The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is soon upon us. Tomorrow, in fact. I love this time of year.
In celebration, here are 10 films I’m totally excited to see.
10 VIFF Films that Look Just Amazing
All descriptions are taken from the VIFF website.
Based on the best-selling Man Booker Prize-nominated novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue (she also wrote the screenplay), this is the story of five-year-old Jack, who lives in an 11-by-11-foot room with his mother. Since it’s all he’s ever known, Jack believes that only “Room” and the things it contains (including himself and Ma) are real. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has never stepped foot outside of this tiny shed he shares with Ma (Brie Larson) because it’s a prison built for them by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), their kidnapper. Although based on the shocking case of an Austrian father who enslaved his own daughter and had children by her, all entirely captive, the novel and this film dispense with brutality in favour of imagination, and immense sympathy and sensitivity. Despite such a life, Ma refuses to let her son suffer from the truth, concocting an elaborate fantasy that would have him believe that theirs is the only world that exists and that nothing lies beyond the shed’s walls. When Jack’s finally ready to take part in a dramatic escape, Ma must explain, and they both must act, soon finding themselves in an overwhelming outside world that, ironically, is perhaps more terrifying than the prison they’ve abandoned.
Haida Gwai: On the Edge of the World
VIFF favourites Charles Wilkinson and Tina Schliessler (Peace Out, Oil Sands Karaoke) complete their eco-trilogy with a paean to breathtaking Haida Gwaii and the spirited people who populate it. The natural beauty of this culturally rich archipelago has served as a backdrop for tragedies such as outbreaks of smallpox and the exploitation of natural resources. And yet, the Haida Nation remains undaunted, drawing on 14,000 years of tradition in preparing for a showdown over the Northern Gateway pipeline and planning for a more sustainable future.
Paula van der Oest’s feature is based on a shocking true story of injustice. When a baby dies on her watch, investigators turn their sights on nurse Lucia de Berk (Ariane Schluter). Discovering more suspicious infant deaths—and some strong but circumstantial evidence against the nurse—they arrest her and she’s put on trial before the nation. Labelled “The Angel of Death” by the media, de Berk is put through a crucible of fear and humiliation. Then doubts emerge about her guilt…
A slow-burn thriller with a sly sense of humour, Andrés Clariond Rangel’s film features a first-rate performance from Verónica Langer. She plays Susana, a bored housewife who becomes a desperate one, slowly turning from discontent to evil as we watch in alarm. Her husband’s a big-shot businessman who pays her no attention, her friends are rich snobs and her days are full of luxury—and empty of anything meaningful. Then one day she hires Hilda (Adriana Paz), a younger woman of humble origins, as a maid. Slowly her life changes: she starts to remember the leftist activism of her college days, and she starts to cling to her new maid more and more. Hilda goes from employee to obsession and, finally, to prisoner.
I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced
In 2009, the story of Yemeni teenager Nojoom Ali’s bid to legally extricate herself from an abusive, arranged marriage to a much older man (which took place when she was just 10 years old) made headlines. Khadija Al-Salami has beautifully adapted the subsequent bestseller into an emphatic drama that features a wonderful performance from Reham Mohammed as the young Ali, and a striking backdrop of Yemen’s astonishing mountain villages and ancient “skyscrapers.”
Shot clandestinely in Iran, at times with actors unaware that they were being photographed, Sina Ataeian Dena’s remarkable debut feature—the first in a proposed trilogy on violence in Tehran—sparks with a fresh, exacting compositional formalism not normally seen in underground Iranian productions. With an almost exclusive female cast, Paradise concentrates on the role of women in contemporary Iranian society.
Songs My Brother Taught Me
Completed over four years on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Chloé Zhao’s feature debut is remarkably assured and attentively detailed. Made with the cooperation of the Lakota people, who make a hard living in these marginalized Badlands, Songs My Brothers Taught Me rings with authenticity. The story concerns Jashaun (Jashaun St. John), a young girl torn between the strength of her roots and the allure of the outside world. Her older brother, Johnny (John Reddy), plans to abandon the reservation and move to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. When their estranged father passes away, Jashaun is tempted to investigate his mysterious cowboy lifestyle, leading her down an unlikely existential path of exploration to discover where she truly belongs.
Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories
Vietnamese cinema has become much more mature and sophisticated in recent years, and Phan Dang Di has been at the forefront of the advances. Ever since he wrote the script for Bui Thac Chuyen’s Adrift he’s pioneered a grown-up approach to the way that social and economic themes intersect with sexual and psychological themes, and his explorations of same-sex attractions have opened the door to a small flood of Vietnamese commercial gay features. But Phan himself remains some way ahead of the pack.
Ice and the Sky
Luc Jacquet (the Oscar-winning March of the Penguins) returns to the Antarctic to trace the fascinating life and groundbreaking work of French explorer and glaciologist Claude Lorius, now 83. Lorious began journeying to the Arctic and then on to the Antarctic as a 23-year-old in 1955—journeys that Jacquet vividly re-creates here—where he and his teams would spend long periods in isolation, trying to uncover the secrets that lay frozen in polar ice. Eventually, Lorius discovered that, by drilling into ice and extracting cores from enormous depths, then examining and carbon dating the air bubbles trapped within, one could effectively test far back into time. The link between man-made greenhouse gases and climate change became irrefutable.
No Land’s Song
Before the Islamic Revolution banned solo performances by women, Iran boasted popular female vocalists like Delkash and Googoosh. No longer willing to see women’s voices silenced, musician Sara Najafi aspires to stage a concert in Tehran. Her brother Ayat helms this revealing documentary that details the bureaucratic obstacles and theological arguments that stand between her and such a seemingly simple goal. And while the women’s glorious songs lend the film uplift, it’s Sara’s courageous determination in battling institutional discrimination that truly inspires.