By Adam Cook
VIFF’s characteristically diverse and large lineup of films runs the gamut from documentaries to commercial films, to arthouse, and everywhere in between, but if there’s one thing this festival is, and should be, known for, it’s the long running Dragons & Tigers program. Originated by programmer Tony Rayns in 1994, this section’s focus on East Asian cinema has brought an incredible array of work from filmmakers old and new, with a particularly important emphasis on the latter.
For almost twenty years, the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema was a key part of the festival. Each year Rayns would put together a selection within the larger program that placed emphasis on emerging talents. A jury would annually bestow one of these films with the award, which we can now see often went to directors who would go on to make internationally recognized and beloved films, such as Japanese filmmaker Koreeda Hirokazu, whose 1995 film Maborosi shared the prize with Wu Di’s Goldfish. Koreeda is now one of the most celebrated talents working in Japan, having directed After Life, Still Walking, and most recently Our Litter Sister, which premiered this year in Cannes and can be seen here at VIFF. The following year, South Korean filmmaker Hong Sangsoo’s The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well claimed the prize and now 20 years later has just won the coveted Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival for Right Now, Wrong Then, which you may have been lucky enough to have seen at this year’s VIFF.
I was lucky enough to serve on the jury in 2013, an especially strong year for the competition in which we felt compelled to recognize three different films (which the three of us agreed on unanimously!). Our winner was Ikeda Akria’s Anatomy of a Paperclip, a delightfully droll and unique comic vision, and we were able to give honourable mentions to Vivian Qu’s Trap Street, and Chai Chunya’s Four Ways to Die in My Hometown.
So it goes without saying that this section has helped introduce some of cinema’s best artists over its two decades of history, while also cementing VIFF’s integral relationship with world cinema, earning the respect and admiration of critics, programmers, and film buffs the world over. It is the Dragons & Tigers section that has attracted travelling film lovers from far-flung places to Vancouver to take part in this tradition of discovery. While the Award for Young Cinema is no more, Rayns is still the section’s programmer, along with Chinese cinema expert Shelly Kraicer. Your best bet at any given time throughout VIFF, should a block of time not contain a film on your radar, is to wander blindly into a movie from the Dragons & Tigers program, entrusting Rayns or Kraicer with introducing you to something you otherwise would never have seen. It can be overestimated just how lucky us VIFF audiences have been over the years to share in these unexpected and enriching encounters. Not every festival has such a specialized and expert focus. In fact, Dragons & Tigers is the largest program of East Asian films screened outside of East Asia.
This year’s program has struck yet another fine balance between showcasing the work of revered masters (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhangke, etc.) and lesser known talents. Here are some films to consider as you schedule your back-half of the fest:
Li Wen at East Lake (DIR: Luo Li, China/Canada)
The Classified File (DIR: Kwak Kyungtaek, South Korea)
A Midsummer’s Fantasia (DIR: Jang Kunjae, South Korea/Japan)
Murmur of the Hearts (DIR: Sylvia Chang, Taiwan/Hong Kong)
Thanatos, Drunk (DIR: Chang Tso-Chi, Taiwan)
Oyster Factory (DIR: Kaki Kouba, Japan/USA)
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