"Zacharia Farted" in Vancouver, Other Canadian and Foreign
Pics Fare Well
by Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice
The 17th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival came to a close on
October 11th after eighteen days of screenings, forums and parties. The
event's claim to be North America's third largest film festival is based
largely on its superb slate of films, including well over 200 features
and 100 short films. The festival is definitely a delight for
cineastes, with its strong focus on Asian films, documentaries, and new
voices in Canadian cinema. 73 countries were represented at this year's
Canadian films were always popular and the festival featured several
world premieres. The most heart-warming was the unusually titled
"Zacharia Farted" from director Michael Rohl, a film that can actually
claim to refresh the tired genre of quirky road movies. "Zacharia," as
it was commonly designated, features a terrific performance from
Vancouver actor Benjamin Ratner, who also shines in festival screener
"Dirty," the second feature from Bruce Sweeney ("Live Bait") and winner
of the TeleFilm Canada award.
Other Canadian highlights included, the anti-carnivore documentary "A
Cow At My Table" which was preaching to the converted in Vancouver,
which is likely North America's most vegetarian-friendly city.
"Bellini's Drive" which follows "Kids in The Hall" writer Paul Bellini
as he returns to his hometown of Timmins, Ontario. Prolific
Toronto-based filmmaker Mike Hoolboom made his longest film yet with
"Panic Bodies" which continues the exploration of often personal themes
found in Hoolboom's other work. Justin MacGregor's "The Vigil" hosted
the rowdiest crowd at its initial screening, with much of the cast and
crew of the locally-made feature cheering it on from the Paradise
Theatre's balcony. "The Vigil" follows a group of students traveling
from Lethbridge, Alberta to Seattle to attend Kurt Cobain's wake, while
exploring a bevy of youth-related themes.
This year's Dragons and Tigers component sampled a wide range of Asian
films and highlighted a tribute to Japanese director Mike Takashi ("The
Bird People Of China"). Stand-outs from the program included "Tetsuo"
director Tsukamoto Shinya's "Bullet Ballet," the Japanese dark comedy
"Ikinai," "Timeless, Bottomless Bad Movie," which played like a South
Korean version of "Kids," and "After Life," Hirokazu Kore-Eda's
follow-up to "Maborosi."
Crowds practically rioted when turned away from oversold screenings for
such foreign language films as Brazil's "Central Station," Denmark's
"Celebration," Italy's "Life Is Beautiful," and "The Buttoners" from the
Czech Republic. Some of the blame for the frustrated festival patrons
can also be attributed to the mismanagement of the screening facilities
at the Caprice Theatre and the Vancouver Centre Cinemas. When not
threatening to go on strike, the Vancouver Centre projectionists managed
to mangle prints for the Canadian features "Zacharia Farted" and "Heart
Of The Sun," as well as four other films. The Caprice chewed up its
share of prints while also having the distinction of housing some of the
surliest festival volunteers we've yet to encounter. However, props go
out to the always friendly folks at the Ridge Cinema who made it a
pleasure to attend their venue, despite having decidedly uncomfortable
"Music and Exile" was the theme of this year's festival, and it was
supported by a tribute to Josephine Baker, an American performer who
became an icon during her self-imposed exile in France during the
1930's. Several films complemented the theme, particularly the
documentaries "Kurt and Courtney" (Great Britain), "Richter, The Enigma"
(France), "The Revolution Of Silence" (Greece), "Singing Our Stories"
(Canada) and "Black Tears" (Netherlands), the latter being a highly
entertaining romp about a troupe of elderly Cuban troubadours on their
tour of Europe.
However, the underlying theme of the festival seemed to be vehicular
travel. Vancouver was infested by road movies this year, possibly
indicating larger trends in both independent and world cinema. Three of
the four Vancouver-made features in the festival were of this particular
genre, and a number of well-known international road movies such as
France's "Western" and Iceland's "Blossi/810551" also screened.
A retrospective of American crime films of the 70's was to culminate
with special seminars from Paul Schrader and Robert Towne. Both
filmmakers had current films in the festival ("Affliction" and "Without
Limits," respectively) and Schrader contributed to the retrospective
("Blue Collar"). Unfortunately, Schrader canceled at the last minute,
leaving many disappointed festival goers.
The party scene at this year's festival was sadly lackluster. Although
the celebrations were few and far between, often shutting down early,
several events did shine. Kudos go to Rogers Telefund for once again
hosting the best party at the festival. Held at the popular Cin Cin's
on Robson Street, this reception had all the ingredients of an "A" list
event: an oyster bar, gratis martinis, and the who's who of the local
and visiting film community.
Honorable mentions go to Women in Film and Video Vancouver's Martini
Madness at the Purple Onion lounge, the Cineworks and Canadian Film
Centre (CFC) salute to Canadian filmmakers at the Mars night club, and
the volunteer party at the Hotel Vancouver running concurrent with the
closing night gala. Even director/actor Don McKellar and actor Callum
Keith Rennie ("Last Night") crashed the latter shindig after the closing
gala puckered out just after midnight. The Cineworks/CFC party didn't
have much in way of complimentary drinks and also had the gall to not
accept use of the festival's sponsoring credit card, Visa. However, the
incessant play of classic disco rhapsodies kept revelers hopping on the
dance floor. Amongst those busting a move was "Dead Man" star Gary
Farmer, whose documentary "The Gift" played at the festival.
The festival awards were announced Saturday night prior to the
Festival's closing night gala presentation of Don McKellar's "Last
Night," thus excluding it from award eligibility. Festival Director
Alan Franey offered his condolences: "That is really not fair. That is
just life." McKellar naturally took it all in stride. "There was not
one single vote?" joked McKellar to the packed gala audience. "Couldn't
you have gone on faith?"
[Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice are partners in Vancouver's Jump
Communications Inc., a company with several music videos and short films
to its credit.]
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