#VIWFF2020 Blog 1: “A First Farewell” Film Review

Written by: Hanna B.

A First Farewell is the debut feature of Chinese filmmaker Lina Wang that garnered a lot of attention and won prizes at the Berlinale last year. The 87 minute doc-drama-like project is set in a remote area of China’s Uighur region where Wang grew up, and is spoken in Uighur and Mandarin. It is the story of three children growing up in a rural area. Their lives are split between a traditional way of life– helping their families taking care of farm animals or cotton fields– and the modern world of Chinese school. Their only chance to build a better future is if they can properly learn Mandarin; a foreign language to them.

The movie focuses on a young, yet very determined, boy named Isa Yasan. He enjoys feeding his baby goat and helping his father and older brother Musa with agricultural work, but his priority is taking care of his sick mother. She is gravely ill and her two sons have to do everything from feeding her to making sure she does not wander outside the house and get lost. But her situation is getting worse day by day, and, to Isa’s great sadness, she has to be hospitalized far away. Not only does Isa have to say goodbye to her, but soon Musa will leave to pursue his studies in the city so he can one day make decent money. Thus, Isa is left alone with his aging father who is barely coping to keep them financially afloat.

However, no matter how bad things get at home, Isa can always find joy and comfort playing outside with his friends, Kalbinur Rahmati, and her younger brother, Alinaz Rahmati. The trio are inseparable; they do everything together from sharing pets, going to school, to helping each other with their family issues. Their relationship is candidly authentic, fun and heartwarming to witness. Even though at times, they seem completely free and wild playing in dunes or dangerously climbing trees, these non-professional young actors also manage to capture all the emotions of how deeply their characters are affected and conscious of the world around them. We can feel their anxiety or sadness, and see how abruptly one can lose their innocence as they realize their futures are not what they thought it would be. This concept especially resonates strongly in a few scenes featuring Kalbinur. She wants to make it in school, appears committed and ready to embrace a new culture, but sadly, she might be at a disadvantage to do well. And so, the normally fierce young girl’s reaction after being criticized and shamed by her teachers is quite striking and powerful. The challenges not only the students but to a greater extent their parents, are facing, are genuinely disheartening.

The filmmaker did a fantastic job tiptoeing on the fine line between the time of innocence and the loss of it, in a film that can also be seen as a coming-of-age of sorts. And since it mostly unfolds through the eyes of children shot over many months, it might bring to mind films such as Boyhood, as we see the protagonists coming to an understanding of reality and its problems, evolving with the seasons passing by. Or even films such as Capernaum and Yomedine, following kids on an “adventure-esque journey”, striving for a better life away from their impoverished childhoods. Correspondingly, A First Farewell has some truly heartbreaking moments such as the emotional and tender scene between mother and sons, as the boys, taking care of their afflicted parent, gently braided her hair.

Surprisingly, for better or worse, Wang stayed away from controversies or polemical topics linked to the region; but there are some subtle references to the dire situation of these marginalized communities and minorities.

A First Farewell, with its awe-inspiring cinematography, might at times suffer from an odd pacing or incoherent linearity, but it is best appreciated as poetically bittersweet vignettes of intimate human stories making for a well-composed and authentic picture. Filled with numerous panoramas, contemplative scenes of diverse landscapes through sunshine and snows, and coupled with a hypnotizing score that is probably not memorable but will leave a nice long-lasting taste and sense of nostalgia, the film is, as a whole, a captivating indelible experience.

A First Farewell will play at the Vancity Theater Saturday, March 7th, 2020 at 6:45 pm

Hanna B.

Whistler Film Festival 2019 Film Market Preparation Mentorship Recipient Experience

By: Joy Haskell

I was grateful to learn about being the recipient of the 2019 WIFTV Whistler Film Festival Film Market Preparation Mentorship Program. I was paired with Camille Beaudoin, co-founder and CEO Mosaic Entertainment, who mentored me leading up to WFF and during. Camille was gracious with her time and was on top of my schedule and even attended some meetings with me.

Angela Heck, Director of Industry Programming and Raquel Christensen, Industry Coordinator, WFF Talent Lab, in coordination with Camille Beaudoin, set up a great schedule that I get to share with you all.

On my first day, I attended the Power Pitch Workshop Part 1: How to create your own PR Strategy and Workshop Part 2: Mastering the Pitch given by powerhouse Carole Kirschner. Well it was fabulous! I feel more confident in my pitching abilities for Cookies or Crack. I got to sit with my friend Hedyeh Bozorgzadeh during the workshop. In the evening at the Opening Night Celebration: Taste of Whistler, not only did I get to reconnect with some fellow filmmakers but also got to meet new people which included Simon Pegg. I got the chance to take some selfies with Simon as he was intrigued by the ring light I have for my iPhone. He thought it was the coolest thing to take pics with a small ring light designed for phones. We had a great conversation about comedy, film and he wished me luck on my meetings and told me he hopes Cookies or Crack gets made. Me too Simon! True gentleman and very kind man.

Simon Pegg and I at Whistler Film Festival 2019

The second day there were panel discussions and all were great content. I did particularly enjoy View from the Top: A Vision for Creative Canada 2.0 with Noah Segal – Co-President Elevation Pictures, Tina Pehme – Co-founder/Producer, Sepia Films, Barbara Williams – Executive Vice-President, English Services, CBC, Liz Shorten – Chief Operating Officer, CMPA and Jesse Wente – Director, Indigenous Screen Office. The whole panel was informative and a few quotes for me that stuck out for me:

“Tell the best story you can tell.” – Noah Segal

“We advocate for Indigenous content. The most Canadian content is here in Canada with Indigenous people.” (paraphrased) – Jesse Wente

There was a WFF’s Got Talent Luncheon and Keynote Featuring Barbara Williams, Executive VP, English Services, CBC held at the beautiful Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre. The keynote speech Barbara gave was very inspirational and I loved that she said “Culture is good for business”. Thank you Barbara, I think so too! We were also treated to a special drum song performed by two members from Squamish Lil’Wat Centre.

The afternoon was jam packed with one on one meetings with network executives, agents and producers. All the mentoring and panel discussions paid off. That evening the Apres Networking Reception and our very own Carolyn Combs was there having fun. I have pics to prove it, where you can check out in the WIFTV Instagram. Later that night the Signature Series: Artist Spotlight featuring Simon Pegg who that night received the Maverick Award. Well deserved Simon! The talk was fun and there were a few fun hashtags such as #chrispineisamessyeater and #omgthereisachildintheaudience You had to be there.

To close off the evening, Creative BC threw a great party. It was fabulous to hear women lifting each other up. I got a chance to hang out with some fierce women from all over the place including Creative BC (such as Julie Strangeland, Erica Kumar) and Women in the Director’s Chair (check out Instagram).

Trapped between two dynamic women: WIFTV Executive Director Carolyn Combs and Camille Beaudoin

Friday! Women in Focus panels and luncheon. It was truly great to see women praise one another and include each other. Shauna Hardy Mishaw, Founder and Executive Director of WFF at the luncheon said “Giving us a moment to get together as this festival is fast and furious, short and sweet and lots happening.” I met some great women at this lunch and left feeling inspired. Friday night the Power Pitch Competition Prize announcement of my friend Hedyeh Bozorgzadeh with her “Brother Man: The Antonio Joao Story”. It was a special moment to hear her name called and I know she worked hard on her pitch.

I took full advantage of the panel discussions and learned a lot from them. I feel more confident in my Feature Film script Cookies or Crack. I received helpful and informative feedback. I got to meet fabulous people and there will be some news in 2020 so stay tuned.

I’m full of gratitude and thankful for this opportunity. I also have to say, I loved that women were on the jury for WIFTV WFF Mentorship, had a woman mentor, women put together my schedule, and a woman won the power pitch competition, plus women in the Director’s Chair and Indigenous women were at the festival. There was definitely a strong sense of women and it was powerful. Women our time is now! Let’s rock out 2020.

VIWFF Screenplay Competition 2020: Why Enter Screenwriting Contests?

By Joan Macbeth, VIWFF Screenplay Competition Coordinator

The Vancouver International Women in Film Festival Screenplay Competition accepts English-language feature screenplays written by women. The festival is a forum for collaboration and networking with other screenwriters and filmmakers who contribute to the visibility of women through the ongoing practice of their craft.

Whether you are a beginner, advanced, or somewhere in between – many screenwriters find opportunities by entering screenplay competitions. Benefits include feedback, industry exposure, and sometimes cash and other prizes! If the screenwriting competition is connected to a film festival there are networking opportunities with industry professionals. Sometimes the possibility of representation follows contest success. Contest recognition can be a stepping-stone on your journey to becoming a professional screenwriter.

The VIWFF Screenplay Competition is now in its 6th year, and for the 2020 edition we are excited to announce a new opportunity:  Judges’ Feedback. There’s an add-on fee with your submission, but especially if you are new to screenwriting, this full 2-page report of professional-level feedback can be invaluable. Advanced screenwriters also know the benefit of good feedback. Our jury has always included professional screenwriters, award-winning filmmakers and experienced story analysts. Last year’s jury included a manager based in Los Angeles.

Our first place feature-script winner receives the Ken Hayward Award for Best Screenplay at the VIWFF Awards Ceremony, which includes a cash prize. All of our top ten Official Selections for the Screenplay Competition receive an ISAConnect membership, plus full accreditation for the 2020 Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (March 3-8, 2020) which includes admission to screenings, events and seminars, your name listed in the program, networking opportunities with industry pros, and a free pitch session.

The final deadline to submit your feature script has been extended to September 30, 2019. Submit on ISA or FilmFreeway for the 2020 edition of the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival Screenplay Competition. Our mission is to encourage women-identifying screenwriters to hone their craft and elevate their careers. Check out the official rules and other details here: https://www.womeninfilm.ca/Screenplay_Competition.html