The Vancouver International Film Festival does not have the red carpet glamour or stalked Hollywood stars like that of our eastern rival, Toronto. But what the VIFF lacks in glitz, it makes up for in spades by screening some of the finest films from around the world and right here at home.

The VIFF gives eager Vancouverites the chance to see films that do not receive the massive studio release in the form of the often ultra-polished and formulaic Hollywood Blockbuster. This is particularly true in the documentary film category, where viewers were given a taste of the best the world has to offer. Hereâe(TM)s a compilation of reviews that focus on some of the films that had both substance and hype in this yearâe(TM)s non-fiction category.


Fans of Bill Maher are in for a treat, while non-fans may have trouble taking in this unapologetic âeoedocumentaryâe made by Borat director Larry Charles. I say âeoedocumentaryâe because this was the filmâe(TM)s classification, but it certainly isnâe(TM)t one in the traditional sense.

The film features a traveling Maher, who uses his quick wit and sheer contempt for all things religious to steer his film subjects off various cliffs, all to the delight of the audience. The bottom line is that if you enjoy Bill Maher, youâe(TM)ll enjoy this movie. If you are a fan of the serious and sober doc, youâe(TM)ll have to look elsewhere.

The Atom Smashers

I must begin this review by confessing that I am not a huge fan of science-based documentaries. They tend to walk a fine line between storytelling and becoming a university level seminar on their subject matter. That being said, I was happy that the directors behind the Atom Smashers pulled off a good balancing act.

The film takes us through several years in the lives of the scientists working at the U.S. particle collider lab located in Illinois. The purpose of this lab is, literally, to send atoms towards one another at very high speeds and make them run in to each other. I know, it sounds thrilling.

But the people who actually find this thrilling are the filmâe(TM)s central component and, by the end of the doc, I actually cared about these small atoms finding their way to hit one another and for the quirky group of scientists who watch them. The film crafts the image of a U.S. science sector in desperate need of pure research funding, and a lack of political will to find such money. Science-aside, this film was well made and tackled the subject very well.


Flicker is an interesting NFB-backed documentary directed by Nik Sheehan that examines Canadian-born artist Brion Gysin and his early 1960s âeoedream machineâe invention, a spinning cylinder with cut out shapes that allows light through it. The film is both an archival and interview-based documentary that retraces Gysinâe(TM)s life after he experiences a âeoedrugless highâe while traveling on a train with the sun setting behind some trees.

The director, with a modern day remake of the dream machine in hand, sets about interviewing Gysinâe(TM)s friends, and other people who experienced the dream machine.

I have very mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand, I found it slow and more of a biopic on Gysin than a documentary on the flicker phenomenon itself. On the other hand, I was compelled to buy a 78 RPM record player and build a dream machine of my own. The instructions for doing this are available on the filmâe(TM)s website.

The dream machine had only a small cult following in the 60s and 70s. Still, it was fun to see Iggy Pop on screen reminiscing about his own dream machine, and I did end up with enough curiosity to make one. This film is a risky one to recommend to a wide crowd, but if you are into a little bit of quirky history and some odd characters, it is worth checking it out.

Blue Gold

Blue Gold was one of the most anticipated documentaries at the festival, receiving the runner-up spot for audience favourite documentary and winning the Audience Choice award for Best Environmental FIlm. Executive produced by Vancouverâe(TM)s own Mark Achbar (The Corporation), the film is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke.

Blue Gold examines the worldwide trend behind the commodification of water. The film is a true eye-opener on a subject that is often overlooked by those of us who enjoy nearly unlimited clean water supplies every time we turn on the tap. There were some surprising names on the list of countries who have already have privatized their water supplies, including France, and those who are considering doing so.

Ultimately the film paints the image of a coming corporate ownership of water, and asks the question of whether water, a necessity for all life here on our blue planet, should be owned by anyone. Blue Gold lived up to its hype and is a great film with a great cause to champion.

Addicted to Plastic

With the environment an ever hot topic, Addicted to Plastic was another film with some buzz at this yearâe(TM)s festival and gets the bragging rights for being the second most popular Canadian made documentary. Addicted to Plastic is made by Canadian filmmaker Ian Connacher, who spent three years filming the documentary.

The film takes viewers on the journey of plastic, from the plants in which itâe(TM)s made, to the oceans and water systems where it is eventually dumped. The film is ambitious in its nature, and the filmâe(TM)s synopsis makes a point of mentioning that this is the result of over 300 hours of footage shot âe” and you can understand why.

Plastic touches nearly every aspect of our lives, and the director interviews a wide variety of people on the subject. There is a montage at the end of the film of all the people who ended up on the cutting room floor, as though the director was apologizing for any time wasted by the subjects who didnâe(TM)t make the final edit. This film could have used a little more planning and a little less shooting, but is fairly effective in drawing for the viewer a basic diagram about the importance of re-evaluating our collective addiction to plastic.

The variety of documentaries that hit the screens at the VIFF this year âe” including several I didnâe(TM)t write about here âe” is a testament to both the festivalâe(TM)s and audienceâe(TM)s collective desire to see these films on a big screen, before they get lost in the giant sea of big budget, big market films that dominate the box office every other week of the year.

Gina Whitfield

Gina Whitfield

Gina Whitfield has an M.A. in Sociology and Equity Studies from OISE at the U. of T. She’s a feminist activist and photographer and a contributing editor at Seven Oaks Magazine. She also does...