The Vancouver International Film Festival yesterday launched the programme for its 25th anniversary film festival. Over 340 films will be screened between 28th Sept - 13th Oct, ten of which are world premieres, 26 international premieres, and 28 North American premieres.
The film opens with Pedro Almodovar's Volver and closes with Stephen Frears's The Queen, in which Helen Mirren plays HRH during the period before and after the death of Princess Diana.
A year ago when artistic director Alan Franey unveiled the film festival program construction workers were still coming and going, so the 2006 launch, as Franey noted, marked the first festival where they were now properly ensconced in the Vancouver International Film Centre on 1181 Seymour Street.
When I interviewed Franey prior to the festival he admited that although the Vancouver International Film Festival has become used to the constant media attention during festival time, it has been a little frustrating that attendances since the film centre started regular screenings in January have "not been as good as they should be".
Franey is not the only theatre manager struggling to hold his ground in this world of DVDs and broadband internet, but he's beginning to see just how much of a focal point the film festival is for people.
"It must be that a lot of our audience sees more films during the film festival than they do the rest of the year," says Franey. "It's extraordinary, and I hadn't appreciated quite how much that's true."
So on VIFF's 25th Anniversary year, Franey is keen to remind people of the "convivial", social aspect of the film festival and cinema-going. Among the events, there'll be daily schmoozes where local filmmakers and cinema goers can socialise in the cinema foyer.
Franey believes social interaction is particularly important given that a good proportion of films at this year's festival have urgent messages that we need to hear, share, and discuss together.
"We have almost a last chance to change the direction that the world is going in this pivotal point in the world," he says, pointing to films that are "sounding alarm bells" about food industrialisation, oil, and the "New Crusades." While these subjects have become staples of VIFF, Franey sees the new crop of films as being more forward-looking and predictive than in the past.
At the top of his list, is the French documentary Black Gold (not to be confused with the Black Gold documentary about coffee exploitation), with four one hour features on the history of oil. "It's the scariest treatment of the subject that I have seen," he says, mentioning some "astonishing" footage of what Texas used to look like in the Twenties and Thirties compared with what it looks like now. In American Zeitgeist, 40 different political commentators (including Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens) trace the development of al-Quaida from the Soviet-Afghan War era. Two other films in a political vein are We Feed the World about the impact of modern food industry practices in the West and My Country, My Country, which offers an intimate portrait of the lead up to the first post-Saddam elections in Iraq.
On the lighter side, Franey recommends for pure fun, Paheli, a Rajasthani Bollywood film. John Malkovich provides comic relief in Colour Me Kubrick, a fact-based story about a con artist who pretended he was the publicity-shy film director Stanley Kubrick. Franey expects the documentary Loop, an "armchair extreme nature communion," which follows people who have found balance in their life through the outdoors, as having a wide appeal.
One of Franey's favourite films at the Sundance Film Festival was Old Joy, which is set in Oregon, but could have been BC. "BC filmmakers must see it so you can see how you can capture the landscape with that integrity and truth." Franey expects Shortbus, a drama by queer filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), will generate controversy with its graphic scenes of unsimulated sex.
Under the helm of a new programmer, Terry McEvoy (being interviewed above), the Canadian images section of the festival will screen 110 out of the almost 600 submissions to the festival, including 22 feature-length dramas and 11 feature-length documentaries in 2006.
One of the highlights of VIFF 2006 is Vancouver native Douglas Coupland's debut screenplay Everything's Gone Green, "a hopeful fable about wishing and a cautionary tale about getting what you wish for."
Sarah Polley makes her directorial debut with Away From Her, based on a story by Alice Munro, about a woman with Alzheimer's who falls in love with another patient at her nursing home. Also, in the Canadian images section is Philippe Falardeau's Congorama which closed Director's Fortnight in Cannes, and Fido which stars Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) and comedian Billy Connolly as a zombie who is befriended by a small boy.
Animation fans will be treated to a retrospective of Norman McLaren (1914-1987) classics such as A Chairy Tale (1957), the Palme d'Or winning Blinkity Blink (1955), and Academy Award-winning anti-war statement Neighbours (1952).
Among the documentaries by Canadian filmmakers are Shadow Company, which looks at the role of the 20,000 mercenaries participating in the Iraq war; Our Own Private Bin Laden which seeks an explanation for Islamic radicalism and terror; Uganda Rising looking at the struggle between the Lord's Resistance Army in which 25,000 children have been recruited to committ atrocities and government forces, and Nader Davoodi's 13 and a Half, which looks at the conflict between Iranian women and the forces of tradition during an all-female stage play.
Dragons and Tigers
Due to its Pacific Rim location, VIFF has become a major purveyor of the latest Asian cinema since the Dragons & Tigers series was launched in 1992. This year marks the last festival as programmer of the strand by London-based programmer Tony Rayns whose appetite for the idiosyncratic, subversive end of Asian cinema has even given rise to a moniker among audiences - a "Tony Rayns special (usually those of an avant-garde, challenging nature).
That said, populist film is also up there with this year two of the most successful Korean releases in recent years - Bong Joon-Ho who made the entertaining Barking Dogs Never Bite arrives at VIFF with his new film The Host. In The Host, pollution in the Han River creates a rapacious monster and "one averagely dysfunctional family" has to pull together to rescue its youngest daughter from it. Another headline film is The King and The Clown where two street entertainers try to win a place in the royal court by satirising their tyrant king in Sixteenth-century Korea leading to unexpected trouble.
Shin Ha-Kyun of Save the Green Planet is also expected at VIFF with his new film No Mercy For the Rude.