After a long hiatus due to COVID-19, VCFF has finally resurfaced to an in-person festival. It may not have been as big as last years, but it did have some screenings and even some masterclasses, maybe some important stars even from previous submissions. Plus a well-respected man in the Vancouver film industry, the powerful Paul Armstrong, who as I have mentioned before, had the pleasure of working with. I guess that counts as a shoutout. While I’m at it, I also have to give shoutouts to Christine Song for making this a possibility, Kaitlin from Media for inviting us, Sheldon Larry for educating all those new and upcoming filmmakers, Yuen Wah for all of his support (a little more from him later), all the volunteers that helped out, and all those who submitted. Anyone else experiencing Deja Vu? Well, let’s get into all the cool stuff that happened.
Opening Night – Wow, this was exciting. If you were there, you could feel the intense heat there and I’m not just roasting when I say it was because of being in-person more than it was from the sweaty summer weather. So many people just HAD to do the photo op I had to wait quite a while for my turn, but it was so much worth it for this article’s album cover. Anyways, after meeting with some familiar faces and sampling some of the delicious food at the banquet I made my way into the theatre where a row of 6 seats had been reserved for me and the HNMAG team. Sadly, I was the only one attending that night and it felt kind of lonely to be next to empty seats. Still, social distancing is kind of important, especially since my immunity is possibly deluding me. Or maybe it’s just the heat. Starting off the opening night screening was an intro that played twice, but I was quite pleased to see some of my footage from my vlog being used in it. Next we got a short film made by Christine herself, a woman receives a message in a bottle from a man who sends a note of motivation. This moves the lady to invite the man to VCFF. I have to wonder if some of this was based off my encounter with her? Maybe. There was a lot of content in Chinese but this event was bilingual and the festival was even done hybrid style so people could attend online from around the world, thus increasing the audience and viewership. Following that were speeches by Christine and Paul, as well as Sheldon Larry, Broadus Mattison, and Simone Bailly. Then came the opening films starting off with different people in China sharing their filmmaking experiences, and finally, their films. First there was Forest of Steles Dream, the story of Mr. Xing, an elderly man who taught the complex but graceful work of calligraphy, then came What is Art?, which of course was about Art, specially designed by people in the village of Dong Sheng, and it was very inspiring. Nirvana of Ramie was another cool film that was all about keeping the culture of Ramie alive and since it was all about fibre fabric and string work, it really got me strung up. There was lots of art as the focus, especially of the ancient variety so don’t be surprised by this title, Story of an Ancient Art, which was a short film about lacquer, how it was made, and its use, which made for a nice and educational film. Family, Happiness, and Wine showed hard work from workers who worked at Zhung’s 2 wineries and they enjoy working. I’ve worked in a warehouse surrounded by alcohol but I’ve never met anyone very cheery there. Probably because they weren’t allowed to drink any of the products. Next came Keeping the Loong Alive, a lovely story about native Chinese performers, elaborate shows, and marvellous painting and calligraphy. Finally the last film of the night was Looking China, which featured great details of China through bright lights and colours. Then to conclude, one more BTS documentary of the short films, and everyone mingled afterwards.
VCFF Shorts – 9 little films that were also technically part of the VIYFF (Vancouver International Youth Film Festival) but they were still fun to watch. First came The Bridge, a funny short film about people dealing with personal matters as they strive to make income for their parents. Then there was Gaming Fields, a rather silly film about two guys in a nuclear war, and somehow this got pretty strange. Speaking of strange, the next was Knowing, about a guy named Joe who deals with an issue involving his girlfriend. Man this was one had quite the twist. Even more weird was Risen, a film about a zombie named Ash who rises from his grave to reconnect with his family. They don’t seem to mind. It was a weird concept, and I have to wonder how he died in the first place. I’m sorry, zombie films just don’t work for me. Getting on the more sadder side was Barrier about an art student who was shut out from her classmates and ignored. I related to this one. A little bit. Churi was a heartwarming film about Indian food and family. The next film was Alive, a documentary that seemed rather plain but focused on a Chinese man who played his cello during the pandemic. It really showed hope. Blanket Song showed abstract but interesting details of canning and sewing, I always enjoy this style of filmmaking. The last film of the night was Adelina, a film about a woman named… well… Adelina who struggles with the issues of both raising a daughter and keeping her job, this was the most disturbing film to watch. Afterwards there was a Q&A with the attending filmmakers (several of which who graduated from their film courses) and talked about challenges as well as how some shots and locations were done. After that, every single film was given an award of Excellence by Sheldon Larry. It was a simplistic showcases but still great to attend.
Masterclass 1 : Getting Your Movie Made – I would’ve been a little for this one because of another matter but luckily I wasn’t. Hosted by Sheldon Larry who went into great detail on who he was, and what he did. Sheldon is truly one of the greatest having over 300 credits, and even had experience working on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Then the class got treated to a short film he was involved with called Killer Smile. It was the story of a young woman whose baby had a smile so powerful it made people die. Little Marco and his mommy have to flee every time that happens. Eventually, when Marco socializes with some other children, his smile does the usual, killing a little boy, then he and his mom have no choice but to escape yet another city and adopt to life in the woods. The whole film was beautiful, and the story itself was kind of relatable. Sometimes I think I carry some kind of omen with me. Maybe it’s my demeanour. Then Sheldon went on with the lesson, asking people what their favourite films were, went on to explain what emotional storytelling is, how people should focus on more details about characters, understand why a character changes their course of action, and of course, the common rules of rewriting and making decisions. Yeah, I’m writing a script currently and the amount of rewrites I’ve done on it are ridiculous. Then for a little bit of fun, Sheldon brought up a script between two characters, then me and another person read the script out loud together. Then we did it again with some direction. It wasn’t anything unlike a couple acting workshops I’ve done. Then the session had a long but intense Q&A, a raffle giveaway for a course run by Infocus Film School, and then we all got treated to a closing film, Ideal Homeland. It was a story set in the dystopian future, when a young man named Joe gets tired of working for Artificial Intelligence, and decides to find a village where humans live so he can connect with actual people. This one was kind of freaky for me, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Masterclass 2 : Writing The Next Great Screenplay – Using a lot of the same information he used in the earlier Masterclass, Sheldon Larry once again instructed this class, and I’ve noticed her sure likes to bring up his long list of experience. First he started us off with showing a short film called Late For School, which was about a little boy who was always late for his class, and his teacher would always discipline him for it. But there’s something the teacher doesn’t know about the little boy which changes everything one day. It was a short simple and well made film. From there, David brought up details on how to develop your voice via writing a script, then showed another short film, this time in Iranian. It was called Thursday Appointment and it’s about a couple reciting an old poem while driving when they witness another couple fighting, then find a way to solve this other couple’s issue. That one was beautifully made. Sheldon educated the class even further with details on how to create a story with 3 different steps: Investigate, Imagine, Choose. He explained how actions can change the status quo, but most importantly you should figure out the logline of your story. This whole class seemed to feature repeated lessons from the earlier one, and it also featured a lot of short films. Another one he screened right around this time was Child and Man, as a brainy young boy witnesses a radio-obsessed man drop his litter to the ground. Another film with an interesting twist. Then there were some lessons on how conflict can change everything, and how characters backstories can sometimes change the arc. The Q&A this time around seemed a little more shorter and simpler, probably because attendees there were almost the same people from last time. But we finally concluded everything with a screener of one last short film called Sales Champion. It talked about a lonely woman working her job as a sales associate until one day a new young employee comes in. At first the two seem like best friends until the young new employee starts doing better and even stealing the other woman’s clients. That got edgy and went crazy real quickly. You can’t trust anyone. But I can trust Sheldon Larry and his lessons will help out the youth in making their own cool stories, that may even be intense and edgy.
VCFF Features – There was quite a list of movies in the program, but only two played at this particular event on August 12th. The first film was Brick, about an architect named Wenxin. When he arrives at his hometown in China to bury his mother’s ashes, he spends more time with his old classmates during a reunion and seedily he’s dragged into keeping the city he grew up in efficiently renovated. Meanwhile, Wenxin’s father continuously grows obsessed with his deceased wife’s ashes, Wenxin develops a crush on a lady named Li-Mei who serves food at a stand, and while Wenxin tries to protect this old city of his, he learns the hard way that not everything works out. It’s a great film with a sad ending. Right after that was Zebra-Riding Boy, which was very strange and surreal, but then it was based off a couple of interesting stories. This film focuses on a high school student named Zuo Lin, who has the dream of riding a horse. He has some interesting shaped legs which are good for mounting. But he’s got a bigger issue than finding an actual horse, and that’s the local bully Zheng, who drifts around in his stylish car with his girlfriend who sort of understands Zuo’s weird personality and even helps him out to obtain a zebra. Yeah, a zebra. Something about this sounds familiar. The film may have not made much sense, but it did have a great way of colour schemes and tinted scenes, and it ultimately shows the lesson on how sometimes there are some people who will admire your quirks. Me, I felt like the interaction between Zheng and Zuo was my high school self vs my elementary school self. Or more or less my interaction with the designated doofuses in my high school. Uh, I’d better wrap this up.
Closing Ceremony – No screeners here, but plenty of elaborate performances celebrating Chinese culture. While I was here, I met Yuen Wah who told me what he thought of this event. Yuen described it as an honour to be there, especially after going through a pandemic when he came to Vancouver a while back. He is especially amazed at how people make films, and at all the support of Canada’s Chinese film industry. He feels there’s a lot of great opportunities and he has lots more hope in the new upcoming generations. Yuen’s biggest hope is more youth getting involved into filmmaking and representing Chinese cinema maybe even with Canadian culture combined. I can truly agree with what he said on this matter. Now for the performances, they were certainly quite a mix and it was almost hard to see because the other media outlets set up their cameras for the big night. But I still got a lovely view of everything. First off was the opening dance called “Tibet Drum”, which was extremely lively with women in elaborate costumes of red who came from the Cindy Yang Dance Academy of Canada. Next came a dance combo featuring 3 dances by 3 sets of kids, Poise Dance Studio’s quick but almost-as-good-as-the-real-thing Swan Lake, then the other two by Cindy Yang Dance, “Pretty Girls” which was very adorable, then “Kung Fu Boys”, which had a humourous feel that felt like Minions mixed with street-dancing. Then the Shaolin Temple of Canada did an act of Chinese Kung-Fu called “Legend of Shaolin Temple” which had lightning quick moves. After that was a song by amazing Quanting Miao called, “Qi due de Cao yuan”. Things got cool when a K-Pop group called Wonder Dance Studio jumped out and did a dance routine to Love Dive, and the Columbia Children’s Choir brought back memories of my younger self with their version of Do-Re-Mi. A bit hard to hear and it didn’t feel like much, but it did remind me of simpler times when my voice was actually pretty fitting for it. The Cindy Yang Dance Academy had plenty of its performers and performances that night as they did another lovely dance called “Picking Apples”, then Columbia Music and Dance School did a performance called “Su Zhou Qing” which was swell. The folks of Cindy Yang came back again to do a long and majestic dance routine called “A Mother’s Love”. The Adalat Dance Academy did a Belly Dance routine called “El Ghazala Raya” which started out smooth then picked up into elaborate movements. But one of the best performances I saw that night was Cindy Yang Dance Academy’s Dance “Celebrations” which was just incredible to watch. Then it ended with a smooth and somber song recital by Huaren Choir of Vancouver as they sang “Teacher, I miss you” and “Rong Hua”. In between performances, a host and hostess would crack jokes while speaking in both English and Chinese and they would even give shoutouts to exclusive guests and awards to some of them even. Yuen Wah, as I mentioned, got a special Lifetime Achievement Award, Simone Bailly got the Canadian Chinese Talented Award, and Sheldon Larry was awarded with the Outstanding Contribution Award. It was an amazing night that night.
I thoroughly enjoyed VCFF even if there wasn’t a whole lot of screeners, but there was a lot of Chinese culture and fun involved, which is more important. I have a feeling next year’s will be a lot bigger, maybe longer, even more elaborate.