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Book your holidays and pack a pillow, VIFF is on it's way...
by Greg Ursic

With the clouds rolling in and the dog days of summer but a fleeting memory, most Vancouverites are settling in for the fall doldrums. For local moviegoers however, it provides the perfect excuse to stay indoors and indulge in the cornucopia being offered at the Vancouver International Film Festival aka VIFF. After breaking records in 2004 with over 150,000 attendees and $1 million in ticket sales, VIFF staff are preparing for another banner year as they roll out a new crop of films from around the world.

Unlike Torontoís annual ode to Hollywood, VIFF, now in itís 24th year, has always pursued a more global non-mainstream approach. During VIFFís 15-day run from September 29th to October 14th, there will be over 500 screenings of 329 films (230 of which are feature and mid-length films) from over 50 countries to entice eager cinephiles. Included in the lineup are eight World premieres, 22 International premieres, 38 North American Premieres and 59 Canadian premieres. Regardless your preference, you are sure to find something that youíll enjoy.

The festival kicks off with the September 28th gala screening of Water the final installment in Deepa Mehtaís epic ďelementĒ trilogy. Set in colonial India, Water follows Chuviya, an eight-year-old exiled to a home for Hindu widows, and the effect the dynamic youth has on the other residents. Other special presentations include Manderlay , Lars Von Trierís follow-up to Dogville, his 2004 exercise in minimalist film making; Cache, the lurid thriller that won for Best Director at Cannes; North Country, a landmark study in sexual harassment and Fateless, the sweeping Holocaust drama from Hungary. LíEnfant, from the brothers Dardennes, will be the festivalís closing gala on October 14th - the film, which captured the prestigious Palme díOr, examines parenthood gone terribly wrong. Old feature favorites are back with some new additions.

While VIFFís Dragonís and Tigers: Cinemas of East Asia program, now in itís 17th year, continues to showcase the largest selection of Asian films in a non-Asian festival, it had to be scaled back this year, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. Tony Rayns, the London-based seriesí programmer, explained that ďÖ[the] overlap of dates with the massively successful Pusan Film Festival in Korea [means} too many film-prints [are] needed in both places. Ē In spite of this, there are still 40 features, and 15 shorts to whet your whistle. Highlights include the much anticipated reworking of the 1982 classic Heart Beating in the Dark, from esteemed Japanese director Nagasaki Shunichi, Lee Myung-Seís, Duelist, a thriller that promises gorgeous visuals and outstanding martial arts fight sequences and Blood Rain/ a period detective thriller, set in Joseon Dynasty Korea.

The Canadian Images program
, which highlights Canadian content, is back with a vengeance with 38 feature and mid-length film and 61 short films. They run the gamut from silly shorts, to serious dramas, quirky comedies and thought provoking documentaries. Highlights include Aubrey Nealonís A Simple Plan which looks at the dynamics of familial relationships; Beowulf and Grendel, a loose adaptation of the epic poem; and C.R.A.Z.Y. which examines a familyís growth over two decades.

Another returning feature is The Spotlight on France with a new selection of contemporary Gallic cinema. Highlights include The Last Mitterand, an examination of the last days of the former President; Hell, in which three sistersí struggle to deal with the horrific incident they witnessed as children and The Bridesmaid, a retelling of an English novel that looks at the bounds of love.

Although it is the largest section at VIFF, The Cinema of Our Time, which presents award-winning films and audience favorites, is often lost in the rush to the other features. Highlights include Live and Become, where an Ethiopian boy must reinvent himself to start a new life in Israel, Paradise Now, which examines the final days of a pair of suicide bombers and the timely Yasmin, where a young Muslim woman tries to balance her faith within British culture in the aftermath of 9/11. Ensure you donít overlook this collection as it boasts some powerful entries. If you can handle the truth, thereís a section waiting just for you.

The Nonfiction Features, a cornerstone of the VIFF program drew over 50,000 attendees in 2004 and is poised to beat that number. It also happens to be my favorite program at the festival (I saw over 30 docs last year) as it gives us a glimpse into things we would likely never get a chance to see. And with more than 70 titles exploring a wide range of topics, locales, concerns and styles I couldnít be happier. While last yearís docs had a
heavy political focus, thanks to the looming US presidential election (which many are still in denial over), itís harder to discern any consistent theme this year, which suits me just fine. The exceptions to the rule is the subsection on Brazilian music with five docs that examine the different sounds coming out of Brazil and an Eastern European section showcasing films from the Czech Republic, Hungary and the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Croatia in this case).

The following is my personal list of recommendations based on what Iíve actually seen (I've been through about 15 so far). My first choice is Jessica Sanderí After Innocencewhich looks at several men who were freed after being exonerated by DNA evidence. It gives pause for reflection and will both shock and outrage you. A close second is Five Days in September, a thoroughly engaging documentary that follows the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as they gear up for a new season with their amiable new maestro Peter Oundjiian. Five mixes frantic behind the scenes wrangling with candid moments with guest soloists and gorgeous classical pieces (note: I am not normally a fan of classical music). Next up is This Divided State, which follows the furore that erupted over the student councilís decision to host Michael Moore at Utah Valley State College. An examination of first Amendment rights, the attack on academia, and the very definition of hypocrisy, it highlights that the Neo-conservative intolerance running rampant in the US (and unfortunately in some parts of Canada as well). I was also impressed with All Points of the Compass, the story of South Vietnamís foreign minister who, dreaming of democracy, sent his nine children abroad to train to be productive citizens. When the US abandoned South Vietnam, his family was scattered to the winds and would not reunite for three decades. A poignant drama it examines the toll the war and subsequent exile had upon the family. Now for the oneís Iím looking forward to.

The Devilís Miner, follows the once devout Vargas children who turn to worshipping the Devil whom they believe governs their fate in the dank confines of Cerro Rico, one of Boliviaís hellish silver mines . In China Blue, Michel trains a microscope on Chinaís denim industry and examines the high price of globalization, where workers take pay cuts so that brand name companies can increase their profit margin. Hell On Wheels, directed by Academy Award Winner Pepe Danquart promises an frantic adrenaline surge with his insiderís view of the Tour De France. Iím also intrigued by Banking on Heaven a glimpse into the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), especially since one of the chapters calls Bountiful BC home. According to former members, the polygamist sect practices child rape, welfare fraud and brainwashing. As non-members are not trusted the film largely relies on secret camera footage. This yearís VIFF also welcomes a new addition.

The Vancouver International Film Centre and Vancity Theatre on Seymour and Davie is undergoing final touch ups before itís grand opening on September 28th. The venue houses a 175-seat theater (with special imported comfy seats I might add), production/editing facilities, boardroom, multipurpose gallery and exhibit spaces and most importantly a new year-round home for the VIFF offices. The Film Centre will host events throughout the year in keeping with its mandate to foster understanding of other cultures through film and sponsor events to encourage film professionals both locally and around the world.

The grand opening will also mark the start of the VIFF Film and Television Trade Forum which is celebrating its twentieth year. The Forum will be held in film centre's Rogers Industry Centre at the and will run from September 28th Ė 30th, with the New Filmmakersí day being held on October 1st. Among the many seminars on offer, are the always popular Master Classes, which feature guest speakers on an array of subjects. This yearís notable attendees include screenwriter, director and playwright, Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things , Nurse Betty , Your Friends and Neighbors ) who will lead a Master Class in Screenwriting and James L. White (Ray) who will lead a Writers Master Class. Two new seminars Ė Producing or the New Asian Market, and Trail Blazing (which explains how to create a trailer that works) - are sure to spawn interest.
If youíre looking for more information, check out where you can look up the film schedule and book tickets online (just remember that Visa is a major sponsor, so youíll need a Visa card to pay online). Donít have an internet connection? Call the Starbucks Hotline at Looking for more information at 604-683-FILM (3456). Also the VIFF souvenir Program Guide goes on sale Sunday September 18th. The 208 page full-colour guide costs $8 and is available at numerous sites throughout Vancouver (check the website for locations).

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originally posted: 09/18/05 14:26:17
last updated: 10/10/05 04:34:00
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