Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Vancouver Film Festival Diaries
Angst-Free in Vancouver

by Kathleen Carroll

Oct. 16, 1996

It was raining last Sunday in Vancouver, but then everyone expects that in this scenic gem of a city. The good news is that the weather did not deter festival guests from enjoying an unexpected treat - a cruise around Vancouver's magnificent harbor. Sitting comfortably in a cozy tour boat after a yummy dim sum lunch, the guests happily chatted while relishing the striking view of green-tinted condos and yellow-tinted trees.

"Anyone know where we are?," asked an unusually relaxed New Yorker. "Just drifting," explained a Montreal-based film producer. "It's a Vancouver thing. We're in an angst-free zone."

True enough. Compared to the better-known Canadian film festival in Toronto, which is now as stressful as Cannes, Vancouver is pure bliss. Although growing in popularity, the festival remains easy to manage and each guest is made to feel truly welcome.

Only the festival films showed any signs of angst. "Temptation," for instance, takes place during the Stalinist era and it is steeped in an atmosphere of relentless gloom. The erotically charged tale reveals the moral dilemma of a beautiful young nun. Played with exceptional grace and emotional power by a captivating Polish actress named Magdalena Cielecka, the nun is forced to spy on a dissident priest who once spurned her affections.

"Temptation" is actually the tenth film by writer-director Barbara Sass, who smoked cigarettes furiously while breathing in the dewy fresh air of Vancouver. "All my life my goal has been to be independent," admitted this visibly battered survivor of Communist Poland. A clearly determined woman, she continues to operate on her own, bringing her own posters to the festival. With no one else to promote her work, the gifted filmmaker has yet to receive the international recognition she so obviously deserves.

Two men, dressed like fundamentalist preachers in black suits and wide-brimmed hats, staged a protest in front of one of the festival theaters. But this being Vancouver, the protest turned out to be a totally benign publicity stunt. The fake preachers, who looked more like Amish farmers, waved placards warning "Whatever you do don't see this film."

The publicity gimmick worked. Your Film Scout reporter naturally couldn't resist the temptation to see the film that had presumably antagonized the religious right. Although conventional in its approach, Steve Lipscomb's courageous documentary "Battle for the Minds" deals with a critically important subject - the recent takeover of the Southern Baptist church by right-wing religious leaders. Inspired by his mother's own frustrated desire to become a senior pastor, Lipscomb specifically examines the church's refusal to allow women to advance to such positions. The leaders of the 15-million-member church organization boldly expose their misogynistic attitudes.

One witness to this oppression tells of the speaker who reminded delegates at the Southern Baptist convention that "Eve was the first one to fall." "Well that's a long time to hold a grudge," responded one of the few admittedly liberal delegates. It is painful to hear these power-hungry Baptists preaching such intolerance in a country that was founded on the principle of religious freedom. The documentary is especially chilling in view of the increasing power of the fundamentalists on the national political scene.

Other memorable moments in Vancouver included the stirring finale of Arthur Lamothe's "Silencing the Guns," a socially relevant melodrama starring French actor Jacques Perrin. Lamothe has dedicated his entire career as a filmmaker to recording the cultural life of the American Indians and to pleading for more humane treatment for them.

Vijay Singh, who has spent most of his career as a journalist and novelist, presented his first film in Vancouver. Singh calls "Jaya Ganga" "my personal homage to the Ganges." Based on his novel, the film serenely mirrors the mysterious tranquility of the famous sacred river as its handsome hero, Nishant, travels from its source in the Himalayas to the sea. Smriti Mishra casts a spell of enchantment as the prostitute whom he meets on his journey.

Sporting the Yul Brynner look, actor Luca Zingaretti gave another attention-grabbing performance as a fiercely sensual Mafia loan shark in Ricky Tognazzi's "Strangled Lives." Director Norman Jewison, a Canadian icon, was grabbing most of the attention in Vancouver. A camera crew cornered Jewison during a party celebrating the 15th anniversary of the festival. "Is he famous?," asked a jolly-looking man in a red blazer. When told that Jewison was indeed famous in these parts, the man suddenly confessed the obvious. "I'm Irish," he said.

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