"[Granville Street] It's like drinking in a mall. [...] But it takes all the fun out of drinking in a mall."
No Fun City is a punk documentary about the dying independent arts, music, and live concert scene in Vancouver, told in the midst of the redevelopment of East Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside. The rock doc tells the narrative of the struggles of local concert venues like the Cobalt, the Emergency Room, the Sweatshop, the people and passion behind them.
Directed by Melissa James and Kate Kroll, No Fun City is a very well-made portrait of a dying community of thrill-seeking concert goers and punks who feel they have no place to go enjoy new music. The film is well told, executed and edited with a good pace that keeps the story moving along. However, I felt the last 15 minutes or so dragged a little to an indefinite conclusion that most of us already know.
The exploration of the roots of Vancouver's punk and alternative arts scene was fascinating. Some of the subjects were more compelling than others. Former manager of The Cobalt, Wendy 13, stole much of the film with her heartfelt journey and the connections she made. Her narrative also had the most fleshed out arc. She was in attendance at my screening and it showed how much she loved what she did. The directors established a real connection visually and emotionally with her, giving the viewer context and understanding to establish why she loved this particular community of rebel artists so much.
Malice, the former proprietor of the Sweatshop, gave an interesting portrait of a music promoter, but his story felt cut short and unresolved. We are never really have a conclusion to his financial woes and how he became divorced from the Rickshaw Theatre.
Some other elements felt a little dated considering a new Cobalt is up and running. However, it serves a very different music scene altogether and the scene documented in the film remains largely underground. The Rickshaw overcame its problems in development and holds regular concerts, but once again, of the non-hardcore variety. These are problems with features that document ongoing narratives, and No Fun City captures more or less a full story.
All told, No Fun City remains a very informative, nuanced look at the alternative rock music scene in Vancouver and how the death of all these independent concert venues led to the slow death of punk. However, the death of punk has been erroneously declared numerous times before. Let's hope that is the case once again.
Note: This screening was as a part of the Olio Festival. Read my Olio wrap-up on the CBC Radio 3 blog.