Vancouver International Film Festival & Vancouver Film + TV Forum

Dates and Venues 26 September - 11 October 2013 | Various cinemas in downtown Vancouver

Reviewer John Jane

The Project

USA, 2013, 89 min, Directors Shawn Efran & Adam Ciralsky

Showtimes Oct 2 at 6:25pm in SFU Woodwards, Oct 4 at 4:30pm in the Rio, Oct 7 at 12:15pm at The Cinematheque

The screening of The Project is timely, if not topical. It coincides with the release this week of “Captain Phillips,” a film starring Tom Hanks in the title role and inspired by the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates. This documentary-drama from film-makers Shawn Efran and Adam Ciralsky has its start in Cochin, a major port city on the west coast of India. It’s the hometown of Capt. Shankar Dutta the master of the Somali hijacked vessel MV Royal Grace pirates in the Gulf of Oman on March 2 last year while on its way to Nigeria. But most of the action takes place hundreds of miles away in Somalia, a country (if you could call it that) renowned for being “the most comprehensively failed country in the world.”

The design and purpose of “The project” was to set up The Puntland Maritime Police Force as a locally recruited, professional maritime security force. Its primary objective was to enforce Somalia's first (and at this point the only) Anti-Piracy Law. Besides real–life action, this enthralling documentary comprises of interviews with some of the most colourful characters that ever put on a pair of military boots. Participants include South African mercenaries: Thinus Van Staden, Colonel Roelf van Heerden, and Lafras Luitingh, former officer in South Africa's Civil Cooperation Bureau.

Nine Muses of Star Empire

South Korea, 2013, 82 min, Director Lee Harkjoon

Showtimes Sept 30 at 9pm in Vancity, Oct 1 at 4pm in the International Village 8, Oct 9 at 9:15pm at The Cinematheque

As evidenced by Park Jae-sang, who is much better known as Psy, and his signature “Gangnam Style,” South Korea is, at least in terms of pop culture, closer to North America than either China or Japan. But there is more to K-Pop than that which Psy offers. The subjects of Lee Harkjoon “warts and all” documentary even have an English name. 9 Muses are an all-girl group supported by the Star Empire Entertainment star-making machine.

When the girls selection is based on the length of their legs and not their voices or dance ability (one girl admitted to being tone deaf) you have a pretty good idea that the road to stardom will be a struggle. The film shows just how the training regime takes its toll on the girls, with a few of them finding the discipline hard to accept (of the original nine, only two are still with the group).

PR director Nam Jiyeon and CEO Joo-Hak Shin give little encouragement, preferring to focus on what is going wrong instead of the positive aspects of the group’s performance.

Salmon Confidential

Canada, 2013, 69 min, Director Twyla Roscovich

Showtimes Oct 2 at 6pm & Oct 4 at 3:40pm in the International Village 9

American-born biologist Alexandra Morton and head of molecular genetics at the DFO, Dr. Kristi Miller seem to be the film’s heroes, risking their reputations to bring about the truth regarding depleted sockeye salmon collapse in British Columbia. Twyla Roscovich’s (perhaps justifiably) alarmist documentary follows Morton as she attempts to prove the presence of ISA (infectious salmon anemia) and piscine reovirus in open run salmon stocks.

Despite what appears to be overwhelming evidence supporting Morton and Miller’s findings, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield came out proposing the official government response with an in unequivocal denial that there was no ISA in BC salmon. In the subsequent Cohen Commission hearings, Kim Klotins, at the time the acting National Manager for Disease Control Contingency Planning let slip a possible reason for the government cover-up, that if Salmon farm stocks were found to be diseased, it would ruin the industry’s trade with the US and China.

Is Twyla Roscovich’s documentary scare-mongering or a call for reason? Take your pick!

Le Weekend

UK, 2013, 93 min, Director Roger Michell

Showtimes Oct 4 at 9:30pm in Centre for Performing Arts, Oct 6 at 3:45pm in the Vancouver Playhouse

Meg and Nick Burrows (Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent) decide to return to Paris for their wedding anniversary where they honeymooned some thirty years earlier. They even chose to stay at the same hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel, like Meg and Nick’s marriage is showing signs of wear. So this isn’t your regular romantic-comedy. The couple, who are in Paris to revive their relationship, don’t even seem to like each other.

The city of lights has a way of bringing out the best and the worst of English tourists and it’s not long before Meg is thinking of divorce rather than trying to re-ignite her current marriage. Nick, on the other hand, still loves his wife, but when they run into Nick’s obscenely successful former colleague (Jeff Goldblum), things quickly come unglued. Roger Michell's film gets much of its comedy from Broadbent's satirical performance of a man lost in Paris and in his marriage.

There is probably no role that Jim Broadbent can’t play and together with Lindsay Duncan, the idiosyncratic actor shows that love can be painful and passionate and trite as well as tender. Goldblum turns in his typical off-the-wall performance.

The Future (Il futuro)

Chile/Italy/Spain/Germany, 2013, 95 min, Director Alicia Scherson

Showtimes Sept 26 at 2.30pm in Cinematheque, Oct 6 at 6:45pm & Oct 10 at 11am in SFU Woodwards

With as many as four countries participating in its production, Chilean filmmaker Alicia Scherson’s mildly erotic coming-of-age film can truly be considered international. Thirty-year-old Chilean actor Manuela Martelli takes on the protagonist role of 19-year-old Bianca who has to grow up fast when she and her less mature younger brother Tomas find themselves in Rome and alone following a fatal car crash involving both their parents.

North American film-goers might be gratified to see veteran Dutch actor Rutger Hauer in a starring role. Hauer, now seventy, plays a blind former Mr. Universe and B-list actor who becomes intrigued with Bianca and her with him. One might expect the carnal scenes between Hauer and his much younger co-star to be offensive – but due to excellent camera work, they’re not.

Despite a consummate performance by the “Blade Runner” Scherson’s film hardly gets a firm grasp on what it attempts to be – a psychological melodrama.

Lawrence & Holloman

Canada, 2013, 88 min, Director Matthew Kowalchuk

Showtimes Oct 1 at 6:45pm in the Rio, Oct 9 at 3:45pm in SFU Woodwards

Lawrence and Holloman are Morris Panych’s inglorious odd couple. A pair of losers, but only one of them actually knows it. Lawrence (his given name) is a naive optimist who sees his half-filled glass overflowing. Holloman (his family name) is a cynical pessimist who sees a dark lining behind every silver cloud.

Holloman is completely bewildered by Lawrence’s misplaced high self esteem, which is juxtaposed to his own lack of purpose and personal identity. Holloman is the quintessential “nowhere man” – even “invisible” to his own mother. Motivated initially by curiosity, then by sheer enmity he sets about to determine if his “friend’s” alacrity can be sustained in the face of extreme adversity. The premise works because the personalities of principle characters are so diametrically opposite. This film adaptation of Panych’s original two-handed play is over explicit, even transcending into cartoon mode.

Matthew Kowalchuk has set the film in downtown Vancouver; it closely follows Panych’s penchant for drawing on characters on the fringes of society.


Hong Kong, 2013, 95 min, Director Flora Lau

Showtimes Sept 27 at 6.25pm in International Village 9, Sept 29 at 3:30pm in Centre for Performing Arts

Flora Lau’s first attempt at commercial filmmaking is good and not-so-good. The cinematography is certainly breathtaking, but the storytelling falls below what discerning audiences should expect. I found myself filling in plot holes myself as well as having to make assumptions on how characters fit into the confusing screenplay.

Protagonist Anna Li is a fashion conscience trophy wife – a shoe-in for a “real housewife of Hong Kong" (if there were such a TV show). Her husband, the mysterious Mr. Li has absconded. He is never seen onscreen, nor is his disappearance ever explained. Carina Lau gives a measured performance as the mercurial Mrs.Li who tries to maintain grace and composure while her world is crumbling.

Her chauffer Fai’s situation is even more desperate. His wife is expecting their second child and he can’t afford the fine China’s government imposes, nor can he afford to get her into a Hong Kong maternity clinic. The action switches between Fai’s Shenzhen housing block and the Li’s upscale Hong Kong condo building, while the pair’s problems are deliberately paralleled.

This film is not likely to create the “must-see” caché of others in the Film Festival.

Dormant Beauty (Bella Addormentata)

Italy/France, 2012, 115 min, Director Marco Bellocchio

Showtimes Sept 28 at 10am in Vancity, Oct 7 at 9pm in the Playhouse, Oct 10 at 3.15pm in the Playhouse

In February 2009 a court battle in Italy between supporters and opponents of euthanasia ensued over whether Eluana Englaro, who had entered a persistent vegetative state some 17 years earlier, should be taken off mechanical life support and allowed to die. Marco Bellocchio’s complex and intelligent film picks up on this real event that divided Italians across religious and political lines.

What the film lacks in formal narrative it partly makes up for in strong characterization. While the narrative is fiction, the film plays like a docu-drama focusing on three unconnected women who may be closing in on the end of their lives: two are in a state of comatose and the third, a suicidal addict, heavily sedated. But it’s a mother (Isabelle Huppert), a husband (Toni Servillo) and a doctor (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, the director’s son) who wait, hope and in some cases even pray, that take up most of the screen time. Amid the chaos, two young demonstrators, Maria and Roberto find love across opposite sides of police lines.

Oil Sands Karaoke

Canada, 2013, 82 mins, Director Charles Wilkinson

Showtimes Oct 4 at 7pm in the Cineplex Odeon International Village, Oct 6 at 7.30pm in Vancity Theatre, Oct 11 at 1.30pm in SFU

The most boring Summer I ever spent was a five month stint at Syncrude’s Upgrader Expansion project 30 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. Fort Mac is an expensive place to live and doesn’t offer much by way of social life. Suncor and Syncrude jointly employ about 20,000 people. These mostly hard-working, hard-living folks put in 12-hour days plus overtime.

Charles Wilkinson’s Knowledge Network funded documentary focuses on five oil patch workers who have found a common diversion at a local watering hole. The film allows members of the group to discuss what brought them to work in one of the most controversial places on Earth, the dreams they have temporarily abandoned and their conflicts.

Brandy Willier, a young Aboriginal woman, by day operates a Euclid heavy haul truck (considered to be the largest truck in the world) and by night takes a turn at Baily’s Pub karaoke bar in downtown Fort Mac. Like many others she is conflicted between the work which pays so well and her ecological philosophy entrenched in her heritage.

Fanie Fourie’s Lobola

South Africa, 2013, 96 mins, Director Henk Pretorius

English and Afrikaans with English subtitles

Showtimes Sep 27 9:15pm at The Cinematheque; Oct 2 4pm & Oct 9 9:15pm at Centre for Performing Arts

Henk Pretorius’s quirky comedy looks at star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the colour line in South Africa’s supposedly new socio-political landscape. Eduan van Jaarsveldt is Fanie Fourie, a socially challenged Afrikaaner and Zethu Dlomo is Dinky Magubane, an attractive, well educated Zulu girl.

Despite a willingness to move forward, both are constrained by the past, Fanie by his white family heritage and Dinky by tribal traditions. Fanie Fourie’s Lobola lunges headlong into issues that are still beyond the pale in a country that is desperately trying to be progressive in leaving behind its recent history of racial discrimination.

The film offers a compelling soundtrack that is difficult to ignore.

The Italian Character: The Story of a Great Italian Orchestra

Italy, Germany, 2013, 100 mins, Director Angelo Bozzolini

English, Russian and Italian with English subtitles

Showtimes Oct 4 6:30pm at the Centre for Performing Arts; Oct 6 1:30pm at SFU Woodwards

Nobody creates music like the Italians. This has been a justifiable boast by Italian people for – well, forever. Angelo Bozzolini’s film that centres on the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and its current musical director Sir Antonio Pappano might be the best musical documentaries you will ever see. The film features engaging interviews with members of the orchestra, solo artists and past conductors. How does an Italian musician get a British knighthood? Well, Maestro Pappano was born in London and has been recognised for his work as music director of the Royal Opera House. He even speaks English with a British accent.

Despite the title the film is not blatantly self-congratulatory. Music from Rachmaninov, Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov as well as Italy’s own composers are is featured.

© 2013 John Jane