Vancouver films play prominent, poignant role among international highlights at VIFF 2017

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      While the Vancouver International Film Festival always offers opportunities for both intellectual stimulation and emotional engagement with works from around the world, the international offerings will be balanced with some local titles at this year's edition that will have particularly significant meaning for Vancouverites.

      That includes a film that looks and sounds like it'll be quite the tearjerker.

      At VIFF's annual media launch on September 7 at Vancity Theatre, VIFF associate programming director Curtis Woloschuk advised audience members to bring tissues to Vancouver filmmaker Melanie Wood's documentary Shut Up and Say Something, which will screen on October 4 and 8, as well as at the B.C. Spotlight awards gala on October 7.

      "Many of us have divergent memories, different takes on the 2010 Olympics here in our city but few of us will remember when spoken word artist Shane Koyczan took to the stage and unleashed 'We Are More (Define Canada)' upon the world."

      In Shut Up and Say Something, Wood follows acclaimed Canadian spoken word artist Shane Koyczan, who wowed international audiences with his performance at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, as he finally meets his estranged biological father whom he has never known after years of silence.

      "This film reminds us that creating something often means dropping your defenses and sometimes it requires taking journeys that we didn't necessarily anticipate and weren't particularly inclined to take," Woloschuk said.

      Woloschuk pointed out Koyczan's short film "Heaven, or Whatever", a poem he wrote for his grandfather, premiered at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival's closing gala.

      As previously mentioned, the festival kicks off on September 28 with Vancouver filmmaker Mina Shum's latest Meditation Park.

      The Vancouver-shot and -based film will be the final screening by Movie Nights Across Canada, which is celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary by presenting a cross-country tour of Canadian film events.

      At the launch event, Shum said that she has premiered all of her feature films at VIFF, as well as her shorts, including her 1993 documentary "Me, Mom, and Mona", which became the basis for her first feature film Double Happiness.

      Shum spoke about how hyperlocal the film truly was.

      "Meditation Park, my new film, had the people and the city of Vancouver as its muse—and I mean that," she said. "I actually was shooting two blocks away from my house. I could go home for lunch because the actual lunch station was farther than my house was."    

      Vancouver filmmaker Mina Shum spoke about her film Meditation Park at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival launch on September 6 at Vancity Theatre.

      The bittersweet comedy stars Cheng Pei Pei as an immigrant wife and mother living in East Vancouver whose discovery of another woman's panties in her husband's laundry forces her to reassess her life and move beyond her sheltered existence to connect with her world around her. The cast includes Sandra Oh, Tzi Ma, Liane Balaban, and Don McKellar.

      While this film will have its world premiere will be at Toronto International Film Festival, Shum said that whuile she's excited and a little nervous about the upcoming screening, she's mostly grateful.

      "It's a collision of the muse, and the people of the city, and the thing I love to do the most," she said. "I find I look out the window of my city and get all that I need to tell the stories and what I find so gratifying about being the opening film is that means Vancouverites get to see themselves in the place of the world."

      Wonderstruck

      For the other festival bookend, VIFF executive director Jacqueline Dupuis revealed that the closing film will be the Canadian premiere of Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck.

      Haynes is best known for his art-house and queer cinema films like 2015's Carol and works showcasing the talents of Julianne Moore such as 1995's Safe and 2002's Far From Heaven.

      Moore appears once again in his latest work, Wonderstruck, which follows the parallel stories of two deaf 12-year-olds, a girl (Millicent Simmonds) in New Jersey in 1927 obsessed with a silent screen star (Moore), and a boy in Michigan (Oakes Fegley) in 1977 who loses his mother.

      Special presentations

      Among the other special presentations are a number of works by auteurs that regular festivalgoers and cineastes will be acquainted with.

      Happy End

      Michael Haneke, who has dazzled, shocked, and stirred up debate with films such as The White Ribbon and Amour, is back with the ironically titled Happy End (France/Austria/Germany), a drama about a dysfunctional affluent family in the northern French town of Calais set amid the refugee crisis. The cast boasts the likes of Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Mathieu Kassovitz.

      Killing of a Sacred Deer

      Absurdist Yorgos Lanthimos, of Dogtooth and The Lobster notoriety, is also back with his distinct style of surrealism in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (U.K.).This dark comedy stars Colin Farrell as a heart surgeon who is forced (by the son of one of his patients who died) to kill one of his family members (which includes his wife, played by Nicole Kidman) or else lose them all.  

      Two films revolving around LGBT characters will be among the special presentations.

      Call Me By Your Name

      Luca Guadagnino's coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name (USA/Italy/France), based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, is set in Italy in 1983 in which the 17-year-old son of a U.S. archeology professor finds himself increasingly drawn to his father's 24-year-old research assistant (Armie Hammer).

      A Fantastic Woman

      Meanwhile, Sebastián Lelio offers A Fantastic Woman (Chile/Germany/USA/Spain), starring Daniela Vega as a widowed trans woman who must contend with challenges presented by authorities and her husband's surviving family members.  

      Filmmaker Xu Haofeng's action-thriller The Hidden Sword (Daobei cangshen; China) is a wuxia epic set in 1933 that centres around an elderly swordmaster who, even while in hiding, continues to attract attention for a legendary sword he developed to fend off a Japanese attack on the Great Wall.

      Meanwhile, Borg vs. McEnroe (Sweden/Denmark/Finland) will depict the 1980 Wimbledon Men's Final between Björn Borg (Sverris Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), with Stellan Skarsgård portraying Borg's trainer.

      Borg vs. McEnroe

      For further information on these films as well as for the full film catalogue, visit the VIFF website. For more of the Georgia Straight's coverage of VIFF 2017, visit our online guide, and stay tuned for more details to come from the VIFF 2017 launch.  

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