Despite the pandemic’s attempts to rob local senior citizens of their favourite few weeks of the year, the Vancouver International Film Festival returns for its 39th edition this month, utilising an online platform to stream its more than 100 features and events for the very first time.
Whether locked down for our own safety or simply because it’s started to rain, British Columbians can find comfort in VIFF’s usual selection of unique globetrotting experiences, as they sit ready to help improve what has so far been a shitty year for cinema (and life).
Here are five flicks worth checking out…
Writer-director Charles Officer returns to his ever-evolving theme of life at street level with a raw crime drama rooted in the struggle for identity. Set during the decline of Toronto’s black market marijuana trade in the wake of legalisation, Akilla’s Escape sees poet-rapper Saul Williams return to cinema as the titular drug slinger seeking a way out of the business, only to find himself dragged back into the deep end as he seeks to protect a young recruit (Thamela Mpumlwana) from the fallout of a deal gone bad. Featuring a pulsing score composed by Williams alongside Massive Attack legend Robert Del Naja, Officer’s status as a rising star of Canada’s indie scene looks set to continue.
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Having already pierced the souls of festival audiences worldwide with his 2017 sleeper hit One Cut of the Dead, it didn’t take Japanese director Shin’ichirô Ueda long to get nuts once again with his follow up Special Actors, another savage meta-comedy that zeroes in on the bizarre world of acting and how it can cross with cult-like status, though not in the way you might imagine. No stranger to skewering cinematic norms, Ueda promises another frantic journey filled with jarring comedic twists supported by his usual perfect timing, as he guides his lead player Kazuto (Kazuto Osawa) and his “special” troupe of wannabe thespians to the starring roles none of them wanted.
There is No Evil
Independent filmmaking is tough. But then again, it’s not. Not compared to the strife and restriction faced by Iranian director Mahammad Rasoulof. Despite having been banned from leaving his home country, arrested and jailed on several occasions, and told in no uncertain terms that he is not to make any more “propaganda” on pain of increased incarceration, Rasoulof continues to defy authority and suffer for his art. Told through four individual stories that grapple with morality in everyday Iranian life, There is No Evil centres on the nation’s use of the death penalty and its impact on an authoritarian culture Rasoulof remains determined to convey to the world, even if he is forced to do so in secret.
READ MORE: Hard Kill – Film Review
VIFF has long spotlighted Indigenous filmmakers and the trend continues this year with Tracey Deer’s Beans – a coming-of-age telling of the violent 1990 Oka Crisis in Quebec – and BC-based Loretta Todd’s feature debut, an adaptation of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. The latter is a modern, winding deep dive into Lisa’s (Grace Dove) journey to reconnect with her nation’s land after she follows a vision from East Vancouver to her Haisla family in Kitammat Village, where she realises that she is destined to save her brother from a fate she has long foreseen. Due to open the festival, Monkey Beach promises imagery and style as powerful as its themes.
Last and First Men
Though it has been two years since he passed, the loss of Icelandic composer Jóhan Jóhannsson hits home each time his notes are heard. Known for his frequent collaborations with director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival) and his final score for Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, starring Nicolas Cage, Jóhannsson was regularly cited as one of the most exciting film composers of the last decade. Earlier this year, his knack for directing was revealed in the form of Last and First Men, a brutalist black and white depiction of a future that no longer seems as distant as it may have done when Jóhannsson was alive. Shot on 16mm, narrated by Tilda Swinton, and naturally electrified by Jóhannsson’s score, Last and First Men is a fitting send off for an artist we barely knew.
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Vancouver International Film Festival runs from 24th September to 7th October 2020. You can find the full programme and information on how to stream individual films here.