The Vancouver International Film Festival is just around the corner, to the delight of cinephiles who didn’t get their fill with TIFF. But with over 350 films, it can be overwhelming trying to sift through the dross and find films that will resonate with you, surprise you, and most importantly, have lasting impact past the festival. While VIFF has its fair share of “Oscar bait”, it is also peppered with “festival bait”. Sad faced, foreign coming-of-age stories, talking heads documentaries about the topic du jour, etc. The sort of films which open to an enthusiastic reception on the festival circuit, but fade from memory soon after.
It can be tough to avoid these in the midst of being swept up in the festival atmosphere. So it’s recommended that you explore the catalogue extensively, considering filmmaker’s track records and considering which debuts you’re going to gamble on. But if you don’t have time for that, here are some my choices for your consideration from several of the diverse series offered at VIFF 2015.
Series: Altered States
Featuring genre bending films and soon to be late night cult classics, Altered States is where you go for the weird and wonderful. There are some intriguing offerings, such as AAAAAAAAH!, Der Nachtmahr, Green Room, and The Similars. If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, this is the place for you.
My Pick: Cop Car
Director: Jon Watts
After an impressive showing at Sundance and Fantasia, Cop Car looks set to be one of the few high quality action films playing at VIFF. An energetic performance from Kevin Bacon buoys the film as it lends it focus towards two eight-year old friends who take a joyride in an abandoned cop car. If you’re looking for the explosive urgency of Blue Ruin combined with a coming-of-age story in the vein of Stand By Me, then Jon Watts may have your number.
Series: B.C. Spotlight
VIFF’s perennial focus on local filmmakers is not to be overlooked, even if their zeal in promoting them can verge on hyperbolic praise. But don’t assume it’s only of interest to locals. 2014 saw the stunning Violent and the charming Preggoland, proof that some of the praise is warranted, and that there is a larger audience for B.C. films.
My Pick: My Good Man’s Gone
Director: Nick Citton
It can be a treat to see local filmmakers leave their hometown and make a movie in a foreign land. Arkansas may not be as exotic a location as some, but Nick Citton’s small town dramedy looks like a surefooted directorial debut. Following two siblings from L.A. arriving in Story, Arkansas to settle their father’s estate, the film takes stock of family, community, and the ways we continue to have our expectations of both turned upside down.
Series: Canadian Images
Offering up some of the best of Canada’s directors –Guy Maddin – alongside populist directors like Paul Gross, Canadian Images is a diverse selection of talent from across the country. Watch for debut features, in the hopes of catching a first glimpse at what’s in store for the future of Canadian cinema.
My Pick: O’ Brazen Age
Director: Alexander Carson
Carson is a veteran of the industry, working in the film industry for around a decade, making shorts and collaborating with the North Country Cinema collective. O’Brazen Age is his debut feature, and mixes experimental techniques alongside more traditional modes of storytelling, as the film follows a group of friends as they explore Quebec and wonder how to make sense of life. Add in a soundtrack composed of Destroyer’s back catalog and a light lyrical touch, and O’Brazen Age could be a sleeper hit this year.
Series: Cinema of Our Time
A collection of award winning and masterful films from across the globe, Cinema of Our Time is one of the safest series to take a risk at; with choices like Tikkun, Francofonia, Mustang, Taxi, Son of Saul, and The Lobster, it’s hard to go wrong.
My Pick: The Treasure
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Winning in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, The Treasure continues in the style and form of the Romanian New Wave – bleak and austere visually, with a penchant for minimalist realism – with just enough dry humour to give it an edge. As two neighbours set out on a treasure hunt, Porumboiu leverages the plot to provide social commentary into Romania’s present and past. If he is able to control the tone and pace, finding a balance between the plot and the politics, he could have one of the best Eastern European films at the festival.
Series: Dragons and Tigers
The highlight of the festival, and often the most carefully curated – by Tony Rayns and Shelly Kraicer – this year’s Dragons and Tigers features the works of such masters of cinema as Hong Sang-Soo, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia Zhangke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Kore-eda Hirokazu. It’s also often the series which contains the most hidden gems of the fest, featuring a cornucopia of independent Asian cinema which you’ll likely never again get a chance to see on the big screen.
My Pick: Kaili Blues
Director: Bi Gan
Bi Gan’s debut narrative feature film, Kaili Blues may not be receiving much attention in the press, but it earned him Best Emerging Director at Locarno 2015. Perhaps more challenging a film than a few others, due to its elliptical approach to time, this true story about a doctor in the Guizhou province who embarks on a journey to find his brother’s child may have a firmer grasp on cinematic language and form than many of the other more marketable films at VIFF this year. The prospect of seeing an auteur sprout up from the earth is too good a chance to miss.
This is just a handful of the great titles available at VIFF this year. For a full list, go to www.viff.org
The 34th Vanouver International Film Festival runs from September 24 – October 9 2015