VSFF – Long Run for a Short-Film Showcase

VSFF is back… at a slightly different time. Again. But that’s okay, because there are lots of things about VSFF to enjoy as we finally get back together in person once more. It’s been quite a dilemma for VSFF these past few years, with a pandemic and everything going online, but they are building their way back up again. Online festivals aren’t as fun to most people, myself included. The process of going back to in-person involved a lot of interest in people volunteering, a lot of grants after the big financial hits of the previous years, but thanks to government bodies and funding institutions the festival got its financial support once again. Creative BC, Telefilm, and Vancouver the city itself has given plenty to help, and the festival is able to go back to the theatre.

Surely enough, this means the community will come back and the revenue will continue to come in as attendees pour in over the next while. I talked to Nicolas Ayerbe Barona the co-director beforehand to get a better understanding of the in-person festival to happen, then went to attend the festival.

HNMAG: What can people expect from VSFF this year?

Nicolas: This year, perhaps out most exciting feature is that we are coming back in person for the first time since the pandemic began. We’re returning to our traditional venue, the Vancity theatre. We have 6 programs including our Afterdark program, which will continue to be a double-feature type of program focusing on horror and comedy-adult stuff, but also we do have a new venue as well. We have a venue for our industry events, we will be through a partnership with Vancouver Civic Theatres using the Annex Orpheum where we host a series of industry roundtables. Filmmakers and creators can come sit down to meet specific industry players, and have a specific conversation about different topics. We have topics like ‘How to be good to your crew’, ‘Documentary making with the National Film Board’, and ‘Mental Health issues in the film industry’. It’s going to be a completely new event where it’s different from typical industry panels. The idea is more about having discussions with important team makers in the industry, so those are the biggest ones as well as this being the first year we are working with nominations for our awards. 


HNMAG: Sounds like big changes even. What have you done to make awards different from last year?

Nicolas: In past years, we used to simply allow our jury to select winners of the awards based off the entire program, and this year we heard what the community had to say, what they want to know, and they want a shortlist or to know who’s been nominated and have some honorary title before the awards show. We have done a full nomination process this time around, and announced it on social media. We also expanded our jury to accommodate for more voices at the jury table. 


HNMAG: And what were your duties on the staff?

Nicolas: I’ve been with VSFF since 2018, I am currently the co-director and my partner in crime is Emily Weldon. My former role was as the sponsor coordinator, and then when the former co-directors left, Emily and I were asked by the board to take on the mantle. It coincided with the pandemic, so a lot of people may not be totally aware of our change in leadership but it just happened, as time was going on. Since 2020, me and Emily have been running the festival online for three years.


HNMAG: What went into preparation for this year?

Nicolas: I suppose quite a lot to be honest, it required a lot of communication with our team about the big changes that we wanted to make. I’m probably not alone in terms of festivals about how much the pandemic affected our end goal and what we always wanted to do which is provide a great venue for filmmakers. VSFF prides itself on being very filmmaker-centric. Of course, we love our audience who are not short filmmakers and invite them to watch films while learning about short films. But we know that the main audience are filmmakers themselves. We hear a lot about the changes they wanted this year, a lot of the preparation involved getting new staff members to join us, finding new volunteers, and diverse voices to join our team. We have a whole new programming team this year, there’s also a lot of calls for more diversity in the industry. We go out and find new and younger voices out there, nowadays filmmakers are from the Gen Z generation, not the millennial generation like myself so we need to maintain relevancy with younger generations so that also means giving opportunities as team members to go and do better things. 


HNMAG: How many team members are on the staff?

Nicolas: Essentially, there are some team members who are year-round like me and Emily, and there’s only some team members we need in specific stages of production at the festival. We just wrapped up our programming team for the most part, because they’ve selected the films so now their job is just making sure the films play properly. The rest of the team is composed of people who watch films in order to filter through and that is about 10ish people. Their jobs are done for the year, they’ve watched all the films, rated and discussed them at length, and have chosen which ones will screen. There’s also 14 staff members who work in areas of marketing, graphic design, website design, looking for sponsors and community partners, publicity and event coordinators, and managers of tech and the venue. If we were to count them all, including our board of directors, we’d be looking at 30 people. 


HNMAG: Is there any new kind of awards being added to the list?

Nicolas: Yeah, that’s a point of great debate with a lot of the community. We kind of tried to do our best to have as many awards as we can for craft, and every performance. We have some new awards in sense of the Forward in Film organization, who has signed up to sponsor the outlier award. That goes to an independent outlier spirit, a bit of an alternative award. We sometimes get asked questions: Why don’t we have production design or makeup awards? I’ve been asked why we don’t have a composer award? The answer is very tactful and financial: All our awards are sponsored, we don’t want to give people an award that just gives them a laurel, we want them to get an award that comes with tangible tools for their future film. A good example is our DGA award for directing, that comes with about $1000 from the Director’s Guild of Canada. It also is presented to that person directly from the sponsor. That way, we’re able to make a connection happen and some kind of financial contribution to their career. All of our awards, are things that we spend the entire year searching and locking down with a partner. Then making sure it’s delivered to the filmmaker, this year we’ve secured $40,000. All of that sponsorship money more or less goes to the awards and goes directly to a filmmaker.


HNMAG: Was there anything you wanted to add to the festival, but couldn’t?

Nicolas: There’s ALWAYS a lot of stuff that we want to add, I think we were really lucky to have a wide breath of time during the pandemic. Last year, we sort of began the move of changing our dates. Our festival used to be in January for anyone who remembers. We’ve moved the dates to June, that is a strategic move to essentially avoid any more future situations where cold season/covid season may come back. Having a festival in the winter makes it harder for people to attend. Doing it in June is also a new experiment we tried last year and felt that it worked, so we’re doing it again this year. Big changes are always around, like if we want larger audiences, we’d have to find a different venue. We love the Vancity theatre, but the festival has been on a trajectory of growth so sometimes we really have to analyze whether or not we continue in the same venue. That’s why we tried to find a venue for our industry program. 


HNMAG: Anything you’re looking forward to in particular?

Nicolas: Sure, honestly the whole thing because it’s been a long time since we’ve had our parties, our screenings. I think the programming is fantastic and we made really great choices this year, and that diversity of voices has been bringing in the best material from British Columbia, as well as Canada because now we accept a small amount from out of our province in British Columbia. About 19-20% of the films come from out of BC. That’s always exciting because while other festivals do show international films or films from other regions in Canada, I think our festival being very BC based, we get to experience from the POV of the VSFF what we consider the best of Canada right now. 


As for the future of VSFF, one thing we should definitely see more of in the future (and hopefully will) is more diversity in films, the selection process, the during process, all while maintaining the fact this festival is made for filmmakers by filmmakers. Here’s hoping there will be new connections throughout this year and the years to come.   Now for some quick simple takes on the in-person happenings of this year!

Opening Night – After a woman ushered everyone into the theatre town-crier style with a bell, VSFF had to open up with some screeners right after speeches by Jackie Hoffard, Bob D’eith, Barbara Chirnos, and even VSFF’s co-directors. I’d talk about them right about now, but Shaun was covering them as well that night so tune in tomorrow for a summary on Program 1.  Anyways, there was a big ol’ party at the end with familiar faces, a rather crowded area, and an interesting choice of free buffet. Normally at film festivals, it’s either a cash bar, a gourmet all-you-can-eat dealio, or something else. This year at VSFF, they were offering free popcorn, chocolate bars, and chips. I did not see that coming honestly. It was a nice addition and more movie themed to be appropriate for a film festival.


Program 2 – A blend of interesting and surreal content. Starting off was Split Ends which showcased how pushy Iranian laws are and finished with a rebellious ending as the film featured a bald woman and a man with unkempt hair get fined for not wearing hijabs and they have legitimate reasons for doing so. The pushiness of laws over there was kind of hard to believe. Next came Blanket song which was a short documentary about an elderly woman weaving out blankets and quilts from stories of experience, ands parking of experiences, the film after was Meeting Amy where a guy named Ray discovers he has a half-sister and decides to meet her where they talk about the father they share and make an incredible bond. Of course, there’s always something I already watched, so I’ll just throw this link here in regards to Glass Doll, and move on to Wok Hai, a beautiful film about an Asian-Canadian mother who finds an old family wok, restores it, and cooks a traditional family meal to share. Then came the funny and fantastic Magic Trick, a film about two ladies who meet each other in a coffee shop and seduce each other through simple but effective magic tricks, after that was the funnyish but vague Patter, which featured a street magician named Gabe Nash tries hard to get himself out there but can’t. A real failure how reminded me so much of some square I sadly know. After that came a couple films of disturbing nature, as things went from humour to horror in Things are Great as an illustrated man realizes his not-so-perfect life is slowly burning away, and Rumination as we see a woman’s creepy visualizations as she chops wood. There were two more films, The Mess We’re In which of course is going to lead you to a past article, and Homewreckers which is about a young couple who manage to inherit quite a house, but discover mysterious notes appearing in nooks and crannies of the home. This was somewhat silly and somewhat strange. A great showcase though and the theatre was kind of packed.


Program 3 – Okay, now onto a more short and simple showcase with fewer films. I’ll make it quick as well by saying I already watched Dandelion Green, and go on to cover the disturbing film Swallow Flying to the South, which took place in 1976 featuring a young girl named Swallow who struggles to stay in a public boarding preschool in Beijing. It was a dark film to watch and was interestingly done completely in cheap but very professional looking stop-motion. Then came I remember Everything, a rather short documentary type film about a Brazilian immigrant who’s queer and talks about their life journey as we see old VHS tapes from their youth. A Week to Rosh Hashanah was a blend of awkward, dark, and funny featuring a man named David who tries to reflect on his disorder as the new year is coming. Then came the ridiculous and funny film Corvine, about a young boy and his huge interest in crows which makes it hard for him to fit in. It’s hard to watch stuff like this since cartoons seem to get along better with crows than I do, as crows don’t seem to like me or my hair. Her Name is Like a Sigh is a film about a Vietnamese couple working at a salon when one day they get a very rich client who becomes with Ha, the wife who feels the need to explore her life and possibly heal some of times past wounds. There was some humour and some disturbing stuff, and some glaring continuity with a cellphone call, but I enjoyed it. The last film was Side Walks, which followed two different young people through Vancouver and tried to keep each other’s relationships stabilized via phonecalls. That one was kind of funny and even made in a unique style. I wonder if they were inspired by Bijan Karim.


After Dark Double Block – Now we get to the spooky twisted stuff that was saved for late at night. Some really controversial stuff as well, and hopefully nobody complains regarding nudity or cannibalism or VSFF will be banned from Vancity Theatre like VBAFF was. Just ask David Aboussafy about that particular year. Now back to the program. Opening this one up was a music video for a song called ADHD by Saye Skye, an Iranian-Canadian artist. The most chaotic thing I ever saw that gave me weird headaches, and reminded me of WhatsupElle, Dan Balan’s weird music videos, MysteryGuitarMan, all those 360 videos, commercials from the early 2000’s and 1 or 2 movies I have watched. Then there was Mom Vs. Machine, which I tweeted about long ago, and to this day, they still follow us on Twitter (Thanks, Guys!). Next came some funny horror in the film Damned Supper when three young ladies come together for a backwards dinner to learn what their future romances will be like, only for things to get chaotic and then give a predictable ending. Now for more Hilarious, was Not For Us, a horror tale about three sisters going camping and failing, and the interesting short, White Lady which, um, uh – Oh, look! Hyperlink to a past article. I can’t tell you when all these hyperlinks will end, but I can tell you about When Will This Story End, by which I mean a particular short film and not this article. When Will This Story End is a more humorous film about a teen named Jacob telling his sisters a bedtime story but they keep wanting it told their way. I’ve never had this problem with my brother, though I’ll probably have it with Phoenix unless she continues rapidly aging. After plenty of horror humour and funny frights, we got treated to the very vague Omukama, which was about a milkman named Daryl who goes through some very surreal moments in life. Next came the disgusting, but relatable film, Gnaw, about a woman who can’t cease her habit of picking and biting at a hangnail. I’ve experienced something similar but it wasn’t exactly a hangnail. Of course, there’s two other films (Shallots and Garlic, Weeds are Flowers Too) I’ve already seen, so I’ll cut to the chase on the final three: Venus Revolution showed an abstract style of historical paintings in a visualization that was just weird, Holly told the story of an immigrant named Olga and her newfound pet man who acts like a dog, which reminded me very much of those couples that get interviewed by Love Don’t Judge, and Maceration gives us a taste of human wine in the most disturbing visuals ever shown in a festival when a punk rocker and a young woman find themselves being served as human wine. That was still funny though. 


Program 4- Boy oh boy, this article is turning out lengthy. I should’ve just left the interview as is. Well, seen the opening film for this one (N’xaxaitkw), moving on to the next: 3 Seconds In, 6 Seconds Out felt like a fair amount of basic humdrum, but it’s also a bit ominous as it features a young woman too scared to go out in public after her panic attack. Next was the lovely film, Adrift which reunited two best friends and one of them went away for studying purposes. Then came A Flicker of Light which was full of wow as it showed a man named Ian overcomes depression but discovers he’s still got so much to deal with and things don’t always improve, and that was followed by another amazing film that was actually kind of weird, Routine Seasons which showed all kinds of feelings and viewpoints showcased in a surreal way. Following that was Printemps, a creepy and cool film about a woman named Chloe coming to terms with the fact that her brother is missing, then Latchkey which was a cute film about two little girls enjoying their unsupervised time together until things get scary, and Zeb’s Spider, which was the final film to watch, an interesting film about a woman scared to face the spider in her basement and attempts to appease it with flies she captures. This was probably the shortest program of them all. It was kind of thrilling to watch even.


Program 5 – Now comes the final program of the lot. I’ve got some pretty interesting things to say about some of these films as they were probably the most interesting out of everything I’ve watched. For the first two films, things were kind of saddening, as we get taken to the future in I Bot as Ai Li struggles to take care of his forgetful father and maintain his job, but somehow he makes things work, then Paco which is about a man named Paco working overseas to help his family, but comes across struggles of balancing finance and one night accidentally whisks so much of it away. M3CA felt like some kind of kid’s show as Ida Smith narrated a story of a mink that tries to find a suitable partner to marry in the woods, but no species can accept the mink. It was soothing, but for some reason, relationships between two species remind me of abstract anthropomorphic animal series (like Arthur or Bojack Horseman). For the next one, Feeling The Apocalypse, that was some weird fun about a psychotherapist and his climate anxiety who tries to adjust to living in a world that’s going down, and the film afterwards was Stay, which I’ve pretty much covered. Tongue was a weird creepy film about a young Asian woman who bites tongues of men and collects them for weird reasons. It was super short, but I thought several things at once while watching, such as:

  1. This is what happens to mansplainers
  2. I bet Vince Offer could relate to this somehow
  3. Maybe I should’ve done this when some crazy lady forced her tongue into my mouth

Okay, back to the rest of the films. Lay Me By The Shore was portably the most emotional out of everything as it explored the story of a high school senior named Noah who was upset over his best friend having died but he learns to overcome it, then Blue Garden which was a historical film about a girl learning about her ancestors and her dislike of tomatoes. The last film Peanut Butter was super funny, about a man named Dan who has lost everything in life and decides to kill himself by eating peanut butter due to his supposed allergy. He goes to great lengths by getting fit for his death and traveling all the way to a cave. This was a funny film but I have to wonder where Dan got all the money for fitness clubs and gear? Interesting way of suicide too, I mean if I followed through with such a thought, I’d just kill myself by eating an obnoxious amount of chocolate. Well, that’s it for the films. 

VSFF Closing Night – The final night of the festival included an amazing awards show that was live-streamed and will hopefully be online at some point. It took place at the Annex Theatre where all the exclusive filmmakers only events happened. I would’ve covered them, but I clearly wasn’t invited. Can’t have a media jackal pestering filmmakers with questions at private events, you know. Presented by Nhi Do, and featuring awards presented by many important people including Katie De Bock, Gregor Philips, Regina Leung, and others. The Best Director of all time was David Finley for his film, Lay Me By The Shore and I feel he deserved that award. The afterparty didn’t seem like much with a mini-buffet, but at least the food was healthier than opening night, and most people stilled in small collectives. Boy did this turn out lengthy. Maybe I should try announcement articles from now on.


VSFF this year was a lot of films and entertainment. Personally, I feel sorry for some of the filmmakers who attended all day long with the exclusive events, as Nathalie Therriault told me how exhausted she was from doing it all weekend. Also, I think the playlist of waiting music at Vancity Theatre and the Annex could’ve been updated with more songs. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bryan Adams as much as the next person who was born and raised in Canada, but there’s only so many times you can play Summer of ’69 before it gets tiring, and what was up with that country-type song about cows? Oh well, the event was still fun to attend anyway even if it did knock the wind out of me.

But it’s not over yet. Go to VSFF.com today and check out the online component going on until the 12th. There’s lots to watch! Buy some tickets today.

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