Cannes. Sundance. TIFF. The head-turners. The big boys. Part of the film festival A-List. When a picture plays on their projectors, the world takes notice. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), on the other hand, is none of these things. And nor does it try to be. Thank God.
As the film world moves with increasing speed into the epic, oft-overwhelming gluttony that is awards season, it’s nice to first take a step back and connect with the latest range of low-key festival delights in the traditional Vancouver manner: by sitting in a tiny playhouse amongst a group of napping pensioners and allowing yourself to be charmed almost to death by the quaintness of your experience. Even as Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA live scores a seventies kung-fu classic (yes, this is happening), the snoring will continue and the world will be at peace.
Welcome to VIFF 2018, TIFF’s distant West Coast cousin, and purveyor of simply having a lovely time while seated in a dark room. As always there’s plenty to look forward, as the festival’s traditional streams of local, national (including a variety of joint Canadian-European productions), and international cinema (the festival has a strong East Asian connection) flood quirky theatres throughout the city.
Opening proceedings On September 27 is Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project, a dramatized Flash Boys (by Michael Lewis) thriller focusing on two brothers’ (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård) attempts to shave a millisecond off New York Stock Exchange transactions using 1,000 miles of fibre optic cable.
The North American premier of Up in the Air director Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner will bring the curtain down on October 12. Starring Hugh Jackman as Senator Gary Hart, the leading candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, TFR is a tale of public scandal and media intrusiveness in a world long before social media, but where one’s private life remains the ultimate gambling chip.
Other Hollywood big-hitters do of course drop in occasionally, with writer-director Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased – the story of a 19-year-old’s (rising star Lucas Hedges) journey through gay conversion therapy at the behest of his devout, God-fearing parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) – certain to draw a crowd. Another highlight sees Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer, and Jake Gyllenhaal go head-to-head in Jacques Audiard’s western, The Sisters Brothers, which promises to swimming in booze, blood, and a hefty dose of black humour.
From across the Pacific comes VIFF’s now standard plethora of high class East Asian filmmaking talent, led by legendary director Zhang Yimour (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) and his big-budget, no doubt aesthetically pleasing period martial arts piece, Shadow. On the other end of the spectrum is Pema Tseden’s Jinpa, an intriguing Tibetan road movie with old school Western vibes, set against the stunning backdrop of the Kekexili highlands. Another renowned Chinese director, Jia Zhangke, returns to the international festival scene with his gangster-infused Ash is Purest White which, based on his previous outlay, will be one to watch.
It wouldn’t be a film festival without the vibrant, murky, and sometimes outright twisted art house cinema of Europe, and this year’s VIFF is no exception. Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, has already created quite a bit of buzz, while Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone revisits the seedy underworld of his most memorable work, only this time with a sympathetic character piece, Dogman. Gaspar Noé of Irreversible fame finally backs away from outright porn with musical-horror Climax, and Gustav Möller’s directorial debut, The Guilty, provides a strong entry from the Danish camp, based around Jakob Cedergren’s all-but-one man show about a disgraced police officer handling a call from a kidnapping victim.
Like last year, when we witnessed Harry Dean Stanton’s final role as Lucky, a Hollywood legend will bid farewell to the lens (albeit voluntarily this time) at VIFF, in the form of Robert Redford, whose old-timer bank robber Forrest Tucker plays opposite love-interest Sissy Spacek and determined detective Casey Affleck in The Old Man and the Gun. Continuing the theme of harking back to VIFFs of old is The Eyes of Orson Welles; super fan Mark Cousins’ ode to the great filmmaker, by way of his passion for painting and drawing, and a documentary reminiscent in tone to the quite awesome, Brando-focused Listen to Me Marlon, which played here in 2015.
And then there’s RZA, who will follow up a talk on his wide-ranging music and movie career with a live scoring – including Wu-Tang beats – of Lau Kar-leung’s Shaw Brothers classic, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, starring kung-fu cinema legend Gordon Liu (later of Kill Bill fame). If what they say is true, such a tremendous combination of entertainment could be dangerous…
VIFF 2018 runs from September 27 to October 12 at venues across Vancouver
Tickets and additional information can be found here.