Vancouver’s Virtual VIFF: Five Canadian must-sees from the first online VIFF

Culture Film
Inconvenient Indian from VIFF
Photo from Inconvenient Indian, Courtesy of National Film Board.

Sept. 24 kicked off the 39th Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). The event, which is normally marked by an influx of tourists and long multi-hour sessions of sitting in a dark theatre through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the year’s film entries, was instead attended by online viewers from across British Columbia, watching from the comfort of their own homes.

To allow for COVID-conscious viewing, organizers of the festival created a virtual film-festival platform. Passholders gained online access to all this year’s film entries, which were arranged in genre categories. These categories, in Netflix fashion, could be horizontally scrolled through, exhibiting titles from around the world. 

Daily artist talks and panels continued to take place in pre-scheduled live stream sessions, which were accessible by viewers around the world. 

The new format did away with the chaotic planning around daily screenings at multiple venues, while offering over 100 films for passholders within B.C. to view

To help navigate this plethora of incredible films, I decided to focus my viewing on a number of exciting Canadian films, both documentary and narrative. Here are my five must-sees from the 39th VIFF’s Canadian line-up!

Inconvenient Indian

90 mins

Dir/Writ: Michelle Latimer

Documentary

Inconvenient Indian, based off the acclaimed novel by Thomas King, is a must-see in the genre of documentary. The film, narrated by King himself, explores the constructed nature of stories, bringing attention to past and present narratives about Indigenous peoples constructed by the settler population. Director Michelle Latimer highlights the impactful words of King and focuses on deconstructing these false stories and assumptions surrounding Indigenous lives and history, while reforming and reclaiming them. The film seeks to dispel the idea that Indigenous cultures only exist in a stagnant past by showcasing their realization and exploration in the contemporary. Latimer powerfully avoids showing or naming her interviewees throughout the film, demonstrating how Indigenous identities and voices have been silenced throughout history. 

Shying away from harsh graphics and statistics, the film focuses on oral transfers of knowledge and expresses its points through individual accounts and cultural displays. Inconvenient Indian is aesthetically beautiful and thought-provoking. An absolute must-see!

Beans

92 mins 

Dir: Tracey Deer

Writ: Tracey Deer, Meredith Vuchnich

Narrative

Winner of Best Canadian Film, Beans was my favourite Canadian narrative film of the festival. This semi-autobiography story follows the life of 12-year-old Kiawentiio (who people call Beans due to an inability/disinterest to pronounce her Mohawk name), as she experiences coming-of-age and personal rebellion in the foreground of the 1990 Oka Crisis. 

Though occasionally dramatized to portray a point, the film is emotionally devastating and powerfully executed. The film proposes a classic coming-of-age arc but shatters it with the lived reality of political upheaval, racial violence, systematic mistreatment, and poverty faced by those living in Indigenous communities. 

The director, Tracey Deer, a Mohawk filmmaker, was 12 years old during the Kanesatake Resistance (Oka Crisis). Deer has successfully transformed her memories into an emotional portrayal of the multi-generational and contemporary mistreatment of Indigenous individuals in Canada. Beans is a deserving winner of Best Canadian Film and is a beacon for Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers to come. 

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

107 mins

Dir: Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott

Documentary

Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott’s sequel to their 2003 film, The Corporation, lives up to its subtitle. The documentary is another exploration and analysis of how large corporations continue to go unregulated (or at least not regulated enough). 

The original 2003 documentary challenged the legal recognition of corporations as individuals, and argued that if corporations were individuals they would be diagnosable psychopaths. The new documentary continues on this point but adds a new diagnostic category focused on manipulation for personal gain. The New Corporation challenges new ideas of creative or conscious capitalism, showing that though there are individuals trying to do good, profit incentives will always take precedence over the lives and welfare of individuals. 

The documentary expresses fear about the power held by corporations and the continued harm to the well being of citizens that arises from the privatization of public commons. The film argues that corporations, as they exist now, cannot be held to the accountability required to control set services, and any decisions between safety and profit will always fall to the latter. 

The documentary expresses hope, however, in the rise of grassroots political campaigns and the influx of popular progressive candidates. The documentary was in production during the outbreak of COVID-19 and was near completion at the time of George Floyd’s murder, so these issues feel as if they were somewhat thrown in last minute: however, the documentary’s broad scope and clear explanations make it an informative watch for the politically and non-politically inclined. 

Brother, I Cry

100 mins

Dir/Writ: Jessie Anthony

Narrative

The Winner of the B.C. Emerging Filmmaker Award, Brother, I Cry should have won B.C. Best Picture as well — in my humble opinion. The heartbreaking and brutal film tells the story of Jon, a young Indigenous man struggling with cycles of addiction, poverty, and crime, as he attempts to get clean and provide for his alcoholic mother and pregnant wife. The film uses elements of horror to showcase the struggles of Jon’s life. In this film, dreams are visions, poverty and incarceration are an unending cycle, and addiction comes to represent an unchangeable past and residual traumas. The film is brilliantly acted, realistically written, and tear-inducing. This powerful film is Jessie Anthony’s debut. Anthony is a director and writer to watch out for! 

My Salinger Year

106 mins

Dir/Writ: Philippe Falardeau

Narrative
Finally, it is important to remember that the VIFF is not just a place for up-and-coming filmmakers but an international enterprise bringing in some of the greatest filmmakers of our time. Academy Award-nominated director Philippe Falardeaum brings us My Salinger Year, a classic story exploring a young writer’s ambition to make it in New York in the ‘90s. Protagonist Joanna, played by the talented Margaret Qualey, ends up landing a job at a literary agency that represents the famously reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. Based on the memoir by Joanna Rakoff, this film is highly entertaining for lovers of literature and writers alike. With a great cast including Sigoury Weaver and Douglas Booth, My Salinger Year is an entertaining film that will leave you wanting to put pen to paper, and also run off to New York to pursue your dreams.