Should the Vancouver International Film Festival bring more Asian stars to Vancouver?

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      Anyone who attended The Vancouver Asahi world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival on September 29 saw the intense J-power of the J-pop machine in full force.

      Japanese stars Tsumabuki Satoshi and Kamenashi Kazuya (who are actors as well as J-Pop stars) aren't just big in Japan, but across Asia. And, as evidenced by the screaming throngs of fans at the Centre for Performing Arts, also around the world, including right here in little Vancouver.

      Fans were not only vocal in their adoration, but also physical.

      When the stars waltzed the red carpet, fans mobbed up against the line of security guards. At one point, the stars were ushered off the red carpet after the situation threatened to deteriorate.

      What's more, the event went viral online, spreading VIFF's name to the farflung reaches of the World Wide Web.

      A few days earlier, Vancouver was graced by another dazzling convoy of Asian stars: Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, and Bollywood powerhouse Shah Rukh Khan. As Charlie Smith reported, King Khan and his costars drew massive crowds to the Pacific Coliseum.

      Of course, these aren't the first or last times that Vancouver has seen the power of Asian stars to reel in huge crowds, even if they fly under the radar of mainstream media.

      However, there appears to be an opportunity for the Vancouver International Film Festival to recognize, should it be intent on balancing a commercially competitive future with an artistic one.

      The Toronto International Film Festival has well established itself as a destination event for Hollywood's glitterati. The VIFF has traditionally focused more on being a filmmakers' festival, and it can't compete with TIFF for attracting stars. Well, from Hollywood, that is.

      But contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe (or beliebe, for all you Beliebers), there is a world of stars beyond it.

      VIFF undergoes change

      Judging by this year's changes at VIFF, there have been hints of more competitive marketing and a broader reach than in previous years, such as the creation of the new Style in Film series and the merger of the two print guides into one.

      A surprising move was the transformation of the Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema into the Best New Director Award. The award was expanded from new directors from Pacific Asia to new directors from around the world.

      Although this shift will widen interest, both from filmmakers and audiences, it will subsequently downplay some of the festival's progressive dedication to Asian cinema that it has built up over the past 20 years.

      Considering Asia's increasingly Goliathan economic might and pop cultural sway, anything that helps us keep tabs on Asia's pulse would be of benefit to both the festival and our city—socially and economically.

      A world of stars to choose from

      One way to do that—and to compensate for the replacement of the Dragons and Tigers Award—might be to continue pursuing Asian stars as guests to the festival. (This year it happened because the actors starred in a film based on a historical Vancouver story.)

      Admittedly, TIFF does have the industry-oriented Asian Film Summit, which brought the likes of Keanu Reeves and Jackie Chan as guests to their festival. However, VIFF can still focus on bringing in Asian stars from numerous countries as a way to distinguish itself from TIFF.

      Korea's film industry and pop culture, thanks to Hallyu or the Korean Wave that arose in the late 1990s and pumped out TV dramas and  K-Pop hits (hey, anyone remember PSY and his Gangnam Style?), has massive pan-Asian appeal.

      Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema stars would be another obvious market. Some of them, like Nicholas Tse, even have Vancouver connections.

      Huge lineups for Filipino films screening in Vancouver have also demonstrated huge demand for an underserved local population. Imagine what would happen if stars like Joel Torre or Piolo Pascual showed up for a red carpet.

      South Asian films, whether from Bollywood or other South Asian film industries (such as Tamil, Telugu, or Pakistani cinema), regularly hit the Canadian box office top 20, without any mainstream marketing. Although TIFF did attract Bollywood stars in the past, there's no reason why VIFF can't also, including critically acclaimed stars such as Irrfan Khan (who starred in The Lunchbox which screened at VIFF 2013).

      How Vancouver and the festival would benefit

      Since Vancouver has been criticized for a lack of cross-cultural interaction, this could be a way for VIFF to connect with (and even draw attention to or educate about) Vancouver's numerous cultural and linguistic communities. It'd be a way to acknowledge different demographics that get regularly ignored by local English-language media. With Vancouver's large multicultural population and media (not to mention sizeable ESL student population), this is one city in which audiences to support these stars would be feasible. After all, Vancouver has one of the largest Asian populations outside of Asia (after Honolulu).

      Of course, the appeal would also extend to locals who have visited, worked, or lived abroad, or have an interest in Asian cultures. Or are just plain curious and like getting swept up in the drama of it all.

      While Asian stars would attract attention, at the same time, they wouldn’t necessarily overshadow the festival in the way that most North American, or even some European, stars would. 

      What's more, VIFF is facing increased competition from other local festivals.

      The Whistler Film Festival, which runs in December, has been attracting Canadian and Hollywood film stars and directors ranging from Daniel Radcliffe to Atom Egoyan and Jason Priestley. Festivals like Richmond's Your Kontinent Festival are pursuing similar programming for the suburbs while others are catering to specific ethnic communities.

      In this age of vanishing movie theatres and heightened competition from digital media, it may be necessary for VIFF to branch out beyond its strong art-house programming reputation and create a bolder international reputation for itself. While purists would balk at the idea of more stars coming in, there may be a way to do it in a way that manages to balance what has been built up in the past (particularly in the Dragons and Tigers series) as a means to ensure longevity in the future.

      Asian stars might just be the answer.



      Andrea C.

      Oct 6, 2014 at 11:35pm

      I was also disappointed to see the Tigers and Dragons award subsumed into a festival-wide prize, but it is the inevitable result of the ongoing decline in both quantity and quality of films coming from east Asia for the last few years. Of course, national cinemas are subject to downturns as well as richly creative periods; thus, I look forward to a return to form, hopefully before the end of this decade. The VIFF has done more to introduce great Asian cinema to North America than any other festival, and I'm sure they will expand their programming when the offerings improve.
      In the meantime, others can enjoy Kame's attempt to transform himself from boy-band idol into world-class actor. Pretty funny stuff, all in all.


      Oct 7, 2014 at 7:47am

      Should the Bollywood and the many Asian-based film festivals include more Hollywood and Western films and stars? I'm guessing the answer would be no, so why change VIFF? I've lived here long enough to see that there are 3 very distinct cultures with a small area of overlap. Instead of always trying to be inclusive and just diluting what we have now, why not let each culture shine in their own way?


      Oct 7, 2014 at 9:25am

      Interesting and worthwhile suggestion. I think if it raises sponsorship money and keeps VIFF going strong then for sure. And even if it just breaks even on costs, then do it anyway to increase the profile of this festival. But if it costs money or takes away from the small indie programming (there are not many independent cinema venues...although I guess anyone can rent a DLP for two weeks), then no.

      Craig Takeuchi

      Oct 7, 2014 at 12:04pm

      Did you read the article? And do you understand what VIFF is about?

      As mentioned in the article, the Dragons and Tigers award has been running at VIFF for 20 years (which included a special gala event with a red carpet), and the longrunning D&T series has brought in films from Asia, helping VIFF make its mark through content.

      So Asian films are *already* a major component of VIFF. This isn't about asking the festival to bring in any new content. It's about highlighting the content even more.

      Accordingly, your comparison to Asian film festivals doesn't make any sense.


      Oct 8, 2014 at 3:42am

      Every year I open up the festival guide and every year I'm disappointed, specifically with the huge emphasis on Dragons & Tigers. And don't get me started on Spotlight on France. I'm tired of seeing these pushed on us every year. The problem is stated clearly in your article, they have been doing this for 20 YEARS! I love Asian cinema & was very happy to see Cannes favourite "Goodbye to Language" at VIFF 2014, but going forward I want to see a fresh approach to programming & not just a steadfast cling to what has worked in the past, or bringing in Asian stars for an already over saturated focus on content.

      So, no. I do not want to highlight this content even more. I want something new.

      Craig Takeuchi

      Oct 9, 2014 at 1:39pm

      I can see the VIFF press release now: "The Dragons and Tigers series has been cancelled—regardless of criteria and rationale such as local demographics, marketing strategies, experience and expertise, or the possibility of reinvention and attracting stronger content by developing a stronger international presence—for no other reason than that BOB DOESN'T LIKE IT."