VIFF 2021: Mix Of Online And Live Theatre

VIFF 2021 will increase it’s cinema capacity, but restrictions will apply.

It’s a fall tradition of mine. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) comes back and I end up volunteering for it. It’s a tradition that was broken last year. You can’t blame me. The COVID pandemic severely limited seating capacities and the number of films they could show on screens, not to mention theatre attendance. Last’s year’s VIFF was a case where few shows were shown in theatres and most were screened online. This year, the VIFF makes a big return back to the theatres, if not a complete return.

The International Village which used to allow three of its theatres to show VIFF films during fourteen of its sixteen days isn’t doing it this year. The Centre for the Performing Arts isn’t giving itself to the VIFF this year either. There are five theatres from past years that are VIFF venues again this year: Cinematheque, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU Goldcorp Theatre and the VanCity Theatre at the VIFF Centre. The VIFF also acquired four new venues to facilitate for the fest:

  • Annex Theatre – It’s called the Annex because it’s the annex to the Orpheum theatre. It’s a nice cabaret-style theatre that served the VIFF before as a lecture hall or conference room. This time, it will be showing films throughout most of the VIFF.
  • Hollywood Theatre – Those that remember my blogging from bygone days will know the Hollywood is a theatre in the West Broadway area build back in the 1930’s. Although it’s no longer owned by the original members, it has reopened to become a multi-event stage with mostly theatrical shows and music concerts. During the VIFF, it will return to its original purpose as a movie theatre.
  • Studio Theatre: VIFF Centre – Even before the pandemic hit, there was a fundraising initiative underway at the VanCity Theatre of creating a studio theatre meant for screening local films and give more local filmmakers opportunity. It was finally opened this summer and this is the first VIFF in which it will serve as a venue! Just to the left of the main studio theatre at the VanCity, it’s smaller in capacity but can serve its purpose well.
  • Kay Meek Arts Centre – I think this is the first VIFF venue outside of the city of Vancouver ever. Located in West Vancouver Secondary School, this local theatre is also a major centre for arts in West Vancouver.

This year, I’m back to volunteering. I will be at the Playhouse Theatre and working as part of a ‘skeleton crew,’ which is the minimum number of volunteers a facility can have at one time. This is one of the precautions as part of the pandemic. The second is that theatres will only be at 50% capacity. The third precaution is that people are to have their BC Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport to get into theatres. For those who don’t know what a Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport is, it’s a scanner code the certifies that one has been vaccinated twice.

For those that are still too nervous about going into a theatre, there are many of the VIFF films that can be streamed online. Many of you may remember that the majority of VIFF films from last year can be streamed from wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. Not the case this year as the online screenings can be screened during select times and there are many that have a limit to the number of online customers of that screening.

The VIFF will be starting today and running until Monday October 11th, which is Canadian Thanksgiving. Returning back to the Festival are VIFF Immersed technology exhibits, VIFF Totally Indie Day, VIFF Talks and Masterclasses and VIFF AMP music conferences. For film lineups, there will be 185 films. 73 of them will get a cinema run. Of the sixteen expected to stand out:

  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain – The Opening Gala film. It’s an eccentric biographical film of artist Louis Wain who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Will Sharpe.
  • Petite Maman – The Closing Gala film. The latest feature from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire director Celine Sciamma. It’s a unique story of the mysterious bond between mother and daughter.
  • All My Puny Sorrows – Michael McGowan directs this film adaptation of the novel by Miriam Toews. Alison Pill stars as a young woman hugely concerned for her talented sister.
  • Belfast – A film loaded with potential Oscar buzz. Kenneth Branagh directs this story of the spark of civilian unrest in 1969 Northern Ireland as seen through the eyes of a child.
  • Benediction – Directed by Terence Davies, It’s a portrait of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. It stars Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi.
  • Bergman Island – Directed Mia Hansen-Love. As the village Ingmar Bergman grew up in has been turned into a theme park , two filmmakers, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, ponder their relationship.
  • Drive My Car – A three-hour film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. A recently-widowed theatre director tries to live life again as he puts together a new production, and casts his late wife’s lover as the lead.
  • Everything Went Fine – Directed by Francois Ozon and stars Sophie Marceau and Charlotte Rampling, it’s the story of an 85 year-old man who wants his daughter to end his life, while she tries to change his mind.
  • Memoria – Directed by Uncle Boonmee director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it’s the story of an orchid grower in Colombia, played by Tilda Swinton, who experiences a booming noise only she can hear.
  • Mothering Sunday – Directed by Eva Husson, it’s about a maid in 1924 who spends time with her lover before he is about to marry a younger woman. Can she change his mind?
  • Night Raiders – Directed by Danis Goulet, this is a futuristic film set in 2043 and Canada plans to return to past colonial ways of treating Indigenous children.
  • Official Competition – The film is about a Spanish female film directer trying to direct two male movie stars with big egos. It’s co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat and it stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
  • One Second – Directed by Zhang Yimou, It’s a story of a man during China’s Cultural Revolution who escapes China’s labor camps to see his actress daughter on screen. It’s no easy task.
  • Red Rocket – Directed by Florida Project director Sean Baker, this film is of a washed-up porn star returning to his hometown trying to reconcile with his wife, but also promoting a young teenaged girl to stardom.
  • The Sanctity Of Space – A documentary directed by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson. It’s of the mission to meet with famed cartographer Bradford Washburn whose worked opened up a new world for mountain climbers pursuing Alaska and Yukon.
  • The Worst Person In The World – Directed by Joachim Trier, it’s a coming of age story of a young woman about a young woman who leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.

And there you go. That’s just a brief preview of the highlights at this year’s VIFF. But the VIFF has more films to offer. Way more. It’s worth checking out over these next eleven days.

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!