Five Canadian films to watch in VIFF Short Forum

Insights into Indigenous dads, a retrospective on Jean Swanson, and the first Vancouver hockey riot are all on the menu

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      There are few pleasures in life that can match the feeling of being riveted by a feature-length movie.

      But for many film lovers, it’s tough to find the time to do this between parenting, perhaps looking after their own parents, and making a living in an expensive city.

      Fortunately, the Vancouver International Film Festival is presenting a long list of shorter productions in its VIFF Short Forum, which is showcasing Canadian directors.

      “The Untouchable”, directed by Avazeh Shahnavaz, features standout performances by Nika Shahbazzadeh and Payam Ahmadinia.

      Shahbazzadeh plays Yassi, a troubled and seemingly psychotic young woman running in and out of traffic until she’s confronted by Sgt. Jabbari, played by Ahmadinia. Over the course of a tense 15 minutes, the film explores such universal themes as policing mental illness, misogyny, and belonging.

      "Indigenous Dads" offers a compelling look at the challenges faced by First Nations parents.

      Meanwhile, a 10-minute world premiere at VIFF, “Indigenous Dads”, features four fathers, including Salteaux director Peter Brass, sitting in a theatre. There, they talk frankly about childhood, fatherhood, worries, hopes, and gifts that came with having children.

      Brass juxtaposes images of the dads with their kids in a touching exploration of how people can gain greater empathy after becoming parents. Underlying this are the fears these dads feel about the discrimination that their children may encounter.

      Director Mina Shum's evocative new film "Without You" is unlike anything else she's ever created.

      Vancouver director Mina Shum’s world premiere at VIFF, “Without You”, is a five-minute film poem driven by words and images. Brent Belke’s original music and Shum’s delivery evoke feelings of loneliness and, at times, sadness, which are reinforced by stark images of empty rooms and empty streets. If you want to know how a pandemic feels, check this one out.

      A fourth world premiere at VIFF, Vancouver director Lewis Bennett’s 10-minute “Canucks Riot I”, takes viewers back to the seventh game of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. Hockey fans will revel in seeing former Rangers great Rod Gilbert offering his views in the broadcast booth in advance of the game, which provoked Vancouver’s first hockey riot after the Canucks lost 3-2.

      The role of Vancouver police in the city's first hockey riot comes under scrutiny in Lewis Bennett's new film.

      The street scenes aren’t pretty, with the heavy hand of Vancouver police on display for everyone to see. Bennett’s pairing of what was happening on the ice with what was occurring near the corner of Robson and Thurlow is a reminder of what can unfold when the cops show up in riot gear. It's a worthwhile prequel to Bennett's previous film about the second hockey riot in Vancouver in 2011.

      A fifth film in the VIFF Short Forum, “Jean Swanson: We Need a New Map”, is a joyful reflection on how the city councillor and longtime antipoverty activist sees the world—and how this has influenced her young admirers in Vancouver.

      Teresa Alfeld's short film about Coun. Jean Swanson gets to the heart of why she's become such an inspirational figure to young people.

      Directed by Vancouver's Teresa Alfeld, this eight-minute short has wonderful footage of a young Swanson explaining how she made the switch from slinging beers in the Downtown Eastside to electoral politics. It echoes some of the same themes in Alfeld's previous feature-length documentary, The Rankin File, about legendary Vancouver city councillor Harry Rankin.

      At times, "Jean Swanson: We Need a New Map", is riotously funny, with some wonderful Swanson zingers. “I’ve been involved in a lot of things that weren’t successful,” she admits at one point.

      If only we witnessed this level of humility in all of our elected officials.