Calgary IFF (cont’d)

Reports keep coming into filmjourney regarding the Calgary International Film Festival. Be sure to check out the entire thread here.

First up is John Torvi. –Doug

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Day 3 – Sunday, September 28, 2003

by John Torvi

The first part of the day didn’t go so well today. I woke up finding out over the phone that I had missed some of the animation workshop with Chris Hinton, an Oscar-nominated animator who does films for the National Film Board of Canada. But I quickly got ready and headed down to the Quickdraw Animation Society, an animation co-op here in Calgary, to catch the last half.

At this point, I’m going to cheat. I’m going to write about films that weren’t officially at the festival but we got a glimpse of in class.


When I went to the Animated Shorts program yesterday and saw Chris Hinton’s X-Man, my gut reaction was, “It’s like Stan Brackage on crack: a total chaos of really bright colours.” No narrative, just a lot of images moving around to a very free-form, abruptly chaotic piano piece. It was cool–don’t get me wrong–but I really hadn’t made my mind up about the style. A lot of animators go the non-narrative experimental route, and I was wondering what was it about Chris Hinton’s style that made him different.

Flux is a little different in the sense that it has a narrative, but it’s still pretty crazy as far as animation goes. Gone are the rules that you have to make precise line drawings. Gone are the ideas that set changes have to be tightly cut. The lines are sloppy. The set changes just morph into each other. You would think this style would be annoying, but it just has so much life to it (if you could call life –more like “organized chaos”).

Flux, storywise, deals with the changes people go through in life. Growing up, getting married, having kids, the kids falling off swingsets, the family taking a ride in the car, getting old, and dying. There is that certain melancholy feeling to the piece that seems to pervade whenever animators deal with this sort of subject matter. Not every person necessarily has all of these moments happen in their life, some are lucky even only to have a few. But for those who do, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the humour, the silliness of how we act sometimes, especially in some of the darker moments.

Mt. Head

An Academy Award-nominated film, Mt. Head was one I have been waiting to see for about a year. The story is about a man who eats some strange cherry seeds and the next day he has a cherry tree sprouting out of the top of his head. This is based on a traditional Japanese story which has been set in present day Tokyo.

The main medium used is what looks like paper cutouts. However, it was pointed out in class that there was also a lot going on with subtle water and cement effects.

The narration is in Japanese and there are no subtitles, but it really doesn’t matter with this one. Much of the spoken humour can be derived and understood from the emotions the narrator brings to the main character.

Un Jour

“One day a man entered my belly.”

“The next day, since he was still there, I realized that I would have to get use to him.”

This is the premise for Un Jour, a film by Marie Paccou in which a relationship is represented by a man fitting perpendicular through a woman’s belly. They are inseperable, they co-exist, they are one. Relationships which don’t work are the ones where the man doesn’t fit in her belly, or the man becomes abusive.

This is certainly a subjective perspective and I don’t think it is meant to espouse an ideal, that is, to find the “perfect fit.” At the end of the film (SPOILER) even the ‘perfect fit’ leaves and the woman, who is the narrator, comments on how much of a surprise it was to find that he wasn’t there anymore.

Even though it was done on a computer, the style of this film seems more influenced by woodcut engravings.

The master class was over, and I headed out once again to get my head back in reality, and watch some “normal” films. 😉

The Corporation

This approximately three-hour film (yes, three hours) deals with the role and nature of multinational corporations in the world. It is an exhaustive look at the state of corporate responsibility. And I loved it. It is arguably the most important film that I’ve seen this year.

Partly directed by Mark Achbar (and also Jennifer Abbot and Joel Bakken), who was also partly responsible for Manufacturing Consent, the 1993 documentary on Noam Chomsky, The Corporation starts with defining what corporations actually are and how they came to be. Much of the content comes from interviews with CEOs, business people, and anti-corp icons such as Naomi Klein (author of No Logo) and Michael Moore. It then outlines the problems with corporations, giving some frightening examples of how corporations can go wrong. It goes into possible outcomes and some of the positive things that are happening to change the ‘machine’.

Achbar was in attendance at this screening and took questions (when the projector broke ten minutes into the film) and asked for comments. He did say that several distributors were vying for the rights to distribute this in the US. In Canada, it’s going to be played on Access Television.

If it does come to your neck of the woods, it is highly recommended viewing.

Editor’s note: Karen Neudorf offers her informative comments on the film as well:

I saw The Corporation today. Of course there are similarities with Bowling for Columbine and  Manufacturing Consent (Mark Achbar is one of three directors on The Corporation and was the director of MC). There’s a lot of 1950’s stock footage, graphics and news clips to keep the audience engaged. Bright orange section titles ( Case Histories, The Pathology of Commerce, Mindset, Boundary Issues, etc.) keep the audience from getting too lost. There are so many ideas to keep track of.

The Corporation is well thought out, progressing through history, from when and how corporations took on the rights of a person to present day as corporations expand their powers globally and dilute democratic governments’ responsibility for the public good. Although the filmmakers obviously had their bias, there were interviews with various CEO’s. (If you don’t believe in transformation or the power of an idea, you need to see this film just to hear the story of Ray Anderson, CEO of carpet manufacturer, Interface.) There is also commentary from Naomi Klein, Maude Barlow, Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and many others. It was enthusiastically received by the crowd of mostly young adults who gave a resounding round of applause that sounded like an “Amen!”.

The film is much too long at 2 hours and 45 minutes. Achbar was available for a question and answer period. He handed out a questionnaire with a list of scenes asking us which ones should be cut so hopefully, the next version will be much tighter and easier to digest. Towards the end, I grew tired of all the black and white stock footage and longed to hear the stories of the commentators, slightly back lit against a black background, without any cute visual material. (Mark Achbar goes into detail about his interview set up at

The question and answer period was amusing as various students tried to show how much they had studied in history class by asking “Why didn’t you put this in?” and “Why aren’t there any comments on the fall of communism?” and on and on. Achbar said “Because it’s already too long and I only have one film.” And then, a bit frustrated, “Can we talk about what is actually in the film now?”

He has been working for six years on The Corporation and figures he has one and a half years to go with promotions and festivals, “So that I can think about the bottom line which for us is about lessening debt.” (As an independent magazine publisher, I can relate.) I think he really wants to start a conversation. He talked about making a “kick-ass educational DVD” with a study guide to keep people engaged.

I spoke with Mr. Achbar in the lobby for a few minutes and he seemed tired but very passionate about his film. I hope he makes his cuts and gets his wish for a larger discussion. The ideas in the The Corporation are definitely worth talking about.

These were all the films that I was able to pack in for day 3, and so I headed home.

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Day 4, Monday, September 29, 2003

Modern Times (1936)

One of the nice things about this film festival is the restored classics – especially ones that you’re going to see for the first time on the big screen. I would admit that I haven’t seen Charlie Chaplin‘s Modern Times before. Again, another treat.

I can only guess at this point what sort of role this movie had in cinematic history. I have seen Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and would notice that Keaton’s characters find life rather strange and surreal, while Chaplin’s are more impish, and are more interested at times in creating havoc. A first time observation, but I’m not saying it’s a bad thing either.

The Guy in the Grave Next Door
(Grabben i graven bredvid)

A city librarian who enjoys the finer things in life. A country dairy farmer who finds great joy in the proper construction of a manure pile. She likes classical music and art galleries. He enjoys playing the harmonica. A chance meeting at a cemetery, of all places, makes each wonder if a relationship is possible. Tired of being single, they make a brave attempt even though they have very little in common.

An import from Sweden, this film milks (pardon the dairy pun) the couple’s severe cultural differences to their full comedic worth.


A Canadian film starring Sir Ian McKellan, of Lord of the Rings fame. An elderly ecologist who lives in England, is forced to face the extended family he abandoned years ago when he has to stay with them in Victoria, B.C., when he receives an honourary degree from the university there.

McKellan joins a strong cast. The mom, played by Deborah Kara Unger, had some good angst moments, as her character finds it hard to trust people, which she attributes to her grand uncle (played by McKellon) abandoning her when her father was killed in an accident. Her daughter in the film has some good deadpan comedic moments.

I grew weary, though, of the dream sequence shots of McKellan wandering around to the soundtrack of slow, minimal piano tones. Strangely, many of the films that I’ve seen here at the festival use the exact same technique, almost if it was a piece of “clip art” that you can download off a website. (“Ah–, that’s the one I need for my film!”) I might think that it was because of most of the films I’ve seen have dealt with death or anxiety, but there are those as I found out later (day 5 and 6 entry) that don’t follow the norm.

After a long day of screenings, I was in the mood for short films that wouldn’t require serious engagement, so I peered below the 49th parallel to what the Americans were doing. Some highlights:

Tom Hits His Head…

…And it brings on panic attacks which affect Tom’s grasp on reality. Special attention to be paid to the crude devil baby who informs Tom that he is the anti-Christ–he’s just pure independent cinema.


A young woman who endlessly carries around a tape recorder wonders if anyone from high school remembered her and goes to her hometown to find out…