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The Vancouver International Film Festival Looking Good At 27


Iiit's baaack!

The cinematic juggernaut that is our annual Vancouver International Film Festival rolls into town next week, opening with a full slate of films on Thursday, September 25th, at the Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, the Pacific Cinémathèque, the Ridge Theatre, and the VanCity Theatre.

An ambitious rendition of the best-selling book (of the same title) by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, the opening gala, Blindness, directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), offers a thought-
provoking, visually impressive meditation on the fragility of humanity in the face of the apocalypse, as a mysterious pandemic descends upon a city without warning, plunging the entire population into darkness.

The Festival closes 16 days later, on October 10th, with the Canadian première of The Class (Entre les murs), Laurent Cantet's 2007 classroom drama winner of Cannes' Palme d'Or.

In the days between these two poles, the Festival will showcase 332 films from 58 countries at 575 screenings, with 193 features, including Cannes' winners: Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys (Best Director); Jury Prize winner, Italy's Il Divo; Germany's Cloud 9 (Heart Throb Jury Prize), and Britain's Camera D'Or winner, Hunger.

Sundance winners coming to VIFF include Amin Matalqa's Captain Abu Raed, World Cinema Audience Award winner; and Best Director award-winner, Lance Hammer's Ballast. Tribeca award winners arriving at the 2008 VIFF include Let The Right One In (Sweden), by Tomas Alfredson, which won Best Narrative Feature; My Marlon and Brando (Turkey), winner of the Best New Narrative Filmmaker prize for Hüseyin Karabey; and, Old Man Bebo (Spain), a film about Cuban music legend Bebo Valdes, which garnered the Best New Documentary Filmmaker prize for Carlos Carcas.

Also coming to VIFF, Berlin Film Festival winners The Song of Sparrows (Iran), by Majid Majidi, Best Actor winner for Reza Najie, and Happy-Go-
(UK), by Mike Leigh, which netted Best Actress honours for Sally Hawkins. From France, there's Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long, winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize, and Boris Despodov's Corridor #8 (Bulgaria), which won Berlin's Forum Award.

Götz Spielmann's Revanche (Austria) took the Femina award at Berlin's Film Festival, while the Youth Jury gave special mention to Nina Paley's, Sita Sings The Blues.

Arriving in Vancouver with strong buzz are: Sugar, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's (Half Nelson) new film, which tells the story of a 19-year-old Dominican baseball pitcher trying to break into the big leagues; and, Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt's (Old Joy) stripped down, 80-minute drama about a young woman, Wendy (Michelle Williams), who travels from Indiana to Alaska with her dog, Lucy, to find work.

Other films garnering buzz: Tulpan: Russian director Sergey Dvortsevoy's first "fiction" feature, winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes; RR, James Benning's hypnotic homage to the beauty and importance of the train; and, When It Was Blue, Jennifer Reeves' eye-popping, superimposed dual projection montage, structured in four parts representing the directions of the compass and the seasons.

Reeves' film is reviewed on the same page of The Globe and Mail as RR, where there are also four star reviews of Kim Jee-Woon's (South Korea) The Good The Bad The Weird, Steve McQueen's Hunger, JVCD, potential Academy Award nominee Rachel Getting Married, and Waltz With Bashir.

In addition, the VIFF will screen 102 shorts, including Next Floor, from Quebec's Denis Villeneuve, which won top prize for shorts at Cannes. Villeneuve sets the table for an aristocratic yet barbaric banquet featuring unparalleled service. Visually stunning and darkly humourous, the film approaches surrealism with minimal dialogue yet maximum impact. The result is a feast for the eyes and an assault on society.

The VIFF will screen 100 documentaries, ranging from Tanaz Eshaghian's Berlin prize-winner Be Like Others (Iran/Canada/UK/USA), to Guido Santi's and Tina Mascara's Chris and Don: A Love Story, which features home movies of friends Tennessee Williams, Igor Stravinsky and Paul Bowles, as well as Juraj Lehotsky's Blind Loves (Slovakia), a ravishing documentary mixing whimsical animation and the real lives of four blind people who overcome their 'disabilities' to find both love and life.

The Festival's special focus this year is titled The Ark: Elements and Animals, an environmental series offering a spectrum of documentary and fiction films demonstrating cinematic artistry, new perspectives and new information about nature and our place in it. Films about the commodification of water, include the World Première of Sam Bozzo's documentary based on Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke's book Blue Gold: World Water Wars, and Sanjeev Chatterjee and Ali Habashi's One Water.

Spotlight on France returns, once again, showcasing the works of 30 veteran and neophyte filmmakers, including a 70 mm new-print revival of Jacques Tati's 1967 Playtime, and several earlier films by honourée Leconte.

The two buzz films from France that played at Toronto's fest this year, making their way to Vancouver, are JVCD, starring the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme - who plays a tragic, version of himself; and, Snow, the grand prize winner of the International Critics Week at Cannes, set in 1997 in a Bosnian village that the war has almost completely robbed of its men. Aida Begic's début feature emerges as "a work of rare modesty and poignance," says Eye Weekly's Jason Anderson.

This year's Dragons and Tigers series, the largest exhibition of East Asian films outside of Asia, features cutting-edge film and video work from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Highlights of the series include: the international premières of the Japanese films Yokohama Satoko's German + Rain, Sode Yukik's mime-
, and Uchida Nobutero's Kaza-Aana. China is well-represented with 16 films, most of which are North America, world or international premières.

From Korea, Kim Jee-Woon's exhilarating tribute to Sergio Leone, The Good The Bad The Weird, resplendent with virtually non-stop action, has emerged as the country's biggest hit this year. Hong Kong's Johnnie To combines yearning romance, gentle action and cinematic dazzle, in Sparrow, a playfully nostalgic Jacques Demy-like near musical.

Young Malaysian and Taiwanese filmmakers tell their stories with formal daring in what may be this year's strongest set of Chinese language films, in a series titled Lights at the End of the Tunnel, featuring Ho Yuhang's As I Lay Dying, Charlotte Lim's Escape, Ho Wi Ding's Summer Afternoon and Chang Rong-ji's The End of the Tunnel, all four films running at a combined time of 88 minutes.

Canadian Images programmer Terry McEvoy is excited about Stone of Destiny, Charles Martin Smith's take on Ian Hamilton's true story of the theft of an important cultural artifact; Léa Pool's Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur, Carl Bessai's Mothers&Daughters, Growing Op by Michael Melski, 45 RPM by David Schultz, and Only, by co-directors Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds. The locally-spawned stop-motion animation feature, Neil Burns' Edison & Leo will make its début at the 2008 VIFF.

Tickets and series passes can be ordered online here, or at the VISA advance box office at the VanCity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street, noon til 7 daily. All Festival attendees must purchase a $2 membership. You can also charge by phone, at 604-685-8297, noon til 7 through October 9th.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 18, 2008 5:27 PM in VIFF 2008


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