.  Stupendous ensemble acting from the other actors Peter Rowsthorn, Susan Lyons and Terry Gill.  But I loved best the crazy slapstick humour of the Australians!--EF

The Vigil

British Columbia, 1998

This short feature film (only 82 minutes)  with a budget of $75,000 directed and acted by Vancouverites, made its world premiere in this Festival, (where else but in their own home town, Vancouver). This production, however, cannot be compared with the other films of the Festival with million dollar budgets.  But I commend Justin MacGregor, writer and director, for attempting, albeit, unsuccessfully, in Vancouver Sun's Peter Birnie's opinion, to launch this film, which I feel, unless you were a Kurt Cobain fan, was not interesting, (except for the dialogues on the political implications of Fairy Tales, which I found amusing). I guess it was a question of timing.  If this film were produced right after the untimely death of Cobain in 1994, it probably could have had a stronger impact.--EF

All Bets Are Off

Rien ne va plus

France/Switzerland, 1998

This is the English-Canadian Premiere of  French master and veteran director Claude Chabrol's fiftieth film, a comedy-thriller that entertains more than anything else. It's a story of a father and daughter team that travels the French and Swiss countryside scamming rich men, but their con game remains small time: they only rob half of their victims' money. The dialogue is clever and funny, and we are reminded of Hitchcock a la francaise.--EF



Findland, 1998

Director Pirjo Honkasalo whose film Atman was shown  at the VIFF here last year is one of Finland's most accomplished artists. I could see from this film, as well as last year's entry, a n influence from Fellini and all his circus freaks. The story is about two orphan sisters who are hired by a circus, one as a trapeze artist, Irene, and the other, a fire-eater (Helena).  The film starts in black-and-white as a middle-aged Helena now in Helsinki recalls her traumatic childhood.  The flashbacks then turn to color.  Artistically done, but too sombre and tragic for my taste.--EF

The Bird People of China

Chugoku no Chojin

Japan, 1998

This full-length feature directed by Miike Takashi is a charming story about a birdman who fell from the sky and taught villagers in a small Chinese town of Yunnan how to fly.  We discover, as the film progresses, that this birdman was a British flyer who crashed in this village during World War II, and decided to spend the rest of his life there, marrying, having children, and dying.  The play centers on his granddaughter, the teacher of the village children, who sings this Irish song which our hero, Wada, deciphers.  Of course, no one learns how to fly, but influenced perhaps by the magic realism of Colombian novelist Garcia Marquez, the movie ends with the villagers flying. --EF 



Czech Republic, 1998

Writer and director Peter Zelenka comes up with a really funny tongue-in-cheek comedy that kept audiences laughing throughout.  It opens with a black-and-white episode that takes place on a rainy day on August 6, 1945 in Kokura, Japan as the Enola Gay cruises above preparing to drop a bomb. A group of Japanese men talk about the relieving aspects of swearing, American style, despite the fact that swearing is not part of Japanese culture.  Meantime, the bombers hovering above because of the bad weather are told to go to their next target, Hiroshima, and  thus, the town of Kokura is spared the bomb .  The next five episodes take place in Prague, and the black humour of Zelenka is cleverly played out.  I liked the second episode, "Taxi Driver", where adultery is played out in a bizarre and funny way.--EF

Jeanne and the Perfect Guy

Jeanne et le garcon formidable

France, 1997

I was elated to watch a musical comedy (which is hardly done in film these days), by Olivier Ducastel, an ex-mechanic, and Jacques Martineau, a literature teacher.  It was an entertaining film with songs and dance ranging from java, oriental music and the tango, to the chacha and the traditional Chevalier ballads.  The story is about the promiscuous Jeanne who searches for her ideal man only to find out she has fallen for an HIV positive "perfect guy". The film ends tragically, of course, with the death of her lover. This movie opened Sunday, and I guess it was appropriately scheduled because this was the day for the Vancouver AIDS march .--EF.

Lucky Star

La buena estrella

Spain/France/Italy, 1997

Veteran Spanish film director Ricardo Franco, who passed away in May 1998, bases his film on a true story of a doomed love-triangle. Almost Pinteresque in his approach, Franco questions marital fidelity in this sensitive script.  Is it possible for a woman to love two men?  As the film develops, both men eventually accept this premise and even become friends. They realize that, contrary to moral Victorian standards, it can and does happen, as in their case.  The consequences, though, are tragic, not so much because of love, but because of circumstances beyond their control. This film was given extra showings.--EF

Arguing the World

USA, 1997

This documentary written, produced and directed by Joseph Dorman, centers on four prominetn New York intellectuals--Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and Irving Kristol.  It follows their journey from the radicalism of their youth as students of the City College of New York, to their shift to neo-conservatism in the Reagan era.  These four were condemned and accused as armchair intellectuals by the new radicals of the seventies who demonstrated against the Vietnman War.  Although the film had an eye for detail with footage and interviews with these and other intellectuals, it suffers from poor and almost inaudible sound tracks.  Thinking that it was a technical problem from the venue, the film had to be restarted after it was playing for 15 minutes.  Nevertheless, the sound was basically still the same, and the dialogues , narrations and interviews which played a key role in the fil, were not well understood.  Many left the theatre before the film ended.--EF

Of Freaks and Men

Pro ourodov i lioudiei

Russia, 1998

This film by Alexei Balabanov was an attempt to go back to the pioneering days of  black and white cinematography where, in this case, he uses tinted sepia recreations of period daguerrotypes.  Artistically, I found this interesting.  Production-wise, however, I found the movie too long for this type of artistic filmmaking.  The pace was slow.  There were scenes that seemed to go on forever, and a lot of repetitive scenes which should have been more varied.  I felt a need for editing it further.  After all, the early films only lasted anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes maximum.--EF

Journey to Beijing

Bei Zheng

Hong Kong/USA, 1998

This documentary records a historic event, the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese control on July 1, 1997 and a walk by a group of dedicated people from HK to Beijing between February and July 1997. The walkers represented a cross section of HK society. Their motives for undergoing the long journey were a mix of adventure, idealism and patriotism. There was a charitable dimension to the walk since money was collected to aid literacy efforts in China.

Director Evans Chan has effectively fused footage from the walk with historical vignettes from China's past with background recollections and observations from the walkers themselves. The result is an interesting glimpse of China, her history, and a feeling for the texture of Chinese society and thinking about the handover.--RP



Taiwan/Japan, 1998

This first feature by Taiwan filmmaker Chen Yiwen is a successfully told story about relationships that intertwine in modern day Taipei.Chen has a gift for weaving together stories about different people in a fluid, interesting manner. He also demonstrates that he can infuse some erotica in his story: the scene where the young and awkward Kai engages in some sensual message with an older, pretty and sophisticated lady is done with style. The comic underpinning in the relationship between Kai and JiaJia, who are young, unemployed and part-time car thieves, is fresh and appealing. The acting is good and one is drawn to them with both sympathy and anger for their recklessness. In fact, there is a natural element that blows through the whole story and gives the characters and their situations an edgy realism which keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end. Chen is to be applauded for an original and effective first feature.--RP

Hold You Tight

Yue Kuai Le, Yue Duoluo

Hong Kong, 1998

A moody and engaging style underscores director Stanley Kwan's effectiveness and appeal as a filmmaker. In essence, it is a relationship film, one that cleverly intertwines characters from different backgrounds. No stranger to sexual material, Kwan keeps an air of sexual electricity running through the film and at the right moments , unleashes it in full and erotic expression. In many respects, the film is a commentary on desire, whether fulfilled or unrequited, and the powerful effect it has on people from all classes and backgrounds. The film is shot by Kwan Poon-Leung who has done a masterful job with lighting and color. The casting is excellent with strong performances delivered by Chingmy Yau, Sunny Chan and Eric Tsang. A fascinating focal point in the film is the character of Jie, a young, cool drifter from Taipei who is both "insider" and "outsider" as he moves along with detachment to everything .--RP



with Huang Min Shen, director, TOO YOUNG

Huang was born in Chiahyi in Taiwan. The short film TOO YOUNG marks his directorial debut. "My interest in film started around 1988 when I was in college. I was a library science major but always had the quetsions in mind: what do I want to do, who is the real me and what can I do that I love."

" When I moved into filmmaking my parents were not happy, they wanted me to go into business but my wife, she was the only real support. The film industry in Taiwan is somewhat conservative yet we do not face problems of any kind with censorship. In this film I want to express the idea that adolescence is the most important phase in life. Yet the child cannot do anything because society says you are only kids. "

Huang is currently living in Paris on a one year artist in residence scholarship program sponsored by the Taiwan government. Upon completion of the residency he plans to return to Taiwan and concentrate on truly "Taiwanese" stories.

with Stanley Kwan, director, Hold You Tight

Kwan is an engaging artist who enjoys the realm of directing yet who initially aspired to be an actor. His new film, Hold You Tight, starring Chingmy Yau, Sunny Chan and Eric Tsang has received acclaim in Hong Kong and awards on the film festival circuit including Berlin.

The film portrays all the fragility, emotional swings and insecurites that define relationships in the 1990s. In this sense, the film strikes universal experiences. An unstable political background , ie the 1997 Hong Kong handover to China, provides interesting analogy to the story. "As a youngster, I loved watching the old Cantonese moves", recalls Kwan. " I remember thinking that the job of director was quite amazing. In secondary school, I joined a drama club and fell in love with acting. After graduation I did television and was offered technical work, a disappointment because I really wanted to act. So I went into this area of the industry then served with Anna Hui as her assistant director on television programs. This was in the late 1970s."

Kwan is concerned about the decline of the Hong Kong film industry in recent years. He notes that in the mid 1980s, Hong Kong produced 250 films each year. In 1998 only 50 films have been produced. "Hong Kong is definitely facing more competition in the local market from Britain, the U.S., France and Japan", says Kwan.

Kwan' s next project, In God We Trust, features stories about the young Asian generation. A co-production between Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong, three directors will contribute to the film. The other directors are Edward Young, from Taiwan and Japanese director Iwai Shinji. The film is scheduled for shooting and release in 1999.

with Chen Yiwen, director, JAM

The film , JAM, is winning acclaim for first time director Chen Yiwen who was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. "My relation to film is different from most directors", says Chen. " Many directors make films because they are inspired by film. Yet I was always, from boyhood, fascinated by magic. To create something real from something not real appealed to me."

"In school I learned magic tricks and the whole process of changing things was of great interest to me. I remember, in grade six, I used to gather friends around me at recess and show them magic tricks, perform skits. And I was influenced, I suppose, by a television show where this magician would entertain people. "

Like Hong Kong and other countries, Taiwan has experienced in recent years a huge influx of foreign films, mostly American. "The problem", says Chen, " is that the Taiwan market has been invaded by Hollywood. This is the challenge facing the Taiwanese filmmaker. Of course, there are pros and cons to this problem. Taiwan people for example, have a lot more choices now in film. And if there are fewer Taiwanese filmmakers around, well then, they are probably the more committed ones. "

" My film is about growing up, a time of gaining experience, and yet youth also loses some innocence as they mature."

An interesting issue facing Taiwan which affects many if not all of the rapidly industrializing nations like Thailand, South Korea, Mexico and Malaysia; is the speed of urbanization. " With the speed of urbanization", says Chen, " innocence is the thing that is being lost quickly. Capturing the innocence and purity of youth before it is lost is important."

Chen relates that his first day of film-making as a new director went very well. In fact, much better and easier than he had expected. Then, that night he got a phone call from the lab where the film stock was being developed. " They said the film was all scratched and useless. Apparently dirt had got into the camera. We had to re-shoot the first day!"

with KAIZUD GUSTAD, director, Bombay Boys

First time director Gustad is one whose life in film seems to have been pre-determined from an early age.  Like the small boy exposed to film through a kindly old man who runs the theatre projection booth in a small Italian town in the acclaimed and poignant film, Cinema Paradiso, Gustad was exposed to film through an idealistic grandfather who built an open air theatre in the small Indian town of Wadi.

" That was me, " says Gustad, " I lived my life in a projection booth. My life was like the character in the film Cinema Paradiso."

" My grandfather came from Iran to escape persecution and he settled in Wadi. He built this wonderful open air theatre because he loved film and my father later opened cinema halls all over the territory. As a boy, my grandfather always told me that film was magic. I was mesmerized. "

At the age of sixteen, Gustad emigrated with his family to Sydney, Australia. and later, he went to New York University to study filmmaking. This choice was partly due to the fact that his film idol, Scorcese, also studied there." I always wanted to make films. I didn't want to act. My parents always said as a child, I was the one who would tell people what to do, where to sit and so on, so perhaps directing was a natural extension to this. "

" For me, film school was the best and worst of times", recalls Gustad. " I had a scholarship for the school tuition but no money to live with so I did numerous jobs to get by. NYU has a very action oriented film program, virtually from the first day a camera was thrust into my hands. The school was also a great place to make contacts."

Gustad is skeptical about many of the films that have been made in and about India." I was fed up seeing films done in India by foreigners and Indians. It seems that the exoticness of India was being exploited. Nobody ever made a film about India today, a modern and contemporary film."

" The second inspiration for Bombay Boys was Indians that call themselves Indian but have never been there. Their parents emigrated to another country when they were very young or before they were born. I wondered what would happen if they went home to India. "

" For me, this was my story to make and a story has to shout at you as a director to be believeable. The cast were great and Roshan Seth, he has the most vulnerable face you have ever met. Roshan played a role that was very different for him but he thoroughly enjoyed it. "

" I think the basic theme in the film is that India and Bombay specifically are as progressive as any other place or nationality. There is a stigma about non-resident Indians (NRI's) who go abroad and the presumption that they know more. So the film is also a satire and a poke at the NRI's. "

Gustad will now concentrate his efforts on a feature with an Indian story, a project that will be shot in England.

with EVANS CHAN, director, Journey to Beijing

Chan who was born in China, lived in Macau and went to high school in Hong Kong, is well positioned to explore the 1997 Hong Kong handover to China in his unique documentary, Journey to Beijing . Moreover, his graduate work in philosophy has given him a wider perspective on the issues involved.

"This documentary is about a group of walkers who set out from Hong Kong in February 1997 and reached Beijing on the eve of the July 1st handover. There had been too much paranoia about the event in films such as The Chinese Box, and I wanted to explore the handover from a different perspective. The walkers represented a cross-section of Hong Kong society: students, workers, a war veteran, businessmen", says Chan.

"The walkers were actually positive about the handover. As they moved into Chinese territory they were accompanied by walkers from China who joined the walk for an hour, day or week. A major goal of the walk was to raise money for literacy in China ; so, the effort galvanized broad support. "

"Reunification is both good and bad for me", says Chan. "It was inevitable that Hong Kong and China would unite. China is trying to develop and reclaim its past. HK can be helpful. On the bad side, why should HK and its 6 million people lose their political structure and the gains that have been made under British rule for the sake of Chinese nationalism?"

Chan's next project is called, Sex in 3 Mellenia, a stage production that will explore sex over three thousand years in China at the court level: kings, queens, court officials, concubines and the roles they played. It will be presented this November 7-9th at the Asian Arts Festival in Hong Kong. Later, Chan hopes to adapt the play into a film or television production.

with ROCK DEMERS, producer, HATHI

Described as a "gem of a film", the Indian feature, HATHI, is the story of a young boy who grows to manhood alongside his beloved and working elephant. That such a film fell under the guidance of producer Rock Demers, a pioneer and leader in Quebec and Canadian cinema for over thirty years, seems most appropriate. Demers has been interested in films about children and stories with an international dimension since his first world travelling tour in the 1950s.

"One day in Prague in 1959," relates Demers, "this young filmmaker showed me his film, Adventure in Golden Bay. It was a film about children and I had never realized that people could devote their time and life to children's film. This was a revelation to me. "

" I became very interested in this genre so wherever I travelled, I looked for films about children. As a founder and director of the Montreal Film Festival, I would try to introduce these films to the festival and later distribute them through my own distribution company."

In 1984, Demers produced the noted film, The Dog Who Stopped The War, which won a Golden Reel award. This film was the first of sixteen films Demers produced in an ongoing series exploring themes which affect children. Over the years, Demers has produced twenty-three films and a number of documentaries.

"We started filming Hathi in October 1996 and finished thirteen months later. The world premier was at The Montreal Film Festival this past September. "

Demers notes that the film has engendered from viewers a fascination for the animal and its beauty. The word Hathi means elephant in Hindi. The film follows a family, specifically a young boy in Southern India from a caste which works with elephants to earn their livelihood.

Demers relates a charming story that illustrates the gentleness and intelligence of elephants. "One morning as we were about to start shooting, the Mahout ( elephant trainer) was unable to command the elephant to move. He tapped the elephant on the top of the head, he didn't budge and repeated the stroke but still no response. This was unusual. So then he scratched the elephant behind the ear, which always made the elephant obey, and yet still he would not budge. The Mahout said that there must be something wrong, for this behaviour is most unusual. Well, the Mahout then walked around the elephant and to his surprise found a cat and newborn kittens under the elephant. They were born during the night. If the elephant had moved, it would have crushed the cat and kittens. This is how intelligent the animal is. "

"In the film, we are telling the story of the relationship between an elephant and a boy over a thirty year period. It took over a year to find the right elephant for the film. The filming was done in Karnataka State Forest in Southern India. "

The Indian philosopher Tagore wisely observed that ' Dreams are Wings for the Soul.' For Demers, this latest film is another step in his journey to illuminate powerful stories that reflect international understanding and a greater dimension of understanding toward children.

Trade Forum

New Filmmakers' Day

Traditionally, theTrade Forum during the VIFF closes with a workshop for new filmmakers.  The morning session was 'The Pitch' from four filmmakers (Jacques Lalonde, 'Adventures in Dragonland'; Adriane Polo, 'Whistler Extreme'; Nicholas Racz, 'The Igloo'; and Loretta Todd, 'Raven'). A panel of experts (Moderator Arvi Liimatainen, Producer of Crescent Entertainment; Louise Clark, Head of Independent Production, Western Region CTV; John Dippong, analyst of Telefilm; Tara Ellis, Head of Programming, CBC; Barry Ward, President of Bardel Animation Limited,  and Mary-Pat Gleeson, VP Marketing, Red Sky Entertainment) offered constructive suggestions.  She underscored the point that fresh script ideas are always in demand and urged listeners to go after their projects with passion.

Everyone loved the well-prepared pitch of Actor Jacques Lalonde as he mimicked dragons and sang songs from his Dragonland script.  Loretta Todd's script which is her first film feature and at present being workshopped at SunDance received a warm welcome.  Her documentary on Chief Dan George was entered this year in the Festival. Nicolas Racz's pitch was liked because his film is in pre-production with actors already cast for the script; and Adriane Polo's play was not accepted more so because it was a soap opera type of a script that would, as suggested by the panel, be better off produced by Superchannel or HBO.

The afternoon session, 'The Craft Intensives', was also interesting.  It focused on the director's relationship with the cinematographer, the production designer, the actor and the editor.  Anne Wheeler, Writer/Director Better than Chocolate exchanged views with Reginald Harkema (Editor, Last Night) and Don McKellar (Director, Last Night). Basically, what Harkema said, which, I believe, was well-spoken, was that Editors are there to make the Director look good.  And apparently, it did because this film won this years Prix de Jeunesse at this year's Cannes Film Festival.  Production Designer Jan Roelfs whom I met at the Reception afterwards, gave his insights into production design.  When I spoke to him, he said that the reason they hire him is because he can come up with an extremely exciting set design at budget prices.  He mentioned his design of Orlando whereby he saved the producer thousands of dollars by just taping plastic all over a castle to show it in reconstruction, instead of hiring workers to build scaffolds around the set.  Common sense and savings, indeed.

Cinematographer Ron Orieux and Director Peter Lynch (Arrowhead, Project Grizzly, The Herd) had refreshing insights into a trust relationship between director and DOP. Orieux mentioned an instance when a director was panicking because it was the last day of the shooting and the weather was bad.  Somehow, Orieux thought of a scheme to go through with the shoot using angles whereby the weather didn't matter.  Having a director who is open to a DOP's suggestions is a good director, "someone who's in my list", he added.

I enjoyed meeting Melanie Friesen who was going around getting feedback for the Forum. I asked her in Spanish how come she spoke Spanish . She earlier introduced Director Sergio Castilla who was present during the showing of his film "Gringuito" at the Caprice..  Her mother is Chilean, she told me.  Violetta Lapinsky who works for  Rainmaker and does reviews for our magazine was beside me, and suggested to Melanie that there should be more technical people involved in the forum because that seems to be the demand in Vancouver.  A formidable suggestion, I should say. I met South African screenwriter Rochelle Sammel and Nebraska music composer Brett Holihan who invited me to his resort home in Colorado to plan out musical soundtracks for my script.  I look forward to that, Brett!--Ed Farolan


One of the successes of the VIFF in recent years has been the TRADE FORUM which brings together leaders in the industry from all phases of endeavor: actors, financiers, directors, producers, studio and television executives, cinematograhers and others to share their experiences and wisdom for the benefit of the aspirant in the industry.

In fact, one of the tributes that Trade Forum organizer Melanie Friesen and her colleagues well deserve is that the Trade Forum concentrates on accessibility. The opportunity to meet the 'players' , to learn from them and to meet them is a benefit that cannot be underestimated. This is particularly valuable in an industry that runs on connections and networking.

This year, the Trade Forum featured several important sessions including: Financing and Gap Financing with valuable contributions from the articulate Robert Beattie, head of Equicap Financial Corporation.

As always, information on entertainment law and the business issues of film-making proved important. Key speakers in these areas were Kim Campbell, currently serving as Canada's consul-general in Los Angeles and John Morayniss, Senior Vice-President of Alliance T.V Group, who provided valuable insights. --Ross Pink