Syrian refugee crisis, Surrey gangs and Haida Gwaii tragedy among powerful topics covered by VIFF films

 It seems I’ve seen more written this year than ever before about the movie industry going bad. Blockbusters are crowding out the little films. Choice is getting narrow. Interesting films don’t get into the multiplexes, or don’t last long if they do.

And just last week, the Globe and Mail had a large feature about the low success of Canadian films. They earn maybe 1 per cent of the total box office in this country.

That’s why the Vancouver International Film Festival is so valuable. Independent films, small titles, foreign films and homegrown productions; bringing them around is VIFF’s forte. And it’s the largest showcase anywhere of Canadian films.

As Alan Franey, the director of programming said at the press conference last night to launch the 34th edition, although “Hollywood generally rules,” the alternatives “are very much alive. We’re here to see that the stuff we love isn’t on the pile of annihilation.”

VIFF is showing 355 films (features and shorts) from 70 countries this year. Only a third to a half of them will come back. These 16 days (Sept 24 – Oct 9) may be your only chance to see many of them. Netflix probably won’t have them.

The highlights have already been announced and the full program book is out (and available for free). These have caught my interest so far.


Brooklyn: the opening film is about home and homesickness as Saoirse Ronan portrays a young Irish immigrant in the USA. It’s a Canada/Irish co-production.


The closing film, I Saw the Light has Tom Hiddleston (Loki in  The Avengers) playing country music legend Hank Williams. Surely, it has to be better than the George Hamilton version. Based on Colin Escott’s well-regarded biography and with some Vancouver production input.

Mina Shum has a new film, set in a Montreal university; Charles Wilkinson has an award-winning documentary about Haida Gwaii and the tragedy of The Golden Spruce is told in  Hadwin’s Judgement.

I'm very interested in how Deepa Mehta dramatizes the ongoing gang wars in Surrey and Vancouver’s south Asian community with Beeba Boys.

And can Naomi Klein’s controversial book on climate change and capitalism, This Changes Everything, translate into a film?

Both the top and the second place winner from Cannes are coming. Dheepan is about a Tamil fighter looking for peace in France and Son Of Saul is a shattering Holocaust story. And Love Among the Ruins is extra topical, about Syrian refugees.

Romania is well-represented. So too are East Asia, France, Italy, Canadian aboriginals, environmental films and, surprise, comedy. Monty Python, for one.

There’s a film I have high hopes for featuring gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples. Also a short about a woman succeeding in the man’s world of DJ’s. That’s a first film by Katherine Monk, former Vancouver Sun film critic. The DJ, Rhiannon, is a Vancouver native who will be entertaining at the VIFF wrap party, which this year is open to the general festival audience. Ticket details will be announced.

Meanwhile, pick up the program book and visit the website. There’s so much more.



More in New Movies

Two comedies about women at work and a stunning documentary about an Aboriginal artist lead this week

And they’re joined by a musical look back, a fashion industry success story that didn’t last and the hipster zombie film that opened Cannes this year

Two giant sequels and several worthy smaller films reviewed

Including new appreciations of Emily Dickinson and Pavarotti, the real story of auto builder John DeLorean, a British filmmaker inspired to draw on her own life and two oddball seniors falling in love

Doing it like Elton John, looking for justice in Canada, defying convention in Bollywood

Also Denys Arcand’s rant about the evils of money, a compassionate court dealing with sex trade workers and a series coming soon to showcase a celebrated woman filmmaker from France
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