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Films to Watch at Vancouver's VIFF Centre in June

June 2024 | Reel Talk

Image: The Groundstar Conspiracy

In the June addition of Reel Talk, VIFF Centre Year-Round Programmer Tom Charity dives into this month’s highlights, including the upcoming series, Erickson on Film, and films for National Indigenous History Month and Pride Month.

Which special events or films are you excited about in June?

The first one would be having blind champion climber Koba here in person for the documentary Life is Climbing! He’s a Japanese man who was a keen climber in his early 20s but started losing his vision at 26 and is now completely blind, but he’s still a climber.

Life is Climbing! film image; two men lean against camper van in desert

Life is Climbing! at VIFF Centre

They do climbing competitions for the visually impaired on a climbing wall, and a partner on the ground shouts up directions on where to put their arm or leg to find the next hold. He’s worked with the same partner, Naoya, for a decade or more, and his partner dreams of getting Koba to climb an iconic spiral sandstone outcrop in Utah. Now that’s a different deal — yes, he is roped in, but now if there’s an accident, you’re hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet up in the air. It’s inspiring, and exhilarating to see them – the trust between them is so profound. The courage to step out into the dark like that… Particularly this specific rock face that he’s invited to climb is terrifying, because it’s such a strange spiral twisty kind of construction. So it’s going to be really great to meet him and have him introduce the film on June 3 and 4.

A Bullet Pulling Thread film image

A Bullet Pulling Thread at VIFF Centre

We also have a Canadian documentary, A Bullet Pulling Thread, about Barry Shantz, who was shot by police in January of 2020. The police had been called with reports that he was suicidal and armed in his house. There was a standoff between him and the police but he clearly intended to be shot by the police and said as much. No mental health expert was dispatched to the scene, even though this standoff lasted hours. So it’s a tragic story.

His sister Marilyn will be flying in from Ontario to be present at the screening. In the wake of all this anger and pain, she, for the first time in her life, started creating quilts to express her personal feelings. So she became an artist, and she’s going to bring some of the quilts that she created in the wake of her brother’s death to the screening.

Could you tell us about the upcoming series on Erickson on Film, and why it’s happening this month?

June 14 is the centenary of the birth of Canada’s greatest architect Arthur Erickson, and we have a special series that’s been curated by architectural scholar Trevor Boddy. Trevor will be giving three special presentations, featuring a discussion with Erickson collaborators and filmmakers, then a film screening. The first, called Intersecting Lives, screens Intersection. Richard Gere essentially plays Arthur Erickson and Erickson’s buildings become Richard Gere’s creations in the film. We’ll talk with Christine Haebler, who was a location scout on the film and is now a prominent Vancouver producer, and Nick Milkovich, the builder of the Erickson house and museum models in the film. That format will be repeated twice more with different films and guests through the course of that week.

Intersection film image; man and woman examine architecture model

Intersection, Erickson on Film

June is Pride Month, and we’re celebrating with several films centered on queer stories. Could you tell us a little bit about one of your favourite films from that line up?

Anhell69 film image; people kissing passionately

Anhell69 at VIFF Centre

We have a really terrific Colombian film called Anhell69, a first feature by Theo Montoyo. Back in 2016, Montoyo wanted to make a science fiction, vampire movie inspired by his queer community in Medellin, Colombia. The project was derailed and I don’t want to give too much away, but he describes Anhell69 as a trans film, because it’s partly documentary, and partly this fantasy film that he attempted making 10 years ago. It features interviews with his actors, scenes he shot from the movie, and they’re all fused together in a really interesting way. It’s a very poetic and emotionally devastating film. I think maybe this is the best film that we’re showing all month.

June is also National Indigenous History Month. What is a highlight from the films by indigenous storytellers that we’re screening this month?

We’ve invited Corey Payette, a filmmaker, songwriter, and dramatist, to guest curate our programming on June 24, National Indigenous Peoples Day. His program will be announced next week. Outside of that we’re showing a couple of documentaries from indigenous Canadian filmmakers. Yintah is about the standoff between the Witsuwit’e people and the gas link pipeline which was a 10 year odyssey. I think it’s notable in various ways, but certainly for the conviction and resolution of the activists who stuck to their guns through many long cold nights to blockade that pipeline. It’s a really eye opening film about the incredible beauty of the interior of British Columbia.

Yintah film image; woman resists police

Yintah at VIFF Centre

What are some films this month that our readers might overlook, but which you find very powerful?

There’s a really good documentary about Taiwan, Invisible Nation. The film makes a scary case that this could be the next Ukraine, and puts it in the context of a worldwide struggle between autocracy and democracy, and how the autocrats are really emboldened. So Ukraine is part of that, what’s been going on in certain countries in Eastern Europe, what could be happening in the United States and Taiwan is very, very vulnerable to Chinese military might.

There’s a very good African film screening this month called Banel & Adama. It’s a first feature by a female filmmaker, and she’s an incredible talent. The film is a tale of amour fou between the two characters in the title, and is set in a Senegalese village that subsists on cattle farming and growing their own crops. The village elders feel that this intense love affair has upset the gods and the village is cursed to a drought, and it’s about that tension between the lovers and in the community. The story could almost be a film noir from the 1940s, but the imagery is so striking that it transcends archetypal narratives to make its point really vividly.

Thanks so much, Tom!

Tom Charity has been the year-round programmer at the VIFF Centre since 2009. He is the author of the critical biography John Cassavetes: Lifeworks, and has written or cowritten several other film books. A former film editor and critic for Time Out London magazine and, he has also written for The Times and Sunday Times, the Vancouver Sun, and many other publications. He contributes to Cinema Scope and Sight & Sound Magazine on a regular basis.