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Wind Wind-up; and Walking On the Dark Side at VIFF 2010


By Robert Alstead - Posted on 09 October 2010

One of the less cut-and-dry eco docs at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year, is Windfall (10, 13 October) a relentless attack on wind energy seen through the prism of a small town in upstate New York where industrial wind energy became a divisive local issue.

Director Laura Israel raises important issues about just how “green” large wind turbines are and the process of introducing wind farms: the US subsidies system, we are told, is set up in such a way that local communities receive a minuscule percentage of revenue from wind farms. Yet, people living near wind turbines say the shadows and noise affect their health.

The big issue is one of aesthetics and, ergo, real estate values. People don't want them in their backyard. I found this documentary infuriating at times. I'd have preferred less townsfolk talking about how unsightly, noisy, and unnatural these 400 foot wind turbine “monstrosities” are and a more balanced look at the ecological cost compared to other forms of electricity to really convince me that the wind energy industry is the malignant force Israel wants me to believe it to be.

Russian drama My Joy (Park Cinema, 3 and 4) is perhaps the most grimly ironic title in the festival programme. A young truck driver takes a tortuous shortcut through a rural backwater and his life takes a turn for the worse. The Everyman, lead character, Georgi, is physically and psychological battered down by a series of humiliating and shocking incidents – particularly at the hands of soldiers and policemen. Spanning both a contemporary and post-Second World War time frame, the film meanders here and there, but all the time descending into a colder, darker place. It's effective – heart-wrenchingly so on occasion - but “joy” is in short supply here.

Reverse (1, 8 Empire Granville) from Poland, largely set in a black-and-white, post-War Warsaw, is similarly dark in tone, although it is spiked with black comedy, particularly some memorable elements of extreme farce. When mousey poetry editor Sabina brings a debonair man back to their small apartment, her mother and bedridden grandmother are overjoyed for the shy, sensitive 30-year-old spinster. But this is Stalinist Poland and when secrets out there can be calamitous results. The uneven story veers into the absurd – particularly in its depiction of Sabina's admirers - yet retains credibility and force thanks to the strong character portraits provided by the three central female characters.

On a very different tack, is local adventurer and independent filmmaker Frank Wolf's Mammalian (6, 11 at Empire Granville and 13 at Pacific Cinematheque with Cry Rock), a video diary of his epic kayak trip with buddy and fellow Vancouverite Taku Hokoyama.

The idea behind the 2,000 kilometre journey from Yellowknife to Rankin Inlet was to share insights into this expansive Northerly wilderness, its indigenous people, wildlife, and the ever present threat from local mining, energy projects, and climate change.

There's little time to address issues of climate change while portaging through thick bush and being constantly nibbled by flies, but you get a good sense of the ruggedness of the land. The two guys are a fun team to tag along with and prove that you have to be slightly nuts to make this kind of trip with those kind of flies.

VIFF closes on 15 October with The Illusionist, the sweet and lovely looking animation from the creator of The Triplets of Belleville. It's currently scheduled for a Christmas Day release in Canada.

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