VIFF x 30
Images: Lost in Paradise directed by Ngoc Dang Vu, The Natural Phenomenon of Madness starring Jess Mendoza directed by Charliebebs Gohetia, Stateless Things directed by Kim Kyong-Mook, Señorita directed by Vincent Sandoval, This is Not a Film featuring Janar Panahi directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. Vogue Theatre at Night by Lee Down, Creative Commons License.
VIFF x 30: This is not a Film, This is a Film Festival
For organizers and attendees at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) (September 28 – October 14, 2011) in Vancouver, BC, the 30th anniversary of this locally and internationally-esteemed film fest opened with a rocky start.
Prior to the event’s opening night last week, several filmmakers from Iran whose documentary film This is Not a Film were arrested in Iran and charged with espionage under allegations for collaborating with BBC News. Filmmakers Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Katayoun Shahabi, Hadi Afarideh, Nasser Saffarian, Shahnama Bazdar and Mohsen Shahrnazdar have been charged. Mojtaba Mirtahmasb was arrested last month in early September at the Tehran Airport just before boarding a flight destined to Paris and Toronto.
This is Not a Film focuses on Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi who was living under house arrest, sentenced to prison for six years and has been forbidden from making writing and making films for 20 years. Panahi, one of Iran’s most influential filmmakers of the Iranian New Wave, is best known internationally for his acclaimed films The White Balloon and The Circle. He was later arrested in 2009 for trying to make a film about the protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection and charged for national security violations and producing propaganda against the Iranian state. In This is Not a Film he is depicted living day-to-day browsing web pages and blocked sites and reading aloud from a script that he wrote that was not approved by authorities.
Although Iran’s efforts to stifle his voice and vision as a filmmaker, This is Not a Film recently was picked for film distribution in the United States and the UK by Palisades Tartan at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It’s also remarkable that this film was made at all; it was shot in part on an iPhone and the digital footage was copied to a USB drive and smuggled out of Iran inside a cake to have its premiere at Cannes earlier this year. This is Not a Film will screen at the Empire Granville 7 on October 8 and 13.
Last Thursday, September 29, VIFF’s Opening Night gala was marked with controversy at the Rocky Mountaineer station surrounding the venue’s location. Three months ago, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours locked-out 108 employees in June, and the ongoing labor dispute gained in elevated profile as employees on the picket line discouraged guests from attending the party. Several of Vancouver’s film industry unions had announced that they would not attend.
Despite this, VIFF’s thirtieth anniversary has plenty to celebrate this year. The Vogue Theatre on Granville has been renovated and will serve as one of the festival’s venues and this year’s VISA Screening Room. This landmark and historic theatre opened in Vancouver’s entertainment district on Granville in 1941 and has had a checkered history with periodic closures and rebirths as a live music, theater and club venue in the past several decades since. Its renovated space will serve as the fest’s gala space during its run.
Additionally, one of the fest’s hallmark programs — VIFF’s Dragons & Tigers series — is highly anticipated each year introducing festival and Vancouver audiences to many contemporary Asian-Pacific films. Tony Rayns, a London-based film critic, and Beijing-based scholar Shelly Kraicer have selected films for this year’s program. Rayns has been a VIFF programmer for many years and has shared a studied and genuine passion for the films and visiting filmmakers.
Outside of VIFF, Kraicer says the the largest survey of Asian cinema at a film fest is at the Pusan International Film Festival in Busan, South Korea, the Vancouver Sun reports (“VIFF: Dragons & Tigers Make Noise on the Big Screen” by Sarah Berman, Vancouver Sun, 30 September 2011). “In Vancouver, we try to be the most important place that introduces East Asian film to Western audiences,” Kraicer says. “We introduce new voices — sometimes independent or alternative film — to North America.”
Some of these independent titles selected for this year’s Dragons & Tigers program include films that explore themes around around sexuality, gender, and individuals marginalized by social situation and economic means. The duality of sexual expression either necessitates emotional affirmation (Ngoc Dang Vu’s Lost in Paradise) or physical commodity (Kim Kyung-Mook’s Stateless Things). These pairings can also be deeply polarizing as in The Natural Phenomenon of Madness, a kind of chamber version of Rashomon about one couple’s sexual episode casting different versions of the experience (rape). And in Señorita, the heroine Sofia poises herself against corruption and greed in this dramatic revenge story.
Two films share similar narratives regarding identity and attraction among each film’s pairing. Ngoc Dang Vu’s film Lost in Paradise reveals a rare glimpse of gay sexuality portrayed on screen in Vietnamese cinema. This melodramatic film’s portrait of Khoi, a rural youth who heads to Ho Chi Minh City, becomes enmeshed with but later fall out of the lives of two young con artists, Dong and Lam. Khoi, who had been robbed, takes on various odd jobs and later reconnects with Lam who turned to prostitution after Dong leaves him. Gay repressiveness in contemporary Vietnamese culture perhaps anchors the characters to the edges of the street.
Similarly, Kim Kyung-Mook’s dream-like film Stateless Things pairs two youths, Jun and Hyeon, against a backdrop of Seoul’s nightclubs and high-rise apartments. Jun is a newcomer from North Korea by way of China who lacks legal identification for legitimate work, drifts into prostitution. He later meets Hyeon, a sugar-daddy’s kept boy, who lives in a luxury penthouse with a separated married man and share a connection as marginalized outsiders and an otherwise unlikely bond.
The Natural Phenomenon of Madness directed by Charliebebs Gohetia delves into darker emotional territory regarding how one night’s sexual encounter becomes a polarizing force yet perpetuating a link between the couple. Each participant expresses a distinct experience and reveals that they’re entwined together emotionally despite separation. A few years later, they periodically meet at the Intramuros ruins in Manila. He learns that she has his blood type and asks her to donate blood for his operation which would help extend his life, but his request is refused.
Vincent Sandoval’s Señorita examines the conflicts around political power and sexuality between its principal character Sofia a transgendered woman and a former client’s corrupt associates. Initially, she looks at getting a fresh start away from prostitution in Manila when she seizes an opportunity to look after a friend’s son in a small town when the mother takes on work overseas in Dubai. But local elections lure Sofia into the town’s political underworld and to pursue a crime lord whose past history with one of her previous clients arousing her to act.
The Vancouver International Film Festival continues for another two weeks and presents an awards gala for the films participating in the Dragons & Tigers program coinciding with the World Premiere screening of Mitsuko Delivers
by Ishii Yuya at the Vogue Theatre, Thursday, October 6. Check the VIFF site at viff.org
for further film and event details, and download the free Vancouver International Film Festival Mobile Guide for iPhone from iTunes