Vancouver International Film Festival celebrates it's 30th birthday; here's a look back
// Jonty Davies

In recent years Vancouver has established itself as a world-city and developing cultural centre of North America. Its cultural contributions can be measured in many ways, but perhaps none are quite so telling of its international scope as the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Honoring its 30th year, VIFF has earned distinction within in the international cinematic community for the vibrant cultural diversity of its programming. Featuring over 375 films from 75 countries, it is the number one showcase of East Asian cinema outside of Asia. With a primary mandate, according to the VIFF website to “encourage understanding of the world’s cultures through the art of cinema,” VIFF is establishing itself on the international level, attracting the attention of artists, press, and cinephiles the world over.


VIFF has a much-deserved reputation for showing a huge variety of quality cinema from Asia. In fact, it has become a beacon of crossover that presents an opportunity for the vast independent film networks of the East to showcase internationally. Since 1994, the conferring of the Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema has officially enhanced this aspect of the festival. As its programme explains, it is a $10, 000 prize offered to “a creative and innovative film, made early in the director’s career, which has not yet won significant international recognition”. Needless to say, for a young director making innovative films, such a prize would be an excellent step up.

On Oct. 6, the gala announcing the winner of this year’s award was held at the Vogue theatre. After Special Mention was given to Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Baby Factory from the Philippines and Nagano Yoshihiro’s Recreation from Japan, juror Simon Field presented the winner: Tibetan director Sonthar Gyal’s debut feature The Sun-Beaten Path. A first for a Tibetan film, Field heralded the award as “bringing a powerful voice from a new ethnic cinema.” Such a voice will no doubt be instrumental in elevating the cinematic status of Tibet. Upon reception of the award Gyal stated that it is “not just an honor for myself, but an honor for my nation.”

Czech Republic
Marco Ferreira // Opinions Editor

Kooky was pretty cool. It's about this kid who is severely asthmatic and he has this little stuffed bear that comforts him. The bear, named Kooky, is dusty and unwashable, not a practical trait that an asthmatic needs in a friend. Much to the child’s dismay, the mom throws it away. The bear is given life through the child’s feverish imagining of its fate. As the bear escapes the junkyard he comes across a village of tiny creatures and develops a bond with the wise old leader. As the two embark on a journey to get Kooky home, they are pursued by a creature jealous of the leader’s position, and some security enforcers from the garbage dump who want Kooky for their own.

The perspective of the child is a central theme of the film, as the character Kooky shares his voice. Beautifully animated in stop motion, the creatures interact with their world as though they are being held and moved physically by a child’s hand. The laws of nature are also subject to a child’s understanding. In Kooky, the portions of the film outside of what is imagined don't have as much to say to the viewer, but in a movie that pays so much tribute to childhood, it seems fitting.

Sarah Mansour // Writer

The documentary Koran By Heart follows three young participants at the International Koran Reciting Competition held in Cairo. Two boys from Senegal and Tajikistan, and a girl from Maldives compete against 110 others, judged based on their pronunciation and recitation of the Koran. Although none of the three competitors featured in the film speak Arabic, they are asked to recite sections of the 600-page text from memory, a challenge even for native speakers.

As the contest progresses, we get a glimpse into their personal lives and how participating has changed them. Part underdog story, part spelling bee, the documentary focuses on the lighter side of Islam, removed from politics and fanaticism. Filmed right before the revolution in Egypt, the documentary touches on the universality of parental expectations and the role of religion in raising a child.

“My hope is that audiences will gain a sense that Islam is a lot more nuanced and multi-faceted than is often portrayed in the news,” said director Greg Barker in an interview for Tribeca Film. With our increased exposure to Islam and government revolutions, it is refreshing to watch something that might even qualify as a feel-good movie.

Jonty Davies // Writer Four years ago director Ishii Yuya made waves with his graduation film Bare-Assed Japan. Though it failed to yield any award recognition, he acquired a reputation as an assured young director with a penchant for quirky and charming comedy. Festivals took notice, and in his native Japan he earned the pursuit of film studios, admirably declining their offers in favor of producing films by his own hand.

His latest film is Mitsuko Delivers. Referred to as a “Japanese Juno,” the film follows the eccentric misadventures of an quirky young pregnant woman, Mitsuko. Mitsuko is alone and uncertain, but she is a harbinger of positivity in the lives of those around her. Through her strength of spirit and the feeling of unity she shares with all lost souls, she dedicates herself to leading her small family of emotional misfits on journey towards discovering what the heart really needs.

Though Mitsuko delivers charm, it is not without its flaws. The director’s relative youth is of note, and with it comes abject technicalities that allow much of its redeeming subtleties to escape. Mitsuko’s humour can be funny, but its level of slapstick becomes overwrought. Its symbolism can be touching, but its persistence makes it obvious and unsuggestive. Though the film states itself clearly, in the world of the heart sometimes it’s the things we don’t say that have the most poignancy.


From the slums of Angola to the alien cities of South Korea, from the trade posts of Malaysia to the sun-beaten paths of Tibet, VIFF reaches far and wide. It’s not the art-house watershed of Cannes; it’s not the indie darling of Sundance; it’s not the thinking Hollywood preview of Toronto; it’s not l’enfant terrible of Tribeca, and it is without the Euro-centrism of Venice. No, VIFF is distinctive precisely because of its own, unique breadth of source. Happy 30th, VIFF

// Jonty Davies, Ads & Events Manager
// Illustration by Caitlyn Neufield

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