The Canadian Images series always proves to be a prominent showcase of national cinematic sensibility and talent at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
This year, the festival is rolling out a brand new incentive called BC Spotlight which features 12 B.C.-produced films eligible to win cash awards.
The films may also be elected as audience favourites in the Must See BC campaign where viewers are invited to preview the movie line-up, and vote on their favourite entries ahead of the festival.
VIFF Canadian Images Programmer, Terry McEvoy, was thrilled to offer BC Spotlight at a time when the local film industry is struggling, but still producing outstanding work.
“When I can hear stories told by people who live in the same place as me, to see where their minds and their creativity take them, I find that thrilling and exciting,” he says.
BC Spotlight will launch with a gala and screening of Down River, a fictional film inspired by writer-director Ben Ratner’s friendship with the late Babz Chula, the matriarch of Vancouver independent film.
Ratner is thrilled to screen the film in his hometown and at a festival that has always supported him. He also appreciates VIFF’s nod to local filmmakers.
“I think it’s good to take care of your own, and I think that it’s good for morale,” he says. “I don’t think that it can turn around the financial state of the B.C. film industry, but just because something doesn’t make profit doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.”
In addition to acknowledging that the financial and creative success of films do not necessarily go hand in hand, BC Spotlight showcases filmmakers who independently generate their own projects.
Writer, producer, and star Taylor Hill is a young Vancouver actress who drew on her local network of fellow filmmakers as well as on the Vancouver Film School resources to make her feature debut Leap 4 Your Life, a fun mockumentary that depicts the behind-the-scenes at teenage dance competitions.
Hill drew inspiration from reality television and her own dance background.
“I saw Dance Moms, and I have way crazier stories,” she confides.
Tony Pantages, who shares his feature directorial debut, 3 Days in Havana, with one of the movie’s stars Gil Bellows, is thrilled to have made a film through an experimental process that defies the rules of commercial moviemaking.
Inspired by 1970’s cinema, 3 Days in Havana is an action-packed film that explores the concept of identity.
From screenwriters to actors, this film, shot on location in Havana, Cuba, is a labour of love between old friends such as actor Christopher Heyerdahl who, despite starring in the Twilight saga, made time to participate in this innovative project.
Pantages is fascinated by how contemporary digital technology he used on this film is redefining the identity of this art form.
“We’re at a time of fast evolution. We are exploding with new ways to create motion image events: we can’t call them films anymore when only one out of every two hundred are shot on film,” he explains.
Singing the debate
In particular, digital filmmaking technology has benefited documentary filmmakers like Charles Wilkinson who directed Oil Sands Karaoke which will have its B.C. premiere at VIFF.
Wilkinson says shooting documentaries digitally is an enormous advantage because the technology allows for a faster shooting pace, and acquires more footage at a lower cost.
Oil Sands Karaoke is an unconventional film that explores the issues associated with the controversial oil and tar sands industry from the perspective of a karaoke contest held by workers in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Without abandoning legitimate concern for the negative impact of resource extraction, this documentary aims to enrich the environmental debate by undoing the vilification of those who make their living in this unpopular industry.
“I find that there tends to be a fair amount of superficial discussion and a fair amount of hypocrisy revolving around resource extraction and the environment,” says Wilkinson.
He points out that the dire impact of oil extraction is something that all of us are complicit in, not just the frontline workers whose labour quite literally fuels our consumer lifestyle.
Wilkinson hopes that the film will invite Canadians to hold the country’s corporate and political leadership responsible for the direction of resource management.
“It’s a movie that asks people to use their own head, and think it through for themselves,” he explains.
Respecting our resources
Salmon Confidential, written, edited and directed by Twyla Roscovich, uses the power of the documentary form to draw attention to the destructive effects of salmon farming in B.C.
The film features Dr. Alexandra Morton, a biologist (and also a producer on this documentary) attempting to draw attention to this local ecological devastation, and to the provincial government’s lack of transparency on the issue.
Morton says the Norwegian-owned farms raise fish from Atlantic salmon eggs, and do not keep their stock in closed tanks.
Therefore, they serve as breeding grounds for dangerous imported viruses which are infecting and destroying wild B.C. salmon, a species indispensable to the ecological and economic vitality of our coastal communities.
Dr. Morton feels that the power to impact change on this issue lies in the hands of the consumers, many of whom have taken action after seeing the film.
“Protecting Earth is not a spectator sport. It is something that requires the involvement of everyone,” says Morton.
For more information on the Vancouver International Film Festival which runs September 26th to October 11th, visit http://www.viff.org. To preview and vote for your favourite BC Spotlight films, visit mustseeBC.viff.org by September 26th, and tweet @VIFFest #mustseeBC #TweetForTickets for daily audience prize draws.