News from Hollywood North
WOMEN ADJUST THE SET
A December 2006 report from the B.C. Institute of Film Professionals exposed the glaring gender gap in the B.C. film industry. A new campaign and Web site consolidating research on women in film and television will ensure that awareness of those statistics expands.
On September 24, filmmaker Anne Wheeler ( Better Than Chocolate ) and former NFB executive producer Rina Fraticelli introduced the Please Adjust Your Set campaign ( www.pleaseadjustyourset.com/ ) to a full house of industry professionals at Robson Square. Fraticelli discussed the statistics on the disparity between men and women in the industry and explained that the Web site, which will feature a data-collecting component, will allow them to track numbers on a regular basis.
When asked by the Straight to what extent disparity has penetrated public consciousness, Wheeler said, "I think outside the industry, in our government agencies and our politicians, it's not obvious that women have lost ground when it comes to having access to the airwaves and the big screens. And it's not just important that we tell our stories about women but that our perspective on what is happening in the world is also a part."
The Creative Women Workshops Association and the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. also announced the creation of an annual award of in-kind rentals worth $100,000 for a feature film by a female director. The deadline is January 15. Application details are at www.creativewomenworkshops.com/
> Craig Takeuchi
VIFF SUFFERS CHINA SYNDROME
Dealing with an unusually large number of films coming from China, Vancouver International Film Festival programmers were expecting a few snags when dealing with Beijing. It was surprising, then, that the holdups came out of Ottawa. Of the six filmmakers invited–all young but relatively well travelled and previously feted at outside events–only Peng Tao, writer-director of the gritty Little Moth (screening October 1 and 2), had been given a visa to enter Canada by the evening of September 25, according to VIFF head Alan Franey.
"It's hard not to come to the conclusion that the Chinese filmmakers are being singled out," Franey surmises. "You used to be able to bridge some of these issues through an external-affairs desk of the government, but that doesn't seem to be available anymore."
Apparently, this unexplained slowdown is happening in the world-music sphere as well, as Franey discovered while comparing notes with other festival mavens.
"We have been getting some help from the cultural side of the embassy in Beijing, but not enough, I guess," says Nico Lorenzutti, the VIFF's travel coordinator for international guests. "Peng Tao has been here before, so that may have made a difference in his paperwork. We just don't know."
> Ken Eisner
FILMS ZERO IN ON STATE-INDUCED CONFESSIONS
A number of titles at the fest deal with social justice and miscarriages thereof, including examinations of pot laws in Canada, human-rights abuses abroad, and growing fear of the USA PATRIOT Act. Two B.C. filmmakers, however, had more personal responses.
Vancouverite Tiffany Burns, who has worked as a regional reporter and TV personality in the States and Eastern Canada, got a closer look at justice in both countries when her brother Sebastian and his pal Atif Rafay were accused, almost 10 years ago, of murdering Rafay's wealthy parents in their suburban-Seattle home. The young men were convicted in the U.S. after Mounties managed to wangle confessions prior to their extradition from them through an elaborate sting operation known as Mr. Big.
Her feature debut, also called Mr. Big (screening October 2, 3, and 10), is a look at how this was applied in her brother's and other cases.
"I had never heard of Mr. Big until that sting snared my brother," Burns told the Straight by cellphone. "Then I was so outraged that a jury would actually convict my brother on such flimsy evidence, I decided to look into it. It turns out that plenty of Canadians have been convicted [through] false confessions."
Through her Web site ( www.mrbigthemovie.com/) , she's been hearing from people with related tales.
In contrast, TV producer David Paperny ( Kink , Crash Test Mommy ) didn't have any personal connection to the 2000 case of Bill Sampson, a U.K.–born former B.C. engineer who was working in Saudi Arabia when he was tortured into confessing to a terrorist car-bombing.
"Bill Sampson was in the news for years," says Paperny, calling from London, England. "When he was finally released in summer of '04, he told this really intimate, first-person story to the National Post and I got hooked. I never heard any account of a Canadian who went through such a horrific series of events."
After two decades in the biz, the veteran producer was inspired to direct his first feature, Confessions of an Innocent Man (October 2, 5, and 12), which combines first-person narratives with potent reenactments. But Sampson initially avoided him.
"He was a cagey guy before any of this happened. I loved the fact that he wasn't an innocent-victim type. But he should not have been left to rot like that by both the British and Canadian governments. They continue to carry on relationships with countries that torture; put this together with the Maher Arar case, and you can see we're on our own. Canadian citizens are being tortured around the world."
> KEN EISNER
VIFF FILMMAKERS MEET FOR FREE
Making films may be costly, but the free Meet the Filmmakers seminars ( www.cineworks.ca/meet_the_filmmakers.php ), September 29 to October 12 at the Pacific Cinémathí¨que and the Vancity Theatre, will ensure that tuition won't add to those expenses.
In fact, one of the seminars, Cashing In to Win: Creative Film Financing (October 9, 3 p.m.), will feature Tracy D. Smith ( Taming Tammy ) and the aforementioned Tiffany Burns sharing their experiences of how to finance filmmaking on a limited budget.
Cheyanne Turions, Cineworks programs assistant and chief organizer of this series, said by phone that all space was donated. "All of the filmmakers that are participating are doing it out of the goodness of their heart."
Encouraging Diversity Behind and in Front of the Camera (October 10) will feature a panel including queer filmmaker Michael V. Smith ("Wolf Lake") reflecting on his film told from a female perspective; youth filmmaker Jake Dunbar ("Playground Dual"); and Jim Finn ( La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo ) and John Jeffcoat ( Outsourced ), who, Turions said, are "examples of the compassion or empathy that is possible when we do take on the stories of people who would otherwise remain silent".
Film Schools and Their Impact on Film Communities (October 5, 6 p.m.) will feature UBC film-production alumni who will discuss what effect the potential closure of the suspended program may have on the local film industry.
Independent of the seminar series, the UBC Film Production Alumni Association is hoping to raise support for the program by presenting a showcase of eight films by UBC alumni (Bruce Sweeney's American Venus , Gwen Haworth's She's a Boy I Knew , Tracy D. Smith's Taming Tammy , and five short films) at Ceili's Irish Pub (670 Smithe) on October 2 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. RSVP to email@example.com .
> Craig Takeuchi
VIFF DOCUMDRAMAS KEEP IT REAL
If one thing stands out at this year's fest, it's that the line between fiction and documentary is often thin to nonexistent. Again and again one finds imaginative ( The Missing Star ) and factual ( Losers and Winners ) features that cover pretty much the same ground.
When asked why that might be, festival director Alan Franey responded: "There is very definitely a change in the spirit of the times when it comes to creative work, a new kind of modesty. It was interesting to read some of the obituaries for Ingmar Bergman in particular. A lot of smart young people don't like what might be regarded as pretentious grand-master stuff. They're looking for a more austere kind of truth; their approach is more observational, more improvisatory, more naturalistic."
Among other things, this has resulted in a number of nonfiction films that seem to follow Truman Capote's concept of the "nonfiction novel" ( Forbidden Lie$ being the most extreme example of this trend).
And then there are the docudramas.
I Just Didn't Do It invents the story of a man falsely accused of molesting a girl on a crowded train primarily to demonstrate how heavily the Japanese justice system is stacked against the defendant, regardless of the quality of the accused's defence team.
The line between fiction and reality is probably thinnest in La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo . At first, it appears as if real Shining Path guerrillas are expressing their party's line from jail. Gradually, it becomes apparent that no prison administration in the world would allow such latitude to political prisoners and that what we are seeing must be staged.
Perhaps the strangest of them all is It Happened Just Before . A group of narrators express the various roles they played in the sexual exploitation of Eastern Bloc women. The appearance of the performers suggests that the horrors they're recounting occurred some time before, yet their language is chillingly present-tense. In this way, director Anja Saomonowitz lets us know that sexual trauma, sadly, doesn't have an expiry date.
It's all a bracing antidote to what is so inaccurately described as reality TV.
> Mark Harris