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Japanese baseball feature leads off Vancouver International Film Festival

Yuya Ishii’s The Vancouver Asahi tells the story of the team which had been hugely successful, but then fell apart after the banishment of Japanese-Canadians to internment camps during the Second World War.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

This year's Vancouver International Film Festival will feature the world premiere of a Japanese film about 1930s and '40s Vancouver – specifically Japantown, and a storied baseball team of that era. Yuya Ishii's The Vancouver Asahi tells the story of the team which had been hugely successful, but then fell apart after the banishment of Japanese-Canadians to internment camps during the Second World War.

"It's quite a big Japanese film with big marketable stars in Japan and a well-known director," says Alan Franey, who steps back from his role as festival director this year and is now director of programming. "I've talked to some people [here] involved with redress issues and they're quite familiar with the story and quite excited to see the film," he adds.

The festival announced its gala films and a number of other highlights for the 33rd edition of VIFF in Vancouver on Wednesday. This year's festival features more than 350 films from more than 65 countries, including 223 features and 130 shorts. There are 32 world premieres on the schedule.

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VIFF will open on Sept. 25 with Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallée's adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir Wild. Starring Reese Witherspoon, who also produces the passion project, the film tracks Strayed (Witherspoon), a novice hiker, as she sets out to tackle the punishing Pacific Crest Trail on her own. The film also stars Laura Dern as Strayed's mother, whose death helps set off Strayed's pre-hike downward spiral. The script was adapted for the screen by British novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity), and is Vallée's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club.

The Canadian Images gala, on the festival's second night, will screen Ruba Nadda's October Gale. The psychological thriller stars Patricia Clarkson as a physician who takes in a mysterious man (Scott Speedman) after he washes ashore at her remote cottage with a gunshot wound.

VIFF will close with Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, which was lauded at Sundance this year, winning both the U.S. Grand Jury and Audience Awards. It stars Miles Teller as a young jazz drumming prodigy studying under a tough-as-nails jazz legend (J.K. Simmons).

A major change at this year's VIFF sees the Dragons and Tigers Award, one of the festival's highlights, expanded to include emerging directors from beyond East Asia, so that directors from other parts of the world are now eligible. "They will be giving an award in the exact same spirit – young, innovative and hopefully relevant to the marketplace, and the critical world filmmakers with their first or second films [will be eligible]," says Franey. He adds that the Dragons and Tigers program "is still alive and well and a very important part of the festival."

Among the speakers announced Wednesday for the VIFF Industry Conference: Dallas Buyers Club screenwriter Craig Borten, Sons of Anarchy head writer/executive producer Chris Collins, and Jack Amiel, co-creator of the new HBO show The Knick.

Other films announced Wednesday for the festival include Moneyball director Bennett Miller's hotly anticipated Foxcatcher, which stars Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as real-life former Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz and Steve Carell as their troubled sponsor. Shira Piven's Welcome to Me stars Kristen Wiig as a woman suffering from dissociative personality disorder who wins the lottery and uses her windfall to create a cable-access talk show about herself. The documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me follows the country star on his farewell tour, after he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. And Charles Binamé's Elephant Song stars Xavier Dolan as the last person to see an eminent psychiatrist (Colm Feore) before the doctor disappears from his office.

The 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival runs from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10 (

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