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Victoria Film Festival: Variety offers viewers spice

A scene plays out on the set of Cascadia

Black Press writers give their impressions of some of this year’s crop of films

No Fun City

(B.C., 2010, 85 min.) The documentary takes audiences on a one-of-a-kind tour of Vancouver’s underground punk and metal live-music scene, which is on the brink of folding.

Whether you are a punk fan, metalhead or neither, the passion, loyalty and resolve of those clawing to keep this scene alive for future generations will resonate.

Co-directed by Melissa James and Kate Kroll, the film is a robust behind-the-scenes look at music promoters, developers and musicians who face outraged neighbourhood resident associations, absentee landlords, police, legal and financial nightmares and the impossible labyrinth that is Vancouver’s municipal bureaucracy.

Highlights include hearing from bands Skinny Puppy, DOA and promoter Wendy Thirteen, who manages the Cobalt bar on the Downtown Eastside.

With her trademark teased hair and ever-present cigarette, she is one of the last stalwarts of the ‘fun scene.’ But even the decaying Cobalt and its punk rocker manager are not immune to change. ****

– Erin McCracken

9:30 p.m. Fri. Feb. 4, Odeon Theatre

Kinshasa Symphony

(Germany, 2010, 95 min.) Put your cynicism aside. Yes, it’s another feel-good flick about an underdog symphony that attains moral greatness.

But this documentary’s approach of attentive filming and sharp editing – Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer directed – is a winner.

“They say the Ninth Symphony is an ode to joy,” a choir member says. “For me it is just a nice song.”

That plain approach stands her and other members of this orchestra in good stead. The group of musicians have carved themselves a place of beauty in strife-ridden Congo.

Who knew that Beethoven’s music contains African rhythms? A viola player does and tells other passengers on the rattling bus that takes him to daily rehearsal.

After working a full day, these musicians get together for outdoor practices, bringing their babies, stringing up their own lights and sweating in unison.

It’s all for the joy of a single public performance that both informs and entrances downtrodden Kinshasa citizens. Get out the hankies. ****

– Vivian Moreau

7 p.m. Fri. Feb. 4, Odeon Theatre

4 p.m. Sun. Feb. 13, Capitol 6

Black Hands – Trial of the Arsonist Slave

(Quebec, 2010, 52 min.) Based on archived documents, the true story of a black female slave is brought to life in this film, which combines both narrative- and documentary-style film-making.

In capturing the plight of Marie-Joseph, renamed Angélique by her New France owners, Canada’s own slavery-riddled past plays out for 52 minutes on the big screen with a stinging slap.

Actors, historians and tour guides take viewers on a journey of Angélique’s life as they attempt to piece together the events that unfolded the night of a devastating fire in Montreal in 1734 – and whether Angélique was rightfully convicted.

Director Tetchena Bellange, who also stars in the French-language, English-subtitled film, takes a unique approach. She blends multiple storytelling forms that connect viewers to the life of a fiercely strong woman, and to a time in history that is largely unknown. ***

– Erin McCracken

9:45 p.m. Tues. Feb. 8, Capitol 6

My Brothers

(Ireland, 2010, 90 min.) The story follows three brothers who set out on a road trip to buy an exact copy of their dying father’s treasured wristwatch.

The journey starts out as a charming, quirky lark in their young lives, but becomes a life-changing event by the time they return home in their ‘borrowed’ bread truck two days later.

Prior to setting out, 17-year-old Noel, 11-year-old Paudie and Scwally, 7, were living under the same roof. They become more disconnected from one another as their father’s health deteriorates.

Paul Fraser’s feature directorial debut is full of simple moments which, at times, tug gently and yank hard on the heart strings. The film is brimming with sadness, frustration, sweetness, the silly and the horrific.

The trip becomes less about the watch and more about brothers who discover they needed one another all along. They just needed a bread truck and a cheap watch to realize it. *** 1/2

– Erin McCracken

4 p.m. Sat. Feb. 5, Capitol 6; 9:15 p.m. Thurs. Feb. 10, Capitol 6

Plug & Pray

(Germany, 2009, 91 minutes) This film takes its time exploring advances in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and robotics, as well as our uncomfortable relationship to these emerging technologies.

Director Jens Schanze of Germany scores an impressive list of interviews with international leaders in the field and gets them talking candidly about their aspirations and ethical considerations – or lack thereof.

Footage from the last months of Joseph Weizenbaum’s life helps shape this film. His career spent pushing the envelope of artificial intelligence at MIT gives context to the discussion, while his later misgivings about the technology frame its dilemma. Plug & Pray is philosophical, disturbing and touching. PPP 1/2

– Roszan Holmen

9:45 p.m. Thurs. Feb. 10, Capitol 6

Two Indians Talking

(Canada, 2010, 97 min.) University student Adam (Justin Rain) returns to his Squamish band home the night before a planned road blockade. Is he there out of allegiance or looking for fodder as an aspiring writer?

His childhood buddy Nathan (Nathaniel Arcand) thinks the latter. While waiting for reinforcements to show up, the two pass an afternoon and night together, taunting, teasing and testing each other.

Nathan bugs Adam about not having dreams. “I don’t have dreams,” Adam prissily replies. “I have goals and I know the steps how to get there.”

The two shoot pool, play foosball, raid the fridge, talk about girls and gradually open up to each other before heading to the blockade the next morning. With his beefy good looks, Arcand could have easily played up the testosterone factor but he reins it in, giving an intelligent, yet visceral performance.

“This could be our Thermopylae,” he says. “They all die,” Adam counters. “But they change the world,” Nathan replies. Rain’s performance is subtle but honest. ***

– Vivian Moreau

Director Sara McIntyre is expected to attend the showing, 9:30 p.m. Sat. Feb. 12, Odeon Theatre

You Are Here

(Ontario, 2010, 78 min.) Long silences, awkward scenes and the sense you’re missing the point await the audience.

The profound message of the film – is there any point to knowing anything? – is so deep it’s beyond reach.

A humorous ending comes close to resurrecting an eye-roller of a film, but the basic idea is so beyond comprehension, it leaves the viewer reaching for the stop button, even from the very first scene. *

– Erin Cardone

9:15 p.m. Sun. Feb. 6, Capitol 6; 11:30 a.m. Sun. Feb. 12, Capitol 6


(Victoria, 2010, 70 min.) If moments during this year’s only Victoria-produced feature-length film are more than a little reminiscent of the festival’s host city, there’s good reason.

Writer-director-producer Jim Knox blends the natural features of the region with a fictional, yet all-too-imaginable story of a shady water privatization deal and a crumbling marriage.

No-budget craftiness came into play for Knox, who maximized use of various locales, from local restaurants to Esquimalt’s 2009 Buccaneer Days.

Beyond the novelty of location recognition, Cascadia provides an opportunity to assess the convergence of natural resources and personal gain through solid acting and aesthetically-pleasing scenes.

The film, which premiered at the Blue Planet Environmental Film Festival in Santa Monica, is the Victoria Independent Film Professionals Association’s 2011 selection, set to screen with Down to the Sea on Drugs, part one. *** 1/2

– Natalie North

7 p.m. Sun. Feb. 6, Odeon Theatre (director Jim Knox will attend).

One Big Hapa Family

(B.C., 2010, 85 min.) Japanese-Canadian filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns questions his own racial identity as he delves into his family's past to uncover why 95 per cent of his family has married interracially.

The thorough exploration of his family tree leads him to the site of an internment camp and reveals insightful commentary from those who lived near both sides of the quarantine.

ted) animations – a rather slick element that seems to cover for some unfruitful personal interviews and contributes to a pacing issue. Still, working within the limitations of the self-discovery doc, the B.C. director successfully entertains and educates in a way that's likely to have viewers questioning their own heritage and Canada's melting pot. ***

– Natalie North

5 p.m. Sat. Feb. 5, Odeon Theatre

Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths

(Nunavut, 2010, 70 min.) Mid-20th century, the Inuit's depended-upon sled dogs began disappearing. The reason behind it remains a mystery, as two sides to the story collide.

Emotional interviews, historical video plus photographs and academic analysis take the viewer through a disagreement that's been raging for nearly three decades. The educational value of the film, which focuses on the Inuit assertion that RCMP officers shot their working canine companions, is remarkable. ****

– Erin Cardone

9:45 p.m. Fri. Feb. 4, Capitol 6


(China, 2009, 105 min.) The English-subtitled narrative drama follows Niu Er, a peasant who must care for a large Dutch dairy cow after their village is bombed in 1940 during the second Sino-Japanese war.

Billed as a ‘tragicomic,’ Guan Hu’s 105-minute Mandarin Chinese language film pits together the peasant and cow, two of the unlikeliest of sidekicks in a story based on oral traditions handed down through the generations in China.

Through great adversity, including bandits, starving refugees, and Japanese and Chinese soldiers, Niu Er (which translates as ‘little cow’ in Mandarin) grudgingly assumes responsibility as the cow’s caregiver.

Over time a surprising connection between them develops in the colour and black and white film, made especially poignant in one scene when the cow lays down beside an unconscious Niu Er to shield him as bullets ping into the dirt nearby.

Amidst great strife and even danger, the peasant and cow become one another’s protector and life link. ****

- Erin McCracken

(Screened with the six-minute-long The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger).

12:15 p.m. Sat. Feb. 5, Cineplex Odeon