Meditating Wonder at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival

By Jason Whyte
Posted 09/29/17 04:31:34

Vancouver is always the place to be right now. This is my 16th year at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and out of all of the film festivals I have attended this one is my ultimate die-hard, go-to, film-loving bastard of an event that just never gives up. I have discovered some of my all time favorites in the very confines of this festival, seen people come and go but here I am still here, pounding down one movie after the other like the film nut that I am. That I get to write, broadcast and even promote these movies is another sweet part of this job.

This entire sixteen day festival, which we all just call VIFF as shorthand, really is a worldwide adventure without leaving your back yard. Festivalgoers line up their screenings like clockwork, move from one venue to another and sometimes sit down for a quick coffee in-between screenings. As I write this I am contemplating about just what is going to happen, who am I going to run into (both creative artists as well as film fans) and exactly which new films I am going to discover. The big part of the excitement is simply NOT knowing which movie is right around the corner and taking chances is part of the game.

The festival opens Thursday, September 28th, with Mina Shum's gorgeous and funny new movie MEDITATION PARK. This movie screened for me at a recent adventure to the Toronto International Film Festival and it is really a lovely slice of Vancouver life, starring Cheng Pei Pei as a woman who discovers her husband of many years may be cheating on him but then discovers a new chapter in her life around Vancouver's East End. Shum is no stranger to my moviegoing life, all the way from the 1990s with DOUBLE HAPPINESS to the recent NINTH FLOOR documentary which showed here in 2015. An immensely talented artist who is so prolific, I'm so happy that she is kicking off the festival with a truly Vancouver and British Columbia story. While the film has a terrific cast including Canadian mainstays Don McKellar, Sandra Oh and Tzi Ma, the performance here to celebrate is Cheng Pei Pei who is so funny and likable as our lead. Really a stunning opening for VIFF, which is also part of the Movie Nights Across Canada program by Telefilm.

One of the strongest female-directed films of recent years, Greta Gerwig's LADY BIRD comes as a late addition, Special Presentation. In the film, Saoirse Ronan plays the title character. I recall first coming across Ms. Ronan in ATONEMENT, which opened VIFF here over a decade ago. "This actress will get an Academy Award nomination", I nearly yelled on a CBC radio interview that year, and sure enough she was nominated. I maybe called it, maybe it was'll never know. LADY BIRD sold out several screenings at this year's TIFF as well due to its buzz, and no doubt the discussion will get loud here too.

Closing the festival is the Canadian Premiere of Todd Haynes' WONDERSTRUCK which has been high on my list of films to see this year. Another big Awards contender, Todd Haynes (CAROL and FAR FROM HEAVEN, the latter of which showed at VIFF many years ago) directs Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams along with newcomers Millicent Simmonds & Oakes Fegley in what I can only describe as a time-travelling adventure, the film industry and finding yourself. I don't even want to say any more as I don't want to know any more before seeing the movie! Haynes has also partnered up with the legendary cinematographer Ed Lachman so I am looking forward to checking this out as the closing film all the way on October 13th. I'll be there and you can find me on the other end of a large coffee.

In-between all of the galas is a lot of big Special Presentations, Galas and lots of screenings to sample. I know it sounds cliche, but there really is a movie for every film fan here. I am the most excited for audiences to see LUCKY, John Carroll Lynch's new movie featuring a legendary performance by the recently departed Harry Dean Stanton. In the movie, Stanton plays the title character who is so stubbornly set in his ways but has a lot of interesting and unique characters in his life, and the small town Southern setting really lends well to the fun and unique storytelling that Lynch has on display here.

Another intoxicating title is THELMA by Joachim Trier, no stranger to Vancouver as one of the big recent films at the festival was LOUDER THAN BOMBS which stirred up a lot of conversation here in 2015. No doubt this film, which has a striking performance by Eili Harboe as a young college student who falls to a seizure and may or may not have particular powers as she also connects with another woman at college is purely haunting filmmaking. I will say no more, but if you DO see the movie come up and talk with me in private about it. That would be fun!

Other special presentations include the bizarre, Kubrickian THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER by Yorgos Lanthimos that defies all description and sense yet will be on my list of the best films of 2017, Andy Serkis' epic BREATHE which widescreen fans will admire the ultra-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio (a tribute to the old school Ultra Panavision 70 movies) on the Centre For Performing Arts screen, and the Palme D'or winner THE SQUARE which has definitely divided audiences since it showed at that festival. I look forward to taking this one on and joining in the discussion after.

VIFF is also wonderful on the Canadian film front, and their Must See BC section is always a highlight of my moviegoing year. Last year, for example, I met the entire Spirit of the West band in person as they premiered Pete McCormack's wonderful SPIRIT UNFORGETTABLE (now on iTunes!). SHUT UP AND SAY SOMETHING is one of the lead films of the series but there is also the wonderful NEVER STEADY NEVER STILL from Kathleen Hepburn which did not have a dry eye in the TIFF screening, and ENTANGLEMENT by Jason James, a filmmaker I have hosted many times at festivals over the years.

Are you attending the festival? I always stress to either get your tickets early or if you are seeing more than a handful of films to PURCHASE a pass which will get you into virtually anything, especially the larger venues like The Centre (1700+ seats, two balconies and one of the biggest screens you will ever see), the Vancouver Playhouse (just under 700 seats) and as long as you line up early enough at all the venues you're good to go. This is one BUSY audience festival, mind you, so do be prepared!

(And don't be that person who arrives late to screenings. We're all silently judging you from our seats.)

VIFF is also just heaven to connect with fellow-minded film fans. They are in the trenches just like you, getting their movie on from countries all over the world and eager to share their adventures. This really is like going on a multi country vacation to sample the best of international cinema and they are just as eager as you are to discover that next great film. So do strike up a convo with that next person line! There are also many interactive events like panels, music and the industry forum which takes place at the heavenly Vancity Theatre. Never a dull moment.

Throughout the fest here's what you can do to follow along on my #VIFF17 adventures:

- Follow me on Twitter @jasonwhyte and Instagram at jason.whyte I do all sorts of social media coverage from pictures, videos, notes, tips, notes right from the venues and even some live-streaming! You can also connect with me there at any time if you need any moviegoing tips throughout the festival.

- Check out our articles section for exclusive filmmaker interviews from Canadian titles to short films!

- Come up and say hi if you see me at the festival! I'm the slightly well-dressed guy with the shades. Can't miss me. Unless I'm in a movie. Then wait until after, please.

Jason Whyte,
Email me!

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.