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Robust Lineup for VIFF 2017

Meditation Park, movie, image,
Image from Meditation Park courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Robust Lineup for VIFF 2017
Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(September 19, 2017 Vancouver, BC) The 36th annual Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) promises to bring exquisite cinema and uniquely immersive experiences from September 28-October 13.

The opening night gala film Meditation Park by Vancouver filmmaker Mina Shum is fresh from critical acclaim at TIFF. With a stellar cast including Cheng Pei Pei as Maria, Sandra Oh as her confused daughter and Don McKellar as a snarky parking racketeer, the film is also an ode to East Vancouver.

World-renowned Kronos Quartet will bring a multimedia collage to this year’s festival on October 10th, performing Jacob Garchik’s score to Vertigo. Under the leadership of Guy Maddin, the eclectic piece features a “parallel universe version” according to Maddin. Rather than use footage from Hitchcock’s masterpiece, the one night event features images sourced from San Francisco, including 50’s noir, documentary, and studio classics. The legendary quartet is no stranger to film scores with credits including 21 Grams, The Great Beauty, and Requiem for a Dream.

Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck will get its Canadian premiere as the closing night gala film. The time travelling story, based on the Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick’s young adult novel, the film follows parallel narratives of two deaf 12-year-olds. Featuring Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and newcomer Millicent Simmonds, it is already being lauded as a love letter to New York and celebration of the tactile pleasures of creating by hand.

Image from Shut Up and Say Something courtesy of East Village Entertainment and VIFF
Beloved cultural icon Shane Koyczan is the subject of Shut Up and Say Something, Melanie Wood’s compelling documentary that will screen at its BC Spotlight Awards Gala on Saturday, October 7. Following Koyczan as he struggles to mend his relationship with his estranged father, it’s a testament to his capacity for vulnerability and truth telling, traits which have provided hope and connection through viral TED talks and his appearance at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

The Mountain of SGaana from Haida animator Christopher Auchter was realized at the NFB studios. A funky and lush piece that merges classic Haida art with surreal animations and present day distractions, it’s a gorgeous tale of a young woman who risks everything to save her partner from the murky spirit world of the sGaana (Haida word for killer whale).

Famed for his role as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis makes his directorial debut with Breathe. It’s a tender character study that explores the challenges faced by a promising young man Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) as he is paralyzed by polio. His wife Diana (Claire Foy) refuses to give up and the two work with inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) to create a breakthrough treatment.

Director Stephen Campanelli provides a searing look into the cruelties of the residential school system with Indian Horse. Adapted from Richard Wagamese’s acclaimed novel,it highlights the injustices and indignities faced by Indigenous peoples. Three gifted performers play the role of Saul Indian Horse as he is torn from his Ojibwe family: Sladen Peltier, Forrest Goodluck and Ajuawak Kapashesit. Scripted with empathy by Dennis Foon, it’s a testament to the unbreakable spirit of a human being hurled into caustic circumstances that finds a way to express his essence.

Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, Loving Vincent is an animated work touted as the “the world’s first fully painted feature” that uses a rotoscoping technique similar to that employed by Richard Linklater in Waking Life. It took 17 years to make and each of its 65,000 frames was hand painted by 115 professional oil painters. Part mystery and part biography, it immerses viewers in the surreal milieu occupied by one of the art world’s most compelling figures.

Also exploring the complexities of the art world, The Square offers a satirical look at the contemporary museum’s social strata in Stockholm. Director Ruben Ostlund illuminates the often narcissistic and self-serving elite that populates the donor soirees and posh events of gallery society.

Image from Never Steady Never Still courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing & VIFF.
The BC Spotlight stream highlights the work of creators working within British Colombia. Highlights include Never Steady, Never Still directed by Kathleen Hepburn. This assured debut is set against the magnificent backdrop of Northern BC and is an intimate portrayal of a young woman’s reckoning with the harsh reality of a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

The late great Beau Dick is celebrated in Meet Beau Dick: Maker of Monsters. Getting its world premiere at VIFF, it’s directed by LaTiesha Ti’si’tla Fazakas and Natalie Boll and offers an intimate look at the charismatic artist whose work is revered and his activism celebrated.

Once There Was a Winter from Ana Valine is described as a “claustrophobic, white knuckle thriller” and stars Kate Corbett as a woman caught in a conflict between two brothers.

Our People Will Be Healed image courtesy of VIFF.
Canada wide productions are highlighted in the True North program. Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th documentary, Our People Will Be Healed takes viewers inside Norway House, a remote Cree community school. As the potential Indigenous leaders of tomorrow express both hope and sorrow, Obomsawin’s expertise as a masterful storyteller is on full display.

With such a rich and eclectic array of films, this year’s festival is sure to spark inspiration and dialogue throughout the year.

Click here for a link to the Vancouver International Film Festival and other September 2017 film festivals.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

VLAFF Celebrates 15 Years

VLAFF Celebrates 15 Years
Santa and Andres, image courtesy of VLAFF

VLAFF Celebrates 15 Years
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(August 24, 2017 – Vancouver, BC) Featuring 69 films from 17 countries, the 2017 Vancouver Latin American Film Festival (VLAFF) promises a wealth of stimulating and emotive experiences from documentary to shorts to features.

For the first time, selected films will reflect gender parity, with an equal number of male and female directors showcased throughout the festival. There are also international collaborations with the Canada Looks South Program. The Strawberry Tree by Simone Rapisarda and Cieba by Noé Rodrígue, both Simon Fraser University (SFU) professors filming in Cuba, which is the guest country for this year’s festival.

“Having Cuba as a guest country this year is very significant, as the country has been in the spotlight and going through a lot of change since Castro’s death,” said Festival Director Christian Sida-Valenzuela. “Cuba is a country that has heavily contributed to Latin American film culture and production, as it has one of the most renowned international film schools in the world, EICTV. It’s an honour to host Cuba this year and focus on the talent from the region.”

Opening night film The Distinguished Citizen (El ciudadano ilustre) won the 2017 Goya Award for Best Iberoamerican Film. Directed by Argentinians Gastón Duprat and Mariono Cohn, it’s a witty exploration of class and success and what happens when a Nobel Laureate returns home to the small town he’s been mining creatively for years.

In addition, the Indigenous Film from BC & Beyond stream will showcase works by Canadian First Nations alongside Indigenous filmmakers from Latin America, including the groundbreaking narrative feature Bad Influence (Mala Junta)that explores life on the fringes of Chilean society helmed by Capuche director Claudia Huaiquimilla.

The luminous Sonia Braga is the protagonist in the Brazilian film Aquarius, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho; it’s a searing analysis of relentless gentrification and one woman’s determination to remain dignified in the face of graceless pressure from developers.

Women in ¡Activismo! highlights films that are activist in nature, including Eliane Caffé’s Cambridge Squatter, a documentary/fiction hybrid that follows a group of refugees and low income Brazilian workers as they struggle to resist gentrification and find a place to call home; Adriana’s Pact from Chilean director Lissette Orozco casts light on the simmering conflicts left behind by the Pinochet regime; billed as a long overdue tribute to a pioneering woman, Dolores from director Peter Bratt is an evocative documentary that celebrates the contributions of Dolores Huerta, a tireless social justice advocate; Tatiana Huezo’s Tempestdad is a poetic but searing portrayal of what happens when violence rules communities with impunity in parts of Mexico.

The shorts competition has a robust list in completion this year, screening over two days. Including the Diver (El Buzo) by Esteban Arrangoiz, which follows a city sewage worker as he navigates the fetid underground of Mexico City; Centaur, a Greek Creole Western set in the Argentinian Pampas directed by Nicolás Suárez; The Cats (Los Gatos), an animated piece from Alejandro Ríos about an alley cat that befriends a lonely man, and the Brazilian animation Tailor directed by Calí dos Anjos that explores issues of transexuality.

The festival wraps up with the controversial Cuban piece Santa & Andres, a political drama about two outsiders struggling to find freedom under the harsh isolation of the Castro regime.

Rich and eclectic, this year’s VLAFF is sure to stimulate the senses and provoke ongoing dialogue. Screenings take place at the Cinemateque, Vancity Theatres, and SFU Woodward’s from August 24 to September 3. The full line-up is available online.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

VQFF Offers Fresh Lineup

VQFF Offers Fresh Lineup
Promotional image from the film I Dream in Another Language.

VQFF Offers Fresh Lineup

by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(August 10, 2017) Under the new artistic direction of Anoushka Ratnarajah and Amber Dawn the 2017 Vancouver Queer Film Festival is promising 11 days of invigorating and challenging cinema from a diverse range of creative voices from August 10-20.

“Look out Vancouver! Tours de force Anoushka and Amber Dawn are taking us all on the best queer ride of 2017 with their curation of this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival,” said Executive Director Stephanie Goodwin. “Expect to be delighted and provoked by a diverse range of stories and filmmakers represented over eleven days of world class film, fun, and community”.

The second largest film festival in Vancouver after VIFF, the festival is now in its 29th year with consistently robust attendance numbers (last year’s fest drew 14,000 attendees).

The opening night film is fresh from the hallowed theatres of Sundance. I Dream in Another Language (from Mexican brothers Ernesto and Carlos Contreras) won the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic. It follows a young linguist who travels to an isolated village to document a vanishing indigenous language.


Timely and necessary additions to the 2017 lineup include a series of documentaries highlighting the leadership of transgender people of colour, such as Jacqueline Gares’ FREE CeCe and David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

There are romantic features including Fathers, a Thai drama about a gay couple raising their adopted son, and Signature Move, a romantic comedy exploring the messiness of dating for a Pakistani lesbian amateur wrestler.

In addition to the onscreen offerings, a series of panel discussions and workshops will be held throughout the festival. At the Vancouver Public Library’s new Strathcona branch, t’ai freedom ford from the documentary The Revival: Women and the World will read from her book how to get over, along with local poet and Vancouver Slam Master, Jillian Christmas.

Adding another layer, the festival has brought in artist in residence, Vivek Shraya, a Toronto-based storyteller, poet, musician and filmmaker who will be sharing her wider body of work and collaborating with other artists.

Celebrations will also elevate spirits at various parties, including a splash at the Granville Island Water Park.

Tickets and the full schedule can be found online.
Click here for a list of other August 2017 film festivals.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

The Road Forward Opens at Vancity

The Road Forward Opens at Vancity
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(July 16, 2017) “Whatever else separates us, music has a universal language to allow us to open up a bit more to each other and also to history that we don’t know, or might not even like,” says Marie Clements, Métis/Dene director of The Road Forward, which opened at the Vancity Theatre Friday July 14.

She describes her rousing feature as a “hybrid music documentary”. The opening sequence, Indian Man is a catchy anthem that feels like a rock video and sets a tone of active engagement that can be felt throughout.

As recently as the 1930s it was illegal for native peoples to gather and organize. The Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood formed and launched the Native Voice, the first Indigenous run paper in Canada. It quickly became a network for First Nations communities. The word agency springs to mind, watching how the men and women of the groundbreaking newspaper defied conventions and told the stories of their communities on their own terms.

As our conversation unfolded in a small meeting room at the Vancouver offices of the National Film Board, Clements spoke eloquently about the craft of storytelling and the challenges of remaining focused and optimistic while getting momentum for projects.

The Road Forward has evolved from a ten minute stage performance during the 2010 Olympics, to a full production with the Vancouver PUSH festival and now, a theatrical documentary. Part of what kept her galvanized was discovering how many of the contributors to the Native Voice were women.

“What I found really energizing was a lot of them were women. It’s very rare to see a woman in news having a place at the table that’s really solid and making decisions and making their marks on stories,” she explains, adding the writers, editors, and photographers that assembled Marie Clements, director, screenwriter,the paper brought something fresh to the media landscape never seen before. ”Native writers documenting our reality over 60 years is pretty phenomenal,” she says.

“In some ways I wanted to grab onto this feeling that there’s a velocity and acceleration when you’re reading information that propels you. Whether you’re motivated emotionally by it or you’re outraged or angry about it,” she says. “I wanted to be able to create that energy in the storytelling.”

The Native Voice functioned far beyond news stories. Clements notes it felt right to tell the history through song “I felt that if these Native activists that formed a paper and brought their stories in word to the paper and the voices of their communities to the paper, then it made sense to work with leading Aboriginal musicians and vocalists who were also bringing their voice in their own work to create change through their music.”

At the Reel Causes screening on June 8th, which benefited the Lu’ma Native Housing Society, a full house responded with gusto and applause as the credits rolled. At the time, Clements was in the U.S. filming a documentary of Edward Curtis, the legendary photographer of Native American peoples.

The Road Forward includes such landmark events as the Constitution Express. On November 24, 1980 nearly a thousand people boarded trains bound for Ottawa, making stops at communities along the way. They were successful in ensuring that Aboriginal rights were maintained and elevated awareness beyond their own communities to the national and international level. This grassroots campaign brought about real change and the footage is compelling and rousing to watch.

Clements also focuses on missing and murdered women, telling the heart wrenching stories of vanished sisters through visceral song. It’s hard to watch and some audience members sniffed back tears and shuffled their feet in discomfort. Clements’ background in theatre shines through here as she deftly conveys the anguish through song. It has a searing and haunting impact.

Part rock opera, part historical context, and part call to action, The Road Forward is a singular and necessary film that highlights the exquisite power of community, hope, and story.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

Rapturous Migration: Uninterrupted

Rapturous Migration: Uninterrupted, image,
The Cambie Bridge as cinematic canvas. Photo credit: Scott Smith.

Rapturous Migration: Uninterrupted
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(July 1, 2017 – Vancouver, BC) Finding enchantment amid the jarring urban environment may seem far-fetched. But for Nettie Wild, the director of Uninterrupted, bringing natural wonder to the heart of Vancouver is both urgent and necessary.

Inspired in 2010 by her experience witnessing the largest sockeye salmon run in 100 years, Wild began building a team to film the migration and bring the salmon’s majestic struggle to the hearts and minds of city dwellers. A bike ride with editor Michael Brockington resulted in looking at the pillars of the Cambie Bridge in a new way. Rather than dead concrete space, they envisioned a canvas to project the work on a large scale.

Working with producers Betsy Carson and Rae Hull, (the trio are now collectively referred to as the Salmon Sisters), the City of Vancouver was brought on board to provide access to the undercarriage of the busy urban connector.

At the preview event on June 27, First Nations Councillor Morgan Guerin and Alec Dan, Respected community member of the Musqueam First Nation, Chris Lewis, Spokesperson/Councillor of the Squamish First Nation and Charlene Aleck, Spokesperson of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation welcomed Chief Oliver Arnouse and Councillor Dale Tomma of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band. Each shared moving accounts of their integral connection to salmon culminating in a ceremony returning the bones of a salmon to the water. The rhythm of drums and voices raised in song set a reverent tone for the evening.

“This has been the most exhilarating creative process of my life,” Wild exclaimed as she extolled the virtues of the multidisciplinary team that brought her vision to life. The diverse collective of artists and specialists includes technologist Anthony Diehl, cinematographer Athan Merrick and composer Owen Belton. As co-producer Rae Hull took to the stage, the resonant chants of dragon boat racers heightened the anticipation as they whizzed past the crowd gathered in Cooper’s Park.

Multiple donors provided financial funding, including the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and Vancity.

As the sun bathed the glass buildings in a golden glow, sounds of the wild began emanating from strategically placed speakers on the side of the bridge.

The piece began with watery reflections of False Creek, the twinkling lights of Science World rippling across the bridge as the soundscape of birdsong and rushing water calmed our senses. As the salmon began to swim into view, the crowd gazed up in wonder, some bringing their smart phones high in the air to capture the surprising visuals.

The piece traces the full migration of the salmon as they leap upstream, battle fiercely for space to lay eggs and finally, deposit the translucent red orbs, magnificent with potential. They occupy vast swaths of the bridge, creating a moving painting. After spawning, the dead salmon crystallize into exquisite formations The effect is fresh and invigorating, scenes of the salmon journey urban dwellers rarely get to witness showcased in spectacular fashion in the heart of the city.

A rapturous experience, Uninterrupted proves heart felt visual storytelling can still inspire awe and wonder and move us from cynicism to engagement.

Uninterrupted runs Tuesday-Saturday all summer, except during the Celebration of Light. Click here for more about Uninterrupted.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

Honouring WIFTV Allies

Honouring WIFTV Allies
Thunderbird Entertainment/ Lark Productions Woman of the Year, Liz Shorten. Photo credit: Wendy D. Click to enlarge.

Honouring Allies of Women in Film
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(June 14, 2017-Vancouver BC) Vancouver Women in Film and Television (WIFTV) bolsters female makers in the screen based industries through a variety of events, mentorship opportunities, workshops, and initiatives. Since its inception in 1989, the member driven non-profit has provided creative and networking support to its members.

On June 20th, the WIFTV Spotlight Awards will bestow recognition to the men and women working in the entertainment industry who lift women up and offer opportunities for growth. This year’s jury included Shauna Hardy Mishaw (Executive Director, Whistler Film Festival), Cindy Leaney (Producer and Director at Voyage Media Productions), and Doreen Manuel (Filmmaker and Coordinator of the Independent Indigenous Filmmaking Program at Capilano University).

In advance of the ceremony, here are some of this year’s recipients:

The DGC BC Artistic Achievement Award goes to Tara Armstrong (Mary Kills People) for her work on the critically acclaimed series that has garnered a reputation supporting women directors, writers, and producers. A graduate of UBC’s creative writing program, Armstrong has also captured the attention of key players in the television market and is included in The Hollywood Reporter’s 2016 “Canada’s Rising Stars: 15 Newcomers Grabbing Hollywood’s Attention” and Variety’s 2017 “Top Ten Canadians to Watch.”

Thunderbird Entertainment/ Lark Productions Woman of the Year Liz Shorten (pictured) has carved out a stellar career in a range of leadership roles and has been pivotal in building television and digital sectors in BC. As Senior Vice President, Operations and Member Services CMPA BC Producers Branch, she has advocated tirelessly for gender equity. She is also actively involved in strategies to keep the film industry thriving in the province and serves on the board of Women in View.

Brianne Nord-Stewart will be recognized with the Encore Vancouver Newcomer Award for her work in films, web-series, commercials, and music videos. Carving out a path as storyteller with an edge has garnered her numerous awards including Shaw Media’s Fearless Female Director Award, The Harold Greenberg Fund’s Shorts-to-Features Award, and the Telus Banff World Media Film Festival Fellowship.

Crazy 8’s Executive Director Paul Armstrong is a long time ally of the WIFTV and is often spotted at local events, offering advice to women trying to make connections. He’ll be honoured with the Finalé Post Production Honoured Friend Award for his support of the organization. With over 45 producing credits, he is currently in production with the CBC Documentary Channel on the feature doc Cool Daddy.

The Iris Award (not to be confused with Québec’s Prix Iris) takes its name from Greek mythology and is aligned with communication, messages, and new endeavours. It’s given to a person who has demonstrated a commitment to the promotion of female creators and their screen-based works either through curating or programming or through print and online media sources. Mark Leiren-Young supports women through his work as journalist profiling female creators and during his time as editor at Reel West, hired female staff writers. He also writes intriguing characters in his award winning screenplays and is currently working on a short documentary with Rayne Benu who is making her debut as cinematographer.

Valerie Creighton (Canada Media Fund), Heather Conway (CBC) and Carolle Brabant (Telefilm) will be honoured for their ongoing work towards gender parity. The Please Adjust Your Set initiative was created in 2007 to monitor the representation of women through a “Record and Report” strategy. The website is part of that initiative and provides a snapshot of women working in the film and television industry in British Columbia and Canada.

For the full list of this year’s honourees visit WIFTV online.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

A Conversation with Nettie Wild

A Conversation with Nettie Wild
Nettie Wild in the river during filming of Uninterrupted. Photo Credit: Michael McKinlay. Click to enlarge.

Framing the Familiar in Unfamiliar Ways: Nettie Wild on Uninterrupted
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(June 1, 2017 – Vancouver, BC) Nettie Wild is known for creating documentaries that defy boundaries and shatter assumptions. Whether it’s addicts on the downtown East Side (FIX: The Story of an Addicted City), or Zapatistas (A Place Called Chiapas), or the land itself (Koneline: our land beautiful), her work is rich, diverse, and empathetic.

Pausing from the intense buildup to the launch of her latest project, Uninterrupted, Wild extolls the virtues of art-making rooted in curiosity and delight. Seven years in the making, it’s an exploration and celebration of the salmon run in BC and will be projected using the latest in digital technology underneath the Cambie Bridge in downtown Vancouver starting June 28th.

She describes how a walk on the Adams River led to this massive undertaking. “So I was on the banks of the Adams looking at this extraordinary, colossal moving art. The patterns of the migration are really moving and beautiful and mind boggling. In that moment as a human being I was really moved. As an artist I thought I want to do something with this. In thinking about it and talking it over with my editor Michael Brockington, we realized, you know what? This isn’t going into a cinema. Let’s take it outside of that, let’s create spectacle.”

Working with Rae Hull and long time producing partner Betsy Carson, Nettie Wild notes they are pushing the boundaries of documentary and inviting the public to participate in the story in a whole new way.

“It’s more than just distribution, it’s actually embracing a new way of storytelling for me. I think that this whole business of digital projection is beautifully suited for documentary,” she says, adding the salmon move in ways that are both mysterious and maddening. “I’ve got a cast of millions that doesn’t take direction. What we have going for us is this endless supply of wonder and surprise that comes from the natural world.”

Her voice rises with delight as she describes an early morning phone call from cinematic innovator Godfrey Reggio, director of Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. He was calling her to extol the artistic merit of Koneline. “In that conversation, I admitted to him, I had no idea where we were going, I jumped off a cliff and it was terrifying. I took a whole crew with me. He figured that was the definition of true art,” she says, adding he told her “in order to create art, you have to jump off a cliff in the knowledge that there will be a safety net.”

“It’s the creative solutions that you come up with making art,” she continues. “If you don’t step off into the unknown, then you will have something that’s predictable. It won’t be a surprise. If you don’t surprise yourself, you’re not going to surprise your audience. You really want that holy moment.” She also notes intuition plays a huge role in her decisions. “You just know when you hit juice.”

Salmon in the Sproat River during filming. Photo Credit: Nicolas Teichrob
At a time when fundraising emails and conservation efforts bombard our inboxes, a new term has emerged, empathy fatigue. For Wild, bringing freshness to the subject of conservation gets beyond that. “We can get way past that empathy fatigue and go completely into wonder. We find that the more we push it into the abstract, the more a general audience will eat it up.”

In addition to her zeal for storytelling, she has deepened her commitment to exploring the unknown and defying convention. “About seven years ago I decided that if I was going to stay in the game that I was going to make a little promise to myself and that I was going to with every project, push the form as much as I could as an artist and for myself. Our last film (Koneline) was certainly in that category and Uninterrupted is blowing the doors off it. None of us have dealt with this kind of form before. Even the editing system we’ve set up is completely unique for Uninterrupted,” she says.

Complementing the evening projections throughout the summer, Uninterrupted.ca is a hub of information and resources. Users can become more active in cleaning up streams in their communities, and names of those that participate will be projected on the bridge before the main event.

“Through art, we’re able to create a cinematic experience that is complex. It’s not a lecture. It scoops people up viscerally and takes them to what we hope will be a very delicious place for their eyes and for their ears.”

Her gusto for the potential in art to engage communities and foster connection is palpable as she talks about sustainability and the beloved BC salmon. “In these times, which are very controversial as we know, especially around this bigger project we all have which is to create a more sustainable planet and economy, art has a huge role to play,” she says. “A wack of the tail is carving the water into sculpture and the bubbles are turning into this amazing chrome like beauty. You can see the eyeball of the fish move. That action, that wonder, is revealed.”

Using Clairmont Flex Phantom underwater cameras, Wild and her crew were able to capture the salmon in a way that reveals so much more than a standard camera. “A regular camera films at 24 frames per second in terms of regular speed. This can film up to 2000. It can only film 4 seconds of real time. This is all part of pushing ourselves into the abstract. Pushing ourselves out of the familiar into framing the familiar with an unfamiliar frame,” she says.

As Koneline has been gathering laurels at festivals around the world, Wild is choosing to see the myriad tasks and details necessary to keep both pieces running smoothly as nourishing rather than draining.

“I’m kind of a one trick pony, so to have these two big projects at first was very difficult and schizophrenic. Then I decided I just needed to see both of them as a body of work and that one could feed the other. That allowed me to move into a space that didn’t feel like I was being torn apart.”

Her perspective keeps her exuberant and delighted: “I was biking into work the other day and thinking “I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do that,’ and I realized, how cool is this?”

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

VFS Ups the Magic

VFS President James Griffin and MImic founder Graham Qually open the studio. Photo courtesy VFS

VFS Ups the Magic
By Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(May 29, 2017 – Vancouver, BC) Known for its immersive and fast paced education model, the Vancouver Film School (VFS) has amped up their game with the launch of a massive performance capture studio at their downtown campus.

At the official launch event on May 18, the 32,000 square foot facility was buzzing with industry professionals, sipping champagne and admiring the technology. Fifty four cameras were mounted in the volume (a room custom designed for performance motion capture) each strategically placed to capture the movements of actors in specialized suits. Once the information is gathered, the images can be placed in any landscape, from futuristic space ships, to remote jungles. The space has been custom designed to film a wide range of movements for film, commercials, animation, and games.

In the sprawling labyrinth underneath Gastown, the new VFS motion capture facility was built in preexisting space. A former pirate ship used by students for any number of fantasy films has been adapted as the viewing area where monitors allow the editors to view the capture in real time.

Used in such famed productions as the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes, the demand for this kind of technology is high and VFS is aiming to provide access to the best in the field so students will have specialized curriculum that will give them an edge in a highly competitive industry. Described as “an important step in the development of an elite performance capture community in Vancouver,” the space is booked into 2018 amid one of the busiest times in screen-based entertainment.

Partnering with startup Mimic Performance Capture, the new facility will be overseen by Graham Qually, a veteran of motion capture. He helped Ubisoft build their motion capture studio in Toronto and worked for Rainmaker Entertainment. Their mandate is to become the world’s leading motion capture studio. There are two currently two other studios operating in Vancouver and both are booked to capacity.

“We’re excited to be collaborating with VFS, the school produces the highest caliber of graduates and we’re looking forward to helping shape these future industry leaders,” said Qually.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

Cinema Spectacular: Fresh and Compelling

Roberta McDonald West Coast Editor

Billed as An All Canadian Motion Picture Variety Show, Cinema Spectacular has been carving out a reputation as a compelling and unique event with a stellar line up of shorts, live music, and mingling galore in the Vancity Theatre atrium.

Meeting with co-organizer Laurel Brown in her airy Mt Pleasant kitchen, her zest for filmmaking is palpable as we sip coffee in kitschy cups. After graduating the film program at SFU and struggling to get her own films made and into festivals, she started looking for other options. In 2014, she decided it was time to showcase indie shorts from outside the mainstream festival circuit, started inviting fellow filmmakers to submit their work and booked the famed VIFF theatre on Seymour in the heart of the city.

Along with her festival partner Alexandra Caufield, Brown began curating films that range from experimental animation, to artful documentary, to poignant dramas. They steered clear of programming films with the same running time, keeping it fresh.

“It’s like reading a book where all the sentences are the same length. You start to tune out after a while,” she explains. “So we put in punctuation, shorter, more experimental films to cleanse your palette between the next bigger narrative piece.”

Due to their succinct programming, film enthusiasts can take in the whole event without fear of missing out on other events booked at different venues, as can be the case with larger scale film festivals.

“It’s still a very quick and dirty festival. We’re not taking up theatre space for a week or two. It’s just an afternoon,” says Brown.

Although the festival doesn’t have a theme per se, Brown has noticed a retreat from online debate as artists learn to protect their vulnerability and instead of engaging in social media rage fests, they’re making films. She says this year’s line up reflects a more contemplative approach to storytelling.

“This year, a lot of our films are very internal, more meditative and quieter. Last year, things were more bombastic. This year, people are simmering about a lot of things it seems.”

For Sydney Southam, a multidisciplinary artist, exploring mystery through film is part of her practice, but she’s not interested in mainstream festivals.

“I consider myself a filmmaker but I’m not in the film world, I’m in the art world,” she says. Her film Ice Cream is screening at this year’s event and has garnered international awards and screened throughout Europe.

In keeping with the Cinema Spectacular programming, Southam’s film is thoughtful, poignant, and challenging. Much of her work explores the suicide of her father when she was seven years old. The film is comprised of footage of him as a young boy at various meticulously curated family outings, eating ice cream.

“Everyone has that experience of a hot summer day eating an ice cream cone. It’s nostalgic. It’s also absurd,” she says.

Brown says she delights in showcasing work that may be overlooked regionally, but resonates elsewhere. Case in point, the singular work of animator Robert Valley. Last year, she invited a shortened version of his autobiographical film Pear Cider and Cigarettes to screen and it went on to be nominated for an Academy Award, yet didn’t get selected for VIFF.

The intimate vibe means both the audience and the filmmakers are engaged and it makes for a lively post screening discussion. “Last year we had an amazing Q&A. Really good conversation with our audience and filmmakers.”

Cinema Spectacular is on Sunday April 30 at 3 pm at the Vancity Theatre

Maudie – A Review

Maudie, Sally Hawkins
Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis. Photo by Duncan Deyoung, Courtesy of Mongrel Media. Click to enlarge.

Maudie – Tender and Fortifying
by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor

(April 11, 2017 Vancouver, BC) Directed by Aisling Walsh, Maudie is a celebration of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. The Irish Canadian co-production features Sally Hawkins as Maud (pictured) and Ethan Hawke as her hardscrabble husband, Everett Lewis.

Hawkins delivers a subtle and inspiring performance as a resilient outcast with juvenile arthritis. The condition renders her gait a distinct slant and she struggles to accomplish the most mundane tasks. But when she picks up her paintbrush, she is focused and determined.

Ostracized for her condition, she seeks small pleasure in painting, smoking, and visiting the local speakeasy. Desperate for freedom, she replies to a terse want ad posted in the town store, defying her overprotective and judgmental aunt, (played with pitch perfect iciness by Gabrielle Rose).

Newfoundland native Sherry White penned the script about Lewis and the province provides the backdrop with stunning vistas. Although Lewis lived most of her adult life in and around Digby Nova Scotia, nearby Newfoundland offers the same sweeping landscapes that informed Lewis’ work.

The relationship that forms between Maud and Everett, a gruff and ill-spoken fish peddler is hard to watch at times as her affable and forthcoming nature is tested by his coarse stubbornness. Hawke renders his character with vulnerability underneath his steely exterior. Ultimately proving to be a feisty supporter of his partner’s work.

The first conversation between the two is fraught and awkward as they stumble towards connection. Everett is almost mute from emotional isolation and struggles to put his needs into words. He defaults to tyrannical outbursts when frightened, ostensibly habits he learned growing up in an orphanage. Maud is timid at first, but when pushed too far, stands up to him with fierce vulnerability.

Maudie, Kari Matchett
Kari Matchett as Sandra. Photo by Duncan Deyoung, Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Their tender connection can be felt as he defends her against the shopkeeper who quips about his five year old being able to do better (such a tired refrain from the uninformed when presented with art). Even as her patron Sandra, luminously portrayed by Kari Matchett, attempts to purchase an unfinished painting, we see Everett spring into empathy and he protects her work by physically positioning himself between the painting and Sandra. It’s a powerful moment, when we really see his devotion in action.

As her popularity grows, Everett sulks and broods and a battle of wills ends in a brief separation. When Sandra asks about her inner workings, Maud gazes out a nearby window and describes how the frame contains the whole of the world. It’s a simple phrase that captures the artist’s sparse yet exquisite milieu.

Maudie is a tender and fortifying film, proving that tenacity and commitment to the creative urge can lead us to beautiful truths about ourselves, and perhaps even heal others in the process.

Distributed by Mongrel Media, Maudie opens April 14 in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax; April 21 in Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria and throughout the spring in other cities.

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Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.

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