As we mark the centenary of In the Land of the Head Hunters, the seminal British Columbia nonfiction film, VIFF delivers this acclaimed series of documentary and essay films that expand the form’s possibilities and invite us to view the world in different lights.
We dedicate this year's selection of documentary cinema to the memory of Peter Wintonick. Peter was instrumental in building a better world for documentary film here in Canada and around the world. We were honoured to have Peter's participation in our Festival many times over the years and to call him a friend.
Films in this Series
After revealing the deplorable intimidation tactics used to build a Scottish golf course in You’ve Been Trumped (VIFF 11), documentarian Anthony Baxter returns with this globetrotting condemnation of the sport’s environmental impact and culture of entitlement. Plus: He’s finally granted an audience with The Donald, resulting in a smug sermon from Trump Tower that has to be seen to be believed. “Fascinating…”—Scotsman
At California’s Zeno Actors Camp, disabled people band together to make an old-fashioned Western costume drama in which they contribute to every element of the production and play starring roles. Michael Barnett documents their endeavour, celebrating the discipline and creativity demanded by such an undertaking while also calling into question why we so rarely see actual disabled actors on the big screen.
Writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania turns her caustically funny eye to the sexist practices and antediluvian views she finds endemic in her country. "An audacious mockumentary… Hilarious and acerbic… Ostensibly about the director’s search for a man who slashed 11 women from his motorbike back in 2003, the pic shines a discomfiting light on Tunisia’s attitudes toward women, using a fake-documentary approach…"—Variety
Assembling striking archival material of African liberation efforts and scoring it with passages from Frantz Fanon’s vital treatise on colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth, acclaimed director Göran Hugo Olsson fashions one of the most impressively structured and incredibly intense found-footage films in recent memory. Lauren Hill narrates this “prickly, passionate call to arms.”—Time Out. Winner, Cinema Fairbindet Prize, Berlin 2014.
Pan Nalin, whose Samsara and Ayurveda: Art of Being struck such chords with Vancouverites, turns his spiritually questing eye towards the Kumbh Mela, the sacred Hindu pilgrimage/festival that unfolds along the Ganges and attracts 100 million devotees. By alternating specific characters—a 10-year-old runaway, an aging holy man—with the sheer spectacle on display, Nalin’s gorgeous film is a celebration of diversity.
Beginning as a cellphone-shot record of his mother’s losing battle with Alzheimer’s, Jean-Albert Lièvre’s documentary retains its incredible intimacy but grows into a universal testament to dignity. “An unexpectedly hopeful exploration of a terribly sad situation… A portrait of love, patience and the pursuit of a more humane, holistic approach…”—Hollywood Reporter. Winner, Best Documentary, COLCOA 2014.
It’s a grim irony that while food has become a topic of constant debate, the plight of field workers is more hidden than ever. Correctly likening the role of (mostly immigrant) food pickers to that of modern-day slaves, Sanjay Rawal documents the abuses suffered, while enlisting a stellar group of commentators—Eric Schlosser and Robert Kennedy Jr. among them—to suggest ways forward.
A broad ranging and hard-hitting discussion of the importance (and regular misuse) of mathematics in our lives, Olivier Peyon’s documentary is also very much about why we should love math, and care that its power is used well. This captivating work builds its arguments on significant recent data, as well as the inspired testimonials of gifted teachers, mathematicians, finance critics—and kvetching children.
A surreal (and occasionally highly entertaining) summit unfolds when Iranian expat Mehran Tamadon convenes four Islamic religious leaders to discuss creating a more open society in his homeland. The sense of melancholic mischief here recalls Panafi’s This Is Not a Film but the concerns expressed and consequences incurred are unique to Tamadon. “An amusing game to watch…”—Hollywood Reporter. Winner, Grand Prix, Cinéma du Réel 2014.
Canada’s Daniel Ziv has made the most successful documentary in Indonesian history. Shining a light on urban poverty, it’s also made stars of three inspirational Jakarta street musicians whose talent is only rivalled by their resourcefulness. Life is hard for these troubadours but commitment and passion always have a fighting chance. "Stunningly vivid and full of energy…”—Tempo Magazine. Winner, Best Documentary, Busan 2013.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine makes Sergei Loznitsa’s (My Joy) achievement here doubly relevant and engaging. His chronicle of the revolution that overthrew Viktor Yanukovych’s corrupt regime has the kinds of urgency and artistry rarely seen in documentaries. "This stunning, epic-scaled film harkens back to the heroic, journalistic roots of documentary-making and yet feels ineffably modern and formally daring."—Hollywood Reporter
Colombian miners find their livelihoods and way of life threatened when a Canadian mining company sets up shop in their small town and targets the immense gold deposit that lies under their humble homes. Mark Grieco’s stirring documentary "impressively presents a beautifully shot (the views from the houses over the surrounding valleys are stunning) portrait of resistance…"—Screen. Winner, Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, Seattle 2014.
Given reactions to the recent exposé of cruelty at a Fraser Valley dairy farm, this revealing, unsentimental account of where cattle stand in our world is bound to strike a chord. But this is not just a journey into a charnel house. It’s an unforgettable, globetrotting (from the Algerian Sahara to the Amazon to the Alps), ravishingly cinematic study of man’s relationship with his bovine brother.
Farida Pacha’s documentary transports us into the middle of nowhere and leaves us with a sense of awe. We follow one of the thousands of Indian families who leave their villages, mine salt in the desert and transform the earth in astounding ways. “A beautifully crafted meditation… A film crystalline in its austere purity…”—Hollywood Reporter. Winner, Best Documentary, Edinburgh 2014.
Completed just prior to Mandela’s passing, Khalo Matabane’s deeply personal documentary finds the celebrated filmmaker wrestling with his conflicted feelings concerning the icon’s life and legacy. Posing provocative questions to world leaders, South Africans and himself, he foregoes nostalgia and assembles “a wonderful exploration of a complicated man and even more complicated issues that feels like vital viewing.”—POV Magazine. Winner, Special Jury Prize, IDFA 2013.
The frankness of the title reflects Sacha Polak’s uncommon candour in this reflective, unsentimental and incredibly personal documentary. Having inherited a rare cancer gene, is a preventative mastectomy the answer for Polak? What if it’s all for naught and cancer never appears? Does such surgery diminish or alter one’s femininity? Nearing the age at which cancer tragically claimed her mother, the filmmaker urgently searches for answers.
Home to some of the greatest hockey players ever, the Soviet Union’s Red Army team was also a key combatant in the Cold War’s propaganda battle and exemplars of the ethos that the system trumped individual stardom. Viacheslav Fetisov—a Red Army standout and eventual defector to the NHL—makes an ideal guide for Gabe Polsky’s exploration of the ties between on-ice ambition and national identity.
In this remarkable documentary, the storied ring road that encircles Rome doubles as a grand stage for the everyday dramas of the eccentrics who reside along it. Gianfranco Rosi “brings humor and sensitivity to his filming… The recurring characters, almost all of them funny in an absurd, gentle way, make this intelligent film a curious outsider…”—Hollywood Reporter. Winner, Golden Lion, Venice 2013.
In the heart of Catalonia, a bit west of Dali’s Figueres, lies the wooded terrain of an artist of a different stripe: a 72-year-old eccentric nicknamed "Garrell" who, for 45 years, has been playing Tarzan and handcrafting elaborate tree houses, labyrinths, waterfalls and towers in the forest. Documentarian Jordi Morató captures Garrell’s beautiful world in all its delightful wonder.
Drawing on a huge cache of personal documents, photos and letters found in Heinrich Himmler’s home after his 1945 suicide, Vanessa Lapa crafts a compulsively watchable archival inquiry into the personal side of one of the biggest mass murderers in history. "Engrossing… Quite how [Himmler] made the journey from an ordinary middle-class man to Hitler’s henchman is a fascinating story."—Screen
Lucy Walker’s affecting doc features Scottish actress Marianna Palka courageously confronting her risk of inheriting Huntington’s Disease.
Three of the 270,000 kids living on the streets of Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa are the focus of Ventura Durall’s moving and complex portrait of survival and solidarity. Daniel, 9, lives in an abandoned car with Yohannes and Habtom, both 12. They scrounge, thieve and evade the violent gangs that surround them. Eventually, they decide to journey to their respective villages for the first time in years…
Taking her cue from the ancient Japanese fable (beautifully animated here) of the wounded crane, nursed back to health by a peasant, that seeks to show her gratitude through a gift, Linda Hoaglund’s (ANPO: Art X War) deeply felt portrait of the animal-rescue movement shows how our relationship to our fellow creatures is evolving and benefitting not just the rescued animals, but the rescuers as well.
Thrust into the role of stand-in mother at the age of 15, Georgina dwells sardine-like with a handful of energetic rugrats—her five younger siblings—in a social housing condo at the outskirts of Bacau, Romania. Teodora Ana Mihai’s astute documentary gracefully paints a portrait of love and resilience. Winner, Best International Feature, Hot Docs 2014; Best Documentary, Karlovy Vary 2014.
The nomadic Badjao tribe are citizens of the sea, subsisting for centuries on the spoils of their compressor-diving expeditions. Eliza Kubarska‘s poetic documentary follows 10-year-old Sari as he sets out on his first fishing trip and is initiated into his people’s traditions and lore. "A mythological tale of wonder and water…"—DOX. Winner, Special Jury Prize: International Feature, Hot Docs 2014.
Skipping across South Sudan in a plane he built himself, uncompromising Oscar-nominated documentarian Hubert Sauper (Darwin’s Nightmare) reveals how the world’s newest country is being carved up by foreign multinationals and missionaries. “A surreal, moving, infuriating and persuasive argument that in South Sudan there’s nothing ’post’ about colonialism.”—The New York Times. Winner, Special Jury Prize: Cinematic Bravery, Sundance 2014.
Anlo Sepulveda and Paul Collins’ visually stunning (much of it is shot underwater) and totally mesmerizing chronicle of Texas’ San Marcos River—its history, its place in First Nations’ mythology, its more utilitarian position in modern times, its uncertain future—has been compared to Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi for the way it forces us to contemplate our relationship with the natural world. Winner, Audience Award, SXSW 2014.