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Sam Sullivan, Movie Star

And more rad indie flicks at Whistler Film Festival.

Dorothy Woodend 24 Nov

Dorothy Woodend reviews films for The Tyee every second Friday.

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Van City mayor takes a bath.

Now that the film hangover from the VIFF has finally subsided, your head has stopped pounding and you aren't dry-heaving any more, you're ready for some more hot festival action. Just in time, here comes Whistler! TOOT TOOT.

People do odd things at film festivals; they drink to excess, gawk at celebrities and schmooze till they can barely stand up. In between all of this, they (sometimes) watch films. And with those films in mind, the 6th Annual Whistler Film Festival (Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2006) has an eclectic collection on offer.

Whistler is the little festival that could, thanks in part to programmer Bill Evans's rather quixotic sensibility. You've got art house and you've got Uwe Boll (often called the world's worst film director). Don't say that too loudly though, or he might punch you in the face (Boll, not Bill Evans). There is also a tribute to Norman Jewison, a series of industry forums, and workshops, parties and films galore. It is an event that is primed to go, having recently received a five-year funding commitment from American Express (which also funds the Tribeca and Sundance festivals). So all aboard the festival express: bring your skis, your ability to party to dawn, and strong bum muscles. All that sitting in the dark is hard on a girl.

'Citizen Sam'

The festival kicks off early with a screening of Joe Moulins's film Citizen Sam (for info on each film, click here, then enter the film title) on Nov. 29 (part of Doc Talk @ Whistler -- an industry forum for documentary filmmakers).

Citizen Sam follows Sam Sullivan in his 2005 mayoral campaign. It is a curious subject for a documentary film, and in some instances, a distressing one. At the risk of being hard-nosed, our mayor comes across as a bit of a wiener on camera. It's hard to care very much about his campaign, since we already know the outcome, even harder to care about his trips to the tanning booth and his teeth bleaching. This is an up-close and personal portrait, personal to a fault perhaps. Director Moulins received unprecedented access in making his film, and in layman's terms, this means we see the mayor in bed, in the bathtub and with only the thin grace of a draped towel between the audience and Sullivan's mini-mayor. Is this wise, one might well ask? I certainly don't want to see Jim Green in the bath, any more than I want to see Sam Sullivan.

The danger of focusing solely on a single person for the entire duration of a film is that if that person is less than fascinating, the audience will begin to tire of that person and his endless self-examination. This is unfortunately the case with Sam Sullivan. In one moment, he complains that his opponent Jim Green won't make eye contact with him, and in the next he likens Green to a desperate beast, saying he's going to variously: "tear his throat out"; "keep my boot on his goddamned neck"; or "run him through with my spear." All this rough talk comes across as oddly juvenile.

One sequence in the film is particularly telling. Sullivan addresses the camera and talks about his attraction to the right, stating, "If you want to get stuff done, you hang around people with money. I'm not going to hang around with people who can't make stuff happen." The forces that surrounded his candidacy, a crew of gum-chompin' leather-jacketed political animals, come with their own less-than-savoury reputation: "reeking of testosterone," is how Sullivan jokingly puts it. Other people are less coy. In his profile of Sullivan in Vancouver Magazine, Steve Burgess quotes former NPA campaign manager Greg Wilson as saying, "Sam's people said things about me that were beyond disparaging. They're mean, nasty SOBs." It is also unclear whether Sullivan himself really has much of a political mind. The camera captures with little mercy his self-recrimination, his inability to retain information, and you might find yourself thinking, not unkindly, why is this guy the leader of Vancouver? Which perhaps says more about Vancouver than it does about Sullivan.

'Everything's Gone Green'

There is still a certain adolescent quality to Van City, a fact that is painfully in evidence in Douglas Coupland's first screenplay, for Everything's Gone Green. You might expect Sam Sullivan, thinly disguised, to show up in the film, since every other Vancouver type is there -- the slacker-dude pot impresario, the West Vancouver leaky condo owner, even a dead whale. If you've ever been anywhere near a dead whale, you know that nothing smells quite as bad as a couple of tons of rotting blubber, but if you're a Coupland character, you'll go racing up and press your nose to the dead beastie: a scenario that is unlikely at best, and cutesy at worst.

Coupland should stay far away from cute; it does not suit his talents. Bitchy, he does much better. A little bitch goes a long way, as Coupland certainly knows, having parlayed his talents into plays, novels, art exhibits, credit cards ads, and now feature films. The film does have some charm, provided mostly by its young star Paulo Costanzo, who brings a grace and calm to a story that takes the buckshot approach to plot and character. The Vancouver shtick adds a certain level of novelty, but to anyone who doesn't actually live here, the jokes may seem a tad clubby, not to mention self-absorbed in a way usually only afforded to (and by) the very young.

'I'm Reed Fish'

I'm Reed Fish is another young man's film. Written by a real person named Reed Fish (whose blog is titled "Reed Fish, etc."), it takes self-reflexivity to a whole other place. But that is the only clever bit; the rest is pretty much by the book -- a love triangle, a quirky small town ripped right from your favourite sitcom, a little tragedy, a little comedy. If you're looking to sleep off your hangover from the night before, this is a pretty good choice.

'The Point'

Real teenagers fare better in The Point (click here then scroll to title), a contender for the Borsos Competition for Best New Canadian Feature Film. Think Larry Clark's Kids set in a bad section of Montreal, and you get the idea. But the material, despite its workshopped feel, actually has a freshness that works. Credit must be given to the 35 Montreal kids who generated the plotlines.

Although the film initially appears to be a nasty version of an after-school special, peopled with drunk, stoned, foul-mouthed kids, the sheer earnestness of the project (with the help of director Joshua Dorsey) turns the awkward, and occasionally mawkish, story into something that is oddly touching, like a good version of Degrassi Junior High. Extra high that is. The stoned-out conversation of a bunch of teenage boys sitting in an abandoned building has an all-too genuine veracity.


The rest of the Borsos films are Immigrant (Bojan Bodruzic), The Secret Life of Happy People (Stéphane Lapointe), Sk8 Life (S. Wyeth Clarkson), Steel Toes (David Gow, Mark Adam) and Who Loves the Sun (Matt Bissonnette). One thing that sticks out from this bunch is the presence of relatively well-known American actors such as David Straithhairn (last seen in George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck) and Lukas Haas (Witness). What this means, maybe, is that Canadian directors, with a little support, can attract international attention.


Whether this is ultimately good or bad depends on whether the films themselves are good or bad. Opinion is divided on the festival's closing film, Marc Evans's Snow Cake, in which Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman chew the scenery in Wawa, Ontario. But to give it credit, Whistler has stuck to its guns in promoting Canadian film, putting its money where its mouth is. The festival has a strong Canadian contingent, from the opening gala Let it Ride!, a film about world snowboard Champion Craig Kelly who died in an avalanche in 2003, to Sarah Polley's directorial debut Away from Her.

Another Canadian offering is director Jean Beaudin's Sans Elle. The film begins with a case of Stendhal syndrome; a young woman named Camille goes mad in front of a Renaissance masterpiece. From there, the story slowly uncoils like a many-headed hydra, full of false feints, strange trails and missing mothers. Seems young Camille has misplaced her mother and lost her mind. The film is beautifully shot, and Beaudin's (Being at Home with Claude) strong visual sense almost carries the picture. I say almost, because ultimately a film lives and dies by its story, and here, despite the bleak beauty of the landscape, and some startling images (Camille's underwater hospital bed is a lovely sequence), the story is so convoluted and improbable that it's best not to think on it too long.

There are a number of films, such as Shortbus, that have already seen wide release, but festivals are more importantly about the chance to see something you've only read about. Such a film is Alexandra Lipsitz's documentary-cum-rock-out Air Guitar Nation, which picked up the audience award the SXSW Film Festival. The rest of the documentary selection is equally strong with films such as The White Planet from directors Thierry Ragobert, Thierry Piantanida and Jean Lemire, which provides a long last look at the fleeting arctic world in all its gossamer glory. Canadian documentary is also represented balls to the wall with Mystic Ball and Mozartballs.

This emphasis on balls brings us to the Uwe Boll ball, a mini retrospective of the director's oeuvre. His what, you might ask? In Boll's BloodRayne, Kristanna Loken is a Dhampir, which sounds like a vampire who got caught in the rain, but is actually a cross between a human and a bloodsucker (which by rights should make her a humpire). You have to give Boll some credit for keeping on keeping on; perhaps he is the Roger Corman of his day. Someone on the programming committee must have a thing for Kristanna Loken. The lovely Ms. Loken, who was recently outed with her BloodRayne co-star/girlfriend Michelle Rodriguez, also stars in Lime Salted Love, as a dominatrix. Other midnight offerings include: Sisters, the remake of the Brian De Palma original reworked with Chloë Sevigny, and Them, the French horror hit that obliterated audiences at this year's Fantasia Film Festival.

If you've made it through the late-night films with your brain intact, there is still an outdoor screening, Mountain Culture films and a series of programs devoted to shorts. (None to pants, though, unfortunately.) Last year, the shorts yielded some of the most fun offerings, and the audience level of excitement (much whooping and hollering) made it seem less like a screening and much more like a party. In a word, it was fun. And right now, I'll take all the fun I can lay my hands on.  [Tyee]

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