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Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan

The Special Presentations at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) include major festival award winners and early Oscar contenders. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea will make its Vancouver debut, along with the latest work by acclaimed international filmmakers Andrea Arnold (American Honey), Paul Verhoeven (Elle) and Park Chanwook (The Handmaiden).

Contemporary World Cinema showcases 64 acclaimed narrative films from every corner of the globe, while the 21 films in the Documentaries series include award winners from Sundance and SXSW. Finally, Spotlight on France features 11 films that celebrate that nation’s rich cinematic culture.

All of VIFF’s feature films are eligible for the prestigious Super Channel People’s Choice Award.

The full list of Special Presentations includes:

American Honey
When the teenaged Star (Sasha Lane) decides to join forces with a young, itinerant and rowdy door-to-door sales gang led by Shia LaBeouf’s shifty Jake, the stage is set for a music-fuelled On the Road for millennial lovers of EDM, partying and the search for a self amongst the ruins… “[Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank)] scrappy, sprawling astonishment of a fourth feature… is constantly, engrossingly active, spinning and sparking and exploding in cycles like a Fourth of July Catherine wheel.” – Variety

The Birth of a Nation
In this provocatively named and extraordinarily powerful historical drama, we’re thrust into the slave rebellion in the southern US led by the preacher Nat Turner (writer-director Nate Parker) in 1831. Scarred by the vicious treatment accorded his fellow slaves, the pacifistic preacher decides to organize the bloody uprising that reverberates in the American psyche to this day. “A biographical drama steeped equally in grace and horror, it builds to a brutal finale that will stir deep emotion…” – Variety

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven returns to the big screen with this darkest of dark comedies, which many critics consider among his best. A video game executive (Isabelle Huppert, superb) suffers a rape, only to react unlike any screen heroine you’ve ever seen… “Verhoeven’s brazen rape revenge comedy is a dangerous delight… Huppert delivers a standout performance as a woman turning the tables on her attacker in the controversial director’s electrifying and provocative comeback.” – Guardian

The Girl with All the Gifts
The zombie genre hasn’t felt this alive since 28 Days Later! With much of humanity transformed into flesh-eating predators, a teacher (Gemma Arterton) and a scientist (Glenn Close) believe they may’ve found the key to survival in Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a bright young girl who’s also a “hungry.” When they’re flushed out of hiding, Colm McCarthy ratchets up the tension while fleshing out the human drama in wildly unpredictable ways. “Smartly compelling, emotionally engaging and stylishly executed…” – Screen


The Handmaiden
With this sexy, dangerous bodice-ripper, Park Chanwook (Oldboy) has fashioned a cinema of striptease; as the film slowly unspools, we marvel at its sensual flair. After a Korean pickpocket is hired by a con-man to masquerade as a Japanese heiress’s maid and help pilfer her fortune, The Handmaiden’s plot twists as fast as its characters shift sexual allegiances. “Park brings the full arsenal of cinematic expression… [He] can make a mere door opening an act of emotional transcendence.” – Village Voice

Breathtaking in scope and a glorious spectacle, Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s (Earth From Above) epic documentary touches on every big issue imaginable while examining the Earth as only the movies can. Aerial shots of the land mix with intimate human testimonials on love, sex, work, war and more; both the landscapes and confessions are staggeringly powerful. This is a movie in the grand tradition of Koyaanisqatsi: radically humane in its concerns and mind-blowing in its visual splendour. Prepare to be swept off your feet.

Pedro Almodóvar’s decades-spanning tale, based on stories by Alice Munro, masterfully blends elements of melodrama and mystery. Middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suárez) discovers that her long-missing daughter has resurfaced, leading her to reflect on her younger self (played by Adriana Ugarte) and the events that drove her daughter away. “A sombre, ravishing study of grief, guilt and burden… [The film] offers a cumulative power that’s finally extremely moving and teasingly free of easy resolution.” – Time Out

Manchester by the Sea
An all-star cast, a riveting script and a smart narrative puzzle give Kenneth Lonergan’s (Margaret; You Can Count on Me) drama devastating power. Casey Affleck is superb as a taciturn Boston handyman Lee, who returns to his salty hometown after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. There, past and present collide with a force that few could survive. “[An] extraordinary swirl of love, anger, tenderness and brittle humour… [This is a] beautifully textured, richly enveloping drama.” — Variety

Milton’s Secret
A victim of bullying at school and witness to his parents’ (David Sutcliffe and Mia Kirshner) tensions at home, young Milton (William Ainscough) retreats into an emotional shell. Fortunately, his enlightened grandfather (Donald Sutherland) arrives on this fraught scene to impart wisdom on how to unburden oneself of such troubles. Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) supplied the source material for Barnet Bain’s timeless story about inner peace and empowerment that will resonate with the whole family.

World Premiere

Barry Jenkins’ Florida-set coming-of-age tale eschews tired tropes in favour of an urgent, deeply felt take on what it means to be a black man in America today. Using an impressionistic style, Jenkins masterfully traces the life of Chiron (played as an adult by Trevante Rhodes) from his boyhood days in the midst of a 1980s Miami crack epidemic to adulthood, shattering stereotypes along the way. “[The] best film I’ve seen in a long time and the best take on black masculinity… ever.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann
Saying it is sui generis only begins to describe the unique breadth and depth of Maren Ade’s (Everyone Else) comic masterpiece, a film that traces the relationship between a prank-playing father (Peter Simonischek) and his corporate go-getter daughter (Sandra Hüller) to side-splitting and moving effect. “A stunningly singular third feature by Ade that transports the intricately magnified human observation of her previous work to a rich, unexpected comic realm… A humane, hilarious triumph.” – Variety

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