First Weekend Club and CanadaScreens.ca Celebrate Films Made by Women, On All Screens, During VIFF!
FirstWeekendClub.ca and Canada Screens are thrilled to celebrate great Canadian films during the Vancouver international Film Festival. This #VIFF17 festival season, we are pleased to see there are so many feature films directed, and produced by women, and stories told by women among the many films being screened. And so in keeping with our mandate to shine the light on as many women-directed Canadian films as possible, as FWC promotes & supports Canadian films in the festival, we are also showcasing a selection of 6 women-directed film titles available for you to rent on our CanadaScreens.ca VOD ‘Women’s Channel’, presented with Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC.ca) and the National Film Board of Canada! Learn more about our ‘Women’s Channel’ and rent the films here. Below are films made by women at VIFF, with links for times and tickets!
Save me a seat!
~Alexandra Staseson, CanadaScreens.ca / FWC
Here Are Women Feature Filmmakers Screening at VIFF
Director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
We live our lives on land that was never ceded or sold by those who were living here at “first contact” and yet we know precious little about the Lower Mainland before real estate. People often think of Vancouver as a new city, when in fact this region has been occupied for 9,000 years. This film aims to correct that with a meaningful reminder of the history and prehistory of this land and her first people.
Located in the area now known as Marpole in Vancouver, c̓əsnaʔəm was first occupied almost 5,000 years ago and became one of the largest of the Musqueam people’s ancient village sites. Generations of families lived at what was then the mouth of the Fraser River, harvesting the rich resources of the delta. Today, intersecting railway lines, roads, and bridges to Richmond and YVR obscure the heart of Musqueam’s traditional territory, yet c̓əsnaʔəm’s importance to the Musqueam community remains undiminished. VIFF alumnus Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, in collaboration with the Musqueam First Nation and the UBC Museum of Anthropology’s curatorial team, shares an important and well-researched reflection on a time when BC was indeed super and natural.
In the Waves
Director Jacquelyn Mills
In Jacquelyn Mills’ impressionistic documentary, her 80-year-old grandmother Joan Alma Mills struggles to come to terms with the death of her younger sister and searches for answers to life’s big questions in the natural beauty that surrounds her coastal village home. Elliptical scenes of Joan’s daily life, and glimpses of the filmmaker’s more camera-shy grandfather, are interspersed with spiritual interactions with nature. A visit from a young niece invites a juxtaposition of the beginnings and endings of life, and evokes ideas about the nature of existence.
A small and intimate film, In the Waves nevertheless feels as though it reaches out into infinity. Mills moves effortlessly between observational documentary, full of charmingly candid scenes, and non-narrative poetry that captures moments of grace such as reflected light dancing on a wall. 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.
— Adam Cook
Producers Trish Dolman, Christine Haebler, Paula Devonshire
Director Stephen Campanelli
In this moving adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s acclaimed novel, director Stephen Campanelli condemns Canada’s most deplorable injustice while celebrating our national game’s transcendent power. Torn from his Ojibwe family as a child in the 1950s, Saul Indian Horse is left to languish in an Ontario residential school, where he’s forbidden to speak his own language and faced with corporal punishment for the slightest transgression. Undaunted, Saul finds salvation on a sheet of ice, where he demonstrates a hockey sense that allows him to slip bodychecks with a dancer’s grace and constantly leaves him three moves ahead of opponents. However, even when his talent provides him with an escape from the school and places him on the precipice of stardom, he can’t evade the ramifications of past abuses.
A frequent member of Clint Eastwood’s camera team, Campanelli ensures that Indian Horse is lensed in inspired fashion, contrasting the claustrophobic confines of the school that restricts Saul’s self-expression with the expansive canvas of the ice where he’s allowed to demonstrate an artist’s flair. Abetted by Dennis Foon’s empathetic script, the director also elicits tremendous performances from the three actors—Sladen Peltier, Forrest Goodluck and Ajuawak Kapashesit—who play our guides through Saul’s two decades of trials and triumphs. Saul’s resolve and strength in his struggle ultimately serve as a testament to the Indigenous peoples’ indomitable spirit.
Like a Pebble in the Boot
Comme un caillou dans la botte
Director Hélène Choquette
Against the iconic backdrop of Brunelleschi’s Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, migrants, mostly from Senegal, peddle cheap trinkets and selfie sticks to tourists. That is, if they’re lucky. People are usually not interested, locals are often racist, street vending is illegal and many of the vendors are undocumented. It’s a frustrating life and they’re barely scraping by, with the constant threat of imprisonment or deportation looming. The migrants often have families in Africa who depend on them and returning home empty handed is not an alternative, so they sell African handicrafts that may or may not be made in China.
Filmmaker Hélene Choquette began her career as a photographer before becoming a cinematographer and then finally assuming her position in the director’s chair. Her visual acuity illuminates this doc as she turns her empathetic eye on these harassed harassers, hapless victims of global economics, driven from their homes by inexorable poverty. When they reach Europe, full of hopes and dreams of improving their lot, they discover that their castles in the air are made of sand.
Director Sofia Bohdanowicz
2016’s Emerging Canadian Director award recipient Sofia Bohdanowicz (Never Eat Alone) returns with this lively documentary. Asked to make a film about her friend’s mother, a Parisian astrologer named Juliane, the director sets off for Montmartre and crafts a lovingly made portrait of an infectiously exuberant personality and the lovely pre-war apartment she’s called home for 50 years.
Shooting on 16mm with a vibrant colour palette, Bohdanowicz imbues the simplest objects and activities with resonance and meaning. Juliane tells the story of falling for her late husband, and how he taught her how to read astrological charts—in one charming scene she even gives the director a reading—but mostly Bohdanowicz focuses on her subject’s everyday life: how she spends her mornings, where she gets her hair and nails done, what she bakes and cooks and, most importantly, how those rituals connect her to family and tradition. Maison du bonheur is a sensitive look at how the meaning of life hides in plain sight amidst quotidian details, and it serves as a reminder that the way we construct our daily lives can itself be an art.
— Adam Cook
Director Mina Shum
Maria (Cheng Pei Pei) has spent decades of devoted marriage dutifully excusing the prejudices and vices of her husband Bing (Tzi Ma). Whether he’s insisting that she never mention their estranged son or swilling his inexplicably preferred cocktail of red wine and Coca Cola, Maria chooses to focus on the considerable sacrifices he’s made for their family. But when she discovers another woman’s thong in his pocket (and handles the racy undergarment as if it were toxic waste), she’s no longer able to turn a blind eye to his indiscretions. Flushed out of her domestic sanctum, she engages in some unintentionally comic sleuthing that not only uncovers clues to Bing’s clandestine activities but also introduces her to new East Van communities and ultimately sets her on a course to self-discovery.
Mina Shum makes an inspired return to narrative filmmaking with this richly detailed, unmistakably Vancouver story that recalls her breakout Double Happiness. Viewers who came to know Cheng Pei Pei through her ferocious turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will delight in watching Maria’s long-dormant inner fire being slowly stoked as she asserts herself in ways Bing had always discouraged. Meanwhile, anyone who’s ever coughed up $20 to illegally park in a PNE-adjacent backyard will find hilarity in Shum’s depiction of a turf war between rival racketeers in the form of ornery Don McKellar and a band of brightly clad Chinese-Canadian seniors. Packed with note-perfect performances—including the exceptional Sandra Oh as Maria’s conflicted daughter—Shum’s bittersweet film is emotionally rewarding and endlessly relatable. After all, we all have families.
Please note: this film has been rated, but screenings at the RIO are 19+ only. Youth tickets will be available for any screenings at our other venues.
Meet Beau Dick: Maker of Monsters
Directors LaTiesha Ti’si’tla Fazakas, Natalie Boll
Admirers and collectors of Pacific Northwest art are notably unanimous in their admiration of the oeuvre of Kwakwaka’wakw artist Beau Dick, who died this year far too young at the age of 61. His generous and prolific nature embodied the spirit of potlatch, the giving ceremony at the heart of Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture. LaTiesha Ti’si’tla Fazakas and Natalie Bolla share an intimate profile of this charismatic hereditary chief, with a particular focus on his work and his cultural-activist passion. In 2013, Dick organized a collective journey from Quatsino on the northern end of Vancouver Island to the BC Parliament Building in Victoria, a 10-day, 500-kilometre walk. There, he and others enacted a copper-cutting ceremony—a form of public shaming signifying the cleaving of a relationship, in this case a break between First Nations and the government. In 2014, he led a similar journey from UBC to the steps of the Parliament building in Ottawa.
“The copper is a symbol of justice, truth and balance, and to break one is a threat, a challenge and can be an insult. If you break copper on someone and shame them, there should be an apology.”—Beau Dick
Never Steady, Never Still
Director Kathleen Hepburn
Set against a spectacular northern BC backdrop, Kathleen Hepburn’s much-anticipated debut is the intimate story of Judy, a devoted mother wrestling with Parkinson’s (Shirley Henderson, astonishing in a demanding role), and Jamie (Théodore Pellerin), a son saddled with unwanted adult responsibilities while attempting to come to grips with his slippery sexual identity. While Jamie’s hardship sees him weathering the unrelenting abuse of his oilfield co-worker (Hello Destroyer’s Jared Abrahamson), Judy’s obstacles take more mundane forms: as her health deteriorates, even meal preparation represents a Herculean effort. Left listing by a devastating loss, mother and son find their lives slowly steered back on course with the friendship they each forge with a pregnant teenager (Mary Galloway).
Winner of Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film at VIFF 15 for her short film of the same name, Hepburn excels with this expanded version, wedding striking 35mm cinematography by Norm Li with intimate exchanges and whispered declarations that linger hauntingly like song lyrics. (“If you’re better than this place, why is this place so hard?”) Eloquently scripted, and directed with both tenderness and assurance, the film uses its note-perfect, naturalistic performances and intricately calibrated revelations to create powerful, cathartic drama.
“The small, exquisite moments hit hard in Hepburn’s feature debut… Each character, and their every exchange, feels lived-in, rich and poetic.”—Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Magazine
Director Ana Valine
The Canadian north’s unforgiving nature is amplified to chilling effect in this claustrophobic, white-knuckle thriller from Ana Valine (winner of BC Emerging Filmmaker at VIFF 14 for Sitting on the Edge of Marlene). What is supposed to be a quick stop at a remote mobile home turns into a standoff between embittered brothers (Teach Grant and Juan Riedinger, both excellent), with an innocent woman (Kate Corbett) caught in the crossfire. As old wounds are reopened and fresh blood is spilled, the literal wolves at the door pose little threat in comparison to the personal demons being unleashed inside.
As the double-wide’s four occupants (rounded out by Kris Demeanor, as a strange, silent type) start to conduct themselves like caged animals, rationality is replaced by a rich mood that’s as mournful as a murder ballad; albeit one that’s lent an almost agonizing tension by the refusal of any of its players to pull the trigger.
“This is what it is to be a woman in the world, reading invisible signals and recalculating every moment—the fine balancing act of living the adventure, being wide open to it all, and keeping your wits close.”—Ana Valine
Our People Will Be Healed
Director Alanis Obomsawin
Vital documentarian and indigenous activist Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance) has created yet another film of defiance and resilience. After the rigorous, Wiseman-like We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (VIFF 16), a nearly three-hour opus documenting the judicial suit that sought equal education rights for children living on reserves, Obomsawin deploys a different tone and approach in this, her 50th film.
Focusing her camera on a small community more than 450 kilometres away from Winnipeg in the Norway House Cree Nation, she examines their unique approach to education and collective efforts towards healing. In turn, she suggests that the increased opportunities presented to the community’s bright-eyed youths are the outcome of previous generations’ defiance of institutionalized oppression. Now in her 85th year, the NFB’s most renowned nonfiction filmmaker delivers a history of the work that has been done and a harbinger for the efforts and activism still required to correct years of injustice.
“There’s work being done at this place that could save a generation and teach that generation to save the next one, and we’re fortunate to have Obomsawin there to record it for us.”—Norman Wilner, NOW
Rebels on Pointe
Director Bobbi Jo Hart
Their first show was on September 9, 1974, at a second-story loft on 14th street, in the heart of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Since then, all-male drag troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo have been delighting audiences around the world, performing, among other things, Swan Lake as Tchaikovsky never imagined it in his famously feverish dreams. In size 11 toe shoes, the Trocs send up the high art and formality of classical ballet, fashioning a spectacle that is entertaining as hell in the process.
Director Bobbi Jo Hart has made a career of documenting the lives and exploits of exceptional people: a virtuoso piano prodigy, Canada’s Women’s Soccer Team and the international Women’s Tennis Tour. In this very enjoyable film she shares the rich archival history of this iconoclastic collective as well as some stunning contemporary performance footage. Born in the wake of the Stonewall Riots, the Trocs have long been a gay touchstone and a safe refuge for the especially fabulous. The company’s progress from slapstick preposterous to fully phenomenal is a joy to observe. Best of all, we get to know the international ballerinos who make up the company today while enjoying their satiric wit and outré virtuosity.
Shut Up and Say Something
Director Melanie Wood
There are those among us who still tremble at the memory of the school-yard threat: “You die at four.” Internationally acclaimed spoken word artist Shane Koyczan gives a poignant and powerful voice to the inaudible and the imperceptible: the bullied, the awkward, the visibly different. In her entrancing and engrossing documentary, Melanie Wood reveals a conflicted man; a bashful alchemist who creates explosive rhetorical fireworks from the stuff of daily life.
Working with Shane’s longtime friend and collaborator, filmmaker Stuart Gillies, Wood brings us an intimate and honest portrait of the man who rocked the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with the mind-blowing poem “We Are More (Define Canada).” With lucid candour, Yellowknife-born, Penticton-based Koyczan allows us to join him on a deeply personal and momentous journey to finally meet his long-estranged father. The result is his most important and most difficult poem yet; an ode to the parent he never, and yet always, had. The best indicator that we’re dealing with someone extraordinary is that the more intimate his words are, the more universal the truths they expose become…
Still Night, Still Light
Mes nuits feront écho
Director Sophie Goyette
An existential meditation on longing, loss, and memory, the lyrical Still Night, Still Light seamlessly moves between three characters and three distinct locations. Eliane is a young college dropout working as a princess at children’s birthday parties in Montreal. Struggling with the loss of her parents, she decides to leave home and teach piano abroad. Ending up in Mexico City, she takes on a young boy as a student. That boy’s father, Romes, is coping with the disappointments that come with midlife; he and Eliane develop an unlikely bond. Finally, there is Pablo, whose father wants to travel to China—because of a book he read when he was young and because he harbours memories of a lost love. Each character is processing their past and unsure about how to move into the future.
Sophie Goyette’s film emphasizes mood over narrative. Often the dialogue is heard offscreen while poetic images linger before us, and her visuals lend the film a dreamlike quality. Still Night, Still Light is a testament to cinema’s ability to provide solace, and a moving articulation of the physical and metaphysical journeys we take to ease our troubled souls.
— Adam Cook
Suck It Up
Director 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) hauls her out of the rut she’s dug for herself in Calgary and whisks her away to placid Invermere. Ever the optimist (or at least always able to force a smile), Faye earnestly believes that some mountain air might prove a salve to their shared heartbreak over the death of Ronnie’s brother, who also happened to be the love of Faye’s life. 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-drama shirks sentimentality in favour of a barbed sincerity that leaves a lasting mark.
“Suck It Up twists the viewer’s emotions into a pretzel, constantly switching from laugh-out-loud moments to sheer sadness and back again… [It] provides a bevy of highly entertaining examples of how not to deal with the death of a loved one, as well as how not to take care of someone else dealing with the death of a loved one. Sure, there are plenty of heartfelt, positive examples as well, but it’s the bad examples that will probably stick with you the longest.”—Don Simpson, Hammer to Nail
Worst Case, We Get Married
Et au pire, on se mariera
Director Léa Pool
Léa Pool’s 13th feature is not for everyone, and certainly not for the faint of heart. The film is framed as a confessional monologue about a precocious young girl recounting her brief life to an enigmatic female authority figure. Based on a popular novel by Sophie Bienvenu, co-writer Pool’s affecting film tells the disturbing, poignant story of 14-year-old Aïcha (a luminous Sophie Nélisse) who spends most of her days wasting her time roaming around her working-class neighbourhood in Montréal. She doesn’t have many real friends except for two transvestite sex workers to whom she’s kind of a lovable mascot. She lives with her distracted mother Isabelle (Karine Vanasse) and the memory of her turfed Algerian stepfather Hakim, who may have loved the teenager too much. Aïcha cannot forgive her mother for showing him the door, but there’s something left out of their often-shouted dialogue which is slowly revealed. When our wide-eyed heroine encounters Baz (Jean-Simon Leduc), a sympathetic twenty-something musician, she falls for him as completely and as painfully as only an adolescent can…
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