Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Dir. Sanjay Rawal
Fashionable in today’s media are documentaries and interviews about food and nutrition, health and consciousness, corporate and private exploitation, etc. These documentaries tend to say the same things in the same way. We get it, but we are not moved or immediately called to action. Food Chains breaks this cycle. Primarily because of the authenticity and actuality of its subjects—exploited workers, business executives, political activity—Food Chains delivers an important and well-realized message about contemporary forms of slavery and exploitation.
A highly resourceful documentary, Food Chains presents footage culled from old documentaries, news reels, and historical political activities and movements. It uses these sources to contextualize the plot-based hunger strike in Immokalee which inspired the documentary to be made. In Immokalee, a raise in wages of literally one cent per pound of tomatoes is shown to double farm workers’ wages, bringing their salary above the poverty line. Publix, the grocery outlet of concern, remains unwilling to make such a change, as it would affect their prices, a measly few dollars a year per family.
After establishing the hunger strike as its central focus, Food Chains admirably departs from this subject to provide a stronger context. Instead of harping on about wages, it considers slavery in the 1800s, speeches from President Obama from just a few years earlier, and Cinema Verité interviews of primary sources who speak candidly on their first-hand experiences with exploitation and slavery.
Besides all of this, an emotionally stirring musical soundtrack complements the film. There is no repetition as might be expected of a documentary of this sort; the soundtrack is a progressive piece that changes as the films continues. The sounds are not short, repetitive, catchy melodies but actual musical numbers. This music is curated to match the narrative and formal elements of the film; for example, movements in acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment are harmonious with dissolves and other transitional formal elements of the film. All of this is to say that Food Chains is not only an impressive and highly informing documentary, but a highly entertaining one.
Walking Under Water
Dir. Eliza Kubarska
Walking Under Water is to some extent like an underwater version of Gravity. Gorgeous underwater photography creates a spectacle of grace and movement similar to that found in Cuarion’s 3D blockbuster. The major difference is simply a change in material—from air/space to water.
This in no way is all that Walking Under Water has to offer. The film offers a sharp contrast between the nature of humanity and the nature of society by illustrating a clash of cultures between the old and the new. Old and new forms of being are put into question when respect for a mythological underwater world is slighted to make space for underwater tourism—a commercial practice rather than a cultural one.
This clash and contrast which the film subtly regales is supported especially well in its final moments. Before this, the formal elucidation of this theme is blundered by oft conventional filmmaking. The artistic, formal elements are mostly underwater, making it ever so clear that two camera operators are involved in the making of the film.
Overall, Walking Under Water provides a highly sensory experience and a strong cultural message to boot. The music and underwater scenes are galvanizing while the films commentary on lost traditions is rather sincere and valuable.
Dir. Jane Magnusson, Hynek Pallas
With content culled primarily through Cinema Verité interviews of various directors, Trespassing Bergman provides an adequate survey of Bergman’s life; however, it fails to establish an authorial presence or meaningful point of view. Though the number of directors willing to talk about Bergman is astounding, few of them have something unique or interesting to say. Most of them are simply fans of his work, and some, like Robert De Niro, admit to not knowing of the man until recent years. As a result, while the film appears resourceful, the sources—directors—are poor informants about Bergman’s life and personality. Only Lars von Trier, in his hilarious monologues, seeks to explore the mystery of the man himself. The rest simply view his work from the outside, never seeking to inspect Bergman’s more intimate qualities.
Strangely, Trespassing Bergman has no mention of Andrei Tarkovsky, a man whose life and connection with Ingmar Bergman has been studied for years. As a film benefitting from director interviews, it appears odd that Tarkovsky would be left out. Bergman and Tarkovsky had a great deal of mutual admiration and both wrote extensively on each other’s works. The film uses some intertitles, so it certainly could have found a way to use Tarkovsky’s words even without his presence.
Structured in chronological order, Trespassing Bergman would benefit from some spontaneity. As such a creative and poetic person, Bergman’s works deserve a more creative tableau for examining them. By using chronological order and skipping films considered lesser important, the film immediately displays its own lack of soundness. It is general, overarching, and incomplete. That said, what it does show is presented quite rationally and at times artistically. There are many beautiful landscape shots of Faro, all the scenes in Bergman’s house are fascinating to no end, and the use of clips from Bergman’s films are well timed and context informing. If these elements were more tightly edited and more eloquently sewn together, Trespassing Bergman would form a great portrait of the infamous Ingmar Bergman.
Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
Dir. Grant Baldwin
Though Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story earned huge accolades at the Vancouver Film Festival, even garnering the top prize in the juried Impact Award, the film presents a relatively vain project which, while interesting and somewhat entertaining, does not really prove anything or say anything new. The film is simply a well-made documentary about a currently fashionable topic—food waste. For this reason, it is loved by audiences, despite its many flaws as a film.
An affable Vancouver couple set out to live off food waste. It begins as a challenge, but this challenge lends itself to many discoveries. Assuming they will be eating food scraps and the like, the couple is pleasantly surprised when they see just how much quantity and quality food is disposed of. At one point, they find a dumpster full of chocolate bars, thrown away likely because the labels were missing French writing. For the companies who make such mistakes, it is easier to dispose of the product than to find homes for them; this is the sad, disconcerting truth.
While priding themselves on surviving off food waste, the couple themselves are constantly shown picking and choosing the best of the scraps they find. While this is to be expected—certainly they don’t want to get sick—it contradicts the premise of the film: that a couple could survive off food scraps. Their pickiness therefore presents a simple solution to a much more complex issue.
Overall, Just Eat It is a highly conscientious story with a real project. The project is admirable and entertaining even if a little disconnected from the focus of the film. It is not as resourceful or focused as it could be, but it does present ideas about daily living which we can sink our teeth into. As a call to action, it is certainly effective, as we can all make an effort to live a little like the couple shown in the film.
Dir. Sophie Hyde
In a unique narrative structure, a girl recounts a year in her life vis-à-vis a video blog. This blog, seemingly detached from the film, eventually turns into a part of the story itself. It has both a diegetic and non-diegetic purpose. In particular, it allows the girl—the subject of the film—to expose herself to the audience. It allows her to tell her story and thus allows us to connect with her experience.
Told that her mother has chosen to undergo a gender transformation, Billie is sent to live with her dad. Tuesdays, once a week, she meets with her mother. With each scene corresponding to another Tuesday, the film shows a keen sense of editing and storytelling. Since 6 days of the week are omitted, there is constantly some retro-active storytelling in regards to what has been “off-screen” during those days. There is an obvious linear structure to the film; however, much foreshadowing and repetition allow the film to expand beyond its perimeters of scene by scene Tuesday evenings.
52 Tuesdays ultimately becomes a parallel between coming of age and gender transformation. In both cases, a great deal of change is involved. One transformation (coming-of-age) is common and oft portrayed in film; the other (gender transformation) is not. Hyde admirably uses previous notions about the coming-of-age to contextualize and support her illustration of gender transformation. The parallel between mother and daughter is strong and emotionally resonant due to a great dynamic between the actors. While the film feels a little cliché or contrived at times, especially in its final moments, the point which Hyde wishes to make does not fall on deaf ears. Though her execution may be lacking, the film’s ambitions speak for themselves.