This year’s online edition of Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Festival puts the spotlight on Canadian filmmakers and talents working in and around Vancouver. On Falling, for example, gets a local showcase after being only one of a handful of a Canadian films selected for Tribeca. Directed by Josephine Anderson, On Falling takes an unconventional approach to athleticism and the pursuit of glory. The film features three women—Miranda Miller, Andréane Lanthier Nadeau, and Brittany Phelan—who share a passion for mountain biking and a willingness to get up after being knocked down. Shot with bracing intensity and edited with a kinetic fury, the film offers views from the cyclists’ perspectives as they crash and tumble on rough terrain. Where many docs about the drive to succeed focus on perfection, On Falling embraces the athletes’ vulnerability. The free-flowing film expands the cyclists’ perseverance by riffing on notions of “falling” to encourage audiences to find strength and room for personal growth after hard times.
HIV: Healing Inner Voices, directed by Martin Morberg and Jada-Gabrielle Pape, finds a hopeful and inspirational story by connecting several Indigenous subjects living with HIV. The interviewees share their experiences with honesty and candour, revealing moments of discrimination, neglect, and indifference. Their openness seeks to de-stigmatize conversations about HIV and AIDS, and the film succeeds by delivering a refreshingly inclusive dialogue. Healing Inner Voices invites a wider conversation and demonstrates how communities can foster meaningful dialogue by listening, learning, and creating safe spaces for people to share their stories.
Also bringing a note of refreshing optimism to DOXA’s short film corner is Marina Dodis’s The Return. This insightful environmental film considers the effects of human activity on salmon populations as development overtakes the streams and creeks that give life to the fish. Impressive wildlife cinematography captures the struggle of the salmon with vivid clarity as Dodis’s thoughtful study tackles the problem from all angles. Parties interested in questions of urban design, water health, ecosystems, and animal rights will find lots to discuss with The Return and its hope for renewal.
Hope and renewal underscore the family dynamics at the heart of Joel Salaysay’s amusing and relatable Home Cooking. This family affair sees Salaysay join his mother and his octogenarian maternal grandmother in the kitchen as they tackle the family’s secret recipe. As the young filmmaker invites his grandmother to teach him how to make his favourite dish, Bak Chang (scrumptious dumplings cooked in bamboo leaves), the cooking exercise lets the elder share her life’s story with her grandson. As three generations of the family join to celebrate their Chinese heritage, the film captures their shared journey as each generation progressively reflects the influence of western culture. This playful snapshot of the Canadian mosaic is at once specific and universal.
Equally upbeat is Carmen Pollard’s excellent Red Robinson, which offers a brisk portrait of Vancouver’s first rock ‘n’ roll DJ. The film features Robinson in an interview that highlights the deep voice that launched him onto the radio waves when he was only 17 years old. Robinson is a terrific raconteur and Pollard’s film illustrates his role in the city’s history through his knack for storytelling. It’s an energetic portrait of a local icon.
The DOXA shorts add global perspectives with Vaivén, a Cuban-Canadian co-production directed by Nisha Platzer. Vaivén follows a teenage boy named Nori in Bauta, Cuba, as he runs wild and free along the local train trains. The rush of the engines is his heartbeat, his pulse, as he occupies his time by wandering the tracks, observing the travellers, and finding creative ways to harness his energy with the schedule of the trains. The film has a dark and moody atmosphere thanks to the hypnotic cinematography by María Grazia Goya, which makes Vaivén a brooding portrait of the freedoms and anxieties of adolescence.
Lisa Jackson’s Lichen, meanwhile, is an ingenious film that stars twenty-two varieties of lichen. (The film also credits the lichen for their performances with organisms like Maritime Sunburst and Smokers’ Lung cited as part of the ensemble.) This uncanny portrait of a seemingly mundane and banal organism offers an inspired act of looking at life anew thanks to superb macro-level cinematography by Bob Aschmann. The unique perspective of lichen, accentuated by ruminative voiceover narration by lichenologist Trevor Goward, implores a viewer to explore the organisms’ many textures. Jackson’s film is both a fascinating example of technology’s ability to illuminate elements of life invisible to the naked eye, but as an artistic feat, Lichen invites a wider conversation about perspectives about the hidden lives of organisms that fuel the world’s ecosystems.
The hidden gem of the festival, however, is one of my favourite short docs of the year. Clebs (Mutts), directed by Halima Ouardiri, demands a double bill with this year’s winner for Best International Feature at Hot Docs, Stray. DOXA’s own doggie doc transports audiences to Morocco to observe Le Cœur sur la Patte sanctuary, which houses 750 stray dogs. Both an understated essay on animal rights and a provocative metaphor for the global migration crisis, Clebs draws effective parallels between four-legged creatures trapped in limbo and their human counterparts. The human migrants appear only as news reports gradually fade into the film’s immersive soundscape as Ouardiri’s interplay between sound and images evoke compassion and empathy for the dogs abandoned by human migration, as well as further consideration for their former owners who are absent from the frames and displaced from their homes. A double prizewinner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Clebs is best in show.
On Falling, Vaivén, and Lichen screen in DOXA’s In Flux program.
Healing Inner Voices, Home Cooking, Red Robinson, The Return screen in BC Voices.
Clebs screens in Crossroads.
DOXA runs until June 26.