No, that hashtag is not a typo, VAFF (Vancouver Asian Film Festival) has been around for 22 years now, and as of last weekend, it has been shown to be the most colourful and diverse one as of yet, in both films and artwork on the official programs. Since MAMM blew me away with its submissions, I was even more impressed with what came out of the content in this festival. I was lucky to get to watch a fair handful of these amazing works of art, and as per usual when it comes to festivals (most festivals) I summarize the highlights. So without further ado, here’s all of the greatest content (actually all of it was pretty great) that happened this year.
Opening Night – To start off VAFF just right was the screening for Dead Pigs. A pig farmer discovers his swines are dying and he has no choice but to dispose them in the most unsanitary possible: off a bridge that leads straight to the ocean. Other farmers seem to be doing the same as well. He’s in an even worse issue when he puts investments into a VR business and needs to pay off some serious debt. Meanwhile, his sister deals with the problem of losing her families home to an architect who plans to build better housing on her land. The whole movie is a mix of a love story, a tale about desperation, and hardships making it funny and chaotic and ending in a magical musical conclusion.
Panels – Conveniently placed below the theatre where screenings were, the panels were informative sessions from Asians in the industry who told some insider information. I attended about two of these. The first one discussed how diversity is a powerful word in the industry, expression can be hard some times, and how social media has really helped out the minorities. The Asian women panel was another interesting that discussed how Asians were becoming trendy, especially those who are Chinese, humanity is being changed with stereotypes, and their amazing origins in the industry.
Documentaries – A lot of VAFF seemed to cover the genre of documentaries. Personally, I enjoy documentaries. They’re educational, easy to make (from my perspective), and make you feel for a person depending on their story. One of my personal favourites was Badass Beauty Queen: The Story of Anastasia Lin. When Ms. Lin got the title of Miss World Canada just two years ago, she thought she could use this to educate the world about human rights in China. But of course, while doing so this only gets her banned from the country. A very thought-provoking film that was really well made.
My second favourite was Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes, a doc featuring several cartoonists who talk about their amazing craft, Keith who covers the subject of racial profiling and police brutality, Vish who also covers racial profiling and cosplays as Captain America to make a new look for a hero, and Eileen who finds methods to fight gender bias and express diverse concepts through her extreme illustrations. They go into great detail about what the hardships of their life and tell about what they do to make the world a better place with drawings. It was very short and simple, but it was extremely profound.
Short Showcases – Short film showcases while not common, were certainly interesting. Aside from repeats of MAMM submissions, there was quite an interesting treatment of other short films, not just before some documentaries. The We Heart Canada showcase, while with very few screened films really made one feel like they were in an Asian community. The International shorts were a wide range of all kinds of genres. Some of the funniest included Frenchies which told the story of a man coping with his anthro-bulldog neighbours and their suspicious way of life, and Two Flavor Hot Pot which was a rather weird tale of a man talking about how he got into jail thanks to his wife, a student, and a meal. The Masseuse was one of the strangest films yet to take a turn. Once again, focusing on self-aware technology as a technician builds a bond with a massaging robot who is outdated. Sorry, but I’ve retired my running ‘fear of future’ joke. Then there were some really dark and saddening short films such as Amskara Impressions which was a two way telling of a man struggling with life in both adulthood and childhood, and A Daughter that focused on a little girl who barely noticed by her father when he goes to meet his second family.
Closing Night – Nothing completed the night better than a documentary style film called For Izzy, which tells the fictional story of Dede Chung and how a life of drugs took her on a journey of astonishment. Getting help from her mother, Anna, the two come across their neighbours Peter and his autistic camera-holding daughter Laura who somehow make a rather interesting connection altogether. The film started funny at first, but got rather dark too soon, but it eventually brightened up, went through quite a few ups and downs then ended on a heartwarming note. One of the greatest films to have ever been featured as a spotlight film. Now, following up on the long lost announcement of fan-voted favourites from MAMM, Milton Ng of Followers was awarded Best Performance. Not bad for a fellow who never had much interest in acting at first. The best short however, was the rather hilarious Bunnyman. Moving on, the Best Canadian Short at VAFF was Bao, a short film made by Pixar’s Toronto Branch. Shane wrote some good words on that one. The Best Feature was For Izzy, and like I said, great selection for closing night. The People’s Choice Awards came up next, and folk’s opinions really helped measure out what they thought was best. The best performance was Mayumi Yoshida in Tokyo Lovers, which was a short film she also wrote and directed. The People’s Choice for best short was Evoked, which, as I have said, is a personal favourite of mine. Everyone thought that the best feature was Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story, a documentary of a baseball player who had quite a reputation. Finally, after all that, guests quickly headed out to the afterparty for some drinks at the Railway club. This was an amazing year for VAFF and I had quite a fun time at it myself. I hope to see more content just as good as this. Not just at next year’s VAFF, but also just about anywhere else.