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September 30, 2017

VIFF 2017: Efficiency, Heart, Humanity, and Social Progress

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival first day impressions

September 29, 2017 — the first full day of the incredibly wonderful and oh-so-moving 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival — proved to be a delight and a joy, not just because the films we screened were exquisite and humane, powerful and life-changing, but because ...

  • The opening day, a VIFF-patron-friendly and peerlessly humane level of VIFF venue logistical organization was brought to the fore that was so respectful of VIFF filmgoers VanRamblings was both astounded and overjoyed (generally, there's a great deal of kvetching from patrons in the early days of the Festival — not this year, for the very first time!).

    The commitment made by Cineplex International Village venue manager (which means he's the head honcho), Peter Quin-Conroy — who this past three years has brought his management team (and volunteers) together to create and ensure a welcoming, efficient (read: absolutely hassle-free), near joyous and respectful of VIFF patron's often fragile and difficult-to-articulate sensibilities VIFF filmgoing venue experience.

    Peter is once again this year more-than-ably assisted in his quest for VIFF venue transcendence, by his simply exquisite floor managers (they're the ones who organize the lineups and allow ingress to the cinema, among other gargantuan and hard-to-imagine how they manage to perform their tasks of immense derring-do), the always no-nonsense (with a great sense of humour, and a ready, wry smile) Elizabeth Glancy, and new this year, Keely Langford (who quite simply just knocked our socks off — wow, wow, wow!). Please thank them when you see them.

    And, then there's the too-wonderful-to-describe-in-words Centre for the Performing Arts venue manager Kaen Seguin (with able and humane assistance provided by the peerlessly efficient Jennifer [Jenny] Tennant). From the day that The Centre became a VIFF venue, we have never experienced a more efficient and welcoming ingress of VIFF patrons.

    And let's not forget, VanRamblings' favourite year-round, and full-time during VIFF, Vancity Theatre venue manager, Jonathan Stonehouse — who requires and much deserves a second-in-this-post wow, wow, wow!

    VanRamblings, on behalf of VIFF patrons everywhere, offers our undying appreciation to Festival Exhibitions Manager Sean Wilson (yep, VIFF's numero uno when it comes to overall venue management), more than ably assisted by our newest Facebook friend, the always exquisite (hey, there's just no other word to describe) Lora Haber, not to mention, VIFF's Volunteer Engagement Manager, Brie Koniczek, who had more than a little to do with creating VIFF venue nirvana in 2017.

  • VanRamblings heard an immense amount of 'the sky is falling' kvetching from VIFF volunteers (new policy respecting VIFF volunteers in 2017) prior to the start of the Festival. Not so since the Festival has gotten underway — the attitude of volunteers, thus far, sanguine and accepting, accompanied by a realistically-minded 'wait-and-see' attitude.

  • Prior to the Festival, VanRamblings heard rumours that VIFF's Director of International Programming was unhappy and ready to resign, post Festival. "Raymond, I don't know where you hear these things. I am happy, and intend to be a part of the Festival for many years to come." Alan has never mislead VanRamblings, ever — we take Alan at his word, and breathe (along with all loyal VIFF patrons) a sigh of relief.

  • Ran into one of our very favourite people in the world, and a woman with whom we marched last Saturday in Vancouver City Council candidate Jean Swanson's March and Rally to Implement a Mansion Tax, DOXA programmer and this year a projectionist at Cineplex International Village, the socially progressive, heart-filled, community activist VIFF leader of the future, the inimitable Selina Crammond, who gently cajoled, "Raymond. Of course, you're going to vote for Jean Swanson. How could you, as a person of conscience, support anyone other than Jean?" Vancouver City Council / Vancouver School Board by-election voting day, Saturday, October 14th, the day after VIFF 2017 comes to a close.

VIFF could not be a more rewarding experience than is the case in 2017.

Otherwise, VanRamblings was a bother to CBC On the Coast host, Stephen Quinn (whose ironic sensibility came to the fore), not to mention what a bother we were to Alan Franey and Tom Charity (at least we're not quite as overly euthymic this year, as has proved to be the case in year's past — still, VIFF staff have almost always found a way to put up with us).

VIFF 2017 smash hit, Petra Volpe's The Divine Order

Okay, okay, okay — you want to hear about the films!

Thelma, (Grade: B+): A work of some genius by master Norwegian director Joachim Trier, Thelma offers an unsettling, often oblique, yet always thought-provoking foray into Stephen King-style horror tropism, accented with Hitchcockian verve (think: The Birds), and tempered with the dark dynamics of family as seen through the lens of Ingmar Bergman. Gorgeously shot and realized, all of the performances accessible and heart-felt, Thelma never quite transcends the horror genre to become something more than what you see on the screen. Fascinating, yet ultimately disappointing, Thelma does manage to achieve what all great films strive for: a lasting impression in your mind and in your memory.

The Divine Order, (Grade: A-): VanRamblings' favourite film, thus far, at VIFF 2017, writer-director Petra Volpe's inspiring, often funny time capsule of a film offers a gentle, humane slice-of-real-life insight into the woebegotten plight of Swiss women prior to 1971, much of the film's compelling narrative leading up to a 1971 referendum (in which only men could vote) that asked the question, "Should women be accorded the right to vote?" Surprisingly, and hearteningly, that answer proved to be "yes". With infectious heart and a panoply of lived-in performances by an exquisite cast, by movie's end The Divine Order emerges as so very much more than a feel-good cine-history lesson on the women's suffrage movement in Switzerland, and much more an embrace of hope and an acknowledgement that history is a dynamic, and despite the imprecations of the Donald Trumps of the world, history and social conditions move inexorably forward towards the realization of social justice for all, for each and every one of us in every far flung corner of our globe.

On VanRamblings VIFF film-going schedule for Saturday: the vital immigrant drama from Aki Kaurismäki, The Other Side of Hope, which we wrote about on VanRamblings earlier in the week; the David House-recommended, Swallows and Amazon (hello! who doesn't just love Kelly Macdonald, in every film and on every television show in which she's had a role); and, on a 'slow' filmgoing day for VanRamblings, Okja, the latest film from Korean auteur Bong Joonho, who will be present to engage at tonight's screening for what is sure to be a rewarding and enlightening conversation with this always provocative filmmaker.

Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:15 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2017

September 29, 2017

VIFF 2017: Vancouver's Illustrious Film Festival Off to a Fine Start

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival's SFU Goldcorp Theatre audience

Thursday evening late, the first (somewhat truncated) day of the 36th annual Vancouver International Film Festival ended, VIFF officially having gotten underway, the lineups of patrons awash with good feeling ("What a lineup - so many strong films this year"), and audiences once seated at The Rio, SFU's Goldcorp Theatre or The Centre for the Performing Arts (the three opening night venues, with four more venues being added today) wildly enthusiastic, with welcoming hugs all around, and an appreciation that our little festival by the sea has once again returned to our shores to open a humane window on our often troubled, yet still hope-filled, world.

VIFF 2015 venue, The Centre for the Performing ArtsThe Centre, VIFF's Opening Gala venue for Mina Shum's new film, Meditation Park

VanRamblings was simply swept away by a VIFF opening night film, the Canadian première of Alexandra Dean's exceptionally fine Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, a film which employs extensive research on Lamarr's life conducted by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes, published in his book Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, the documentary also relying on first-person accounts from stars who knew Lamarr in her day, including a poignant yet humorous account by comedian Mel Brooks.

VanRamblings asked the permission of VIFF (and VanCity Theatre) programmer, Tom Charity, to publish his list of VIFF 2017 favourites ...

"From Germany (and Bulgaria), Western, an observant film about men, without question one of the best films from Cannes this year, Valeska Grisebach's third feature the long-awaited follow up to VIFF 2016 favourite, Longing. A Season in France (which screens tonight at The Rio, at 8:45pm), the latest film from Chad's acclaimed auteur Mahamat Saleh Haroun, moving and deeply empathetic, the film's compelling narrative presented from the too often ignored migrant point of view. Then there's B.C.'s Never Steady, Never Still (Kathleen Hepburn), one of the strongest Canadian début features I have seen in years, the work of a natural filmmaker. Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name manages to make the first love / coming of age story feel like it's never been done before."

So, there you go, a panoply of can't miss VIFF 2017 films from Vancity Theatre programmer, Tom Charity. I mean, don't you just love the films Tom programmes year-round at Vancouver's most welcoming cinema.

Meanwhile, VanRamblings' very own Mathew Englander — who this year, as he does annually, attended Toronto's film festival, where he screened 29 films — is over-the-moon enthusiastic about Michael Haneke's new film, Happy End, his very favourite at TIFF 2017, about which he has written, "Happy End is my favourite movie of 2017 so far. Haneke's new film is being compared to Amour because it has some of the same cast, but it kept reminding me of Benny's Video, only updated for the social media era."

Mathew also highly recommends two more films screening at VIFF 2017:

  • Directions (dir. Stephan Komandarev). Six taxi rides in Sofia, each shot in a single take. Komandarev's previous film, The Judgement, emerged as one of my VIFF 2014 favourites, but whereas that film had wide-open precarious mountain settings, Directions has an urban modern-noir look. The two films do, though, share a sophisticated sense of irony.

  • Sami Blood (dir. Amanda Kernell). This is a compelling début feature about a 13-year-old Swedish, indigenous Laplander, Sami (Lene Cecilia Sparrok), an under-the-radar film that met with an enthusiastic reception at TIFF 2017, and should be considered a must-see at VIFF.

VanRamblings' David House has screened writer / director / star Yilmaz Erdogan's Sour Apples saying, "Raymond, you are going to love this film from Turkey, not only a visual feast of colours, costumes, light and locations — not to mention, Turkey's entry for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film — but because, well, I mean ... just look ...

Yilmaz Erdogan's new film, Sour Apples, sure to be a hit at VIFF 2017

star.jpg star.jpg star.jpg

VanRamblings also recommends you keep an eye out for the new film from Agnès Varda (who directed VanRamblings favourite film of all time, Vagabond, starring the exquisite Sandrine Bonnaire, for which she won the Best Actress César) — Faces Places, part of the Spotlight on France series, and a featured film at this year's prestigious 55th annual New York Film Festival, which kicked off yesterday and runs through Sunday, Oct. 15th.

Today, VanRamblings will catch the 1pm screening of Joachim Trier's Thelma, at Cineplex International Village (which we also refer to as "Tinseltown", which it used to be and is a much better name), in Cinema 9, followed by a break for a late lunch before catching Petra Volpe's The Divine Order, at Tinseltown, Cinema 10 at 4:30pm, after which we intend to wander around town aimlessly bothering people on the street before lining up at The Centre for the 9pm screening of Ruben Östlund's Palme d'Or winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival, The Square. Oh yes, VanRamblings has already written about these three films on our blog.

Now, Andrew Poon — VIFF's Gateway / Dragons & Tigers media co-ordinator (we visited the whole VIFF publicity team yesterday, at the Sutton Place Hotel, and what a fine group of folks they are) — will have our head if we don't write about the 65+ films from Asia that will screen at VIFF this year. So, we'll set about to do that very soon. In the meantime ...

Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 4:44 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2017

September 25, 2017

VIFF 2017: A Potpurri of Films That Oughta Be on Your Radar

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, A Potpurri of Films to Consider

VanRamblings preview coverage is getting down to the crunch, given that the 36th annual Vancouver International Film Festival will nominally get underway this upcoming Thursday, and kick off in its full glory on Friday, September 29th. So many fine films to preview for readers, so little time.

If you've not read VanRamblings' opening orientation column for VIFF 2017, you'll want to click on the link that has just been provided you. If you're looking for all of our coverage to date, simply click here.

In 2017, in addition to coverage of VIFF, VanRamblings is covering the Vancouver civic by-election, which somewhat 'less partisan' coverage oughta ramp up this week. Arising from our coverage of the by-election, VanRamblings' coverage of VIFF 2017 will be somewhat prejudiced. Still, we're almost as addicted to the film festival as has long been the case that we may not be able to help ourselves in providing more VIFF coverage.

Each September, the fine folks at VIFF present advance screenings of films set to 'unspool' at VIFF, films where VIFF will bring in writers / producers / directors or actors associated with a film. Of all the films in preview, by far the film with the most buzz is Melanie Woods' Shut Up and Say Something, the must-see BC Spotlight film screening at VIFF 2017 on Wednesday, Oct. 4th at 6:15pm and Sunday, Oct. 8th at 12:30pm, at the Vancouver Playhouse. Spoken word artist Shane Koyczan (the "protagonist" in the film) and the film's director will be in attendance at both screenings.

Each year the prestigious and heavily juried New York Film Festival takes place at the same time that the Vancouver International Film Festival does. Can't make it to New York for NYFF55, not to worry — this year the 55th edition of the New York Film Festival shares 12 films with VIFF, which we'll write about this upcoming Thursday, the kick off day for both festivals.

The trailer for Thelma, above, is there for a reason — cuz Thelma will screen this Friday, Sept. 29th at 1pm at the International Village (and again on Monday, October 9th, 6:30pm at the Vancouver Playhouse — and will also screen Friday and Saturday, October 6th and 7th at NYFF55 (just in case you want to take a break from VIFF and catch a screening of Thelma in New York). This Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark film directed by Joachim Trier (oh, c'mon, you know that Trier's 2011 award winner, Oslo, August 31st just knocked your socks off) is another must-see at VIFF.

Here's what Rodrigo Perez, in his review on The Playlist, has to say ...

Trier's beguiling, thought-provoking and icy supernatural thriller is his most ambitious film to date and yet still possesses the essence of the young filmmaker's preoccupations about mental disorders and souls grappling with subconscious turmoil.

Moody and chilly, Thelma brings foreign language and arthouse sensibilities to the genre of the inexplicably psychic and mystical and this mélange — Stephen King fascinations and Ingmar Bergman's fearful, existential relationship with God — makes for an utterly spellbinding portrayal of the unconscious mind and the terrible implications of transformative power. And yet, for all its genre tropes, Thelma is character-driven first and foremost and plays out like a vivid and nightmarish version of a coming of age story.

One more note before we close out today's column: the big buzz film at Telluride this year, the film that knocked the socks off of filmgoers and critics alike at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, the film that is a lock for a slew of Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (which it could win) and Best Actress a lock for Saoirse Ronan, with a very probable Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for the always wonderful Laurie Metcalf, a simply stunning out of the blue début success for its novice director and longtime indie actress Greta Gerwig, yes, we're writing about Lady Bird, which will screen at VIFF only once: on Monday, October 9th, 4pm at the Centre for the Performing Arts, after which it'll be a whole month before the film opens in wide release Friday, November 10th.

Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 2:21 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2017

September 22, 2017

VIFF 2017: The Award Winning Films Just Keep on Comin'

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival Award Winning Films

Cinéastes of the western, eastern, northern and southern world are counting down the days to the start of next Thursday's much-anticipated 36th annual edition of the glorious Vancouver International Film Festival.

Today for your edification, VanRamblings presents a preview of three much-lauded films: Call Me by Your Name, the film that took Sundance by storm and won the Audience Award at the Melbourne Film Festival; BPM (Beats Per Minute), the 1990s-set AIDS activist drama, the celebrated Grand Prix and FIPRESCI award winner at Cannes this year; and Léa Mysius' Ava, the coming-of-age story about a young girl who goes blind, which won the SACD Cannes Critic's Week Award supporting new writers.

The smash at Sundance in January of this year, and equally lauded at Telluride earlier this month, Call Me by Your Name is a lock for several Oscar nominations, the film picked up at Sundance by Sony Pictures Classics (to be distributed by Mongrel Media in Canada), and set for a wide release on Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S. (and Canada), on Nov. 24th.

At VIFF, sometimes you want to be the first person among your group of friends to see a film early, and not have to wait a couple of months to catch it in regular theatres. For VanRamblings, and for many others, that's probably the case with Call Me by Your Name, which will screen three times at VIFF, each time at The Centre for the Performing Arts: Thurs., Oct. 5th at 9pm, Sun., Oct. 8th at 9pm, and Thurs., Oct. 12th at 3:15pm.

MetaCritic reviews of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name

Almost as celebrated as Call Me by Your Name, as Guy Lodge wrote in his Cannes review for Variety, Robin Campillo's BPM (Beats Per Minute) jumps off the screen as a "sprawling, thrilling, abrasive, consoling and emotionally immediate portrait of 1990s Parisian AIDS activists, melding the personal, the political and the erotic to heart-bursting effect."

And, as we wrote above, BPM (Beats Per Minute) was the Grand Prix winner at Cannes this year, not to mention the Cannes 2017 recipient of the prestigious International Federation of Film Critics FIPRESCI award.

As Peter Bradshaw writes in his five-star review in The Guardian ...

Robin Campillo's passionately acted ensemble movie about ACT UP in France in the late 80s - the confrontational direct-action movement that demanded immediate, large-scale research into AIDS, compellingly combines elegy, tragedy, urgency and a defiant euphoria, ACT UP's goal to rouse the gay community from fatalism and torpor — and strike back against the hostile complacency of the political and Big Pharma.

The extraordinary power of the ACT UP campaign has assumed in cultural history is that it was something that valued life, but also made people think about death — the last taboo. It made staring into the sun not merely possible but necessary. For most people in their twenties, death is just a rumour. For the gay generation of the 80s and for ACT UP, mortality, illness and bereavement were facts they had to confront, without help from the agencies of the state.

This film has what its title implies: a heartbeat. It is full of cinematic life.

BPM (Beat Per Minute) screens twice at VIFF, both times at The Playhouse, Saturday, Sept. 30th at 3:15pm, and Monday, Oct. 2nd, at 6:15pm.

Part of the annual 10-film Spotlight on France VIFF series, the North American première of Léa Mysius' celebrated La Semaine de la Critique (SACD) award at this year's Festival de Cannes, Ava tracks 13-year-old Ava in the months following the information that she will lose her sight sooner than expected, and as she confronts the attendant problems in her own idiosyncratic way. Okay, that wasn't very articulate: let's try this ...

  • Jessica Kiang, Variety. Ava's (Noée Abita) loss of sight perhaps mirrors her loss of innocence and coming of age. Ava is a film that doesn't simply explore the textural possibilities of 35mm film for the hell of it, it makes thematic use of them, to stunning, evocative effect. Co-screenwriter, along with director Mysius, cinematographer Paul Guilhaume's visually exquisite storytelling provides a compelling resonance in a story about vision, creating images of a peculiar richness in which the colours are saturated but the lens seems progressively more stopped-down so that even the brightest sunlight can feel portentous. "She's blonde and sunny, and I'm dark and invisible" says Ava, self-pityingly comparing herself to her fair-haired love rival. But Ava's darkness is anything but invisible; it has a glowering luminosity in a film that shines darkly.

  • Wendy Ide, Screen Daily. A 13-year-old girl fights back against her impending blindness with guns — literally — blazing full bore in this insouciant tale of adolescent rebellion, the arresting visual sense of Léa Mysius' feature début boasting a robust resistance to the cinematic clichés of the usual portrayal of disability, the film's cello-infused, brutalized score providing a sense of menace, the film seeded with black: the dog, the police horses & the circles that Ava paints on her bedroom wall evoking both the fear of and fascination with her loss of sight.

That's it for today. You may expect more previews of award winning (and lauded) films set to play VIFF 2017 this weekend, and next week.

Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 4:04 AM | Permalink | VIFF 2017

September 20, 2017

Vancouver School Board By-Election: Advocacy vs Stasis

2017 Vancouver School Board by-election candidates

In her report on governance of the Vancouver School Board submitted to the public in February of this year, Vancouver-based lawyer Roslyn Goldner — who was commissioned by the then Acting VSB Superintendent, Steve Cardwell to conduct an investigation, following a complaint from the president of the BC School Superintendents Association respecting allegations of a toxic VSB administrative work environment, and the alleged harassment and bullying of administrative staff by trustees — Ms. Goldner identified the core issue at the heart of democratic school board governance, and the upcoming October 14th Vancouver VSB by-election.

"VSB Trustees hold differing views as to their role. Trustees have espoused either an advocacy model (ed. note: Vision Vancouver) in which they define the role as representing the views of their constituents in the District, or a stewardship model (ed. note: the Non-Partisan Association) which more closely aligns with the view of the British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA)."

When — what is bound to be a too small contingent of — voters go to the polls on October 14th to elect a new 9-member team of Vancouver School Board trustees, the issue of advocacy vs (an unthinking) maintenance of the (too often corrupt, and anti-democratic) status quo will, should and must be at the centre of voters' thinking when they cast their VSB ballot.

Vancouver Non-Partisan School Board Candidates Hypocritical Anti-Bullying Pledge

Almost the entire stand pat ("we're the provincial Liberal farm team and we sure as heck intend to give the BC NDP government in Victoria the gears") platform of the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association School Board candidates revolves around the hypocritical notion of an anti-bullying policy they intend to ensure is enacted by outgoing, Liberal government-appointed VSB trustee Dianne Turner (who was anti-democratically appointed as the sole VSB trustee last October when the then VSB Board of Education trustees were fired by Minister of Education, Mike Bernier) and new, incoming VSB Board of Education trustees. Note: Ms. Turner was recently appointed to a one-year term as 'special advisor' to the Vancouver School Board, by current BC NDP Minister of Education, Rob Fleming.

Why hypocritical? Although there was no reference made by Ms. Goldner in her report respecting the egregious and untoward conduct of the then sitting NPA Board of Education trustees, VanRamblings was present for all of the main Board meetings of the Vancouver School Board, from December 2014 through September 2016 — and we are here to report that it was the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association Board of Education trustees who consistently engaged in bullying conduct toward their colleagues, and not (read: not) either Green Party Board of Education trustee Janet Fraser, or any (any) of the elected Vision Vancouver Board of Education trustees.

Vancouver Non-Partisan School Board trustees Stacy Robertson and Fraser Ballantyne act out

In the last term, although matters commenced well in late 2014, by March 2015 the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Board of Education trustees became so incensed at the Vision Vancouver trustees' parent and student advocacy that the conduct around the VSB table became so heavily pro-Peter Fassbender (then, the BC Liberal government Minister of Education) — who, in the estimation of the NPA trustees could do no wrong (ardent NPA support for then Premier Christy Clark was equally vocal) — that reasonable discussion at the VSB table became all but impossible.

Although VanRamblings believes current NPA school board candidates Rob McDowell and Christopher Richardson to be men of honour and integrity (we possess immense respect for both gentlemen), and although we have heard nothing but positive commentary on NPA School Board candidate Lisa Dominato — the well-respected Ministry of Education Director of Integrated Services and Safe Schools in the recent provincial Liberal government — and we are impressed with the well-spoken, articulate and very bright Julian Prieto — graduate of the University of Toronto / University of Oxford — and believe that each one of these fine individuals has a contribution to make, let there be no mistake, the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA) School Board candidate team constitute an arm of the B.C. provincial Liberal party, whatever their otherwise good intentions.

British Columbians residing in the urban areas of our province, and in Vancouver in particular, elected a progressive, education-friendly BC NDP government on May 9, 2017. What does that mean for public education?

VanRamblings believes that the electorate wishes to give our new provincial government the opportunity to implement 'change for the better' in our too long beleaguered education system — an expedited plan for the seismic upgrading / replacement of older schools, an expedited plan for new school construction, better and more consistent funding of education, support for adult basic education, programmes and substantial monies directed toward the education of First Nations students (note: for 16 years, the BC Liberal government took $58.3 million dollars of funding out of the Vancouver School Board budget each year, which circumstance changed only with the ruling of the Supreme Court last November) — and so much more.

The very last thing parents with students enrolled in the Vancouver school system want is for Vancouver Board of Education trustees to play politics with their children's education. Parents and educators want to see the implementation of education programmes that enhance student outcomes, and seek to provide opportunity for all students enrolled in the Vancouver school system. Elect the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA) School Board candidates, and we risk partisan politics trumping student interests.

Vision Vancouver 2017 by-election team School Board candidate team

From l - r, the entirely tremendous Vision Vancouver school board candidate 'public education advocacy' team: newcomer to electoral politics Theodora Lamb, former VSB Chair Mike Lombardi, Ken Clement, Joy Alexander and Allan Wong, each one of whom deserve your vote October 14th.

Make no mistake, it was the Vision Vancouver Board of Education trustees who were the only Vancouver School Board trustees in the last term and in the previous two terms who advocated for the interests of students, who fought against the closure of Vancouver schools (and thank God for that, given the current shortage of classrooms resultant from last November's Supreme Court ruling), who advocated for funding for: aboriginal education, adult basic education, preservation of elementary school band programmes, maintenance of staff for each of the VSB LGBT, anti-racism and anti-homophobia mentor positions, and fought long and hard not to kowtow to the anti-education government of former Premier Christy Clark, and her partisan Education Ministers Peter Fassbender and Mike Bernier.

In the last term, the NPA Board of Education trustees fought against all 'non-core' programmes, and simply rolled over when it came time to implement and pass a budget that would for the 15th consecutive year take tens of millions of dollars out of the Vancouver school system. Bad enough that an entire generation of students enrolled in the Vancouver school system were not given access to English as Second Language, learning disability, speech language pathologist, and library teachers. Worse still: that the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association members of the Vancouver School Board acted as apologists for a government that was only too ready to increase funding for private school education from $66 million annually to $354 million, all at the expense of the funding of public education.

One City Vancouver and COPE Vancouver's 2017 School Board by-election candidatesFrom l - r, OneCity Vancouver's Carrie Bercic and Erica Jaaf, and COPE Vancouver's Diana Day

OneCity's Carrie Bercic and Erica Jaaf, and COPE Vancouver's Diana Day are three more must-elects running for a position on the Vancouver School Board, each one of them well-experienced public education advocates. Carrie attended every Vancouver School Board meeting in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and along with her longstanding Parent Advocacy Network 'public education advocate' colleague, Erica Jaaf, have emerged in recent years as two of the strongest public education advocacy voices in British Columbia.

Diana Day, an Indigenous First Nations from the Oneida Nation, graduated with an Honours B.A. in Psychology from the University of Windsor, and has worked as a leader in Aboriginal health, public education and community engagement over the past decade, and sits as Chair of the Vancouver Technical Secondary Schools' Parent Advisory Council (PAC), where her daughter Angeline is currently enrolled as a Grade 12 honours student.

"I have had the privilege of working alongside Diana Day in her capacity as executive on the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council and want to ask you to save a vote for her as a COPE Vancouver School Board by-election candidate. Ms. Day is a skilled facilitator with a passion for equity and looking out for our most vulnerable students and families. She brings a warmth and humour to her position while being firm, clear and focused. Diana Day is an effective advocate and an empathetic listener and will make an excellent Trustee."
Claudia Ferris, Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) Media Coordinator

The single most frequent issue to come before the Vancouver School Board? Aboriginal education. Funding, resources, preservation or expansion of existing programmes for First Nations students enrolled in the Vancouver school system, liaison with the federal and provincial governments, First Nations student achievement (that while improving continues to be regrettably and woefully low), and protection of the interests of indigenous children enrolled in Vancouver's school system, among a myriad of other concerns and interests. There is no more passionate and informed advocate of and voice for First Nations students than Diana Day — a vote for COPE Vancouver's Diana Day on October 14th is an absolute imperative.

All of us need to hear Diana's voice at the Vancouver School Board table.

Vancouver School Board 2017 By-Election All-Candidates Meetings

Update: Gleaned from former Chair of the Vancouver School Board Patti Bacchus' latest public education column in The Straight, "Voters will get a couple of chances to hear candidates talk more about their promises and plans at a couple of upcoming candidate forums.

The first VSB by-election candidate meeting will be held by the Institute for Public Education, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 2nd at the Trout Lake Community Centre.

The second VSB candidate meeting is set to be held at 6:30 p.m. the following evening, October 3rd, and it's being held by the Vancouver District Parents' Advisory Council, at John Oliver secondary school.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 12:44 AM | Permalink | 2017 By-Election

September 18, 2017

VIFF 2017: Yet More Award Winning Films Screening at VIFF

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival

Today on VanRamblings, we'll present three more award-winning films that are set to screen at the 36th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, films without Canadian distributors in place, films you are likely to miss unless you purchase a ticket for an upcoming VIFF screening, worthwhile — even life-changing — cinema that you simply don't want to miss.

A good example? Renowned Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's The Other Side of Hope, the tale of a Syrian refugee who stows away to Finland, Kaurismäki, as always (and always to good effect), mines the narrative with the deadpan humour for which he is justly famous, all the while refusing to flinch from heartbreak and hardship. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlinale this year, here's another VIFF 2017 film that is not to be missed.

Here is how The Telegraph's Tim Robey begins his 5-star review ...

The Other Side of Hope, Aki Kaurismäki's gorgeous and cuttingly poignant comedy, begins with a young Syrian asylum seeker emerging from a coal pile in Helsinki's industrial port. He is Khaled (Sherwan Haji), and has wound up here by accident, after escaping violent persecution by jumping aboard a freighter in Eastern Europe.

Coated black, head to toe, he finds his way to a shower and cleans up, before asking a local official where to find the police. "Are you sure?" asks the man, a young black guy, quizzically — a question that's pure, distilled Kaurismäki, in its loving irreverence, implied empathy, and suggestion of a community that wants to help the down-and-out however it can.

Khaled, though, wants to do things by the book. Handing himself in as an illegal migrant, he checks in to a Reception Centre and is grilled about his journey to Finland from the rubble of Aleppo, which is so laden with aching tragedy and racist abuse that you wonder how on earth Kaurismäki can bring a smile back to our faces, let alone the torrents of laughter, later on, that his film manages to unleash."

Excerpts from other critics' review, all of which reviews are laudatory ...

  • Rory O'Connor, The Film Stage. People like Aki Kaurismäki, Haneke, and von Trier, amongst others, might try, on the surface, to feign a certain resistance to humanism and yet their kind seem to be the only ones capable of delivering something as vital as this. The Other Side of Hope is a film that talks about hope without pretension, while maintaining a defiant faith in human decency — not to mention the faith that cinema itself still has the ability to translate that decency, with humour and clarity, to the screen.

  • Jessica Kiang, The Playlist. Kaurismäki's wonderful new Berlinale Silver Bear winner makes a stonefaced, droll but paradoxically urgent case for a truth that desperately needs to survive these post-truth times: people are people and borders are bullshit. Warmhearted, sad-eyed and straight-faced, a film with a jaunty Finnish-folk-heavy soundtrack, The Other Side of Hope offers granular, tragicomic, personal and often despairing filmmaking, wrapped up in a story that is full of hope.

For the past 21½ years, month in, month out, each and every month (including the months when we were dying of cancer), VanRamblings has submitted a 1,000 word 'philosophical' column on some aspect of the film industry — to The Fraser Journal, the baby of my longtime editor Mari Miyasaka, who has not only found a way to put up with me over all those years, but has worked steadfastly to create a Japanese language magazine that while distributing in Metro Vancouver, has found a loyal audience across far-flung locales and countries spanning the globe.

As you might well expect, then, over the years VanRamblings has developed a great affection for Japanese cinema, most particularly those films which screen at VIFF that are often sponsored by The Fraser Journal. Films such as Close Knit, part of VIFF 2017's Gateway / Dragons and Tiger series, winner of both the Teddy Jury Award, at Berlinale 2017, and recent Audience Award winner at the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

The international première of Naoko Ogigami's magestic film Close-Knit in the Panorama Special section of Berlinale 2017 was met with raucous applause as the ending credits rolled, with an additional enthusiastic two minutes of applause once the lights were up.

One of Berlinale 2017's triumphs, Close Knit will screen twice at VIFF 2017, both times at the Cineplex International Village in Cinema 10, on Tuesday, Oct. 10th at 6:30pm, and again on Thursday, October 12th at 4:15pm.

Here are excerpts from two reviews of Close-Knit ...

  • Rory O'Connor, The Film Stage. Combining cinematographer Kozo Shibasaki's naturalistic aesthetics and attention to texture and detail with a central theme of nurture taking over from nature, Ogigami's film could quite easily be mistaken for the work of her contemporary Hirokazu Kore-eda, another great director of modern Japanese melodrama. The fact that she has chosen to focus on an LGBT experience, something that has been absent from Kore-eda's work to this point, might suggest that Close-Knit is somehow a departure from that tradition of filmmaking. Surely the contrary is true: it's another story of Japanese life, not a different story necessarily, and it's presented exactly so. Director Naoko Ogigami's film never feels weighed down by its delicate subject matter, nor does it underplay it or come across as didactic in its delivery. Indeed, with 11-year-old Tomo's (Rinka Kakihara) future and (for want of a better word) simple goodness in the balance one might find the tremendous emotional swells of Close-Knit so moving at times that one can barely hear the sound of fresh ground being broken in Japanese cinema.

  • Guy Lodge, Variety. A nuanced, softly lit family portrait, with compassion and conflict held carefully in balance, Naoko Ogigami's gentle, sweet-souled celebration of alternative family structures, in which a maternally neglected young girl finds security in the care of her uncle and his transgender partner, Close-Knit offers a warm, practical, pastel-shaded cardigan of a film, with a winning but not too cutely played performance by Rinka Kakihara as 11-year-old Tomo, a young girl who has had to grow up a little faster than her peers, thanks to the fecklessness of her mother (Mimura), an overgrown adolescent who thinks nothing of disappearing on a whim for days on end. Note: Close-Knit is not to be viewed on an empty stomach; much of the film's key dramatic interaction takes place around lovingly prepared meals.

So, above, we have another standout film to add to your VIFF schedule.

An absolute must-see at VIFF 2017, Sami Blood arrives as a multiple award winner: the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) winner at last spring's Seattle Film Festival; Special Jury Prize winner and another Best Actress win for Sparrok at Tokyo's 2017 Film Festival, with a Best Director of a Début Film win, for Amanda Kernell, in Venice. If the trailer above doesn't have your heart pounding in anticipation of screening Sami Blood at VIFF 2017, you may want to check your pulse.

There's no Canadian distributor in place for Sami Blood. See it at VIFF 2017, or miss out entirely on the opportunity to see one of cinema's most celebrated Scandanavian films to arrive on our shores this decade.

Here are lengthy excerpts from two reviews of Sami Blood ...

  • Michael O'Sullivan, The Washington Post. Sami Blood — a beautiful, haunting film, anchored by a startlingly accomplished lead performance by Lene Cecilia Sparrok — relates the story of the Sami people of Scandinavia, an indigenous race that has been the victim of ethnic bigotry and systemic cultural suppression in Norway, Sweden and other Nordic countries. Set mostly in the 1930s, the poignant feature début by filmmaker Amanda Kernell, Sami Blood serves up a slice of that troubled history, with its story of 14-year-old Sami reindeer herder Elle-Marja, a precocious spitfire who, with her little sister Njenna, has been sent from the village where they grew up to a Swedish state-run boarding school for Sami children.

    Played by real-life sisters Lene Cecilia and Mia Erika Sparrok, Elle-Marja and Njenna are delights, but it's the elder sibling's performance that is the revelation. With her wide features and darting eyes — half furtive and half curious — the teenage newcomer beautifully embodies the survival instincts and self-loathing of a girl who has internalized the prejudice surrounding her and who uses her brains and moxie not to deflect attacks but to deny her own identity. This lovely, lyrical little film never seeks to hammer its point home with the viewer. Rather, Sami Blood leaves its questions about identity hanging in the air, like the scent of something or someone that passed by long ago, but that still lingers — mysterious and mesmerizing — in the breeze.

  • Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice. Amanda Kernell's scrupulously shaped coming-of-rage drama opens with Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi), an elderly woman wearing sparkling pearls and a pitiless countenance, turning bitterly obstinate when taken back to the Lapland of her birth for her sister's funeral. She'll speak to no one, vows not to stay the night, and has zero tolerance for displays of yoik, the local throat singing. Stuck in a hotel despite her protestations, she watches a helicopter lift, the green-humped mountains behind it frosted at the peaks. The world around her is gorgeous, a true pleasure to regard, and she stares at that chopper as if it were her only possible rescue from damnation.

    Then we flash back eight decades. Sami Blood plunges into the origins of that anger, examining with rare anthropological acuity the abuse of the indigenous Sami people of northernmost Europe — "the filthy Lapps," we hear a blond boy spit as young Christina (now named Elle-Marja and played by Lene Cecilia Sparrok) troops through the woods with her schoolmates. Writer-director Kernell, making an auspicious début, expertly tracks Elle-Marja's adolescent development — her longings, the process of growing into her own body — and her realization that, no matter her intelligence or aptitude, Sweden offers nothing to a Sami beyond the plains she was born on.

    A courageous and compelling, yet quietly observant film, even given the matter-of-factness of its scenecraft, Sami Blood is a film about girlhood and racism, passing and escape. It's also about guilt, about the toll taken on a life of rejecting one's minority origins in accordance with (and in defiance of) the majority's unjust prejudice. The finale finds a ninety-year-old Elle-Marja — now Christina — flooded with grief about the family she left behind. It's overwhelming.

That's it for today's post, then, with three more films that are set to screen at VIFF 2017 presented for your consideration. More VIFF 2017 previews will be published on VanRamblings later in the week.

Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 6:30 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2017

September 17, 2017

VIFF 2017: More Award Winning Films Set to Screen at VIFF

2017 Vancouver International Film Festival Award Winning Films

More celebrated, award-winning films that will arrive on our shores in mere days, as part of the humanizing and humane and always tremendously enlightening Vancouver International Film Festival, which kicks off it's much-looked-forward-to 36th annual edition on Thursday, September 28th.

Today, three more films for you to consider placing on your VIFF calendar.

As VanRamblings wrote last week in our introductory VIFF 2017 column, rising Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) in his new, award-winning film A Fantastic Woman, celebrates the endurance of a woman under suspicion of murder in a film that could bring the first major acting award for a transgender performer to Daniela Vega.

Winner of Best Screenplay at February's Berlinale, in her review in Screen Daily, film critic Wendy Ide writes ...

Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) are in love. Despite a twenty-year age gap, they plan to spend their lives together. He left his wife and family for her. But after a birthday celebration in which he promises to take her on a trip to Iguazu Falls, Orlando is taken gravely ill. He dies in hospital. And Marina finds that, as a transgender woman, everything is called into question — their relationship, her role in his death, her right to grieve for the man she loved. Driven by a powerhouse performance by mesmerizing transgender actress Vega, the fifth feature from Lelio combines urgent naturalism with occasional flickers of fantasy to impressive, and wrenchingly emotional effect.

Benjamín Echazarreta's cinematography makes expressive use of reflections — there is a beautifully composed shot of Marina's anguished eyes staring through a window which also reflects Orlando in the emergency room. And later, a slyly positioned hand mirror teasingly refers to the crude questions of Orlando's family about whether or not Marina has had gender reassignment surgery.

The picture is tied together by an orchestral score by Matthew Herbert which is as immediately striking as Alexander Desplat's for Birth or Mica Levi's for Jackie. Herbert, best known for his playful, experimental electronic music, crafts a fluttering heartbeat of a flute motif which is achingly lovely. The soundtrack also includes Aretha Franklin's (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, a morale-boosting anthem which prepares Marina for her first encounter with Orlando's ex-wife. And Marina's own singing bookends the film, giving the picture its transcendent final scene.

Guy Lodge (one of VanRamblings' favourite film critics), in his Variety review calls Sebastián Lelio's new work "transcendent and luminous", writing in the conclusion to his review ...

Vega's tough, expressive, subtly anguished performance deserves so much more than political praise. It's a multi-layered, emotionally polymorphous feat of acting, nurtured with pitch-perfect sensitivity by her director, who maintains complete candor on Marina's condition without pushing her anywhere she wouldn't herself go. At one point in her mortifying police examination, a photographer demands that she drop the towel from her waist. She reluctantly complies, yet the camera respectfully feels no need to lower it gaze: A Fantastic Woman is no less assured than its heroine of her hard-won identity.

Meanwhile, David Rooney in his review in The Hollywood Reporter simply calls A Fantastic Woman "ravishing" and "a bracingly honest work of searing empathy, shocking and enraging, funny and surreal, rapturous and restorative, an emotionally penetrating film of startling intensity and sinuous mood shifts wrapped in a rock-solid coherence of vision".

Kamel El Basha won the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival a week ago, and The Insult is Lebanon's entry for the Foreign Language Oscar this year. Critics are somewhat divided on the film, Eric Kohn (another one of VanRamblings favourite film critics), in his B- review writes ...

Ziad Doueiri's The Insult, the Lebanese filmmaker's followup to his masterful drama The Attack is a fascinating, parable-like exploration of the tension between two facets of Lebanon's Arab community and the cross-cultural ramifications implied by their ridiculous feud. While it doesn't quite justify the sprawling courtroom antics or the blunt metaphor they entail, the movie nevertheless provides a profound look at the effect of historical trauma on modern Lebanese society.

In his review in Variety, Jay Weissberg writes, "The Insult is well-made but obvious and too often manipulative dissection of Lebanese political and religious divides that culminates in a standard courtroom drama"

Boyd van Hoeij is somewhat more generous in his review in The Hollywood Reporter, referring to the film as Law and Border, writing of The Insult, "This gripping genre yarn also looks very good. Doueiri, who worked on the early films of Tarantino as a camera assistant, here once more collaborated with The Attack's cinematographer, Tommaso Fiorilli. Their style is again fluid and sinuous, at once direct and subtly poetic. Subtle isn't a word that could be applied to Eric Neveux's driving score, however, with the music accompanying practically all the scenes outside the courtroom."

Ah yes, Petra Volpe's rousing Tribeca Best Actress Award winner for Marie Leuenberger, The Divine Order traces the political awakening of young wife and mother taking the fight for women's suffrage in Switzerland -- which ended with victory in ... 1971. Sure to be a crowd-pleaser at VIFF, when you consider that the Vancouver International Film Festival is most often synonymous with what is most commonly referred as the cinema of despair ought to mean that The Divine Order will not only prove an antidote to the more dour VIFF offerings, but emerge as the 'feel good' film of VIFF 2017.

In his review in Variety, Nick Schager writes ...

Thanks to its director Petra Volpe's sturdy guidance and Leuenberger's fine lead performance as Nora, whose resolve is coloured by doubt and trepidation, The Divine Order never feels stilted or preachy; rather, it radiates an infectious admiration for the courage shown by its heroines in the face of immense obstacles.

Giorgia del Don, in her review in Cineuropa, seems quite swept away by The Divine Order ...

Perhaps (very probably more likely) not everyone knows that calm Switzerland, tucked away in the heart of Europe, was one of the last countries in the world to introduce female suffrage. And indeed it is only since 1971 that women have had the right to vote and the possibility of being elected at federal level. So it is this long-kept "secret" that Petra Volpe decided to bring to the big screen in The Divine Order, continuing the interest in women that she has shown since the beginning of her career.

The Divine Order brings us back to the tragic nature of those opposing the right to vote for Swiss women. Nora (played by the magnificent Marie Leuenberger) embodies a very Swiss sense of discretion that hides an inner volcano just waiting to erupt and let loose a river of slow-moving but relentless lava.

A refreshing cocktail and essential cocktail that brings to light an underhand and sadly still very real discriminatory mechanism (in lots of countries) based on supposed and dangerous "divine" rules. Without ever falling into rhetoric but actually succeeding in making the whole film glide along on an unexpected freshness, Petra Volpe speaks to us about courage, a sentiment that women, and not only Swiss women, have too long ignored the meaning of but actually have plenty of. A jubilant and timeless film with no borders.

Well, that's it for today's VanRamblings' post. Full VanRamblings coverage of VIFF 2017 is available by clicking here.


Posted by Raymond Tomlin at 3:08 PM | Permalink | VIFF 2017

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