With 135 feature films and 102 shorts on offer across seven Vancouver venues, the 41st edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) will kick off on Sept. 29 this year and run till Oct. 9.
The festival will open with Bones of Crows by Métis filmmaker Marie Clements, an epic tale of Aline Spears, a Cree matriarch who survives the residential school system and becomes a code talker for the Canadian Air Force during WWII.
“There is a number of films that deal with kind of lost histories that are being brought back to the surface,” says Curtis Woloschuk, VIFF’s director of programming, “be that about marginalized communities or other groups, I think that’s a really interesting through-line in a number of films.”
He highlights the film After Sun by Charlotte Wells, a feature about a woman’s memory of a holiday she took with her father 20 years prior. Another one he recommends is Riceboy Sleeps, a story about a Korean single mother who is determined to provide a better life for her young son in their new home country Canada.
“The stories draw on autobiographical details and yet manage to be incredibly universal,” he says.
He adds that female protagonists are often featured in this year’s film selections. They are usually at the frontlines of various battles, whether those are moments of societal change or in a literal sense such as in the Ukrainian film Klondike.
“A lot of films are also about found families, people building their own communities, which I think resonates really strongly. After the last couple of years, a lot of people have relied upon their own personal networks to see through some tough times.”
A documentary about communal grieving
A great example of a film about loss, memory, family and community is back home – a beautiful, touching and meditative documentary made by Vancouver-born filmmaker Nisha Platzer. The film will have its world premiere at VIFF on Sept.30.
Platzer lost her brother, Josh, to suicide when he was 15 years old and she was 11. After she moved back to Vancouver a few years ago, a series of coincidences led her to her brother’s circle and eventually gave birth to this documentary – a tribute to her late brother, but also a meditation on life, memory, grief and the power of human relationships.
“I was seeking medical care for a pain condition after I moved back. Eventually, I was referred to this woman who taught a very specialized type of yoga and she was the only person in the city teaching it. And it turned out she was someone very close to my brother. So that was like a sign from the universe that I was meant to connect with her. It felt meaningful to connect with more of Josh’s friends and the conversations kind of started to build as my desire to know more about my brother grew,” Platzer tells of the incredible story of how the documentary
The documentary features intimate interviews with Josh’s close friends and parents about memories of him and the events surrounding his passing. It explores Josh’s personality, hopes and wishes as we learn about him through his journals. Platzer also hand-processed segments of the film stock in a variety of mediums that were important or personal to Josh, adding an ethereal and artistic flair to the documentary.
“It made sense to me from the beginning to include handmade film elements. There is something about the surreality of grief and loss that it just felt natural and honest to do it that way,” says Platzer. “The saltwater from the ocean gives a sort of sparkling texture to some parts of the film. And there are some sections that I processed with plants from the mountains, And then part of it with soils from places that were significant to Josh. So then I began to wonder what if the film were treated with Josh’s ashes? How would that turn out? I think it adds to the materiality of the film to have him physically in it.”
She says her grieving process was quite lonely back then as she was much younger than her brother. Now, connecting with her brother’s community in her adulthood made her realize how healing it can be to grieve communally.
“Making this film allowed me to get a glimpse of what it would be like to know him as more of a peer. I think we would have been really close. We share a lot of the same values and beliefs about the world and he was a writer and a poet. I’m sure we would have created together,” she says.
The documentary also sheds light on a difficult topic – teenage suicide. Platzer says there is still a huge amount of shame and stigma around this topic and it is under-discussed.
“The film is about the process of getting to know my brother and less about looking for reasons why or how it could have been prevented. Having said that, I do think that by opening up a space for dialogue, it will help people know that they’re not alone,” she explains.
As a young female filmmaker, Platzer has already made a number of short experimental films. She reckons that her experience of losing her brother in her youth did shape her as a person. She says she’s drawn to stories of youth and ways of understanding the variances of people at that age, and she would like to explore more of that in her work.
“I really love films about coming of age and how we evolve into our ways of being in the world. Though I don’t necessarily believe in stories per se. I think there’s a freedom for me in getting away from that beginning-to-end structure. Because life is not like that, we don’t necessarily have a resolution at the end of every life moment.”
“The focus of this year’s festival is on the in-person elements. We will be back at the Centre of Performing Arts, which is our marquee venue for the galas and special presentations,” says Woloschuk, “We will also be back at the International Village multiplex in three cinemas there, which really allows people who want to see multiple films to move between venues easily and take a deep dive into international cinema in just one space,” he adds.
All films will be presented in cinema this year with a small selection of titles still available for streaming.
Woloschuk adds that the festival has also re-envisioned the programming, introducing a new series called Showcase and a new international competition series for rising filmmakers called Vanguard.
“The Showcase films are all timely films that demonstrate the breadth of our programming, but also will really connect with our audiences,” he says, “There will also be eight films in the Vanguard series, and I think those are films that really draw heavily from the culture and the history of the regions they originate from, but at the same time demonstrate some really exciting new voices.”
Another new lineup in VIFF’s events this year is Signals –a unique interactive exhibition that explores the potential of creative technologies such as holograms and VR/AR in storytelling.
To learn more about VIFF’s programs, please go to