More CIFF…

The Calgary International Film Festival reviews just keep rolling in. Be sure to check out John Torvi’s entire thread, as well as Candace Elder’s incisive comments at the end of this thread… even if neither one of them enjoyed The Son as much as they should have. 😉

Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on the American Film Institute’s AFI FEST in Los Angeles in November, which is supposed to announce its line-up sometime today. –Doug

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Day 7, Thursday, October 2, 2003

By John Torvi

My Life Without Me

I wasn’t really sure of the other movies in the same time block as this film, and I had seen the trailer at Apple’s site. So I decided to go with the more mainstream of the choices, even though it would probably show up at the theatres at a later date.

Sarah Polley stars as a young woman who finds out she has a short time to live and decides to make the best of it by doing some of the things she wouldn’t have done. She drinks and smokes as much as she wants. She has an affair with another man. She speaks honestly and directly with everyone, for she feels she has nothing to lose. She also tries to tie up all the loose ends with her family, although not burdening her family and friends with the news of her illness. She tries to be productive in the short time that she’s got, rather than spend it in hospitals getting poked and prodded.

I liked the non-naval gazing attitude that the main character took when she found out that she was dying. It was different and life-affirming. Also when she discovered how odd the normal everyday things are, and how ‘safe’ people seem to live without realizing that life is really short. The Elvis Costello song reference lightly salting the film, and having Deborah Harry as the heroine’s mom, weren’t bad choices either. Bring hankies.

Bus 174

Somewhere around this time, I was really interested in seeing films from somewhere else besides North America. I had seen a bunch already and was interested in getting my film fest experience just a little more well-rounded. I also wanted to see a film that didn’t involve death. Not that I minded it, but I had seen enough to munch on. Doug had also recommended this.

Bus 174 co-relates the cyclic relationship between poverty and crime, and the consequences of a society that chooses to ignore that association. This is shown through the documenting of Sandro do Nascimento, a street kid who held a group of people hostage in a bus in Rio de Janeiro, after failing to rob it’s occupants. The film intersperses the hostage taking, with a background into his life.

What a moving and engaging film. The movie demonstrates the pitfalls of a penal system which locks up it’s so-called problems and expects things to get better by it. It does this effectively by telling Sandro’s personal story, rather than just a bunch of graphs, charts, and statistics.

Day 8, Friday, October 3, 2003

Hollywood North

Hollywood North is a ficticious story during a real time in Canadian filmmaking history. In the 1970s, filmmakers in Canada were given tax write-offs in the effort to help foster a small but potent film industry. Hollywood North is about that making of a Canadian film in which everything that could go wrong, does. The person making the documentary about the movie steals film for the making of her own movie which she films in her own time. The American star, who was requested by the film’s investors, only accepts the part on the condition that he is allowed to make huge re-writes to the screenplay (which is originally based on a famous Canadian novel). The investors feel that the American actor has “star” power, and would give the film a better chance at being successful at the box office. The film is doomed from the get-go, eventually becoming nothing like the novel that it is supposed to be based on. The problems come to a climax, when the author visits the set and finds out her novel has been turned into a pro-American action film.

There are a few good chuckles in this film, and there is the irony that Matthew Modine, an American, is cast as the lead role in the film as the film’s producer. Even though it was suppose to be set in the ’70s there wasn’t really enough there to make me believe that–it seemed it was almost a contemporary film. Just didn’t feel right.

Ojos Que No Ven (What The Eye Doesn’t See)

The film festival featured a mini-retrospective on Peruvian film maker Francisco Lombardi. Having never heard of him, I thought this might be worth taking a risk on. Ojos Que No Ven is the story of Peruvians from different walks of life and how their lives intertwine during a time when video tapes become public that belong to a presidential advisor that feature all the people he bribed to gain support.

I found the film to be like Soderbergh’s Traffic(2000) with a sort of South American flavour. Lombardi really weaves together a tale of corruption and greed that seeps through the Peruvian social classes.

The director was available afterwards for questions and commented that there was no funding for this project outside of the cast and crew. It was quite an accomplishment even on that note alone.


What a great surprise. Not on my list of films to see, I decided to watch this film since the line for it wasn’t too long. A film from Poland, Edi is about two scrap metal collectors who live out of an abandoned factory. Edi is a homely, yet quite intelligent man, who reads books which he keeps in a broken down refrigerator. And his friend, Jurek, a simpleton, feels they might be better off if they had some of finer amenities, like a TV. They spend their days collecting scrap metal from around town so they might be able to afford some drinks later in the evening. Trouble arises when the “brothers,” two psychotic bootleggers, ask Edi to tutor their sister so that she might get her high school diploma.

I liked the use of slow side camera pans (ala Tarkovsky) and overhead shots, the paint peeling off the walls. The film had a sort of ‘found object’ rustic beauty to it. I might pick this up again if it comes out on DVD–much of my time was spent trying to look through other people in the seats in front of me, to try and read the subtitles, though, so it might be nice to go through this once again, now that I know the whole story. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Hell’s Highway

Finishing off the day was this documentary on the films of the Highway Safety Foundation. Through the ’60s and ’70s, the foundation created many of the films that were watched in driver’s education classes. Relying heavily on shock value, the films used actual car accident scenes to try to push the point home about driver safety. A unique amateurish film style, the films are spoofed in movies and TV shows like The Simpsons. It’s hard to take these films seriously. Although sincere in their promotion of highway safety, there are the oddly scripted transitions like the one involving two cops who wait outside the home of a teenager’s house to tell the mother that her son died–the somber scene is interjected with the cops cheerfully flipping a coin to see who will tell the mother the bad news. The documentary also notes that many of these films have become available on home video, and there are even parties where people go just to watch these films.

The director of this documentary was fair in his portrayal of the people from the highway safety foundation–the film splits between talking with the people who made the highway films and film critics who comment on the place that these films now have in popular culture.

Coming soon… Day 9 and 10…