Your Kontinent International Film and Media Arts Festival connects cultural dots

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In the ongoing social experiment otherwise known as Canada, there aren’t any easy answers to multicultural issues, whether you’re an immigrant trying to figure out how to integrate into Canadian society or a long-term Canadian unsure of how to welcome newcomers into your world.

But that hasn’t stopped organizations and individuals from getting the conversation going. One such example is a film festival that offers everyone a chance to consider this diversity dilemma that has become a part of the Lower Mainland social landscape.

At Your Kontinent International Film and Media Arts Festival, a wide range of films, discussions, and more aspires to get audiences thinking and talking about society, culture, and—this year—technology.

“A lot of times, if we don’t get a chance to meet other ethnic groups…there’s a lot of misunderstanding about cultures,” artistic director Lynn Chen tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “What we wanted to do is perhaps provide another perspective or another channel for the audience to get to engage with different cultures from the movies that we show.”

Chen’s rationale is that the thousand words that a picture tells transcend linguistic divides. “Movies are the best medium to do storytelling, and everybody can understand a moving picture without speaking the language.”

Some selections tackle such issues head-on; Chen cites the Indian comedy-drama English Vinglish.

“It’s about an Indian lady who came to North America and her experience about how she needs to step out of her comfort zone and learn the language and try to immerse herself in this new culture,” she says. “In Vancouver, especially in Richmond, there’s…such an immigrant population that those people could relate to it.”

A sizable Asian selection includes: a Taiwanese film night, featuring the world premiere of the road-trip flick Anywhere, Somewhere, Nowhere; the Japanese documentary Rent a Family Inc., about a man who is hired to act out the parts of relatives, friends, or coworkers in real life; the Korean mockumentary Behind the Camera, in which a director tries to direct a film via Skype; and a “drive-in” screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

This Asian inclination reveals the festival’s roots as the New Asia Film Festival (which was created to introduce Asian films that don’t make it to Vancouver theatres) before it relaunched as Your Kontinent in 2010 with an expanded international outlook.

While cultural engagement remains a mainstay at the festival, Chen explains that this year, it has an eye on the future, with films that focus on technology’s pervasive impact upon society.

“Everything has changed our behaviour in just the past few years, with all the social media, Internet, and smartphones,” she says. “So…we selected movies that helped us explore different pros and cons of what technology will bring us.”

PressPausePlay looks at how technology may have democratized artistic expression but at what cost to the quality of artwork? High Tech, Low Life profiles citizen reporters, empowered by technology, in controlled-media China. Meanwhile, Web Junkie analyzes how Internet addiction is being treated at a rehabilitation clinic in China.

Beyond those topics, films about environmental problems (Sand Wars), population and habitation concerns (The Human Scale), cross-cultural relationships (Fly Me to Minami), and more fill out the mix with a truly global perspective. The Screen Bites series serves up films with food: Red Obsession, about China’s effect on the French wine market, will be paired with dim sum at Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant, while Mussels in Love, a documentary about the mollusk’s various roles in consumption and medical research, will be screened with a panel discussion at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston.

With photography exhibits, a featured artist (media artist, educator, and curator Vjeko Sager), workshops, panel discussions, and more to explore, the festival certainly knows a thing or two about inclusivity when it comes to diversity.

Your Kontinent International Film and Media Arts Festival runs in Richmond July 17 to 26.

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