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14 Films We Absolutely Must See at VIFF

Posted by September 26th, 2023 No Comments »

The Vancouver International Film Festival
September 28 – October 8, 2023
Vancouver, British Columbia
By Tim Basaraba

After covering SIFF (the Seattle International Film Festival) the last two years, it’s time to tackle VIFF. This week, my wife and I are venturing north with Editor Matt Ashworth for our first trip to the Vancouver International Film Festival, scheduled for September 28 through October 8. 

VIFF, SIFF’s neighbors to the north, are celebrating their 42nd year. That’s just seven years behind Seattle and six behind their fellow Canadian film festival in Toronto, and by the end of next year I hope to have attended all three. (Any guesses what the acronym is for the Toronto festival? I will give you a hint – it rhymes with “SIFF” and “VIFF.”)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Toronto is next year. Right now, we’re plotting our schedule for VIFF, which features 140 feature films and 100 shorts alongside a number of events and performances. It’s such an impressive lineup, that planning out our schedule felt a little daunting. But we’ve come up with a battle plan: 14 films we’re going to try and see in the first week. 

Add these to your calendar too and watch for Matt, Pauline and myself at these films or check out our adventures on the Instagram and Twitter pages.If you’re lucky to be in beautiful Vancouver for a second week, I recommend you follow the inertia and go with the flow. 

1. Fallen Leaves – Aki Kaurismäki (Finland)

On opening night (Thursday September 28) at 7 p.m., check out the latest film from award winning Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, Fallen Leaves. It’s a comedy that picked up the Jury Prize at Cannes and is the feature film for the opening night gala at what looks to be a single-screen old school neighborhood theater (swoon) named the Park Theater. Hit us up at @nadamucho on X/Twitter if you wanna take some silly photos in front of the festival backdrop. 

2. The Royal Hotel – Kitty Green (Australia)

After you leave Park Theatre following Fallen Leaves, you will have at least a half hour to get a snack next door at Black Walnut or some Bubble Tea at Xing Fu Tang. Then walk back into the Park Theater and settle in for Australian drama The Royal Hotel at 9:15 p.m. It is director Kitty Green’s follow up to 2019’s critical success The Assistant and fans of Ozark will definitely want to see the Netflix series’ most charismatic actor Julia Garner (as Ruth Langmore) in what looks to be an interesting role. 

3. The Old Oak – Ken Loach (UK)

OK, you need to get a good night’s sleep on Thursday, but don’t lay in bed too long on Friday morning or you will miss the latest from British director Ken Loach. The Old Oak runs at the Vancouver Playhouse, a 668 seat performing arts theater, at 12:15 p.m. When it’s done, you’ll have enough time to eat some pub food at a place  called Brown’s Socialhouse and then walk off some of the grease as you head around the corner to the Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas for your next cinematic appointment. 

4. Let the River Flow – Ole Giæver (Norway) 

Now that you are at Cineplex Odeon, get a good seat for Ole Giæver’s Let the River Flow at 3:30 p.m. Giæver is a Sámi film director, screenwriter and actor from Norway and his film deals with a young Norwegian Sami woman in the 1970s who conceals her identity. Manuella Martelli’s Chile ’76, set in 1970’s Chile, was one of my favorite films at SIFF and I hope Let the River Flow provides an equally enthralling look at an era in Norway’s fascinating history. 

5. Bitten – Romain de Saint-Blanquat (France)

OK, I know you are reeling. You’ve seen two films already on Friday and two on Thursday night. But buck up – you are at a premiere film festival in a beautiful metropolitan city. Take the 006 (Davie) bus to Cinematheque, a quaint 194 seat theater on Howe St. Bitten starts at 6:30 and you’re a big fan of giallo (Italian genre of murder mystery fiction that often contains slasher, thriller, psychological horror, sexploitation), right? Also, as a bonus, the short film The Birthday Party will play before this feature. The tagline of which starts with “At the height of the Y2K scare…” I’m in!

6. Evil Does Not Exist – Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Japan)

If you loved 2021’s acclaimed Drive My Car, then you HAVE to circle back to the first theater you visited yesterday – the Park Theatre – and view the latest from Ryusuke Hamaguchi at 9 p.m. Lucky for you, the Canada Line from Yaletown–Roundhouse station is a short walk away. Evil Does Not Exist looks like another meditative tearjerker and I for one am willing to see four films on Friday to make sure I don’t miss it. That said, if three films in one day is your limit you will have another chance to see it on Tuesday, October 3 at 9:15 p.m. 

7. Animal – Sofia Excarchou (Greece) 

Friday was insane. You saw four films. You traveled all over the city. Now it’s Saturday, so maybe take some time in the morning to spend some time with your loved ones, OK? For that reason, the first stop on my VIFF agenda won’t be until 6:15 p.m. at the The Cinematheque for Animal, the second film from Greek director Sofia Exarchou. With a portion of the preview stating “performers get caught up in a cycle of exploitative seasonal entertainment,” I can’t help but hope this will be a less bonkers take on the subject than Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool

8. Housekeeping For Beginners – Goran Stolevski (Australia)

Housekeeping For Beginners is the film I am most excited for. Goran Stolevski’s debut, You Won’t Be Alone, was my favorite film of 2022. Later that same year he released the excellent Of An Age, a film with such emotional depth that I left the theatre shaking with gratitude. I’m kind of guessing his third film will be the best of VIFF, so make sure to join us at the Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas at 9 p.m. to see if I’m right. 

9. The Zone of Interest – Jonathan Glazer (UK)

Let’s say you can’t make it in for Housekeeping For Beginners. Don’t fret, just get in line for Jonathan Glazer’s (Sexy Beast, Birth, Under the Skin) fourth feature length film, The Zone of Interest. Be prepared, though, as it looks to take place at or around Auschwitz. This won’t be fun, light-hearted Saturday night viewing. 

10. Seven Veils – Atom Egoyan (Canada) 

Can you believe it’s already Sunday? Yep, and it’s the first day of October too. Why don’t you start the month off with some healthy vegan food at MeeT in Gastown? After all, it’s just a ten minute walk to the Vancouver Playhouse for the 6 p.m. showing of Seven Veils from Canada’s own Atom Egoyan. The film stars Amanda Seyfried and the VIFF description says “Egoyan’s movies are often structured as psychological striptease, revealing taboo and trauma through a fractured mirror of erotic connection, performance, confession and confrontation”. I will once again reiterate: Amanda Seyfried. 

11. Seagrass – Meredith Hama-Brown (Canada)

At 9 p.m., check out your first film at the Rio, a multimedia venue voted the best independent theater in Vancouver. Seagrass is the debut feature length film from Canadian director Meredith Hama-Brown, and it’s always important to support the home team. You can even take the EXPO rail line down and meet some locals on the way. 

12. Float – Robbie Amell (Canada)

Remember that loved one you were possibly ignoring by seeing four films on Friday? What better way to show them you care than to take them to see Float at 1 p.m. Monday at the Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas? It looks like a mushy romance film starring a host of attractive people, including Robbie Arnell from the WB’s Flash TV series. 

13. The Creature – Asif Kapadia (UK)

How about a film with no dialogue? Set in an abandoned Arctic research station, Creature follows a ballet in which a mysterious creature is found and captured by a military operation, becoming the subject of intense research and experimentation. Maybe its mix of ballet, music and agile camera work will be the perfect way to spend your Monday afternoon? It also plays at the Cineplex Odeon (4 p.m.), so you can grab some popcorn and get a good seat after Float finishes. It should make for a nice cinematic contrast between the two.

14. Peppermint Candy – Lee Chang-dong (South Korea)

It is now Tuesday, October 3 and it’s time to see Peppermint Candy at The Cinematheque at 8:45 p.m. South Korean cinema has been delivering some of my favorite films recently, but what about a film from 1999? When I viewed the excellent South Korean film Oldboy at the SIFF Egyptian theater this summer it sure was glorious. Maybe this will be much of the same?  

Wow, what a journey! 14 films in a week. I’m proud of you. Go easy on yourself and just go with the flow from here on out. Follow the inertia. You really can’t go wrong with the VIFF lineup.    

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