VIWFF – First Year Back, Last Year with this kind of name

I knew it was going to happen, VIWFF was going to be in a theatre again, the Vancity Theatre which had some improvements a while ago, but could probably use some new seats in the main theatre given the worn-out fabric on the chairs. I had a bit of a struggle getting in, not to mention it was kind of a downer that I didn’t get a media pass around my neck, but I guess things had to change. It’s hard to hand out things given these post-COVID times. Despite the difficulties of the new system, I found myself able to navigate eventually and enjoyed the in-person experience, now if only some more people I knew had come along. Of course, I’d like to get started on the event summary and list everything that happened, but it’s only necessary I give some shoutouts first. You know the drill. In this article, shoutouts to Nicola Pender for the media pass and the free tickets, programmers Tristin Greyeyes, Laura Arboleda and Mikaela Asfour for putting together some great programs featuring shorts and features, everyone who helped out on the program, all the WIFTV plus members, everyone who submitted, Shiraz Ramji who attended frequently and made the experience a little more fun, the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for this land of theirs we are on, and all the sponsors for the event. Good job, everybody. 

Opening Night – The theatre was practically sold out for this one, and I almost didn’t get a seat, but I was able to make it in after some front desk confusion. To start things off was an opening speech by a Squamish mother-and-son duo, Rose and Latashkaya because this is after-all land that actually belongs to the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, and the Stolo Nations who actually own the water running through here. As the two shared their culture with everyone, a calm feeling filled the air and we were all at peace. Eli Morris who worked as executive director at WIFTV also had an important announcement to make regarding the new name of WIFTV, which we will get to later because it was announced later. Next came the Opening screener of Broken Angel, which I’ve already covered, and then things ended with a Q&A panel hosted by Tristin Greyeyes, and featured director Jules Koostachin with actress Brooklyn Letexier-Hart. The two talked about how cultural significance to Indigenous culture was added to the famous PMS scene, how Brooklyn got into acting, how the movie related to scenarios in real life, and Tanis’s character representing hope. There are plans for a sequel as well, so we’ll see what that’s like. The afterparty afterwards consisted of cheese, alcohol, and veggie things, and I heard there was lots more going on at the Morrissey, but I didn’t quite make it out there. 

Intimacy Coordinating in Hollywood North – A panel hosted by Megan Gilron and Phay Moores who invited King Louie Palomo and Kristyn Stilling (both people I know) to join them in talking about how sex scenes are coordinated, and the special organizations behind them: NSIP and PIP. Another discussion topics included how the organizations help, what they get called in for, and then we got to see some intimacy scenes in movies made by some of the panel members. The Q&A that followed went even further into inner details, especially with working on set and the process of hiring an intimacy professional. I have a feeling a film I’m going to need one of those.

Advocacy Panel – Another important factor in this industry is advocacy and how the film and tv industry needs to be more inclusive, even to the disabled. As someone with a disability (autism) I can relate to this. The discussion focused on important subjects like the DSO, how people with disabilities deserved to be treated, how the NFB has taken steps to improvement in gender parity and inclusion, balance in communities, and even approaches to black people and their stories, which is also something I want to see more of. Seriously, there are so many people who deserve careers in this line of work. 

Special Presentation: She Said Screening and Panel – No, the title does not explore that overused joke, or the story by Michael Rosen. It explores what women said in regard to some large issues from sexual assault. This special presentation opened up with audio recordings of anonymous people talking about NDA’s they signed and the downfalls it gave them at both universities and workplaces. Then Julie Macfarlane (co-founder of the Can’t Buy My Silence campaign) gave a speech about the film, and another co-founder Zelda Perkins provided a recorded speech. Now it’s time to get to the film. It started out with a woman stepping onto a film set and then coming across an issue years later. She then looks to the news for help. Surely enough, that’s what the film is on. News, by two reporters at the New York Times: Megan Twohey and Jodi Cantor who discuss and analyze the story of sexual assault in Hollywood and all that Harvey Weinstein has done. The two women get exhausted and struggle to investigate this serious matter, but they do all they can to spread awareness and make the story known. It was a disturbing movie but very detailed, and greatly made. Following that was a discussion panel with Julie, Jennifer Khor (Executive Director at SHARP Workplace), and Sonia Furstenau (Leader of the Green Party). Together they discussed what came out of the film, and what effect the market has on the youth of women. Jennifer admits she hears a lot of complaints at her workplace and it makes her feel ashamed. Sonia explained structural change and legislation are the key to making improvements, and everyone mostly talked about NDA’s and court cases. I hope we see less of these problems in the near future, I really do. 

Shorts Program: Red – There were plenty of short film programs and even more short films, a little over an hours worth in each program. The very first was the Red Program. Why they’re all named after colours, I’m not sure, but the Red program had some good humorous stuff like My Eyes Are Up Here which told the story of a model named Sonia who moved around in her motorized wheelchair hanging out with a man who shows consideration after their one-night stand, and Young People, Old People & Nothing in Between, which is a hilarious and heartwarming story about a 7-year old girl named Juice living with her Grandma Lovely as they have great fun but eventually Grandma starts dealing with memory loss. Then there was the weirdly artistic but somewhat relaxing stuff like It’s What Each Person Needs which was a documentary about a caretaker who dealt with online dating and the elderly, Le, a super short film about a young Vietnamese woman reclaiming her real name while swearing revenges on her in-laws, and Tell You About: The Birds and The Bees, Sagittarius Rising which featured images of nature in the Spring season, and baby footage which was a bit too much for me with the sound, but it’s an interesting way of showing a woman on a journey. There was some pretty cool stuff as well, like Stay by King Louie Palomo where drag queen Ivy Diamonds (Kendall Gender) meets a guy named Ryan and the two get comfortable with each other over at Ryan’s house. It all ended on the disturbing and edgy film Shallots and Garlic where two sisters reunite at a family dinner for their grandparent’s Wedding anniversary. Of course, being so different from each other they end up fighting, one sister named Karina is allergic to onions and when she starts feeling itchy, she blames the other sister Nur for tainting the meal. That whole thing was questionable, and makes me relieved that me and my brother don’t talk anymore. I’m even more relieved that at least he grew out of messing with me. Although he might do it again one day…

Among Us Women Okay, now for a feature and some of them do mention women in the title because this is the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, and this film has an interesting insight into life in the rural village of Megendi in Ethiopia. Following the life of Hulu Ager who is expecting her fourth child, but doesn’t want to give birth to it over at the medical centre that’s a fair hop away. Instead, she wants a home birth and is determined to make it happen. We see other things she goes through in life out there which shows it’s not an easy life, but great insight. However, some bits made me a little queasy. 

Cinematography Workshop – As someone who has barely done much cinematography, this really taught me some stuff, but it’s not exactly my strength. The workshop was moderated by Diana Perry and hosted by two actual cinematographers Suzanne Friesen and Kate Smith who talked about film projects the worked on, how having strong bonds can get you chosen for cinematography jobs, working with teams, a director, and lots of great details of opportunities and challenges for cinematographers. Plus, we got treated to a couple clips they shot and some samples of the other work they did in the line of cinematography. 

Table Reads: Tricksters and Writers – Featuring Indigenous actors reading Indigenous screenwriter’s scripts, and even starting off with an opening about Indigenous work AND partnerships, the table reads consisted of two scripts with beautifully made content—one a short film, the other an excerpt from something bigger. I enjoyed the reads, and can’t wait for more of them in the future.

Short and Feature: Mistik + Expedition Reclamation Somehow these two fit together and got screened together. Mistik was a short film that took place in a post-apocalypse where twin brothers travel to find home in a desolate wasteland living off of large oxygen tanks with trees in them. It was a dark and ominous film but still lovely. Then Expedition Reclamation screened, showing a documentary about 12 different BIPOC women with motivation in keeping fit in the goat outdoors. Aside from exploring diverse ways, the film told great stories, was rather soothing with all the nature shots, and I really enjoyed the recreational feel.

Shorts Program: Green – Huh boy. Just about everything in here focused on some touchy and disturbing subjects. This was the most unsettling shorts program, focusing on death in Fifty-Four Days when a spirited young woman takes up swimming in a lake in honour of her 54-year old father who drowned himself, and Meet the Sky where two sisters from foster care take a trip together only for one to finally cure herself through a rather creative and ceremonious suicide. There was also the unsettling concept of what home life is like with children and claiming something important, like in The Retrieval when a young man has to steal back an artifact to fulfill a promise to his elders while taking care of his son, The Politics of Toheroa Soup had an interesting topic on Whanau and the protected giant surf clam called the Toheroa which was once a delicious food source only for them to soon become more protected from getting scarce, and The Sky is Very Pretty which is a documentary that talks about female abuse and shows an interesting view of home life for mothers and daughters who have to flee from domestic troubles across Mexico. Three was a bit too dramatic showing both the hardships of being married with the 1st kid and when a woman feels uncomfortable in her own skin especially when she suspects her husband doesn’t love her for who she is anymore. Another uncomfortable one had to be Ahu, which was both about student life in a shoddy apartment and having a neighbour who dealt with domestic abuse, but there is some hope in the film. Some of these do show hope no matter what, which relaxed me a little.

Rosie Okay, this was hilarious. I’ve seen a film or two about a little kid who always ends up under the care of someone somewhat inexperienced and a film or two about a kid ending up somewhere where they’re not used to, and interestingly enough, I’d say my one-time guest writer Phoenix is kind of going through that herself currently (don’t ask for details, please. The less you know, the better). Frederique is an artist living in Montreal and the year is 1984. Unfortunately, she deals with the issue of nobody wanting her art and her landlord threatening to evict her. To make matters worse, her Indigenous adoptive sister passes on leaving behind a little girl named Rosie who is played by that one young Indigenous actress who seems to be appearing in so many titles lately, Kiri Geen. Fred isn’t comfortable at first, but before long the two form an incredible bond, and Rosie learns so much about Fred and her drag friends. The whole film was funny and showed great values of love. It was pretty much relatable given how I’ve managed to adjust to little Phoenix these past few years.

Screenplay Competition Panel – Gathering together the ten finalists from this year’s VIWFF Screenplay Competition for quite an elaborate panel where they talked about important factors, like networking, collaborating, knowing your project, their new upcoming plans, and gender diversity along with other ways of changing society for the best. The sound was a bit too loud for this one and somebody behind me kept blabbing too loudly, but it was still one enjoyable panel.

Las Abogadas: Attorneys on the Front Lines of the Migrant Crisis Boy this was tough to watch, but it brought some serious awareness. It’s a documentary about 4 immigration attorneys who spent many years (well, since 2018 to be exact) as they try to help refugees in serious crisis. Things have only more difficult for refugees since Trump administration had new policies and then things have barely gotten better with the Biden administration. Such struggles include walked long roads, escaping from war and abuse, and just having to deal with such a difficult system that’s far too flawed. I had a friend who went through immigration, and she warned me not to do it myself. This was sad and disturbing, but showed some hope.

Shorts Program: Yellow – A good amount of sad, realistic and relaxing with a bit of surreal. Starting off this was Glass Doll, which looked like a combination of Toy Story and Mad Max in a 2D format, and told the sad story of a glass doll who has to give up her best friend (a toy dog) to a troll for a replacement eyeball. Some other sad films were Send The Rain which focused on a woman named Alice who didn’t want to leave her family farm during BC wildfires, and Good Grief when an Indigenous returns to her childhood home to reunite with her family who doesn’t seem ready for her return as of yet. For a little more on the funny yet somewhat unsettling there was As Stars Out There, where a family of four women head to a shelter during the golf war and must learn to accept each other throughout what danger could be coming, and Calls From A Bridge, where a woman named Jules finds herself alone on an empty bridge and calls the host of last night’s party repeatedly. That last one was kind of strange. Some of the more real and chilling stuff had to be The Midwife, which took place in the middle ages, herbalist/midwife Else and her apprentice Nicole are required to gather with all the women in the villages church as per the order of a mysterious stranger who just rode into town, and We Are Not Speaking the Same Language which was the relaxing and beautiful story of a woman with an Indigenous identity who talked about her connection and showed the process of some beautiful artwork.

Some Women Let’s take a journey to Singapore with Quen Wong, a trans filmmaker as she explains her journey of loving herself and her life living with a homosexual. Quen gets lots of love and support from her family, and this documentary shows all kinds of content, like what was once Bugis Street where Queer communities once thrived from the 50s-80s, and the modern-day youth of Singapore protesting for transition rights. But Quen has trouble loving herself especially with how she used to be in the youthful years. There are some unfortunate facts in this movie and a fair amount of hardships but the film was also sweet and funny. 

Everybody Wants to Be Loved – Wow. Just wow. Quite the dramedy this was. Ina is a hardworking psycho-therapist doing what she can to balance work and her family. She has a rebellious daughter, a new lover who wants to push her into moving to Finland for better work with him, a strict mother who expects Ina to be at her 70th birthday party, and some medical test results. But Ina is so busy she doesn’t have time for herself. I could relate to this one during this time (thank God I’m taking some time off to breathe for a while) and I found this film was quite layered, and had funny moments. Although it was a little too chaotic for me. 

Directing Panel – Always good to have a panel that discussed directing. Joining us were quite a few directors from films that screened here: Jules Koostachin (Broken Angel), Victoria Bruce (Las Abogadas), Morose Osagie (Glass Doll), and Asia Youngman (N’xaxaitkw). These ladies discussed their first projects, why they got into directing, understanding how a project works and how they should be, what it’s like being females AND BIPOC, and even some tips for beginners. A really impressive panel, I must state.

Shorts Program: Blue – Okay, final short film showcase for the festival. I’ll start off with N’xaxaitkw as I found that to be the most interesting. It was about a teenager who just moved into a small town and deals with some rowdy neighbours who invite her on an adventure to scope out a legendary lake monster. She also befriends a little girl who lost her big sister long ago. Some of the more relatable content was Headspace, which showed a young man with down syndrome struggling to live in his group home due to a disruptive housemate who is more obnoxious than my little brother was and reminded me of at least 32% of people in the highschool I went to, and Bertie Wrote Me A Poem where a teen named Vittoria has to report to the hospital for a morning-after pill while keeping intercourse confidential from the family doctor and family. Ugh. That one gave me vibes of my ex. Some of the freakier stuff was Mother’s Skin where a little girl named Molly has a rough home life and she learns some dark freaky stuff about her mother’s past, and admittedly with all that went on, I felt sorry for the kid, and Tidal was even more freaky showing fast-paced life of a nurse who goes through so much going on, but eventually the film slows as she makes it to the beach and finds a way to relax. For Heidi reminded me of high school much like Headspace did, but the focus of the film was a high school girl who got suspended for having blue hair in a mohawk. For some reason, my high school never kicked me out for doing that (believe me, I did do that). It was a simple but cool film. To end off everything was Tabanca and that took place in Vancouver. A gender-queer Trinidadian woman struggles with office life and enjoying the Carnival season of her old home, but imagination can take her anywhere. This was cool and hilarious.

Awards Ceremony – This was pretty short, but that’s because there weren’t too many awards. However, a good time was had by all. Despite the low volume of awards, I won’t get into too much detail, but I will say that Rosie won the most awards (Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Performance) for feature and N’xaxaitkw won the most awards in the short film category (Best Short, Best Direction, Best Editing) while 4 films won the Matrix Best of BC (N’xaxaitkw, Meet the Sky, Send the Rain, Broken Angel). There’s more details at the official site, but I can’t say much else except for the fact there was a kid behind me who wouldn’t keep quiet. Just my luck.

Closing – Another introduction by Rose and Latashka who invited the audience to join in a song that would grant us peace. As for the Closing Feature, this is the part where I tell you to check out Shaun’s review because I’m really trying to avoid having duplicate content on here. But I liked Stellar as well, finding it rather strange but enjoyable, and then afterwards everyone went to Brass Fish Tavern for the afterparty. That took some time to setup, even when I came in late. There were some familiar people, a good choice of food servings like Tacos, chicken, mushrooms, and hors d’ouvres. Plus one free drink ticket, because I haven’t mentioned free alcohol in my articles for a while now. Finally, Eli Morris invited some members of WIFTV onto a set of stairs for the big announcement: The Name Change. After many discussions, surveys, meetings, and debates, the new name for WIFTV is now Gender Equality Media Society, or G.E.M.S for short. What will that mean for the future? More inclusion and equality and all genders, and chances are VIWFF may have a name change too. Vancouver Gender Equality Film Festival? Vancouver All-Gender-Inclusive Film Festival? Vancouver Gender Equality Media Festival? Who knows? Maybe. The important thing is the new name will mean more opportunities for more genders, and more chances for future filmmakers of many genders to shine like precious Gems. That’s what makes Gender Equality Media Society the perfect name. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Everyone has their flaws, but each person sparkles like a gem.

That’s it for the in-person festival, but the fun is still going on with the virtual festival. So go on the official site today and watch as many of these titles as you can.

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