7th Annual Women in Film Festival – Review

Vancouver’s female filmmakers were out in full force at this weekend’s 7th Annual Women in Film Festival hosted at the Vancity Theatre. I excitedly immersed myself in the content packed 4-day festival. WIFF kicked off on March 8, International Women’s Day, and focused not only on screening and celebrating film but also helping develop the skills and knowledge of all those present.

The weekend was peppered with various information sessions, networking events and of course, film! There was everything from the Digital Media Master Class to help train up and coming filmmakers, to various panels, like the Changing Face of Distribution, with panelists such as Deboragh Gabler, Karen Lam and Tim Brown, all of whom work in the distribution industry. I attended this panel, which spoke of the changes in the film industry, and the importance of self-marketing, social media, and the golden rule of knowing ones audience. In addition to these information and training sessions, WIFF provided an excellent opportunity to get close and speak to the filmmakers about their work. At the end of each screening block, all the filmmakers in attendance and at times, members of the crew, would go up to the front of the theatre to talk about their film and field questions from the audience. It was a fabulous way to provide additional insights into the films and get audience members acquainted with each filmmaker’s individual processes.

There were a great number of films packed into 3 days of screening, an overwhelming number of which were shorts. Friday night kicked off with a series of fantasy and horror themed shorts. The series included 2010’s Bloodshots winner, The Provider by Brianne Nord-Stewart, a quirky and gruesome alternative history set in America during WW2. There was a wide breadth of films presented this evening, from Doll Parts (dir. Karen Lam) which was inspired by stories from The Highway of Tears, to the dark comedy, infomercial parody Miss Thing (dir. Karen X. Tulchinsky) which presented a strange product for those who are single and looking for a good time.

Saturday’s line up included series’ featuring the work of filmmakers from the Yukon and the Women in Film and Television International Short Film Showcase. Each showcase that day had stories both heartbreaking and charming. The most impressionable of these included the strange and lovely From Her to Eternity (dir. Kondo Reiko), about a Japanese woman and a French man who have a whimsical relationship in their dreams.  Parkdale (dir. Lisa Jackson), the story of two sisters wandering the inner city in attempts to escape the clutches of the foster care system, was particularly good. Lead actress, Sara Brynn Foster later won the award for Best Performance in a Short for her role as a protective older sister. Another must see winner screened that day was the film Isolda (dir. Kateryna Kucher) which picked up the Thunderbird Films International Award. This Ukranian film tells the story of an old woman who is haunted by a younger version of herself. Finally, Elle-Maiji Tailfeathers’ film Bloodlands was a particularly powerful and visceral piece about frakking and the poisoning of the groundwater on the Blood Reserve.

I was particularly excited to check out the documentary showcase later that day which featured Oh! Sushi- From the Land of the BC Roll with Love (dir. Toshimi Ono). The film starts out on a mission to find the creator of the BC Roll but soon becomes a look at sushi’s history in BC and the love and dedication of Japanese sushi chefs that helped bring the food into popularity. Oh-Sushi was interesting and definitely a work of love, and although it slows and falters towards the end, it is still an informative look at Vancouver’s sushi loving culture.

Sunday held even more cinematic treasures such as Dancing with the Moon, which won the NFB Animation Award later than night. The film captured filmmaker Katherine Pettit’s difficulties trying to conceive a child and how she found success in alternative therapies. I also enjoyed the charming and slickly stylized She’s a Soul Man by Caitlin Brynes, which featured a girl raised on a diet of Soul, coming to terms living in the ‘burbs after the death of her grandfather. The one of the best films of the day, hands down, was Conceiving Family, a touching documentary about 5 gay couples experiences with adoption. The filmmaker Amy Bohigan was inspired to make the film when she and her partner decided they would like to start a family and began looking into adoption. The film includes eye opening interviews with the couples and the various ways in which they started their families and the hurdles they had to overcome. The film was honored with the NFB Feature Documentary Award later that night.

The weekend concluded with an awards ceremony, followed by a screening of Tracy D. Smith’s film Everything and Everyone. The film was granted both the Best Feature Drama Award and the Best Directing in a Feature Drama Award. This was certainly one of my favourite films of the entire weekend. The story follows a group of friends and their families, focusing mainly on a young bullied boy and his relationship with his grandmother who is suffering from dementia. The writing is superb, with snappy and entertaining dialogue, and although it was a little melodramatic at times for my tastes, the film was gripping and steered me through a wide range of emotions, which saw me both laughing and on the brink of tears. Thankfully, the film has sealed a distribution deal and should be making its way into a theatre near you sometime in the future.

Overall, I had a blast at this fantastic event. The festival provided great exposure for female filmmakers, whose representation is sorely lacking in the mainstream film world. The festival has been growing every year, and I only expect it to get better over time. Be sure to hit up this must attend event next year!