Dates and Venues 2 – 11 May 2014 | Vancouver Playhouse, VIFF’s Vancity Theatre, The Cinematheque, Rio Theatre

Revenge of the Mekons

95 mins., USA, 2013, dir. Joe Angio

Date and Venue 7 May, 7pm @ Vancity

The Mekons were originally formed in Leeds, England back in the late seventies by a trio of art school students who had almost zero knowledge of music. The band is still around today and based in Chicago with currently eight members who have been together for the last twenty years. But what the band once lacked in musicianship, it certainly made up for in attitude and ideas. Named after a Venusian sci-fi comic book character, the band has generally been denied commercial success (and perhaps even shunned it themselves). During the course of Joe Angio’s film, the group are seen and heard going through multiple musical styles from punk rock to alternative country, embracing English folk on the way.

The Mekons really came into their own in the mid 1980s when they performed a series of benefit shows for the striking miners at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s unpopular right-wing ideology. Founding member Jon Langford and singer Sally Timms are de facto leaders, although Langford dismisses any leadership position during a featured interview. Angio's praiseworthy documentary uses archival tapes and an assemblage of conversations with band members Sally Timms and Susie Honeyman as well as renowned music critics.

Las Vegas Meditation

90 mins., France, 2014, dir. Florent Tillon

Date and Venue 9 May, 9pm @ Pacific Cinematheque

Gambling Mecca, Glitter Gulch, Lost Wages, Sin City and now Doom Town? Las Vegas has acquired its share of deserved and undeserved nicknames since becoming the self aggrandized entertainment capital of the world. This French film gazes on this most American city “where Elvis never leaves the building” to take the audience beyond the tarted-up hotels on the infamous strip. Florent Tillon’s film, much of it shot with a webcam, guides us through abandoned construction sites and homes built, then left deserted.

Local alternative rock bands, Dead Neon, Scrap Iron Saint provide part of a soundtrack that also includes Leonard Cohen’s apocalyptic “The Future.” The political ‘Occupy Las Vegas’ movement and Josh, a radical graffiti artist contribute to Florent Tillon’s misanthropic study on the city that everyone likes to visit, but where no one wants to live. Whatever happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas after all.

China Concerto

50 mins., China, 2013, dir. Bo Wang

Date and Venue 8 May, 9.15pm @ Vancity

Through the lens of old style political propaganda juxtaposed to modern pop culture, Bo Wang’s observational film takes a cynical look at Chinese patriotism. He takes the audience into his former neighbourhood of the city of Chongqing to witness community activities and public performances. Nothing in China happens in complete privacy or solitude. So the viewer is treated to fascinating images of common citizens in exuberant displays of public singing and dancing. In one remarkable scene, we see a corps of identically proportioned, impeccably uniformed female police officers that children address as “Aunt.”

Wang’s documentary also features film footage of Yang Ban Xi operas. Almost comical when seen now, this bizarre form of entertainment was instituted by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing to promote the Chinese Cultural Revolution by instilling an uplifting communist message.

Argentine Gabriela Jaime provides a voice-over narrative as a pen-friend reading letters she has received from a third party, though in fact, were scripted by Bo Wang. Through Wang’s words, the commentator asks rhetorically “have Chinese become more American, and Americans become more Chinese.”


Pete Seeger: A Song and a Stone

86 mins., USA, 1972, dir. Robert Elfstrom | Reviewer John Jane

Date and Venue 4 May 2014, 12pm @ Pacific Cinematheque

When Pete Seeger died on January 27, this year in the city of his birth (NYC) at the age of 94, America said goodbye to one of her last real troubadours. Seeger had been a seminal figure in American folk music and had influenced a generation of musicians from Dylan to Springsteen.

As Robert Elfstrom’s 1972 film shows, Seeger wasn’t just a singer/songwriter, he was perhaps even better known as political activist. To paraphrase Dick Cheney, he never saw a protest march he wouldn’t join, but there is no question he paid dearly for holding his principles. He was banned from appearing on any television network for seventeen years because of his association with the Communist party. Elfstrom’s film also features a conversation and a duet performance with Johnny Cash who believed him to be a true American patriot.

The documentary provides no commentary, mainly relying on a soundtrack of Seeger’s music to drive the narrative. Self-penned songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn, Turn, Turn” as well as his definite interpretations of “This Land is our Land” and “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” are heard throughout the film.

A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at The New York Times

75 mins., USA, 2013, dir. Samantha Grant | Reviewer John Jane

Date and Venue 4 May, 4.15pm @ Pacific Cinematheque & 6 May, 3.15pm @ Vancity

“Steal from many, and it’s called research, steal from one, and it’s called plagiarism.” It’s too bad that former New York Times journalist Jayson Blair didn’t pay more heed to that old adage. But then, Samantha Grant’s compelling documentary would never have been made. In A Fragile Trust, it’s Blair himself takes up much of the onscreen time.

Blair was obviously given the benefit of doubt too often before his blatant journalistic fraud was discovered and subsequently reported by former colleague Macarena Hernandez. Hernandez reluctantly became a part of "The Blair Affair" after realising that Blair had copied her own story of a Los Fresnos, Texas soldier missing in action in Iraq while working at the San Antonio Express-News.

Grant’s film features in depth interviews with Blair’s former editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, who were both ultimately dismissed. Observer Seth Mnookin, author of “Hard News” was brutally critical of Blair for his dishonesty, almost completely discounting Blair’s excuse of mental illness. But was Jayson Blair criminally responsible or just lazy? Perhaps the real cause is pathological. Blair had developed convoluted techniques to cover for his lack of ability.

© 2014 John Jane