On the Canadian film fest circuit, The Vancouver International Film Festival (September 27 to October 12) is the next stop after the Toronto International Film Festival, this year taking place just 12 days later. But other than sharing Canadian postal codes and starting in September, these two festivals have little in common. TIFF takes on Toronto with the force of a hurricane, while VIFF -overseen by festival director Alan Franey and his team – has an atmosphere as subdued as a west coast rain shower. And, VIFF is no place to watch movie stars parading across red carpets; it is simply a place to watch movies – many movies, in fact.
This year, over 30 documentaries screened in Vancouver – a substantial number for a primarily fiction festival. But, non-fiction did not always feature so prominently at the 20-year-old event. Franey explains:’ It took some evolution of the audience to reach a stage where we could start programming more [docs] – let alone set aside a non-fiction series for them… We forced the issue about ten years ago when it became apparent to us that the best work we were seeing was non-fiction.’ He adds, ‘At that point we realized there’s no point in being afraid of this, [so] let’s build an audience for it.’
This year’s award recipients reflect the festival’s success in attracting top docs. The Air Canada People’s Choice Award for Most Popular Film went to Promises directed by B.Z. Goldberg, Justine Shapiro and Carlos Bolado. Another doc – Obaachan’s Garden, directed by Vancouver’s Linda Ohama – took the Federal Express Award for Most Popular Canadian Film.
Also drawing a great deal of interest were several films that explored the realities of life in the Middle East. The documentary jury, which consisted of Diane Weyermann from the Sundance Institute, doc-maker Nettie Wild (A Place Called Chiapas) and film critic Gerald Peary, selected Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin for the National Film Board of Canada Award for Best Documentary Feature, noting, ‘… [it is ]a film of courageous and uncompromising filmmaking. It exposes the complexities and brutality of life within Afghanistan, a country torn by decades of war. We have also chosen this film for its extraordinary cinematic language achieved under the most difficult of conditions.’