The Vancouver International Film Festival is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year by inviting film lovers back into theatres citywide (including Kitsilano’s newly renovated and re-opened Hollywood Theatre), as well as online via VIFF Connect, October 1st to 11th.
It’s challenging work to pick just 10 films out of the well-over-100 included in the full 2021 program, but we’ve put ourselves to the task…
Seminal Hong Kong director Ann Hui is the focus of the first feature length documentary by Man Lim Chung. Since Hui began her prolific 40+ year career during the nation’s New Wave of cinema, in the late 1970s, she has continued to set herself apart with her energy, diversity and uniquely feminine (and arguably feminist) approach to filmmaking. Keep Rolling centres on Ann Hui the woman, as well as filmmaker, through a mixture of interviews, film clips, and on-set and candid day-to-day footage. If you didn’t know about this filmmaking powerhouse before reading this then there’s certainly no excuse not to now! | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th.
If you’re a horror genre buff then make sure to put Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror on your respective VIFF ‘must watch’ list. From the sub-genre’s late-1960s inception through to the its recent resurgence, this in-depth documentary by Canadian horror film scholar, Kier-La Janisse, hones in on the many facets of ‘folk horror’ as it plays out in popular culture around the world. Be warned though: the plethora and diversity of information, references and interviews featured adds up to a nearly three-hour-long filmic feast. Bonus: in case that wasn’t decadent enough sounding, the film also includes exclusive, animated collages by Winnipeg cult filmmaker, Guy Maddin! | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th.
If, like me, you’re a fan of Michel Gondry (Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) then you’ll probably be equally tickled by Strawberry Mansions. For their second film collaboration, co-directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley (who also stars) meld the conscious world with the unconscious one, and animation with real life action, to tell the futuristic tale of one dream auditor’s romantic pursuit of a woman he encounters in a clients’ analog-recorded dream world…
From the information available about Toronto-based Secwépemc filmmaker Sean Stiller’s new documentary, Returning Home should probably be filed under “essential watching” for all Canadians. The film weaves together the story of Orange Shirt Day founder Phyllis Jack-Webstad (who herself is of mixed Secwépemc and Irish/French heritage), as she embarks on a cross-Canada speaking tour for youth, with that of the impact of salmon overfishing on her relations living in a Williams Lake Secwépemc community. | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th.
The combination of unique premise and visually stunning cinematography (see the trailer above) make What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? a compelling choice. Set in Kutaisi, Georgia during the 1990 World Cup, the film tells the bizarre missed-connection love story of Giorgi and Lisa, whose predestined relationship is thwarted early on by their sudden, unexpected reincarnation into complete strangers, both to themselves and each other. | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th.
Approximately a decade after 48-year-old Dutch artist Renzo Marten’s grandiose “jungle gentrification” endeavour – including the titular White Cube gallery – was conceived, comes the controversial character’s documentation of the endeavour. Marten plays the role of director, screenwriter, narrator and interviewee in this recounting of how he enlisted/inspired Congolese workers at two Unilever palm oil plantations to capitalize on their artwork, by having their mud sculptures transformed into chocolate forms that are then sold to Western consumers at a generous profit. Whether the result is intended to be self-satire or a serious reflection on the labour and profit dynamic between Africa and the Western World and the role of art in Congolese society (or both) is TBD…but there is definitely an ulterior motive to this film. In the meantime, White Cube seems at the very least to make for an entertaining 79 minute watch. For some highly recommended supplementary reading and backstory, check out The Guardian’s 2014 piece on Martens here. | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th.
I’m a long-time fan of author Miriam Toews, so director/screenwriter Michael McGowan’s (also of the 2008 road trip film One Week starring Joshua Jackson) filmic adaption of her 2014 semi-biographical novel is a no-brainer choice for me. Co-starring Sarah Gadon and Alison Pill as sisters, All My Puny Sorrows unflinchingly tackles themes of depression, suicide, family dynamics and the health care system. The book is so brilliant because of Toews’ empathy, compassion and signature (distinctly Manitoban) sense of humour when dealing with such heavy subject matter. That’s certainly not an easy feat to translate from the page to the big screen, but here’s hoping for the best! | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th.
Experimental director Apichatpong Weerasethakul directs Tilda Swinton in this whopper of film, screening as a Special Presentation in VIFF’s ‘Gateway’ East Asian series. That combination in and of itself could probably be convincing enough for you to secure your spot for the October 7th screening – or prepare to stand in line to snag a last-minute ticket for the festival’s opening night one, which has already sold out of advance tickets online. A bit more: the story centres on Jessica (Swinton), an expat orchid grower who is suddenly haunted by a sound that is undetectable to anyone else, as she travels through Colombia trying to solve its mystery.
Reviews of Mia Hansen-Løve’s new film so far all indicate that being an uber-Bergman fan is pre-requisite in order to make any sense of this pseudo-autobiographical, meandering, dialogue-fuelled piece of meta-cinema. However, with actors Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and Tim Roth at the story’s helm, and the idyllic, iconic Fårö (aka Bergman) Island providing its backdrop, I, for one, am happy to be led in over my head and simply enjoy the ride.
Admittedly, this choice is a bit of a cheat, since technically there are 29 films included in the ‘International Shorts’ series, split between four categories: ‘Animation’, ‘Have We Ever Learned?’, ‘Seniors’, and ‘Life Labs’. Each themes’ running times amounts to the same length as a singular feature film, and consists of short films originating from Portugal to Ireland, Sudan/Qatar to Iceland, Taiwan to Austria, and many more. If you’re feeling equally overwhelmed by the number of choices and time commitment of the VIFF program, then breaking up your viewing with a filmic variety pack might be just the solution. Overall, you can’t go wrong. Roll the dice and enjoy the show! | Available on VIFF Connect – Virtual Cinema Friday, October 1st through Monday, October 11th. | In-theatre screenings also available. Various dates and times.