Showcasing Canadian Talent at VIFF 2023

Sherren Lee, director of Float. | Photo by Justine Yeung.

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) returns on Sept. 28 to Oct. 8 with more than 140 films from around the world, live performances, and talks with industry experts. Amongst VIFF’s celebration of international cinema is the BC Spotlight series, featuring local talent, scenery, and stories.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Sherren Lee, Float is a romance film shot in British Columbia and adapted from Kate Marchant’s popular novel by the same name. Featuring a teenager, Waverly, who is sent to Florida following her parents’ divorce, Marchant’s version of Float was published on Wattpad, an online, self-publishing community, and is well-known as a beach romance, a genre that inspires self-proclaimed romantic Lee.

“I really wanted to tell a story that was modern and true to love,” Lee says. “It wasn’t just a summer fling – it could be true love, and ultimately, Float is a story of belonging.”

After being asked by producers to read the novel, Lee, who spent time backpacking, found similarities between Waverly and her own experiences, particularly how they both had to learn swimming because of their travels. Inspired by these connections, Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jesse LaVercombe, adapted Waverly into a character with an Asian background.

“Because I saw so much of myself in the book, I wanted to bring that into the story,” Lee, who was born in Taiwan, says while adding that the choice is also an homage to the need for representation.

While Marchant’s novel was set in Florida, Lee’s Float is filmed in and around Squamish and Vancouver. For its Sept. 30 and Oct. 2 screenings at VIFF, Lee looks forward to enjoying the moments with her mostly Canadian cast and crew. As for the viewers, Lee hopes that they will recognize Float’s message of personal agency and community.

“At the heart of the film is a girl who is going to create some space for herself,” says Lee. “I hope that everybody can have a bit more courage to put their feelings out there and allow people to respond and be there.”

Retelling a heated Vancouver story

For Kathleen Jayme, who also goes by Kat, and Asia Youngman, directors of I’m Just Here for the Riot, the 2011 Stanley Cup riot is a story worth revisiting. After meeting at VIFF in 2018, Jayme and Youngman, who were both in Vancouver at the time of the riots, bonded over their desire to tell this story despite potential public opinions against doing so.

Asia Youngman and Kat Jayme. | Photo by Elissa Crowe

“We both felt like this was a story that hadn’t been told,” Youngman says. “And it’s also a little bit scary to be telling this story.”

Finding strength in numbers, they set out to explore different perspectives on the riot. Youngman notes that they conducted 24 interviews with a diverse group of interviewees including rioters, bystanders, and news reporters, but only 22 made it into the film. After putting out a call for riot footage, Jayme, Youngman, and their team also sorted through an enormous archive that included never before seen footage, a process that brought about complex emotions.

“We would watch the footage and send each other clips – it was so infuriating and mindboggling,” says Jayme while highlighting that what attracted her to this story is the feeling of anger, mixed with a desire to understand the reasons for the riot.

“We didn’t want to point fingers at anyone, but to really gain an understanding as a whole and get a perspective on why the riots happened and how we can prevent it from happening again,” Youngman adds while also noting the importance of accountability.

For Jayme and Youngman, the hope is that viewers of their documentary, which will screen at VIFF on Oct. 2 and Oct. 5, will be encouraged to reflect on using social media for public shaming and consider what they would have done if they were in the same situation as the rioters.

Unravelling emotional complexities

Set at a retreat, Meredith Hama-Brown’s Seagrass explores intergenerational trauma, motherhood, and racial identity through the marital struggles of an interracial couple – Japanese Canadian Judith and white Canadian Steve – and the sibling dynamic between their two daughters, the youngest of which believes that her late grandmother has returned as a ghost.

Meredith Hama-Brown. | Photo by Norman Wong

“I wasn’t so much interested in the theme of divorce, but more how the different events in the film impacted the emotional stability and sense of security all the characters are experiencing in different ways,” says Hama-Brown, who directed and wrote the screenplay.

According to Hama-Brown, in Judith’s case, that meant understanding her identity not only as a mother and a woman, but also as a Japanese Canadian. Even though the story is fictional, Hama-Brown finds the themes guiding Seagrass personally significant. Hama-Brown observes that because of the trauma, pain, and shame caused by the Japanese internment during WWII, it isn’t spoken about much.

“Because of that, a lot of history and culture has been lost for other generations,” says Hama-Brown. “Judith is not only grieving her mother, but her connection to this history as well.”

In addition to being the place where she grew up, Hama-Brown notes that BC was also chosen as the filming location because of its significance to Japanese Canadian history. Aside from pain, fear is another emotion heavily explored in Seagrass.

“The message around fear would be that it is something challenging to feel, but it has a message for us as well,” says Hama-Brown.

Hama-Brown hopes that Seagrass, which will screen at VIFF on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, will inspire audiences to dig deeper into its themes and find personal connections.

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