Friday, 21 April 2017

UNARMED VERSES + VANCOUVER: NO FIXED ADDRESS - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Picks: A Tale of Two Charlies (Officer and Wilkinson), Two Docs, Two Cities & Home.

Home. In Toronto. In Vancouver. Displacement in both.

Unarmed Verses (2017)
Dir. Charles Officer
Prd. Lea Marin

Vancouver: No Fixed Address (2017)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
Prd. Tina Schliessler

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Allow me to make some introductions.

Charles Officer, meet Charles Wilkinson. You are both named Charlie. You are both important Canadian filmmakers. You both have films enjoying their respective world premieres at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival. Both are terrific pictures about the importance of home in two Canadian cities - one's in the east, the other in the west. You have both made films that couldn't be more different and yet, they both skilfully and artfully address how urban "development" is destroying the fabric of community.

Officer has made some of the most poetic dramas and documentaries ever to be made in Canada (Nurse.Fighter.Boy, Mighty Jerome). Wilkinson has led the charge with some of the most important documentaries wrought on the subject of the environment (Peace Out, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World).

They have both made new films that would make for an absolutely perfect double bill.

Unarmed Voices? We all have a voice!!!

Shot in a Cinéma Direct style, but with plenty of exquisitely moving poetic sequences, Unarmed Verses follows 12-year-old Francine Valentine, a sweet, smart and talented young lady living in Villaways, an isolated community housing project in Toronto. She's especially gifted in Language Arts and has a decided penchant for poetry. She's a member of an arts collective in the project and her primary narrative through-line is prepping her "words" for an eventual musical turn in a sound studio. There's a mighty shroud hanging over her, though. The home she's always known, the community she's come to embrace, the friends and family she loves, will be uprooted when Villaways will be demolished and everyone within it will be displaced for at least four years.

Ultimately, this is a film about community and empowerment. For little Francine, empowerment comes from art and personal expression.

At one point, her sweet voice tells us:

"We all have a voice, we just have to find different ways to use them."

The film is an extraordinary experience. It manages to have its cake and eat it too by lifting us up and breaking our hearts.

Vancouver. A sad symphony. Will humanity prevail?

Wilkinson's Vancouver: No Fixed Address is equally powerful. Blending his often painterly visual style with an incisive journalistic sense of exploration and order, he hits the subject of urban "development" with the precision of both a surgeon and marksman. We're dazzled and informed with the history of the city, its changes, the influx of new immigrants, the skyrocketing costs of living, the impossibility of property ownership/rent and yes, homelessness. One of the extraordinary attributes of the film is its use of music. This is no traditional score. Focusing on a wide variety of (mostly) street musicians, their melodies are not only used to drive the visual, but they astonishingly come together in a symphonic fashion.

Though it couldn't be more different in its overall mise-en-scene, Vancouver: No Fixed Address still reminded me of Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. Ruttman, of course, charted his "great city" in one day. Wilkinson trains his eye upon his "great city" over the course of several days and weeks (and from a historical standpoint, decades). Where both works meet, however, is in the use of symphonic properties to tell their stories cinematically.

Wilkinson interviews a diverse group of subjects (including David Suzuki), but one of the most moving and poignant is a retired movie theatre manager who loves Vancouver dearly, but cannot live on his meagre pension in a home of his own. He lives in his van. To escape the winters, he drives to Mexico and lives modestly, but even during the rest of the year, Vancouver can get mighty cold. It rains frequently and the "wet cold" cuts deep - like a knife.

There is another form of "cold" Wilkinson exposes - development, fuelled as it is by filthy lucre. Movingly, there is balance in this portrait - it's the people. Humanity wins.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (for both films): **** 4-Stars

Unarmed Verses is an NFB production. Vancouver: No Fixed Address is a Knowledge Network Exclusive. Both films enjoy their World Premieres at Hot Docs 2017.