When cap­i­tal­ism sets the world on fire VIFF takes a sober­ing look at to­day’s eco­nomic re­al­ity with a hand­ful of pow­er­ful docs

THE SIS­TERS BROTH­ERS Star­ring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix. Rated 14A

The Georgia Straight - - Movies - By Ken Eisner

ne can ar­gue that the very na­ture of cap­i­tal­ism is nondis­crim­i­na­tory; that is, cap­i­tal it­self is a kind of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that de­stroys any per­ceived threat to its own in­ter­ests. A num­ber of films at this year’s Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, con­tin­u­ing un­til Oc­to­ber 12, tackle the ins and (mainly) outs of the cur­rent eco­nomic re­al­ity.

While most ti­tles deal with the night­mar­ish turn of the Amer­i­can Dream, Dream­ing Un­der Cap­i­tal­ism (screen­ing at the Cine­math­eque on Thurs­day [Oc­to­ber 4]; In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage, Satur­day [Oc­to­ber 6]) traf­fics in ac­tual dreams, all in French. Bel­gian direc­tor Sophie Bruneau lis­tens to 12 work­ers in Europe’s bu­reau­cratic cap­i­tal, Brus­sels, who de­scribe how their jobs have in­vaded their sleep.

The hour­long ef­fort is paired with The Wash­ing So­ci­ety, a slightly shorter look at more hands-on labour. Di­rec­tors Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker visit a num­ber of Man­hat­tan laun­dro­mats, where women of colour (ex­cept for one man orig­i­nally from China) talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences at the bot­tom end of the ser­vice in­dus­try. Most of these washete­rias have been shut­tered since the movie wrapped, to be re­placed by face­less pickup ser­vices built on even cheaper labour. “For us,” Olesker in­formed the Straight, “these are on-the-street ob­ser­va­tions re­flect­ing larger changes in the city, due to de­mo­graphic shifts, and not unique to laun­dro­mats.”

Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is about more than real es­tate. Mil­lion­aire politi­cians like Michi­gan gover­nor Rick Sny­der and con­gres­sional hon­chos Paul Ryan and Mitch Mccon­nell seem to de­rive pal­pa­ble de­light from hurt­ing the poor. Al­though their union-bust­ing, health-care gut­ting, wa­ter-poi­son­ing, mass-in­car­cer­at­ing poli­cies hurt plenty of work­ing-class whites, black and brown peo­ple are sin­gled out for the most crush­ing abuse.

Ital­ian direc­tor Roberto Min­ervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (Cine­math­eque, Fri­day [Oc­to­ber 5]; In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage, Satur­day [Oc­to­ber 6]) is a two-hour, black-and-white look at vi­o­lence com­ing from all di­rec­tions in com­mu­ni­ties of colour in the Deep South. Apart from hav­ing to live with the con­stant fear of be­ing mur­dered by po­lice—now in their own homes— vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties are hemmed in by eco­nomic “redlin­ing”, mak­ing black busi­ness and real-es­tate in­vest­ment as dif­fi­cult, in many places, as it’s been at any time since the Civil War.

This syn­drome sur­faces, obliquely, in United Skates (In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage, Satur­day [Oc­to­ber 6]; Van­cou­ver Play­house, Sun­day [Oc­to­ber 7]), a look at the pos­i­tive in­flu­ence roller rinks have had in African-amer­i­can life for al­most a hun­dred years.

Like The Wash­ing So­ci­ety, this is a largely me­mo­rial ex­er­cise, as these di­rec­tors, Dyana Win­kler and Tina Brown, dis­cov­ered while sur­vey­ing re­main­ing rinks through­out the U.S.

“We fell into this story by ac­ci­dent,” says an ebul­lient Win­kler, in a call to the Straight. “We’d heard about black roller rinks, and then when we saw how vi­brant this scene re­ally was, we dis­cov­ered that it re­ally could sus­tain a two-hour film, filmed with drama and con­flict and also lots of mu­sic and real joy. The cel­e­bra­tory as­pect was what made it all worth­while.”

Shot over five years, the project— ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced by ac­tivist singer John Le­gend—be­came some­what less joy­ous. “Af­ter a while,” she con­tin­ues, “we saw that all these great places were clos­ing, and it was al­ways the same pat­tern: they’d be re­zoned and re­placed by the same 10 big-box stores. None were be­ing turned into other kinds of com­mu­nity cen­tres.”

Her film­mak­ing part­ner, Tina Brown, has a back­ground that’s both Viet­namese and Aus­tralian, and has helped pro­duce doc­u­men­taries on sports, travel, and Nel­son Man­dela. To­gether, they made a short about one of these hot spots, and then ex­panded their scope.

“It’s re­ally about ac­cess to pub­lic space,” Brown says, “with­out be­ing heav­ily po­liced. It’s get­ting so that we don’t see black peo­ple gath­ered in large numbers un­less there’s a protest on the streets. And that’s just not right. Of course, we didn’t know, un­til we started meet­ing all these skaters, how im­por­tant these places were and are.”

For Win­kler, orig­i­nally from Hawaii, the project was about “telling a story that makes peo­ple feel united. Many skaters had no idea there were so many places like this, nor that they were rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing. They pro­vided safe spa­ces for cre­ativ­ity and com­mu­nity in the hip-hop era, and are worth fight­ing for to­day.”

The space we call Van­cou­ver was im­por­tant to Win­kler, com­ing to the fest alone. Her grand­mother Mona Al­lis­ter died in Delta, at 94, ear­lier this sum­mer. And there will be a me­mo­rial just be­fore Skates’ first screen­ing. “My grand­mother was this film’s first in­vestor,” she says proudly, “and hap­pily, she did get to see it be­fore she passed.”

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