The Vancouver International Film Festival

Dates 27 September - 12 October 2007 Venue Vancity & Empire Theatres Reviewer Susan Peake

A Film by John Helde

Dates and Venues Friday, 28 Sept 1:30pm Pacific Cinematheque | Wednesday, 3 Oct 6:00pm Empire Granville 7-5

Made in China, a documentary by John Helde, is a touching account of the director’s search to get to know his father. A Caucasian American, his father was born and spent the first 15 years of his life in pre-Communist China, yet his son knew nothing of this part of his life. Hoping to get closer to his father, John sets out to gather information by interviewing him as well as his American childhood friends who shared the same unique experience of spending the early part of their lives as “foreign devils” in China.

Helde takes us back, by way of vintage footage and photographs, to the 1920’s and pieces together the world that his father had left behind. Interspersed with these old snapshots of days gone by are candid video clips of the now elderly “China” American friends who reminisce about their childhood days in China and their experience transitioning to America. These vignettes are charming and delightfully entertaining.

Helde’s documentary is fascinating in several ways – as a lesson in father/son relationships; as an exploration into how to define “home”; and as a unique opportunity to see footage of mainland China then and now. If you are one of many who have China on your radar, this film will surely enhance your desire to know more.

A Film by Kari Skogland

Dates and Venues Friday, Sep 28th 7:00pm Visa Screening Room @ Empire Granville 7-7 | Saturday, 29 Sept 1:00pm Visa Screening Room @ Empire Granville 7-7 | Tuesday, 9 Oct 7:15pm Empire Granville 7-6

Margaret Lawrence’s unsettling novel, The Stone Angel, is brought accurately to life with the film adaptation by Kari Skogland, a Canadian Director extraordinaire! The cast were all superb and it is no surprise that Ellen Burstyn delivered a flawless performance as Hagar, the tired, cranky old Manitoban woman who looks back at her life and her foibles along her journey into old age.

Christine Horne plays a young Hagar and if this performance is any indication, we should be hearing and seeing more of this young lady in the future. Cole Hauser, Dylan Baker, an Kevin Zegers also deliver solid supporting roles.

For those who have read the book, you know that there is no happy ending to the story. And we soon connect the symbolism of The Stone Angel to the stone heart of the young Hagar as she reveals herself as a critical and unrelenting wife and mother. We see a woman who has lived a life that is utterly devoid of joy and warmth and love. Her treatment of her elder son is particularly cold, and when she gives him a family heirloom on her deathbed we feel his pain as he breaks down into tears.

Although Hagar does not find redemption - she leaves the world with the same stone heart, but perhaps more like sandstone than granite.

Kudos to all who were part of the cast and crew of this brilliantly adapted story.

A Film by Jiang Wen

Dates and Venues Thursday, 27 Sept 9:45pm Visa Screening Room @ Empire Granville Th7 |
Friday, 28 Sept 4:00pm Visa Screening Room @ Empire Granville Th7

Not to be confused with Hemingway’s classic novel of the same name, this epic movie by Jiang Wen is largely set in southwestern China. The wide screen does justice to the stunning landscape of this rural region and we are treated with spectacular scenes of rich rice patties, majestic mountains as well as lush greenery.

This fast-paced and humorous tale begins with the comic antics of a teenage boy played by Jaycee Chan (Jackie’s son) and his mentally unstable mother (Zhou Yun). The son is constantly rescuing his mother from one self-imposed catastrophe after another, but despite his efforts, he is unsuccessful at keeping her safe. The story then takes us back 20 years earlier to a different place in China and introduces us to a host of new characters that don’t seem to have any connection to those at the beginning of the film. One of those characters is Liang (played by Anthony Wong), a teacher accused of sexual misconduct, and Wong’s facial expressions and body language are so well done it is no wonder that he has gained the well deserved reputation as one of Hong Kong’s finest character actors.

We later jump ahead again to our original setting and it is difficult to piece the storyline together in any sort of logical way.

This film’s strengths lie in it’s brilliant cinematography and energetic pace. As well, there is no threat of Jiang Wen losing his reputation for originality and creativity. However, I and those sitting around me in the theatre would prefer a little more transparency in the storyline, so we don’t feel quite so lost by the time the curtain closes.

A Film by Kirill Mikhanovsky

Dates and Venues Saturday, 29 Sept 11:00am Empire Granville -4 | Thursday, 4 Oct 7:15pm Empire Granville 7-6 | Thursday, 11 Oct 10:00am Visa Screening Room @ Empire Granville 7-7

Shot in an impoverished fishing village in northern Brazil, this film takes us into the tragic life of a 17 year old boy (Jusce, played by José Maria Alves,), orphaned too early, and determined to find a way out of his meager socioeconomic confines. Smitten by an unworthy local girl (Ana) who spends most of her time playing with his emotions, Jusce will not give up his desperate and misguided efforts to garner Ana’s love. As Ana tortures him by cozying up to a ‘cool’ local dune-buggy driver, Jusce quietly bides his time and eventually finds a way to Ana’s heart He buys her the biggest screened TV he can find so that she can watch her beloved soap opera every evening. To bankroll this purchase, he must dive nearly 100 feet below the choppy ocean surface to illegally catch stingrays and lobsters—a perilous profession that claimed the life of his father and soon claims that of his fellow fishing mate.

Russian born Mikhanovsky’s background in documentaries is evident in his true-to-life storytelling. He reaps remarkably believable performances from a nonprofessional, yet engaging cast. Especially entertaining is Ana’s mother, an expletive-barking no-nonsense character who wastes no time speaking her mind.

A beautifully crafted film that leaves you with a clear picture of the harsh realities of life in a Brazilian fishing village. Our hearts ache for Jusce, who has all good intentions, but loses his way when pushed to limits he cannot bear.

4 ELEMENTS (2007)
A Film by Jiska Rickels

Dates and Venues Saturday, 6 Oct 12:30pm Empire Granville 7-2 | Sunday, 7 Oct 8:45pm Empire Granville 7-5 | Friday, 12 Oct 4:30pm Pacific Cinematheque

Directed by Jiska Rickels, this film brings together man and nature in a visually pragmatic way. Four chapters are presented and each deals with a line of work where man labours against one of the four primal elements - fire, water, earth and air - bringing these encounters graphically to our senses.

The first takes us to Siberia, where smokejumpers risk life and limb to control fires that threaten forests and wildlife. The harsh reality of their world is daunting as we witness the dangers of their day to day routines. We are then taken to the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska, where we “live” the life of the crab fishermen as they work tirelessly while coping with ice cold winds that assault their fishing vessels. Next, we are off to Germany and are taken down into the depths of the coal mines as we shadow two miners. We can almost touch and taste the coal dust that covers every inch of these rugged, hard-working souls as they put in a typical day on the job. And finally, we go to Russia and Kazatstan to follow the training of two cosmonauts as they prepare for their eventual launch into outer space.

Rickels captures the arduous relationship between man and these four powerful elements and we witness the true-to-life challenges that these workers face. A well crafted documentary that allows the audience to share these challenges alongside those who do so for a living.

A Film by Bari Pearlman

Dates and Venues Saturday, 29 Sept 10:30am Empire Granville 7-5 | Thursday, 4 Oct 6:00pm Empire Granville 7-5 | Saturday, 6 Oct 3:30pm Empire Granville 7-2

Say the word "Tibet" and you will surely start a passionate discussion that will more than likely include opinions about the way that the Chinese infiltrated that part of the world. Pearlman’s documentary opens with stats on the number of Tibetans killed by the Chinese between 1957 and 1972 as well as the widespread destruction of Buddhist monasteries, reminding us of the hardships these people have endured in the last 50 years.. Since the ’70s the Chinese government has taken a less aggressive approach in their handling of Tibet and thus Buddhist monasteries are now permitted.

The focus of this documentary is on the Kala Rongo Monastery which is unique in that it is solely for Buddhist nuns. A monastic life has traditionally been a privilege reserved for men only, so Kala Rongo could be considered an example of ‘progress’ for Tibetan women. Established in 1990, the monastery has become a unique educational centre for women, offering them opportunities never previously available to them. Due to extreme poverty, Tibetans have few options. Most live off the land with their families as Yak herders and make butter and yogurt and sell them along with milk in order to survive. So the women who have chosen to give up the herder life and join the monastery, all do so in order to follow the teachings of Buddhism and at the same time live a less arduous life than they would otherwise do if they stayed with their families

.© 2007 Susan Peake