Written and directed by Irishmen in Havana, Cuba, this is an outsider’s outsiders’ story, the irresistible tale of an 18-year-old wannabe-drag artiste learning to put over a song and ultimately winning over his homophobic ex-con father. It’s a little bit Billy Elliot, and a little bit Pedro Almodovar, all shot in what one character calls, "the most beautiful slum in the world."
Based on a true story, up and coming directors Yu-Chieh Cheng and Lekal Sumi weave a wonderfully shot story about aboriginal rights. When Panay, a college-educated single mother, returns to her home village to attend to her sick father, she discovers a plan to turn their lands into large resorts. Rekindling her love for her home, she works with the villagers to revive the village and save their lands.
Danny, a Taiwanese-American man, and his boyfriend Tate, long to have a baby, but the journey becomes more complicated by Danny’s well-intentioned but meddlesome mother who wants to control every aspect of the process from Taipei. Baby Steps is a Taiwan-US co-production, produced by Oscar-winning producer Li-Kong Hsu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman) and Stephen Israel (Swimming With Sharks).
A musical journey through the swamps of the Louisiana Bayou, the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta and Moonshine soaked BBQs in the North Mississippi Hill Country. Visiting the last original blues devils, many in their 80’s, still living in the deep south, working without management and touring the Chitlin’ Circuit. Let Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Carol Fran, Lazy Lester, Bilbo Walker, RL Boyce, Jimmy ’Duck’ Holmes, Lil Buck Sinegal, LC Ulmer and their friends awaken the blues in all of us.
Set in a remote forest ashram in India, the film explores the daily life of the followers of Swami Dayananda, one of the last teachers of Vedanta. Rather than focus on the Swami or the intricacies of his teachings, Gurukulam places the audience in the ashram, evoking a visceral presence of the place and a tactile sense of the sacred.
Considered a seminal Scottish novel, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 classic, Sunset Song, sounds echoes of Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence in its bracing tale of a farmer’s daughter enduring all that life can throw at her in the World War I era. Beautifully photographed, Terence Davies’ film is a heartbreaking melodrama about emancipation, poverty, and life during wartime.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Evocative of both The Virgin Suicides and Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba, this (French-made) Turkish drama is the tale of five young, free-spirited sisters, house-bound and married off, one by one, at the insistence of their conservative muslim uncle and grandmother. Rich in character, nuance and beauty, Mustang has won international acclaim everywhere it has shown. Nominee: Academy Awards, Best Foreign Language Film
From Robert Mapplethorpe’s Catholic upbringing to his early years living in the Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith, to his ‘40s—his last decade of life due to AIDS—Mapplethorpe offers equal weight to the controversial artist’s own audacity and ambition as it does his focus on BDSM, phalluses, and even flowers. Thanks to rare rediscovered interviews, we get to hear plenty from Mapplethorpe himself.
Ben Foster is Lance Armstrong, multiple Tour de France champion, cancer survivor, and, as we all now know, cheat. Scripted by John Hodge (Trainspotting) and directed by British veteran Stephen Frears (The Queen; Philomena), The Program fairly rockets through the early stages, tracing Armstrong’s meteoric rise - and concurrent investment in performance-enhancing drugs - in bold, brash strokes, before zeroing in on the crusading Irish journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), apparently the only man in cycling to smell a rat.
Once upon a time Italian director Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) decided to film a trio of medieval fairytales with the gusto and lustre of a modern day Fellini, and an international cast including Salma Hayek, John C Reilly, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones. The results were ravishing, gleefully mischevious, and definitely not for kids…
Two of the Spanish-speaking world’s finest actors, Ricardo Darin and Javier Camara, team up for this moving, wry film about friendship, family, and last wishes. Julian (Darin) is dying, but doing his best not to make a big deal of it. Unexpectedly, his old friend Tomas (Camara) shows up on his doorstep (all the way from Canada). He can only stay for a few days, but Tomas means to make them count, whether Julian likes it or not. All the latter seems to care about is what to do about Truman, his beloved dog…
Jason R Goode
This BC-made survival thriller follows two couples who come across coordinates to what promises to be a fortune in stolen gold. The only catch? It’s buried deep in the winter wilderness, a tricky terrain that will test not only their resourcefulness, but also their loyalty…
Filmmakers in attendance!
This entrancing, poetic, political documentary from the director of Nostalgia for the Light is a potent reminder of the abuses committed by the Pinochet regime, and a vivid essay on the stunning Patagonian Archipelago. "By turns lyrical, impressionistic and profound." Gary Goldstein, LA Times
One of the hits of VIFF last year, this tale of Icelandic sheep farmers beset by disaster is a sleeper hit. Gummi and Kiddi are siblings and neighbours who have not spoken to each other for decades, but when one of their flock goes down with disease the stakes go sky high. The film is funny, raw, and surprisingly lean. It begins as absurdist comedy but winds up closer to existential tragedy.
Winner of the Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor awards at the Fajr International Film Festival, Bodyguard has proven a big commercial hit in Iran, a breakthrough for the director of 2004’s Bitter Dream.
Bodyguard, which stars some of the biggest stars of Iranian cinema – including Parviz Parastuyi, Merila Zarei, Babak Hamidian, Mahmoud Azizi, Amir Aghayi and Sheila Khodadad – tells the story of Heidar, a bodyguard for the country’s high officials and a moral idealist, who is led to suspicion and doubt the more he faces the dark challenges of his position.
Anna Rose Holmer
On the surface The Fits is a simple story about an 11-year-old girl joining a local dance group, but this mesmerising film is truly about bodies, movement, individualism and the group. The title puns on physical fitness, fitting in (Toni’s brother boxes in the gym next door to the rehearsal space, and Toni works out there too), and the unexplained physical spasms that befall several of the dancers.
Anders Thomas Jensen
When the man they knew as their father passes away, brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) are in for a shock: turns out both were put up for adoption by their real dad, Evelio Thanatos. Taboo, or not taboo? This outrageous, philosophical farce crosses Hamlet with The Island of Dr Moreau, and perhaps a smattering of Step Brothers… Call it what you will, it’s a wildly unorthodox comedy which couches some deep thinking about genetics, nature vs nurture, and bestial behaviour in slapstick pratfalls, dumb and dumber jokes, and good old fashioned sibling rivalry.
Another film of immense ambition and scope from leading Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin; The World). Set over three decades, from the turn of the millennium to 2025, the film charts the ranging fortunes of two men and the woman they both love (Jia’s muse, Tao Zhao). This is a film about China’s embrace of capitalism, but told with an unforced poetic simplicity and rueful conviction.
Attawapiskat is a name we are hearing more often: it’s the community that has been riven with a horrific spate of suicides this past year, and the same community which Stephen Harper implied was some kind of mis-managed money pit for Canadian tax payers (misleadingly, as it turns out). Vicky Lean filmed there from 2008 to 2013, a period which saw the much-heralded arrival of a new neighbour for Attawapiskat in the form of a De Beers diamond mine, just 90 miles away. Her film may be the most pressing portrait of Canada you will see all year.
In this kinetic horror/kung-fu mash-up, an innocuous-seeming dry cleaners fronts for a hitman-for-hire operation. When a nameless contract killer becomes haunted by his former targets, he enlists a psychic for help, but their quest to make peace with the past puts them at odds with his ruthless employer. Colorful and brimming with unforgettable characters, The Laundryman puts the stylish influences of Wong Kar-Wai on the spin cycle. (Chicago Film Festival)