By William Lee
The 35th Vancouver International Film Festival wrapped up on October 14, 2016. We'll bring you a post-festival debrief in a future podcast episode. In the meantime, here are short reviews for a pair of films that may pop up near you in the future: Keepers of the Magic and Maliglutit (Searchers).
Keepers of the Magic
Veteran filmmaker Vic Sarin has shot over 70 films during his career. He turns the camera on his peers for the documentary Keepers of the Magic. If you like documentaries about filmmaking that focus on hearing from its iconic practitioners — personally, I could have watched another couple of hours of De Palma — this film is a celebration of the art and the artists that is both nostalgic and insightful.
Keepers of the Magic is a welcome contribution to the cause of learning from and about the people behind the camera. The 1992 documentary Visions of Light also looked at the art and craft of the cinematographer, casting a wide net to cover the first century of American cinema. The interview subjects in Sarin’s update include legends Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) and Gordon Willis (The Godfather) plus today’s foremost professionals Roger Deakins (Skyfall), Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis), Cesar Charlone (City of God) and John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road).
Sure, it looks like the standard talking heads documentary but these heads offer deep insight into their process and share illuminating anecdotes about collaborating with directors. We also hear some of their personal stories relating to how they got involved with shooting movies. In a poignant moment, Storaro talks about his father’s reaction to his career success.
As the end credits roll, we see brief excerpts from Sarin’s interviews with three other cinematographers. His original intention was to have a more diverse mix of interview subjects but the finished film settles primarily on elder, white males. Nothing against what made the final cut but it would be great to hear some of those other interviews included as bonus material on a DVD release.
Austin Andrews, the film’s editor, took questions from the audience following the screening at VIFF. He explained that the current cut of the film includes movie clips — great clips illustrating what these masters of their craft are doing — that are cleared for public exhibition at festivals only. Possibly, a different edit will be broadcast on Canadian TV or future theatrical showings. That is to say, make it a point to see this film if it screens at a festival near you.
Zacharia Kunuk’s latest fiction feature is another tale from the northern-most parts of Canada. Maliglutit (Searchers) is primal storytelling. Surviving and protecting what is yours is put in stark relief against the awesome vastness of the frozen landscape of Nunavut circa 1913. What else is there than what you have?
It is no accident that the title alludes to John Ford’s classic western starring John Wayne as a man obsessed with finding his kidnapped niece. Kunuk wanted to tell a western genre tale in the Inuit way so he’s taken inspiration from that film and combined it with folk tales he remembers about wife stealing. Curiously, the opening scene suggests a layer of complication involving adultery that is not explored at all in the rest of the movie. That misstep is easily forgotten though as the story settles into an Arctic actioner about a man trying to rescue his wife and daughter from murderous kidnappers.
Among Maliglutit’s remarkable qualities is how the camera lingers on the action in long takes to show how much effort is involved with moving about in this snowy environment. Keeping warm and staying fed, obviously, are prime concerns and watching the actors go through the motions of chipping off a chunk of meat from their frozen rations will give audiences pause as they munch on popcorn. Much time is also devoted to showing how to drive a dog sled team. I began to wonder if it saves much effort compared to just running across the tundra. Just as the Nunavut landscape looks barren but is full of life; Maliglutit is a lean action movie with plenty of rewards.