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The Gimli Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with a selection of feature films, shorts and documentaries that represent its unique niche within the circuit of North American film festivals, comprising Canadian films, with a special emphasis on Manitoba filmmakers; cinema from Iceland, Scandinavia and the circumpolar nations; and documentaries dealing with themes of                    environmental awareness and social interest.

This year the golden nugget at the core of its offerings was undoubtedly the extraordinary collection of fine documentaries selected for this anniversary year’s program, which include some of the most important films in this genre made in the last year: Dreamland (Iceland), The Cove (US), The Coca Cola Case (NFB, Canada), The Living (Ukraine), A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism (Iceland), Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (NFB, Canada) and Reel Injun (Canada).

Dreamland, based on Andri Snær Magnason’s best-selling book of the same name, has been described as “quite possibly the most important Icelandic film ever made” (The Iceland Weather Report).

The film takes issue with the economic policies advanced in recent years aimed at harnessing Iceland’s enormous hydro-electric potential to make it the world’s largest producer of aluminum. At the centre of this controversy is the massive Kárahnjúkar dam, set to be the largest in Europe, which will enable the establishment of Alcoa plants in the East Fjords in coming years.

Featuring sweeping panoramic helicopter shots of Iceland’s majestic landscapes, segments of old-time home movies and contemporary news footage, as well as a sound track with the music of Björk and Valgeir Sigurðsson, this film is as stunningly beautiful as it is intelligent and thoughtful – essential viewing for anyone wishing to understand this small island nation that has only recently awakened to the necessity of environmental preservation in an age of multinational predators.

Hardly less controversial is the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove, centered on the Japanese practice of drive hunting, whereby large schools of porpoises are cornered in a watery cul-de-sac and then methodically slaughtered en masse.

The Cove is a real rarity amongst environmental films: a cloak-and-dagger detective story with underground microphones and cameras disguised as rocks in an undercover stake-out of unethical fishing practices that blends investigative journalism with the pit of the stomach tension of a mystery thriller to create a genre all its own.

Even more disturbing than the cruel harvesting practices of the Japanese is the wider discussion given to mercury contamination in the world’s fish supplies, including that economical staple of the supposedly “healthy” diet – tuna. This is a must-see film for anyone who has ever wondered why government agencies recommend consuming no more than one can of this protein rich fish per week.Much closer to home is The Coca Cola Case, an enquiry into the labour practices of the mammoth multinational beverage company headquartered in the US but with production facilities scattered across the globe.

This disturbing film by the National Film Board’s German Guttierrez and Carmen Garcia delves into the murky world of kidnappings, torture and murder that characterize labour relations at Coke bottling plants in Columbia, Guatemala and Turkey.

With the tag line “the truth that refreshes,” this film is both an exposé of working conditions in parts of the world far from the soft drink shelf of your local grocery store, and a legal drama played out in court by labour rights lawyers attempting to hold the Coca Cola Company accountable for the human rights abuses taking place under their watch.

The Living is a different type of documentary, a somber memorial of remembrance to mark the 75th anniversary of a catastrophic event in the history of the Ukrainian nation: the great state-imposed famine of 1932-1933, known as Holodomor. It tells the story of Gareth Jones, the Welsh BBC correspondent who tried to tell an unbelieving world how millions were dying of starvation in the middle of the largest grain belt of the Soviet state.

Through period footage, and interviews with the few remaining survivors alive today, it tells with quiet dignity the story of an indelible scar on the nation’s psyche that has marked its relations with the Russian state to this day. Icelandic director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson has, in his own words, a fascination with “marginalized people who don’t quite fit into ordinary life.”

Best known for dramatic films in this vein such as Children of Nature (1991), Angels of the Universe (2000) and his recently released Mamma Gógó (2010) he has now turned to the documentary genre to explore this theme further in A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism. His portrait of Margret, the mother of a severely autistic child, brings us face to face with the unique challenges that this developmental impairment presents, and interviews with leading figures in autism research deepen the mystery of what it means to be human.

This film, surprisingly luminous in tone for such a dark subject, features music by Sigur Rós and Björk and is narrated by Kate Winslet.And then, from the very heart of Canadiana, comes yet another film about Glenn Gould – and there can never be too many, such was the inexhaustible fascination of this uniquely talented eccentric who captured the imagination of his audiences as much by his personality as by his extraordinary playing. Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould reveals the man beneath the image with a vast array of new material never before presented publicly – new photos and film footage, personal interviews with his intimate circle of friends, and excerpts from his diaries.

That this complex yet playful personality should have grown up and thrived here in Canada, and nowhere else, still has much to tell us about our national identity and potential.And finally, Reel Injun lifts the veil on Hollywood’s dirty little secret: that Indians as portrayed on screen are nothing like the real thing – and that’s really quite funny.

Told with an endless supply of good humour and trenchant observation, Manitoba Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond’s documentary about the bizarre ways in which North American Indians are portrayed in film will bring a smile of recognition from anyone who has seen a John Wayne western or watched a TV episode of The Lone Ranger. The Gimli Film Festival ran from July 21-25.

An ingenious addition to this year’s festival was the shuttle bus that ran to Gimli from Winnipeg each morning and returned each evening, allowing film aficionados from the city to take in the festival as a convenient day trip to the beach.

 

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