(Pictured above: Photo documenting my VIFF Guides throughout the years..... every September I look forward to the ritual of picking up my copy.)
This is the year... THE year that I am attempting to view as many VIFF films as I can possibly squeeze into my schedule. As many of my students, colleagues, and friends/family know, the Vancouver International Film Festival is something of an obsession of mine, and I have made it my mission to introduce and expose as many students as I can each fall semester to the event. Through mandatory assignments in my Introduction to Film Studies course, to bonus assignments in my upper and lower art history classes, I encourage students to partake in one of the best cultural opportunities our big city has to offer-- the chance to view independent, foreign, and otherwise experimental and difficult to view films in a well curated two week festival of cinema each September. As I am on sabbatical this year, I have finally found myself in the rare position to live out the dream of attending the festival day and night through VIFF's run from September 28th to October 13th.
Lucky for me, this year has an especially rich line up of films and I have attempted as in past years to isolate some selections and recommendations from the hundreds of films on offer based on both my research and personal interests. You can begin your own VIFF hunt by downloading a PDF copy of the VIFF Guide here. The first of my posts will focus more on art/culture/documentary selections (some of which I have been anticipating for a while) while my second post will target more randomly chosen films that caught my attention while I studied the guide. Selections will be listed below with links to VIFF’s schedule and ticketing information, along with a trailer and a few thoughts as to why I picked the film. I truly hope you get a chance to enjoy VIFF this year—and if not, take note of these films as they may pop up on other screens and digital spaces in the months and year to come!
THE SQUARE directed by Ruben Ostlund
If you know as many curators as I do, you know that they are often incredibly driven, social, and wildly ambitious individuals who have the power to make or break the careers of emerging artists. When I first heard of the premise for The Square as a satirical take on the world of high art patronage and the difficulty of understanding, curating, and engaging audiences with the most cutting edge contemporary art, I knew that this would be my very first pick of the festival. Add to this Palme d'Or-winning film a cast that includes the likes of Elizabeth Moss (from two of my favourite TV shows, Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale), and you have a clear winner to check out.
THE BOLSHOI directed by Valery Todorovsky
The high stakes world of professional ballet has been the subject of some fantastic films, notably Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. This film, a Russian offering that will debut the film's North American premiere at VIFF, promises to be a psychological portrait of one young girl's journey from her small hometown to pursue ballet in Moscow's most esteemed classical ballet company. For many years I have taught students about the representation and symbolism of young French ballerinas and their journey to perform ballet in the heart of urban Paris (with all of its subversive and sex-fuelled connotations in French Impressionist painting), and so I am curious how this tale will compare and contrast to that particular narrative.
FACES PLACES directed by Agnes Varda and JR
Many years ago when I was attending VIFF as a grad student, I had a chance to see my first Agnes Varda film, The Gleaners and I. That began a love affair with Varda films, and I have since screened and taught her movies in many of my film courses. This film, co-directed with the French photographer and street artist JR, has been very much on my radar this year as I follow both creatives on Instagram. Tracking the French countryside, the focus of Varda's interest, the film follows the two artists as they invite villagers to pose for JR's now infamous large-scale portraits-- images that then circulate and stand in for much larger ideas of both face and place (as the title so aptly describes). I simply cannot wait to see these two on camera together. A must see film.
HUMAN FLOW directed by Ai Weiwei
Speaking of Instagram, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has become one of the most prolific contemporary artists to use social media to give voice to underrepresented and often hidden dimensions of political and social life both in his home country, and most recently in the refugee camps that have become increasingly commonplace globally as the world experiences unprecedented human movement from several war-torn and ravaged countries. Filmed in forty refugee camps in twenty-three countries, Human Flow is a film that took Ai around the world with the help of multiple film crews and assistance and coordination of untold number of aid workers. As Ai states about the project, "Human Flow is a personal journey, an attempt to understand the conditions of humanity in our days… The film is made with deep beliefs in the value of human rights. In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis…"
BEUYS: ART AS A WEAPON directed by Andres Veiel
While at Documenta in Kassel, Germany this summer with the Paris/Documenta Field School, I was able to view several Joseph Beuys works at the Neue Gallery, including the installation of his famous das Rudel (The Pack) (1969), an artwork commenting on the state of emergency that he associated with both the art world and the role artists could play in bringing awareness and intervention in the social and political discourse of nation. In this film, Beuys is introduced to North American audiences through the eyes of a German filmmaker and within the context of Beuys prominence in Germany from his early days through to his later celebrity as a globally recognized artist-provocateur. An important film, especially for artists who aspire to work within the spirit of the avant-garde Beuys helped to transform through his projects.
BUNCH OF KUNST directed by Christine Franz
This film just looks like a lot of fun! Focused on the UK punk band Sleaford Mods, this documentary touches on how punk traditions, punk fans, and punk music have transformed from the heyday of the 1970's to the present. Having recently taught a section on the Punk movement (in art, music, and fashion) in a new Urban Visual Culture course that I have been developing over the past several years, I am looking forward to seeing how the ideals of punk are preserved in today's bands and through their followers.
SHADOWMAN directed by Oren Jacoby
Another film touching on my interest in street art and urban visual culture, Shadowman tracks the pioneering street art of Vancouverite Richard Hambleton (graduating from the Vancouver School of Art in the mid-1970's), an artist that the VIFF guide describes as "once spoken in the same breath as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring." I must admit that I know very little about Hambleton's story, and so this film is very high on my list of must-see movies as it will hopefully figure in future lectures on the historical period associated with the infancy and rise of New York's graffiti and street art culture.
BIG TIME directed by Kaspar Astrup Schroder
A few years ago we purchased a condo in a highly gentrifying part of Vancouver at the foot of the Granville Street bridge and directly across from the future site of Vancouver House, an architectural project described in its marketing material as "A total work of art." For the past several years, we have watched the grand building slowly take shape as the neighbourhood and buildings around it also transform. Big Time profiles the "starchitect" Bjorke Ingels responsible for this building project, along with dozens of other high-profile architectural projects globally, in a film that tracks seven years in the life of Ingels as he rises in status and prominence in the high stakes world of urban architecture, planning, and design.
MEET BEAU DICK, MAKER OF MONSTERS directed by LaTiesha Ti'si'tia Fazakas and Natalie Boll
Kwakwaka’wakw and Pacific Northwest Coast artist Beau Dick came to global art world attention this past year as one of the artists chosen to be featured at this past edition of Documenta in Kassel, Germany. Working as a cultural activist with one foot firmly planted in the art world and the other in his role as hereditary chief, Beau Dick, well before Documenta has been recognized as an important voice in the local artist and First Nations communities of B.C., using his position and art practice to bring awareness to the long and complicated history between B.C.'s First Nations and the provincial and federal governments. Sadly, he died earlier this year, and it is all the more special that such an intimate portrait of this artist could be completed in time to be screened at VIFF.
LOVING VINCENT directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
This will likely be THE art film that everyone will want to see this year because of course its central figure is none other than art history star above all stars Vincent Van Gogh (can you hear the sarcasm?). Now normally I would steer clear of this sort of film for this reason alone (how much more popular attention does this artist need already?), but the actual premise and technique of producing this film-- described as "the world's first fully painted feature"-- leaves me both intrigued and admittedly curious. One of the screenings is already sold out, and the other is in conflict with a film I would like to see more, so I will cross my fingers that this one comes back post-VIFF (or at the very least, on iTunes). I have no doubt that it will.