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VIFF 2009: An Out-of-The Blue Documentary Day


With just three days to the end of the 28th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, Mr. Know-It-All and 'Showbiz' Shayne are hard at it, catching as many of the remaining VIFF films as is humanly possible. Your dynamic duo managed to screen five great VIFF documentaries over the course of a very long Tuesday, and have plans to see many, many more of the well-received VIFF fiction films before the Festival wraps late Friday evening.

The first non-fiction film on tap on a chilly, overcast Tuesday morning ...

VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM CENTRE Vancouver International Film Centre, Seymour north of Davie Street

The Inheritors (Grade: A-): The 'story' of child labour — focusing on the child labourers themselves — situated in every region of Mexico, and the particularly hardscrabble life these very young children lead, Eugenio Polgovsky's The Inheritors explores young lives defined by hard work and integrity of purpose. The film's almost wordless narrative focuses on the three-to-seven year old children as they harvest beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and any number of other vegetable and fruit crops, as they carry a third of their weight in overladen 6 - 8 kilogram pails to the produce transport truck. In addition, we see the children producing and laying earthen bricks, cutting sugar cane, ox-plowing fields and planting by hand. Made for only $35,000, The Inheritors is, throughout, magical and involving, hopeful and, in its own way, transporting. Most assuredly, The Inheritors is one of VanRamblings favourite VIFF films in 2009.

Next, VanRamblings sauntered up to Pacific Cinémathèque to see ...

Crude (Grade: B): Part of the VIFF's 'Way of Nature' environmental series, producer-director Joe Berlinger is better known for award-winning non-fiction dramas like Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, but this time around Berlinger has chosen to go the 'issue-oriented' route, with varying degrees of success. Overall the film does possess its gripping moments — when Berlinger, or a member of his crew, interview a family member whose life has been devastated by Chevron's mistreatment of the natural environment — but too often the film's approach is desultory, as it records the struggle of the Ecuadorean people to have the catastrophically impacted jungles of the Amazon remediated. Focusing on Ecuadorian activist lawyer Pablo Fajardo's David and Goliath court battle with multi-national oil conglomerate Chevron, Crude relays its message through 'talking heads', giving the narrative an adverse static feel. As praiseworthy as Berlinger's non-fiction telling of this little known story may be, he does not entirely succeed in his laudable mission.

Following a quick break for lunch at Starbucks, VanRamblings was off to see ...

American Casino (Grade: A): Positing that the predatory home mortgage lenders, and Wall Street, targeted inner-city African American neighbourhoods, and individuals who were in no position to pay a mortgage, even at a sub-prime rate, producer-director Leslie Cockburn's tremendous Tribeca Film Festival award-winning documentary involves from beginning to end, as it examines the subprime mortgage meltdown and its devastating impact, most particularly, on poor African-Americans across the U.S., all the way through to the equally devastating impact the financial crisis has had on wealthy Californians with swimming pools, whose previously secure lives have now been all but destroyed.

VanRamblings carried on with our VIFF duties by lining up for, and seeing ...

Sweetgrass (Grade: B+): Beautiful and evocative, with humour and grace documentary filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor (who addressed the audience before the 7 p.m. screening at the VanCity Theatre, and took questions afterward), and partner / co-director Ilisa Barbash, offer an extraordinary piece of visual anthropology as they track the last sheep drive, in 2003, up Montana's vertiginous Beartooth Mountains to summer pasture. Unhurried and unadorned, and empathetic to the weather-worn cowboys on the trail who, while on the trail, live in teepees made of branches and canvas, cook from stoves that have been used for generations, and ride on worn saddles across Montana's gorgeous blue sky country, there's both a zen peacefulness, and a reassuring 'old western' feel, to Sweetgrass that impresses mightily, and at every moment.

And for our final VIFF film on a rainy, overcast Festival Tuesday, Day 13 ...

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector (Grade: A-): British director Vikram Jayanti captures Mr. Wall-of-Sound himself, the ever weird — but phenomenally talented, if broken — Phil Spector, responsible for a groundbreaking set of 1960s hits, ranging from The Ronettes' Be My Baby to Ike & Tina Turner's River Deep - Mountain High, not to mention his role as producer of the Beatles' last album, Let It Be, in a series of candid, revealing interviews, recorded in 2007 during his first trial for the murder of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson. As cultural anthropology, Jayanti's film can't be beat. Offering a fascinating insight into a brilliant, if troubled mind, The Agony was fun to watch (no mean feat), if a bit disturbing at times.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 14, 2009 3:04 AM in VIFF 2009


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