Feelin’ Film is thrilled to be covering the Vancouver International Film Festival for the first time! This page will serve as a running journal, where you can read my thoughts on the films I see as the festival progresses. These early reactions will later be accompanied by more robust podcast reviews. For now, enjoy following along with my journey, see if anything sparks your interest, and be sure to let me know if it does. Thanks for reading. – Aaron White
- Note: Reviews published in order of most recently seen on top.
THE MISSION (dir. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine)
This is just fantastic documentary filmmaking, plain and simple. Moss and McBaine take a subject that most people have already completely prejudged based on a headline or meme and take the time to allow an audience to get to know the man behind a fatal decision to illegally attempt a solo mission trip on a remote indigenous island. It uses actors reading journal entries and letters from John and his family as well as a slew of insightful interviews and also features some beautiful animated reenactment sequences throughout.
The film is structured with a couple of major frameworks that I really appreciated – one being John Chau’s love of adventure stories and how those have influenced people through the ages to force themselves and their beliefs onto people who have no desire to welcome the modern world, and the other being the reckoning of John’s father with his son’s religious zealotry and justification and the radical evangelistic culture that encouraged his actions.
The filmmakers do a great job of not taking a side. We get to know John as the passionate person he was through family and friend interviews, but we also learn about the affects of his impending mission and historical context from anthropologists and people who’ve experienced it first hand. They deftly show us that <i>”fine line between madness and faith”</i> in a way that invites reflection, contemplation, and hopefully conversation about the way that people on both sides of this issue feel.
I don’t think their goal was ever to take a side, but rather to help us understand the world we live in and the forces that can motivate people to do seemingly inexplicable things. In my opinion, two things can be true – John’s death was a horrible preventable tragedy and his choice to ignore the clear wishes of the Sentinelese was a dangerous, selfish decision by a man whose faith blinded him to reality.
GREEN BORDER (dir. Agnieszka Holland)
Director Agnieszka Holland bravely defies the current political powers in her home country by dramatically showcasing the migrant crisis that exists among the forested border area between Poland and Belarus. The sprawling film follows a refugee group from Syria as they attempt to seek asylum in Poland, having been promised easy passage into the EU and used as geopolitical pawns like so many others by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Along the way their story intertwines with that of an activist who is doing her best to bring attention to the inhumane treatment of the refugees at the risk of her own life and a border guard who questions and is disturbed by the unethical practices of his brainwashed colleagues. Their storylines are easy to latch onto because we want to believe that people like them exist and could eventually turn the tide. This is not an easy watch, but it is an essential one. Holland unflinchingly shows the ping pong border game in its full brutal nature. Human rights atrocities abound on both sides of the razor wire including beatings, starvation, torture, sexual assault, and a general refusal to help which leads to death. Though it does feature fantastic performances and the stark black and white photography looks incredible while accentuating the dour situation, the crisis as we’re shown feels grim and there seems to be no real hope in sight, and that is why this is critical filmmaking that goes beyond entertainment.