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I Am Not a Witch film image; sad girl alone

Films to Watch at Vancouver's VIFF Centre in May

May 2024 | Reel Talk

Image: I Am Not a Witch, …to glimpse: African Cinema Now!

In the May addition of Reel Talk, VIFF Centre Year-Round Programmer Tom Charity hones in on a few of the month’s highlights, including some returning VIFF favourites and what’s playing at the DOXA Film Festival.

Hi Tom. What are you most excited about in May at the VIFF Centre?

Maybe the most exciting thing is an unusual event for us. It’s called Raagaverse Plays Bollywood, and it’s a VIFF Live event with an amazing jazz singer called Shruti Ramani. She leads a band called Raagaverse, who I think are on the cusp of great things. I had the opportunity to see a show that they did along the same vein, where they’re doing jazz interpretations of Bollywood songs. She’s indo Canadian. She grew up watching Bollywood musicals, and these are songs that she loves from the films in her childhood, but given a jazz setting, and she is an amazing vocalist.

band group shot

Raagaverse Plays Bollywood, VIFF Live

I was blown away by that show when I saw it a few months ago, and talked to her about bringing it to our theatre but adding in clips from the original Bollywood movies that inspired her. It’s also a celebration of Asian Heritage Month. It’s going to be a unique show and really fun. I think that it’ll sell out.

What new releases are coming to the VIFF Centre this month?

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist, which was shown at VIFF 2023. This is the director of Drive My Car, which won an Academy Award. I’m a big admirer of his previous films.

This one took me by surprise because he had not only the Academy Award winning international success of Drive My Car but also a successful box office for a subtitled arthouse release. Instead of going over to America to make a film — and I’m sure he had offers — he’s actually gone the other way and made a very strange, weird, internal film about a rural community in Japan. Developers are hoping to build a luxury glamping resort and they’re trying to enlist the support of a local woodsman, who’s highly respected in the community, to come over to their side. It’s about environmental concerns, which we recognize very well from our own province. It’s a slow film and quite surreal in where it ends up — I don’t want to say too much, I’ll just leave it there.

Evil Does Not Exist film image

Evil Does Not Exist, at VIFF Centre

We’re also bringing a new film called The Last Stop in Yuba County, which is predominantly set in an Arizona truck stop diner, where it’s the last gas for 200 Miles — except they’ve run out of gas. Half a dozen random passersbys are stuck waiting for the fuel truck to come and refill the pumps. Among them are two bank robbers on their getaway. The tension kind of bubbles up nicely and then all hell breaks loose.

In a very different vein, we have Sweetland, which is a film out of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s a story of a remote fishing outpost that is no longer deemed sustainable, so the government offers a payout to relocate everybody in the community, the catch being everybody has to sign up for it. And of course not everybody wants to go. It’s a beautifully shot evocative film. Filmmaker Christian Sparkes seems to be somebody to keep an eye on.

Screenings from the DOXA Documentary Film Festival will be at VIFF this month. Could you tell us about some of the films that are premiering at DOXA and then will have an extended run at the VIFF Centre?

DOXA Film Festival graphic

DOXA Film Festival, May 2-12

Wilfred Buck is a film by Lisa Jackson about a Cree astrologer who is keeping First Nations astrology alive, which is completely different from Western astrology. They have their own constellations, their own stories about the stars. Wilfred Buck does amazing shows that he brings to schools with a traveling observatory. The film is also about the story of his very rough upbringing.

Plastic People is also premiering and is another Canadian-made documentary. As the title might suggest, it’s about micro plastics. We’ve seen footage before of all the plastics in the ocean, plastics getting into the food chain into fish into seabirds… but now they’re finding microplastics in the human brain. So it’s exploring how we’re kind of poisoning ourselves.

What other films are highlights for you?

A film that isn’t in DOXA but is, I think, an astonishingly beautiful documentary is Songs of the Earth from Norway. The filmmaker spends a year visiting the house where she grew up and where her parents still live. It’s the house where her father was born. He’s lived there his whole life on a field of spectacular beauty, and he spends his days hiking the mountains or across a frozen field. The photography is just breathtaking. It’s a very touching meditation on mortality because he’s in his late 80s now. It’s a love letter to her dad. I like that film very much.

We’re bringing back a film by Ann Hui called July Rhapsody, which has been restored.

July Rhapsody film image; man and woman look longingly at each other

July Rhapsody, at VIFF Centre

Director Ann Hui is a key figure from the Hong Kong New Wave, and her film stars Jackie Cheung as a poetry teacher in Hong Kong who’s entering a midlife crisis. All his college friends are making loads more money than he is. He’s upset with his wife because she’s been contacted by an old flame who is dying and wants to see her before he dies, and she feels she has to go. He’s flirting with or being seduced by a precocious teenager in his class played by Karena Kar-Yan Lam.

It’s quite an explosive and even melodramatic situation, but the film is not melodramatic at all. It’s very restrained, poignant, and sympathetic to all these different characters about how complicated relationships are. All the performances are great but the actress who plays the teenager was born in Vancouver, and won awards at the Hong Kong Film Festival, the Hong Kong Film Awards, and the Golden Horse Awards, and has won several more awards over the last 20 years in different films.

Lastly, we’re bringing back the second film in the Three Musketeers series. We showed the first one back in December (and we’re playing it again now), and now they’re releasing the second part. Some people have been asking me for it, and now they can see it! It’s just as good as the first one.

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.