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Projectionist Ingrid Lae setting up a 35 mm film prior to the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

VIFF: What to watch

The Vancouver International Film Festival has opened its 36th year, with hundreds of films that include a mix from British Columbia, the rest of North America and the world.

Related: Beau Dick and Richard Wagamese: At VIFF, a large absence

Related: VIFF organizers won't let Toronto's stars dim festival's shine

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The Globe and Mail is presenting a daily pick throughout the festival. Check back to see our recommendations of what to watch.

Thursday, Oct. 12


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Country: USA
**½

Oh to be 17, in love and in Lombardy! Director Luca Guadagnino adapts the André Aciman novel about a precocious Jewish teenager sexually awakening one Italian summer in the 1980s. In his parents' holiday villa, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falls for his father's archeology assistant, the bumptious American grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer), and discovers a love that can just dare to speak its name. The romantic tension is exquisite; the sex is luscious (including that soon-to-be-notorious scene with a peach), but as the al fresco dining, the refreshing swims, the liberal parents and the forgiving girlfriend pile up, the effect becomes precious and the film shifts from languid to long. Mr. Chalamet does an excellent job capturing first love and its inevitable heartbreak; Mr. Hammer is seductive as Oliver, but laughably implausible as a scholar, especially in a gag-inducing scene where he discourses on the etymology of the word apricot. Perhaps this multilingual, almost-pre-AIDS idyll does not stretch credulity – the family is surely based on Mr. Aciman's own internationalist clan – but it can try the patience. – Kate Taylor

Oct. 12 at 3:15 p.m. at the Centre for Performing Arts.


Wednesday, Oct. 11

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MEET BEAU DICK: MAKER OF MONSTERS
Directed by LaTiesha Ti'si'tla Fazakas and Natalie Boll
Country: Canada
***

It's hard to put Beau Dick into words. He was an enigma – hugely talented, but also troubled. An exceptional artist, storyteller, Indigenous activist – he was larger than life, almost otherworldly. How do you get that across on film? The stakes became even higher this year when Dick, a master Kwakwaka'wakw carver from Alert Bay, B.C., died unexpectedly in March, at 61.

The filmmakers, Natalie Boll and his long-time gallerist, LaTiesha Ti'si'tla Fazakas (Ti'si'tla is her potlatch name, given to her by Dick's family), mostly succeed – even as they take chances. Dick's storytelling abilities were extraordinary, and the filmmakers give his stories space to breathe – one in particular goes on for more than six minutes, which is eons for a documentary of this length. The story, which at first seems a bit insignificant, is in fact hugely illuminating when it comes to understanding this man. We also see Dick at a potlatch, at the walk for reconciliation, breaking coppers in protest at the British Columbia Legislature and on Parliament Hill and, of course, carving. We hear from Dick Beau's family, friends (including David Suzuki) and other artists. Roy Arden, himself an acclaimed B.C. artist, recounts a conversation he had with anthropologists shortly before his interview.

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"We basically agreed that Beau is probably the best West Coast artist since contact." Marsha Lederman

Wednesday at 3:45 pm at SFU Goldcorp.


Saturday, Oct. 7

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BORG VS. McENROE
Directed by Janus Metz
Countries: Sweden/Denmark/Finland
***

In the days before personality-challenged types like Federer and Sampras, tennis players were rock stars. They had character, style and mystique – and hair, lots and lots of hair. With Borg/McEnroe, an impressionistic, muted deep dive into the 1980 Wimbledon showdown, Danish director Janus Metz offers flashes of that bygone era, but mostly he's interested in what made the coolly methodical Swedish tennis king Bjorn Borg and the bratty American upstart John McEnroe tick. The lopsided film pays more attention to the former (inhabited by dead-ringer Sverrir Gudnason) than the latter (played by Shia LaBeouf, who oddly avoids the Queens-bred McEnroe's prominent accent). The study of the icy (and fragile) Borg is fascinating, though. Among other peculiarities, he was obsessed with maintaining a low heart rate. Unfortunately, director Metz was compelled to follow Borg's lead. The result is a stylish, watchable film, but one with a slow pulse. Game, set and almost a great movie. – Brad Wheeler

Oct 7 at 8:45 pm at the Centre for the Performing Arts and Oct. 13 at 3:30 pm at the Vancouver Playhouse.


Friday, Oct. 6

BURMA STORYBOOK
Director: Petr Lom
Country: Netherlands/Czech Republic
**½

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North American Premiere

Current events in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have put the country in a terrible spotlight. This documentary by Petr Lom – who was born in Prague and raised in Canada – offers a different way in: a perspective of the country and its people through poetry. "Most Burmese write poetry, or can recite a poem by heart" the documentary states. This film is itself a sort of poem: rather than a comprehensive narrative, it tells its story sparsely, often through magnificent images (the cinematography is spectacular) that linger on the screen and in your soul. As the country emerges from years of political tyranny, the poets try to make sense of it all, as poets do. Much of the focus is on the country's most famous dissident poet, Maung Aung Pwint, who has spent many years in prison and now has Parkinson's disease. "Let's make a long poem together," he tells the filmmakers when he meets them. They succeed, even if the documentary would benefit from more – any – information about the other poets featured, as well as some historical context and other facts. Then again, there are times when poetry makes a more effective teacher of history than your standard textbook; something Lom – who has a PhD in political philosophy from Harvard, but left academia to make documentaries about human rights – clearly understands. –Marsha Lederman

Oct. 6 at 6:15 pm, the Cinematheque; Oct. 8 at 11 am, SFU Goldcorp.


Thursday, Oct. 5

The fifth film in a cycle that began with The People of the Kattawapiskak River, Our People Will Be Healed adopts an optimistic tone without denying a dark past. It bears witness to the tragedies that have befallen the Plains Cree, such as being confined to reserves, forbidden to practise any cultural ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, and sent off to residential schools.

OUR PEOPLE WILL BE HEALED
Directed by Alanis Obomsawin
Country: Canada
***

As an antidote to distressing stories of boil-water advisories, teen suicides and missing women, veteran National Film Board of Canada director Alanis Obomsawin travels to Norway House at the northern end of Lake Winnipeg to gently investigate an Indigenous community determined to thrive. The doc starts with a profile of the large, well-funded local school as it teaches kindergarten kids how to speak Cree and works to improve high-school graduation rates; tellingly, this linchpin of the community is named after Helen Betty Osborne, the Norway House teen who had to travel to La Pas for schooling and was murdered there in 1971. Today, memories of bullying at residential schools still linger and youths on a canoe trip talk about escaping family pressures, drugs and gangs, but the film culminates joyously as the school hosts a district-wide fiddle jamboree. Then, Obomsawin reveals the glorious moment when the community gathers to revive the once-banned sun dance. – Kate Taylor

Oct. 5 at 9 pm at Vancity Theatre and Oct. 9 at 6:30 pm at The Cinematheque


Wednesday, Oct. 4

SHUT UP AND SAY SOMETHING
Directed by Melanie Wood
Country: Canada

This gripping documentary is as raw, blunt and candid as the poetry of its subject, spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan, who is largely game for being in front of the camera, but sometimes seems exasperated with the intrusion. "Are you filming this right now?" he asks at one point during a very candid conversation. Told that the camera is rolling, Mr. Koyczan says, "Oh. Jesus. I don't want you to reuse any of this." But the filmmakers do, adding to a collection of moments that create a revealing take on 41-year-old Mr. Koyczan, whose big break arguably came when he performed at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. The moment of angst in that are-you-filming-this moment revolves around Mr. Koyczan's father, from whom he has been estranged, but is trying to work toward a relationship. The effort, involving both parties, is vivid and absorbing, leading to a finale that is both a sly work of filmmaking and as emotionally devastating as the rest of this film, a must-see enterprise for fans of Mr. Koyczan. – Ian Bailey

Oct. 4 at 6:15 p.m. at Vancouver Playhouse and Oct. 8 at 12:30 p.m. at Vancouver Playhouse.


Tuesday, Oct. 3


LUK' LUK'I

Directed by Wayne Wapeemukwa

Country: Canada
**

We like our Hockey Day in Canada broadcasts to celebrate picturesque toque-and-skate places like Corner Brook and Kenora, Ont., but Vancouver filmmaker Wayne Wapeemukwa takes his camera instead to his city's underbelly for a thoughtful, low-budget docu-drama on five low-fliers. They're the oddballs and the junkies, the wheelchair-using lonely and the sex-trade flunkies. Against the backdrop of the 2010 Winter Olympics (and, specifically, the ice-hockey matches) their lives play out pathetically on the fringe. They play bingo, they stick needles in their veins, they live without love or hope. While we root for overdog Team Canada, we avert our eyes when it comes to the underdogs. The film is sobering but rough around the edges – more of a series of only occasionally overlapping vignettes as opposed to a fully realized feature. – Brad Wheeler

Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Rio Theatre and Oct. 8 at 12:45 p.m. at Rio Theatre


Monday, Oct. 2

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: UK
***

Much like her Songs My Brothers Taught Me from 2015, Chloé Zhao's The Rider is a minor-key docudrama shot on location in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Intimate, dusty and authentic, the story incorporates the lives of cast members for a story about a promising bronco rider who is hurt in a rodeo accident. His career and dreams are in jeopardy. His manhood is in question. They shoot horses don't they? They do, and they shoot horse riders too. Zhao's artful look into the American West is a lightly brooding winner. Clearly this isn't her first time at the rodeo. – Brad Wheeler

Oct. 2 at 9 pm at The Centre for Performing Arts.


Sunday, Oct. 1

FACES PLACES
Directed by Agnès Varda and JR
Country:
France

The French artist JR recently grabbed headlines by creating a huge photograph of a Mexican toddler and posting it on a U.S. border wall as though the child were about to crawl over. Giant public portraiture is his signature, and in this whimsical documentary, he collaborates with veteran French filmmaker Agnès Varda, travelling to villages in France to mount portraits of locals on unlikely buildings and discuss these projects with them.

Old photos of miners decorate a row of workers' housing slated for demolition; a shy waitress becomes an unlikely social-media star when her oversized picture goes up in the town square.

The encounters are deceptively simple: What emerges from them, and from the relationship between the 88-year-old filmmaker and the thirtysomething photographer, is a poignant meditation on everything from self-revelation in the age of the selfie to change in rural France. This rich cross-generational exchange speaks to the persistence of French cinematic culture while the doc itself is a delight, subtle, touching and entertaining. –Kate Taylor

Oct. 1, 11 a.m., SFU Goldcorp; Oct. 6, 6:45 p.m., Vancouver Playhouse.

Saturday, Sept. 30

SHADOWMAN
Directed by Oren Jacoby
Country: U.S.A.

Before there was Banksy, there was Richard Hambleton. A contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Hambleton's shadowy figures painted clandestinely on the streets of New York made him a star on the art scene there in the 1980s

Once he began a studio practice, his works were in high demand, fetching better prices at one point than Basquiat's. Hambleton was born, raised and trained in Vancouver – at what is now Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Vancouver is also where he began his street-art practice, with a series of faux crime-scene paintings – anonymous outlines on city streets. He took the project and himself to the United States in the 1970s and wound up in New York, where he became a force on the art scene. He was invited to the Venice Biennale and to paint on the Berlin Wall. And then, Hambleton disappeared from the scene, in a spectacular flame-out.

This film traces Hambleton's path from rags to riches to rags to riches and back down and up again – fuelled by genius and mired in drug addiction and disease. While it doesn't linger long on Hambleton's Canadian beginnings, the film features a wealth of archival footage from New York, creating a portrait of the city's then-grittiness. It also offers insightful interviews and surprising access into Hambleton's very private world – sometimes A-list swish, but often rock-bottom shabby. Marsha Lederman

Sept. 30, 6:45 p.m., International Village; Oct. 2, 2 p.m., International Village; Oct. 12, 8:45 p.m., Vancity Theatre.


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