Tag Archives: Reviews of film and video

Film reminds: Pride is a global movement

Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride
Directed by Bob Christie
Reel Queer Film Festival, Vic Theatre, Victoria
June 30, 2013

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

It was a quiet evening at the Vic Theatre, not surprising for a Sunday night in Victoria. Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride was the final screening at the first Reel Queer Film Festival, organised by the Victoria Film Festival. I almost didn’t go because I was sucked into a TV series on DVD. But I thought, “Do I want to watch HBO actors call women cunts all night, or deepen my understanding and appreciation of a global human rights movement that has secured my legislative freedoms?” Yeah. I should go.

In this feature length documentary, director Bob Christie follows Vancouver Pride Parade director Ken Coolen, along with several VPS colleagues, as they travel to places where Pride is still steeped in protest, and even where queer sexualities are still criminalised. The group experiences first-hand the violent threats of anti-gay protestors in Warsaw, Moscow, and Budapest, and witnesses Equal Ground’s kite-flying Pride action in Colombo, Sri Lanka, an event which is only advertised after it has happened in order to protect those brave enough to attend. In Sri Lanka, homosexuality is still punishable with up to ten years in prison, and “curative rape” is a “common practice.”

Beyond Gay connects the Pride celebrations in cities like Toronto and Vancouver to a wider global movement with a call to action to support human rights around the world. Ken Coolen, a likeable big guy with a gentle demeanour, meets courageous activists around the world. In Moscow, he praises the group, led by Nikolai Alekseev, for their bravery, asserting, “You are not alone” as he shares a binder full of signatures from Canadian government officials for the Declaration of Montreal on LGBT Human Rights. The fear is palpable in many scenes, especially the action in Moscow where secret locations and meeting spots were necessary simply for a small group of people to stand outside the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with rainbow flags, and then walk 120 feet before dispersing to avoid violence. The anti-gay protestors and media showed up at the decoy location. Violence erupted when a Pride organiser responded to a media question by affirming that he was with an LGBT organisation. He was immediately pushed, and beaten.

The film is full of these heart-breaking struggles and testimonials, as well as awe-inspiring triumphs. Energetic club music scores much of the film, suggesting urgency while also evoking the intensity of Pride celebrations, and its origins in Stonewall. The music was at times heavy-handed: sombre piano music scores moments of reflection, which causes them to verge on campy. In these scenes, I think a “moment of silence” in the music would have been more effective, an austerity to convey the coarse reality of the human rights violations.

The motivations for the film are easy to understand. Pride celebrations in North American have come under much criticism for their commercialisation, which many feel demonstrates how we have “lost our way.” I often hear people cite A&W’s visible parade sponsorship–a restaurant that assigns heteronormative gender roles even to hamburgers– as an example of all that is wrong with Pride today. This year in Victoria, one group responds to the current state of Pride by hosting Alt Pride Community Festival, which was “formed as a reaction against experiences of oppression, exclusion, and lack of accountability during pride events and within queer communities.”

I’m not sure how I will feel about Pride this year. Things have changed a lot since I first marched in a Pride Parade. It was 1997, and I was sixteen. I walked behind a float blaring “We Are Family,” a drag queen in a purple spandex gown and silver wig waving to the crowds. But the cheers always swelled for us, the youth group, the only LGBT youth group I knew of, one which met at Bute and Davie in Vancouver’s West End Friday nights. (To attend, I had to travel for three hours on public transit, with no way of getting home before the buses stopped running.)

That was the first and only Pride Parade I marched in. This right to assemble and celebrate our diversity is one that many of us take for granted.

Andrea Routley is the editor of Plenitude Magazine, Canada’s queer literary magazine.

Innovative documentary screening this week

Girl Rising
Thursday, June 20, 7 pm
The Caprice Theatre, Victoria
Sponsored by Dwight School Canada
Admission by donation

The movie tells the stories of nine girls from different parts of the world who face arranged marriages, child slavery, and other heartbreaking injustices. Despite these obstacles, the brave girls offer hope and inspiration. By getting an education, they’re able to break barriers and create change. Each girl’s story was written by a renowned writer from her native country.

From Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins and the award-winning Documentary Group, in association with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions comes Girl Rising–an innovative new feature film about the power of education to change a girl–and the world. Girl Rising is powered by strategic partner, Intel Corporation, and distribution partner CNN Films. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchette, Selena Gomez and other A-list actors contribute voice performances to the film,which features original music from Academy Award winner Rachel Portman, in collaboration with Hans Zimmer.

The film spotlights unforgettable girls like Sokha, an orphan who rises from the dumps of Cambodia to become a star student and an accomplished dancer; Suma, who composes music to help her endure forced servitude in Nepal and today crusades to free others; and Ruksana, an Indian “pavement-dweller” whose father sacrifices his own basic needs for his daughter’s dreams. Each girl is paired with a renowned writer from her native country. Edwidge Danticat, Sooni Taraporevala Aminatta Forna and others tell the girls’ stories, each in it’s style, and all with profound resonance. These girls are each unique, but the obstacles they faced are ubiquitous. Like the 66 million girls around the world who dream of going to school, what Sokha, Suma, Ruksana and the rest want most is to be students: to learn. And now, And now, by sharing their personal journeys, they have become teachers. Watch Girl Rising, and you will see: One girl with courage is a revolution.

Polley’s Stories We Tell moves audiences with simple honesty

Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley, Director
Viewed at  the Available Light Film Fest
February 4-10, 2013, Whitehorse, Yukon

Reviewed by Nadine Sander-Green

Stories We Tell is an experiment that went incredibly well.

In her first documentary, Sarah Polley searches for the truth about her mother, an actress who died of cancer when Polley was eleven years old. She does so in the most direct way she can think of: by interviewing everybody and anybody who knew the exuberant Diane Polley. We meet Diane through her handful of children, her husband Michael, her friends, an actor who worked on stage with her for only a few months. She is remembered as a fearless character who had a terrible voice but sang all the time. Diane was the life of the party, a woman always trying to fix the mess she had created, a loving wife, a mistress.

In several interviews Polley has admitted she had no idea if the film (which took over five years to make) was going to amount to anything. She even said she was embarrassed to be making it. She couldn’t figure out why she needed to tell the world her family’s story.

What comes out of this experiment is a surprise. Polley’s biological father is not Michael Polley, the father who helped shape her into the woman she is today. Her biological father is Harry Gulkin, a film producer who had met Diane when she was acting in a play. Although Polley’s family joked she might not be Michael’s real daughter (her blonde hair says it all), it seems as if that’s all it ever was: a joke.

For those who have followed Polley’s career, from child-actress in CBC’s Road to Avonlea to director of the critically acclaimed Away from Her, learning about  her “real” father is a juicy piece of information. But scandal is not what the documentary is about.

Stories We Tell questions why we need to expose our personal stories. It’s not a new question, especially in this age of the memoir and general lack of privacy. The answer doesn’t come quite to the surface in the film, but it’s there. It’s in the audience’s trust as the film meanders along in no clear direction except for Polley’s steely determination. It’s in the way the film is paced; the slow unravelling of little truths that make the film whole.

At first glance, Polley’s story is not exceptional in any way. Many people uncover truths about their parent’s infidelities. Some discover more devastating truths. Many have suffered more. The success in this film is simple: Polley makes her story matter. It’s her honesty, her vulnerability, but mostly it’s her constant prodding for some version of truth.

Members of the audience are sure to leave with more questions about truth and memoir and the need to tell stories than they arrived with. Polley has brought to light what many have ignored when crafting their stories; it’s easier to believe there is only one truth, rather than incorporate many.

But the audience will also leave with the weight of a full story, and a darn good one at that.


Nadine Sander-Green is a writer and photographer based in Whitehorse, Yukon.




Move Over Rocky Horror Picture Show: The 21st Century Has Its Own Midnight Movie

By Matthew “Gus” Gusul

If I were to re-visit the 2010 version of myself he would never believe that in two short years, he would be writing an article about Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. In 2010, when I was first forced to watch the movie by my wife and brother-in-law, I assumed (and hoped) I would never watch The Room again. It is a terrible movie. It has very little merit as a piece of art. If someone set out to intentionally make the worst film ever, they would fall short in comparison with this movie. In my opinion, everyone involved in the creation of this work should be forced to sign a decree commissioned by the government, monarchy, papal office, or some Hollywood higher power that all parties involved will never again, under any circumstances, engage in another artistic endeavor in their lives and to do so would be criminally and artistically negligent.

The Room is written, directed, produced, and starring Tommy Wiseau. Hmmm. Warning signals go off at this point. It is the story of a man who is in love with a woman who cheats on him with his best friend. He discovers the affair and the audience sees his world unravel. “Everyone betray me. I am sick of this world.” Also, the movie features a number of sub plots that are briefly introduced and go nowhere. There are major holes in the plot, long pointless panoramic views of San Francisco, characters inexplicably entering and exiting the story, a game of football played in tuxedos in a back alley, and as far as I can see, no reason why anyone should watch it.

Against my better judgment, my wife and I attended The Room at Cinecenta on the University of Victoria campus on a Saturday in late January 2012. I knew little of what to expect going to this movie. All I knew was that the movie was terrible and that we needed to bring plastic spoons. I went with a sense of dread, but I was surprised at my experience. I had fun and my eyes have been opened to a 21st century cultural phenomenon.

It was a packed house filled with over 150 weirdos, nerds, and innocent bystanders (like me), corralled in by the freaks (like my wife) who enjoy this movie. Many of them were dressed like characters from the movie and playing catch with a football. This cult even has its own greeting, borrowed from the movie. Instead of saying hello to each other, the greeting of choice was “Oh hai, Marc”, a quote from the movie. Okay? …The movie started and we quickly learned some of the rituals of audience behaviour. Every time a character would inexplicably exit the scene, the audience would yell, “But you just got here!” During the long panning shots of the San Francisco skyline the audience would yell, “Go! Go! Go!” until we were returned to the action of the film. At several points in the movie, audience members threw plastic spoons at the screen and yelled “Spooooooooooooons!” It took some time to sort out what was going on, but I eventually realized there was a framed picture of a spoon in the main room of the house where the couple lives together. If you see the picture – yell and throw. Throughout the entire show people yelled or booed or cheered at the film, except one scene that takes place in a flower store. At the beginning of the scene, people in the audience shush everyone. The audio and video are not in sync and the audience finds humor in this poorly executed editing. This moment highlights the delight the audience finds in this poor quality film.

This phenomenon is not unique to Victoria. It has been happening since 2003 all over North America, and is just starting to enter Europe. Originally, The Room was released as a drama. Audience members started showing up to screening to mock the movie, and creator Tommy Wiseau changed the film’s listing to dark comedy. Now this movie has drawn a cult following that has made it a full-fledged movement complete with Internet memes, YouTube videos, and merchandise. The beauty of this phenomenon is the community created by moviegoers and fans who attend, not to celebrate brilliance as is often the case, but to celebrate poor quality; the epic fail that the movie represents. This movie is something we can all excitedly boo.

Perhaps this says something of a generation and of 21st century art culture. We have been wowed in so many ways. How many times has a masterpiece been crafted for cinema? All of us can name titles of tens, if not hundreds, of excellent films. The new generation has proclaimed that it enjoys poor quality art, giving rise to 21st century art culture, one that enjoys celebrating and making light of the shortcomings of The Room.

This is a phenomenon that will not go away. Trust me, I checked with the 2020 version of myself on this one. If you haven’t done it yet, go see this movie. If you don’t, you will be left wondering what all these weirdos, nerds, and innocent bystanders are laughing about.


Directed by: S. Shankar. Starring: Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rei.

2010 Sun Pictures. In Tamil with English subtitles.

When I was growing up on Montreal’s South Shore, a trip to the local Indian grocer was always a treat. It was one of the few connections my sister and I had to my mother’s native land. The pungent aromas of masala and the fine mist of dust would always coax a sneeze as we stomped off past the syrupy laddus and salted treats to the video rental section to choose a movie, usually one which featured a sassy monkey. Most Indian grocers in Canada have a well-stocked selection of Indian films and music, a tradition that continues today.

Not that I’ve moved to the west coast, I find myself missing my connection with the South Asian community. Burdened with that longing, I stumbled upon Enthiran, a recently released Tamil-language Indian sci-fi blockbuster.

Enthiran means “The Robot,” and this isn’t a Bollywood movie. It’s actually Kollywood. The difference? Bollywood movies are usually in Hindi and filmed in Bombay (my family will never call it Mumbai), whereas Kollywood caters to Tamil speakers and is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, the southernmost point of the country.

Enthiran is like a mash-up of The Terminator, The Matrix and the live action Transformers. Dr. Vaseegaran, a brilliant robotics expert creates Chitti, a sophisticated, sunglasses-wearing robot made in his master’s image. This allows both roles to be played by Rajinikanth, a big action star in Indian cinema. Think of him as the 61 year-old Indian version of Chuck Norris. Indian make-up artists have a true gift, as the actor doesn’t look a day over 35. Chitti forms a bond with Vaseegaran’s girlfriend, Sana (played by veteran Bollywood star and former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai) and helps her get into and out of several mischievous (and some very dangerous) situations.

Hoping to make his creation a masterpiece, Vaseegaran gives Chitti emotions, which leads him to fall madly in love with Sana. This doesn’t jive well when Chitti’s evaluated by the military. Apparently stuffing roses into live grenades and telling the army brass you’re in love with your creator’s girlfriend is NOT appropriate behaviour for robots in the Indian Armed Forces.

Every hero needs a villain, and Enthiran doesn’t disappoint. Enter Dr. Bohra (Danny Denzongpa), Vaseegaran’s mentor, friend and competitor in the robot-making business. Bohra is incensed that his robot can’t even walk while Chitti single-handily caters an Indian wedding. Suffice to say, when Bohra finally gets his hands on Chitti, he turns it/him into a murderous machine fuelled by rage and leather jackets.

In order to appeal to a more general audience, the filmmakers invest considerable screen time into the love story. Comedians Santhanam and Karunas appear as Vaseegaran’s dim-witted assistants and provide most of the comic relief. Their scenes are often over-cranked, a film technique where the slapstick action is slightly faster and jerky. The effect is like watching Buster Keaton and the Keystone Kops try to trip up The Terminator. It’s silly, but it works.

If this were a standard Hollywood blockbuster, we’d already be into sequel territory. Director S. Shankar will have none of that. Barely passed the intermission, you really do feel like you’re getting two movies for the price of one, and the 165 minute run-time reinforces that feeling. Unlike western films that favour a three-act structure, Enthiran‘s structure is closer to five.

And yes, in matching with its Bollywood cousins, there is singing. And dancing. And dancing robots who sing. Shot in locations like Machu Picchu, Vienna, Rio de Janeiro and Hanoi, each musical number has its own theme, style and feel. One musical number serves as a visual representation of Chitti morphing from an emotionless robot to a love-struck Casanova. Digital flowers and butterflies bloom from circuit boards as we’re flung through a fibre-optic cable into a giant metallic room with a silver-suited Chitti and techno-clad Sana surrounded by dancing robots with an uncanny resemblance to Doctor Who’s Cybermen. Canadian musicians could only dream of making music videos with these kind of production qualities.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Enthiran, and recent Indian cinema, is the inclusion of English dialogue. Whenever a character gives an order, or makes a firm, technical statement, it’s in English. Since I hail from La Belle Nation Province, where our two official languages co-exist in a begrudging temporary truce, I was surprised at the film’s bilingualism.

That’s not to say the film is without faults. The combination of so many special-effect shots and an extremely tight turnaround time following principal photography means corners had to be cut. Some effects are mind-blowing in their complexity, while others are very noticeably CG. Despite all its flaws, at a budget of $37 million, it’s a fraction of the cost of Michael Bay’s explosive disaster The Transformers and creates an emotional connection between audience and characters. Go figure.

To date, Enthiran has grossed an estimated $82 million worldwide. Not quite in the same league as Hollywood blockbusters, but when you factor in producers’ marketing costs, Enthiran is probably much more profitable. Who knows how much more it would have made with a sassy monkey?

–With a strong background in comedy, Montreal native Ryan Harper-Brown has worked in film, television, print, radio and live theatre. Ryan has an MFA in Writing from UVic and an MA in Film and Television Production from Australia’s Bond University. He currently works as a sessional instructor for UVic’s Writing Department.

Winds of Heaven: Emily Carr, Carvers & The Spirits of the Forest

Directed by Michael Ostroff
Reviewed by Frances Backhouse


Like many contemporary British Columbians, I can’t hike on the West Coast without Emily Carr ghosting along beside me. I don’t even realize she’s there until suddenly a shaft of light strikes a cedar in just the right way and the scene before me transforms into an oil painting on canvas. Ottawa-based director Michael Ostroff seems to be subject to the same kind of double vision and has turned it to magnificent advantage in his latest cinematic offering, Winds of Heaven, which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) in October 2010.

After struggling for recognition as an artist for most of her life, Carr is now widely acknowledged as one of Canada’s pre-eminent 20th-century painters. Ostroff could have simply chronicled her rise to fame, providing a comfortable diversion for her many admirers. Instead, he chose to explore Carr’s relationship to the First Nations culture that so strongly influenced her creative journey. The resulting 90-minute documentary is a nuanced and original take on her work and life, which ViFF executive director Alan Franey calls “[o]ne of the most important films ever made about our province.”

British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, the year Carr was born; by the time she died in 1945, the province had assumed its modern identity. As Carr was growing up, B.C.’s original inhabitants were being increasingly marginalized. Yet, unlike most of her contemporaries, Carr was fascinated by indigenous culture, particularly the work of First Nations carvers. Her paintings of totem poles are among her most famous.  Klee Wyck, a memoir about her visits to First Nations villages, won the 1941 Governor General’s award for nonfiction and continues to sell well. According to First Nations art critic Marcia Crosby, however, Carr’s ongoing popularity does no favours to the people who furnished her inspiration.

“The way [Carr’s] history has been collapsed with aboriginal history has the power to teach very old ideas,” observes Crosby, who, along with ’Ksan museum curator Laurel Smith Wilson and art historians Gerta Moray and Susan Crean, provides commentary through the film. One of Ostroff’s main goals, an admirable one, appears to be refuting those out-dated ideas about the obsolescence and inferiority of First Nations culture. At times this narrative thread threatens to eclipse Carr’s story, but ultimately the integration is successful. My only objection to the film  is that Ostroff comes close to holding Carr responsible for an entire generation’s racist attitudes and hurtful behaviour, not just her own.

Fittingly for a film about art, Winds of Heaven is a treat to watch. John Walker’s fluid camerawork gives us sumptuous footage of wild coastal landscapes and luminous rainforest close-ups that perfectly complement shots of Carr’s paintings, while archival footage and photographs and period recreations fill in historical background.

The dramatizations never show Carr in full—usually only her hands are visible: sketching, painting, typing—but we hear her through the voice of veteran Stratford actress Diane D’Aquila, who reads selections from Carr’s letters, diaries and published writings. What we do see are vivid, believable reconstructions of Carr’s world, including her childhood home, the pension where she lived while studying art in Paris and the Victoria boarding house that she ran for years and memorialized in The House of All Sorts. Scenes of her 1930s painting expeditions into the semi-wilderness around Victoria, with a caravan she dubbed “The Elephant,” are especially striking.

For anyone who is unacquainted with Carr, Winds of Heaven offers an excellent introduction. More important, it challenges those of us who think we already know her to take another look at the artist and her art — and to fully appreciate where both came from.

For more insights into Emily Carr, check out The Other Emily: Redefining Emily Carr, March 2 to October 10, 2011, at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.