VIFF's Dragons and Tigers series established Vancouver as cinematic Gateway to Asia

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      East is East and West is West and the twain have been meeting at VIFF’s Dragons and Tigers series for close to three decades. Actually, even further back than that.

      According to VIFF programming director Alan Franey, the festival has long highlighted Asian cinema in various ways, such as with the Eastern Horizons program in 1985. Franey hired programmer Tony Rayns in 1989 for a series entitled Cinema of the Pacific Rim that was rechristened Dragons and Tigers a few years later. Rayns retired after VIFF 2016, but Toronto-based programmer Shelly Kracier continues on.

      Championing nascent filmmakers, the Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema began in 1994 and continued until 2013 (when it was replaced by the Best New Director Award and was opened to all emerging international filmmakers).

      Director Ishii Yuya with Dragons and Tigers programmer Tony Rayns at the Vancouver Asahi world premiere at VIFF 2014.
      Craig Takeuchi

      Consequently, the D&T series (now a part of the Gateway stream) became a renowned launching pad for Asian talent. Case in point: South Korean director Bong Joon-ho has shown all of his films at VIFF, starting with his 2000 debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite. He went on to garner acclaim with 2006’s The Host, 2009’s Mother, and 2013’s Snowpiercer.

      “Everybody knows Vancouver is really such an important festival for Asian filmmakers,” Bong told the Georgia Straight in 2010, explaining that he and others became famous at VIFF before going on to the Toronto International Film Festival.

      Things have come full circle as Bong is being honoured this year at a special presentation of his Netflix hit Okja, which was partly shot here. Director Bong and Vancouver-based Method Studios visual-effects supervisor Erik-Jan de Boer will be on hand to discuss the film. (Fun fact: the TV pilot of Snowpiercer is also being shot in Vancouver.)

      Vancouver Asahi stars Tsumabuki Satoshi and Kamenashi Kazuya at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival
      Craig Takeuchi

      Other major Asian auteurs who have shown their films in, appeared as part of, or served as a juror for the D&T series include China’s Jia Zhangke, Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hong Kong’s Ann Hui, South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo, and Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda. The series reached a hysterical peak in 2014 when red-carpet appearances by J-pop stars Tsumabuki Satoshi and Kamenashi Kazuya drew screaming mobs of fans to the world premiere of the Japanese-Canadian baseball drama The Vancouver Asahi.

      This year’s program, comprising of 28 features and four shorts, has even expanded to include films by filmmakers, such as Robert H. Lieberman’s Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia and Sam Voutas’s King of Peking, proving that East and West are relative terms.

      Bong Joon-ho will appear at a special presentation of Okja at the Centre for Performing Arts on September 30.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.