VIFF 2015: BC Spotlight program films tackle environmental, racial issues, and more

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      The Vancouver International Film Festival has unveiled 11 feature films in its lineup for its 2015 BC Spotlight program.

      Among them are some familiar local names, and environmental and racial issues are hot topics this year.

      With Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, Charles Wilkinson completes his environmental trilogy that he began with Peace Out and Oil Sands Karaoke. In his latest documentary, he pays tribute to Haida Gwaii and the Haida Nation people who live there as they prepare for a fight over the Northern Gateway pipeline.

      It was named the Best Canadian Feature Documentary at Hot Docs earlier this year.

      Another film tackling Haida Gwaii subject matter is Sasha Snow's Hadwin's Judgement, a docu-drama inspired by the book The Golden Spruce. The film examines an act by logging engineer and expert woodsman Grant Hadwin who became known as an environmental terrorist for cutting down a 300-year-old sacred tree on Haida Gwaii in protest of the rampant destruction of forests.

      Meanwhile, Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher's documentary Fractured Land also address environmental and First Nations issues. Fractured Land spotlights Dene lawyer Caleb Behn as he battles the oil and gas industry to save his land and people.

      Another portrait is the biographical focus of Kyle Rideout's Eadweard, in which Michael Eklund stars as photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge who received a homicide verdict for killing his wife's lover.

      Mina Shum, best known for her dramatic features Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity, marks her first non-fiction effort with Ninth Floor, a documentary feature about the Sir George Williams Affair, an incident in which black and white students occupied the computer lab at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montreal. It was a protest sparked when six black students accused a professor of racism.

      In Tricks on the Dead, Jordan Patterson sheds light on another racially related chapter in Canada's history when thousands of Chinese workers were quietly shipped from Vancouver to the Western Front to dig trenches and bury the dead during the First World War.

      Elsewhere, Nicholas Humphries, best known for his work on the steampunk series Riese, makes his directorial feature film debut with Charlotte's Song, an homage to the Little Mermaid set in the 1930s Dust Bowl era.

      This year's VIFF will run from September 24 to October 9. The full festival program will be revealed on September 3.

      Here's a list of the BC Spotlight feature films announced.

      Charlotte's Song

      (Done Four Productions) World Premiere

      Think Pan's Labyrinth meets Carnivale and you'll still be unprepared for this astonishing debut from Done Four Productions and director Nicholas Humphries. In this Dust Bowl-era reimagining of The Little Mermaid, an amphibious siren (Katelyn Mager) falls prey to a nefarious benefactor (Game of Thrones' Iwan Rheon) and ends up in a magical turf war. Sumptuous production design and sinister storytelling conjure a seductive fantasy world.


      The Devout

      (Connor Gaston) North American Premiere

      After his terminally ill daughter (Olivia Martin) claims to have had a past life as an astronaut, a Christian teacher (Charlie Carrick) experiences a profound crisis of faith. Obsessively seeking answers, he risks his marriage and his remaining days with his child to determine whether she's lived before... and might live again. Reflective and provocative, Connor Gaston's debut is one of the year's most unique Canadian features.



      (Kyle Rideout) Canadian Premiere

      With a mesmerizing Michael Eklund starring as photographer Eadweard Muybridge, Kyle Rideout crafts a complex and compelling portrait of the man who'd be immortalized as both the godfather of cinema and the last American to receive a justifiable homicide verdict (for killing his wife's lover). As fascinations distort into obsessions, Rideout skilfully employs techniques indebted to the infamous pioneer to convey Muybridge's psychological unravelling.


      Fractured Land

      (Damien Gillis, Fiona Rayher)

      What would it be like to live alongside one of the shapers of human events, in their youth, before they transformed history? In Fiona Rayher and Damien Gillis' documentary, we follow Caleb Behn, a young Dene lawyer locked in a battle with oil and gas industry. He may become one of this generation's great leaders, if he can discover how to reconcile the fractures within himself, his community and the world around him, blending modern tools of the law with ancient wisdom.


      Hadwin's Judgement

      (Sasha Snow)

      In his compelling drama/documentary hybrid, Sasha Snow explores the complexities of Grant Hadwin, a logging engineer who chainsawed down a 300-year-old sacred tree on Haida Gwaii as a protest against rampant logging in the area. Inspired by John Vaillant's Governor General Award-winning book, The Golden Spruce, Snow focusses on the more mysterious elements of Hadwin's story and fate, crafting "[a] gorgeously photographed, compulsively watchable, sympathetic doc..." — Globe & Mail


      Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World

      (Charles Wilkinson)

      VIFF favourite Charles Wilkinson (Oil Sands Karaoke) returns with a visually stunning 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, preparing for a showdown over the Northern Gateway pipeline and planning for a more sustainable future.


      My Good Man's Gone

      (Nicolas Citton) Canadian Premiere

      Arriving in Story, Arkansas (pop. 89), Joni and Wes realize they're not in L.A. anymore. There to settle their estranged father's estate, they've arrived on Decoration Weekend, when locals celebrate their dearly departed. As a clearer picture of their father emerges, decisions become less obvious. This affecting dramedy from Nicolas Citton (That Burning Feeling's screenwriter) is a bittersweet celebration of community and family.


      Ninth Floor

      (Mina Shum)

      Over four decades after the infamous Sir George Williams Affair was sparked by allegations of faculty discrimination against black students, Ninth Floor reopens the file on a watershed moment in Canadian race relations and one of the most contested episodes in the nation's history. Making an audacious foray into nonfiction, writer and director Mina Shum (Double Happiness) engages the original protagonists in a compassionate cinematic exercise of reckoning and redemption.


      No Men Beyond This Point

      (Mark Sawers)

      In a world where women procreate asexually, male babies have become passé and an entire gender faces extinction... What's a guy to do? Well, the youngest man alive (Patrick Gilmore), who toils as a housekeeper for a West Vancouver all-female family, is unaware that he's about to become a key player in a battle for survival. Camera Shy's Mark Sawers is at the height of his satirical powers with this hilarious speculative mockumentary.


      The Sandwich Nazi

      (Lewis Bennett)

      If you can't take the nudity and coarse language, stay out of Salam Kahil's deli. The moment Lewis Bennett's fascinating documentary takes us inside the shop, the hilariously crass Salam lets fly with a barrage of profane insults and ribald anecdotes. As he rewrites his own history on a whim, we're left to wonder how an irascible Lebanese male escort actually ended up in Surrey serving the largest sandwiches known to man. With humour and humanity, Bennett unearths the truth.


      Tricks on the Dead: The Story of the Chinese Labour Corps in WWI

      (Jordan Paterson) World Premiere

      Jordan Paterson's involving docudrama delves into a little known chapter of Canadian history. During World War I, 140,000 indentured Chinese labourers were secretly transported from Vancouver to Halifax in locked trains and then shipped to the Western Front to dig trenches and clear the dead. Through intrepid research, interviews, rotoscoped animation and re-enactments, Paterson backs Voltaire's assertion that "history is nothing but a pack of tricks we play upon the dead."

      Check out this year's film schedule and visit our guide for complete VIFF coverage.

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