While often out-shined by Vancouver’s annual filmic gala, B.C. ‘s capital city has been home to its own remarkable celebration of cinema for many years.
This February, both patrons and newcomers were treated to a 10-day cinematic event. Featuring over 100 movies from across the world, almost all content was made available both in-person and via an online streaming platform.
Let’s dive into a few of the best films Canada’s City of Gardens had to offer. Here are my five favourite features from the Victoria Film Festival (VFF) 2022.
Be on the lookout for their next wide-releases, and be sure to check the VFF’s webpage for upcoming screenings if you are located in Victoria.
No Tenemos Miedo (We Are Not Afraid)
Manuele Franceschini presents a visceral documentary of ongoing unrest within the “country of poets.” Between 2019 and 2021, over 3.7 million activists took to the streets across Chile. What began as a simple protest against an increase in public transit cost quickly grew into a national effort to dismantle and reconstruct one of the world’s most neoliberal governments. The endeavors of the nation-wide, egalitarian collective Primera Línea (translated roughly as First Line), serves as the picture’s communal dedicatee.
A multimedia collage of footage from hundreds of different cameras, We are not Afraid is a character study not singular but national on scars both healing and fresh. Chile’s brutal 1973 coup d’état resulted not only in the death of South America’s first Marxist world leader, but a capitalist constitution that still stands to this day.
The phantom of Augusto Pinochet’s regime looms large throughout We are not Afraid. The film frankly captures the multiple forms of brutality committed against protesters by the Chilean Government thanks to the technological ubiquity of smart devices. The dozens of political assassinations carried out by the Carabineros de Chile’s riot police are a topic frequent within We are not Afraid with at least one featured within the film. Propaganda goes toe-to-toe with the objective as government-approved news broadcasts are continuously retorted with on-the-ground documentation and front-line interviews.
Franceschini is careful to emphasize the role of the artist in political change. Photographers work tirelessly to report the daily injustices committed against activists. Indigenous dancers and vocalists perform at the public funeral of a murdered protester. An abundance of politically-charged street art serves as the film’s urban palette. And the astonishing long take of a marching band, lifting spirits amidst a haze of tear gas and wounded protesters, stands out as one of the picture’s most impressive sequences.
As intimate as the film is in scope, it likewise resounds an echo of global tyranny. In Chile we see those risking their lives protesting in Belarus, Hong Kong and Algeria. Few factors visually separate the violence present in Santiago from the similar carnage of the George Floyd protests in Portland during Franceschini’s time of production.
With sparse narration and a runtime of only 70 minutes, hardly a second of We are not Afraid is put to waste. Adding to third cinema’s long-overdue and truly fearless return to the filmic zeitgeist, We are not Afraid serves as a furious record of national revolt and one of VFF’s most impressive entries.
Comme une Vague (Big Giant Wave)
In Big Giant Wave, Marie-Julie Dallaire’s meditative mode of filmmaking is used to examine one of humanity’s most universally affixed artforms. The film addresses the broad subject of all things auditory within an extensive spectrum of academic, artistic, and social perspectives. Shot in black and white, Dallaire guides our focus towards the picture’s soundscape, chiefly centering on twelve interviewees whose professions and dedications to sonic realms cross-pollinate to create a truly unique documentary experience.
“We begin with rhythm,” states Acoustic Ecologist Gordon Hempton in voiceover minutes into the film’s runtime — a facet of sound he locates in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Birds, elk, and other such minutiae is assessed by Hempton as music equal to mankind’s own artistic canon, going so far as to compare the Hoh River Valley to Earth’s “greatest concert hall” or its trees to “nature’s largest violins.” His analogy is made literal with a single edit as we cut from the Valley’s lumber to its processing by Luthier Tom Wilder as he meticulously crafts the lumber into a replica of a 300 year old cello. Such is a single example of Big Giant Wave’s brilliant editing.
At one point, Music Therapist Tiana Malone explains and demonstrates the effects of music therapy on infants in intensive care. Malone uses rhythm to stabilize the heartbeats of newborns and brings them to homeostasis. Neonatal imaging then alters from the muted acoustics of an ultrasound to a bombastic nightclub interior where composer and house DJ Osunlade makes his claim of “drugs can’t even do what dance can do” literal via his own music.
Big Giant Wave examines music as an art of anticipation and the subversion thereof — a motif translating to the feature’s narrative structure. From ethnomusicological research to street performance, the role of the musician in society is deeply and unpredictably examined through a hybrid of both music and cinema genres.
Tasha Van Zandt
Equal part nature documentary and survival epic, Tasha Van Zandt’s feature debut is on par with the work of John Carpenter and Werner Herzog in the rare canon of Antarctic cinema. In 1989, six of the world’s most powerful and tumultuously intertwined nations were brought together by the Earth’s most unforgiving region. What led them was a successful effort to prevent the erection of oil and mining industries in Antarctica. Their joint labors would become the first non-mechanized, trans-continental expedition across Earth’s most alien continent.
Thirty-odd years later, 77-year-old Journeyer Will Steger, the American sixth of the expedition, reflects on his previous endeavors and how they resonate with our present reality as he sets off to explore Earth’s opposite pole.
This singular character study within the Arctic is mirrored by the communal, Antarctic portrait caught on tape decades prior. Both are equally private and gorgeously photographed, with half of the film’s footage and narration is archival. Steger narrates via his own recordings from the 89’ expedition, then provides insight with present-day interviews. Viewers might find their hairs standing on end while watching the frigid reality of both adventures.
The environmental messaging of the picture is heavy but more than apt considering the aim of the catalyzing event chronicled. What can arise from global cooperation is plain to see in After Antarctica. The explorers are routinely shown wearing one another’s jackets throughout their expedition for warmth, donning the flags of foreign nations on their backs. National symbols clearly hold little meaning amidst human survival. After Antarctica is a tribute to Earth’s most sibylline and jeopardized geographic zone, providing us with filmic evidence of what environmental change truly requires.
Hytti Nro 6 (Compartment No. 6)
Unpleasant stereotypes soften into underrepresented perspectives in Juho Kuosmanen’s turn-of-the-century period piece of love and friendship between the geographically opposed. Compartment No. 6 follows Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish national studying archeology in Moscow, and Lyokha (Yuriy Borisov), a transient Russian youth with his head still shorn from military service, as they share a train compartment on route to the Arctic city of Murmansk – her in order to study the then-recently discovered petroglyphs and him to find work amidst the collapse of the USSR. Haarla and Borisov’s chemistry is undeniable. Justified disdain gives way to tolerated cohabitation and eventually to some of the most vibrant on-screen pathos of the year.
Kuosmanen doesn’t shy from the problematic aspects of Siberian culture, nor does he deny the underrecognized human warmth to be found within its tundras. The beauty of both the Siberian railroad and the Arctic circle is photographed as one anomaly in locomotion after the other. In Compartment No. 6, poorly drawn art can be as valuable as Rembrandt, and incorrect translations can be more beautiful than literal definitions.
Laura’s academic beliefs posit that the studying of the past can be used to better the present and future. As our current world continues to hurl towards international tension not seen since the second Cold War, a story about finding what is kindred amongst the culturally and politically distinct resounds all the more with our present reality.
Große Freiheit (Great Freedom)
Sebastian Meise’s third feature is a rather subversive rendition of cinema’s prison sub-genre, focusing on both platonic as well as sexual connections that might form naturally between those sharing years of life confined together. In 1871, the Empire of Germany ratified its criminal code to include the criminalization of homosexuality. This document, known as Paragraph 175, would survive the Imperial, Weimar, Nazi, and Division Governments of Germany until its complete abolition in 1994.
Great Freedom depicts the life of Hans Hoffman (Franz Rogowski), a man incarcerated for his own sexual orientation, as he is transferred from the imprisonment of a Nazi concentration camp directly into the American-occupied German prison system for the same crime. By setting his movie in post-Third Reich but pre-HIV epidemic world, Meise attempts to capture a unique period of queer history on camera. While Hans engages in two romances while behind bars, the central relationship of the film remains between Hans and his heterosexual cellmate and convicted murderer Viktor (Georg Friedrich). The film is uniquely structured with three stories of oppression each taking place within a different decade but with the same two protagonists.
The heart of Great Freedom resides in its final 15 minutes in which the societal tendency to validate legality but still disregard humanity is addressed. The picture’s thesis statement is all the more sobering when we consider the violation of basic human rights still faced by the majority of 2SLGBTQIA+ populations.
Hans is among the millions who non-consensually sacrificed their freedom so future generations might enjoy theirs. This, along with Great Freedom doubling as an alternative Christmas movie, allows for an interesting Christ allegory. As an audience, we are left to consider what past sacrifices are yet to be recognized and vindicated in our own nations and abroad.