Nothing quite compares to the feeling of anticipation each fall when the VIFF Guide drops in Vancouver. With post-its and calendar in hand, I sit down with a big cup of coffee and pour over the selected film descriptions and plan for the two-week event. Every year I tell students enrolled in each of my fall classes the story of being given the assignment in a first year UBC Film Studies class to attend the festival. That experience was a transformational one for me, and one that in fact helped foster my lifelong love and study of film, and today I offer the same assignment to both my film studies students (for whom the assignment is part of their grade), but also as a bonus assignment to all of my other students. What I know, and many of my former students tell me years later, is that film festivals not only open our eyes to a whole new landscape of cinema beyond the mainstream, together with the community of engaged viewers that you share that moment with, but they also remind us how much cinema culture helps reinvigorate the way we see and can think in new ways about the world around us. Films are much more than stories set to moving images, they are immersive and intensive visual experiences that imprint themselves upon individuals and cultures.
As in years past on my blog, I have offered some of my selections below from the 350 films on offer this year. This is no easy task, so I am listing films of both personal interest and those that provoke discussions about art and life. They are listed here (in no particular order) in Part 1 of this post with both a gallery of the movies and links to VIFF’s schedule and ticketing information, and a list below the gallery with a few thoughts on why I picked the film, along with a trailer or interview with the director. Part 2 can be found here. I hope you get a chance to enjoy VIFF this year—and if not, take note of these films as they pop up on other screens and digital spaces in the months to come.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (USA)
Peggy Guggenheim is a figure as important to modern art as any of its major artists, and this documentary promises to delight all of the senses as it is directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the woman who created the visually dynamic Diane Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, one of my favourite documentary films from a few years ago.
BROOKLYN directed by John Crowley (UK/IRELAND/CANADA)
Having spent several weeks around Brooklyn neighbourhoods this past year, I am fascinated with both the history and the specific cultural contexts that position this place. This film is set in the Brooklyn of the 1950s and follows the story of one woman's journey from Ireland to America. I am a sucker for sweeping epics of this variety, especially as a child of immigrants, and I have read wonderful reviews about both the acting and cinematography in this film.
BEEBA BOYS directed by Deepa Mehta (CANADA)
Deepa Mehta is one of my favourite Canadian filmmakers, and I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how she puts her films together, both as a researcher (I published a paper on the film Earth as a grad student that examined her use of melodrama in telling the story about India's partition) and as a true fan attending most of her films for the first time at VIFF. In this film, Mehta sticks closer to home and tackles the subject of youth gang culture within the Indo-Canadian community in Vancouver. I am sure she will make her own unique twist on the staple gangster movie and create the important conversations that her films are always known for.
THE ANARCHISTS directed by Elie Wajeman (FRANCE)
Any movie about anarchism is sure to interest a person like me steeped in the study of the avant-garde, but I am especially drawn to this French film for the setting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century era-- a time in history I have spent so much of my time researching and teaching about. I am looking in this film for the kinds of links connecting political radicalism from the past to the present, but I am also expecting to be thoroughly entertained.
CITY OF GOLD directed by Laura Gabbert (USA)
The subject of this documentary film, LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold caught my attention right away as he has been popping up in many books about foodie culture that I have been reading over the past year. Gold spends a lot of time hunting down food on the margins of LA's food landscape, so I think this film promises to be one for the senses!
THE COMPETITION directed by Angel Borrego Cubero (SPAIN/ANDORRA)
Architects competing with one another caught on camera-- that is enough of a synopsis to hook me! This film follows the design competition for the creation of an art gallery high in the Pyrenees and features some of the big names in the world of architecture today. Can't wait to check this one out.
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST by Antoine Barraud (FRANCE)
Because this film actually features an art historian doing there job in the field, I was immediately hooked. But the film's subject of looking for the definitive artistic image of "the monstrous" is a truly compelling premise. The French also have a way of representing their cultural history on film in unexpected and highly original ways, so I have high hopes for this offering.
ALL EYES AND EARS by Vanessa Hope (USA/CHINA)
As the US is set to meet with China next week, I like many around the world continue to be fascinated with the tense relationship as it unfolds between the two world powers. This film follows and connects three different individual's stories that help highlight the current state of US-China relations. One of these figures in human rights advocate and activist Chen Guangcheng-- a man who has brought worldwide attention to human rights abuses in his homeland.
INVENTION by Mark Lewis (CANADA)
Sometimes a film just has to be seen, and that is why this one made my list. Canadian film and video installation artist Mark Lewis created this work as a way to meditate on the pre-verbal form of the cinema, as a technology rooted in seeing and visuality and providing a means of representation that begins in the eye of viewer. That the Louvre commissioned Lewis to create a series looking at their own collection is yet another reason I want to see this film (below is a clip from that work).
THE THOUGHTS THAT ONCE WE HAD by Thom Andersen (USA)
Another filmmaker that delves into a meditation on the cinematic medium is Thom Anderson. His highly acclaimed film from several years ago Los Angeles Plays Itself made a huge impression on me as a student of film history (which I also saw at VIFF), and I have since been fascinated with both Andersen's theories and ideas concerning cinema, early films especially. This movie looks to be his own love letter to the movies, but told through the lens of his own specific critical inquiries and interests. I have not found a trailer (just the screen grab published by VIFF), and that just makes me more intrigued to check it out.