Preview: The Rankin File and Kusama - Infinity at DOXA

The DOXA Documentary Film Festival is upon us! Running from May 3 until May 13, the fest is packed with skillful filmmaking and poignant/exciting/funny/eccentric material galore. Our film reviewers have kindly put together a few selections ahead of time, so that you, dear SAD reader, can enter festival season with some choice titles in mind. Stay tuned for more!

Film still from Teresa Alfeld's  The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical  (2018)

Film still from Teresa Alfeld's The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical (2018)

Harry Rankin had an unforgettable smile. With his eyes happy and his hair receding, he looked like the Monopoly Man part-way through a mid-life crisis. His voice was unforgettable, too—a kind of Carl Sagan-like drawl, but with a bit more enunciation and a little more verve. Owing to this, his uncanny charisma, and 20 years of service as a Vancouver city council member, Rankin started to become recognizable in public. He would be stopped on the neighbourhood sidewalk and told how good of a man he was; how his many years at city hall were well served. That’s why, in 1986, Rankin ran to be Vancouver’s mayor. Everyone was sure he would win—so was he. 

But Rankin had far too many strange affiliations for his win to be prematurely celebrated. Like other, less appealing politicians in the public eye today, Rankin’s strength as a politician was his unwillingness to behave like one. He had a tattoo on his forearm and a fun-loving—and occasionally brutal—curmudgeonliness. He called other city council members “twerps” and “jerks.” He said that dealing with them was like dealing with “water dripping on [his] head.” He dated, and then married, an anarchist. This might have been why it took him more than a dozen times before he was first elected to city council.

His opposition was Gordon Campbell. Today, Campbell is an animated leader. Then, new to politics, he was an automaton. The match-up was iconic; automaton against icon; pro-developer against pro-social housing; pro-rich vs. pro-poor; local city vs. international village. They spoke about two visions of Vancouver’s future.

The drama of Teresa Alfeld’s documentary The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radicalwhich culls footage from his 1986 campaign trail—turns on whether Rankin will win mayorship, what will happen if he does, and what the city might do if he doesn’t.1986 was a crossroads with two conductors pointing in different directions. It’s a time, and a politician, worth returning to.

Film still from Heather Lenz's  Kusama - Infinity  (2018)

Film still from Heather Lenz's Kusama - Infinity (2018)

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama paints luscious art-worlds you can find yourself lost in. For instance, see the bulbous, curvy, polka-dotted pumpkin lanterns decked across a room of mirrors; see the ten-million candles floating in endless black space, or the red and white Yoshi eggs—polka-dotted once again, her signature—floating in a crimson room. Kusama’s works are bright, gummy, simple, and sweet. They are eminently selfie-able. They are like candy you can crawl inside.

Now internationally famous, Kusama first began making art 80 years ago in a family that wanted the prestige of a lawyer, instead. Her childhood, typically tragic, quickly turned uniquely haunting: at 10, she started hallucinating flowers, which spoke to her; at 13, in 1942, she was sent to a military factory, where she sewed parachutes and listened to the American B-29s flying overhead; later, back at home, her affluent mother would destroy her early experiments with painting and send her off to spy on her adulterous father, instilling in her a life-long discomfort with sex. Unwilling to be the woman who listened and obeyed any longer, Kusama ran away from her suitors, from Japan, and into the New York art world, where she made groundbreaking art to be copied by the like of Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. It would take another 30 years for the international accolades to roll in, but when they did, they poured; in 2013, she decorated George Clooney in a Snoopy camouflage of black-and-white dots for W Magazine; in 2014, her White No.28 sold for seven million dollars; and in 2017, her work became the most popular attraction at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D.C. With her success, her canvasses brightened.

Kusama, now 89, sports bright, liquorice-red hair. She works from a mental hospital in Tokyo, where, still prolific, she creates neon dreamscapes she hopes will bring about world peace. Whether or not her work will stop wars, Kusama’s art does speak of a peaceful environment. By her own account, these polka-dotted landscapes are where Kusama feels she lives. Within her art, you can join her for a while, if you’d like. It’s a beautiful world.


The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical will be screening on Thursday, May 3 at 7:00pm (opening night!) and on Tuesday, May 8 at 6:00pm. Tickets can be purchased hereKusama - Infinity will be screening on Saturday, May 12 at 7:00pm and at 9:00pm (closing night!) Tickets can be purchased here.