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VIFF 2011 picks

"Martha Marcy May Marlene." Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson.

2011 Vancouver International Film Festival Recommendations

– by Rachel Fox

It is autumn in Vancouver.

The air becomes noticeably chilly, the leaves change colour and begin to fall from their respective trees, and scores of hardcore film-lovers pour over well-thumbed and dog-eared program guides in anticipation of the 30th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival.

With over 300 films, including over 100 documentaries and short films from 30 countries scheduled to screen at this year’s VIFF, selecting what to see could present itself as a rather onerous task. Fortunately the programmers of this year’s event have, again, managed to offer a diverse range of films that appeal to a broad audience. As a result, regardless of when one is able to attend a screening, chances are that something worth your time and money will be playing.

"Take This Waltz." Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams.

Unlike its pretty and popular film festival sister in Toronto, VIFF has built its reputation on a mandate that caters more to the movie-loving cinephile and less to the “industry” side of the cinequation; the result being a program that offers more thoughtful, independent, art-house fare and less of the Hollywood-esque CGI blockbuster.

The Festival selects and places numerous films into various thematic series for screening purposes, many of which are then entered into competitions that are voted on by either select juries or the public. Some of this year’s series include Heaven and Earth (highlighting films that feature an environmental theme), the 18th annual edition of Dragons & Tigers (focusing on Asian cinema) and the ever-popular Canadian Images series.

After having spent a fair bit of time perusing this year’s offerings (no small task!) I have selected a list of 10 films I am particularly excited about and keen to see (and one I can recommend). Certainly, there are many (dozens!) more films that are equally deserving of a mention here – but you’ll have to check out the guide for yourself to see what they are.

"You've Been Trumped." The Donald. The Golfing.

Alps (Greece, 2011, 93 minutes) – Did you see Dogtooth, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimpos’ Oscar-nominated feature from last year? I did. It was thematically weird, more than a little unsettling, slightly depraved, quite frightening, occasionally violent and entirely brilliant.  In short, the feeling of bone-chilling sick it left me with stayed in my psyche for days – which is exactly what I want a movie to do. (Winner, Best Screenplay; Venice 2011)

Sunday October 9, 3:00 pm
Thursday, October 13, 9:00 pm

Trailer – Alps:

Black Bread (Spain, 2010, 108 minutes) – In what appears to be the most celebrated Spanish film of the year, Agusti Villaronga’s Black Bread strikes a thematically similar chord to Guillermo del Toro’s visually stunning take on nightmarish fairytales and magic realism, Pan’s Labyrinth, concerning itself with a child protagonist having to make sense of dark family secrets set against the traumatic backdrop of Franco’s fascism. (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, and five other 2011 Goya Awards.)

Saturday, October 8, 12:30 pm
Monday, October 10, 9:30 pm
Friday, October 14, 11:40 am

Trailer – Black Bread:

Inside Lara Roxx (Canada, 2011, 77 minutes) – In 2004, 21 year-old Lara Roxx headed to Hollywood with a dream: to make it as a big-time porn star and make a ton of cash, quickly, before retiring from the industry and returning to her life in Montréal. Unfortunately Roxx’s life took a devastating turn for the worse when she contracted HIV soon after her arrival. Director Mia Donovan examines both Roxx’s own turbulent experience as a result of her diagnosis and the nature of the cold, hard industry which seduced her.

Saturday, October 8, 6:15 pm
Sunday, October 9, 3:30 pm

Inside Lara Roxx

Take This Waltz (Canada, 2011, 123 minutes) – One of the more high-profile films to be screened at this year’s Festival is Take This Waltz, director Sarah Polley’s follow-up to her Oscar-nominated debut, Away From Her. Over the course of a hot Toronto summer, Margot (the ever-luminous Michelle Williams) questions her self and the state of her marriage to husband Lou (Seth Rogen) when a new man enters her life. Also starring Sarah Silverman, the film made waves among critics and audiences alike when it screened at TIFF earlier this month.

Thursday, October 6, 4:00 pm

Trailer – Take This Waltz:

You’ve Been Trumped (UK, 2011, 95 minutes) – Donald Trump is perfectly cast as Goliath in this documentary centering on the real-estate mogul’s ambition to develop a monstrous luxury golf course on an ecologically sensitive area near Aberdeen, Scotland. Of course, the humble local residents and farmers (the ones Trump unceremoniously tries to evict lest they thwart his empire) are forced to defend themselves, their land, and their way of life against the oddly-coiffed capitalist and his gang of bureaucratic cronies. Featuring music by Sigur Rós’ jónsi (also featured at this year’s Festival in the musical documentary Inni: Sigur Rós), director Anthony Baxter’s film promises to re-enforce my strongly held belief that Donald Trump is, to paraphrase Indian author Khushwant Singh, “not a nice man to know.”

Tuesday, October 4, 6:30 pm
Thursday, October 6, 2:50 pm
Sunday, October 9, 4:30 pm

Trailer – You’ve Been Trumped:

Miss Representation (USA, 2011, 90 minutes) – Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s award-winning documentary explores the many complications and consequences resulting from our current epoch’s obsession with the overly sexualised representation of women in mainstream media. Featuring interviews from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Jane Fonda, Katie Couric and Rosario Dawson to politicians like Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi, Newsom questions everything from the advertising industry to the responsibility of women themselves. (Winner, Audience Award: Documentary, Sonoma Film Festival 2011)

Sunday, October 9, 6:40 pm
Friday, October 14, 1:15 pm

Trailer – Miss Representation:

Sleeping Beauty (Australia, 2011, 102 minutes) – Novelist-turned-director Julia Leigh’s debut sharply divided both critics and audiences alike when it premiered at Cannes earlier this year. University student Lucy (Emily Browning) is a young woman who manages to supplement her income as an “employee” of an unusual organization that caters to dirty old men with money – the kind who want to pay to do filthy, kinky things (except penetration, of course) to her whilst she is asleep (drugged, thank God).

Friday, October 7, 9:15 pm
Sunday, October 9, 4:00 pm

Trailer – Sleeping Beauty:

A Separation (Iran, 2011, 123 minutes) – I had the good fortune of seeing director Asghar Farhadi’s incredibly gripping, tense ensemble drama About Elly at the Whistler Film Festival in 2009 and found it to be one of my favourite films of that year. When I saw that his follow-up, A Separation, was to be screened at VIFF it immediately jumped to the top of my “must see” list. Featuring many of the same actors from his previous work, this film may be Iran’s best bet for an Oscar nomination this year. Did I mention how much I loved his previous film? (Winner, Golden Bear, Best Actor, Best Actress, Berlin 2011)

October 5, 6:30 pm
October 9, 1:45 pm

Trailer – A Separation:

Martha Marcy May Marlene (USA, 2011, 103 minutes) – Drawing numerous comparisons to stylish masters Terence Malick and Michael Haeneke, the buzz surrounding Sean Durkin’s film has been getting steadily louder since he took home the Best Director prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film centers on a troubled young woman (Elizabeth Olsen, aka “the other Olsen sister”) who must somehow assimilate to normal life after years of victimization as the member of a sinister cult. (Best Director, Sundance Film Festival 2011)

Tuesday, October 11, 9:00 pm
Friday, October 14, 3:00 pm

Trailer – Martha Marcy May Marlene:

Michael (Austria, 2011, 96 minutes) – From Austria, the country that produced Josef Fritzl (a man who secretly managed to keep his own daughter confined to the family basement as a sex-slave for 24 years) comes Michael, director Marcus Schleinzer’s debut film about a seemingly normal thirty-something insurance executive who keeps a ten year-old boy locked in his basement for five months.

Tuesday, October 4, 9:15 pm
Friday, October 14, 12:00 pm

Trailer – Michael:

And finally… the only film I can recommend:

Patrick Huard and Ken Scott at TIFF

"Starbuck" actor Patrick Huard and director Ken Scott at the TIFF gala screening, Roy Thomson Hall, September 2011.

Starbuck (Canada, 2011, 109 minutes) – Director Ken Scott’s refreshingly authentic, hilarious, and surprisingly touching Starbuck is a film about a man who suddenly learns that he is a father… to 533 grown children. Featuring a fantastic performance by Patrick Huard as David Wosniak, a “life loser” whose days as a prolific sperm donor come back to haunt him, this Quebecois film was a crowd-pleaser at TIFF last month.

Friday, October 7, 6:30 pm
Saturday, October 8, 7:00 pm<
Sunday, October 9, 12:45 pm

Trailer – Starbuck:


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