Films, VR, robots and a ton of learning

Photo courtesy of VIFF

Featuring more than 300 curated films from every corner of the world and a list of legendary creators and master craftspeople, the 38th edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) will hit town between Sept. 26 to Oct. 11 with a fully packed schedule.

The festival is certainly evolving,” says Ken Tsui, lead producer and curator of VIFF, who is mainly responsible for VIFF live entertainment and Film Plus. “The festival in scope is getting bigger, the amount of screening stays roughly the same, but the growth is coming outside of the screenings – the events, the conferences, the talks, the exhibitions. Film festival is not just about movies anymore, it is also about the dialogues, celebrations and creativities beyond the screen.”

This year’s festival will present a series of talks by a list of luminaries, familiar names for industry insiders and outsiders alike. Michael Moore will present a post-screening talk for his Roger & Me anniversary screening; legendary Canadian director and multiple award winner Atom Egoyan will give a master-class and have his latest film Guest of Honour screened at the opening gala; and Walter Murch, a three-time Oscar-winning sound designer and editor, will also share his experience at one of the creator talks – a series of sessions where leading creators share expertise.

“We also have a new program, VIFF Amp. It is a music and film conference, bringing some of the best of the best music supervisors and composers together to discuss music in film and TV,” Tsui says. This is a festival for creators, different to some other film festivals where celebrities are there to walk the carpets, here we engage them in full-length conversations about their crafts,” he adds.

The rise of immersive storytelling

Scene from Hard-Core. | Photo courtesy of VIFF

Tsui explains that while selected films at the festival usually reflect what is relevant to the world today, technology is increasingly becoming a bigger theme. This year’s festival will showcase the second edition of VIFF Immersed which encompasses both exhibitions and conferences for industry professionals and curious audiences in Virtual reality (VR)/ Augmented reality (AR)/ Mixed reality (MR) (XR) storytelling.

“Film has always given us an opportunity to feel emotions for situations and characters that don’t necessarily exist; VR/AR puts us directly in that feeling and space. It gives another platform for storytelling that involve your entire surroundings, and a new opportunity to tell different stories that we couldn’t tell in traditional ways,” Tsui says.

He gives a great example of how new technology is being used by indigenous filmmakers to enable them to insert the audience into a traditional indigenous ceremony or space that would usually be closed to outsiders.

“We are very excited about VIFF Immersed. Vancouver is the second-largest XR ecosystem in the world, and VIFF Immersed is the celebration of that,” he says. “Last year was the key starting point, we didn’t know what to expect and the event was sold out almost every day. This year we are starting a competition in three categories – the best in live action, in documentary and in animation. We are also creating a VIFF Immersed international market where people can connect funding with their projects,” Tsui elaborates.

He is very proud that a young 19-year-old student, Edward Madojemu from Emily Carr University, will be entering the competition this year with his Dami and Falian VR graphic novel, alongside many industry veterans from all around the world.

“The project is so good that we decided to include it in the competition, and the competition is global and fierce. It shows we can stand in line with everywhere else in the world,” says Tsui.

And some thought-provoking robot fun

Stephanie Dinkins. | Photo courtesy of VIFF

Artificial intelligence is another trend that is gradually becoming part of our day-to-day life and conversation. This year’s festival also features films and talk around the topic of the robot and human relationship.

In partnership with Vancouver Art Gallery, the festival is bringing in internationally-renowned artist Stephanie Dinkins, an African-American artist whose work focuses on AI and race. She creates AI that thinks about race based on her own personal experience and will be giving a talk with a robot on stage.

On a more light-hearted note, a dark slacker comedy Hard-Core by Japanese director Nobuhiro Yamashita – featuring two social outcasts and their unlikely robot friend – will also be screened at the festival. The movie is a close adaptation of a cult manga novel in Japan.

According to the director’s interpretation, the robot, by coincidence, is found by the two socially marginalized men. Given where they are in life, it starts to feel compassion and pity for them. Alluding to a bigger context, Yamashita thinks that as technology advances, “as people deal more often with it or with other dimensional worlds such as anime, certain humans may have come to possess machine-like senses” and “find it easier to deal with machines as communication with humans can be tiring as it is overloaded with information.”

Regarded as the king of indie slacker comedy, Yamashita is interested in exploring “gaps” in society in his films since his debut movie Hazy Life. This year marks the return of the director to VIFF as he says “I am moved by the fact that my very first film Hazy Life was shown at VIFF in 1999 and this year, after 20 years, my 20th film Hard-Core will be shown at VIFF again.”

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