Date and Venue 30 Oct 6pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St
Reviewer Ed Farolan
Celebrating the traditional Day of the Dead (Dia de los muertos), Vancity put up a special event, serving chocolate afterwards and praying under candlelight for the dearly departed. This is a traditon in Mexico, as in most Catholic countries where November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Souls Day. Naturally, there's the eve of All Saints Day called Halloween, the pagan celebration where the devil tries to catch as many souls as possible, and those he can't catch are saved and become saints the next day.
The film presented during this event was a classic Mexican film with Death as its theme. Macario is a 1960 supernatural film directed by Roberto Gavaldón and starring Ignacio López Tarso and Pina Pellicer. It is based on the novel of the same name by B. Traven, set in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (modern-day Mexico).
The story centers on Macario, a poor indigenous woodcutter, who is angry for being so poor. His economic situation keeps him and his family at the edge of starvation. But then he meets Death and they make a deal.
It was the first Mexican film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also entered into the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. The film is in black and white, reminiscent of Bunuel's `and Bergman's `films. I found the film enthralling, and it's one of those films where the character meets Death face to face. Death here is an old Mexican with his sombrero and poncho, and traces of Goethe's Faust are also reflected in this film.
International Buddhist Film Festival
Dates and Venue 26 Jul - 1 Aug | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street
Reviewer Ed Farolan
I watched the two opening films of the International Buddhist Film Festival last July 26th. The IBFF makes its first here in Vancouver. They've done festivals around the world, and IBFF 2013 Vancouver is part of the IBFF Tenth Anniversary Season and will be the twelfth IBFF since its inaugural event in Los Angeles in 2003.
Vancity Theatre Program Coordinator Tom Charity introduced the IBFF saying that Vancouver is the first in Canada to present this fest. He introduced Gaetano Kazuo Maida, executive director of the IBFF who briefly described the 15 films to be screened and mentioned that guest filmmakers will attend in person or live via Skype for Q&A at their screenings.
Thai-English director Tom Waller's 90 minute film Mindfulness and Murder based on the popular Father Ananda mystery novels by Nick Wilgus was an interesting murder mystery film, similar to the Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes novels. The plot is about former cop Ananda now a senior monk who is asked by the abbot to solve a murder inside his monastery because the police don’t want to get involved. In the skype Q & A, Waller explained that he did this film in Thai because it dealt with Thai monks making Thai audiences aware of Wilgus' novels which haven't been translated to Thai. Wilgus based his novels from Thai newspaper clippings. Waller adapted the first novel and made it into a film with Thai actors.
Shugendo Now is a 91-minute documentary by Montreal filmmakers Jean Marc Abela and Mark Patrick McGuire about the school of Japanese asceticism called Shugendo, a blend of Shinto, Daoism and Buddhism. Followers practice arduous rituals in wildernesses and are deeply committed to protecting the natural environment. As I was watrching the film, I thought of the mountains of BC, especially Blackcomb and Grouse, which are far more wondrous and arduous (The Grouse Grind) than the mountains in Japan. In the Q & A session, McGuire discussed his religiously intimate journey which was the basis of his doctoral thesis at the Department of Religion of Concordia University in Montreal.
The last film I viewed was Crazy Wisdom, a documentary by Johanna Demetrakas, about the controversial Tibetan Buddhist leader, Chogyan Trungpa. What was interesting was the Q & A with the director via Skype when asked about the sexual relations of this man with his followers. That's probably why he was a controversial figure--he took sexual advantage of the women in his "cult", and justified it as "crazy wisdom". As I was watching the clips of his speeches and lectures, this so-called "charismatic" man was, in my opinion, a charlatan.
Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation
Dates and Venue 17 July at 06:45pm, 18 July at 8:30pm and 20 July at 4:30pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St
Reviewer Erin Jane
“We had something to say, not something to sell” said Suze Rotolo in her memoir about her life with folk legend Bob Dylan. Parts of her memoir are strewn throughout first-time documentary filmmaker Laura Archibald’s Greenwich Village. However, this film is not about Bob Dylan.
Instead, it is about the other perhaps now lesser-known folk musicians that defined this era, even before Dylan made an appearance. In fact, many other obvious folk musician mentions are absent in this film; Leonard Cohen’s image is quickly flashed upon the screen, but gets no mention.
I believe this was Archibald’s intention – to highlight the lesser-known but just as influential musicians of this era. She is highly ambitious with this film (especially considering her lack of filmmaking experience) and is successful in getting many casual yet insightful interviews with many inspiring people of this very specific community of folk artists, not the least of which includes Lucy & Carly Simon and Pete Seeger.
Also included are many pieces of rare footage during this time, which are very beautiful and captivating to watch. As each folk artist emerges in the documentary, they are pictured side by side with a photo of them during the 60s era, which I felt was a wonderful detail that allowed me connect with the stories and artists on a richer level.
The description ‘poignant’ (which has been used for this film) is misleading. Nostalgic more than covers it, and I feel Archibald’s perspective is very ‘safe’ and very limited to a small, specific community of more straight-edged artists (no mention of substance abuse except to say the drug of choice at this time was coffee). I felt she shied away from grittier subject matter, and the brief animated cartoons to show the change in topic throughout made the film appear very innocent.
If you are looking for the dirtier, grungier, and less peaceful story of the music of Greenwich Village in the 60s, this may not be the film for you. Though I’m sure these parts existed, they are not illuminated in Archibald’s vision. In fact, the documentary would do well to be renamed to specify the folk movement only – as indeed, I had been anticipating a documentary that would have included The Velvet Underground. That being said, Archibald’s Greenwich Village (albeit slightly indulgent) is still a wonderful and evocative film.
Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth
Dates and Venue 5 - 9 July | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street
Reviewer Ed Farolan
In a recent review on Globalization (see below), I expressed my deep sadness on "man's cruelty to man", and the social injustice existing not only in our C21, but ever since Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden. Men have come up with ways to combat social injustice with political systems such as socialism, communism, democracy-- all for the common good--but have fallen short; and greed always prevails with cut-throat competition, laissez faire, and eventually, the new term in this millenium, "merging", where mutinational giants like Walmart take over the market.
In this documentary, exploitation of the Mayans in Chiapas and Guatemala is the topic. The location of the world’s largest and toxic gold-mine pit run by a Canadian firm, GoldCorp, is in a town of Guatemala, San Miguel, home of the Mayans. In this excellent documentary, Frauke Sandig and Eric Black follow the daily and ceremonial lives of six articulate young Mayans as they struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of C21 capitalism. One scene that struck me was a Mayan woman who commented that the military government backed by the US were murderers. They massacred most of the Mayans in that town in the 80s but now, she says, the Canadians have followed suit and are now the murderers of the Mayans in this town. They pollute the air and water with chemicals such as cyanide as they dig for gold.
There was also the mention of Monsanto taking over with their genetically modified corn seeds, thus ruining the farmers' income since they grow natural corn in their fields. This again mirrors Peled's Globalization documentary where cotton farmers in a town in India are forced to buy genetically-modified seeds from Monsanto, resulting in their going bankrupt and many committing suicide.
Dates and Venue 28 June – 4 July 2013, (Showtimes vary) | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street
Reviewer Karen Fitzgibbon
It took amazing courage for Hannah Arendt to write her analysis of the Adolf Eichmann trial and to survive the storm of criticism that followed. She was well educated--a writer and philosopher. She wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism and then traveled to Jerusalem in 1961 to cover the Eichmann trial for the New Yorker. A Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, she was a powerful, direct, complex and sensitive woman and presented the truth as she saw it.
Director Margarethe von Trotta, a Berliner, does a powerful presentation of the life of a Hannah Arendt in this documentary. She presents her as a genius, and a poignant, soul searching human being. She quotes Arendt who said, "The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons." Arendt focused on Hitler the phallocentric and his absolute control of ordinary people. The atrocities were the result of mass mind control.
In the film, we see clips of how Eichmann turned stomachs during the trial with his denial of guilt. Arendt brought a new thought-provoking phrase to the modern world after World War II: "The banality of evil”. I found this film mentally stimulating and intense. The acting was magnificent on all counts and I particularly liked the rhetoric between Barbara Sukowa (Hannah Arendt) and her friend played by Janet McTeer, a psychoanalyst. This film is a must see.
Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire)
Dates and Venue 20 – 27 June 2013, 7pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street
Reviewer Ed Farolan
This 76-minute Italian documentary film directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani is brilliant. Filmed in a documentary style in Rome’s high security Rebibbia prison, the movie chronicles a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar performed by the inmates just a few miles from where the Roman emperor was assassinated.
What's interesting is that these inmates are good actors, and in fact, at the end of the film, when the credits were being flashed, three of the main actors went on to act in film and theatre and even write books. The directors also add an element of humour, especially during the tryouts when the inmates are asked to dramatize a scene by identifying themselves both tearfully and angrily.
Something like this should probably be done in prisons here in Canada so that the inmates won't get too bored doing nothing.
Wrinkles directed by Ignacio Ferreras
Dates and Venue 31 May – 13 June 2013, 8pm | Vancity Theatre, Vancouver
Reviewer Ed Farolan
This film is obviously directed at the baby boomers who have to be prepared to go to retirement homes in a few years. I'm one of them, and this film depressed me a bit, and also prepared me, as well as other seniors, on the inevitability of old age and most possibly, Alzheimers. The fact that it was done in comic-book style releases some tension, but still, the topic of aging could be depressing.
The plot is about two elderly men Emilio, a former bank manager, and Miguel, an Argentinian,.who become friends at a care facility for the aged. The film is based on Paco Roca’s multiple award-winning graphic novel of the same name. The film is also meant for the children who have to bring their parents to these homes as they can no longer care for themselves.
Dates and Venue 24 - 30 May | Vancity Cinema, Vancouver
Reviewer Ed Farolan
This was a 2012 hit documentary, but I don't know why. Italian journalists/filmmakers Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer travel around Italy and Luca tries to convince his gay lover Gustav not to go back to Berlin.
If I were Gustav, I would have moved to Berlin where rents are a third of the price, less unemployment, and less homophobia. But somehow, Luca wins and they both decide to stay on. Why would a young person live in Italy where unemployment is 29%? Or isn't the Italian Mafia mentality where politicians pocketed millions into their pockets by building unfinished construction projects in Sicily a good thing? It's even a tourist attraction! How ridiculous! And look at the Channel 5 programs--women are treated like sex slaves in the dirty-old-man-male-dominated programmes.
Perhaps the documentary is a mockumentary, and that's why it became a hit. It's more like a documentary saying "Don't come to Italy because Berlusconi lives here".
Dates and Venue 17-23 May 2013 | Vancity Cinema
Reviewer Ed Farolan
This trilogy deals with the adage "The poor get poorer and the rich get richer". Bitter Seeds (2011) is a scathing attack against the US company, Monsanto, who sells their bio-engineered cotton seeds to Indian farmers. Peled makes a thorough investigation in his multi-award-winning 88-minute documentary on why Indian farmers commit suicide. He focuses on Manjusha Amberwar, an 18 year- old journalism student whose father was one of the farmers who committed suicide in a farm village in Central India. She interviews her mother and other widows on why this is happening... And it's once again the same ol' story of the big giant corporations exploiting the poor, and in this case, the poor cotton farmers of India, and squeezing them off their livelihood.
Store wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town (2001) focuses on a small town in Virginia that doesn't want Walmart to come in because this will kill the small businesses. But despite the protests, you know that David can't beat Goliath. When it comes to money, it's the mega-stores who'll come out winning because they have the money to buy off anything.
China Blue (2005) investigates the sweatshop labor conditions in the manufacturing of the clothes we all buy. It shows how the concept of communism only stays in the realm of politics in China. Once business and capitalism enter the picture, there are no laws ; it's the big dog and the bully that come out winning. The owner of a denim manufacturer, Mr. Lam, exploits his workers and gets the profits all to himself. He drives a Mercedes while his teenage female workers live in squalid conditions, 12 in a room, and working as long as 17 to 18 hours a day, sometimess 22, with no overtime pay, and a monthly salary of $65 or less. The irony here is that at the end of the film, Lam says that Walmart is his new client, and the other connectionto this trilogy is that the cotton from the impoverished farmers of India are all bought by Chinese manufacturers like Mr. Lam..
Dates and Venue 26 April - 3 May 2013 | Vancity Cinema
Reviewer Ed Farolan
I was impressed by Kiarostami's handling of the camera angles, especially his close-ups, and the facial expressions of the actors Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a beautiful, reserved young student who works as a prostitute on the side, Takeshi (Denden) is her client, an elderly academic who could be her grandfather. and Noriaki ( Ryo Kase), Akiko's verbose, insecure boyfriend, unaware of her double life. The only thing that bothered me was the ending. The trend these days is to end a film at its climax and leave the conclusion to the viewers. Probably the new filmmakers don't like to do that because it becomes too obvious: the police are called in, the hero gets more threats from the villain and so on and so forth. But technically, this is an excellent film and the editing is succinctly sophisticated.
Dates and Venue 26 April - 1 May 2013 | Vancity Cinema
Reviewer Ed Farolan
There have been many documentaries regarding the desaparecidos. I saw one at last year's VIFF about grandmothers looking for their grandchildren who disappeared during the military dictatorship in the 1970s in Argentina. This one is not a documentary but most probably based on a true story because during the final credits, actual photos of the characters represented in the film were shown.
From reading Avila's bio, the film is based on his own experience. His mother was affiliated with the Montoneros, an organization that was fighting against the Military Junta. She was eventually killed by the military. .The actors spent several days with former Montoneros, to understand both the sociopolitical context of the time and the daily life of Montoneros partisans.
This is an excellent and emotional film; the actors played their roles really well. After almost 40 years, the horror of that dictatorship still haunts many Argentinians, just as it does Chileans who were under Pinochet's dictatorship in the 1990s.. Many grandparents are still looking for those infants who disappeared during the 70s.
© 2013 Ed Farolan, Erin Jane & Karen Fitzgibbon