FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
|Letters From the Big Man grows on you.
After a decade of covering documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival (September 29 to October 14 this year), I’ve come to rely on certain staples. Each year, filmmakers tackle the issue of oil dependency with a sharp focus on the ecological and humanitarian travesty of the tar sands; wrestle with the vexed question of clean, green energy for all; fret about the downward spiral of biodiversity; and seek spiritual solace from the chaotic materialism of mainstream western lifestyles. All of these issues are covered, in one shape or another, in the five films I’ve seen so far.
Since VIFF 2010, we’ve had the Gulf oil spill, the North Sea oil spill, and as I write, activists are being arrested outside the White House over the plan to build the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Texas. Local adventurer Frank Wolf’s On the Line highlights another pipeline project closer to home. Wolf and buddy Todd McGowan biked, walked and paddled the length of Enbridge Corp’s proposed pipeline from Bruderheim Alberta to the port city of Kitimat, BC.
In a rough-and-ready video diary of their adventure, Wolf talks to everyday people about the project – including advocates and naysayers – as the duo traverse roads, fields, forest and hundreds of water courses. Unfortunately, the review disc got stuck a third into the film, but I saw enough to want to catch the rest of it.
Volker Sattel’s austere Under Control shows impressive timing, coming so soon after the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and Germany’s subsequent decision to abandon nuclear energy by 2022. Sattel also gained incredible access to Germany’s network of nuclear reactors, waste dumps deep in the earth and a training centre (where he memorably shoots an emergency leak). Occasionally, it’s difficult to follow the scientific jargon via subtitles, but Sattel’s bleak, Teutonic vision of these monster projects is simultaneously awe-inspiring and chilling.
Fish, and the lack thereof, is on the menu in Sushi - The Global Catch. With fish stocks in danger of collapsing, what’s next? The film’s passion seems torn between on the one hand, celebrating the art and tradition of sushi and on the other, the preservation of fish species – in particular, increasingly rare bluefin tuna. These big fish, “the Porsche of the seas,” sell for up to $400,000 each. There are some valuable and unsettling insights into the lucrative, global bluefin industry, however, one of the key conclusions, that bluefin tuna can be farmed and sold as an “organic” choice, seemed a case of industry self-serving.
Crazy Wisdom: The Life & Times of Chogyam Trungpa looks at this controversial monk, who, in the 60s and 70s, was as well known for his drinking and womanizing as for his teachings. Johanna Demetrakas’ uncritical profile features Pema Chodron, Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Thurman, and plenty of archive material. While there’s no doubting the spiritual teacher’s charisma, the film would have benefited from a deeper exploration of Trungpa’s behaviour.
With its hanging ending, Letters From the Big Man feels like a pilot for a television series. It also features a Sasquatch man. Not just one, either. Initially, I couldn’t help laughing whenever the elusive, woolly creature made an appearance, but the film grew on me. Much of the action takes place in an Oregon forest where artist, hydrologist and general loner Sarah (Lily Rabe) is surveying a stream after a forest fire and nursing a broken heart. The drama is slow moving, it rains a lot and there’s little dialogue, but Sasquatch’s telepathic powers began to get to me.
Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never
Bike Alone. www.youneverbikealone.com.
He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.