Slow Walks, Half Truths and Red Bull: Being a Joint Account on the VIFF Experience

What follows is an exchange between Josh Timmermann (a fellow critic and Vancouver resident, who you may recall from this) and I, wherein we discuss the Vancouver International Film Festival and its individual parts, a chance to color outside the lines a bit and discuss the ins and outs of our festival experiences.

CONTEXT!

Above: Granville 7 Theatre, VIFF's primary venue.

ADAM COOK: I’ve been attending VIFF since 2008—and you’ve been attending since 2007—so it seems kind of safe to say we’re well on our way to being veterans of the festival; although, this claim is humbled when encountering someone like Chuck Stephens—a member of this year’s Dragons & Tigers jury—who has been coming (from out of town, no less) for something like twenty years. However, five years of VIFF-going has equipped me with a knack for knowing how to approach the festival, how to navigate the programming—and, for that matter, how best to navigate the streets of my hometown in the most efficient ways possible according to venues, and possible food spots en route to the next screening. Returning to a festival year-in and year-out creates a special relationship, especially when it is a festival as special as I think this one is (hometown bias aside, hopefully). For you and I, as residents of the city who rarely venture outside of it, VIFF serves as a catch-up festival. Half a year after Cannes, we finally get to see most of the films that at this point have been exhaustively expounded on. More interestingly for us, and certainly for our readers, our other focus is on films that do not garner such attention. I’m primarily referring to the esteemed Dragons & Tigers programming of East Asian cinema we are lucky to be able to digest en masse. One could theoretically have a rich, jam-packed schedule dedicated exclusively to this “sidebar.” That being said, the “festival-of-festivals” programming is also worth discussing, because we consume it in such a context that we may already have a certain set of expectations or preconceived notions based on what we may have heard or read.

JOSH TIMMERMANN: VIFF is indeed a “special” festival, for the reasons that you mention and for several others. The proximity of most of the screening venues to one another and to major amenities is among them. As you note, the near-constant excitement (or at least, the on-paper promise) of some potentially revelatory film just around the corner—a few blocks away, in the next time-slot or, if not, perhaps the one after that—is something that, for a couple weeks, recolors the everyday city-scape for folks who live here year 'round. But this aspect of the festival can also make out-of-towners into honorary locals within a week or two. Visitors who, at the beginning of the fest, are asking for directions to a particular theater are quite often, by VIFF's mid-point, offering restaurant recommendations or positing their perspectives on Vancouver-specific minutiae while waiting in line for a screening. This happened to me five years ago, when I moved to Canada; the uniquely pleasurable VIFF experience was one of the big reasons why I came to love this town. VIFF balances high-profile Euro-fest fare (the “festival-of-festivals” films you mention) with distinctive sidebars featuring many North American and world premieres, while successfully avoiding the market trapping and more intense competition for tickets that have become commonplace at festivals offering comparable quality. The Dragons & Tigers program constitutes VIFF's raison d'être to my mind, as well (the “critics' darling” status of this program is a point which we may want to discuss a bit later in this space), though my two favorite films at this year's fest were Cannes and Berlin competition films. VIFF, running from late September through the middle of October, is perfectly positioned—alongside a couple other, eastern North American fests of note—to showcase such films. The scheduling of VIFF also generally coincides with the beginning of Vancouver's looooong rainy “season,” which makes the transition from summer sunshine a little more bearable—admittedly, more of a plus for locals than for visitors from outside the Northwest, but I'll take it, at any rate. 

COOK: To keep this from sounding like a public service announcement about what makes VIFF “special,” I’d like to broaden how we contextualize our festival experiences. I’m starting to notice how much external details impact how I receive a film. Although there may be some lucky folks out there whose bodies are fit for the constant onslaught of films in a 2-week-plus festival, both you and I rely rather heavily on substances. I’m mostly speaking, of course, about Red Bull (there should be a sponsor-system in film criticism, imagine a Nascar-like uniform adorning various energy product insignias donning your favourite film critic). Somewhat disconcertingly, I started to notice a bit of a correlation between me enjoying or effectively processing a film with whether or not I indulged in an excess of caffeine and sugar immediately beforehand. Now, I’m not suggesting Wang Bing’s Three Sisters only seemed a masterpiece because I snuck an energy drink and some snacks into the cinema, nor that Matteo Garrone's Reality seemed trite only because of my fatigue, but I feel that I can no longer ignore that my mood, physical and mental states are playing significant roles in my movie-watching when in the festival environment. There are, of course, less petty details that guide the narrative of our festival experience: such as the themes and tendencies we begin to discern, which in turn influence how we approach our next screening. Very early on in the festival, we came across two such themes. The first of which, concerns the relationship between documentary and fiction, a hybridity which no longer holds a revelatory connotation…

TRUTHINESS, MAJOR/MINOR

Above: Hao Jie's The Love Songs of Tiedan.

TIMMERMANN: Yes, that's true (pun intended). Reading a description like, “provocatively combines aspects of fiction and documentary” or “blurs the line between the real and the fictive” in a festival program capsule has become as unremarkably par-for-the-course as seeing the national credit for a film read something like “Taiwan/Belgium/Brazil/UK” or “Iran/Netherlands/Japan/USA”. Not that the amalgamation of these forms is a recent phenomenon, but it does seem to be more ubiquitous than ever, especially—though not exclusively (think, for example, of mainstream hits like Catfish and Exit Through the Gift Shop)—on the festival circuit and among world art-house fare more generally. Jia Zhangke and Apichatpong Weerasethakul are perhaps the most successful and influential of recent practitioners in this purposeful filmic “blurring.” A good deal of what's come out of mainland China and Southeast Asia of late feels distinctly informed by the acclaim that Jia and Apichatpong have accrued internationally. Hao Jie's The Love Songs of Tiedan, for example, seems highly indebted to Jia's vérité fictionalism (for lack of a better term) and to his knack for compressing major developments in recent Chinese history into intimate microcosmic narratives centering on people on the margins of China's rapidly changing social mosaic (most famously exemplified by Platform); though Hao's film, it should be noted, has some other formal tricks up its sleeve that have little to do with Jia's discernible influence. Apichatpong's latest, meanwhile, pushes this combination of fiction and documentary modes to what, in a certain respect, might be its limit—yet in such a restrained, quietly poetic way, seamlessly tying together a storyline involving cannibalistic pob ghosts with quotidian, ostensibly off-handed snippets of conversation, through the use of a very relaxed, endlessly repeated guitar loop. Screened alongside Apichatpong's hour-long experiment was the first feature by the talented young Thai filmmaker, Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul, titled Mother. This film is, to be sure, operating somewhat from the Apichatpong playbook; who could blame an aspiring Thai filmmaker for viewing Apichatpong as a model for garnering wider notice? But Mother also offers something of its own riff on the fiction/doc hybrid, contrasting black and white silent film-type material of high and clear artifice against “straight” DV footage of the director's mom, whose serious health problems lead to recurring periods of hospitalization. The poignant end-result feels as close to Apichatpong as it does, thematically, to something like Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation. And these weren't, by any means, the only films at this year's festival to muddy the differences between fiction and documentary: João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata's The Last Time I Saw Macao, which you admired considerably more than I did, is another case-in-point, and Kiarostami, whose latest internationalist offering played VIFF, should certainly be brought into this discussion. The lingering question, from my vantage point, is, given the abundance of, and variety among, “hybrid” films, do terms like “documentary” and “fiction” remain particularly useful, at this point, or do we need to develop a new critical vocabulary (and something catchier than “vérité fictionalism!”) to fruitfully analyze these films? 

COOK: I think that’s absolutely the situation. When a quarter of the films in the program guide contain the note “mixing documentary with fiction…”, it becomes entirely redundant. Even festival darling Sarah Polley is working in this hybrid mode now, so it’s no longer limited to a niche of so-called daring “arthouse” filmmakers. Where does that leave critics and theorists? I’m not sure. It’s not really a genre that can be encapsulated in a buzz word, more so a predominant trait of contemporary cinema, with methods among filmmakers too varied to be so easily linked as one “thing.” Something like The Last Time I Saw Macao operates in a mode comparable to Chris Marker’s Sans soleil, so it’s nothing new so much as it’s one example of many—but is it really at all similar to Mekong Hotel? Only in marginal ways perhaps, so it seems to me a mistake to group these works together. Rather, they beg more nuance and complexity in how they’re viewed and approached. I think that makes them all the more interesting and exciting, there’s a certain mystery surrounding their very nature.

The other salient feature we noticed among the lineup this year was a tendency for major filmmakers to deliberately operate in minor modes. Apichatpong’s Mekong Hotel, for instance, is clearly a conscious attempt to take a step back after Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Not that he isn’t used to hopping back and forth between shorter and feature length films, but Mekong stands out, being a moyen-metrage that literally is stripping away the veil, so-to-speak, and looking at the mechanics of movie making (and, as always, memory making) by taking bits and pieces from a proposed feature and having actors act out the scenes in a hotel. It’s revealing of properties of Apichatpong’s cinema, and maybe cinema in general, as these fractured scenes still take an emotional hold on the viewer, perhaps an interaction with our memories of the actors (all Apichatpong regulars), and an interaction with Apichatpong’s himself. Also among the major-minors are Tsai Ming-Liang’s brilliant Walker, which as we agreed is a sort of study between the relationship of the viewer and the cinema-frame, and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s new short film La belle epoque, which played in the 10+10 Taiwanese omnibus.

TIMMERMANN: The shorter offerings from Tsai and Hou were two of the best things I saw at this year's festival, irregardless of length and degree of narrativity or “truthiness.” Despite the minor place that Walker and Belle epoque seem bound to occupy—given general critical predispositions toward longer-format work—they left me as, or more, satisfied as anything Tsai and Hou, respectively, have done over the better part of the past decade. The former perfectly utilizes the contours and constraints of its twenty-five minute-ish runtime to craft what feels like a signature statement from Tsai on the peculiar dichotomy between contemplation and urban existence. It's as spectacular and as funny as, say, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, condensed to “bite-sized form” (yes, I'm alluding to that terrific final shot—Tsai at his deadpan best!). La belle epoque, meanwhile, is even briefer, though hardly less wonderful. Representing in miniature the formal mastery and all the subtle—to borrow a term more oft-applied to baseball players—“intangibles” that make Hou one of the world's two or three greatest living filmmakers, it was, to say the least, the clear MVP among the 20 short-shorts collected for the 10+10 compendium; it's wisely sequenced last, a flawless parting note for an otherwise spotty assortment of curiosities. What it reminded me of actually was a rap track featuring four or five MC's, mostly up-and-comers—and then for the final verse, Jay-Z materializes just long enough to remind all comers of who's (still) king. And just as a great Jay-Z guest verse can register as something like an “event,” so, too, should La belle epoque be considered.

Like Someone in Love may not be inherently destined to minor status in the same manner as the above-mentioned short films, but there also seem to be certain operative assumptions in place that effectively guard against its being received as “major” Kiarostami. Specifically, the coupling of this with the (to my tastes, greatly inferior) Certified Copy seems to situate both within a “late” period of Kiarostami's career, characterized most obviously by their having been made outside Iran. (They may also be thematically of a piece, but Like Someone in Love felt, for me, so much more assured, and also more legitimately mysterious in its classic Kiarostamian ellipses, than did the muddled, schematic Certified Copy.) Which means, assuming Kiarostami continues in this vein and at this pace for some time to come, that we'll have to wait to assess where Like Someone fits within this corner of his filmography. This view, of course, would hold that his “major”—if not necessarily or automatically, best—work is behind him, in Iran: Close-up, Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us, perhaps the “Earthquake” trilogy or Ten.

You're right on the mark concerning the “minor” Mekong Hotel, which is looser and lighter on narrative structure than, say, Tropical Malady or Uncle Boonmee, films that are routinely cited as masterworks. I suppose what I'm getting at here are the variety of ways—shorter run-time, a filmmaker working outside the national context within which his work is integrally understood, a lesser degree of narrative cohesion—that the “minor” tag can be applied to the work of important filmmakers, functioning as a key aspect in the reception of those films. Though, viewed within the inevitably mixed-bag that is any film festival, each of these entries felt like something decidedly more than a minor pleasure.

DRAGONS, TIGERS AND THE VIFF IDENTITY

Above:Ji Dan's When the Bough Breaks.

COOK: Even when we’re not trying to focus on it, the films from the Dragons & Tigers section dominate our thoughts on the festival. We’ve mostly been discussing work from heavyweight auteurs like Apichatpong and Hou Hsiao-hsien, but of course that’s not what makes the section special. Rather, it is the assortment of little-known works that Shelly Kraicer and Tony Rayns assemble every year. You did mention Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul, but there are many other lesser known talents whose work gets showcased at VIFF. Jo Sung-hee is a Korean filmmaker whose film End of Animal played in the Dragons & Tigers Young Cinema competition in 2009. I was intrigued then, and was happy to see he had a new film screening this year: A Werewolf Boy. Though it is quite clearly a more commercial film, and does seem to be getting some of its due attention, this was a nice surprise—a modest and altogether sweet genre piece with a nice dose of Spielberg for good measure. Another film we both liked, which I’ll leave to you to delve into more because you in particular were struck by it, was Ji Dan’s When the Bough Breaks. Maybe it was because I had seen Wang Bing’s Three Sisters—a masterpiece, it should be stated—only a day or two before, but this documentary did not have too strong an impact on me. That being said, it features some of the most memorable characters of the festival. Ji Dan follows the plight of a Chinese peasant family as they try to make ends meet in order to educate their children. Most of the attention here is on the struggles of the children as they make difficult choices, and have to deal with the borderline comical maniacal behavior of their father. One gem I stumbled upon unknowingly was a short that I didn’t even realize was going to play before a feature I had planned to see. This short film, Cock, directed by Hwang Hyunjin—who was there with his cast to present the film, one of the great pleasure of VIFF being the chance to see these young unknowns in the flesh—is a delightful satire of festival pandering in which a filmmaker desperate to get into Cannes takes on homosexual subject matter with no actual interest in it. I eagerly await seeing his next film, which will almost undoubtedly make its way to VIFF.

TIMMERMANN: Right, the Dragons & Tigers program tends indeed to dominate not just our thoughts on the festival, but also—not coincidentally—our screening schedules. Roughly two-thirds of the films I caught at this year's festival were D&T titles. Among the highlights, from my vantage point: Edwin's Postcards from the Zoo, a singular, mercurial slice of magical realism that is fanciful but never precious, though I unfortunately kept recommending it to fellow fest-goers as, alternately, Postcards from the Edge or We Bought a Zoo (d'oh!); James Lee's If It's Not Now, Then When? which might be the closest thing in contemporary East Asian cinema to Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl (enough said, I think, save for: see it!) and continues VIFF's recent streak of programming stunning work from Malaysia; Aya Yumiba's Riko would make for a fascinating companion piece to Like Someone in Love, centering as they both do on an ambiguous relationship between a young female and an older male in present-day Japan (that Kiarostami is a septuagenarian vet and Yumiba—who directed, wrote, produced, edited, and stars in Riko—is a neophyte in her early twenties makes this comparison all the more intriguing); Park Sanghun's A Mere Life is utterly bleak, and not for all tastes, but Park pushes his grim narrative toward strange and darkly poetic places where cinema has rarely ventured; and, on a much lighter note, Jeff Lau's romantic fantasy, East Meet West, is a manic delight, from start to finish, though—knowing little about this sub-genre that Lau apparently helped to invent, back in the 1990s—I did feel myself lacking the right equipment to make critical sense of it (yet caring very little and grinning throughout).

Finally, coming back to When the Bough Breaks, Ji Dan's film features some of the most engrossing storytelling in movies this year, and, as you note, some of the richest “characters” in recent memory. I was reminded, in these respects, but also in terms of the film's major themes (the value and function of higher education, the relationship between parents and their offspring in situations of serious economic hardship, etc.), of Hoop Dreams. The only real problem I had with the film—and unfortunately, it's not a negligible point, to me anyway—is that Ji Dan never explicitly situates herself in relation to her subjects. There is, as far as I was able to notice, one brief moment where the presence of the camera is acknowledged by someone in front of it, but otherwise, the film takes a fly-on-the-wall approach that begs so many pertinent questions. Those questions quickly begin to take the form of distractions from this otherwise captivating film. Circling back to our earlier conversation on “fictional” and “documentary” films, I'm really not sure whether it's old-fashioned or progressive of me to feel somewhat uncomfortable when a director, making this sort of a film (requiring many, many hours spent in the intimate company of her subjects), neglects to address her role or position in the story. Whatever the case, and despite these reservations, it's certainly an uncommonly powerful film.

COOK: The significance of Dragons & Tigers can’t be underestimated, but while we and other critics and cinephiles recognize it as the largest defining aspect of VIFF, it doesn’t have that same relationship with the public. A quick scan around the audience during a D&T screening of a lesser-known film will reveal that indeed the critics and hardcore cinephiles dominate the crowd. Often, we’ll encounter the same rotating group of people at these screenings—forging a sort of social clique—leading to an ongoing D&T conversation as the festival advances through its schedule. The general public who attend the festival are largely composed of Vancouverites flocking to the festival films of the moment (like Haneke’s Amour), relatively mainstream Canadian films, environmental documentaries and the like. This makes the Canadian Images, Garden in the Sea and Cinema of our Time sections the main sources of appeal for the majority of attendees, but I would contest that other than some especially strong programming within these sections, they don’t make up the “VIFF Identity”—at least not from my point-of-view. This divergence of interest is representative of completely different sets of priorities. The general public is looking for stories, be they “fact” or fiction, regardless of origin or the name of the director, whereas the faction I think we represent navigate VIFF both through an auteurist angle as well as a more adventurous search for formally interesting films we might otherwise not see outside of the festival setting. All of these approaches are of course more than accommodated by VIFF’s massive 400 film-lineup, and there is no real reason why the festival can’t operate as a different identity for different audiences. Though, the Canadian selection seems especially uninspired and all-too-obligatory in its inclusion. Maybe I’m too harsh on my nation’s cinema and, after all, Canadian filmmakers do need an outlet for exhibition considering the lack of commercial interest.

If you removed or down-scaled these less distinguished sections would VIFF be anything near sustainable if mostly accredited press (and not the paying public) are attending Dragons & Tigers? As we all know, film festival programming is all about compromise, finding a balance between serious curation and drawing an audience to appease investors. As a festival with little interest in media attention, VIFF certainly finds a better balance than many other more recognized fests, but there’s certainly room for refinement.

TIMMERMANN: Because VIFF is still relatively “below-the-radar”—compared not just to the major European fests, but to North American market events like Toronto and Sundance—it can get away with not necessarily having a firm “identity,” or else one that's considerably more fluid than more high-profile festivals. Of course, as you mention, the quantity of VIFF's programing also makes it easy for moviegoers of very different stripes to find something to get excited about, and then to consequently associate VIFF with whatever type of filmic appetite the fest's line-up happens to satisfy for them. You're right that we, along with a number of other critics who turn up perennially at VIFF, prioritize the Dragons & Tigers section, thus viewing it as the festival's calling card. This seems to be due in part to East Asia's status as home to several, shifting cine-”hot spots” over the past quarter-century or so, and, more specifically, to the superlative programming of Rayns and Kraicer. But if my preferences tended more toward, say, films about environmentalism, I could imagine making just as strong a case that VIFF was, most significantly, a showcase for such work—especially since an emphasis on environmental awareness is just as central to Vancouver's own contemporary “identity” as is its “Asia-Pacific” multiculturalism. 

PLAYING FAVORITES

Above: Wang Bing's Three Sisters.

COOK: It seems inevitable for us to offer a few words on our favorites of the festival. For me, I had already seen a handful of the best films at VIFF earlier this year at the Locarno Film Festival. This includes Holy Motors, Leviathan, When Night Falls and Tectonics, all of which stand among the great films of the year, but towering above them is the aforementioned Three Sisters, the best documentary I’ve seen since Xu Xin’s devastating Karamay in 2010 (a film that you and I could go on about forever). Like Ji Dan in When the Bough Breaks, Wang Bing uses a fly-on-the-wall style, but I think he circumvents the potential pitfalls of that approach as you described. He does this by seeing the lives of the characters through the eyes of a poet—using only natural light, he is able to render the interiors of the subject family’s household and the surrounding Yunnan province landscape with painterly genius, often creating overwhelmingly beautiful compositions that like Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners capture the unity between the workers and the land. What makes Three Sisters particularly striking is how Wang Bing is not simply sympathetic but even in awe of these young girls and their profound resilience. He looks at their impoverished situation and instead of offering pity finds beauty and strength.

Other highlights for me were Miguel Gomes’ beautiful Tabu, Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love, Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country, Raul Rúiz’s serene Night across the Street. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Haneke’s Amour was my least favorite: full of arbitrary arthouse posturing and only the slightest of insight (far less than it poses to contain), it could have been rescued by the brave Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva but Haneke’s empty but regulated aesthetics keep them trapped in his domain of numb (dumb) cruelty. I could offer more sour thoughts on films that put me off, but I’d rather leave the lesser known filmmakers unscathed.

TIMMERMANN: I'm still kicking myself for not catching Three Sisters—especially in light of your comparison of it to Karamay. Nothing this year compared, in my view, to Xu's towering magnum opus, the single best film I've encountered in attending VIFF these past five years, but Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills and Christian Petzold's Barbara came closest. The former—a morally and spiritually blurry mosaic that is, finally, quite devastating—left me more unequivocally impressed than anything else I've seen from the Romanian New Wave crew (though I've liked plenty, including Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days). It also, as we both observed following our screening, seems to represent a significant shift away from some of the formal tendencies that viewers have come to associate with, and expect from, recent Romanian fare. There are distinct and potent echoes of Dreyer here or, looking more among Mungiu's contemporaries, of Carlos Reygadas's great Silent Light—another quantum leap forward by a director who seemed good and competent, yet from whom I did not expect anything nearly so staggering so soon. Petzold's film, following his terrific, show-stealing contribution to the Dreileben triptych, is nearly as strong as Beyond the Hills. Barbara is rich in its specificity, recreating the tones and textures of everyday experience in an East German back-water town circa 1980. More generally, it evinces a cool assuredness on the part of Petzold, who strikes, and sustains, just the right balance between the psychologically complex character study and the tense, plot-driven dramatic thriller—modes of storytelling that should not be mutually exclusive, but rarely co-exist or merge as satisfyingly as they do here

On the whole, I had a very good festival, with few real duds (João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata's The Last Time I Saw Macao felt, at best, masturbatory in its filmic allusions; Emily Tang's All Apologies was a relatively lackluster, disappointing follow-up to Tang's marvelous VIFF '08 highlight, Perfect Life). Yet aside from the features by Mungiu and Petzold and the aforementioned shorts from Tsai and Hou, I saw fewer great films than I did great performances, including in movies that I haven't, in this space, singled out for praise. I agree that Jean-Louis Trintingnant and Emmanuelle Riva are tremendous in Amour. Admittedly, I found more to admire in Haneke's film than you did, though I do have certain reservations (especially with regard to the awkward tonal shift in the film's final act), none of which pertain to the performances by Trintingnant and Riva, nor, for that matter, to Isabelle Huppert's fine supporting turn. Similarly, Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, Jong-bin Yun's Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time, and Bernard Rose's Two Jacks all featured excellent work by their leading men—Mads Mikkelsen playing poignantly against type, a never-better Min-sik Choi, and an irresistible, scenery-chomping Danny Huston channeling his late father, respectively—that markedly outshone their source films. Ann Hui's short, My Way (quietly superb, if inevitably over-shadowed by Tsai's Walker in the Beautiful 2012 compendium) included another remarkable performance, by Francis Ng, sensitively portraying a transgendered woman on the eve of her sex-change operation. Still, amidst all these good-to-great films and first-rate performances, perhaps the image that I will most associate with this year's fest is that of Lee Kang-sheng, clad in a bright red robe, walking the slowest man has ever walked. I think that probably says something about the festival-going experience, or rather, about my particular festival-going experience here in Vancouver in 2012. But I'm not quite sure what that something is. Maybe I'll know by this time next year...

CODA: BEYOND BEYOND THE HILLS

Above: Cristian Mingiu's Beyond the Hills.

COOK: On Thursday, October 11th, at 9:30pm, I saw Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills. It will be the last VIFF screening I will attend at Granville 7 Cinemas, which has announced it will be closing its doors for good on November 4th. This does not come as a surprise for those aware of Granville 7's dwindling revenue figures. A closing seemed inevitable, as it has for so many cinemas and movie rental stores alike here in Vancouver, a city that can't seem to go any length of time without a significant blow to its cultural landscape, due to a decline in interest coupled with a government that cuts arts funding at every opportunity. This was the last cinema left on Granville, Vancouver's most notable entertainment-centric street. It is also the last cinema, aside from a major multiplex that would be too costly for the festival to rent, within walking distance of the other two VIFF venue mainstays: the Pacific Cinematheque and the festival's headquarters, Vancity Theatre, both of which only have one screen each, and only supplement Granville 7's epicentric 7 screens. This means that the festival faces major changes. There are other multiplex venues, such as International Village (part of a shopping mall, God forbid) or the charmingly low-rent Fifth Avenue, but both would scatter the festival, virtually eliminating the convenient, visitor-friendly setup as well as leading the crowds outside of the city's center. Down-scaling in programming and duration is part of the conversation, but for now we're stuck with speculative guesswork as we await further developments in the fate of a festival that has been a large part of my life, as well as Josh Timmermann's, for the last several years. Assurances have been made that the festival will indeed return in 2013, but it remains up in the air whether or not VIFF will be able to maintain the breadth of programming that has made it one of the great unsung cinephilic fests in North America, something which we hope our piece here has emphasized.

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  • Carson Lund

    I know I’m getting to this late, but I want to commend you both on your extraordinary coverage here! I’ve seen a good deal of the films discussed at Cannes and AFI, so I found myself mostly nodding along in agreement during those sections of the piece (“Walker,” indeed, is quietly brilliant), and it was especially rewarding to read about the festival’s idiosyncratic sidebars as well. Sounds like I need to visit Vancouver.

  • Adam Cook

    Thanks, Carson! First round is on me if you join us up here!

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