THE 21ST ANNUAL
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Alex Grant reports on the Festival now in full swing
- Update October 8th
last Fridays Globe & Mail Review Section, journalist Alexandra
Gill made the reader submit to the arrogant posturing and hypersensitivity
to criticism that has always characterized the program-directors
of the annual Vancouver film orgy, henceforth to be referred to
as VIFF 21.
This 21st stanza of the allegedly maverick VIFF event, as it has
been wrongly characterized by the CBC (if it is a maverick event,
Im the proverbial bull in the china shop), is predictably
It is a case, yet again, of same-old-same-old and been-there-done-that.
That is the customary stress upon obscure films from the emerging
South-East Asian cinemas and simple-minded, totally opaque documentaries
from everywhere on Gods green earth.
The VIFF programmers
do always throw a very wide net, but their catch is as puny as ever
With regard to the word documentary, let me remind you that
every film is a documentary, even if it records Hollywood actors Jeff
Bridges or Harrison Ford dressed up as and impersonating the imaginary
The collusion between a cravenly obsequious print and broadcast media
in Vancouver and the VIFF event let alone the lowest common denominator
attitude of many local utterly naïve film goers has brought about
this dire state of affairs. Most crucially, such excruciating brown-nosing
and boot-licking by the media has created a situation where a film is
judged as worthwhile simply because it is about some burning socio-cultural
or socio-political issue. In other words, politically correct horse-puckey
To put not too fine a point on it, for me, a good film is one which
treats its theme seriously without being about some portentous serious
By a random, scattergun process of sifting through the evidence of the
VIFF 21 handbook, which is notorious for its vulgar, self-congratulatory
capsule reviews, a knowledgeable woman friend and I (both of us well-versed
in the vagaries of the film fests publicity machine) chose two
films to see on the third day of the event, Saturday September 28th
Out of the usual roster of films devoted to the depiction of dysfunctional
families, yet another hoary indulgence of the festival, we selected
Tony Ayres gloom-and-doom tear-jerker Walking
on Water and the British wannabe screwball comedy drama by
directors Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger The
Curiously, but not so curiously, given the traditional queer bent of
the annual VIFF event, both films center upon the aftermath of a gay
males demise. They portray the ripples set off among a coterie
of friends and family punished by the untimely departure of their friend(s).
The Aussie item, set in todays blue-collar suburbs of Sydney,
begins with a bungled physician-assisted suicide of gay Gary, wasting
away from terminal AIDS. His death almost destroys the friendship of
Garys surviving closest pals: gay Charlie (Vince Colosimo) and
straight Anna (Maria Theodorakis).
Walking on Water is one of countless aspiring tragic comedies
devoted to burning social issues that utterly confuse bathos - totally
misplaced empathy - and pathos, which is honestly earned sentiment rooted
in human emotional realities.
Admittedly, Tony Ayres film approximates the shadow of genuine
pathos when compared with so very many utterly wimpy wet-behind-the-ears
contenders in this odiously transparent genre. His film is a self-important
melodrama subsisting merely on contemporary issues: AIDS, euthanasia,
sexual identity confusion, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Such weak-kneed melodramas seldom transcend their profound immersion
in neo-realist kitchen-sink minutiae, and (lets not forget) politically
correct bullshit spewed over all comers like projectile diarrhea.
In a nutshell, Walking on Water offers us the unbecoming sight
of a gaggle of unrepentant substance abusers (chain-smoking, pot-headed,
coke-snorting, ecstasy gobblers) who behave even more selfishly than
usual when they prove unable to cope with loss and grief. Woefully inadequate
wankers from Down-Under. Why should I spend five minutes in their company,
The Lawless Heart by gay filmmakers Hunter and Hunsinger from
Britain is a tad more wise, a smidgen more witty, and tons warmer. It
is initially the beneficiary of an appealingly droll role for by U.K.
veteran iconoclast actor Bill Nighy. He is a total delight playing a
dithering, indecisive, introspective British nerd of the first rank.
Unfortunately, Nighy is made prominent by his near total absence after
the first half-hour of The Lawless Heart.
Far too peremptorily, the co-directors opt for a meeting cute
screwball comedy format relying much too heavily upon the tiresome
recapitulation of initially charming moments from the films opening.
These re-enactments from the different characters points of view
suggest a lack of sufficient material for a full-length feature film.
Gay middle-aged, small town bistro-owner Stuart has been
drowned either by accident, or at his own impulse. After his funeral,
the survivors cope by indulging in innocent games of sexual musical
chairs. The late Stuarts bed-and business-partner Nick
(Tom Hollander) who strives manfully to get it on with a kooky misfit
woman whom he hires as waitress.
Everything within The Lawless Heart dovetails neatly like tongue-and-groove
Neatness is all for these obsessive compulsive filmmakers to the detriment
of real emotional frankness. The film clings too timidly to politically
correct principles and is far from being un-law-abiding.
To my mind, neither film deserves inclusion in a major film festival.
Both belong on television. Not that VIFF has ever in twenty one years
come within a stones throw of the major film festivals, such as
New Yorks, which began the same day this year.
Many moons ago, the VIFF program crew chose deliberately to devalue
the currency of genuine festival worthy films by going for quantity
over quality. They relentlessly prefer second-rate politically correct
films over the eternal verities of real art.
In doing so, they have been assiduously aided and abetted by an ill-informed
media culture in Vancouver that fails to ever tell its ass from its
elbow and never can separate the sheep from the goats. To these individuals,
everything is fools gold.
21 - A BRIEF HISTORY
destructive comments upon The 21st Annual Vancouver International
Film Festival are essentially constructive ones based upon first-hand
knowledge of the politics and the rationale of this annual film
orgy, knowledge accumulated by me since 1982.
I have extensive experience organizing serious film festivals
since 1972 in Ottawa and London,England. I have also been closely
involved with the British and Canadian "Film Society"
movement, since 1960.The proliferation of film festivals emerged
from the Film Society movement in the early 60s, in point
of fact, certainly in Britain and Canada. There was a commercial
brand of modest film-fest, at the West Point Grey
Varsity Theatre from 1962 through 1982. That same year the Ridge
Theatre launched a commercial [ no civic,provincial
or federal funding ] film festival up on 16th and Arbutus. I have
also frequently attended both the Cannes and London film-fests.
As a programming expert from 1972 thoughout the 70s.
Seldom have I witnessed the slow death by complacency and an arrogant
sense of entitlement to spend our tax money incompetently
and willfully as is apparent to any knowledgeable expert
examining the dwindling into apathy and dead-end fate of VIFF,
since they began to accumulate a plethora of mediocre films each
Fall, preening constantly about the dull Dragons and Tigers sidebar
event ,which has subsumed almost everything elsse in sight despite
the deplorable taste of its programmer,and the lavish cornucopia
of even duller documentary films.
The annual Toronto film festival which I attended in its initial
years is of course devoutly at the feet of Hollywood, yet does
display better taste and a far higher level of discrimination
each Fall when compared with VIFF. The local organizers
preference for a low profile and no ballyhoo is often counterproductive.
Far fewer films and far more sense of what is worthy and au courant
would do wonders for this lame, limpand horribly self-satisfied
and complacent event. So very many of the entries at VIFF within
months go straight to video-DVD and rightly so.
Yet until the print and broadcast media get off their haunches
and complain about the wretched excess of VIFF 21 an excess of
mediocre films and an excess of self-congratulation nothing will
change, After all The Vancouvers Sun SPONSORS this event yet pretends
to provide objective assessment of its caliber. So very small-town
and far from world-class, just coasting in neutral all the way
downhill. Thats the ticket!!
A very good friend of mine, very well-versed in a decade or more of
plunging VIFF credibility, once its powers-that-be opted for quantity
over quality in the late 80s, has seen a dozen films at VIFF21
and has enjoyed only a single film 'Me Without You' thoroughly
out of this dozen selections.
Just who is doing this alleged selection process? And what the hell
do they think theyre up to these days ? Word on the street all
hearsay of course is that this HAS to be the dullest least worthy film
orgy in the entire 21 years of VIFF.
Of course the cringing media mavens have yet again this Fall failed
to ask the critical question, which is Why do the VIFF organizers
think they are doing us a favour with our tax monies ?
I do believe that these programmers and their minions pride themselves
on adding luster to the cultural scene, spending many hundreds of thousands
of OUR dollars to host this truly pathetic horde of often insipid and
worthless films, foisted upon a public that should know a lot better
than to kowtow to such ignorami.
One of the principal prejudices of the VIFF folk is their animosity
towards U.S. filmmakers, an animosity based upon sheer ignorance. Without
Hollywood, warts and all, there would be no emerging national cinemas,
period. How any serious film festival could ignore such New York Film
Festival entries for 2002 as Alexander Paynes About Schmidt,
Paul Schraders Auto-Focus,Paul T.Andersons Punch
Drunk Love and more, all praised to the skies in The New York Times
which boasts some of the finest English-language critics in the Western
World is beyond my comprehension.
Anti-Americanism is rampant in much of Vancouver - the sons and grandsons,
daughters and granddaughters of Vietnam conchies/draft dodgers have
inculcated in their offspring a truly sinister hatred of their forebearsland
of birth. A self-defeating blinkered attitude based of course upon undiluted,
unthinking prejudice run rampant.
A film festival that seeks world-class status should not indulge some
juvenile goonery. We deserve better from those who spend our tax dollars
in what amounts this year to a futile pursuit of what the CBC poobahs
have dubbed a maverick clutch of motion-pictures on the
.give us a break.
At its best VIFF
has been merely a last round-up Festival of Festivals conglomeration
of the prior 10 months best films from earlier 2002 film-fests.
Surely an easy task when other film-fest organizers have done the filtering
and the fussing over the merits of world cinemas annual output?
Yet even such a rudimentary task of film selection yet again eludes
the VIFF staffers leaving us the patrons high and dry on a motley collection
of ba, worse and truly indifferent films.
© Alex Grant - October 2002
Alex Grant will be reviewing other festival films until it's conclusion
on October 11th.
October 8th Readers response:
I'm wondering: how does Alex Grant really feel about the Vancouver
International Film Festival? I feel that he's holding back. Actually,
speaks the truth, and I'm glad that someone finally has. Everyone I
at parties mutter about how lame the festival is, and how they haven't
much they have liked, but no one has really spoken out until this
VIFF was decent as recently as 1992, when I watched Atom Egoyan's "The
Adjuster" with a very young M. Night Shyamalan, who attended with
his first feature "Praying With Anger". For a while, I was
just assuming that the films were getting worse, and it had nothing
to do with the festival (this concept would at least account for the
past two Egoyan films), but Mr. Grant really hit the nail with his comments
about how lame Dragons & Tigers can be. I have seen some truly dreadful
and offensive films in that program.
Sure, I got to see some gems by Kar-wai Wong, John Woo, and Hirokazu
Koreeda, but a film illiterate could have picked out those as winners.
(My parents - who, as much as I love them, have been known to rent Eric
Roberts movies - would even pick out their films as winners.)
What I find annoying is how every single film in Dragons & Tigers
up as the second coming of something, worth sacrificing your first born
see, and then you get to the cinema all hyped up, only to experience
another a piece of crap. Plus, the programmer utterly worships the
that Beat Takeshi walks on, which is not always prudent. This year I
decided to be very selective in the films I see, sticking with films
friends (I think the Canadian programmers are amongst the few at the
festival with any clue), ones by directors I really admire, or ones
come with some acclaim from other festivals. And because of this
selectivity, I have seen some winners, like "Punch", "Various
"The Burial Society", and the devastatingly amazing "Lilya
also been able to devote vaulable time to my work, which in the past
on hold during the festival. Anyways, I wanted to send feedback to you
Mr. Grant for speaking the truth. I hope the message gets across to
powers that be at VIFF that the festival is fast becoming irrelevant.
In a film savvy city like Vancouver, it is a shame we do not have a
more potent and internationally recognized film festival.
from J. a local Vancouver filmmaker
A disappointing Norwegian Chiller
A structural mess
but minimalist film from Cronenberg
Hilarious spoof of Crouching Tiger genre
More Reviews by Alex Grant and others in our Review
On a positive note
case you desperately need to see something funny, now that summer has
finally ended, catch the French movie Eight Women at the Fifth
Avenue Theatre in Vancouver and just go away happy and thoroughly bemused.
This film kicked off the Festival and just a treat. Go see it!
** Chinese Odyessy I have to say
it was wonderful to see this film, laugh with the Ridge crowd, hear
the Director speakand just plain enjoy a brilliant spoof of Crouching
TIger and Wong Kai - Wai's Chunking Express. The actors and audience
had great fun in the making and watching of this film and I really hope
it gets picked up by distributors - it will make someone a fortune.
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