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GOODBYE VIDEOMATICA





Dear Videomatica,

I have a lot of memories of your store but my favorite has to be renting films with my lovely friend Eva Markvoort, who was the subject of 65_RedRoses (my first feature film, which I co-directed with Philip Lyall).

When Eva still lived in her triangle house off of 4th Ave, we'd go out for Japanese food and then wander into Videomatica to rent  forgotten films on the must-see list. We saw Grey Gardens for the first time together along with American Teen (two documentaries that lead to much discussion and debate!). As much as I enjoyed watching movies with Eva, the part I looked forward to the most were the discussions that always followed. That's the beauty of sharing great films with great people, now whenever I see those films I always think of her.



I don't think Eva ever got  to see the 65_RedRoses dvd on your shelves, but I know she would have been THRILLED to know it was a part of the final Videomatica collection. It was a very special moment when I stumbled on it a few months ago, displayed proudly next to other "real" films - complete with a VIFF stamp of approval on it! For the first time it really hit me how far we'd actually come. Back in film school when we rented from your store we could only dream of having our films at Videomatica one day!



So as we let it sink in that you're really gone, we'd like to just express our sincere gratitude to you one last time for all the years, all the memories and all the films.

Thank you and goodbye, Videomatica!  We love you!

Nimisha Mukerji & Mark Ratzlaff


BURMA VJ: Day 61

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

For our last Dear Videomatica entry of the summer (we’ll be back with a final posting when the store officially closes later in the year) we debated which film to feature. We had trouble even narrowing it down to a genre, there are so many incredible movies we still want to see and write about. While we initially thought this daily commitment might interfere with our work schedule for Blood Relative, we actually credit all these films with keeping us inspired throughout the editing process. Often the stories behind these works of art were as harrowing as the films themselves. Many of the classics we rented ended up being VIFF selections or from the Criterion Collection. The filmmakers behind these incredible works aspired for greatness and achieved it. Keeping this blog has been both a humbling and empowering experience.

While we were searching online for film recommendations we stumbled on Morgan Spurlock’s “50 Documentaries To See Before You Die” which just had its premiere on Current TV. Spurlock directed the enormously successful documentary Super Size Me along with a number of other great docs. The first ten (starting from 50-40) on his list included one of our favorite films Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country. We decided to write about this film today because it is the perfect example of advances in technology merging with the art of cinema to create a worldwide movement for change. The citizen journalists involved in the making of this film risked both life and limb to get their footage out into the world. Their heroism shows us that even when people are denied a voice they can wage war against their oppressors by raising their cameras and taking a clear shot.



Burma VJ is about media activism and follows an underground collective of ordinary citizens who film the atrocities taking place in the streets with handycams. These journalists call themselves the Democratic Voice of Burma, and they manage to secretly smuggle precious footage out of their country to Norway where it’s picked up by international news stations. The images that we see are terrifying, mesmerizing and undeniable.

Director Anders Ostergaard carefully takes the found footage he is supplied with and combines it with a few necessary recreations to create one of the most powerful political and humanitarian documentaries of the decade. The challenge must have been to decide what to show and how much. Because we are a culture inundated with images designed to produce the greatest shock value, there is often a disconnect when viewing scenes of violence. Ostergaard approaches every scene from an emotional perspective, so by the time we see the horrors unfolding we feel as if we too have become a target. The film follows a massive uprising against the government, led by monks. This footage is what keeps the revolution in Burma alive, but at one moment I remember thinking that if the government is massacring monks who are peacefully demonstrating, there's no limit to the bloodshed that will occur in the country.

While Burma was closed off to the entire world, I felt that before this documentary the world’s eyes were closed to what was happening in Burma. This film was the actual difference between knowing, and not knowing. Ostergaard and all the men and women who contributed to the film have made all of us witnesses to the crimes against humanity that have happened in the country. While reality is sometimes hard to look at, and there are many moments in this film that are very difficult to watch, you never want to turn our eyes away from the truth.

Burma VJ rightly made it onto Spurlock’s list, and there are 49 other films that are worth seeing. Some are available on Netflix and iTunes, and for those that aren’t - like Burma VJ, you have Videomatica to rely on. We also recently noticed that The English Surgeon is not online either, and they have a copy of this remarkable documentary as well, which you can't find anywhere else (we wouldn't be surprised if it also makes Spurlock's Top 50).

The fine folks at the store recommended that we wrap up two months straight of film viewing by celebrating the fact that Videomatica is staying open! So we suggest that you turn off your computers and go for a walk down to 4th Avenue because these 61 entries containing some of the best cinema available in the world, which you can only find at one place!

Sincerely,
Nimisha & Mark

PS: Look out for screenings at Vancity this month that feature a selection of films from Videomatica, and the hilarious short film series "Support Your Local Video Store." The event will be curated by the wonderful Graham Peat!!!

BALLAD OF A SOLDIER: Day 60

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

The other day Nimisha and I were very fortunate to catch the most recent screening from Cinema Salon which was presented by Videomatica Co-Founder Graham Peat. The screening was introduced by Graham, who explained that when asked to pick his favorite film he always finds it difficult to answer. The one film that kept coming up as he tried to choose a film to screen for Cinema Salon was director Lindsay Anderson’s Palm d’Or winning “If….” Which also marked Malcolm McDowell’s screen debut.

After the screening as we were walking home, Nimisha and I got to talking about what film we would have picked, given the opportunity to host and share a screening of one of our favorites. We both wrestled with the question, which would challenge most filmmakers and film enthusiasts. Titles like Lawrence of Arabia, City of God, Capturing the Friedmans, were just some of the films that came up, but neither of us really had a firm answer.

But then yesterday we watched Grigori Chukhrai’s 1959 film “Ballad of a Soldier”. It’s rare these days to find a film that makes such an immediate impression, but within the first scene we knew this film  was special, and would forever be one of the very first we recommend to share with people.



The film’s plot is straightforward. After an act of bravery Alyosha, a young Russian soldier is granted a few days leave to go home and visit his mother, who he never got to say goodbye to before leaving for war. The journey home should only take two days, but Alyosha’s good nature and kind heart slows him down as he runs into people in need of help. By pure accident he meets Shura, an innocent and beautiful stowaway who jumps onto the same train car Alyosha is hiding in. Their first encounter is probably one of the most memorable romantic introductions ever put on screen. What impressed us most (without spoiling anything) is that Shura’s first reaction to Alyosha is absolute terror. Her reaction speaks volumes of the anxiety that existed for citizens at the time, especially women, during the war. She doesn't know who to trust, and is cautious to get close to him, despite his uniform. These honest moments of discovery kept the film from veering down the path of becoming melodramatic. We are rooted in the reality of the time, the country is at war and there is chaos everywhere.

It is right into the middle of the front lines that the setup of the film unfolds in one of the most spectacular openings that we’ve seen. The originality of the camera work on the battlefield reminded us of another favorite from our Videomatica experience, The Passion of Joan of Arc. The stakes are always high, and emotionally charged and the camera and lighting aren't just there to capture the performances, but to actively push the narrative forward.

The problem with war films is that usually they turn into propaganda pieces, but Chukhrai’s focus and attentive direction allows us to see the true extent of the conflict, especially on civilians. He shows incredible restraint, making us feel the importance of even the tiniest encounters between people. In this way he is able to make the film both epic and intimate. He captures moments of realism that you rarely see in fiction films, an approach credited to other masters like Yasujirô Ozu and Satyajit Ray.

The film in essence is made up of a series of events, and each on it’s own could have made an outstanding and poignant short film, but together, connected by our hero Alyosha make up a moving masterwork. That said, I would strongly recommend this to anyone venturing out to shoot a short film as well as a feature, because the script, penned by Grigori Chukhrai and Valentin Ezhov, treats every moment with as much care and attention as the overall arc. This elevates the entire piece because we are introduced to side characters with beautifully crafted reveals and payoffs that make an impact on both the viewer and young Alyosha. In the opening you are exposed to several important images whose full weight is only realized as the final piece of narration is recited at the end.

The acting is incredible, and marked the debut of both leads, Vladimir Ivashov and Zhanna Prokhorenko who show a maturity that many actors see only in their later years. Though the acting was top-notch, and the script was tight, Chukhrai’s focused and sharp direction really made this film an experience we won’t forget. His inventive use of cinematography was really ahead of its time, the shots were ambitious and he shows no fear in breaking the rules of cinema to achieve the effect he desires.  Every shot serves a purpose and it didn’t take long for us to realize how clever the framing was, and how much information was intricately connect to the lighting and camera work.

I haven’t seen many films from Russia, but we plan to delve into this country's cinema after viewing Ballad of a Solider (which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as well as the Palm d'Or at Cannes). While most of the films about the Second World War are told from the point of Canadians and Americans who are shipped off overseas, this film took us into the heart of Russia and put a face on the soldiers who fought on their homeland. For Alyosha there is no escaping his duty, and at nineteen he is willing to risk his life for his country because he believes that the cause is a noble one.  Instead of seeing the traumas on the front lines, we see the humanity that can exists when ordinary people are faced with extraordinary circumstances. For Alyosha he never forgets that the reason that he is in the war, is to protect the people he loves. In the end it is love that gives him the courage and strength to take every hard earned step. 

We can’t recommend Ballad of a Soldier highly enough! Go to Videomatica and rent it today!

Sincerely,
Mark & Nimisha

THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN: Day 59

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

The City of Lost Children (1995) is a surrealist nightmare brought to life by French filmmakers Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (the duo behind the dark comedy Delicatessen). The post-apocalyptic future they imagine is full of cloning, dream-theft, and blind robots that terrorize citizens by kidnapping their children. Society, it appears, is still obsessed with reversing the effects of aging. The solution presented in the film is that if the old steal the dreams of the young it can slow down the process.

The grandeur of the conception is remarkable and the scale of the sets (also led by Marc Caro - who took a production designer credit here with Jean Rabasse) convinces us that somewhere out there a city exists full of lost children and mad scientists. From the polluted waters to the grimy brick buildings, the palette, much like it’s predecessor Delicatessen, consists primarily of blacks, grays and browns. Colour is found in the inventive costume designs of Jean-Paul Gaultier where the main characters stand in stark contrast to their surroundings by wearing splashes of reds and greens.



Ron Perlman, of Hell Boy fame, leads the cast as the slow-minded but physically powerful “One” who’s little brother has been stolen (there is an age gap between them of at least 20 years). As he searches for his brother he meets a girl named Miette, played by the feisty Judith Vittet. Despite being a child she is smarter, faster, and braver than “One.” With no family of her own, she admires his devotion to his brother and decides to help One on his mission to steal the child back.

Along the way there are a number of demented characters, played by actors who all have the appearance of the peculiar. The true villains are sisters who are Siamese twins. They have taken charge of all orphaned children and trade in their lives for trinkets and money. There is a man in a tower surrounded by clones who is obsessed with becoming younger. Unable to dream himself, he hides the technology for dream theft, and keeps it for his own benefit. His company includes a talking brain that lives in an aquarium and is referred to as “Uncle”. Through a gramophone and a lens the brain is able to see and hear but it is only at the whims of the man, whose obsession with staying in a dream-like state has turned him insane.

The story is similar to a Grims fairytale, and we appreciated the beauty of the cinematography, the production design and special effects that all work together to make the city feel multi-dimensional. But at times the plot lacked clarity and the characters needed stronger motivation to really elevate this production from simply an exercise in visual spectacle. Our friend from film school, Corey Fischer joined us for this screening and after it ended his review came in as one word: discombobulated. All the elements were there for a masterpiece (the film was in fact nominated at Cannes for the Palm d’Or when it released). Perhaps the vision of the co-directors, in embracing surrealist elements, resulted in them purposely leaving out key details in the story. The emphasis, instead, is on dynamic and carefully composed images, but unlike Pan’s Labryinth (which succeeded in merging an imagined world with the human experience of real life) this film doesn’t delve beyond the surface of the city or its characters. Jean-Pierre Jeunet went on to direct Amelie on his own, and in that film he took many of the magical elements of City of Lost Children and created a colourful and deeply moving journey into one woman’s heart. In City of Lost Children a simpler story against this backdrop might have proved to have the same effect. Despite it’s shortcomings on the story front, however, there is no doubting that the co-directors are geniuses with a distinctively cinematic style. When they collaborate with screenwriters like Guillaume Laurant, there's no limit to what they could dream up.

Sincerely,

Nimisha & Mark

CHILDREN OF HEAVEN: Day 58

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.



Dear Videomatica,

The Greeks understood the importance of having a good cry every now and then, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to call Children of Heaven (1999) a tragedy, it's one of those miracle films that is so profound in it’s simplicity and beautiful in it’s execution that at times we felt overwhelmed. Even as I wiped away the tears I found myself cheering out loud (I can’t recall the last time that I pumped my fist in the air while watching a dvd).



At the core of the story is nine-year old Ali, superbly played by Amir Farrokh Hashemian who carries the weight of the film (and the world for that matter) on his little shoulders. Ali is sent to fix his sister Zahra’s shoes and along the way he loses them. His family has mounting debts and he can feel his parent’s anxiety as they struggle to make ends meet. Conspiring with his sister to keep the missing shoes a secret (since they cannot afford to be replaced) the children decide to take turns wearing the one pair that Ali has. His sister uses them in the morning to attend school, and then immediately runs home in the afternoon so that he can go to his classes.

Filmmaker Majid Majidi sets the film in his native country of Iran, but he chooses not to focus on political issues, and instead brings to the light the economic condition of his country with an emphasis on the growing disparity in wealth. In truth, Ali’s predicament could exist anywhere in the world and perhaps that’s why it’s so fascinating and heartbreaking to watch him and his sister place so much value on an item that most take for granted. Their lives revolve around using the one set of sneakers, and Ali takes full responsibility to find a way to replace Zahra’s. The relationship between him and his sister is an absolute joy to watch. As the elder brother it pains Ali that she has to wear his tattered sneakers and he does everything he can to make it up to her. Ali’s selflessness becomes an example of the heroism that can be found in every day life, and Majidi handles the material with compassion and delicacy.

In using non-professionals to play most of the parts he is able to capture breathtaking, uninhibited performances, in very much the same spirit as Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Amir Farrokh Hasemian as Ali appears like a veteran professional. He portrays Ali as both a pillar of strength and a fragile nine year old who is trying to keep everyone around him happy. The profound sadness that he expresses at the loss of his sister’s shoes in the opening scene grabs your heart and never lets go. Zahra, played with equal brilliance by Bahare Seddiqi is trustworthy, but unlike her brother she keeps her emotions within. Majidi stages sequences where there is no dialogue and his child actors never waver in this film that demands a wide range of emotions as well as intimate moments of quiet contemplation. Mohammad Amir Naji, who plays the children’s father, supports the younger actors masterfully. He is a man who cannot provide for his family and this knowledge fills him with anguish and despair. But there is always hope, and Ali has the determination and will to change the course of all their lives.

Children of Heaven was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film and it is with a heavy heart that I write that it cannot be found on Netflix or iTunes. When it was released it was universally praised and received international recognition. This is really a treasure for any film enthusiast. There are films that you want to watch and then there are films you want to have in your home library, and this one undoubtedly will be joining our collection. Rent it today from Videomatica!

Sincerely,

Nimisha & Mark

CHUNGKING EXPRESS: Day 57

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

Kar Wai Wong is one of our favorite writer/directors working in Chinese cinema today. In stark contrast to the action films that have gained enormous popularity in the West (every Jackie Chan movie as it turns out is available on Netflix) Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) has been described as “a breathless kaleidoscope of colour and hand-held camera work that creates a mesmerizing portrait of Hong Kong in the 90s” (imdb.com). While there are a few chase sequences, this is really a dramatic love story delivered as two distinctly separate films loosely connected by one title. The first half centers on the story of a lovesick man (who I didn’t realize is a cop) whose girlfriend callously breaks up with him. He ends up meeting a mysterious woman with a blonde wig who we discover in the opening is involved in the drug smuggling business.



There are a number of Indian migrant workers in Hong Kong looking for an opportunity to make fast money and she convinces them to become mules. The deal goes wrong however, and she ends up on the run. It’s a frenetic start but Kar Wai has a beautiful cinematic eye that brings a sense of calm to even the most intense situations. The way he moves the camera in slow motion and blurs light and colours together is intoxicating. From the first sequence he knows how to hook in his viewers. He makes the city look like a gritty Paris and the teaser line delivered by Takeshi Kaneshiro as Cop 223 tells us that within 57 hours Cop 223 will fall in love with the woman in the blonde wig (played by Brigitte Lin). As much as this first story intrigued me, I found the second part to really be the stronger of the two. The tone is completely different from the thrilling suspense of the first half; the second storyline unfolds as a sweet romance between Cop 663 (played by the charismatic and deadly handsome Tony Leung) and Faye (Faye Wong).

Before Amelie there was Chungking Express, and we can see the influence this earlier film had on the French classic. Cop 663’s stewardess girlfriend has also left him broken hearted but he has a secret admirer (Faye) who works at the food stand that he regularly visits. Unbeknownst to the cop, Faye ends up with a key to his apartment. She is in love with him but cannot express her true feelings so instead she decides to sneak into his place while he is at work to learn more about his life. She imprints small, barely noticeable signs of caring and devotion all over the apartment. He is blind to many of the changes but begins to sense an outside presence, gently pulling him out of his depression. Sometimes love isn’t at first sight, the film hints. Sometimes it takes the brain more time to make the connection. We spend most of the second “film” waiting for Cop 663 to discover how wonderful, caring and devoted Faye really is.  We feel Faye’s longing and are waiting for the moment when the two will finally come together. Whether or not it happens in Chungking Express is besides the point, it’s really a study in human behavior as we come to see that before people embrace love, they usually fear it.

The editing is finely paced, and the direction is exquisite as Kar Wai takes the time to slowly bring us into the quirky worlds of Faye and Cop 663. Fans of the song Hotel California will enjoy how music is incorporated into the story (we even hear a Mandarin version of the Cranberry’s hit single Dreams).

If you have yet to see any of Kar Wai’s films we’d highly recommend Chungking Express as well as In the Mood For Love. His style is consistent in both and like all masters of the art form his voice as a storyteller is both rare and definitive. There’s no one we can compare him to, he has such a unique way of perceiving the world. Also, as an added bonus Tony Leung stars in both films and he’s probably one of the best actors currently working in cinema –and when we say that we mean both within China and outside it.

Sincerely,
Nimisha & Mark

EVEN - AS YOU AND I: Day 56

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

I’ll openly admit that I’ve always avoided experimental films because, well, they’re experimental. But I had a good warm up before sitting down to watch the dvd “Avante-Garde” of short experimental films because Mark and I recently checked out the surrealist exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery titled: The Colour of My Dreams. The large showcase featured some of Salvador Dali’s work amongst other extraordinary visionaries such as Man Ray and Alberto Giacometti.

And yet even as I looked at these surrealist paintings I had to fight off the constant urge to try to make sense of them. My mind would try to connect the random images, trying to find a pattern, searching for meaning. And then I watched the wonderfully self-reflexive short film Even – As You and I, directed by three young filmmakers, Roger Barlow, Harry Hay and Leroy Robbins in 1937. It’s the last film on the second disk of the Avante-Gard dvd and for the first time I actually stopped taking all this experimental business so seriously and realized how playful it really can be.

Roger Barlow, Harry Hay and Leroy Robbins are behind and in front of the camera, and the film begins with them finding an ad for a filmmaking contest in the paper. The prize is $1000 as well as the possibility of a studio contract, since Hollywood is scouting new talented directors. So this is an experimental film within a silent film as we watch the three friends struggle to write a script. The problem is they can’t get past “Boy meets Girl.” United in their mission, they begin to float between the real and imagined world. One makes a cup of coffee and realizes as he takes a sip that his glass has been empty the whole time. Another starts flipping through TIME magazine and notices that there are two images within one picture depending on the angle it’s looked at. As he continues to search for an idea he stumbles across an article that has images of Dali’s paintings. The group decides they will make an experimental film.

Our favorite moment in the entire movie has to be when they take the famous eye cutting shot from Un Chien Andalou and unexpectedly defy our expectations. They liberally borrow from Dali while making every unique image their own. We’re glad we saw Dali and Bunuel’s film before watching this one, since it’s definitely a joke that would be missed for viewers totally unfamiliar with the genre. But there are also plenty of just silly scenarios that the group incorporates into the film. While it’s experimental, it’s not totally disjointed. The transitions in experimental films we’ve seen are brilliantly thought out, and this film is no exception. Out of the three friends Roger Barlow was involved in the largest body of work (he became a professional cinematographer). Despite being the only film the three friends directed, it’s really remarkable to see the ingenuity of filmmaking from 70 years ago.

Sincerely,
Nimisha & Mark

A PLACE CALLED CHIAPAS: Day 55

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

 “I make "political" documentaries--and some people think that that's kind of boring and educational and stuff like that, but what I find is that political documentaries, always the ones we've had the very great pleasure to make, are these huge, big, sprawling human dramas, where the stakes are incredibly high to the point where in some of our films people are actually putting their lives on the line to bring about change... So the stakes are huge, and the drama is really high drama, and it's like, they're stories that compel me so much that I can't... It's like they bite me, and they won't let me go. So, that's why I make them.” –Nettie Wild (as told to Travis Hoover in 2003 at the Hot Docs retrospective of her work).

I’ve been fortunate enough, along with a few other emerging filmmakers, to have legendary Canadian documentarian Nettie Wild help me with my own films (she’s also an incredible Story Editor). I consider her to be a mentor and friend who possesses that rare quality of always telling it like it is. In an industry built on performance and imitation it’s really important to have genuine people around you who aren’t afraid to be honest.

I first heard of Nettie’s films when I was a student at UBC. I attended a screening of her acclaimed documentary Fix: The Story of an Addicted City and it shifted my whole understanding of the war on drugs. I learned that some of the most exciting stories taking place in the world were happening in our own backyard. Here was a filmmaker shooting in the back alleys of Hastings, gaining incredible access and trust from her subjects, many of whom were struggling with drug addiction. She captured raw, uncensored moments of pain, hopelessness and joy. I remember thinking this filmmaker is truly brave, and I hadn’t even seen A Rustling of Leaves yet, which took her inside the Philippine revolution.

In A Place Chiapas we cannot turn our eyes away from the truth, even as it mystifies us with all its complexities. While Nettie has produced five films over a career that has spanned two decades, there are two available to rent from Videomatica: Fix (2002) and A Place Called Chiapas (1998). I chose A Place Called Chiapas because I feel that out of the two, Fix is the more widely known in Vancouver because it was filmed here during the clashes between advocacy groups and the government to bring safe injection sites to our city.



A Place Called Chiapas takes us far away from Canada to the panorama Chiapas in Mexico during the 1994 revolution led by Subcommandante Marcos who belonged to the Zapatistas rebel group. The challenge for a director dealing with such politically charged material is to make all the history and politics comprehensible to an audience that has no previous understanding of the crisis. While narration is sometimes a hit or miss in docs (many try to avoid it at all costs) here it proves to be a guiding light not only because it gives us the information we need in a poetic way, but Nettie as a filmmaker becomes a presence like Marco, fleeting on camera but always there in spirit. She doesn’t cut out her voice asking questions, and the result is that she indirectly humanizes her subjects even more because we see the dialogue that is happening between the person behind the lens and the person in front of it. Her narration acts as a witness to what is happening in the revolution, merging with that of the indigenous community who are also discovering the power of their collective voice. Nettie appears on camera briefly, informing the viewer of the challenges facing a foreigner trying to capture both sides of the revolution. As was the case in a Rustling of Leaves, you begin to feel the violence escalating as the situation increasingly gets more out control. And at the center of it all is Nettie and her film crew.

Since access is often at the forefront for documentaries, Nettie tries to get a one on one interview with Subcommandante Marcos, who is like a modern day Don Quixote or Robin Hood. His face is masked, but we always know it’s him because of the iconic pipe that he smokes. His underground movement represents the exploited farmers and laborers in Chiapas. Since he repeatedly refuses Nettie’s request for a meeting, his voice actually becomes an amalgamation of all the people that she interviews, as they talk about his leadership and vision for the country’s future. Even his enemies, who candidly denounce his efforts, help paint a more detailed portrait of the man behind the mask. By the time Nettie finally is able to sit down with the infamous Marcos, we understand that the God-like image of him promoted in the media is misleading, since he is simply one man amongst many who are fighting for freedom. It’s like seeing Oz, only Marcos is not an illusion or a puppet. He can give his life to the cause, but there are countless other Marcos needed for change to come to Chiapas.

Sound designer Velcrow Ripper (who is also a world renown documentary director) should be applauded for the sound-score he orchestrates to make Chiapas a living, breathing character. The primal cries from the forest and the sound of church bells ringing in the distance haunts us as we propel forward into a new scene often enveloped in darkness. The sound cues also work to foreshadow what is to come, melting into the landscape and whispering behind Nettie’s voice. The effect is hypnotic.

Throughout all Nettie’s films you feel this persistence energy, a force breaking through physical barriers as well as emotional walls. I credit Nettie and my documentary film professor at the time (Academy Award winning director John Zaritsky) for first sparking my interest in docs and encouraging me to actually make one. Before reality TV took over the airwaves, documentary filmmakers recognized the power of telling stories about real people. While there are many differences between reality tv and documentaries, as someone who has worked in both fields I can attest that perhaps the biggest difference between them is that in reality tv nothing is actually real. At a recent event in Vancouver hosted by Gen Why Nettie commented that reality tv has officially killed documentary. Maybe the rise of this form of television will instead mark a pivotal movement for it's revitalization as it adapts to new forms. Nettie has never responded well to boundaries, so it’s no surprise that she has embraced a new wave of storytelling by transforming her documentary skills into an online experience.

Check out the amazing new interactive project directed by Nettie: Inside Stories
As well as the NFB’s interview  with her by Pepita Ferrari.

Sincerely,
Nimisha & Mark

THE INFIDEL: Day 54

To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.


Dear Videomatica,

Thanks to a great staff recommendation from Videomatica we picked up the indie hit comedy The Infidel. The film screened at VIFF but we missed it, and currently it’s not available on Netflix Canada or iTunes. Throughout this experience of renting movies we’ve repeatedly found fantastic films with the VIFF stamp on them. The Videomatica site, recognizing the importance of VIFF selections, even features the festival as a search tool (you can see what the programmers have selected over the years that are available to rent from the store). It’s amazing how many of these fantastic films that receive critical acclaim and festival success never get wide theatrical releases. Despite the growing online collections there are a lot of great films remaining in obscurity, so if we've learned anything it's that  the Vancouver International Film Festival plays a vital role in bringing rare and thought-provoking cinema to our city. VIFF and Videomatica are your only chances to catch these films.

In the spirit of other cross-cultural comedies that have emerged from the UK like Bend it Like Beckham and West is West, the Infidel is an important film, not because it is the most well-crafted or the funniest comedy we’ve seen, but because it dares to take a look at the cultural divides normally only discussed behind closed doors. The set up alone is worth renting this film. A Muslim father tries to become a more devoted follower after he realizes that his son’s fiancé has a stepfather who is a known fundamentalist with terrorist ties. In the process of trying to become a “better” Muslim he discovers that he was actually adopted as a baby and is in fact Jewish. British comedian Omid Djalili stars in the film as Mahmud Nasir and is convincing in the role of a conflicted man struggling to be a good Muslim Jew. Richard Schiff (known for his role as Toby on West Wing) plays a Jewish cab driver that teaches Mahmud how to bring out his inner Jew. Their scenes together are light-hearted and full of inside jokes about the two faiths – we’d recommend this to anyone who is Jewish or Muslim because we think we missed out on a few laughs just because we’re both agnostics.



Director Josh Appignanesi comes from a background of studying anthropology. He takes David Baddiel’s script and turns it into a fun cultural study on the role of religion in today’s society. The parts that we liked the most dealt directly with controversial issues like the conflict in the Middle East as well as the rise of extremism. This is where films have the opportunity to engage in dialogue that might never happen in real life. We especially loved that this was a comedy, which enabled the filmmakers to expose stereotypes and prejudices without offending anyone. The story is set in the UK and we see women in burkas jogging and evangelical Christians singing on the streets. While I enjoyed the commentary on religion, at many time I felt the filmmakers could have gone further to push boundaries. Every time characters started a heated debate it would get cut off. A few of the shots get repetitive, and this also happens with the jokes (we hit the same beat more than once on occasion). The result is that in using religion as a comedic device at times it felt like the filmmakers actually were undermining the seriousness of the very issues that they were raising. And yet the set up invites contradictions and could have lead to even more humor through the journey of self-discovery that Mahmud goes on to find himself.

We enjoyed the film for what it was and what it could have been. In learning about both the Muslim and Jewish faith Mahmud really begins to see that there are more similarities than differences, and it is possible for both faiths to peacefully co-exist inside him. I have a good friend who is Jewish and her father, who sometimes offers up bursts of wisdom, once said: Religion is like climbing a mountain. Every faith has it’s own path to getting to the top. The problems only start when one person taps another and says, “You’re going the wrong way.”

Sincerely,

Nimisha & Mark
To mark the closing of Videomatica we're renting and discussing 1 film a day that you can't easily download or find anywhere else.



Dear Videomatica,

This experience of renting from Videomatica has really opened our eyes to short films, mostly because the collections that are available on DVD to rent are so awesome. Like good music, it’s sometimes hard to navigate what’s worth checking out for shorts since most of the time they don’t get the publicity or attention they deserve like features (although one could argue it’s harder to tell a good story in a shorter amount of time). For anyone who watches the Academy Awards, the tricky category is usually the shorts (mostly because no one has seen or heard of them). Within the industry a nomination – or a win if the Oscar Gods are smiling on you – signifies that you will make more films without struggling to find funding. A great short is your calling card and if it’s recognized by the Academy it means you’ve officially arrived.



Before the advent of online uploads I’m not sure how people got to see these nominated shorts. For the recent Oscars a group of us from film school got together and rented them from iTunes (all legal downloads of course) and screened the live action and animated short films. It was a fun night, mostly because there was something for everyone. We didn’t always agree with what won, but we could see why each had been singled out by the Academy. The short film Six Shooter is one of a series of films featured on the 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films dvd. It received the Oscar and thankfully is not fully available on pirated sites to our knowledge (on youtube there were clips and sections broken up, who would want to watch a film that way is beyond us). The film was also included in the Cinema 16 European Short Films series so no excuses for missing out on this unpredictable psychological thriller, there are two amazing dvds that have it in their collection and both are available at Videomatica!

While we enjoyed all the films that were nominated in 2005, we agreed that director Martin McDonagh’s win was fully deserved – it also defies the notion that all Oscar winners are dramas. McDonagh came to film from a theatre background, but he not only knows how to inspire unforgettable performances from his cast, which includes Brendan Gleeson, but he also has a great understanding of how to produce the most tension through camera placement and sound design. While Gleeson is the main character, Ruaidhri Conroy who plays the cracked out “Kid,” who he meets on the train really steals every scene. He is a cross between Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden in Fight Club and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A total loose cannon, the Kid could’ve been one-dimensional but McDonagh defies all expectations with every character. There are redeeming qualities found in the Kid that we see revealed through information subtly gained in this thrilling script. This is exactly the type of film you want to watch before making your own short, because there is no time wasted. The opening scene starts at the last possible moment; Gleeson’s character Donnelly has just lost his wife. We are dropped into the drama as it is still unfolding and the result is that we are immediately gripped by the story all the way to the high stakes resolution 27 minutes later.

A great portion of the film takes place on a train and there are a number of complicated effects that McDonagh pulls off as we witness Donnelly go through the worst day of his life. This is a challenging location for a psychological thriller (Hitchcock chose the same setting for The Lady Vanishes). The genius of McDonagh is that he is able to make us laugh all the way through this unpredictable film. We are brought into the frenetic energy of the characters and as the train speeds ahead we begin to feel like every turn could lead to another calamity. On imdb.com the film is described as “a black and bloody Irish comedy” and while that’s an accurate description the film it is not limited to any genre. Like lightning it feels like any emotions or scenario could strike. The only film I can compare it to is Misery, which captured that difficult tone of black humor, suspense and drama all at the same time.

Martin McDonagh followed up his win with Six Shooter by writing and directing the fantastic In Bruges that also starred Gleeson as well as Colin Farrell. He received an Oscar nomination for the script and has a new film called Seven Psychopaths that he is currently shooting. But without a doubt, it all started with his short, which serves up a shot of pure adrenaline that you don’t want to miss.

Also note worthy is the film Cashback that was nominated in the same year for an Oscar and was later extended into a feature film. You can check out the trailer here.

Sincerely,
Nimisha & Mark

PS: Livejournal is still having issues, mostly with uploading photos! Hope to get them all up in the next few days!

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