The 1st Weekend at Vancouver’s International Film Festival

30 September 2011

The 30th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival opened last night under a cloud of controversy.

The Opening Gala reception was held at a venue owned by Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, which locked out its 108 attendants in June and hundreds of people refused to cross the picket line and attend the gala.  Rocky Mountaineer Railtours were the recipient of the Federal Government’s hand out of the rail line that Chinese workers died building and generations of Canadian taxpayers have paid for: the Vancouver to Calgary line.  The only way to ride these rails today is to spend thousands of dollars per person.

I’ve seen the locked out workers many times when I’ve ridden by them during morning rush hour on Terminal outside the Rocky Mountaineer Railtour’s main office.  They are a dedicated and well-informed bunch that seem to be remarkably upbeat despite the fact that their employer refuses to negotiate with them and instead chooses to use “replacement” workers.  That’s right, in Vancouver’s own backyard, you can bear witness to the disgusting employment practices that many a film in VIFF’s offerings documents or dramatizes.

Since the Film Fest’s Director, Alan Franey, seems to have blown this opportunity to make a statement before the gala, let’s hope (and even call him personally) that the Film Fest makes up for this.  Now that the gala is over, they can safely highlight the injustice that these 108 people face everyday and even give them some joy by distributing free passes to each of them.  It won’t put food on their plates, but despite being a non-profit, the Film Fest has resources that can show us and especially these workers that they’ve made a mistake and would like to make it up to the families most harmed.

To sign a petition to urge the owners of Rocky Mountaineer Railtours to start bargaining with their locked out workers, click here.

Now for some seriously fine films to let you know about:

I really enjoyed Waking the Green Tiger for many reasons.  It gives the viewer an intimate look at rural China today as well as critiquing Mao’s Cultural Revolution from the people that were actually involved.

The initial premise of the film is to show the work of the activists trying to prevent China’s last wild river – the Nu – from being dammed 13 times.  One of the most powerful scenes is when the activists and filmmakers take villagers from the Nu River to the relocated villages above the Manwan dam on the Mekong River.

For me, it more than confirmed the insanity of civilization.  From conforming to Mao’s vision to the dictates of men (and women) in suits today, civilized humans believe that they are separate from Nature and can grow and produce without limits.  Civilization is a top-down hierarchy and Mao’s time illuminates the problems with one person or system in control.  But anywhere a government exists, socialist or capitalist, democracy can’t compete with the civilized need for greed.

Don’t get me wrong: this is an uplifting film that documents China’s baby steps toward democracy and any eco or social activist will be inspired by this film; if you don’t consider yourself one of those, I still recommend this film for its magnificent scenes of nature and people and the fascinating history of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

3 screenings remain for Waking the Green Tiger:

  • Sat, Oct 1st 1:15pm @ Empire Granville 7 Th 2
  • Fri, Oct 7th 9:30pm @ Empire Granville 7 Th 4
  • Tue, Oct 11th 12:20pm @ Empire Granville 7 Th 1

Taste the Waste starts on such a promising note: two dumpster divers in Austria ride bikes to a local grocery store and stock up on choice food.  They are middle class equivalents simply learning a different way of making a living, for them much easier and easily justified.

The film continues to investigate the incredible waste that the global economic system – capitalism – creates: about half of all food grown.

For anyone who hasn’t realized that the perfect produce at every store or co-op comes at a high price, you’ll be quickly educated.

However, the filmmakers take the civilized route to fix the problem and that’s where I get disappointed.  No amount of programs/projects/grants will change the fundamental drivers of these problems.  Civilization is hierarchical and everyone involved will want the best; it’s how we’re trained from birth.

As well, turning the earth into a civilized human food plantation is a fundamental part of the problem as well.  Prior to civilization, all the evidence shows that humans spent at most a few hours each month gathering food, it was so abundant and the human population ecologically sustainable.  Now that civilized people (under the command of Kings, Queens, Emperors, Presidents, PMs, and Chairman Mao) have destroyed most of the wild food sources, most are dependent upon someone else providing for them.  This film confirms, in a less direct way, that that has been, and will always be, a recipe for disaster.

For more info about what the film makers are advocating, visit

3 screenings remain for Taste the Waste:

  • Thu, Oct 6th Noon @ Empire Granville 7 Th 4
  • Sun, Oct 9th 8:45pm @ Empire Granville 7 Th 5
  • Tue, Oct 11th 3:20pm @ Empire Granville 7 Th 5

Passionflower is a realistic portrait of middle class life in the suburban 50s/60s/70s/80s/today.  Another Canadian film, this one a feature film, it amply portrays the dysfunction we have inherited and continue to pass on to future generations.

The acting is cold but believable; the patriarchy palpable despite the husband’s attempt to play the good guy.  I love how the film alludes to both committing adultery and how the women play their civilized role perfectly while the men – who have for the most part defined the roles – simply do what they do with impunity.

And, of course, the children suffer the most.  Passionflower is the pet name of the daughter who sees and absorbs everything; I love how the film questions whether she will become conscious of the dysfunction she has witnessed and learned enough to heal from it or simply live it as most civilized folks are doomed to do.

One of the highest commendations I can give you is that my daughter asked to see it again.  She said it was really real but not fun.  I can only hope it helps her see the dysfunction clearer in her life so she can be healthier and happier.  I wish the same to all of you.

2 screenings remain for Passionflower:

  • Wed, Oct 12th 6:00pm @ Empire Granville 7 Th 5
  • Thu, Oct 13th Noon @ Empire Granville 7 Th 1

With a weekend of rain ahead, what a great time to see some films…enjoy!

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