FESTIVALS: "Ah Shinju!" It's Different Worlds At Vancouver International
by Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice
(indieWIRE/10.16.00) — The theme for the 19th Vancouver International Film Festival was “Same Planet, Different Worlds,” a notion taken to heart with programming coming from all corners of the globe. Vancouver audiences — a mix of visiting guests, local cast and crews, and a very loyal cadre of cinema aficionados — rewarded festival organizers with scores of sold out screenings and blockbuster-size lines outside of theaters showing the latest imports from Iceland or Japan.
The festival became leaner but not meaner in its 19th incarnation, shaving three days from its duration but adding venues to compensate. However, at fourteen days, the Vancouver International Film Festival is still the longest film festival in Canada and four days longer than the ten-day model to which the international community is more accustomed.
This year, three countries were highlighted by special programs: “Iranian Focus,” “Spotlight on France,” and “Korean Skew!” — the latter featuring comedic treats from the country with Seoul. There was also an exploration of films dealing with the New World Order, ranging from Shaya Mercer‘s “Trade Off,” a documentary on the Battle of Seattle, to Ken Loach‘s “Bread and Roses,” a fictional portrayal of the Justice for Janitors movement in Los Angeles.
As usual, the festival’s most popular programs remained the home-brewed collection entitled “Canadian Images,” and “Dragons and Tigers,” the cinemas of East Asia. Packed houses greeted Vancouver-lensed independent productions such as Ross Weber‘s humorous “No More Monkeys Jumpin’ On The Bed,” Lynne Stopkewich‘s intense “Suspicious River,” Martin Cummins‘ gritty “We All Fall Down,” and Anne Wheeler‘s lighthearted “Marine Life.” A total of eight British Columbia-made fiction features, including five debuts, got into this year’s program of 23. On the short film side, there were 111 B.C.- based applicants, of which only 18 made the cut.
“Canadian Images” opened with Vancouver director Bruce Spangler‘s potent feature debut “Protection.” Although preachy at times, the stellar performance by seasoned theater actor Jillian Fargey made this tragic tale of a child-abuse investigation in Surrey, B.C. intriguing to watch. Controversy surrounded Sturla Gunnarsson‘s “Scorn,” a CBC made-for-TV movie based on the real life story of Darren Huenemann, who was convicted of orchestrating the murders of his mother and grandmother for the inheritance of a few million dollars. Actor Eric Johnson won praise for his creepy portrayal of Darren, who recruits his two classmates to undertake the murder. David and Elouise Lord, the parents of one of these convicted murderers were present at both screenings, handing out literature and answering questions after the screening on why their son and his friend are innocent. They exchanged loud remarks with several audience members, including some surviving members of the Huenemann family.
Other Canadian highlights included Penelope Buitenhuis‘ documentary “Tokyo Girls,” a candid journey into the world of four young Canadian women who work as well-paid hostesses in exclusive Japanese nightclubs, Quebec theater and film icon Robert LePage‘s English language debut “Possible Worlds,” and Gary Burns‘ audience favorite “waydowntown,” the eventual winner of three Vancouver International Film Festival awards. Audiences also championed Philippe Falardeau‘s “La Moitie gauche du frigo,” a humorous and emotional look at chronic unemployment. Shot in the ubiquitous reality television style where the camera is another character, “La Moitie” succeeds rather than annoys due mainly to the clever script penned by Philippe and the natural performance of lead, Stephane Demers. “La Moitie” picked up the Best Canadian First Feature Film award just a week prior at the Toronto Film Festival. Some notable short films were Dan Duffy‘s comedic “Waiting For Jennifer,” Nic Racz‘s stylish “The Real Thing,” and Michael Dowse‘s “237,” a survey on the events that take place in one motel room over a period of time.
Coinciding with the festival’s celebration of Canadian cinema, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Sheila Copps announced the new Canadian Feature Film Policy entitled “From Script to Screen” and additional resources for the Canadian film industry. The Corporation’s annual commitment to feature film production, development, distribution, marketing, versioning, festivals, et al, will be increased from $50 million annually to some $100 million. This was exciting news for Canadian filmmakers because the announcement is a sign of confidence in the industry and recognition for Canadian cinema.
One continual annoyance with the festival was the terrible advertisement trailers made by sponsor AGF. As if last year’s confusing and grating Gumby spots weren’t enough, this year the investment group put supposed staff members on display as they shared embarrassing treatises on the nature of film. Beyond the choppy editing and poor image quality, the trailers constant repetition left frequent festival viewers booing the screen. On a more positive note, the festival’s own “Same Planet, Different Worlds” trailers, made by advertising company Bryant, Fulton & Shea, were definite audience hits, as they successfully parodied the more esoteric styles of some foreign language films.
The Trade Forum portion of the festival, now in its fifteenth year, ran from September 27 – 29 with the popular New Filmmakers’ Day running on September 30. Unquestionably the highlight of this year’s event was a special presentation: Roger Corman in Profile. Other panels included Digital Filmmaking – A Sony Presentation, The Second Dot Coming on short film distribution on the web, and Navigating Edgy Movies through the System with producers Steve Golin (“Being John Malkovich“), Albert Berger (“Election“) and Mary Sweeney (“Lost Highway“).
While the Vancouver festival doesn’t have the party reputation of Toronto, they still know how to throw a shindig or two. Women In Film and Video Vancouver organized their most successful Martini Madness event to date at the beautiful Au Bar, a trendy nightspot that also hosted a soiree for Peace Arch Entertainment (TV’s “First Wave” and “Big Sound“). The Roger’s Telefund annual reception at Cin Cin’s opened the Trade Forum portion of the festival while a Convergence Party hosted by alterentertainmentment.com and Netnation.com concluded it. At this bash, set in the mega hip Club Voda, the dot.com crowd cheerfully mixed the film crowd like rum and coke. Though beneath the illustrious exterior, cynicism was running high. One film producer was overheard saying, “I’m going to punch the next person who says ‘convergence.'”
Though the festival officially closed with the Gala screening of Lars von Trier‘s “Dancer in the Dark,” on Saturday October 7, for many, the true closing night was at a last minute screening for the made-in-Vancouver feature “Best In Show.” Director Christopher Guest introduced the film, which featured stand out performances from many actors seen in the festival’s Canadian-made independent films. The audience at the sell out show cheered on the sight of the local performers and were in such good spirits that they even phonetically recited the lines of the festival’s preceding trailer spoofing Japanese art films: “Ah Shinju!!!”