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// These Birds Walk
// These Birds Walk

Right from its inception back in 1983—then called the Edmonton Learners Centre’s Third World Film Festival—the Global Visions Film Fest has ensured that an ample, worldly, exquisitely curated collection of documentaries passes through Edmonton every year. Here on the precipice of the 2014 festival, we’ve collected and reviewed a hefty spread of the documentaries to be screened. It’s hardly all of them, but should help you guide your plan of festival attack.
  Reviews by: James Cuming (JC), Brian Gibson (BG), Alex Migdal (AM) and Mel Priestley (MP).

Sat, May 10 (5:30 pm)
Being Ginger
Directed by Scott P Harris
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Three stars

Scott Harris, a red-haired grad-student filmmaker, wanted to know why his status as a “ginger” translated into a reduced social currency as a single male. He ended up with a sort of split film: half about trying to get a date with a girl (any girl, as long as she isn’t ginger herself), and half about coming to terms with his own self-loathing ginger identity, largely resulting from a history of childhood bullying. The film, then, is less about the broader social stigma around gingers than it is about Scott’s own personal psychology and his journey to a tentative self-acceptance at a “Ginger Festival” in the Netherlands (which looks interesting enough to have its own film). Not much of a deep, insightful “issue” doc, but this is certainly a memorable, funny, enjoyable film. JC

Fri, May 9 (9:15 pm)
Doc of the Dead
Directed by Alexandre Phillipe
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Four stars

Avoiding the exclusionary pitfalls of a lot of narrow “special interest” docs, Doc of the Dead is an insightful foray into the ever-growing world of zombie films and zombie culture. The film’s breadth is staggering, covering the origins of zombie myth—as an African metaphor for colonial slavery—to the bustling zombie comic book/film industry, to the growing community of zombie enthusiasts who stage “zombie walks” and prepare for the (to them, inevitable) zombie apocalypse. Featuring interviews with pillars of zombie culture from George A Romero to The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, as well as scientists and zombie scholars (they apparently exist!), the film is a must-see for committed zombie fans, and a breezy and accessible primer for newcomers. JC

Sat, May 10 (9 pm)
The Dog
Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren
Royal Alberta Museum
Four stars

John Wojtowicz is a dangerous documentary subject. A self-described pervert, he is crass, deeply opinionated and revels in the spotlight—his is often the loudest voice in the room, which threatens to derail The Dog several times. The late Wojtowicz became famous for his attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank in 1972 in order to pay for his transsexual wife’s sex-reassignment surgery, which was the inspiration for the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino.
  The Dog traces Wojtowicz’s life story but isn’t merely an indulgence of his astonishing ego, achieving a sense of balance by revealing him as unreliable and voicing alternate perspectives. An impressive compilation of decades of footage, photography and personal testimony show that the failed heist was only one aspect of a much greater narrative, as much about Wojtowicz as it is about the evolution of New York’s gay-rights movement. Equally fascinating and frustrating, The Dog feels a touch too long but is nonetheless a vivid, unconventional story. MP

Wed, May 14 (8:30 pm)
Fire in the Blood
Directed by Dylan Mohan Gray
Art Gallery of Alberta
Four stars

A critical, enraging kind of sister-film to How To Survive A Plague (partly about American activists pushing for HIV drug research), Dylan Mohan Gray’s doc chronicles the fight, since 1996, against profiteering, patent-gripping BigPharma by many in the developing world in need of affordable retro-virals. Narrated soberly by William Hurt, this crisply shot doc globe-trots adroitly, from Uganda to South Africa to India and onwards, tracing a growing network of frustration, protest and utterly preventable deaths.
  Capitalist ideology trumps human lives in this sick fable of multinational economic racism, with its all-too-real echoes of John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener. Heroic figures, like CIPLA’s generic-drugmaker Dr Yusuf Hamied or HIV-afflicted Zackie Achmat—who refused to buy retrovirals out of solidarity with the millions of poor Africans who couldn’t afford them—stand out here, trying, again and again, to break through mere statistics and brutal bottom-lines to consign the faceless decision-makers and executives at Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and other mega pill-manufacturers to the shadows of history. BG

Sun, May 11 (5:30 pm)
Directed by Beeban Kidron
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
3 stars

Confession: I checked Facebook and Twitter at least five times while writing this review. That would make me a prime case study for InRealLife, a useful documentary that probes the technology that’s ensnared our latest generation. Director Beeban Kidron introduces us to a crop of British teens who share some startling revelations about their relationship to technology. Interspersed are a deluge of interviews with experts who add some insight into our thirst for connectivity. The film’s thesis is muddled at times, painting broad strokes as it jumps from one topic to the next (Porn! Cyber bullying! Online dating!) But Kidron’s filmmaking shines when she gets the kids to power down their devices and finally open up. AM

Wed, May 14 (6:30 pm)
I Will Be Murdered
Directed by Justin Webster
Art Gallery of Alberta
4 stars

A muy stranger-than-Sherlock story of a hit-job in Guatemala, which turns out to be about proof and the absence of proof, gets the Errol Morris-like treatment (close-ups of key objects, re-enactments from striking angles). After lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg is shot dead on his bicycle, a video he made is released, accusing the president of his death.
  David Grann jaw-droppingly detailed the case in a 2011 New Yorker article, but Justin Webster’s doc channels the ghostliness of video: Rosenberg’s statement (soon gone viral online), with a man seeming to reveal his killer from beyond the grave (one journalist sums up the sentiment: “If he is dead, this is the truth”) and sparking mass demonstrations; roadside cameras’ distant images of hit-men in cars or on bikes trailing their targets.
  The look at Rosenberg’s personal life is a bit choppy; the son-father storyline isn’t as poignant as the film seems to want it to be. The investigation’s what intrigues—it includes a “Tailor of Panama” figure and a wiretap. Like much of the best true-crime narratives, murder here reveals the fault lines of the social scene of the crime—a Guatemala of such corruption, contract murders and polarized politics that one person, “unhinged” by personal passion and grief, is driven to a desperate, bizarre act … and a mystery’s solution so stunning, it would floor Holmes. BG

Sun, May 11 (3:30 pm)
Kidnapped for Christ
Directed by Kate S Logan
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Four stars

This film is compiled from footage taken by Kate Logan, a Christian teen who set out to explore the rumours she’d heard about Escuela Caribe, a boot camp in the Dominican Republic set up by American evangelicals to correct and rehabilitate the deviant behaviour of “troubled” American teens. The camp’s corrective tactics—corporal punishment, verbal abuse, the threat of forced isolation in the “Quiet Room”—raises Kate’s suspicions, but the worst part is that these “deviants” are mostly good kids. The major trespasses of the three main subjects are, respectively, being unrepentantly gay, being a rape victim and suffering panic attacks. As the camp tries to (illegally) hold one teen past his 18th birthday, the film becomes a real-life suspense thriller, as absorbing as it is disturbing. JC

Masked for Strangers

Masked for Strangers

Thu, May 15 (7 pm)
Mistaken For Strangers
Directed by Tom Berninger
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Four stars

A wonderfully deceptive take on the music-doc—much less about the music, much more about its documentarian. The brother of Matt Berninger, lead singer of the National, seems a Wayne’s World dope, but this metal fan’s just chafing at his task—video-chronicling his elder sibling’s indie-rock band (and critics’ darlings). Struggling, could-have-been artist Tom Berninger’s film becomes a brothers-drama and self-portrait of sibling frustration, but also a record of the struggle to shape what we’re watching. Lightly comic, meta and poignant—sometimes all at once—this film ends up taking the music-doc far beyond the stage or studio. (And the near-silent partner who, I suspect, deserves far more credit for the film’s shaping and sense of self-reflection is Carin Besser, Matt’s wife, as co-editor and one of three producers.) BG

Fri, May 9 (6:30 pm)
The Overnighters
Directed by Jesse Moss
Royal Alberta Museum
Four stars

Tens of thousands of men flock each year to the sleepy town of Williston, North Dakota for a second chance. A recent boom in the oil fields has tripled the town’s population and left hundreds of newcomers, some of whom are convicts and sex offenders, without a home. Their only hope is Pastor Jay Reinke, who lets the men sleep in his church, attracting the displeasure of his neighbours and congregation.
  This quiet, nuanced documentary probes deep-seated American values in a richly layered narrative. At the heart of the debate is Reinke, who grapples with helping these desperate men while serving his community. Director Jesse Moss, a superior filmmaker who directs with restraint, succeeds in unmasking Reinke’s vulnerability (“You’re not a very good role model,” claims one man whom Reinke has banished from the Overnighters program). The final 10 minutes are revelatory, unifying seemingly fragmented stories into a powerful moral tale. AM

Sat, May 10 (7:15 pm)
Particle Fever
Directed by Mark Levinson
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Three stars

Remember all those news stories when the Large Hadron Collider finally found the Higgs boson particle? It may have been only a blip in mainstream news, but its importance to the field of physics cannot be overstated. Particle Fever is a well-funded documentary that follows the Collider’s first beam in 2008 to the identification of the Higgs particle in 2012. Six scientists provide multiple perspectives and insights into the project: their enthusiasm is infectious and provides gravity and relevance to a subject that’s far outside most people’s daily lives. The film employs well-constructed animations to illustrate its complex subjects for a lay-audience, as well as provide some interesting esthetics. And contrary to what those Republicans might say (the film shows footage from when US Congress axed the planned Collider in Texas), the film’s subject should be important to everyone—though at its core, Particle Fever is about simply sharing the thrill of scientific discovery. MP

Sun, May 11 (7:30 pm)
These Birds Walk
Directed by Omar Mullick & Bassam Tariq
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Five stars

Grittily, raggedly poetic—fly-on-the-wall, catching profound moments in the deep cracks of Pakistan’s infrastructure—this film follows a driver for the Edhi Foundation and a boy, Omar, staying at the Foundation’s home for runaway and abandoned children in Karachi. Images of baptism, running and flight wave, flash and flit by. Omar emotionally manipulates and physically intimidates another, smaller boy before he’s picked on himself. Kids play, threaten, hit, swear, and laugh; here, boyhood’s a time to act the tough little man—but with all this bullying and resentment, what will adulthood bring? And for these children now, what is home?
  As he takes one boy back, the driver, Asad, tries to reassure him that his parents won’t just start beating him again on his return and, even if they do, the Foundation (motto: “Muslim Aid—Serving Humanely”) will always be there for him. But one of Asad’s phrases—a common Islamic benediction—seems to ring resignedly true: “God willing, everything will be fine.”
  The directors, Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq, have cited children-of-Chechnya doc 3 Rooms of Melancholia as idol and inspiration; while Pirjo Honkasalo’s film remains the finest of this kind, Mullick and Tariq’s debut, with its lyrical form cuts and raw close-ups, is a worthy devotee. A must-see. BG

Until Thu, May 15
Global Visions Film Festival
Various Locations
Schedule at globalvisionsfestival.com

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