The Vancouver International Film Festival is almost here! For its 39th year, VIFF is setting a new precedent with 100+ films available to stream at-home plus a selection of socially distanced in-theatre screenings happening from September 24th to October 7th.
Due to Covid, this year’s VIFF programming is slimmer than previous festivals, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because if you really put your mind to it you can totally stream all 150-ish hours of online screenings! (Do the math and it works out to roughly 11 hours of screen time per day during the two-week-long festival, leaving you with more than the recommended allotted hours for sleeping.) Add in a big screen viewing or two to change it up, et voila! You’re golden. And if you aren’t a film-watching super athlete, don’t sweat it. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a round-up of eight films (plus one talk) filling out the top of our must-watch list…
If feelings of wanderlust are strong with you then My Mexican Bretzel might provide at least a temporary antidote. The film by first-time director Nuria Giménez is described as “a portal to the dawn of global travel, when the world seemed fresh and new and people impossibly beautiful and glamorous.” This transportive effect is achieved through a collage of found home movies spanning the 1940s-60s which also served as inspiration for the film’s fictional narrative surrounding the woman at their centre, as she travels through Havana, Hawaii, Mont Saint-Michel, Spain, San Francisco, Italy, Great Britain, and several other worldly locations. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening only, September 24 – October 7.
Film is inarguably one of the easiest routes to escapism, offering a vast number of immersive experiences to get out of your own head/life for 90+ minutes at a time, and I doubt that there is a single person with access to wifi who hasn’t employed it during the past six months of the pandemic. However, there are also a lot of pertinent issues being tackled in this year’s VIFF programming – easily enough to fill their own list – and although it’s hard to hone in on a singular film to include as the political “Must Watch” of the year, it would be remiss to skip over these important films altogether…At the heart of Ursula Liang’s documentary, Down a Dark Stairwell, is a by-now unfortunately very familiar scenario: the fatal shooting of a young black man by a police officer. However, the story is far from black-and-white since the cop, who was charged with manslaughter, is Asian-American. Liang’s film explores the dynamics between these two communities in the aftermath and the complicated issues that often don’t (or ever do) make it into mass media coverage. An interview with the director is also included with this screening and is not to be missed. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening only, September 24 – October 7.
An intriguing style – a multi-perspective ode to Hong Kong that includes three fictional stories woven with one documentary narrative – combined with a trailer that’s glut with food shots sets an exciting premise for this International collaboration between directors Leung Ming-kai (Hong Kong) and Kate Reilly (USA), the latter of whom also stars in one of the film’s threads. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening only, September 24 – October 7.
British designer and photographer Adam Brown ventures into filmmaking for the first time to capture five years in the life of aspiring teenage surfer Jhonny Guerrero. Artistically filmed – Brown’s creative background definitely does his subject justice – Into the Storm documents Jhonny’s unique and tumultuous journey into the world of professional surfing, while also navigating the turbulence of coming of age impoverished in Peru. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening only, September 24 – October 7.
Ten short films showcasing the different perspectives and styles of as many up-and-coming Indigenous filmmakers should make for an engaging and enlightening 81 minutes. Themes include relationships, family, hip hop, cultural traditions and living with schizophrenia, with narratives ranging from a sci-fi WWIII love story to a trippy lyrical poem and a documentary on the history of the Friendship Center movement. The noteworthy and only common denominator is the focus on highlighting some of Canada’s most talented Indigenous voices currently using film as their medium. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening only.
A very timely feature film by local filmmaker Karen Lam, The Curse of Willow Song explores all-too-real themes of addiction, racism and the socioeconomic divide through a supernaturally horrific filter. Here, we watch as they affect the titular young woman while she figures out her life in the DTES, newly discharged from the prison system, as an addict who is also possessed with superhuman qualities. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening, September 24 – October 7.
This period film set in 1840s rural England combines the talent of two formidable and timeless actors – Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan – each hailing from different generations but both whom have built highly lauded careers largely based on their roles in period films (collectively: Titanic, The Reader, Atonement, Brooklyn, and Little Women, to name just a handful). In Ammonite Winslet and Ronan’s careers and timelines finally merge to star opposite each other, with the former playing the role of Mary Anning, a paleontologist and hired mentor/caretaker/eventual-lover to the latter, Charlotte Murchison, who is suffering from ‘meloncholia’. It’s a wonder if screens don’t spontaneously combust as result! | In Theatre Exclusive. Update: Currently all screenings are sold out, but keep an eye out for announcements from VIFF about repeat/added screenings.
We’ve already given a shout out to The Truffle Hunters, but I think it deserves another: this documentary by filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw offers a rare glimpse into the quirky lives and invaluable bonds between some old Italian men and their truffle dogs, trained to sniff out some of the world’s most wanted, most expensive and most elusive Alba truffles. Canine-lovers, mushroom-lovers, and film-lovers alike should all find something to love in this filmic gem. | In Theatre Exclusive.. Update: Currently all screenings are sold out, but keep an eye out for announcements from VIFF about repeat/added screenings.
Ten bucks to sit in on a conversation with filmmaker Charlie Kaufman is a no-brainer. An interview with the brilliantly twisted mind responsible for writing such iconic films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Anomalisa and, most recently, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (among several others) will be airing via VIFF for one evening only as part of the festival’s Talks series. Get prepped for the chat by knotting your brain around the plot of his latest flick (currently streaming on Netflix), then have it untangled with an explanation from the creator himself. | Available as a Virtual Cinema screening only on Sunday, September 27 @ 6pm.