VIFF: This week in closing…

Today marks the last day of the Vancouver International Film Festival with a short review on the last film I watched.

It’s also the day of the first vice-presidential debate of 2020 and the day I start baking again.

Right now I have a banana walnut loaf in the oven and I’ve finished baking the most delicious lavender pepper cheese scones.  I’ll share that recipe with you soon because I know you’ll love it, and when you find out how easy they are to make it’s sure to become a staple.  But right now…

From the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF): Contemporary World Cinema

Hammamet – Italian (French thrown in on occasion) with English subtitles.

The question is “what the hell was going on in Italy during a time many in government were perceived as being indistinguishable from the Mafia?” 

Italy revisited – last night I watched a movie about an Italian historical leader that I did not know anything about and at first was reluctant to watch.  Bettino Craxi was the leader of the Italian Socialist Party (1976-1993) and Prime Minister of Italy from 1983 till 1987.

I now understand why this semi-biographical drama was a box office hit at home in Italy. The drama directed by festival favourite Gianni Amelio’s (La Tenerezza, Open Doors, Stolen Children) traces Craxi’s final months with his family at his oasis villa in Hammamet, Tunisia, where he fled to avoid prison for crimes of bribery and corruption.

Hmmm….bribery and corruption.  While not as prominent a thing in Canadian, influence peddling via campaign contributions from corporate sources definitely remains a thing in US politics.

But let’s get back to the Mediterranean, shall we? The scenery is lovely as you can imagine (Tunisia, Italy), however, I give this one three *** out of five stars…if only because I unfortunately did not find it exciting or as interesting as I had hoped.  Others (especially those of Italian heritage) may appreciate it more. 

You still have a little more time to order tickets at:

https://viff.org/

On another note: I updated my “about” page after a few people pointed out that there was nothing about me on that page.  Now there is.

ART/Film Reviews

MY REMBRANDT and MARCEL DUCHAMP: the Art of the Possible – part of Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) Music/Art/Design series.

MY REMBRANDT

This documentary lets us in on how the materially privileged, despite possible pretenses to the contrary, lust over rare “objets d’art.”   Does their material desire to possess rare works of art amount to little more than the fleeting privilege of being able to flaunt their worldly status and/or smarts to others, or is it for national  glorification?  Perhaps both.

It successfully parts the privacy curtain and offers us a peek behind it into the lives of Europeans with old wealth, an American with new wealth and big state-sponsored art gallery curators in Holland and France and elsewhere.

The idea is simply that the documentary isn’t just an art film about Rembrandt paintings aimed at the art crowd. It’s a documentary that not only offers insight into the ruthlessness that can play out in the high stakes international art world when it comes to finding and buying masterpieces; it also offers insight into Europe’s first selfies, in that only the wealthy could afford to commission artists to render their portraits for posterity.

From the VIFF Catalogue:

One of the “old masters,” Rembrandt van Rijn is considered one of the greatest painters of all time, and in the elite world of art collectors, his work is – almost – priceless. Oeke Hoogendijk’s captivating and elegant doc is both an enchanting glimpse behind the curtain of this privileged universe, and also a deep dive into an art mystery that rocked Rembrandt fans across the globe.

From a Scottish duke’s personal affection for a coveted portrait, to an American couple who have tried to get their hands on as many of the artist’s paintings as possible, Hoogendijk reveals what “my” Rembrandt means to each – nostalgia, heritage, beauty, obsession and, for many, the satisfaction of exclusive ownership. My Rembrandt also details the heated legal battles that proprietorship can entail. The film follows the youngest Jan Six (whose forefather Rembrandt painted), an art dealer convinced that he has found two previously undiscovered Rembrandts – a bold claim that, like everything in the art world, doesn’t come without a price.

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible

What makes a work of art “art”? Good question. Should it not be in the eye of the beholder?

Marcel Duchamp, who was regarded as “the godfather of modern conceptual art”, challenges this question. You might say he pushed the limitations of the definition of art by focusing on the observer of the art.

Born in the late 1800s in a small town in Normandy, Duchamp would go on to almost single-handedly revolutionize the art world with his fascination with the “fourth dimension” and developments in science, technology and mathematics.  His unusual works were initially shunned and misunderstood by the mainstream, but later incorporated into pioneering movements like Cubism and abstract expressionism.

From the VIFF Catalogue:

The Art of the Possible is a mesmerising account of Duchamp’s life and work, showing how his radical rejection of 19th century ideals paved the way for innovation in dance, literature, music and the visual arts. An impressive array of experts and researchers bring Duchamp’s legacy to the fore, as archival footage reveals a charismatic – at times cheeky – visionary who was light years ahead of his time.

Marina Abramovic and Jeff Koons are among the artists and experts celebrating his life and work.

Presented by The Audain Foundation

Of these two documentaries, I much preferred “My Rembrandt”

Until October 7th you can order tickets to stream online with VIFF Connect:

https://viff.org/

 

The Hidden Life of Trees

Be like a Tree.  Stay grounded, keep growing and know when to let go – unknown

So it’s October already.  Happens quickly doesn’t it?  The time of year when the trees begin to shed their leaves and it’s such a beautiful sight to behold.  As Vincent Van Gogh once said “If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere.”  Speaking of which…

There’s much more to trees than meets the eye

Last night I watched an educational documentary (German with English subtitles) about The Secret Lives of Trees – what they feel and how them communicate.  Part of Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) Impact series for 2020.

In 2015, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, published a popular book titled “The Hidden Life of Treesthat became a best‐seller. 

Life, Death and Regeneration…

In this intriguing documentary, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains his observations and presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities.

We find out…

Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.

In closing…

As Wohlleben says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.

From the VIFF Catalogue:

A forest is a super-organism, like an ant colony. Trees are interconnected, they communicate with each other, and even share community health care. Best-selling author Peter Wohlleben is our environmental tour guide for this eye-opening introduction to a new philosophy of forestry. We meet the oldest known tree in the world, a 10,000 year old Swedish spruce; burned out pine farms; succulent deciduous woods; there’s even a cameo from David Suzuki. You will never look at a tree the same way again.

I give this one three stars *** (interesting knowledge but slow moving).

Check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/

 

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President

There are presidents and then there are presidents

Then there’s Jimmy Carter. Right after Nixon and right before Reagan, sworn in as 39th president of the United States of America.  An unlikely candidate at first became one of the most liked in recent history. From Georgia, he was a tireless humanitarian and advocate for equality and “black lives matter” way before the phrase became known.

“I’ve never had more faith in America than I do today.  We have an America that in Bob Dylan’s phrase is busy being born, not busy dying” – President Jimmy Carter states in the opening scene of this inspiring documentary, part of  VIFF’s MAD series (Music/Art/Dance).  He knew all the words to all of Dylan’s songs.

You begin to realize in short order what the Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffet, Charlie Mingus, Aretha Franklin and countless other musicians had in common besides their music.  They were all personal friends of music aficionado Jimmy Carter. 

I enjoyed this doc so much more than I expected to.  It’s such a feel-good story with incredible music and interviews from the best of the best.

Watching this was extremely refreshing especially before the eve of the first presidential debate in 2020. You come to realize what’s been missing ever since.  I think everyone should see it.

We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles” – Jimmy Carter.

From VIFF Catalogue:

When the USA hit rock bottom in the mid 70s after years of war and corruption, the nation turned to a Georgia peanut farmer. Jimmy Carter was a devout Christian and a man of impeccable integrity. He was also a music fan. June Carter Cash claimed to be a cousin; Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan would become firm friends, and the Allman Brothers kept his campaign afloat. This rocking reminder of a very different brand of politics suggests you can tell a lot about a candidate from his musical affiliations.

 

“We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes — and we must.”- Jimmy Carter, Nobel Lecture. 

Check out: https://www.cartercenter.org/

I gave this five 1/2 out of five stars *****+

For more films/documentaries/talks visit

https://viff.org/

 

 

Citizen Penn

No matter your views of Sean Penn, this startling documentary about the destruction and lives lost from the shattering 2010 earthquake in Haiti is sure to change how you see him.

Not that he cares what you might think mind you. He didn’t travel to Haiti to bring attention to himself. No. Like other first-responders on site, he too played an admirable, tireless “hands-on” role in the wider humanitarian effort to save lives, and to bring much-needed medicines, money and peace to a disturbing situation. After spending millions of his own money, he tried to raise more funds by hosting galas with celebrity friends only to become disappointed when many did not come through as he had hoped. And on this score, he has no trouble calling people out and speaking his own mind, a feature of Penn’s character which has, in past, elicited controversy. 

Still, this documentary remains truly eye-opening if not heartbreaking, especially for a nation struggling to restore a more tolerable measure of normalcy in the aftermath.

Penn once compared Port-au-Prince to Detroit, saying, “It’s not more dangerous, it’s not less dangerous.”

To quote from the VIFF catalogue:

Penn, whose father Leo was blacklisted as a Communist, has made no secret of his disgust of American imperialism, and has regularly ventured to places like Iraq, Venezuela, Cuba, and New Orleans post Katrina. But as this film chronicles, over the last decade much of his energy has gone into supporting the people of Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010, which claimed a quarter of a million lives and displaced many more.

Penn arrived with a small team of volunteers and urgent morphine supplies donated by his friend Hugo Chávez. More surprising, perhaps, is that he opted to stay on the island for months, taking over leadership of the largest refugee camp when the US military left. Culled largely from footage shot on the ground at the time, but also drawing on interviews with Penn, Anderson Cooper and others, the film is a vivid account of first person activism, the expediencies of life and death in a disaster zone, and one man’s dedication to direct action.

In the wake of his efforts in Haiti, Penn went on to create an emergency response NGO known as CORE, which not only trains and empowers local volunteers in the US to help communities deal with natural disasters like hurricanes, but more recently, even the Covid-19 challenge, by getting N-95 masks into the hands of those who need them most, as well as helping with on-the-ground Covid-19 testing for the population at large. 

We were an airplane that built itself after take off, and that’s a perilous ride in so many ways; and how it ended up surviving was the force of will of hundreds of people.

— Sean Penn, Co-Founder & Chairperson of the Board

The bottom line take-away message from seeing this documentary was in witnessing how a single person can leverage their own celebrity power to effect enormous good in alleviating the suffering of others in our world, and how one can inspire others to do likewise. 

I gave it five out of five stars *****

check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/

 

My Salinger Year

 My Salinger Year was the first film I chose to watch from Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) extensive list of entries for 2020.

This is the time of year that I most love to settle in and watch a good movie.  At first I was disappointed about not being able to go into one of the film fest screening cinemas as in years past. The excitement of the crowd in a lineup waiting to go inside and…obviously nothing beats watching on a big screen.

However, by the time my HDMI cable was hooked up from my laptop to my TV, stretching out on a comfy sofa in PJ’s and with pizza fresh out of the oven, all was forgiven.

This film is based on real life characters in the year 1995. Written and Directed by Quebec’s Philippe Falardeau, it’s an adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 memoir starring Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley.  Qualley is the real life daughter of actress Andie MacDowell (for inquiring minds).

Qualley plays Rakoff, an English Major college grad who takes a job working for an aloof chain- smoking literary agent (Weaver) to the celebrated and reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. Salinger wrote the iconic, albeit controversial “Catcher in the Rye” that had a profound, if not unsettling effect on many people.  It was one of the required books to read in many high schools, including mine.

Rakoff moved back to the Big Apple from Berkeley, California, leaving boyfriend behind, to try to become a respected author one day. On the advice of an employment coach,  she saw how working in literary agent’s office might bring her closer to realizing her dream. Even though Rakoff had feeble typing skills and little prior knowledge of the book publishing industry, she ends up with an administrative assistant to the head one of New York’s prominent agencies boss (played by Weaver) whose character is reminiscent of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Not that this type of persona is foreign to Weaver.  Remember “Working Girl?”

Although Rakoff had read all of Judy Blume’s children’s books and was excited when Blume made an appearance in the office, Rakoff had never read “Catcher in the Rye” even though Salinger was one of the agency’s most famous and recluse authors.

Little did Rakoff realize she would be one of the few lucky ones to have brief chats with Jerry (Salinger) over the phone, where he seemed to take a professional interest in her writing aspirations, encouraging her to pursue them. Little does she realize that this brush with fame would impact her life.  At the time Salinger was working on another novel in Cornish, New Hampshire.

What he did not do was answer any of his fan mail. Those years were long gone.  Part of Rakoff’s job was to answer fan mail on Salinger’s behalf, but only in strict form letter formats given to her, and then shredding his incoming letters. Partly bored with the job, she riskily decides to personally answer some of the more desperate fan mail herself knowing she could lose her job over doing so. It gets a little complicated.

Overall I really enjoyed this film. It’s not perfect but it was easy watching and I have a preference for real life stories, not necessarily on famous people themselves.  I gave it four out of five stars. ****

I know, I know…

Check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/