This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Vancouver International Film Festival, which is no small accomplishment for a Canadian film event—especially given the overpowering popularity of big sister Toronto’s yearly spectacle. VIFF grows and evolves every year, largely thanks to the expanding vision of executive director Jacqueline Dupuis, and in 2016 takes place from Sept. 29 to Oct. 14.
In honour of its 35th birthday, VIFF is launching VIFF Hub: a series of programming at the Vancouver International Film Centre including educational events, lectures, and sessions. A set of new streams also marks this year as a special one, with True North championing the work of Canadian storytellers, and M/A/D exploring films focused on music, art, and design—paired with performances and exhibits.
But some of the tried and true themes are back again, as well, and three noteworthy documentaries can be found within VIFF’s Style in Film program.
Harry Benson: Shoot First
A peek into the mind of acclaimed Scottish photographer Harry Benson provides an honest look at his sweet yet determined character. Benson photographed seemingly everyone of importance from the ‘60s onwards: he was there in 1964 when The Beatles made their first trip to the United States; he was there when Martin Luther King Jr. was laid to rest; he was there when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. He took photos of Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Truman Capote—the list goes on, and the film does a good job of highlighting some of Benson’s key moments (of which there are many). Directed by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare, the film doesn’t back away from the controversy, either, such as the fact that when Kennedy was shot, instead of going to his aid, Benson picked up his camera and captured the scene from mere feet away—but it also shows the now-86-year-old’s playful side, his relentless need to capture time on film. And we should thank him for it.
We have begun to open our eyes to the often dire working conditions that many big-box brands use for their clothing manufacture in third-world countries, but what are these un-policed practices doing to the environment? River conservationist Mark Angelo travels to India, China, and Bangladesh to see just what fabric and jean production is doing to those communities’ rivers and lakes. Narrated by Canadian actor and P&G Clean Water campaign advocate Jason Priestley, RiverBlue is an important albeit hard-to-watch dissection of the realities of mass production. The only thing it is missing is what consumers can do with their newfound knowledge: how can we find and support ethical brands? The documentary does, at least, highlight some indie designers and shop owners who are doing things differently, including Vancouver’s own Nicole Bridger and Eric Dickstein‘s dutil.
Portrait of a Garden
Following an 85-year-old gardening master and his protégé, Portrait of a Garden (Portret van een Tuin in Dutch) is a cheerful, touching film about dedication and love of craft. Working at an expansive historical property in The Netherlands, the two men chat about everything from agriculture to the weather as they prune, pick, coax, and study the plants in their care. There are pear trees, apple trees, and plum trees, and a massive garden with every kind of edible crop imaginable. While it starts out a bit slow, the Rosie Stapel film warms up slowly like a stovetop kettle until suddenly you’re whistling right along with it. Traversing through the seasons, it documents the growth of each crop, and as such the necessary skill and technique required to upkeep such a large and vibrant garden.
At one point in the film, the two men stand on ladders, the top halves of their bodies covered by sagging tree branches. “Don’t we have anything better to do than thinning out plums?” one of the jolly men asks.
“Like what?” the other replies.
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