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VIFF 2020 Review: Inconvenient Indian

Inconvenient Indian allows author Thomas King tell his side of history with his thoughts present, and showcase Indigenous artists paving their own self-controlled direction for the future.

“You have to be careful of the stories you tell, and you have to watch out for the stories you are told.”

-Thomas King

Inconvenient Indian is another documentary I saw at the VIFF. It was another documentary that had something to say.

The film begins with an Indigenous man wearing body makeup and a traditional headdress is on top of a horse in grassland just outside Toronto. He looks onto the buildings of the city. He is not happy. The story then goes to Thomas King in a vintage taxicab driven around downtown Toronto. The theme is the same in both scenes: stolen land. His driver wears a coyote headdress and occasionally glances at the camera. This is a scene that will return many times as the legend moves forward throughout the documentary. During its scenes, it will include King’s parable about a cunning coyote who envies a flock of ducks and plies them with promises, only to continuously ask for more.

We see King at his destination: a vintage cinema. King seats himself in the middle row alone, popcorn in hand. As King watches the screen diligently, many young Indigenous people also enter the theatre soon after. What they see on screen is beyond displeasing, but infuriating. They see past depictions of Indigenous people that are rude, mocking and insulting. They see Nanook Of The North, which was really a fake documentary where the Inuit played stereotypes. They see various scenes from old ‘Cowboys and Indians’ movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age where the Indigenous person is always seen as the bad guy to fight. The lines from the films are especially abhorrent to hear like ‘Indian on the warpath,’ or ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian!’

King reminds us: “History is a story we tell about the past.” We’re reminded that elements of popular culture are part of a war against the white powers that be in North America. It’s a battle that goes back centuries when people left the ‘old country’ to create settlements in the New World. They set up their settlements often by fighting Indigenous tribes through wars over their land. I don’t have to explain what happened to their land. One thing to note is that various types of Indigenous people’s ways of life died off. Some tribes of Indigenous peoples died completely. King even regards Indigenous artifacts in museums as, “voiceless objects from the past, unthreatening and without agency.”

Even if it’s not the wars and stolen land, it’s also about a National Government’s past attempts to suppress Indigenous peoples’ identities, languages, heritages and ways of life. The most infamous being the Residential School system. For those outside Canada who don’t know, the Residential School system was a Government-run system where Indigenous children were taken from their homes and brought to white-run schools where they were taught to speak English and live the way of white Canadians. The schools were run by religious clergy: mostly priests and nuns. The children who didn’t do away with the Indigenous language or traits, or found it hard to, were subject to physical and verbal abuse by the teachers. Many children suffered neglect over their well-being (including fatal neglect) and many were also victims of sexual abuse. I myself have come to see residential schools as a form of apartheid.

Problems still continue. The Indian Wars and Residential Schools are a thing of the past, but we’re now dealing with the aftermath. Today you’ll see in the news stories of Indigenous peoples try to battle police and politicians over developments or plans to be done on their land with their protest blockades. Residential Schools created an aftermath of people unable to parent well because they were taken from their homes. The countless abuse they suffered led many of them to alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and suicides. The last twenty years have brought the past of Residential Schools to the forefront of national discussion and efforts for reconciliation to be made. Present problems still continue with lack of clean drinking water and additional poverty on reserves, continued high crime rates and substance abuse rates, and a higher-than-average dropout rate in schools. The documentary reminds you of this.

The documentary also shows you something else. It shows you young Indigenous people in the arts who are taking their culture and the pasts of their people, and even their own pasts, and adapting it into their own artistic expressions. The artists in focus are a Metis cultural painter, a Cree artistic painter, an Innu filmmaker and documentarian, an Inuit filmmaker and VR creator, and a rap duo of various First Nations:

  • Christi Belcourt – Metis artist who specializes in beadwork art and floral patterns. Her patterns carry on the traditions of the Metis and First Nations people, but they’re not all just to please eyes. Some of her art have political messages. She herself is the daughter of a Metis activist and has published some books on First Nations/Metis issues.
  • Kent Monkman – A Cree painter who specializes in painting historical narrative from his point of view. In the film, he speaks his anger of how his people have been treated since European settlements and especially of the creation of Canada in 1867. The paintings in his 2017 exhibition, a response to the Canada 150 celebrations, resemble Baroque or Renaissance Era paintings, but they speak of his anger and wrath of the past history and of the mistrust he has towards today’s powers that be.
  • Alethia Arnaquq-Baril – An Inuk filmmaker. Her films range from short animated films to feature-length documentaries to live-action storytelling. Her films speak volumes of the discrimination, struggles and hardships of the various Indigenous peoples. One of her films, The Grizzlies, played at the VIFF two years ago. Devoted to keeping tradition alive, the film shows her getting a traditional Inuk tattoo applied on her forehead.
  • Nyla Innuksuk – Inuit Film maker and VR creator. Past films include short fiction like a hunter using traditional skills to survive and a short documentary with singer Susan Aglukark. VR work includes work on a VR series allowing the viewer to envision Indigenous life in the future with futuristic characters. The film shows her working on her first feature-length film: a sci-fi story of teen Inuit girls fighting off an alien invasion.
  • A Tribe Called Red – A rap duo whose members are of the Mohawk and Cayuga nations. Rap has always had a reputation of being the voice of the voiceless and A Tribe Called Red use it to speak their voices. Their songs mix modern hip-hop and dance sounds with traditional Indigenous music and beats. Their songs also carry a political message. They themselves are also Indigenous activists who were part of the Canadian Pipeline and Railway Protests from February of this year.

The stories of the above artists and their works are mixed in with images of King’s tale of the coyote with the cab scenes, the images of the Indigenous man riding a horse into Toronto and an Inuit man hunting a seal and making use of everything from the seal he hunted including meat, blood, intestines and fur. A mix of screen narrative, storytelling and real life presented as one.

The final scene of the film shows the young adults and Thomas watching the Indigenous images created by Indigenous actors, directors and writers. They’re happy to an extent. The film then shifts to Indigenous issues and disputes that have happened in recent time. This represents the fight is still ongoing.

Thomas King wrote his narrative The Inconvenient Indian back in 2012. The film isn’t an exact adaptation of the book, but passages of what King says in the book are voiced over in the film. The book itself is an examination of North American history. King even presents the point of view as if Columbus didn’t discover America, America discovered Columbus. He also comes across an eyebrow-raising conclusion ‘White people want land.” Essentially the film reminds us that history seen from two different eyes will have two different points of views. Most white people have been taught the history of North America with the white Colonials looking like the good guys and the Indigenous looking like the savages. We’re reminded of that when we see the predominantly white crowd watch the re-enactment of the Battle Of Little Bighorn leading to Custer’s Last Stand. The film reminds you Indigenous people will see history from a very different outlook. That it’s really the white soldiers that are the savages.

The film does shed a lot of the negative moments of the past; moments many white people in North America still consider triumphs. The film shows how white North American’s and others still like to ‘toy around’ with Indigenous culture. We saw that almost a full year ago how the wealthy Park family in South Korea ‘toyed around’ with it in Parasite. However the film then shifts to Indigenous showing their side of the story and spreading their message through art. Seeing it leaves you convinced this is more than just Indigenous people creating their own art. It’s also them responding to the art and history told by white people in the past. Now they have the power to tell their stories. Now they can speak how they really feel. Now they can tell their version of history through their eyes. Now they can create characters that are a true example of their peoples. Now they can be empowered to create and manage their own media. Now they can create their own visions for the future.

You’re left convinced while watching the documentary that only Indigenous peoples can best create Indigenous stories and Indigenous characters. And understandably so. You watch all the insulting depictions of Indigenous peoples in past Hollywood movies and you’re reminded of this. Even getting an uncomfortable reminder you actually enjoyed seeing that. Even I was uncomfortably reminded of the days as a kid when I played ‘Cowboys And Indians.’ It’s no wonder Marlon Brando had Sacheen Littlefeather refuse the Oscar on his behalf back in 1973. When I think of how we no longer see ‘Cowboys And Indians’ movies anymore, I think Sacheen’s refusal has a lot to do with it. People won’t tolerate insulting or mocking depictions of their race anymore. They will be in the audience and they will let you know it if you dare try.

The film is unique that it blends the history of oppression and genocide with the mix of art created by the Indigenous peoples. A lot of feeling goes into what they create. It’s a lot of feeling that they have from what they’ve experienced in their own lives and what they’ve seen happen to their families and neighbors. The film also shows how art created by Indigenous people can lead to something better in the future for the people. You have the current generation of adults 20-50 who are reviving cultural heritages and languages past generations of their family were forbidden to have. You’ll have young people getting a positive image of Indigenous people instead of always seeing them vilified. The film is as much about hope as it is about outrage.

Top respect should go to Michelle Latimer with adapting King’s narrative and showcasing the various arts. Latimer herself is Metis/Algonquin. She mixed King’s narrative with the showcased arts and artists and the moments of history and infamy very well to create not just a documentary and an exhibition, but a vision for the future. Also I admire the National Film Board of Canada for contributing to this. Usually national film bords will only endorse films that only showcase the positive of their nation. NFB won’t shy away from a film that showcases the negative aspects of a nation, like racism. The film comes straight from the TIFF after winning the Best Canadian Feature Film Award and the Grolsch People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary.

In a year where racism is a hot topic, Inconvenient Indian is a documentary worth seeing. It shows what the powerful effect of a depiction of a race in entertainment media can do to a race. And how a race responds with their own art.

VIFF 2020 Does It Online

Most of VIFF’s films will be viewed online.

This has been an unusual year. A pandemic has led to the cancellation of various events or had them be conducted under strict limits. The Olympic Games and Euro 2020 were cancelled but league sports continue in spectatorless stadiums. Movie theatres started the pandemic closed off and then to limited attendance with precautions. Most film festivals have had to resort to doing their events online. This is what the Vancouver International Film Festival will be doing this year.

The Show Must Go On

Looking to other film festivals as to how they decided to do their festival during the pandemic, the VIFF has seen how to make a film festival work during the pandemic. The TIFF in Toronto was a strong indicator as it too had most of their films for viewing online with a select few films for viewing in cinema. For those that were to view films in cinema, they had to have face coverings. It was mandatory.

I’m sure that will be the case in the Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque as well as any hall where there will be lectures. Eighteen of the estimated 95 films of the VIFF will be shown in theatres. All films including those with a theatre showing can be viewed online. Tickets are $9 each. However it’s the VIFF Connect passes that are the best deal. They consist of:

  • VIFF Connect Festival Subscription: can view any online film once, can watch any bonus features, and can take part in any online Creator Talk. Membership is included in the subscription. Price: $60 ($30 for full-time students)
  • VIFF Connect GOLD Subscription: All the features of the Festival subscription plus access to specially-curated online content during the festival, a free annual year-round suscription to VIFF Connect and a free VIFF+ Gold membership that’s valid for a full year. Price: $95

It’s not just film happening with VIFF. There are talks and lectures this year too focusing on the craft of filmmaking and film music. For this year there will be:

  • VIFF Talks and Masterclasses: For this year’s VIFF talks, there will be documentarians, animators, HBO cinematographers, creators of comedy series, actors, production designers and even Charlie Kaufman. Some of the events will focus on the craft of writing, storytelling and cinematography. Others will talk about the issues surrounding the stories of the films or documentaries they created. There’s another Meet The Showrunners event this year where the focus is on diversity as well as a special talk about increasing diversity and inclusion in the film industry. Some events are live-streamed while others are pre-recorded. Check the VIFF website for more details.
  • VIFF Amp: Again the focus is on music in film. It will consist of three straight days of lectures opening with a lecture from jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Topics of focus for this year are music in animation, music supervision, song placement and sync licensing, marketing music to filmmakers, composition and production. AMP Passes are $45.
  • VIFF Immersed: Modern technology meets filmmaking and storytelling in this selection of lectures. The lectures will range from dealing with new technologies and new directions as well as focus on the more artistic focuses of film including a special focus on Indigenous XR creation. There’s even a flashback to 2019’s Immersed sessions.
  • VIFF Totally Indie Day: September 26th is the day and it all starts at 10am! Three films in focus will be a documentary, semi-documentary and a live-action film. All films will have a Q&A with the creators. In addition, there will be a special Q&A session with independent filmmakers and how they managed to proceed with filmwork despite the setback of the COVID pandemic. Day Pass is $45/$30 for Students.

Of course the big focus is on the films. Usually I’d have a guidebook to tell you most of the highlighted films. However I’m not so lucky this year. I will pick eight I think will stand out:

  • Monkey Beach – Based on the novel by Eden Robinson and directed by Loretta Sara Todd, this story is about a young Haisla girl who possesses a supernatural gift that is as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
  • There Is No Evil – This film by Iranian filmmaker Mohamad Rasoulof won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Banned from filmmaking for life, this film focusses on life in a repressive regime with special focus on the death penalty.
  • Inconvenient Indian – This docudrama from Michelle Latimer won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the TIFF. The film promises to be more about giving an expression about being Indigenous rather than telling a story.
  • The Curse Of Willow Song – directed by Karen Lam, this looks like a film for Altered States. It’s the story of a young female arsonist just released from prison. Trying to make her way back in the world, she receives supernatural forces from a spirit of the past.
  • Falling – Viggo Mortensen stars and directs in this film about a son taking in his cantankerous father after learning he has dementia. He tries to make peace with his father and the family but it’s a challenge that may prove too hard.
  • The Father – Another story about a father with dementia. This time the director is Florian Zeller (adaptation of his own stage play) and the father is played by Anthony Hopkins and the daughter by Olivia Colman.
  • Ammonite – This stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and is directed by Francis Lee. Set in 1840’s England, a female paleontologist tends to an unhappy young bride of privilege class. A bond soon comes and then grows into something much more.
  • Time – African-American injustice has been a hot topic this year. This documentary by Garrett Bradley focuses on a woman and her struggle to keep her family together as she challenges the justice system over their dealing with her husband sentenced for 60 years for armed robbery.

Those eight films are just a small sample of what to expect at the VIFF this year. The festival is fourteen days instead of the usual sixteen and runs September 24th to October 7th. I’ll be doing a lot of watching from my computer but I hope to have a chance to see at least one in a theatre. Don’t worry. I have my own mask!

Movie Review: Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało)

Corpus Christi

Bartosz Bielenia plays a parolee who poses as a priest in a small town in Corpus Christi.

Just around this time with the Oscars drawing closer, you would’ve thought my interest in the foreign films would be finished, right? When I saw Polish film Corpus Christi was playing, it caught my intrigue with the story. I thought it was worth seeing.

The film begins in a juvenile prison. Prisoners are prone to the same harsh actions, beatings and retaliations of other prisoners. 20 year-old Daniel knows he could be one. He killed someone when he was a teenager and was sentenced to juvenile prison, or ‘juvie’ as it’s commonly called, for manslaughter. Daniel has found a personal escape in religion. A priest, Father Tomasz, performs mass at the prison every Sunday. Daniel is the most willing participant as he even sings Psalm 23 for the mass. Every night he prays the rosary. Parole is nearing for him, which is a relief as one of his fellow prisoners named ‘Pinczer’ is threatening him. He wants to become a priest, but Father Tomasz says he can’t because of his criminal past. They’re not allowed in the seminary. As soon as Daniel achieves parole, it’s obvious he’s not ready for the priesthood as he happily does drugs and has sex at parties. He does however own a priest’s shirt.

For his parole, Daniel has to do sawmill work at a mill in a small Polish town specifically for parolees. He notices a church and introduces himself as ‘Father Tomasz’ to a young girl praying named Eliza and introduces himself as ‘Father Tomasz.’ He’s then introduced to her mother Lidia, the church secretary, and the ailing priest. Daniel is given the job to perform priestly duties. Daniel’s first mass goes excellently, and people believe him to be the temporary priest. Daniel soon notices as he walks around town people praying to a memorial to six young people. They died in a car accident which the driver hit them head-on. The image of the driver, who also died, is not on the memorial.

Over time, Daniel becomes more involved in the community with each mass he serves. He even wins the liking of the town mayor. Daniel even takes the opportunity to help those that constantly pray by the memorial to help overcome their feelings. Eliza and Lidia are among those as Jakub, Lidia’s son and Eliza’s brother, was one of the fatalities. He also notices how some people shout ‘the whore’ when dealing with their grief. He finds out people have been directing their anger to the driver’s widow. When meeting with the widow, he learns that people have been sending her hate-mail.

Daniel tries to think of a solution, but he later learns Pinczer, one of his rivals from prison who was called ‘Bonus,’ knows he’s posing as a priest. He demands 5000 Euros or else he will expose the truth of ‘Father Tomasz.’ Daniel tries to continue on as a priest and even works at making the town confront their unnecessary anger to the widow by showing them all the hate-mail they sent her. Soon her husband is given a proper burial and is attended by all: even those that lost a child in the accident. However it soon becomes apparent that Daniel’s secret will be exposed. It does happen and the aftermath becomes a case where you can watch and draw your own conclusions about the town, Eliza and Daniel.

One thing that caught my attention is that this film is based on true events. It may not be a true story, but it is of a collection of true events. Director Jan Komasa made mention in a Los Angeles Times interview that he has taken notice that there are several unordained men who have posed as priests. Many of those men believe they are doing priestly duties for the right reasons. The issue of fake priests is one that the clergy in Poland know of, but they sweep the issue under the rug. Scriptwriter Mateusz Pacewicz said in the same interview that he became very fixated about the idea of these fake priests and their spiritual passion. He even wrote a short story of it and that would lead him to write the screenplay for this film.

This is a film that will cause a lot of people with strong Catholic values to think a lot about. Some may even be outraged of a positive depiction of a fake priest. What we have here is a young man who found himself in God possibly through prison ministry. Daniel has this problem with him as he’s a killer and he’s reminded his past crimes will not allow him into the seminary. However he sees the town where he is to do his parole duties as his chance to be a priest. We should remember during his short time as a priest, he didn’t do anything to hurt the citizens of the town. He didn’t rob from the people, he didn’t disturb any masses. Instead he became a symbol of help and hope. He helped the townspeople overcome the losses they were enduring. He got the people to stop with their unnecessary hostilities towards the widow of the killer. He even helped the widow get back to being accepted rather than be the subject of a town’s wrath.

The film allows to both question and even make your own judgments about what happens in the story. First off it makes you wonder if Daniel posed as a priest because he feels he was meant to be one or to avoid an act of vengeance from the other parolees at the sawmill. It’s not made obvious but one can even sense in the film that Eliza always knew Daniel was not ‘Father Tomasz.’ I sensed that in the scene where Daniel was asked for his priest card and she says it’s in the laundry she was working with. Even that sex scene between Eliza and Daniel suggests that; an ordained priest would not have sex or else we would be forced to resign. However Eliza knew Daniel was the right man to bring peace to the town. Eliza also wanted healing along with the people of the town, including hard-hearted Lidia. Eliza felt she knew Tomasz could bring healing and was the only other person who felt making peace with the killer’s widow and allowing a dignified burial of his ashes can make the town heal.

The ending will especially get one thinking as what has happened and what has happened next for Eliza and Daniel. Even as Daniel learns after being recaptured that he was meant to be a criminal, he should be thankful he was able to be a priest and had the chance to do the right things while doing so. It’s possible being a priest during that time brought out his best personal traits while prison brought out his worst traits. It’s interesting to see that a killer who poses as a priest was the one that got the town to heal from the tragedy.

I commend the direction of the film by Komasa and the script by Pacewicz. This is a story that will keep you interested from start to finish. It has a lot to say and will allow one to draw their own conclusions of what the overall message of the film is. I don’t think the film is too critical of religion. We should remember Poland is a very religious country and the only European country where more than half of the population (65% to be exact) attends religious service at least once a month. Showing an anti-Catholic film in Poland is sure to spark outrage. I do feel both Komasa and Pacewicz were trying to make a critical statement without being disrespectful to the Roman Catholic Church. The statement being in Poland, anyone can be a priest.

Also excellent acting from Bartosz Bielenia. He did a great job as a man with immense faith but had something to hide. Eliza Rycembel was also very good at playing Eliza. She was good at knowing the truth of Daniel but being supportive in silent manner. Also very good was Alexandra Konieczna. Her best parts were the moments where she didn’t speak, but you call tell her emotions by her body language. Actually the acting from all involved was very believable and very good at telling the story. They were all very good at showing extreme emotion without going over the top.

Corpus Christi is the twelfth film representing Poland to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film).’ It was a highlight at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it won the Edipo Re Award at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and Bielenia won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actor at this past Palm Springs Film Festival as well as the Best Actor award at the Stockholm Film Festival.

Corpus Christi is remarkable as it’s a film that will leave you asking more questions than giving you answers about the story. The film will also get you thinking about morality and how people judge others, or how flawed people deal with their feelings. You will be left thinking at the end.

WORK CITED:

Ellwood, Gregory. “Scammers or spiritually motivated, fake priests figure in Poland’s ‘Corpus Christi.'” Los Angeles Times. 1 Jan 2020. <https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2020-01-01/corpus-christi-delves-into-fake-priest-trend-in-poland>

VIFF 2019 Wraps Up On A Great Note

CinemaYep, it’s been a month since VIFF 2019 ended, but the enjoyment of the Festival is still there. The VanCity Theatre will bring back a lot of the films that were shown during the festival. I hope to catch what I missed out the first time.

The 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival ended on Friday October 11th. There were big crowds throughout the festival as the films had a lot to attract. There were over 300 films from 72 countries or regions.

This year, there weren’t the Hub events, but there were a lot of ‘VIFF Live’ events. One was a lecture from rapper Chuck D, another was a pair of humorous film critics, a couple of airings of some cult classics, and even a feminist read of Some Like It Hot. There were two Master Classes organized by the Directors Guild of Canada. The first was with Atom Egoyan and the second with Batwoman director Holly Dale. Creator Talks were back and they ranged from costumers to producers and sound designers to even decision-makers like networkers, broadcasters and executive producers. VIFF Immersed was back but it was very restrictive in attendance. I will elaborate on that later.

The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

WINNER: The World Is Bright (dir. Ying Wang)

Special Mention: Anthem Of A Teenage Prophet (dir. Robin Hays)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by CreativeBC, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open (dirs. Elle-Maija Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA, AFBS & William F. White
WINNER: Elle-Maija Tailfeathers for The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

WINNER: One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (dir. Zacharias Kunuk)

Special Mention: Blood Quantum (dir. Jeff Barnaby)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Murmur (dir. Heather Young)

Special Mention: Kuesippan (dir. Myriam Verrault)

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger (dir. Alanis Obomsawin)

Special Mention: My Dads, My Moms and Me (dir. Julia Ivanova)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Side Street Post
WINNER: At The Bottom Of The Sea (dir. Caroline So Jung Lee)

Special Mention: The Physics Of Sorrow (dir. Theodore Ushev)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: Acadiana (dirs. Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin)

Special Mention: Labour/Leisure (dirs. Jessica Johnson, Ryan Ermacora)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: Resistance Fighters (dir. Michael Wech)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award

Presented by RBC and Cineplex

WINNER: The Pollinators (dir. Peter Nelson)

Women In Film And Television Award

Artistic Merit Award

WINNER: The Whale And The Raven (dir. Mirjam Leuze)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Parasite (dir. Boon Jong Hoo)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Coup 53 (dir. Taghi Amirani)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature
WINNER: Red Snow (dir. Marie Clements)

VIFF Most Pupular Canadian Documentary Award
WINNER: Haida Modern (dir. Charles Wilkinson)

As for my volunteer experience, it was a unique experience volunteering for the Centre for the Performing Arts this year. This was the cinema that would have the biggest attractions this year. The very first film I officiated for was the Opening Gala and for Guest Of Honour. Yes, one of the best things about volunteering for VIFF: seeing Gala shows! For that, I was mostly in charge of line control and directing people to standing in the right line. It went quite well. After the show, I was one of the people who collected ballots for people to rate the film on a scale of 1-5.

I was scheduled for a total of four shifts, but there were some changeabouts on the schedule. So that meant after the Opening Gala, I only did two more. The second Centre shift was a case where I did line control for the film Parasite. That was something because the show sold out well in advance. I had to direct people to not only stand in line at the end of the line, but make way for the entrances of the stores. The line-up was three-quarters around the block before things got moving. I did mark the end of the line well and direct them all into the theatre. By the time I got them all in, I was too tired to see Parasite for myself. My third shift at the Centre involved scanning tickets for two shows. Scanners worked fine during the first show, but mine couldn’t work for the second show. So my shift ended there. That gave me enough luck to see Mr. Jones.

I did three at the Centre, but volunteers are to do a minimum of four. I was able to make up for it by doing three other shifts whose requests were sent via email. I took two of them at the Playhouse and another at the main VanCity theatre. Both times at the Playhouse, it was a case of giving people ballots before the show and taking the ballots after the show. For VanCity, I did it for a three hour-long documentary that had an intermission. It was possible to take ballots during the intermission, but I got very few. Each time I took ballots, I joked “This is one case where democracy works!”

Once again, there was a volunteer party one week later. It was good as I was able to make conversation with people I volunteered with. I also met up with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time. They served Chinese food, BC wine and craft beer. There wasn’t anything too big for a show. Just music played by the DJ. Nevertheless it was a good night.

As for the films I saw, here’s a list of them as well as the hyperlinks to the reviews. I have the country of origin in brackets and an asterisk marking those that are their country’s official Best International Feature Film entry for this year’s Oscars:

I fulfilled my film-watching goals for this VIFF. Shorts segment? I did it on the first Sunday with To Live In Infamy. Feature-length Canadian film? I did it on the Opening Gala and added one more in the final week. A country’s official Oscar entry in the Best International Feature Film category? I saw three. Minimum ten films? I saw eighteen in total.

I didn’t see everything I wanted. I was hoping to see a VIFF Immersed exhibit again this year. This time instead of the Centre for Digital Media, it was at the Annex Centre and there was a limit of fifteen tickets per ninety-minute exhibit. The one show I had the availability to see was sold out online and I was told to come back for the volunteer line-up. However it was a school showing and it was all reserved. Whenever I don’t get what I want, I try to find a show to see at the last minute. That’s how I saw To Live To Sing. Volunteers had a very good chance of getting into shows for free, but it was always a risk with films in huge demand. That would be my case when I wanted to see Those Who Remained. All the passholders and ticket holders filled the theatre and there was no room for volunteers. You take your chances.

One additional thing about my filmwatching. I was hoping to have again this VIFF that they did away with this year was the late-night showings at the Rio Theatre. The VIFF would have shows on the Friday or Saturday nights that started at either 11:00 or 11:30 and usually ended at 1am or shortly after. They would be films that were part of their Altered States selections. I would take full advantage of it and even watch the one shown on the last day of the VIFF as a way to end my VIFF experience that year with a bang. They didn’t have them this year because they didn’t really draw that huge of numbers. Despite that, I was able to see two or three of the Altered States films at the Rio during the 930/945 times. For Friday the 11th, I saw Greener Grass at the Rio which started shortly after 7. However I didn’t end my VIFF at the Rio. Instead I ended my VIFF at the Playhouse with The White Snake. Despite the change, I still ended my VIFF with a bang!

It’s funny how back in 2012 when the Granville theatre was about to close, newspapers said VIFF was in trouble. It’s 2019 and the VIFF is still active. It does make steps to adapt to the changes but it’s doing very well. Again in 2019, VIFF did a great job of bringing the world of film to the big screen. For many, this may be the only chance to see such films on the big screen. There have already been big screen releases for Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse, and Parasite, and there are more to come like White Snake. However we’re in a time nowadays where more is expected of a film to hit the big screen. The pressures of blockbuster superhero movies and other action films to bring in box office money demonstrates how much more restrictive box office releases are. There will be a lot of films at this film festival that will either be shown on Netflix or other streaming sources. The numbers of such are increasing. It’s a very tight time for independent film. It’s not like the breakthrough years of the late-80’s or early 90’s. It’s a good thing we have film festival like the VIFF to give such films a chance for better exposure.

So to conclude, I have to say it was an excellent experience I had this year. I didn’t have the Platinum Pass this year and I didn’t see everything I wanted, but I was happy with what I saw. No real disappointments. No film I thought was a waste of my time. VIFF 2020 is anticipated to be from September 24th and go until October 9th. Yes, I plan to be back to watch and to volunteer!

The Return Of VIFF

Cinema

Yes, the three most predominant topics on my blog are either the World Cup, the Oscars, or the Vancouver International Film Festival. And VIFF is back! Yesterday began the 38th installment of the Film Festival. Exciting films and exciting events are expected.

Creator Talks and Master Classes are back again. Slated lecturers for this year include Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan, director Michael Apted, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia actor/creator/executive producer Rob McElhenny, costume designer Arianne Phillips and Oscar winning sound editor Walter Murch. For the Showrunners events, it will be focusing on women in production featuring five female producers or creators. The Decision Makers event will consist of a lecture from broadcasters, networkers and streamers. There’s even a lecture from Public Enemy rapper Chuck D on Fight The Power and its importance in film as well as fun events like a live score to This Is Spinal Tap and a live feminist read of Some Like It Hot. VR films will again have their exhibit at the VIFF Immersed showcase. It will take place at the Annex this year.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1200 volunteers signing up, just like last year. Also like last year, volunteers are required to do a minimum of four shifts. As for my volunteering, I am assigned to work at the Center For Performing Arts, which is the venue showing the galas and feature events. In fact I signed myself up to do the Opening Gala! Now that will be a night to look forward to! Also if there are any other volunteer shifts in other venues, I could accept as along as it works with my time.

This year’s roster of films promises a lot of attractions This year’s VIFF claims to show about 300 shorts and feature films from 72 countries or regions. As of press time, twelve films are official submissions for the Academy Award category of Best International Feature Film for this year; a re-titling of the Best Foreign Language Film. One thing is that while most films are shown twice or three times during the fest, there will be more films that will get only one showing during the fest. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals. As well, this festival will feature more Asian films than any other film festival.

This year’s top sponsors include Telus, Telefilm Canada, Christie screens, CinePlex, Delta Airlines, Subara and Creative BC. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards again.

As for highlights, here are some of the films headlining the VIFF this year:

  • OPENING GALA: Guest of Honour – Canadian Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan returns with his latest film about a daughter trying to remember her complicated father. Review coming soon.
  • CLOSING GALA: La Belle Epoque – A French comedy by director Nicolas Bedos of a man who goes time-travelling thanks to his son’s invention. Looks to be something very personal.
  • SPECIAL PRESENTATION: Parasite – Winner of the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. South Korean director Boon Jong Ho delivers a dramatic comedy of a poor family scheming their way to prosperity and things going all wrong.
  • A Hidden Life – This film won the Ecumenical Jury prize at Cannes. Terrence Malick tells the true story of a Nazi evader who refuses to bow down to pressure.
  • Jojo Rabbit – Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Fest. Similar to A Hidden Life but contrary, this film by the Thor: Ragnarok director is an anti-hate comedy set in Nazi Germany.
  • Just Mercy – A film starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan about legendary lawyer Bryan Stevenson who successfully battled incidents of injustice and racism in Alabama.
  • The Lighthouse – Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play two lighthouse keepers in 19th Century Maine who struggle to keep their sanity.
  • Motherless Brooklyn – Set in the 30’s or 40’s, Edward Norton directs and stars as a detective trying to solve the murder of his mentor and one friend.
  • Mr. Jones – Agnieszka Holland’s latest is of a Welsh journalist who visits Ukraine in 1933 and discovers a famine forced by the Communist government and attempts to hide it from the Western World.
  • No. 7 Cherry Lane – Hong Kong director Yonfan delivers his animation debut in a story of a student in 1967 Hong Kong living between love and revolutionary times.
  • Pain And Glory – Pedro Almodovar’s latest, and he reunites with Antonio Banderas! But this is of a distraught director trying to regain his passion for film, and life as a whole.
  • The Painted Bird – This Czech film starring Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel is of a Jewish boy escaping the Nazi Concentration Camps of World War II.
  • Portrait Of A Lady On Fire – This film set in 18th Century France is a story of a female painter commissioned to paint the daughter of a noblewoman. Only to fall in love in the process.
  • The Song Of Names – From Quebec director Francois Girard comes a film of a Holocaust orphan who becomes a big musician but is searching for the son of the British family who adopted him.
  • Sorry We Missed You – This is a drama/comedy by director Ken Loach of a construction worker during the 2008 financial crisis who takes a freelance commercial driver, and regrets it!
  • The Two Popes – City Of God director Fernando Meirelles directs a story of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis meeting and sometimes clashing as Benedict is to leave the Papacy. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star.
  • Young Ahmed – This Belgian film is of a Belgian-Moroccan student who goes from your normal 13 year-old to suddenly showing off an evil side.

So this is what VIFF has to offer fans this year. Not just films to enjoy but events focusing on various aspects of the craft as well. It starts September 26th and ends October 11th. Definitely sixteen days of excitement!

Screen Actors Guild Awards Will Hold Their 25th

220px-screen_actors_guild_award_trophy

The Actor: the award given out at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, or SAGs.

Normally I don’t post predictions or reviews about the Screen Actors Guild awards, but this is a milestone year for the Awards and they’ve proved their impact on the Oscar race over time.

SAGs And Their History In A Nutshell

One of the things about most of the categories in the Oscar race is that many of them have a corresponding society, union or guild to go with them. The Screen Actors Guild was founded in 1933. There’s no records of the SAG giving out any awards before 1995, even honorary awards, however there have been guilds and unions that have held their awards in the past and would also have an impact on the Oscar race. Below is a list of awards ceremonies from guilds, societies and unions that began before the SAG Awards. They’re listed by awards name, the Oscar category impacted in brackets, and the year the awards began:

  • Producers Guild Of America Awards (Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary) – 1990 (2005 for animated, 2007 for documentary)
  • Directors Guild of America Awards (Best Director) – 1948
  • Writers Guild of America Awards (Best Original and Adapted Screenplay) – 1949
  • Annie Awards (Best Animated Feature) – 1992
  • American Society of Cinematographers Awards (Best Cinematography) – 1986
  • American Cinema Editors ‘Eddie’ Awards (Best Film Editing) – 1962
  • Cinema Audio Society (Best Sound Mixing) – 1993
  • Motion Picture Sound Editors ‘Golden Reel’ Awards (Best Sound Editing) – 1989

Sure, there would be other guild awards that would come later for costuming, production design and visual effects, but the SAG Awards were already a long-time coming.

The nominees for the SAG awards are decided from a select group of 2000 of the film branch for the film awards and a select 2000 of the television branch for the television awards. For deciding the winners of the awards, all 140,000 members of the SAG-AFTRA union– even D-listers and the dime-a-dozen types– can vote for the winners!

The First SAGs

forrest gump

Tom Hanks’ performance in Forrest Gump won Best Actor at the very first SAG Awards.

The very first SAG awards were held in Universal Studios and broadcast on NBC. The statuette was called ‘the Actor’ and has been called that ever since. The first film awards honored the best acting and included a Lifetime Achievement Award. The very first went to George Burns. That was admirable because he’d die the following year at the age of 100.

The very first SAG awards would show that these awards would either have a huge impact on the upcoming Oscars or they’d be very similar in the tastes of the Academy. Three of the four individual winners in film– Tom Hanks, Dianne Wiest and Martin Landau– would go on to win the Oscar that year. Only Jodie Foster’s performance in Nell would be the only SAG win that would not win the Oscar. The SAG awards for the television awards however would not be as reflective as the Golden Globe winners or Emmy winners seven months later. In fact, they just have single-acting categories instead of separate categories for lead actors and supporting actors.

apollo 13

Apollo 13 was the first film whose ensemble won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture.

There was one unique thing about the SAG Awards categories. As you know, the Oscars have the Best Picture Award, the Emmies have their two Best Series awards, and the Golden Globes have both Best Picture awards for movies and Best Series awards for television. Since the awards are about the actors, the SAG Awards have Best Acting Ensemble awards. The first SAGs had two awards for the best television ensembles but no award for film ensembles. The first Best Ensemble award for film would come at the following SAG Awards, which went to the ensemble of Apollo 13.

Over the years, the SAG awards have become a who’s-who event for Hollywood’s big names to show up. They’re now broadcast on TNT and TBS. The Oscars will always have the most prestige and always be the status symbol of Hollywood, but the SAGs have grown in significance and also say a lot about how much an actor has achieved in their career. The SAGs have also been seen as the biggest forecaster for who will win the Oscar over time. In fact in the past ten years, 34 of the last 40 winners of the acting categories at the SAGs would go on to win the Oscar in that very category. That’s an 85% success rate. The SAGs almost matching the Oscars do however make for a boring Oscar race for predictors and ‘Oscar nerds’ like me who wager their predictions in contests. Also since the inception of the Ensemble Award for film, the Film winner for the Best Ensemble award would go to the ensemble of the Oscar-winner for Best Picture eleven out of 23 times. Only twice has the Oscar for Best Picture gone to a film whose ensemble was not nominated for the Best Ensemble award: Braveheart and The Shape Of Water. Also in 2007, the SAGs introduced a category for Best Stunt Ensemble. Even though there is a World Stunt Awards, the SAGs decided to give its own accolade.

Predictions For This Year

This is actually my first year predicting for the SAGs. I think I will only do so this year since it’s a milestone year. So here goes for the film categories:

Best Motion Picture Ensemble

Winner: A Star Is Born

Most Likely Upsetter: Black Panther

Best Actor

Winner: Christian Bale – Vice

Most Likely Upsetter: Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born

Best Actress

Winner: Glenn Close – The Wife

Most Likely Upsetter: Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Mahershala Ali – Green Book

Most Likely Upsetter: Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Amy Adams – Vice

Most Likely Upsetter: Emma Stone – The Favourite

Best Stunt Ensemble

Winner: Avengers: Infinity War

Most Likely Upsetter: Black Panther

For television nominees, I will just predict the anticipated winner rather than add in a prediction for the upsetter:

Best Actor – Miniseries or TV Movie: Darren Criss – The Assassination of Versace: An American Crime Story

Best Actress – Miniseries or TV Movie: Patricia Arquette – Escape At Dannemora

Best Actor – Drama Series: Jason Bateman – Ozark

Best Actress – Drama Series: Sandra Oh – Killing Eve

Best Actor – Comedy Series: Bill Hader – Barry

Best Actress – Comedy Series: Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Ensemble – Drama Series: The Americans

Best Ensemble – Comedy Series: The Kominsky Method

Best Stunt Ensemble – Television Series: Marvel’s Daredevil

And there you have it. My review of the SAG Awards and my predictions for this year’s awards. Tune in tomorrow to find out who wins!

 

 

 

 

VIFF 2018 Wraps Up Another Good Year

Cinema

I know I’m late in doing my VIFF Wrap-Up blog. It’s been a crazy time. It’s not just seeing a total of twenty-one films but craziness involving work, a computer with faults, illnesses and injury, and post-secondary classes. Nevertheless I finally have the ambition to complete it today.

The 2018 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 12th. There were big crowds throughout the festival. There was a lot to see with over 300 films from almost 70 countries and territories.

Oscar Bingo

How about that? I got 21 out of 24 at VanCity’s Oscar Bingo…

The VIFF again offered Hub events and special lectures on film making topics from various professionals in its many fields.  There was the VIFF Immersed virtual reality exhibit in which I will reflect on later in this blog. The Director’s Guild of Canada held Creator Talks. The first Saturday was Totally Indie Day with focuses on independent film from project to creation to promotion. There was the VIFF AMP conference which was a series of talks about musical promotion, primarily in film. There was even a Sustainable Production Forum on topics of how to makes films through environmentally-friendly means to promoting environmentalism in films.

The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

WINNER: Broken Bunny (dir. Meredith Hama-Brown)

Special Mention: Anthem Of A Teenage Prophet (dir. Robin Hays)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by the Harold Greenberg Fund, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: Edge Of The Knife (dirs. Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA & William F. White
WINNER: Freaks (dirs. Zac Lipovsky & Adam Stein)

Canadian Film Awards

Narrative Features

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

WINNER: Edge Of The Knife (dirs. Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown)

Special Mentions: Genesis (dir. Philippe Lesage) & the Grizzlies (dir. Miranda de Pencier)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: When The Storm Fades (dir. Sean Devlin)

Special Mention: M/M (dir. Drew Lint)

Documentary Features

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: The Museum Of Forgotten Triumphs (dir. Bojan Bodruzic)

Special Mention: A Sister’s Song (dir. Danae Elon)

Short Film Awards
Best BC Short Film
Presented by CreativeBC
WINNER: Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) (dir. Amanda Strong)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Lexus
WINNER: Fauve (dir. Jeremy Comte)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: EXIT (dir. Claire Edmonson)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: The Devil We Know (dir. Stephanie Soechtig)

Special Mentions: The Silence Of Others (dirs. Almudena Carraceco & Robert Bahar) & Samouni Road (dir. Stefano Savona)

Vancouver Women In Film And Television Artistic Merit Awards:

Award For Drama:

WINNER: Mouthpiece (dir. Patricia Rozema)

Award For Documentary:

WINNER: What Walaa Wants (dir. Christy Garland)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Finding Big Country (dir. Kathleen Jayne)

VIFF Most Popular International Feature
WINNER: Shoplifters– Japan (dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Bathtubs Over Broadway (dir. Dava Whisenant)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature
WINNER: Edge Of The Knife (dirs. Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown)

#mustseebc Presented by Storyhive
WINNER: Finding Big Country (dir. Kat Jayme)

As for my volunteer experience, this was a different time. I was originally given office work to do over at the head office. One of the more difficult things was that the office positions were only announced just two days or even a single day before the shift. That didn’t fit very well with me as I work a job from 830 to 430 and if I were to take one of those positions, I would have to let my place know a good three working days in advance, especially this time of year. I did however do a variety of volunteering. I did some ushering over at the SFU and International Village cinemas as well as the Centre For Performing Arts. I did some work over at the virtual reality exhibit, which I will focus on a bit later. I helped serve one morning at the VIFF AMP conference over at The Annex which I will also touch on a bit later. I ended my volunteering with the takedown at the International Village. Their takedown was Thursday the 11th: the day before the VIFF concluded. It was late at night and we finished at midnight. We were rewarded with free passes to VanCity Theatre films. The rewards of being a volunteer.

There was a volunteer party at the VanCity the following Friday. It was great. We had catered food with a Southern USA atmosphere. It consisted of a mix of vegetables and meats like pulled pork and roast chicken. There was also the VIFF bank playing bluegrass.

Platinum Pass

…and I won a VIFF Platinum Pass!

For those who didn’t know, I won a Platinum Pass on the day of the Oscars. How did it happen? The VanCity Theatre, the main venue for the VIFF, had their annual Oscar party and their Oscar Bingo Contest. How Oscar Bingo works is you fill out your predictions for all 24 categories on the bingo squares. Here’s how good my predictions were. I was the first to get a row. I soon got a second row, but that was it for minor prizes for me. At the end of the night, I got 21 out of 24 right. The Oscars were that predictable. Plus I took a gamble on guessing The Shape Of Water to win Best Picture, and it paid off! As the night ended, I found out one other person had 21 out of 24 right. We both won Platinum Passes! It was exciting as I would experience having a Platinum Pass for the first time.

As for the films I saw, here’s a list of them. I have the country of origin in brackets and an asterisk marking those that are their country’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry:

I’m happy with the choices I saw. Some I was able to choose well in advance while some I chose because of the time. Some I wanted to see I did. Some I wasn’t so lucky. Like Can You Ever Forgive Me? showed at the same time as Boy Erased. I can only choose one! However I did achieve my usual VIFF goals of seeing one shorts segment, one Canadian feature and one nation’s entry for the Best Foreign language Film Oscar. It was crazy juggling having my volunteer pass and my Platinum pass on the same chain. Often if I wanted to see a film, I’d use my Platinum Pass and I’d get any seat I wanted! That was the best thing about having a Platinum Pass.

The biggest thing I learned about having a Platinum Pass this year is that they’re best for people who have all sixteen days of the festival available. I see a lot of seniors with the Platinum Passes and they make good use out of it. They are the ones that can see five films in one day, if they have the tenacity to do so. I still had my jobs to attend to during the time so that really kept me from seeing a lot. Also volunteering kept me from seeing a lot too. I remember I told one of the VIFF supervisors during Oscar night “Even though I won, I still plan to volunteer.” It was a double-edged sword to do both volunteering and own a platinum pass as most of the time, you’re outside the action. If I ever pay $900 for a Platinum Pass in the future, it will be after I retire.

Virtual Reality

The VIFF isn’t all about big screen films. It also includes virtual reality films.

There were two things I attended as a volunteer that I could not attend for free via my Platinum Pass. That was the VIFF Immersed virtual reality exhibit and the VIFF AMP conference. If I wanted to attend it, I would have to pay full admission. Being a volunteer was a good experience in both cases. For virtual reality, I learned quite a lot about a new means of film making and animation. I’ll admit I haven’t caught onto the VR craze. I had my first experience with VR at the exhibit as volunteers were allow to try things out. It was nice to try two of the VR films; both films were made in BC. I also assisted in showing a VR exhibit to students from a Vancouver high school who were on a field trip. My shift was ending just as they were about to set the place up for ticketholders. As my shift ended, I tried a state-of-the-art animated VR show called Fire Escape. It was too technical for me to handle. It’s good that the VIFF have a virtual reality exhibit. One thing we shouldn’t forget is that VIFF focuses on all formats of film: not just feature-length. They also focus on writing in film and even music in film. It was a good experience to attend the VIFF AMP conference for the morning. I was given the duty to have musicians onstage sign waivers for VIFF promotional videos. I learned a lot from some of the musicians and producers and agents about the challenges of getting music promoted in your film as well as the worldwide promotion of music in general.

So overall I’d say it was an excellent VIFF and a unique experience this year. This was the first year I saw over twenty films! Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 26th to October 11th, 2019 and should also be a unique experience. No doubt I will be back to volunteer!

VIFF Is Back!

Cinema

Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival is back for 2018. Yesterday began the 37th installment of the Film Festival. This year promises more excitement, more films and more events.

The biggest thing VIFF will have for this year is Creator Talks and Master Classes. Slated lecturers include The Good Place writer Michael Schur, Canadian writer/director Patricia Rozema, production designed Paul Austerberry, director Paris Barclay, rapper RZA and a Showrunners event where they feature nine writers all on one stage. There will be other events too like giving director Jean-Marc Vallee a Tribute Award and a fundraiser event featuring Jane Goodall.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1200 volunteers signing up. Bigger than last year. One thing that’s changed is now volunteers are all owed to do a minimum of four shifts. That’s different from the old minimum of 32 hours. Volunteers and free films are the same situation as last year. As for my volunteering, I will do a wide variety of things like assist with the virtual reality exhibit over at the Centre for Digital Media, do ushering duties at the International Village, or do office work for the Exhibitions team.

This year’s roster of films promises a lot of attractions This year’s VIFF claims to show over 300 shorts and feature films from 84 countries or regions. As of press time, 14 films are official submissions for the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. One thing is that while most films are shown twice or three times during the fest, there will be more films that will get only one showing during the fest. There will even be a fourteen-hour three-film trilogy at the VanCity Theatre. La Flor by director Mariano Llinas will be shown as the three films will be aired consecutive nights. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals.

This year’s top sponsors include Telus, Telefilm Canada, Christie screens, CinePlex, Delta Airlines, Lexus and Creative BC. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards again.

As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:

  • OPENING GALA: The Hummingbird Project. Canadian director Kim Nguyen highlights competitive stock trading in this film starring Salma Hayek and Jesse Eisenberg.
  • CLOSING GALA:  The Front Runner – Jason Reitman delivers a film chronicling the rise and fall of Democratic candidate Gary Hart. Hugh Jackman plays Hart while Sarah Paxton plays ‘other woman’ Donna Rice.
  • Boy Erased – Rising star Lucas Hedges stars in this film about a young gay male forced into conversion therapy by his heavily-religious family.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Melissa McCarthy stars in this biographical film of Lee Israel: one of the biggest literary fraudsters of modern time.
  • Cold War – A Polish film about a showbiz couple who try to love and perform just shortly after the end of World War II. Director Pawel Pawlikowski won Best Director at this year’s Cannes festival.
  • Collette – Keira Knightley stars in this film of revolutionary French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette. Her relationship with her husband comes into play.
  • Everybody Knows – Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who’s won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar twice, directs Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in a story about mistrust and deceit.
  • The Favorite– Yorgos Lanthimos, whose most famous work is The Lobster, returns with Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz starring in this comedy on who can win the most praise from the queen.
  • The Grizzlies – The story of a teacher who tries to start pride in a Nunavut town by building up a local lacrosse team.
  • The Happy Prince– British actor Rupert Everett writes, directs and acts in this film of the last years of Oscar Wilde.
  • Non-Fiction – Olivier Assayas tells a humorous story of the marriage of an actress, played by Juliette Binoche, and her publisher husband who’s fearing the ‘death of print.’
  • The Old Man And The Gun – David Lowery directs what is believed to be Robert Redford’s last film as an actor as bank-robber Forrest Tucker.
  • A Private War –  Rosamund Pike stars in this biographical film of war correspondent Marie Colvin.
  • Shadow – Chinese film from Zhang Yimou directs a kung fu romance that promises to be an unforgettable story.
  • Sharkwater Extinction – Rob Stewart directed 2006 documentary Sharkwater highlighting how important sharks are to the ecosystem. This sequel shows the threats sharks face in today’s world.

So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 27th and it all ends October 12th. Definitely lots to enjoy

Animated Movies Review

2016 was a stellar year for animated movies from Zootopia to Moana to Kubo And The Two Strings to Finding Dory. 2016’s line-up gave people lots of reason to come to the movie theatres. 2017 was very lackluster in comparison. We’re talking about a year when The Boss Baby was nominated for Best Animated Feature and even the mere existence of The Emoji Movie. 2017 almost made it look like if Sausage Party were released that year instead, it would be a Best Animated Feature nominee! However the best animated movies of 2017 slowly made its way on the screen in the latter months of 2017. I was lucky to see Ferdinand, Coco and Loving Vincent: three of the best of the year.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

When I was about to see Ferdinand, I wondered how they would able to take the small story and turn it into a feature-length picture. I myself remember an animated short made by the Walt Disney studios made decades ago that was very humorous. However I wondered how would a feature-length adaptation play out?

The story starts out well with an entertaining look, but a bit of sadness at the beginning. As it progresses to adult Ferdinand, Ferdinand is funny and charming as a husky but flower-loving bull. John Cena adds to the characterization of full-grown Ferdinand. The characters of Lupe, Una and the other bulls add to the story.

There were times I wondered how will they get to where Ferdinand is scouted out by his accidental outburst? How will it be written out? Although it’s not true to the fable, the writers were able to create a way for Ferdinand to be discovered and sent to the bull rings to fight.

Another case that had me wondering was right in the middle of the story. It had me wondering how on earth the story would have a happy ending? Of course the film needed to have a kid-friendly happy ending, but in a situation where the bull either becomes a fighting bull who dies in the ring or to the slaughterhouse as meat? Nevertheless the writers were able to make the story work with good events to the plot and not just simply drag it out over the time. Even creating an ending where Ferdinand wins over the crowd and getting them to want him to live works for the film.

For the most part, Ferdinand is not all about the type of intricate story you’d expect to find in a Disney/Pixar film. Instead Ferdinand is about creating a charming modern adaptation of the short fable with charming and entertaining characters. It succeeds in charming the audience as well as entertaining the children. Despite the story being elongated into a feature-length picture, the film does not waste time. It succeeds in being entertaining. It also adds in some other elements that gets one nervous of what will happen to Ferdinand, even if they know the story. The story works in its feature-length and will not disappoint fans of the fable. It’s also good at winning crowds too as it made a good $282 million at the worldwide box office.

coco

Coco

Very often you know the Disney/Pixar collaboration will deliver something fresh and original in its arsenal that’s able to win us over. This year, they deliver Coco. Coco is unique because it’s of a Mexican family situated in Mexico. The question is will they make something original and unique entertaining to the public?

The team of writers and animators at Disney/Pixar are known for their innovations and their frequently-successful way of trying new concepts. First there was 1995’s Toy Story: the first-ever 3D animated feature. Then came A Bug’s Life which created an engaging story revolving around insects. Then Finding Nemo not only told a story about fish, but successfully took us to another world. The Incredibles was good at teaching morals in an entertaining way. Ratatouille made an entertaining story involving a rat. Wall-E magically gave us an engaging story about two robots in love with very little dialogue. It was Brave where they not only gave us their first female protagonist, but welcomed a female writer on their ‘dream team.’ And there was Inside Out which made character out of emotions.

Coco is not just a new movie from the Disney/Pixar collaboration, but a new chapter for them. They hired Mexican/American writer Adrian Molina as the scriptwriter along with Matthew Aldrich. Molina had already been part of Pixar as a 2D animator for Ratatouille, a storyboard artists for Toy Story 3 and Monsters University, and even wrote the script for Walt Disney Studios’ The Good Dinosaur. The voice cast is predominantly of Mexicans or Mexican Americans. Disney/Pixar even hired a ‘cultural consultant’ group of three Mexican-Americans including one former CEO of the Mexican Heritage Corp to make sure they were doing a film respectful of Mexican people.

The result is a film that has garnered praise even from both critics and even Mexican-American communities. The film even received excellent reviews from Latin American film critics. The film was also a top box office winner having grossed $730 million so far. Even in Mexico, it spent three weeks at #1 in the Mexican box office and grossed a total of $57.8 million in Mexico.

Now the film itself does what Disney/Pixar films have a reputation for: taking the audience to a new world. Here they give an excellent depiction of the Land Of The Dead that looks very intricate and maybe too big, but succeeds in making sense to the viewer. Once again the animation team does an excellent job in creating this new world and even the smallest detail is done with perfection. Once again Disney/Pixar is tops in animation quality.

However there was one time I was confused by the story. I’ll admit like most, I thought Ernesto was the great-great-grandfather. I was shocked when I learned that Ernesto killed Hector with poison. It left me wondering if Miguel’s great-great-grandfather was in fact a dirty killer. Even seeing Ernesto send Miguel to die in the cenote pit left me shocked. ‘Why would Ernesto do this to his own great-great-grandson?’ It’s in the pit with Hector that we learn that Hector is really the great-great-grandfather. That was a relief. It was there where it became better sense why Miguel needed to redeem the name of the family through the spirit of Hector. The story was very well-written and very entertaining. Also the song ‘Remember Me’ is an excellent song for the movie that makes for the perfect tearjerker moment you don’t feel manipulated by.

One again Disney/Pixar delivers a masterpiece in Coco. It is as top-quality as it is magical to watch.

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Loving Vincent

Now the previous two films in which I just talked about are both the more family-friendly films. Loving Vincent is the polar opposite of both. It’s not cute, it’s less family-friendly, and it’s not even 3D computerized animation. It also didn’t even make $10 million at the box office. Nevertheless it is charming in its own ways.

The film is a plot where Armand Roulin is asked by his father Joseph to deliver a letter from Vincent Van Gogh who died a year earlier to his brother Theo. After learning Theo died, Armand looks to find the right person to give the letter to. Throughout the journey, Armand tries to get the answer to whether Vincent’s death was a suicide or not? He was released from a hospital after found to be in good mental capacity six weeks before.

Armand comes across many people in Vincent’s life. Some have positive things to say. Some negative things. All have something to say about the person of Vincent, the various people he met with or fought against, and his personal feelings before his death. This still leaves Armand confused and his question of Vincent’s death unanswered. It’s right after Dr. Gachet promises to give the letter to Theo’s widow that he learns van Gogh’s suicide wasn’t of mental agony, but to free himself and his brother. Later Armand receives a letter from Theo’s widow thanking him.

This animated film about Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t be a simple animated film. Instead this is a film in which the images were done by 100 painters trained to paint like Van Gogh. The object of the film was to create a story involving characters of people Van Gogh painted and was close to in his life across a backdrop that’s just like the paintings he painted. Basically an animated story about Van Gogh that captures the essence of Van Gogh’s art. The story may be fictional, but it succeeds in playing out like a Van Gogh painting. It even gets one that knows very little about Van Gogh’s works or his life intrigued. It even gets fans of Van Gogh’s art admiring the film for capturing the essence of the artist and his works. I also like how the film ended as “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” was playing. It would make those who never understood what the song was all about understand it better.

So there’s my look at three of the best animated films of 2017. All three are nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. All three are enjoyable in their own way.

VIFF 2017 Wraps Up

Cinema

This year, I’m late again in wrapping up my experience at the VIFF. Actually I’m way earlier than last year. This time, I publish my wrap-up just three weeks after it ended.

The 2017 Vancouver Film Fest ended on Friday, October 12th. Crowds came again and again. There was a lot to offer with over 300 films from 69 countries. There were 19 films that are official entries for the Academy Awards category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year. Eleven films made their World Premiere at the Festival, nine their International Premiere, 37 their North American and 46 their Canadian Premiere.

The VIFF again offered Hub events and special lectures on film making topics from various professionals in its many fields. There was the Buffer Festival dedicated to the topic of online film making which included lectures on such filmmaking and even a Q&A featuring a lot of top Canadian YouTube personalities.

The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by the Harold Greenberg Fund, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: Luk’l Luk’l (dir. Wayne Wapeemukwa)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA & William F. White
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Canadian Film Awards

Narrative Features

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Black Cop (dir. Cory Bowles)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Never Steady, Never Still (dir. Kathleen Hepburn)

Documentary Features

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Unarmed Verses (dir. Charles Office)

Short Film Awards
Best BC Short Film
Presented by CreativeBC
WINNER: Rupture (dir. Yassmina Karajah)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Lexus
WINNER: Shadow Nettes (dir. Phillip Barker)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: The Crying Conch (dir. Vincent Coi)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: BLUE (dir. Karina Holden)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Indian Horse (dir. Stephen Campanelli)

VIFF Most Popular International Feature
WINNER: Loving Vincent – Poland & UK (dirs. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Faces Places – France (dir. Agnes Varda Jr.)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary
WINNER: Shut Up And Say Something (dir. Melanie Wood)

#mustseebc Presented by Storyhive
WINNER: Shut Up And Say Something (dir. Melanie Wood)

As for my volunteer experience, this was a unique experience in doing driving for the VIFF for a change. It wasn’t all about driving VIPs or those involved in film. There was one Friday just days before the VIFF where we had to bring two cars, an SUV, a moving van and a hauling truck from a Langley rental agency over to the VIFF theatre. It was crazy because this was my first time learning on how to drive an automatic car. All my life, I’ve started cars by turning the key. This was completely different and even had me freaked out. Nevertheless things got easier over time.

Our shifts were mostly simple. We’d wait at the Sutton Hotel to find out who we’d be picking up and from where. My first day was a Tuesday and it was confusing as I was getting used to driving the downtown Vancouver streets for the first time. Believe me, Burrard St. has very limited left-turn options and it was annoying. The second trip on my first day driving was crazier as we had to drop some people off at the back entrance of a hotel. The entrance is located at a ramp to a parkade and there was a car being us trying to enter the parkade as I was dropping the people off. vacating the hotel was a headache. The days after were easier as I mostly had to pick people up either at the Sutton Hotel or at the theatres and drive them to the airport. There were even a couple of times I had to pick people up from the airport and bring them to the Sutton Hotel. One of which I was transporting an orchestra’s musical instruments in the moving van. That was definitely interesting. On closing Friday, I was with five people who had to bring five of the ten vans back to the auto dealer’s headquarters. I thought I knew my way, but Surrey’s highway system is extremely confusing and I got lost. I did make it there, half an hour late.

As for films, I feel I saw a good variety of film. I saw thirteen feature-length films and at least one shorts segment. I was lucky to see at least three Canadian features. I saw a lot of foreign films. I saw two films that were official Oscar entries for the Best Foreign Language Feature category. I even saw an African film for the first time. I saw at least three Altered States films that were either bizarre or ridiculous. The biggest standout for this year’s films I saw had to be experimental films. I saw three such films: two Canadian. One was good while the two others came off as either a failed experiment or just something ridiculous. That’s one thing about experimental films. You have to welcome them first and then make your own judgement after.

For the end of the VIFF, there was a volunteer party held the Saturday after closing. Volunteers were treated to films shown at this year’s VIFF. Three of the best. After that, they were treated to a Mexican buffet and to karaoke singing. It was fun and I even sang three numbers. I always sing at least one Elvis number at a karaoke party!

So there you go. The 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival ended very well and it was another good year of films and volunteering for me. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 27th to October 11th, 2018 and should offer a lot, if not more. I may end up being an usher or I may end up driving again next year. I’ll see what they have to offer me. In the meantime, see you next year!