Getting the most out of this year’s VIFF

Festival’s executive director previews 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival

Jacqueline Dupuis, executive director of VIFF, says the festival's Film-plus model offers immersive experiences and films that are “worth people leaving their homes for" | Contributed photo

If you’re a Vancouver-based cinephile, this is the most wonderful time of the year for reasons beyond the return of pumpkin spice lattes: the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival is only days away, with its packed schedule of indie gems and Oscar hopefuls from all over the globe.

2017 VIFF is gargantuan: 342 short and feature-length films from 69 countries (including 11 world premieres, 39 North American premieres, and 47 Canadian premieres), creator talks with filmmakers and TV showrunners (including director Jeremy Podeswa and cinematographer Greg Middleton from Game of Thrones, Carlton Cuse from Bates Motel, and David Slade from American Gods and Black Mirror), the Sustainable Production Forum (a groundbreaking confluence of activity around the environmental impact of film production), and panels on virtual reality, augmented reality, and creating content for YouTube.

Last year, in honour of its 35th birthday, VIFF re-imagined itself by rolling out a new Film-plus model, grouping films and interactive experiences into an interconnected network of streams (Panorama, Sea to Sky, True North, Impact, Next, Gateway, Music/Art/Design, and ALT) and welcoming creators and fans of emerging mediums into the fold. VIFF’s efforts resulted in 135,000 admissions, a 25% increase in new attendees, and double-digit growth in its younger demographics, according to Jacqueline Dupuis, VIFF’s executive director.

This year, VIFF builds on this Film-plus model by beefing up content within the streams to entice audiences with immersive experiences and films that are “worth people leaving their homes for,” says Dupuis.

Whatever your genre or area of interest, VIFF has you covered. Dupuis notes an uptick this year in the number of films exploring socio-economic turmoil, mass migration, populist movements, and resistance (Says Dupuis: “It’s really interesting to see these themes explored in films from different perspectives, some more balanced than others”). Many such films can be found in VIFF’s Impact stream (comprised of documentaries that the VIFF program guide describes as “powerful agents for change”), including artist-activist Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow, which was filmed in 40 refugee camps in 23 countries and highlights the conditions currently faced by more than 65 million displaced people the world over.

This year’s fest places a premium on locally produced content, beginning with the opening gala screening of Meditation Park, a feature-length drama from award-winning Vancouver filmmaker Mina Shum (Double Happiness; Ninth Floor) that had its world premiere earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Meditation Park is set in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighborhood and centers on a 60-year-old woman (played by Cheng Pei Pei) whose world is tilted on its axis after she discovers a pair of pink panties in her husband’s pocket. The film also stars Tzi Mah, Sandra Oh, and Don McKellar. “It’s a film about honour, about family, and about tradition,” says Dupuis. “It’s complex in nature, and really sweet and fun at the same time. We’re thrilled to have an opportunity to celebrate a local film and a local filmmaker, not to mention a female filmmaker, in that really important placement within the festival.” (The fest closes with Wonderstruck, Carol director Todd Haynes’ inventive drama that follows the fortunes of two deaf 12-year-olds living 50 years apart.)

Locally produced fare falls into VIFF’s Sea to Sky stream. It’s tent-poled by the BC Spotlight gala, which this year features the world premiere of Melanie Wood’s Shut Up and Say Something. The documentary invites its viewers into the private world of spoken word artist Shane Koyczan, who rose to global fame after he performed his stirring poem “We Are More (Define Canada)” as part of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Sea to Sky stream also includes hometown and world premieres from Elle-Maija Tailfeathers (c'əsnaʔəm: the city before the city), Peter Ricq (Dead Shack), Jason James (Entanglement), Cody Brown (Gregoire), Scooter Corkle (Hollow in the Land), Wayne Wapeemukwa (Luk’Luk’I), Latiesha Ti-Si-Tla Fazakas and Natalie Bolla (Meet Beau Dick: Maker of Monsters), Kathleen Hepburn (Never Steady, Never Still), Boris Ivanov (On Putin’s Blacklist), Ana Valine (Once There Was a Winter), and Kyle Rideout (Public Schooled).

Dupuis says she is proud that BC’s women directors are particularly well represented in this year’s Sea to Sky stream. “We were able to achieve gender parity within the slate, and honestly, we didn’t have to try to do that,” says Dupuis. “It came through in the strength of the films.”

Dupuis is also enthusiastic about the launch of the VIFF Live, a performance program featuring collaborations between musicians and visual artists.

The VIFF Live series is headlined by a screening of The Green Fog ­­­– A San Francisco Fantastia, featuring the world-renowned Kronos Quartet performing live the score composed by Jacob Garchik. The film was co-directed by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson, and is a parallel-universe reimaging of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

This inaugural VIFF Live concert event “is the ultimate collaboration between music and visual arts,” says Dupuis.

The 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival runs September 28 to October 13 at venues around Vancouver. Tickets and schedule at

Vancouver Westender