During its two week run at the Cinematheque, the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) dazzled cinema-goers with a variety of international films. There were some absolute gems in the mix and some unfortunate flops, but the festival was a success, overall.

Still from Gods (2014)

Poland’s official submission to the festival was Gods, a feature from director Lukasz Palkowski. The film was a fictionalized version of events which took place in Poland in the 1980s, following a young cardiovascular surgeon at a time when heart transplants were considered entirely too risky and taboo to perform. Tomasz Kot plays Zbigniew Religa, the first surgeon to successfully perform a heart transplant in Poland. The film is dramatic in its delivery, and gripping in its subject matter. Tension between Religa and his staunch older colleagues is clearly at the heart of the film’s story, reflected in the cinematography and sound design. However, I found the camerawork to be distracting at times, due to its wildly changing approach. Long takes and shaky, hand-held shots were sometimes used in the same scene, which might have been a technique to reflect the film’s conflict but was mostly a disruption to my viewing experience. My other qualm with this particular flick was its climax and ending. We watch as Religa descends into a disastrous fit of professional pressure and personal disgrace, as each heart transplant fails and the public loses whatever support they had for him and his work. All of the drunken anger and self-loathing unfolds unceremoniously on screen, until finally and suddenly, a successful operation is performed. However, this transition from catastrophe to triumph is so abrupt, and is followed so quickly by the rolling credits, that I nearly missed it. It took me a moment to realize that he had achieved his lofty goal after all. Ultimately, this film was a hopeful drama with an intriguing subject, but lacked consistency and final gravitas.

Still from The Fencer (2015)

The feature from Estonia was a much more subtle and skilled take on historical events. The Fencer, directed by Klaus Haro, was a delight to watch and felt authentic on all accounts. It tells the story of a former professional fencer, Endel Nelis, who, during Soviet occupation, hides away in a small Estonian town to avoid capture by Stalin’s secret police. He takes on the role of gym teacher to the town’s school children, and fosters a earnest relationship with them through the teaching of his old sport, despite the objections of the school’s rule-following principle. This film was a quiet and steady account of life during a time fraught with political suspicion. I felt a sincerity in the film’s delivery, both in the actors’ performances and in the visual vocabulary. I felt privy to the struggle of living with the burden of war and political transgression, and was very much taken by the subtleties between the children and their teacher. The cinematography was understated, conveying the intimate relationships between characters through close-up and static shots. However, during the film’s screening there was a short interruption, due to a few moments of disc trouble. One of the scenes in the last quarter of the film was skipped through and the theatre lights came on for a quick minute while the problem was addressed, but nothing of critical importance was missed and the screening carried on without error afterwards. Despite that slight snag, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and its affectionate portrayal of a very difficult period in European history. It was an intimate account of the values of patience and steady resolve during a time of oppression.


Sometimes, film festivals speed by so quickly that there isn’t enough time to publish all of our content. Sometimes, the content is so good that we have to publish it later because we love it so much. This is some of that content.

Poster for AAAAAAAAH! by Steve Oram

The Vancouver International Film Festival can sometimes seem like a very pompous affair, with all of its line-ups and pass holders and fancy venues. It can be refreshing when all of the slow-burners are interrupted by a real wild card. Though, in the case of this year’s AAAAAAAAH!, directed by British filmmaker Steve Oram, I might not use the word ‘refreshing’, more likely ‘bizarre’. It was like Coronation Street but with tea-bagging involved. Or a Planet of the Apes directed by Tommy Wiseau. Whichever of the two you can visualize more clearly. In plain terms, the film was violent, graphic, and sexually explicit. The characters carried out their lives like apes, and I do not mean that metaphorically.

After acclimatizing myself to the bizarre grunts and phallic gore as best I could, I saw a very familiar story playing out onscreen. I was watching a family drama, albeit a deranged one. The matriarch of the family ditches her husband and instead gets freaky with a younger man, much to the dismay of her angsty, brooding daughter. While Mom has fun with her new suitor, the daughter seethes in the shadows, until eventually she falls in love with an equally despondent fellow. However, happiness can’t last forever. I won’t give away the final bit of the movie, but I will say that healthy familial boundaries are blatantly ignored by all. It’s enough to make you nauseous, to say the least. The characters’ ape-like behavioural patterns are purely shocking at first, but eventually become a sly critique on regression in society and perhaps a comedic version of primal patriarchy. Though, I really can’t say anything with complete confidence. I know there must have been a thematic direction within the film, but I was way too busy trying to forget the array of flaccid members and food spittle. This is not to say that it was a bad film, I just don’t know if I will ever get over it.


Still from Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm


A film that I almost overlooked and ended up thoroughly enjoying was Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm. I bought my ticket late in the game and went to the mid-afternoon screening at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts rather than the evening one a few days earlier at the Rio Theatre. Even though I might have missed out on the late night atmosphere, Deathgasm was still a serious treat. A very bloody, campy, and obscene treat. Exemplary in its dry, tongue-in-cheek Kiwi humour, this cinematic gore-fest poked the perfect amount of fun at both cult sensibility and metalhead culture.

After the death of his mother, Brodie, moves in with his severely religious relatives and their bully of a son. While finding solace in the local record store, Brodie befriends fellow hardcore fan Zakk, and the two form a band. But when Brodie stumbles across a decrepit sheet of music and the two decide to play it themselves, death and terror reign down on their sleepy New Zealand town in the form of a demon-zombie apocalypse, until only their misfit group of friends are left to defeat the abounding evil. Howden directs the absurdity with skill, and uses genre tropes like low-fi special effects and hyperbolic character to his advantage. However, cult horror is notoriously misogynistic, and though this film tried to break from that pattern, it was not entirely successful. The film contained three noteworthy female characters, one being Brodie’s high school crush turned demon-fighting badass, another a low-ranking servant of hell who eventually usurps the head title, and the third a record store clerk who reads fortunes on the side. They operate in very different spheres and never interact with one another except during the film’s climax, and though they possess a certain amount of agency they still play a passive role in the film as a whole. I knew it was coming, but I still didn’t appreciate the genre sexism. However, apart from those few snags, Deathgasm was still a raucous bit of fun, presenting itself as a very clever addition to the cult canon.



I sat down with local artist Pax North on a very chilly November evening. Before meeting, I had taken a peek at the collection of paintings displayed on his website titled “Art for the Human Condition”. The abstract portraits, painted on both canvas and cardstock, were intensely immersive, and I came to the interview eager to know more about how they came to be. North’s show (curated by Shallom Johnson) opens on Tuesday, November 10th, at Skylight Gallery. After our conversation, I am convinced it will be a rare artistic experience.

What initially drew you to the practice of painting?

Wonder. Awe. I can remember as a child in preschool, discovering the whole idea of colour in the form of either yellow or green tempura paints using vegetable prints (you know, where you cut up apples or vegetables for kids and dip them in paint and then press them onto paper). It seemed so astonishing that there could be ‘pure’ colour, divorced from an object other than the colour itself, and that one could use this to create.

Over the years I have practiced in many mediums, but painting seems to bring the most joy to people and to help them feel less alone. I try to show the vast cinema which plays across the human face, to collapse and conflate moments in life. We do this all the time, both via media imagery, which map for us an idea of what a person is supposed to be like based on their appearance, and in relationships when we commune with others.

There is also a longevity factor. We live in both a golden age and a nightmare. There are a million acts of kindness, courage, sacrifice, and horror that will be unrecorded; as Roy Batty, in Bladerunner, states, they “will be lost like tears in the rain.” I am aiming to give some record of this period in human history. A painting might be a document of such kind.


And so do you feel that painting is the best medium through which to express the spectrum of human emotion and connectivity?

Actually, I feel that crown goes to music, and to television. Right now, television is at a cultural peak: Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos, Better Call Saul, Enlightened (a highly underrated show), The Comeback (also highly underrated), and Deadwood. Even Vancouver’s own Battlestar Galactica—they really are great art.

I often use screen grabs from TV and movies as models or inspiration. I also obsessively study people’s faces, both strangers and friends. I’m sure I’ve creeped a few people out, but each human face is such a testament to some kind of profound struggle. Wendy Mass said it best: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

I get a very mixed media or collage effect from your work. Do those elements factor in organically during the painting process?

I’ve always had this desire to have a formulaic approach to my process, but it is idiosyncratic. [My process] is purely based on what my piece demands.

I find that interesting, considering your work is consistent not only in theme but in presentation. I see your specific painting style in all of the works.

I have wanted to make a coherent body of work for a long time. That’s why I’ve taken so long to start showing the work, because I wanted a coherent style.

Who inspires you?

The whole canon of modernism and postmodernism. It’s an endless catalogue.


You mention in your artist statement that you use several cartography techniques in your work. Can you elaborate on that?

Well, I’ve done an amateur study of cartography and cartographic theory. I think that [cartography] is a very significant, cognitive, rather analytical tool that we employ while viewing the world. That fascinates me, how you have this very specialized knowledge, so much of which is cartographic or diagrammatic in nature. I also tend to think cartographically, imagining people moving through the city; I find it to be a very powerful technique for visualizing the world.

I also see references to photography, specifically time-lapse photography, in your work. Is that an influence at all?

Totally. I do think about that idea a lot, a time-lapse. Who is this person, over time and space? You walk down the street and you see so much drama on people’s faces. There’s this whole film, a micro-drama, based on all of these expressions. And it shifts so rapidly.

How does abstraction manifest in your process?

Well of course, you know, modernism. You’re competing so often against a camera for visual mimesis, and the camera wins every time, right? Jack Shadbolt had a quote about how you need to let the viewer ‘fill in’ parts of a work. At times I try and stretch it. How far can I abstract while still [portraying] a ‘face’, and one that conveys some feeling or meaning?


Do you see your works as a continuing series, or simply a collection of works functioning under one thematic umbrella?

I’m going to say both. There isn’t necessarily a defined series. I’d like to start to do more of that. But right now I would say they are more a collection of idiosyncratic works in a family. [They] riff off of each other, or are influenced by each other.

Would you consider your paintings to be optimistic about the human condition? Pessimistic? Indifferent and observational?

Fundamentally, for me, they’re optimistic. I think that no matter how dark things get, there is this light that shines, that never goes out. You don’t necessarily have to be theistic to have this view. You see it in people, in the million acts of courage that occur everyday. So maybe I’m depicting what could be seen as a dark aesthetic, but within myself, I have an optimism.

What do you find most interesting about your own work?

Well, this exhibition will only present one part of my practice. I mean, I am kind of a cliché, an artist who has been working on their practice for about twenty years in relative seclusion. Painting is a serious thing. You’re dealing with a conversation that has been going on for at least fifty thousand years. So, I wanted to take my time before I started promoting it in any kind of serious fashion. I wanted to be on solid ground. Certainly I want “success,” but for me it has always been more important to find success in making work that I feel might still be relevant two hundred years from now–wherever people are in two hundred years.


We are excited to present this show in collaboration with Hayo Magazine. Origin Stories: A Solo Exhibition by Pax North opens Tuesday, November 10th, at Skylight GalleryRead more about it here and RSVP here

Albert Maysles, famed documentarian and beloved cinematic friend to all, passed away earlier this year at the ripened age of eighty-eight. He, along with his brother David (1931 – 1987), sought out uncommon character and strange circumstance within their work, developing a myriad of delightful and rare documentaries that are still treasured today. I remember watching Grey Gardens for the first time and gazing up at the theatre screen in awe of the life I was witnessing, in all of its honest nonsense. Albert Maysles was the one to capture those moments, and since then I have been equally in awe of his sincerity with the camera.

Albert Maysles

This year, the Vancouver International Film Festival had the pleasure of screening one of Maysles’ last films, a work on which he collaborated with several other filmmakers (Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui and Ben Wu). The film finds its subject in the Empire Builder, America’s most frequented long-distance train route, stretching from Chicago to Portland and Seattle, a journey which takes approximately three days. The camera’s role is observational, typical of a Maysles production, and it captures intimate conversation and solitude alike. Passengers on the train pour their hearts out into the lens, and we become witness to all manner of departure and arrival.

David and Albert Maysles. Photo: John Sotomayor

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this film as much as I had wanted to. Though I found the train as subject to be fascinating, it was generally difficult to immerse myself in the stories of the people on board. The vision of the film was supposedly objective, but the moments captured by the camera were often cheesy and clichéd, which seems like a very cynical thing to say about actual lived experience, but I could not make myself feel differently. One woman revealed her struggle with being a single mom, another explained that the train was her break from an ex-husband, and a mother and daughter exchanged words about their dreams of arrival and feeling that the destination would be a new start.

Sometimes I felt as though these testimonies and exchanges were written especially for the camera and that their candid nature had been erased. If it had all been scripted, I would have cringed in my seat. What I would have liked to have experienced further was the thematic presence of the train as destination in itself, a kind of temporary space in which to ponder what came before and what will come next. Cinematic representations of trains are usually limited to the symbolic. They are used as devices to signify a character or narrative’s transformation, the start of something new or the leaving behind of old. With In Transit, the train became the definite location. Yes, it did symbolize coming and going, and held transformative qualities for some of its riders, but more so than that it became a real place. A self-contained habitat for all manner of folk passing through. I guessed that perhaps the characters aboard the train were intended to be the humanity of the film, but I wanted to explore that of the train instead. I was intrigued by its omniscient personality and acceptance of those who travelled along its route, and by the pattern of existence which only the train could produce. Oh, well. I may have been underwhelmed, but Albert still holds an honoured place in my heart.


Ah VIFF, we hardly knew ye. Sarah Bakke, star volunteer at the Cinematheque and brilliant critical film student saw close to twenty films during this years festival and was kind enough to recap a few of her favourites for SAD.


Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict by Lisa Immordino

This year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) programme included numerous biopics and documentaries of a similar biographical nature. People who lived great lives, it seems, are in overwhelming abundance. Peggy Guggenheim, famed art collector, curator, and singular woman was among those whose stories were told at Vancouver’s annual cinematic mélange. Her extraordinary life was expressly revealed in Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s feature, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015). I saw this film at the Vancouver Playhouse, to a bit of my dismay. In my experience, the Playhouse is not the best venue for viewing film because the space lacks the necessary acoustics, and so sound tends to echo involuntarily. In the case of Vreeland’s film, aural clarity was particularly important, since most of the story’s direction came from a series of taped interviews with Guggenheim shortly before her death in 1979, and the recordings were occasionally difficult to understand. However, I became too enraptured by the telling of our heroine’s life to care beyond the first few minutes.

Peggy Guggenheim knew love and misfortune, often all at once. She came from a ridiculously wealthy family and constantly felt like the odd one out, and as her life went on it became clear that she would do wild and wonderful things, though completely beneath the expectations of her tribe. Her interest in artists (and subsequently their art), combined with her penchant for sex and bohemia discredited her within the art community and elsewhere. Art Addict does not shy away from these less glamorous details. A variety of esteemed talking heads and rare photographs reveal the many ways in which Guggenheim was a modern woman, and how her brand of existence was ridiculed by many. Nonetheless, her contributions to art history and the canon cannot be ignored. Vreeland’s documentary was by no means experimental, but it told an exceptional story, and was sensitive to its subject. Peggy G. (as I now affectionately call her) knew what living through art meant, and she did it with gumption and honesty.



Frank and the Wondercat by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa

Another festival gem this year, also about a life well lived, was Frank and the Wondercat (2015), directed by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa, both of whom are Simon Fraser University alumni. Frank Furko is an aging eccentric, completely and willingly lost in memories of Pudgie Wudgie, his beloved pet cat, and their rise to cult fame. Frank and Pudgie put on a series of shows together, with Pudgie dressed in a variety of costumes while performing tricks for the camera, and the pair went on to rub shoulders with the likes of Maury Povich and David Letterman. Though Pudgie passed away in 2001, Frank still lives his life in reverence of their time together, telling anyone who will stand still long enough about the glamour of life in the spotlight. Frank and the Wondercat affectionately captures Frank’s love for his late companion, but it also reveals how deeply Frank is immersed in reminiscence, and how difficult it is for him to pull away from the past.

The film was compiled of both Frank’s personal VHS archive and footage taken by the two filmmakers, shot over the course of several years and with a 4:3 aspect ratio, so as to mimic the VHS format. The final picture was less about Pudgie Wudgie and more about Frank’s dependance on their relationship. In one scene, Frank speculates that Pudgie knew he had been rescued through adoption, and that’s why Pudgie was so obedient. But the film tells a different version, a reversal. As was said by Massil in a question period after the screening, “Pudgie Wudgie sat through all of the costumes and sunglasses not because he enjoyed it, but because he somehow knew that it was for Frank, that this is what this other creature needs.” Frank and the Wondercat was a portrait of kinship beyond simple definition. Frank Furko had a true companion in his silly, patient cat, and has been changed because of it. What could be more heartwarming than that?

Follow Sarah’s instagram for more of her film fuelled escapades at @sarahmbakke. Hit up the VIFF website here.