Establishing Shots: Oct 23-29, 2020

Every week, Establishing Shots offers some further enlightenment on the films that will be screening in-cinema at the VIFF Centre and online through VIFF Connect.

This week’s lineup is decidedly doc-heavy and undeniably influenced by the American election looming just past the next turn of the calendar.

After proving itself an audience favourite at this year’s VIFF with an average rating of 4.48/5, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President returns for an encore. As we did during our festival dates, we encourage you to read Salon’s recent interview with director Mary Wharton and producer Chris Farrell, in with Wharton explains what drew her to making the film: “You think of his cardigan sweaters and having this persona of being grandfatherly and, quite frankly, pretty square. And here he is the whole time hanging out with pot-smoking Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers. It’s a head-spinner!”

Anyone interested in further investigating this aspect of Carter can rummage through the photos on the U.S. National Archives and find pics of Carter onstage with Nelson in 1977 and welcoming artists from the newly formed Black Music Association to perform at the White House in 1979.

That latter concert fell between the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty that Carter brokered in March of that year and the Iran Hostage Crisis that erupted that same November. While both are touched on in Wharton’s film, the latter is the basis for Barbara Kopple’s Desert One, which has been hailed by critics as “riveting“. In this extensive interview with the Directors Guild of America Quarterly, Kopple talks about her storied career that kicked off with Oscar-winning Harlan County, U.S.A. and reflects, “I think life’s fantastic. It’s chaotic. It’s funny. It’s loving, amusing. It’s painful. It’s naughty, it’s dangerous and all of those things. My job is to capture it.”

You can now add VIFF Connect to the platforms showcasing Brett Morgen’s 2007 hybrid archival/animation documentary that’s “funny and frightening in equal measure” (Boston Globe). Those of you who who purchased a Gold Subscription for the 2020 festival are able to watch the film for free on our streaming platform until November 19. (Both annual and monthly subscriptions will be available starting in December.)

Having enjoyed a successful festival run following its Telluride premiere last August, Ric Burns’ Oliver Sacks: His Own Life has now been making a strong showing in both brick-and-mortar and virtual cinemas. In but one of many glowing reviews, the Los Angeles Times declares the “majestic” documentary as “a moving portrait of a man taking deep stock of his life with great satisfaction and verve.” Meanwhile, Variety applauds it for being “a portrait at once tender and thrilling, a movie that presents us with a man who led an eccentrically defiant, at times reckless existence that was the furthest thing from cunningly planned.”

Josh Melrod introduced himself to VIFF audiences with the 2012 documentary Cartoon College, which was scored by Vancouver’s own Jason Zumpano. On the occasion of Melrod’s narrative debut, Major Arcana, making its Vancouver debut, this seems a fine time to not only give you glimpse at this dream-like working-class fable but also leave you with some music courtesy of Zumpano.

Around the same time that Zumpano composed the score for Cartoon College, he was also embarking on a new musical venture of his own. Operating under the Cyrillic Typewriter moniker, Zumpano and collaborators set about recording soundtracks for films that only existed in the composer’s head. Last year’s VIFF saw the premiere of Water Over Glass, in which four experimental filmmakers lent visual accompaniment to The Cyrillic Typewriter’s album of the same name. Until this head movie resurfaces somewhere down the line, readers are invited to take the eight tracks for a spin and see what manner of cinematic realm they’re plunged into.

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