For the first time in its 36-year history, the Vancouver International Film Festival launches on Thursday (September 28) with a movie made and set right here in our hometown.
It’s a major coup for writer-director Mina Shum, who sees her Chinatown-based drama Meditation Park receive the gala VIFF opening it deserves. It’s also a smart and timely move for the festival itself, a tacit acknowledgment that our city has never been the focus of so much of the world’s attention. VIFF 2017 is asking us to look at how far Vancouver has come, for better or worse.
Returning to work on Meditation Park with her director is Sandra Oh, now a Hollywood stalwart some 23 years after getting her first modest break in Shum’s Double Happiness. For both these artists, the contrast between then and now must be astonishing.
Vancouver in the mid-’90s felt like a stalled city and a terminal underachiever. Now it’s a rapidly expanding sprawl built on the mother of all housing bubbles; an ever-shinier second home to visiting Hollywood stars attending an industry that broke its own records in 2017 (set to exceed $2.6 billion, according to Creative B.C.), while nourishing a thriving domestic scene of its own. It’s “the most livable city on the planet” with the poorest postal code in Canada, a desirable residence for global capital, and ground zero for the lethal opioid crisis.
All these contradictions and growing pains are visible at VIFF, from the sweet New Age–y romanticism of director Jason James’s Entanglement, starring Georgia Straight cover model Thomas Middleditch (a Nelsonite now dividing his time between big-time L.A. and Silicon Valley, as it were), to Wayne Wapeemukwa’s poetic, if unflinching, DTES award winner, Luk’Luk’I.
In fact, look at any of VIFF’s nine major programs—including, as we see in the following items, the international Panorama and Asian-themed Gateway streams—and you will find the signals and traces of Vancouver’s ever-more-visible contribution to the art of moving pictures, and the eyes of an ever-more-curious world looking back at us. In 2017, Vancouver is definitely a city on the edge of world cinema.