Mina Shum’s Meditation Park will be showcased as the Opening Night Gala Film of the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival. On the heels of her critically acclaimed 2015 documentary, Ninth Floor, Shum makes a triumphant return to narrative filmmaking with this bittersweet comedy about a devoted Chinese-Canadian wife and mother (Cheng Pei Pei) who is shaken out of her isolation and stupor by suspicions that her husband (Tzi Ma) has been untrue. Shum makes fantastic use of East Vancouver and Chinatown locations and draws fantastic performances from an all-star cast that also includes Sandra Oh and Don McKellar.
VIFF will present Movie Nights Across Canada as part of its opening night festivities on September 28, 2017.
The festival also revealed 18 additional Canadian feature films in the True North stream and Future//Present film series, which celebrate the extraordinary creativity and craft being demonstrated by Canadian storytellers from coast to coast.
DIR. MINA SHUM
Maria (Cheng Pei Pei) has spent decades of devoted marriage dutifully excusing the prejudices and vices of her husband (Tzi Ma). But when she discovers another woman’s thong in his pocket, she embarks on some unintentionally comic sleuthing which soon introduces her to new East Vancouver communities and ultimately sets her on the course to self-discovery. Mina Shum makes an inspired return to narrative feature filmmaking with this richly detailed, emotionally rewarding and unmistakably Vancouver story.
True North Stream
DIR. STEPHEN CAMPANELLI
In this moving adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s novel, Stephen Campanelli condemns Canada’s most deplorable transgression while celebrating our national game’s transcendent power. Languishing in a residential school, Saul Indian Horse finds salvation on a sheet of ice. But while a preternatural hockey sense lets him slip bodychecks with a dancer’s grace, he can’t evade the ramifications of past abuses. Saul’s strength in this struggle is a testament to the Indigenous peoples’ indomitable spirit.
DIR. ROBERT MORIN
This dark thriller brings us into the carefully constructed world of narcissistic plastic surgeon Dr. Louis Richard (Christian Bégin) as it comes crashing down around him. Director Robert Morin delivers a voyeuristic and claustrophobic experience. His camera parallels the control-freak doctor’s state of mind as his sense of authority over his wife, his son and his career slips away. A beautifully shot and lit travelogue of a journey into isolation and madness.
Like a Pebble in the Boot
DIR. HÉLÈNE CHOQUETTE
Against the picturesque backdrop of Brunelleschi’s Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Senegalese migrants peddle Chinese trinkets and selfie sticks to tourists – but only if they’re lucky. People are often racist, street vending is illegal and many of the vendors are undocumented. It’s frustrating, and they’re barely scraping by, but their families in Africa depend on them. Filmmaker Hélène Choquette turns her empathetic eye on these harassed peddlers, resilient victims of global inequality.
Rebels on Pointe
DIR. BOBBI JO HART
For over 40 years, the all-male drag troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has been delighting audiences around the world. In size 11 toe shoes, the Trocs send up the high art and formality of classical ballet. Director Bobbi Jo Hart shares the rich archival history of this New York collective, born in the wake of the Stonewall Riots, and their progress from preposterous to phenomenal. Best of all, we get to know the international ballerinos while enjoying their satiric wit and outré virtuosity.
A Skin So Soft
DIR. DENIS CÔTÉ
Iconoclastic director Denis Côté is at his playful best with this equally awe-inspiring and amusing profile of bronzed, inked and bulging-at-the-sinews bodybuilders. While there’s abundant absurd comedy courtesy of the surreal sight of these man-mountains negotiating suburban homes or labouring to meet their caloric needs, Côté’s inquisitive camera reverentially appraises the astonishing frames that their devotion has wrought, while also revealing glimpses of vulnerability lurking in these Goliaths’ eyes.
Suck It Up
DIR. JORDAN CANNING
Determining that Ronnie (Grace Glowicki), her hot mess of a besty, is in desperate need of a change of scenery, obsessive-compulsive Faye (Erin Carter) whisks her away to placid Invermere. However, the best laid recovery program derails into debauchery as the two fall prey to ill-advised hookups and bowling under the influence. And that’s before the MDMA kicks in. Jordan Canning’s wickedly funny, BC-set buddy comedy shirks sentimentality in favour of a barbed sincerity that leaves a lasting mark.
DIR. PASCAL PLANTE
Crossing post-gig paths with Mag (Rose-Marie Perreault), Théo (Anthony Therrien) is all scowling swagger until she calls him on the fake tattoo he’s brandishing. As he sheepishly drops his defences, Pascal Plante’s “punk rock romance” likewise abandons brashness in favour of character-centric drama reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. Demonstrating a remarkable gift for eliciting naturalistic performances, Plante traces the formative experiences that will shape Mag and Théo’s adult lives.
DIR. CHARLES OFFICER
At the cusp of adolescence and facing forced relocation, Francine has a lot on her mind. And while this Toronto ‘tween possesses a way with written words, she has yet to develop the necessary confidence to express herself in full voice. Charles Officer’s luminous, poignant documentary charts this marginalized yet magnetic young woman’s determination to make herself and her community heard. “Like [Jim Jarmusch’s] Paterson, Unarmed Verses is both about poetry and a work of poetry in itself.” – RogerEbert.com
Worst Case, We Get Married
DIR. LÉA POOL
Léa Pool’s 13th film is not for the faint of heart. Working from a novel by Sophie Bienvenu, Pool tells the disturbing, poignant story of 14-year-old Aïcha (a luminous Sophie Nélisse), who spends most of the time roaming around her Montréal neighbourhood. She lives with her distracted mother Isabelle (Karine Vanasse) and the memory of her turfed stepfather. When she encounters Baz (Jean-Simon Leduc), a sympathetic twenty-something musician, she falls hard for him, and teenage fantasy rules.
You’re Soaking in It
DIR. SCOTT HARPER
Advertising is no longer the arcane territory of a few well-lubricated characters. The creative leaps of Mad Men have been replaced by precise, targeted surveillance rooted in complicated computer modelling. The data collected is often very personal information, and it is used to design advertising that influences you at the precise moment you are most ready to spend. Scott Harper documents this chilling shift and introduces us to corporate execs who proudly let us know how much they know about us.
DIR. CORY BOWLES
With tension growing and Black Lives Matter putting the heat on law enforcement, a black police officer is torn between his affinity for the badge and the colour of his skin. He decides to take matters into his own hands and changes the priority of his targets from black to white, embarking on a spree of vengeance. With its provocative use of dash-cam and chest-cam footage, Cory Bowles’ film is as stylistically bold as it is politically charged, standing pointedly between the satirical and the dead serious.
Fail to Appear
DIR. ANTOINE BOURGES
Isolde is a caseworker adjusting to the challenges of her new job when she is assigned to a man charged with theft and facing an upcoming court hearing. She does her best to help, but when the two meet she struggles to connect. Antoine Bourges’ film is many things at once: a portrait of those who fall through the cracks and the few who try to help them, a studious analysis of the systems in place and how they operate, and a poignant reflection on the difficulty of human connection across social strata.
DIR. MATTHEW TAYLOR BLAIS
A young woman dreams of the forest. Upon waking she texts a friend, cancelling their plans. She packs up, compelled to head into the woods. The deeper she moves into the forest, the more it begins to take on a life of its own. What waits for her there? Hypnotic, deceptively simple, and graced with strikingly sensual cinematography, Matthew Taylor Blais’ Forest Movie is a liberating experience that plays like a call to embrace nature, slow down, pay attention and get in touch with your thoughts.
In the Waves
DIR. JACQUELYN MILLS
In Jacquelyn Mills’ impressionistic documentary, her grandmother Joan Alma Mills is struggling to come to terms with the death of her younger sister and searching for answers in the natural beauty that surrounds her coastal village home. With a delicate attention to detail, spoken musings on mortality and meaning are intricately interwoven with elegiac imagery. This is a soulful rumination on the passage of time–its ebbs, flows and eternal mysteries.
Maison du bonheur
DIR. SOFIA BOHDANOWICZ
2016’s Emerging Canadian Director award-winner Sofia Bohdanowicz (Never Eat Alone) returns with the colourful documentary Maison du bonheur. When asked to make a film about her friend’s mother, a widowed Parisian astrologer named Juliane, the director sets off for Montmartre and produces a lovingly made portrait of an infectiously exuberant personality and the lovely pre-war apartment she’s called home for 50 years. Shooting gorgeously on 16mm, Bohdanowicz again transforms quotidian details into beauty.
Mass for Shut-Ins
DIR. WINSTON DEGIOBBI
Amidst poverty in New Waterford, Cape Breton, 25-year old Kay Jay is sleeping on his grandfather’s couch. Without much of anything, the two sit around eating 5-cent candies, drinking pop and watching movies. This film looks squarely at a type of comatose living in which the aging residents are dwindling away and the futures of the young are dim at best. Director Winston DeGiobbi bends the mundane slightly towards the surreal, distilling the directionless daily existence of his characters into poetry.
DIR. BLAKE WILLIAMS
From experimental filmmaker Blake Williams comes this ambitious 3D sci-fi film, which reimagines the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and its aftermath with the presence of a mysterious, futuristic televisual device. Then the cultural centre of Texas, Galveston was devastated by the storm. PROTOTYPE moves from stereoscopic pictures of the city to an awesome visceral conjuring of the storm and then into further sense-engaging abstraction, interrogating notions of origin and historical memory.
Still Night, Still Light
DIR. SOPHIE GOYETTE
An existential meditation on longing, loss and memory, Sophie Goyette’s lyrical drama seamlessly moves between three characters and three distinct locations. Haunted by the death of her parents, Eliane leaves her Montreal home to teach piano in Mexico City. Her student’s father Romes is coping with midlife disappointment. Lastly, Pablo’s father harbours memories of a lost love. Each character is processing their past and unsure about how to move into the future.