Will Forte (star of Nebraska) brings the star power to VIFF.

Will Forte (star of Nebraska) brings the star power to VIFF.

The Vancouver International Film Festival is one of the most underrated events in the country. Not only has as many movies as Toronto (granted, without the star power), but it has two sections that give it a unique profile: The Dungeon and Dragons category, focused on Asian films, and Canadian Images, a larger group of homemade flicks without big names attached to them.

This year, the VIFF has faced an expanding malaise: The vanishing of independent theatres. The Granville -a seven screen multiplex that hosted the festival for over a decade- shut down, forcing the event to look for other alternatives. Consequently, now VIFF is happening in seven different venues in the Downtown area. It doesn’t seem the move has significantly impacted the attendance (in spite of losing some screens), but the final tally will tell the tale.

It must be said, the 2013 group seems more solid than it has been in the past, starting for the opening gala, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. The film is a coup for VIFF, since not even Toronto got it. Other movies making an impression are:

Heli (Mexico, 2013): Drug-motivated violence in Mexico is practically a cliché, but Heli makes it work by placing a blue-collar, unremarkable family in the middle. The interesting clash is somewhat undermined by a tendency towards the grotesque, including a couple of upsetting sequences more reminiscent of torture porn than serious drama.

The Venice Syndrome (Germany/Italy/France, 2012): Venice is enduring a slow, painful death. Barely 200,000 habitants remain in a city that is invaded on daily basis by noisy, obnoxious tourists. To add insult to injury, the city council has striped the town of basic services (the postal office was sold to Benetton) and some questionable real estate practices are practically ensuring the town’s demise. Eye-opening and depressing.

Desert Runners (USA, 2013): If you believe marathons are hardly a challenge anymore, meet for people attempting the ultra-marathon grand slam: Four 150-mile races across the most inhospitable deserts on Earth. A little seen competition that hides a powerful emotional punch (it also, makes you feel lazy).

I’ll be reporting from VIFF over the next two weeks. If it was for me, I would go from film festival to film festival for the entire year.