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VIFF 2021: Documentary Preview [Capsule Reviews]

By David House [09.30.21]


We continue our preview of the Vancouver International Film Festival, running October 1 to 11, with a look at a pair of documentaries screening at this year's festival.


More details at VIFF.org.



Maya is an excellent and well-made feature-length documentary with timely and topical subject matter.


A year ago when COVID sent people into lockdown, Netflix debuted the series "Tiger King," which was about some eccentric characters keeping tigers in captivity in the USA. This raised public awareness of how few tigers remain in the wild compared to the huge numbers being kept captive privately or in zoos, and under varying conditions.


This film takes us to a zoo in Iran where we meet zookeeper Moshen and captive tiger Maya, and witness the incredibly close relationship that has developed between them. The film has some beautiful cinematography and also features some terrific photographs of the tigers taken at the zoo. The interaction between the Bengal tiger Maya and her keeper are fascinating, and when he takes her for a two-week film shoot by the Caspian Sea, we get to see some incredible footage of the 'wilding' that begins to take place when this animal, born in captivity, gets to taste freedom and run loose in open space in nature, arousing and beginning to awaken her latent instincts.


The film uncovers disturbing evidence that perhaps some tigers had been killed at the zoo, but it is mostly a touching and heartwarming journey, and it has a wonderful happy ending with the birth of Maya's cubs.





The Last Tourist is a Canadian-made documentary film that examines the history of modern tourism and offers a global critique of its current state of affairs.


With filming in 15 countries and commentary from leading tourism and conservation visionaries, this is a very well-made and comprehensive look at tourism around the globe. It features some beautiful cinematography, but it also shows behemoth cruise ships coming into ports where they disgorge hordes of overweight tourists interested only in taking a selfie of themselves in front of these historic venues. It talks of how most of the money spent by the visitors goes into a handful of foreign investors, and how little financial benefit passes down to the poor and marginalized local peoples in these tourist destinations. The ending of the film looks at how COVID affected tourism in 2020. In between, the film digresses to look at the suffering and mistreatment of elephants used to entertain and amuse tourists.


There is a lot of important and compelling information in the film on the consequences of the pre-COVID explosion of global tourism, and the question of how we might improve them in the future.




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