Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)

When, Where & How October 1 - 11, 2021 | Various Vancouver Venues + VIFF Connect - Virtual Cinema

The following awards were given for excellence in filmmaking

Best BC Film: Handle With Care: The Legend of the Notic Streetball Crew (Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, Kirk Thomas)
BC Emerging Filmmaker Award: Portraits From a Fire (Trevor Mack)
Best BC Short Film: The Horses (Liz Cairns)

Canadian Awards

Best Canadian Film: Sin La Habana (Kaveh Nabatian)
Emerging Canadian Director: Bootlegger (Caroline Monnet)
Best Canadian Documentary: Returning Home (Sean Stiller)
Best Canadian Short Film: Together (Albert Shin)

International Awards

Impact Award: Blue Box (Michal Weits)
Rob Steward Eco Warrior Award: Coextinction (Gloria Pancrazi, Elena Jean)

VIFF Immersed Awards

Cinematic Live Action: Symphony (Igor Cortadellas)
Documentary: Inside COVID19 (Gary Yost, Adam Loften)
Augmented Reality: Mission to Mars AR (Piotr Baczynski, Bartosz Roslonski)
Animation: Beat (Keisuke Itoh)
Honourable Mention: The Passengers (Ziad Touma)

VeeR Audience Award (number of audience views on VeeR)
Red Eyes (Sngmoo Lee)
XR Market Grant
Memory Place (Zeynep Abes)

Reviewer John Jane

All My Puny Sorrows

Canada, 2021, Dir. Michael McGowan, 103 minutes

When and Where Sun, October 3, 2021 at 6pm at Vancouver Playhouse, Wed, October 6, 2021 at 6pm at Kay Meek Arts Centre, Sun, October 10, 2021 at 9pm at Hollywood Theatre

All My Puny Sorrows is a semi-autobiographical family drama by Michael McGowan. It takes its somewhat ironic title from a partial line in a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The complete line reads:To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows.

The film, very obviously based on a previously published book, is the poignant story of two sisters in crisis: Yolandi (Yoli), a writer coming to terms with temporary writer’s block and Elfrieda (Elf), a celebrated concert pianist who is manic-depressive. There is undeniable affection, yet also distance between the two. This could easily be the most depressing film I’ve seen this year. Two suicides and a natural death would suggest that Yoli’s - the film’s protagonist – sorrows are not just “Puny.”

Director Michael McGowan chooses North Bay, Ontario as the film’s main location, but Miriam Toews’ original story could take place anywhere. At the outset, one might be forgiven for supposing that of the two sisters, it would be Yoli who has more valid reasons for ending her own life. She is broke, struggling in her career and exercising poor choices in men friends following a marriage break-up. Elf, on the other hand seems to have it all: a loving husband, reasonable wealth and public approval. McGowan’s film delves into life’s purpose and those decisions we take having consequences for the people closest to us. As Yoli says to Elf’s confused husband half-way through the film: “perhaps her success wasn’t enough.”

Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon are stellar as Yoli and Elf respectively, reciprocating to each other’s character. Alison Pill also provides the cryptic voiceover throughout the film. Mare Winningham turns in a brilliantly stoic performance as the family matriarch. Watch out for the legendary Canadian actor Mimi Kuzyk as the sister’s Aunt Tina.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

UK, 2021, Dir. Will Sharpe, 111 minutes

When and Where Saturday, October 2, 2021 at 6:30pm & Saturday, October 9, 2021 at 6pm | Vancouver Playhouse

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is part love story and part biopic with time markings. It is directed by Will Sharpe from his own screenplay in association with Simon Stephenson. Benedict Cumberbatch plays eccentric graphical illustrator Louis Wain, an exuberant and sometimes brilliant man who might also considered being neurotic, and who obviously suffered from depression in later life. Cumberbatch delivers a tour de force performance in the eponymous role through four extraordinary decades of his life.

Despite his natural intellect, Louis Wain was not just socially awkward – he was very odd. Until seeing this film, a true story, I had not realized that it was he that we had to thank for all those pseudo-domesticated cats out there. Wain ultimately became famous for one thing: his unique drawings of cats transplanted in human situations for the Illustrated London NewsTM. But the film, perhaps wisely, doesn’t overly dwell on his affection for cats. It does however bring into focus his mental health issues and even more so, his personal life with wife and true soul-mate Emily Richardson – charmingly portrayed by Claire Foy. Coincidentally, the rather campy narration is supplied by an unseen Olivia Colman who succeeded Claire Foy in her role of Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix series The Crown.

Toby Jones turns in a perfectly nuanced performance as Louis Wain’s editor and subsequent benefactor, when he had to move his ailing sister away from London. There is a delightful cameo by Taika Waititi who not only directed the satire JoJo Rabbit, but also played a cartoonish Adolf Hitler.

Despite its drawbacks, the film is never boring, nor is it devoid of soul.

Petite Maman

France, 2021, Dir. Céline Sciamma, 72 minutes

When and Where Sunday, October 10, 2021 at 6.30pm & 9pm at Vancouver Playhouse

Petite Maman (Little Mother) is Céline Sciamma’s coming of age story that relies on its premise a kind of psychic phenomena, or at the very least, an episode of fantastical imagination of an eight-year-old girl.

For a film with a total screen time of 72 minutes, it’s surprisingly slow paced. Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) has just lost her beloved grandmother and now has to help her parents clear out the old homestead. It was also the home where her mother, Marion spent her childhood, so on returning, she is overcome with sadness and withdraws from the chore, leaving Nelly and her husband to finish. When Nelly explores the house and the surrounding woods, she meets a girl about the same age building a hut out of branches. The child’s name is Marion – the same name as Nelly’s mother – the first clue. One cannot help noticing that the two girls are almost identical in physical appearance – the second clue - that this is not a random encounter.

Nelly’s young friend Marion is played by the actress’ real-life twin sister, Gabrielle Sanz. Having twin sisters in the two main roles has the instant benefit of an established rapport, which greatly assists with the story development. Petite Maman is a child’s lesson on mortality, but also a backward reflection on who our parents really are.

Spaghetti Code Love

Japan, 2021, Dir. Takeshi Maruyama, 96 minutes

When and Where Friday, October 1, 2021 at 9.15pm at The Cinematheque & Saturday, October 9, 2021 at 10:30am at Vancity Theatre

In Japanese with English subtitles

Spaghetti Code Love is a non-linear ensemble work by as yet unknown film-maker Takeshi Maruyama. The title is derived from tech jargon for source code illogically organized. Maruyama randomly pans a cynical lens over a dozen young subjects who find themselves in a self-imposed emotional funk, whose mediocre lives collide over a two day period in Tokyo. At one point in the film, Maruyama’s Tokyoites simultaneously proclaim their situation as kuso (s**t).

Learning that life has no easy answers, these twenty-something urbanites discover that “love and attachment” are completely different states. There is an entitled drama queen who owes her minor celebrity status to her famous parents, a struggling street musician (vocalist Toko Miura) who yearns for a former boyfriend who has lost interest, an ambitious photographer who fluffs an opportunity to work on an important projects, an Uber EatsTM courier who is infatuated with a former pop star and a needy woman looking for love in all the wrong places. The anxiety that these perceived nonstarters experience is exacerbated by the need of acceptance through social media.

The film is certainly stylish, but there is a lot more sizzle than steak. Maruyama’s approach to storytelling is strongly influenced by his work on music video production.


Canada, 2021, Dir. Alan Zweig, 87 minutes

When and Where Thursday, October 7, 2021 at 6:15pm at The Rio Theatre, Sunday, October 10, 2021 at 3:30pm at Hollywood Theatre

Records is Canadian film-maker Alan Zweig’s off-beat documentary that is less about records and more about some of the bizarre people who collect them and perhaps spend so much time buying and cataloguing them, that they barely have time to listen to them.

I really felt that I had to watch this film, especially since I fit (or did) into that group who admit to being vinyl nerds. But if you thought that serious vinyl collectors are all single middle-aged men with too much time on their hands (most of them are), Zweig at least partly dispels that myth. Two of his interview subjects are women in their twenties – one, a rather stunning blonde, who enjoys being photographed in a bikini with her collection of album covers. It would seem like collectors fall into as many categories as there are music genres: Some only collect rare recordings, hoping to eventually make a profit but without having any interest in listening to them, others add to their collections through a fascination of the cover design.

Zweig cannot resist occasionally embroiling himself in his own narrative. Pointing a cell phone at a mirror and speaking directly to the viewer, he offers up his own quirky persona, with frequent (one feels deliberately staged) interruptions from his ten-year-old daughter.

My own meager vinyl collection stalled at around 450 a couple of years ago, when I started a monthly subscription to AppleMusicTM

Drive My Car

Japan, 2021, Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 179 minutes

When and Where Monday, October 4, 2021 at 8:45pm at Vancouver Playhouse

In Japanese, Korean sign language and occasional English with English subtitles

Drive My Car is adapted from Haruki Murakami short story that may have taken less time to read than the time it takes to watch the film version. Sitting through three hours of a foreign language film, even if the foreign language is Japanese is a test of endurance, but Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s sweeping character study made it rewarding. I should have anticipated a long stretch in the theatre when we see the opening credits forty minutes into the run time and two years into the narrative.

It can’t be usual to see a product placement for a Swedish car in a Japanese film. The eponymous “car” is an older model Saab 900 Turbo that belongs to the film’s main protagonist Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima). We see the vehicle being driven a lot; both by its owner and by his assigned driver Misaki Watari (Toko Miura). It becomes a motif for the journey they take together from emotional isolation to an acceptance of their own fallibility.

After Kafuku’’s wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) dies suddenly early in the film (at a point when she appears to be a main character), he accepts the position of artistic director of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at a Hiroshima Summer festival. The process of rehearsing and performing Chekhov’s tragedy creates a significant subplot due to the play’s poignant theme of hopelessness. Chekhov’s iconic character's desperation mirrors Kafuku’s own sense of loss.

Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura deliver sensitive nuanced performances as two lost souls at the same intersection. The film ends without a finite closure, leaving the audience to reconcile their own conclusions.

Handle With Care: The Legend of the Notic Streetball Crew

Canada, 2021, Dir. Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux & Kirk Thomas, 87 minutes

When and Where Friday, October 8, 2021 at 9pm at Vancouver Playhouse; Sunday, October 10, 2021 at the Rio

Handle With Care: The Legend of the Notic Streetball Crew is a documentary twenty years in the making. Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas originally set out to both promote and exploit streetball – a freestyle form of basketball, played (generally) outdoors on tarmac with fewer rules. Together with members of the Notic they assembled and marketed “mixtapes” of the team’s on-court stunts. These tapes eventually reached basketball fans all over the world and made the players underground celebrities – albeit making them very little money.

Most Vancouverites will remember the five inglorious seasons that the Vancouver Grizzlies were seen at General Motors Place, but fewer will know much about The Notic, despite having arguably more success. The Notic mainly consisted of kids of recent immigrants and first generation Canadians mostly in late-teens or early twenties, who notoriously acquired such colourful nick-names as: David Dazzle, Johnny Blaze and Fingerz. The anomaly was Rory Grace, a white kid, born and raised in East Vancouver, who was only fourteen when he joined the Notics. Because of his small stature he looked at least two years younger, but could juggle a basketball as good as Michael Jordan.

Purist basketball coaches had scant regard for the exponents of streetball, considering it to be showboating and it had no place on professional basketball courts. Many of these kids should have gone on to have careers in the NBA, but because of its cult following and loose rules these skillful players were completely ignored by professional organizations.

Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas catch up with some former members of the Notic after almost two decades. In the forthright interviews there is less bitterness than you might expect. Joey Haywood, who is now 35, did go on to play pro basketball in Denmark and nova Scotia, and even had a tryout with the Raptors.

Queen of Glory

USA, 2021, Dir. Nana Mensah, 78 minutes

When and Where Friday, October 1, 2021 at 7:15pm at The Cinematheque, Saturday, October 9, 2021 at 6:45pm at The Rio Theatre, 19+ Venue

Queen of Glory is a personal essay from Ghanaian-American film-maker, which she has written, directed and given herself the main role. Set in The Bronx, New York, the film follows Sarah Obeng, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants and a student of Columbia University who has fitted so well into the American way of life that has almost forgotten her native culture. While planning to move to Ohio in the immediate future with boyfriend Lyle (Adam Leon), her apparent carefree life is interrupted by the death of her mother. She has a complicated relationship with her father Godwin (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) who left the family to move back to Ghana, but has returned to the US for his ex-wife’s funeral. It turns out that her relationship with her already married boyfriend is even more complicated; neither men offering tangible support. She finds solace at her mother’s Christian book shop aptly named King of Glory through facially tattooed employee (Meeko Gattuso) who expects Sarah will keep the book shop open.

At less than 80 minutes in length, there isn’t much room for unneeded kinesics or detours, but Mensah manages to create disarming pathos from a premise that proffers such realism. The film is low-budget and relied partly on hundreds of supporters who contributed through KickstarterTM. Nana Mensah puts in a solid acting turn, but I wonder if she attempted too much in directing herself in the starring role. I didn’t much care for her technique of using borrowed montages (mostly in grainy black and white) of funeral rites in Ghana.

Mothering Sunday

UK, 2021, Dir. Eva Husson, 104 minutes

When and Where Saturday, October 2, 2021 at 3:30pm & Friday, October 8, 2021 at 6:15pm at Vancouver Playhouse, Vancouver; Saturday, October 9, 2021 at 6pm at Kay Meek Arts Centre

Mothering Sunday is Eva Husson’s exquisitely photographed, mildly erotic period piece. As with Graham Swift’s original novel it’s set in March, 1924 in the Berkshire countryside. The film follows a recent tryst, though not the first, between Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), an orphaned child who has come to work as a maid for the Niven family, and Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor) a privileged aristocrat a few days away from an arranged marriage with a woman of his own class. What action there is in the film’s ad hoc time frame takes place in just a few hours in the middle of Mothering Sunday. (Mothering Sunday differs somewhat from North America’s Mother’s Day in that it is more closely associated with the Christian holiday and occurs in the middle of Lent).

The rest of the film relates to how the two protagonists were drawn to each other as secret lovers from such disparate backgrounds, and how Jane’s future panned out in the aftermath of her affair with the charismatic Paul. Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor show wonderful chemistry as star-crossed lovers, who despite their class divide, become consummately egalitarian when alone together.

Faithful viewers of The Crown will recognize Josh O’Connor and Olivia Colman in roles not dissimilar to those they play in the popular television series. Watch out for a brief cameo from the legendary theatre actress Glenda Jackson as an older Jane Fairchild. Ms. Jackson has returned to her acting career after taking a twenty year break where she was a member of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet. Mothering Sunday has comparative quality and cinematic hallmarks of Merchant Ivory Productions period dramas

Bye Bye Morons (Adieu les cons)

France, 2020, Director Albert Dupontel, 87 minutes

In French with English subtitles

When and Where Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at 6:30pm at Hollywood & Sunday, October 10, 2021 at 6pm at Kay Meek Arts Centre

The curious title is an English translation of actor-filmmaker Albert Dupontel’s dark comedy Adieu les cons. It is the intended final statement of disillusioned civil servant Jean-Baptiste Cuchas (portrayed by the director himself) as he bungles his suicide attempt. The action sets off a madcap misadventure involving an unlikely cohort of terminally ill Suze Trappet, blind archivist Serge Blin and the hapless M. Cuchas.

The central story has Virginie Efira as Suze Trappet, a forty-something hairdresser is attempting to weave her way through a bureaucratic maze to locate the son she gave up to the state when only a teenager. While 44 year-old Belgian actress and television presenter Virginie Efira looks healthy and vital onscreen, it soon becomes obvious her character’s health is failing. When she discovers Cuchas unconscious after his clumsy suicide attempt caused panic and chaos through the building, she sees an opportunity to short circuit the system.

The film steers a course somewhere between obtuse farce and clever satire, often bouncing between the two extremes. It hardly matters that some of the verbal humour may not reach its Anglophone audience; the physical comedy is broad enough to keep most filmgoers chuckling. Watch out for a brief cameo by Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam.

A pre-festival showing of this film was offered following the VIFF Launch presentation. It could be seen on: Tuesday, October 5 at 6:30pm in the Hollywood Theatre and Sunday, October 10 at 6pm in the Kay Meek Arts Centre

© 2021 John Jane