Vancouver International Film Festival 2017's lineup is already making us crazy with anticipation

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      The Georgia Straight goes to press this week only hours before the Vancouver International Film Festival announces its gala closing film for 2017. This exalted position in the festival’s 16-day schedule is impossible to predict, and sometimes puzzling in retrospect. Terrence Malick’s ambitious (to say the least) IMAX doc Voyage of Time brought VIFF to a close in 2016—on paper, a definite high-five to serious festival-heads but an underwhelming performer on its subsequent general release.

      Still, does it matter whether VIFF 2017 ends with a bang or a whimper? Based on an overall schedule revealed in a handful of media releases over the last few weeks, let’s wager a strong no on that one. Our pulse is already racing over a series of special presentations, including the latest features from Michael Haneke (Happy End), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Sally Potter (The Party), and Raoul Peck (The Young Karl Marx), along with the biggest sensation at Cannes this year: Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner, The Square.

      Lofty names also appear in the Spotlight on France series with the newest from Agnès Varda (Faces, Places) and Arnaud Desplechin (Ismael’s Ghosts) bumping up against sensations like Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute), a period piece about AIDS activism in ’90s Paris that also brought Cannes to its feet.

      Speaking of Cannes, Claire’s Camera places Isabelle Huppert and The Handmaiden’s Kim Min-hee inside that very festival itself, in a smartly self-reflexive comedy from Hong Sansoo that comes to us via VIFF’s ever-impressive, Asia-focused Gateway stream (which includes the audience-favourite Dragons & Tigers series). Genre fans will note that Hong Kong action legend Sammo Hung is behind the wheel of Wilson Yip’s crime thriller, Paradox, while VIFF Visionaries invites us to a conversation with Bong Joon Ho when the superstar Korean director brings his Netflix hit Okja to Vancouver for a special (and rare) big-screen presentation.

      Thrill seekers and midnight-movie buffs find themselves well-served once again by VIFF’s Altered States series. Greg Zglinski’s tale of doppelgängers in the Swiss Alps, Animals, should satisfy anyone still hungry for another shot of caffeine in the wake of Twin Peaks. Meanwhile, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead return after their super-buzzy 2014 horror-romance, Spring, with UFO–death-cult flick The Endless.

      Documentaries about legendary record exec Clive Davis and Vancouver-born art-star Richard Hambleton appear among the offerings in VIFF’s M/A/D stream (short for music, art, and design), along with the final transmission from late great Abbas Kiarostami, 24 Frames. In yet another special presentation, M/A/D brings the Kronos Quartet to Vancouver to perform alongside Guy Maddin’s Vertigo riff, The Green Fog (directed with Evan and Galen Johnson).

      That big dose of Canadiana crosses over into the equally strong True North program, headlined by Stephen Campanelli’s adaptation of the Richard Wagamese novel Indian Horse, and otherwise including Denis Côté’s bodybuilding quasi-doc A Skin So Soft and Léa Pool’s provocative coming-of-age drama Worst Case, We Get Married. Provocation of another kind arrives with Black Cop, a controversy-courting work of agit-prop from Halifax featured in VIFF’s Future//Present series, which highlights some of the more exciting work being done in the margins of our national cinema.

      Closer to home, the Sea to Sky stream puts B.C. front and centre with guaranteed crowdpleasers like Melanie Wood’s portrait of Shane Koyczan, Shut Up and Say Something, along with Public Schooled and Once There Was a Winter—the latest from Kyle (Eadweard) Rideout and Ana (Sitting on the Edge of Marlene) Valine, respectively. Fans of EDM act HUMANS please note that musician Peter Ricq has finally finished his debut feature with the ’80s horror homage, Dead Shack. And if we still don’t know how all of this ends on October 13, we can infer from Meditation Park—the latest by Vancouverite Mina Shum, now in the midst of a bravura second act to her career—that VIFF’s opening gala, at least, will be an indisputable triumph. 

      The Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 13.