2017 Nordlys Film & Arts Festival

Program cover of the Nordlys Festival

Program cover of the Nordlys Festival

We attended, for the first time ever, the 8th annual Nordlys Film & Arts Festival here in Camrose at the historic Bailey Theatre downtown. The word Nordlys is Norwegian for northern lights-aurora borealis.

Although we didn’t purchase the all-inclusive pass, since we were unable to attend Sunday’s offerings, we opted for a Friday pass, which included the opening ceremonies and two films, as well as music from local musicians Stephen Olson, and Tigs & Whisky.

The first film, entitled “Pawn Sacrifice,” originated from the USA in 2016. It’s executive producer was former Camrosian, Dale Armin Johnson, who was present for the film and a Q & A afterwards. The film is described as a “Biographical Drama,” telling the story of American chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire. “Pawn Sacrifice” is a thoughtful study of the narrow line between genius and madness. The film intersperses clips dating back to the Cold War 1970s of Fischer and others, as well as borrowing music from that time from musicians such as Credence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane. The film is both a reasonably accurate portrayal of superpower rivalry in the Cold War period as well as a statement about the tragic destiny of a chess genius.

The second film was “Ida,” originated from Poland, and described as a “Drama.” Ida is a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland. The film follows her life journey as she meets up with an aunt who travels with her to discover that she is Jewish and her parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation of Poland. A rather sad, sober, and tragic film in every respect.

On Saturday we purchased tickets for the afternoon Alberta Short Docs. They were absolutely marvellous! I was thoroughly impressed with three of the seven short docs.

My favourite short doc was the first one, “We regret to Inform You…,” directed by Eva Colmers and Heidi Janz. The film highlighted how narrow and exclusive government bureaucrats can define and apply their criteria regarding who is or is not eligible for disability funding. The film features a day in the life of Ph.D. scholar Heidi Janz, and is a legitimate critique of government policies regarding the differently-abled.

The second short doc was entitled “The Grasslands Project: Life Out Here.” It focussed on four ranching and farming women in southern Alberta, portraying their life and times. The film addresses themes such as the role of farm and ranch women,  isolation and the need to improvise and be independent as well as neighbourly in order to survive, the freedom, beauty and joy of the open prairie rangeland, and more.

My third favourite short doc was “Classic Camera.” The title is actually the name of a camera store in Edmonton. The store is run by an 85-year-old gentleman, Wally Franiel. The store is full of non digital cameras and equipment from bygone days, although some still choose to use these old cameras. Wally is a wonderful eccentric, who enjoys telling many a tale.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Nordlys festival, and hope to go next year as well.

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Movie Review

Movie Review: Pelle the Conqueror

Directed by Bille August, Produced by Per Holst, Cinematography by Jőrgen Persson

1987, 157 minutes, colour, Danish with English subtitles

I don’t know where I’ve been all my life, but can’t believe that I haven’t seen this movie until now—2011! First off, I am somewhat biased, since I like most films directed by Bille August. The setting of this movie is late nineteenth century Denmark—filmed on location on Bornholm island.

   The protagonists, Lasse Karlsson—played by Max von Sydow—and his young son Pelle—played by Pelle Hvenegaard—have just immigrated from their native Sweden to Denmark in search of a better life. Lasse’s wife and Pelle’s mother has recently died. They are full of dreams, hopes and expectations of a bright, new future inDenmark. However, after being rejected by several employers because he is regarded as “too old,” Lasse and Pelle are hired as labourers on the aristocratic Kongstrup farm.

   Once they arrive, they face several unpleasant surprises, which threaten to rob them of a hopeful future. They live in poor conditions; the foreman is both prejudiced against them and a tyrant; Pelle is bullied by his classmates in school, who are equally as prejudiced as the foreman against immigrants; the food is poor; in short, the farm workers are treated like slaves.

   Yet, the love between father Lasse and son Pelle keeps their hopes and dreams for the future alive. This beautiful film is much more than a boy coming-of-age story. The film, in addition to exploring the significance of a father and son relationship; also addresses the following motifs: loneliness and aging, age discrimination, prejudice and discrimination against immigrants, labour relations, bullying, class divisions and the abuse of power, the power of hopes and dreams, and sacrificing one’s life for others.

   Although the closing scene of the movie is quite moving; my favourite segment was when Niels Køller a young farmer who has lost the love of his life now grief-struck, feels responsible for it—endeavours to do something sacrificial by managing to save the lives of sailors whose ship is capsizing, only to have the ice-laden sea claim his life.

   I appreciated this movie for many reasons—the acting by the protagonists in particular was superb, the cinematography was inspiring, the music was appropriate, the multilevel motifs of the storyline seemed to work well. All-in-all, a movie worth seeing.

Crude The Real Price of Oil

Over the holidays I watched a Joe Berlinger film, Crude: The Real Price of Oil

It is a hard-hitting, no nonsense environmental documentary of what giant Goliath corporations like Texaco and now Chevron have done in the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forests. David, the indigenous peoples of the region are now suffering from loss of their way of life, and plague of health issues as a consequence of their polluted environment. The documentary does a fine job of presenting the David vs Goliath lawyers fighting it out in a legal battle that seems unending. What is most commendable about the film is that Berlinger leaves it up to the viewer to draw their own conclusions.  My conclusion is that it is almost impossible for a judge to remain neutral in such a case as this, making the final decision shall have tremendous implications for both sides of this battle; which causes one to pray for the judge to be granted the wisdom of a Solomon to deliver the right decision. However, even if the right decision is delivered in a court of law, there are no guarantees that the losing side will accept the ruling and comply with it. God have mercy on us all. For more info on the movie, check out the website here.

Movie The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I recently watched, with my wife and daughter, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.” I realise that some Holocaust experts are critical of the movie–primarily for the reason that children, in most cases, were not allowed to survive in the concentration camps. The issue of a lack of security around the fence of the camp may also be anachronistic. That said, I still believe that it is an encouraging movie, which has the potential to build friendships and deeper understanding between Jews and Christians.

The two 8-year-old boys, one Jewish, in the camp, and one German, out of the camp, and son of the camp’s commandant, become friends. Bruno doubts the Nazi propaganda he is unwillingly subjected to, and continues to secretly visit his friend Smuel at the camp. The movie reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Fourth Gospel, speaking of the highest order of friendship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)