Past Screenings

August 9 – Divided We Fall – Czech Republic – 2001 – Drama.  Tells the true and bittersweet story of a Czechoslovakian couple whose village has been taken over by the Nazis during World War II.  “A very worthwhile entry in the proud tradition of Czech filmmakers examining serious social issues with dark humor.”-New York Post.  “Even in the most appalling circumstances, it suggests, human folly can be funny and even moving.”-Seattle Times.  “A lovely movie, one that allows its characters unexpected spurts of growth and regression, darkness and grace.”-Time Magazine.  “A stirring, affecting story about courage, trust and the inevitability of bizarre allegiances during times of desperation.”-Washington Post.  I might add it reminds me of a Hitchcock thriller, where ordinary people are thrust in extraordinary circumstances. “Shows that it’s not only possible to make a spine-tingling World War II saga without bloodshed, but also to use such stories to examine the agonizing-but-necessary values of conscience, loyalty and forgiveness.”-Newsday.  Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

July 26 – Italian for Beginners – Denmark – 2001 – Romance/Comedy.  “An engaging Danish movie that rises from the ashes of loneliness and despair to spread feelings of happiness across the screen.”-Denver Rocky Mountain News.  A close-knit neighbourhood in Copenhagen contains several success-challenged, lonely 30-45-something individuals.  Each separately signs up for an Italian class in the hopes of spicing up their lives.  “The result is that rarest of things — a heartwarming love story that bears not a trace of cheap feeling or false emotion.”-Washington Post.  A product of the Dogme 95 movement (shot on location, no extra sets, props, lighting or sound, hand-held cameras only) the film has a natural intimacy that helps you empathize with these wonderfully ordinary people.  “A rarity: a humane picture about modern romance among believable adults.”-Chicago Tribune.

June 28 – Genghis Blues  – Mongolia/USA – 1999 – Documentary, nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary), tells how a Nobel Prize-winning physicist’s stamp collection helped a down-on-his-luck blind American blues musician travel to Mongolia to pursue his passion for the extremely difficult art of throat singing.  As film critic Roger Ebert wrote “no fiction film could possibly have dreamed up this wonderful story”.  And wonderful it is, filled with warmth, compassion, amazing coincidences, fascinating music, friendly people, and celebrating the coming together of two very different cultures.

May 21 – Where Do We Go Now   –  Lebanon defies all the stereotypes about the Middle East. Half its population is Christian, most Christians are part of the Catholic church but speak Arabic as their first language, French as their second. The country’s relative peace is due to a willingness to co-operate, based on a history of contact with multiple points of view. The result is a unique constitution that divides the 5 major positions of power among the 4 major ethnic groups, so no single group can dominate.

The country is about 1/3 the size of Vancouver Island, and its geography is like a miniature BC – west facing, forested mountains (some of the ancient Cedars of Lebanon still exist) parallel to a narrow coastline, with a fertile valley similar to the Okanagan in the interior.

Lebanon is credited with inventing the alphabet, the foundation of Greek and other western writing systems. For nearly 4,000 years, Lebanon’s economy has been focused on trade – its location helped it become the ‘neutral’ crossroads between East and West. The Lebanese city of Byblos was where Greeks acquired paper – a product of Egyptian papyrus. Byblos paper was assembled into biblia – “books” – source of our words bible, bibliography, and bibliophile. During Lebanon’s “golden age” 3000 years ago Lebanon’s people were called Phoenicians, and the Mediterranean Sea was a Phoenician lake, with major Phoenician trading cities at Carthage (Tunisia) and Cadiz (Spain).

Lebanon became part of the Greek and later, Roman empires. In Jesus’ time its daily language was the same as Jesus’s – Aramaic, a branch of Arabic. By 400 AD the land had mostly become Christian, owing allegiance to the “Roman” capital in what is now Istanbul. After a spell under Moslem rule, the Crusades led to its occupation by the French. At that time, Maronite Christians pledged allegiance to the Pope. Even after Moslems recaptured the area, Lebanon has had continuous contact with and assistance from Europe. When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1918, the French took control of Syria and Lebanon, further strengthening their ties. After WW2, Beirut became the “Switzerland of the Middle East”, as well as the “Paris of the Middle East” and the “Rivera of the Middle East”. To those titles I would add the “Los Angles of the Middle East”, as its western-influenced films, radio and television broadcasts are a hugely influential counterbalance to Islamic extremism.

That liberalism has been severely strained by the creation of Israel on its southern border. The immediate aftermath of Israel’s creation was a war in which 100,000 Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon. The Palestinians’ militant brand of Islam slowly polarized Lebanon’s tolerant population, leading to a 1975 civil war, which destroyed much of the country. Intermittent conflict, partial rebuilding, foreign interventions, floods of refugees, and fragile ceasefire’s have been Lebanon’s lot ever since.

In Caramel, (2007) little of this is apparent.   We’re in the Christian quarter of Beirut, the peaceful Middle East you seldom hear about, where life goes on. The only signs of the larger political situation are glimpses of soldiers patrolling border areas, and the frequent power outages due to shattered infrastructure. Caramel eavesdrops on the lives and loves of women customers, co-workers, and neighbours of a beauty parlour.  It’s “Charming, lovely, and hard to resist”.

In Where Do We Go Now, (2011) a remote village near the Israeli border becomes a metaphor for Lebanon itself.  Here, Moslem and Christian women conspire to keep their menfolk from fighting, using ever-more outrageous methods.  It’s “Plucky, whimsical, mildly naughty, and blithely sentimental”.

May 21 – War Dance – 

May 20 – Latcho Drom –

May 20 – Benda Bilili – D.R.Congo – 2012 – A Musical documentary depicting the against-all-odds rise of Staff Benda Bilili, a dynamic band of street musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo who overcame extreme poverty and physical disability to become beloved stars of the world music circuit.

May 20-  Caramel – Lebanon defies all the stereotypes about the Middle East. Half its population is Christian, most Christians are part of the Catholic church but speak Arabic as their first language, French as their second. The country’s relative peace is due to a willingness to co-operate, based on a history of contact with multiple points of view. The result is a unique constitution that divides the 5 major positions of power among the 4 major ethnic groups, so no single group can dominate.

The country is about 1/3 the size of Vancouver Island, and its geography is like a miniature BC – west facing, forested mountains (some of the ancient Cedars of Lebanon still exist) parallel to a narrow coastline, with a fertile valley similar to the Okanagan in the interior.

Lebanon is credited with inventing the alphabet, the foundation of Greek and other western writing systems. For nearly 4,000 years, Lebanon’s economy has been focused on trade – its location helped it become the ‘neutral’ crossroads between East and West. The Lebanese city of Byblos was where Greeks acquired paper – a product of Egyptian papyrus. Byblos paper was assembled into biblia – “books” – source of our words bible, bibliography, and bibliophile. During Lebanon’s “golden age” 3000 years ago Lebanon’s people were called Phoenicians, and the Mediterranean Sea was a Phoenician lake, with major Phoenician trading cities at Carthage (Tunisia) and Cadiz (Spain).

Lebanon became part of the Greek and later, Roman empires. In Jesus’ time its daily language was the same as Jesus’s – Aramaic, a branch of Arabic. By 400 AD the land had mostly become Christian, owing allegiance to the “Roman” capital in what is now Istanbul. After a spell under Moslem rule, the Crusades led to its occupation by the French. At that time, Maronite Christians pledged allegiance to the Pope. Even after Moslems recaptured the area, Lebanon has had continuous contact with and assistance from Europe. When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1918, the French took control of Syria and Lebanon, further strengthening their ties. After WW2, Beirut became the “Switzerland of the Middle East”, as well as the “Paris of the Middle East” and the “Rivera of the Middle East”. To those titles I would add the “Los Angles of the Middle East”, as its western-influenced films, radio and television broadcasts are a hugely influential counterbalance to Islamic extremism.

That liberalism has been severely strained by the creation of Israel on its southern border. The immediate aftermath of Israel’s creation was a war in which 100,000 Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon. The Palestinians’ militant brand of Islam slowly polarized Lebanon’s tolerant population, leading to a 1975 civil war, which destroyed much of the country. Intermittent conflict, partial rebuilding, foreign interventions, floods of refugees, and fragile ceasefire’s have been Lebanon’s lot ever since.

In Caramel, (2007) little of this is apparent.   We’re in the Christian quarter of Beirut, the peaceful Middle East you seldom hear about, where life goes on. The only signs of the larger political situation are glimpses of soldiers patrolling border areas, and the frequent power outages due to shattered infrastructure. Caramel eavesdrops on the lives and loves of women customers, co-workers, and neighbours of a beauty parlour.  It’s “Charming, lovely, and hard to resist”.