Reviewer Ed Farolan




Dates and Venue 10 Nov 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

The 7th Serbian Film Festival opened with this film by Srdan Golubovic based on a true story, garnering the World Cinema Special Jury Prize at Sundance and other awards from festivals in Berlin, Wiesbaden, Bari, Sofia and Festroia in 2013.

The plot is about Marco, a Serbian soldier on leave during the war, returings to his Bosnian hometown. When three fellow soldiers accost Haris, a Muslim shopkeeper, Marco intervenes, but it costs him his life. Twelve years later the war is over, but the wounds remain open. Marco’s father is rebuilding a church when Bogdan, the son of one of Marco’s killers, appears looking for work. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Marco's friend Nabobs, a renowned surgeon, debates whether or not to operate on another of Marco’s killers. And in Germany, Haris—now married with a family—strives to repay his debt when Marco’s widow arrives seeking refuge.

Although the film was excellently directed with fine cinematography, the storyline was somewhat blurry. It could possibly because I was following the film through English subtitles, and perhaps the translator missed a few things in the dialogue which got me wondering about the character connections. It was only after I read the synopsis of the film in the Sundance website that everything fell in place.

The festival continues till November 13th with six more films: My Craft, Mamarosh, Kosma, Little Buddho, Yugoslavia and See you in Montevideo, all at Vancity Cinema. For more info, click on Serbian Film Fest.



Khalil Gibran's The Prophet

Dates and Venue 22 & 24 Oct | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

As part of Spark Computer Graphics Society's SPARK ANIMATION 2014, a Film Festival, Conference and Job Fair celebrating animation from around the world, (October 22-26),  Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet opens the festival, co-presented with the Vancity Theatre on October 22.  Largely produced locally by BC based Bardel Entertainment, the filmis a masterpiece created in chapters by a team of world renowned animators including Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), and Bill Plympton (Cheatin').  Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet features the voice talents of Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson and Alfred Molina.  Directors Roger Allers (The Lion King), Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells), and principals at Bardel Animation will be at the festival.

After the press screening last October 14th, principals of Bardel Animation answered questions. I asked why this particular film and we were told that Selma Hayek who produced and acts in this animation as Kamila wanted to do this because it was her grandfather's favourite book. We also got copies of how the animation was done, with what is today the dying art of drawing, which Selma wanted done.

There have been many adaptations including a 1974 musical interpretation featuring Richard Harris. In this film adaptation, the prophet, Almustafa, has lived in the foreign city of Orphalese for 12 years and is about to board a ship which will carry him home. He is stopped by a group of people, with whom he discusses topics such as life and the human condition. The film, however, deviates from the story in that Kamila and her mute daughter become central characters, and the ending showing the fate of the prophet as he sails away is an added apocrypha.

Gibran's book is divided into chapters dealing with love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death, which are all touched upon and beautifully presented by the animators and .the voice talents of Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson and Alfred Molina.




Dates and Venue 13 Aug 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

From the London Royal Opera House at Covent Garden comes this epic opera of Verdi in a poweful staging by Daniele Abbado set in World War II reflecting the persecution of the Jews by Hitler. The sets are surreal, and the stage floor is all sand depicting the deserts of Istrael and Babylon. As the curtain opens, we see the Israelites dressed in black and gray, styled in the 1940s, running from the Babylonians under their king, Nabucco (Placido Domingo). War has broken out between the Babylonians and Israelites, and the Israelites have captured Fenena, younger daughter of Nabucco. In revenge, Nabucco vows to destroy Jerusalem, aided by the vengeful Abigaille (Liudmyla Monastyrska).

Domingo's tenor voice is still magnificent after 42 years and counting, and Ukrainian soprano Monastryska's crystal-clear singing is powerful in her portrayal of Abigaille. Seeing this 170-minute opera as cinema especially when it's filmed with a live audience and with the clarity of digital sensurround and video makes you wonder whether this is the thing of the future. But naturally, there's nothing like being right there in the midst of an opera audience seeing and hearing the performers in the flesh.



Alive Inside

Dates and Venue 8-14 Aug 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

American filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett did a truly hopeful film about Alzheimer’s. Miracles do happen, and in this documentary that won the Audience Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, we see Dan Cohen, founder of the non-profit Music & Memory, as he fights bureaucrats and austerity budgets in order to prove how the gift of an iPod can restore vitality and spiritual well-being to patients suffering from dementia and depression.

In this documentary, the power of music is shown as Cohen brings Louis Armstrong and the Beatles into the lives of people who are almost catatonic and zombie-like in their behaviour. Are people like Cohen angels in disguise sent from heaven to give hope to these poor souls on earth? Or is he just a super-ordinary man, perhaps a saint, with a mission to improve the quality of rest homes in North America? As a postscript, the film has become viral on Facebook and Twitter and shows how it's had more than two million hits. And Cohen is getting more donations now to buy his iPods and continuing on with his mission. This is a must film especially for our aging baby boomers who will in a few years be afflicted by this aging disease.



Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago

Dates and Venue 1 - 23 Aug 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

Miracles happen, and in this documentary that follows various pilgrims, from ages 3 to 73, the biggest miracle of all is the change that happens in their lives as they walk from the French Pyrenees all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain for more than a month, a total of around 800 kilometers.

American filmmaker Lydia Smith interviews these pilgrims asking them why. A French mother, Tatiana, with her three-year old son and younger brother says it's religious, as in the medieval times when pilgrimages were focused on religion. But for others, like Sam from Brazil/UK, it was because she quit her job, broke up with her boyfriend, and had to find meaning in her life. William, a young Canadian, met up with a Danish girl, and a romance bloomed. Another Canadian lost his wife a year ago and was searching for some religious consolation.

The Camino is no easy feat. It's a struggle to fight blisters and aches all over your body. Annie from the United States suffered all throughout but made it despite her physical struggles. Another man from Portugal sporting a Tufts University T-shirt suffered blisters all throughout, but managed to make it all the way.

Right before the screening, one of the pilgrims gave a 20-minute talk about the different sections of the Camino , that you cold do it by sections. He said that he and his wife didn't complete the entire walk, but will go back and complete it. He said that the must-walk is the last section, from Leon to Compostela, around 400k.

The August 4th screening was sold out, and I was surprised to see many raise their hands when asked how many had done the Camino. I guess they were here to remember, to remind them of whatever miracle happened to them during this long trek. I hope to do it someday, and it has to be in the very near future while I can still walk.




Date and Venue 30 July 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

From the Globe Theatre in London, we actually experience live theatre in Shakespeare's Globe on Screen. And even better because we see close-ups of the actors as the camera zooms in on Macbeth (Joseph Millson) as he soliloquizes "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..." or Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) in her famous "Out, out damned spot...". Director Eve Best did her best in putting Globe's thrust stage in good use. The audience in the front row, at least some of them, have their arms practically onstage. Actors sit with the audience, and Macbeth shakes hands with them or sits at the edge of the stage and intimately rapports with them, or talks to other members of the cast who are planted among the audience members.

This is indeed a unique production, because you see not only the actors but the audience reacting to the actors' lines and movements. The sound is also amazing. You can hear every little whisper of the actor, which makes it a better experience than having to sit in the balcony of a theatre trying to make heads or tails from an actor's lines when he doesn't project.

This 2014 live theatre production at London's Globe Theatre is indeed a step up in Vancity's repertoire of films. Heather Kennedy, Communications Director, announced, before the screening, that Globe on Screen will continue with new productions of Shakespeare's plays. The next one is Henry V on August 13th..




Me and You (Io e te)

Dates and Venue 12 - 17 July 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

A stark contrast to his representation of sex in Last Tango in Paris, Bernardo Bertolucci, this master of filmmaking who also did the epic The Last Emperor, and the historical 1900, returns to his native Italy, and does a self-effacing intimate but refreshingly innocent and heartfelt chamber film, an adaptation of Niccolò Ammaniti's young-adult book about Lorenzo a 14-year old teenager whose dream of happiness is hiding out in his apartment building’s abandoned cellar in order to escape his overwrought parents,

I ask myself why he'd do a film about an acneed and quirky 14-year-old boy.. Perhaps the answer is he's mellowed, at 74, and like all aging old folks, want things simple and easy. Gone are those days of triumph and greatness. All you want now is to be at home living your last years in peace. That's what I think. This is his first film in nine years. His last one was The Dreamers in 2003.

A simple film, but when Bertolucci delivers, it still comes out brilliant. I think when you're in your seventies, family is all that matters, and this film is all about family and fraternal love. When Lorenzo gets an unexpected visit from his worldly older half-sister Olivia, everything changes for him. Their time together (one week) in the cellar inspires and prepares him for what adult life is all about.




Dates and Venue 12 - 17 July 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

This is the kind of film that you'll either like a lot, especially if you're awoman because of all the poetic sentimentality involved, or none at all. Well, honestly, I got bored with this film because of its redundancy. Furthermore, I felt this was a stereotype kind of a film of immigrants who can't adjust to the North American way of life, and simply break down. This is typical of many immigrants who come to Canada and the USA.

In this film, Petra Costa, the filmmaker, recalls through home-made movies and recordings, her sister who committed suicide at the age of 20 in New York. Costa was only seven then, and living in New York with their mother. It traces the suicidal tendencies of the mother who said that between 13 and 16 years old, she also contemplated on suicide. After this trauma, Petra herself underwent psychiatric help because she fell through this depression.

In making this film, I got the impression that this Brazilian filmmaker wanted to redeem herself by making this film. She uses the water image at the end of the film to wash away all the happy and sad memories of her sister.


xGore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Dates and Venue 4 - 30 July 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

Gone are the days of public intellectuals. Vidal is one of the last ones in a line of sophisticated intellectuals like Shaw and Wilde. This film by Nicholas Wrathall shows an opinionated, but brilliantly funny and political legend of the Arts and Letters, Gore Vidal (1925-2012) —novelist, essayist, polemicist, politician, pundit, screenwriter—a true Renaissance man. Vidal after the publication of his 1948 novel The City and the Pillar came out openly homosexual.

Using archival footage from Vidal’s on-air career and entertaining interviews—including an exclusive with Vidal as he neared the end of his life, as well as one with the late Christopher Hitchens who claimed to continue on in Vidal's footsteps but died before him, filmmaker Wrathall paints an excellent documentary of this legend of a man . Footage includes Vidal with friends Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward who campaigned for him to be Congressman in the 29th District of New York. Eleanor Roosevelt also campaigned for him in 1960. Despite these high profiles, he still lost.

Other footage includes Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Gorbachev, David Mamet, Jay Parini, Nina Straight, Tim Robbins, William F. Buckley Jr. and many other celebrities. His celebrated satirical novel Myra Brackinridge (1968) was made into film two years later, starring Raquel Welch.

His comment about The United States of Amnesia referred to how Americans have forgotten the mistakes made in the past which keep on repeating themselves. He referred to the wars USA has been involved in for centuries, but at the same time he says that this is part of keeping the American Empire on its feet. At the end of the film when he is asked what his legacy would be, he answered "I don't care".

This is a must see 89 minute documentary and screens till the end of July.


Sagrada - The Mystery of Creation

Dates and Venue 2 & 16 May 2014 | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

This film by Stefan Haupt enlightens us on an unfinished project by Antoni Gaudi who was the architect of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. What is intriguing about this project is it started in 1882 and continues to be built. Despite Gaudi's death in 1926, other architects have taken over and there's still a lot to do. Many have given up, but others continue in their hopes that one day, this huge and enormous cathedral will finally be finished after almost 130 years in construction.

What is interesting about this cathedral is it's a hodgepodge of architectural designs. The stained windows are abstract; the facade of the Passion and Death of Christ is likewise sculpted by an abstract sculptor; the other sculptor, a Japanese, has his own imprint, a more conservative one, in his design of the facade depicting the birth of Christ.

What remains to be done is the Resurrection facade, and the Christ Cross that will attempto reach the sky, almost like the tower of Babel, or the twin towers of New York. It's almost doomed like these last two, with the tower of Babel causing multilingual confusion and the 9/11 twin towers tragedy. But what makes this different is this is God's temple and as one of the interviewees commented, "It's providential."

Gaudi is considered a genius because of the vision he had when he designed this cathedral. His vision was that of nature, and the mountains and forests of Montserrat in Barcelona inspired him to create columns like tree trunks, and leaves, and flowers. This architectural approach to nature is what made Gaudi unique in his design.

When will this project ever end? I'll say "God only knows."


AudenSTAGE TO SCREEN: In Conversation with David Auburn

Dates and Venue 26 April 2014, 3pm | Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

This new event series produced by entertainment journalist/publicist Katherine Brodsky (Random Minds) and Aaron Craven (Actor/Artistic Director, Mitch & Murray Productions) is a newly launched on-going series seeking to bring film and theatre talents to Vancouver to dialogue with and inspire Vancouver's creative community through informative interaction.

The first invited guest was New York-based David Auburn, playwright, director and screenwriter who won the Pultizer Prize and a Tony Award for his play Proof. His films include The Girl in the Park (2007), his directorial debut, which was screened and followed by a Q&A. His other film was Lake House (2006) starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock which he wrote as a screenplay but didn't direct. After a 1.5h dinner break, the audience was treated to a live stage reading of Auburn’s play Proof, featuring some of Vancouver’s top actors.

During the Q & A, I asked him what his preference was: theatre or film. He said he enjoyed doing film more than theatre. I found him quite frank and humorous at times. When someone commented that the film which stars Sigourney Weaver had a feminine touch to it, he quipped that there was nothing feminine about him as he was a black belter in karate and a macho man.

It was interesting to find out more about Sigourney. In this movie, we heard her singing, and Auburn said that she wasn't lip-singing, and that she really knows how to sing. This Alien actress, according to Auburn, is also very meticulous when it comes to acting. I guess the audience got their $47 worth of interacting with this top talent who did give a lot of insights on working in theatre and film.

© 2014 Ed Farolan