Monthly Archives: October 2009

Grateful For A Democracy That Works

Jeez Louise, I tell ya. We got it good here in Canada. I’ve watched several compelling documentaries lately about people who live in nations officially run by (quasi-)democratic govenments, yet suffer under  the effective and oppressive rule of thugs.

I commend the brave filmmakers who bring us these stories because they risked their safety, their freedom and their lives to go behind the curtain so to speak, so that we may be reminded of the value democracy less we become complacent. 

And they accomplished this with remarkable style and story-telling skill.

I also celebrate the courage of the subjects of these films. Their strength of character is as remarkable as it is inspirational.

You might find yourself spreading their tale, and in turn, helping their fight.

* Burma VJ

* Mugabe and the White African

* Aghan Star – Canadian residents can watch this film online for free on the CBC’s Passionate Eye website here, or watch a trailer here:

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Earth Keepers Wins at Planet in Focus Festival

“You can’t blame the mayor, those days are over,” was one of several astute observations in Earth Keepers, this year’s recipient of Best Canadian Long Form film at the 10th annual Planet in Focus International Environmental Film & Video Festival. The statement was made by John Todd, one of the founders of the New Alchemy Institute, and creator of a greenhouse waste treatment system that filters sewage into potable water.

Todd is one of seven vanguards of the eco-movement that inspire Quebec activist Mikael Rioux who is embarked on a global quest to learn ways to make his community a more sustainable environment for his child. Rioux, once an angry protestor who went as far as pouring water on the head of a Quebec politician while being interviewed for TV, eventually realized that anger and violence were not going to save a threatened river in his town of Trois-Pistoles. The river is slated to be dammed for a mere 3.8 megawatts of electricity – not enough to power even one modern electric locomotive.

Therein lies the problem with the film. I didn’t know what 3.8 megawatts of electricity could power until I did my own research. There is something to be said for the motivational documentary versus the information documentary; they are capable of telling two very different yet equally compelling stories on the same subject matter. The danger is falling somewhere in the middle – in this vast wasteland you risk preaching to the converted as this film does.

I liked the characters in the film – Humanist Economist Peter Koenig said something along the lines of “consciousness equals self-sovereignty,” a phrase that provides me with lovely mental calesthenics. But Mikael is not nearly as engaging. “The reason I chose Mikael as my subject is because he is angry, and in the future there will be a lot of angry young people,” said filmmaker Sylvie Van Brabant as she acceped the award. I understand Brabant’s decision to use Rioux as a device to propel the story forward, but as a character to encite change, he falls flat.

The film itself is solid enough, Mikael-as-plot-device works on a mechanical level, the production value and graphics are clean and jazzy, the music lively and engaging, the characters interesting visionaries, but the film is too long. Cut to 42 minutes for television would provide more of an impact for audiences – but that begs the question, which audience?

For people new to the idea of sustainability, there is not enough practical information to convince. For people already thinking about alternatives, this film is not going to provide the inspiration to make change.  It doesn’t come close to making the heart race the way that Velcrow Ripper’s Fierce Light does. And that’s a problem if you are trying to inspire your audience into action.

The Man Who Saved Geometry

Escher's "Circle Limit" as inspired by Coxeter

Escher's "Circle Limit" as inspired by Coxeter

Didn’t know that geometry was once at the brink of extinction? Neither did I. But then I didn’t know I cared. Until this film forced me to imagine a world without geodesic domes and origami. Dull for sure.

“The Man Who Saved Geometry” is less about the once declining artform and discipline of this math, thankfully, and more about the man who inspired other great thinkers of the 20th Century, H.S.M. “Donald” Coxeter.

His work in the third and fourth dimensions was so subtly mind-blowing, apparently, that architect Buckminster Fuller (of geodesic dome fame) dedicated his life’s work to the man.  Dutch artist M.C. Escher, know for his mind-bending illustrations, was friends with Coxeter and joked about spending his days “Coxetering” – meaning he was working out the “bones” of his next print.

As a young man, Coxeter was a composer of music and was so talented he seemed destined to make a career of it. But music was only one component in a world that was filled with beauty and symmetry – all things reverting back to geometry.

Listening to the interviewees in this film, the awe of 3- and 4-dimensional mathematics was contagious – I paused the film for a moment and Googled origami patterns. Unfortunately, the passion others had for Coxeter was not so contagious. Not that he didn’t seem a curious enough man. But the film felt split in two by the emotionally uncomfortable interviews of the ailing, 95 year-old man, the daughter he had spurned, and the flat narration that attempted to knit the man’s personal life into the man’s life’s work. Clunky dramatic re-enactments also detracted from the otherwise spellbinding subject matter.

This TVO documentary is free to watch here.

Rolling Through “Hell On Wheels”

Toronto is still spun by Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut even though T.I.F.F. and Barrymore have long since left us in their dust.  Her charming movie Whip It, about an all-girls roller-derby team, has now opened nationally. For those of you who want to know more gory details about roller-derby than a fictional film can provide, check out the documentary Hell On Wheels. It slams some real insight into the sport, its fierce participants, and its grassroots re-birth in Austin, Texas in 2001.

The film goes behind the sex, violence and spectacle that is modern roller-derby to witness the politics and drive of a collection of women determined to make a success of their business and shared passion. Some very interesting and unexpected conflicts arise outside of the roller rink that made me think about the nature of all-women endeavours – especially those that push boudaries. The action-packed scenes are heart-thumping, but the film’s characters are what drive this film. Director Bob Ray made the right choice to follow the Texas league over the span of a couple of years which allows us to understand the faith that was required for these women to revive the sport. Soundtrack by “And You Shall Know Us By the Trail of the Dead” suits the bitchy attitude of the characters to a T.

This film is free to Canadian and American residents for online viewing at SnagFilms.com.