John’s CIFF Diary

1 – Friday, September 26, 2003

By John

is really quite advantageous if the city that you live in has an
international film festival. No airplane ticket. No hotel fees. It’s
really great to be able to easily watch 2-3 movies per day (with a few
more on the weekends), most of which would probably never even make to
art houses. So I took advantage of this opportunity and have been going
to the Calgary International Film Festival for
the past few days.

of the film venues are situated pretty close together
within walking distance. And if you don’t want to walk there’s always
the public transit “C-Train” which closes the gap pretty

Having said that I started off my
local film festival experience with two films, The Fog of

The Fog of War

A very gray (foggy?)
documentary depiction of Robert

Errol Morris
successfully plays with the audience’s head in this
one–half-biography/half-American history lesson–McNamara
recounts his life, the private (that he will let us see) and the
public, fighting the war in Japan, working for Ford, and as defense
secretary under two US presidents. There are times that
you feel a slight respect for the person, seemingly a deep thinker, and
dedicated to the jobs and appointments that he had. Then there are
other times where McNamara just has to say a few words about his
defense secretary days and what he ‘doesn’t want to talk about’ to
leave you to wonder what exactly he means by that. The Phillip Glass
score really helps at this point to make you feel

I get out of McNamara (which is really scary) is that he really just
wants to do his job well, whether that’s saving lives by
installing seat belts in cars or being a more efficient war
machine. And he doesn’t seem to see (or reveal) the difference
between the two.

At the end of the film (SPOILER
McNamara is asked if he could comment further on the war in Vietnam and
he responds by saying that he could say many things on it but that he
worried that people would construe it or misinterpret his meaning. The
director (off-camera) then says, “Well, I guess you’re damned if you
do, and damned if you don’t.” McNamara responds: “Well, I’d rather be
damned if I don’t.” We could at least say it was an honest reply, and
perhaps McNamara in this film shows more of his human side (whether
this is his intention or not) than many would care to in

This could contrast with the The
Trials of Henry Kissinger
(2002) in which Kissinger only
shows his ‘good side’, or at least tries


remember from last year’s festival skipping some of the films I felt
were way out in the forbidden zone as far as my tastes were concerned.
I decided to take the risk with On_Line which deals
with two
gents who operate a sexcam operation out of their apartment. Oh boy.
The film deals with the sexual voyeurism of both the users of the site
and site’s featured um… artists (?), as well as the search for
relationship all entangled within that.

through the film I’m thinking, “this is a low-budget film
trying to be an art film.” But there started to be some really
honest, genuine, and quite funny moments to it. Part of
the struggle of the characters is wondering if the on-line fantasy
could ever carry over into real life–most of the time it doesn’t and
ends up being more disappointing to them than anything

is the question of “what is honest reality?” provoked between the
webcam voyeurism of “seeing real people as they really are” versus what
people will only let you see. In the end, the movie doesn’t offer any

2 – Saturday September 27, 2003

was a real treat. It was all about the animated shorts–and being an
animation devotee, I was looking forward to

were some international and Canadian entries this year, and even a
local artist’s animation was in the program. Here are some


I’ve always been really impressed with
stuff that comes out of the
school in France. A real good handle on technology and original
storytelling. I can say that I’ve grown to be a fan of their stuff
since attending the 2001 and 2002 SIGGRAPH computer graphics conferences.
Tim Tom
doesn’t disappoint. The simple story of two characters trying to meet
each other, all the while being obstructed by a higher

love the different mediums that are used in this film–CG and hand
drawings for representing facial expressions on their coil ring
notebook heads. Really great–a very entertaining


A National Film Board (NFB) entry,
Showa Shinzan
is the story of a Japanese woman recalling an event from her childhood.
Her parents were killed during the World War II, forcing her to live
with her grandparents. During this time her grandfather is the only
person, being that everyone is involved and concerned with the war
effort, to witness the birth of a new mountain in

elements such as CG characters, historic film footage, and Japanese
bamboo brush paintings gives a unique quality to the animation. The
historical footage says that this has taken place in the context of
something that most people know about (WWII), but the ‘modern’ CG
animation suggests a more contemporary context. It brings the viewer
into a story that could’ve happened yesterday.

I get out of this is that miraculous events like the birth of
mountains are extremely rare and yet they do happen, so you are blessed
if you happen to witness


Jennifer Drummond employs the same proprietary
software that made Waking Life
(2001) come alive to go behind the scenes of FEDS, the people who dish
out free food samples at grocery stores (Food Education Demo
Specialists). I’m not sure this has the same ‘wow’ impact that
Waking Life had, where there was just so
much of this technique in one movie. But I liked the real-ness of the
characters, these could be people that you see in your grocery store
down the

to Cope With Death

elderly women is visited by the Grim Reaper, only the Reaper gets it in
end. Given its aesthetic look, one might think it is 3D computer
animation rendered by a computer and then hand-painted. Nope. The whole
film is hand-drawn. The
timing is great, even down to the little details where grandma adjusts
her… accoutrements. It’s just so good to laugh at Death… in the

Toll Collector

Wow. This is an incredibly
beautiful film with a heart of
gold. A deformed lonely woman who longs for happiness and
companionship feels that somehow she is unworthy because of her
deformities. A fan of Tim Burton, Rachael Johnson
crafts a personal masterpiece of puppetry animation. The disturbingly
beautiful imagery, which I think is probably a Burton trademark,
evocatively describes the pains of loneliness, without being clichÈd

* * * *

I was
pretty tired after I left the theatre that day–earlier in the day I
had spent time at the animation co-op here in
Calgary as part of a workshop with NFB animation director
Chris Hinton
(who I will get to in Day 3). I needed food and to be honest I hadn’t
really planned out my day well enough in advance to know what I wanted
to see next. I had decided to go home, but the downtown train line had
maintenance crews working on the tracks, so I decided to head further
up the line to catch my train home. My stomach grumbled along the way
and I decided I could spare the time to grab a bite to

passed by one of the other theatres for the film festival and noticed
that there was another film playing there in a couple of hours. So I
grabbed a bite to eat at Sam’s Deli and window shopped some of the
stores in the area then got in line.


I think this was probably what I
needed that night. A warm quirky comedy much in the same vein as
something like Waking Ned Divine
(1998). The story is about two Italian American mobsters running from
the Ukrainian mob, who go into hiding in their cousin’s fish and chips
shop in Glasgow, Scotland. The cousin operates the shop with the help
of his grandfather and a waitress (who he’s in love with, but is too
shy to tell her). Much hilarity ensues as these two cultures clash and
learn from one another. I liked how the mobsters didn’t fit the mold of
the dumb tough mobster type–there was warmth and intelligence in their
characters, even if they were involved organized crime. I found the
film warm, hopeful, and funny.

Then I finally
boarded the train and went home to sleep.