VIFF 2011: Dragons & Tigers

Images: The Sun-Beaten Path directed by Sonthar Gyal, Journey on the Wild Coast directed by Greg Chaney, On the Line directed by Frank Wolf, Burning Ice directed by Peter Gilbert, INNI directed by Vincent Moriset.

VIFF 2011: Dragons & Tigers Awards, Cinematic Journeys

Last Thursday on October 6, the Vancouver International Film Festival announced the winners for this year’s 18th annual Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema. Director Sonthar Gyal, a Tibetan filmmaker from China, picked up top prize of $10,000 for his film The Sun-Beaten Path at the Dragons & Tigers Awards Gala preceding the world premiere of Ishi Yuya’s film Mitsuko Delivers.

Making his feature film debut with The Sun-Beaten Path, Gyal had previously worked as the cinematographer for renowned Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tsedan’s film The Search. VIFF described that “the jury admired its remarkable cinematic qualities and its ability to tell a moving story with complex emotions through one face and one landscape. We were also impressed by the way the film draws such distinctive characters and by its persuasive evocation of Tibetan culture.”
For the winners of this year’s Dragons & Tigers Award for New Director, the festival acknowledged Special Mentions to emerging filmmakers Eduardo Roy, Jr. for his film Bahay Bata (Baby Factory) and Nagano Yoshihiro’s latest work Recreation. The award recognizes filmmakers from the Asian-Pacific region whose work expresses creativity and innovation early in their careers.
Eduardo Roy, Jr., initially studied at the Philippine School of Interior Design (PSID) but turned towards making films. His first short film Ulirat won Best Short Film in 2002 from the Film Academy of the Philippines, and followed up with his second film Ang Pinakamahabang One Night Stand. Bahay Bata marks his feature-length film debut.
Filmmaker Nagano Yoshihiro was also recognized with Eduardo Roy, Jr., for the New Director award for Recreation, his debut indie feature film tackles teen delinquency in a story about restless youth.
Sonthar Gyal’s film The Sun-Beaten Path reveals a young man’s arduous journey across high mountainous and outstretched Gobi Desert landscape towards Lhasa to seek forgiveness. Nima’s spiritual quest was sparked by the unexpected and accidental tragic death of his mother he seeks atonement for but deeply suffers from his personal loss.
Several other films at this year’s fest shared evocative journeys across the landscape as well as offering deeply personal narratives through art, science, music and culture. Journey on the Wild Coast, On the Line, and Burning Ice offer viewers to draw perspectives about the natural environment and consider how environmental degradation and climate change exacts an economic impact as well as a physical one.
Journey on the Wild Coast, as part of the film fest’s Heaven and Earth program focusing on environmental films, follows Erin McKittrick and Bretwood (“Hig”) Higman and their trek from Seattle to the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska on foot, in small inflatable craft, and on skis. The young couple relied solely on their own mobility and resources to sustain their journey which began in June 2007. On the way, they see the effects of human and industrial impact forest clear-cuts and strip mining has on the environment and declining salmon populations in rivers and streams.
McKinney later published a book about their experience “A Long Trek Home:  4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski” (Mountaineers Books) as they, along with assistant cameraman Eric Parsons, traveled on foot from Washington State, British Columbia and on to coastal Alaska towards the Bering Sea. Her book describes their journey and the film’s narrative which they also documented with handheld video camera. The rain-soaked photography of the Pacific Northwest coastline and wilderness captures some impressionable footage in this incredible film.
Similarly, in 2010 Canadian Filmmaker Frank Wolf and friend Tom McGowan biked, hiked, rafted and kayaked along 1,170 kilometers of the proposed route for the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project beginning in Bruderheim in northeastern Alberta across the Canadian Rockies westward to Kitimat, British Columbia. Their film On the Line, which had its world premiere at VIFF, documents their journey and exposes the controversial pipeline project which would supply Alberta Tar Sands bitumen to supertankers on the BC coast. The pipeline would also be crossing over 770 streams and waterways between both Canadian provinces. Further, the film also raises questions about the jobs that Canada’s energy corporation Enbridge would create in construction for the project would also be taking local jobs away from residents that depend on the environment.
Peter Gilbert’s (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door) documentary Burning Ice produced for the Sundance Channel explores a creative response to climate change from a 2008 Cape Farewell expedition to Disko Bay on Greenland’s west coast. Several artists and musicians participated in the expedition that included Jarvis Cocker, Ryuichi Sakomoto, Laurie Anderson, Martha Wainwright, Robyn Hitchcock, Leslie Feist, KT Tunstall, Chris Wainwright, David Buckland, Sophie Calle, and architect Sunand Prasad, and others. All forty-five artists and scientists who joined this expedition collectively shared a creative experience to inspire new cultural and scientific analysis about climate change.
With all journeys, there’s a destination, an ending and a transformation. Icelandic band sigur rós staged a final concert tour date at London’s Alexandra Palace in November 2008 that is captured in Vincent Moriset’s moody stark black-and-white film INNI. This second sigur rós film, unlike their first film Heima which reveals the band’s colorful and lush summer concert tour around Iceland, is no less cinematic. Rather, Moriset provides a kind of Guy Maddin touch to INNI lending the film with an archival visual style, scratchy, monochromatic, abstract and gray as the band’s sonically-charged sound captivates its audience.
VIFF is in its final week ongoing through October 14. Be sure to download the free VIFF iPhone app to view schedule, film details, venues and order tickets. For further info, check online at

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