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Remember to eat, get some sleep, and don't forget to occasionally return to the light and breathe fresh air.

It's sage advice from Vancouver International Film Festival director Alan Franey for a city heading into its 33rd annual VIFF.

"You learn the lessons of adolescence all over again: If you party too hard and too long, you're not having fun any more," he says with a laugh. "You need to balance it with other things."

Still, it would be tempting to skip the breaks, given that this year's festival features more than 300 films from 75 countries. So where to start?

Mr. Franey's top picks include Italian director Giorgio Diritti's There Will Come a Day , a Second World War-era film about a young woman who joins a mission to the Amazon; the culture-clashing South African film Fanie Fourie's Lobola; and Rotterdam audience award winner A Curiosity, in which a persnickety, manner-minded man befriends his opposite.

Thomas Arslan's Gold, starring German actress Nina Hoss, will transport festival goers through Klondike-era B.C., while March of the Penguins filmmaker Luc Jacquet will take them high into tropical treetops in Once Upon a Forest. The bowl-you-over imagery of Watermark by Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky is also sure to leave an indelible impression.

All the Wrong Reasons, which features the late Glee actor Cory Monteith in his final film role, is expected to be a huge draw, and Saturday Night Live's Will Forte puts on a more serious face in the opening night film Nebraska, which is screening at the Centre, one of several new film-fest venues.

Mr. Franey's final words of advice? Don't forget that great films are inherently emotional, so try to balance the types of films you choose. "Remember that they are engaging our whole being, and you need a break sometimes because they get under your skin – in the best possible way," he says with a knowing laugh. "Again, moderation in all things."