When film festival meets streaming

When Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) festival organizers planned for contingencies in the past, few had ever thought about the scenario of a global pandemic lasting months with no end in sight, but they are now learning to adapt – and hopefully thrive – in a drastically different environment.

The upcoming festival, running from Sept. 24 to Oct. 7, is moving online with its newly developed VIFF Connect streaming platform, while maintaining some limited in-cinema screenings.

A new format for a new reality

“This is our 39th edition, but it feels like our first festival,” says Curtis Woloschuk, associate director of programming at VIFF. “We knew in the spring that it was going to be a different festival and we are trying to figure out how to do this as we move along. Our overall festival program will be available online through the VIFF Connect platform, which we spent the last few months building.”

The new online platform allows the audience to buy individual tickets per program, or to purchase a subscription to binge on all programs offered at VIFF. Online film screenings are only available within B.C., but the panel discussions and talks are accessible wherever people are, Woloschuk

“The new platform has dramatically increased our reach, and we are excited to see the opportunities that could open up,” he adds. “We see this as part of our year-round operation moving forward; we will be offering different online programs to complement what we are doing in the cinema.”

To enhance the virtual festival experience, Woloschuk says there will be pre-recorded director interviews with the film screenings so people can have a chance to hear from the creators themselves.

The size of this year’s program was also streamlined to about half of the size of last year’s, although works from 66 different countries, including many award-winning pieces and several premieres, are still represented.

“A more streamlined festival allows us to think about the curation a lot more. What are the stories we are telling, and who are the people telling these stories?” Woloschuk says.

He sees the 2020 festival as a steppingstone to the future, to see how the curated programming can better serve different communities.

Films reflecting the zeitgeist

Woloschuk says many of the films selected for this year’s festival are very much of the moment. Aside from the usual universal themes, there are films exploring topical issues, such as police brutality, healthcare, and climate change, as well as the crisis of capitalism.

One noteworthy film is Nadia, Butterfly by Canadian director Pascal Plante, about an Olympic swimmer vying for a medal while staring down retirement at the age of 24. It reflects the struggle of an individual facing an existential crisis while operating at the peak of her capabilities. The film will also be a case study topic at VIFF’s Totally Indie Day.

“The director went to Tokyo last year to shoot it with Canadian swimmers, as the film is supposed to take place at the 2020 Olympics. It then became a strange, speculative film about a game that never really occurred, but was shot in a social realist style,” explains Woloschuk.

Animation works, long and short

This year’s festival will also offer a wide selection of animated works showcasing a range of artistic styles and approaches. It will feature the full-length Canadian premiere of the Korean animation Beauty Water, which is a dark, intense, and gripping tale that strives to keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout.

“It is about a woman who would go to any length to be beautiful. It tackles the dark side of human nature, the body-shaming culture, the powerless situation of women in society. It is also a lot about money, that if you can pay for cosmetics or plastic surgery then you can have it all,” says VIFF programmer Maggie Lee, who selected the film.

“The film has all the trappings of a horror movie, but it would be difficult to see the film as live- action because it is quite misogynistic. Once it becomes animation it is stylized, the violence towards women, and the way it is presented. It has that nightmare kind of edge that can only be achieved in animation,” Lee explains.

Lee used to be a film critic and has worked for several film festivals around the world. She adds that it is the first time in many years she has seen animation this good coming out of Korea, where animation has not traditionally been a strength.

The other animations are all shorts, each impressive in its own way. Malakout is a theatrical animation piece with a distinct look and atmosphere that tells a philosophical and sinister tale about the bargain with fate. The Rose of Damascus is an interpretative animation of a poem on the experiences of a Syrian refugee from war-ravaged Damascus. And To: Gerard is a heartwarming piece about inspiration and magic with the easily recognizable style of DreamWorks.

Lee speculates that animated productions could be on the rise post-COVID because the category cuts across cultures and races. She sees it as a positive trend to give behind-the-scenes workers in areas such as voice-overs more o

For more information, please visit www.viff.org.