Nothing says “hello” like a slap in the face. That’s how Christian Sida-Valenzuela describes I Promise You Anarchy, the gala opener at this year’s Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, screening Thursday (August 25).
“It’s a tough film to open a festival with, but we wanted something shocking,” says VLAFF’s reliably provocative artistic director, during a call to the Straight. “It’s a very strong film, but it’s also beautifully and aesthetically wise.” Sida-Valenzuela goes on to praise cinematographer Maria Seco’s luminous work on the movie—about two skateboarding lovers in Mexico City and the bizarre service they bring to the country’s drug cartels—and generously commends the Julio Hernández Cordón–directed feature as “arty in a good way”, with “a strong script, and nonprofessional actors who are very fresh in their acting ways. We just thought it was a great film to start the festivities with.”
It sure sounds like it, although—between its New Directors and Canada Looks South programs, not to mention the face-slappingly subversive ¡ACTIVISMO! series—you could probably jump in anywhere at VLAFF’s 14th year and come up rosy-cheeked. With Brazil as this year’s guest country, Sida-Valenzuela’s team have managed to headline a retrospective of Anna Muylaert’s work with the North American premiere of Don’t Call Me Son.
Nominally queer-themed like I Promise You Anarchy, the jury-award winner at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival closes proceedings on September 4 with a visit from Muylaert herself, “one of the greatest filmmakers from Latin America, in general”, as Sida-Valenzuela puts it. The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences evidently agrees; Muylaert was invited to join the Oscar nominating committee this year.
Furthering its attention on Brazilian cinema, VLAFF also offers two from the legendary Glauber Rocha, 1964’s Black God, White Devil and 1967’s Entranced Earth. Equally, as Sida-Valenzuela notes, Latin American film has enjoyed a universal growth spurt in the last 10 years, with product like Ciro Guerra’s international art-house smash Embrace of the Serpent bringing Colombia its first-ever Oscar nomination in 2016. “I’m not saying that because it’s nominated for an Oscar, that makes it an amazing film,” he says of the feature, which returns to Vancouver thanks to VLAFF. “But this is an amazing film.” It’s only one of many.