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Vancouver Short Film Festival addresses Blackness, Palestinian displacement, Indigenous wellness, and war

Meditation 4 Black Women short film
Miranda Edwards, BJ Harrison, Kendra Westwood, and Yasmeen Kelders all play important roles in Vancouver filmmaker Rukiya Bernard's "Meditation 4 Black Women".

This weekend, dozens of short films are on the menu at the VIFF Centre. The first eight will be screened starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday (May 31) as part of the 14th annual Vancouver Short Film Festival, which continues with in-theatre screenings through Sunday (June 2).

Opening-night films include Vancouver director and writer Rukiya Bernard’s “Meditation 4 Black Women”, which premiered at Crazy8s in 2023. Her 16-minute short drew upon her 2020 award-winning play, Yoga for Black Women. Bernard wrote her manuscript following the police murder of George Floyd, who repeatedly told officers that he couldn’t breathe.

“In yoga, they always talk about breathing and vocalizing, so I wanted to put breath and words to everything I was feeling,” Bernard told Pancouver last year.

Her emotionally resonant film focuses on four women navigating their own Blackness. One of them, played by Miranda Edwards, does this in the context of her interracial marriage with a white man. The other main characters are a Jamaican Canadian dancehall teacher (Kendra Westwood), a grandmother (BJ Harrison), and a daughter (Yasmeen Kelders).

Meanwhile, the festival’s longest opening-night film, “The Poem We Sang”, is a 20-minute documentary in Arabic. Palestinian-Canadian photojournalist and filmmaker Annie Sakkab directed it and shares the writing credit with Paul Lee. Sakkab, who lives part-time in Toronto, also appears in the film with two family members, Celine and Hanna Sakkab.

According to the festival website, the documentary meditates on “the love of one’s family and the longing for one’s home, contemplated through overcoming the trauma of loss of family home and of forced migration, transforming lifelong regrets into a healing journey of creative catharsis and bearing witness”.

Watch the trailer for “The Poem We Sang”.

Short films on Indigenous themes

Another opening-night film addressing displacement is “NIGIQTUG ᓂᒋᖅᑐᖅ (The South Wind)”. It won the Live Action Short Award at the 2023 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. Lindsay McIntyre, who’s of Inuk and settler descent, directed this 16-minute dramatic film in English and Inuktitut.

McIntyre, an Emily Carr University of Art + Design faculty member, based her film on a true story by her grandmother. “NIGIQTUG ᓂᒋᖅᑐᖅ (The South Wind)” deals with a an Inuk girl, Marguerite, who left Nunavut in 1938 with her mother. According to the festival website, Marguerite is coping with life in southern Canada when she receives an “extraordinary letter” from home.

“From the first frame, you are watching cinematic beauty from a filmmaker who understands the medium of cinema and knows how to conjure the spiritual element that sits within the most beautiful of our Indigenous cinematic offerings,” the imagineNATIVE jury stated. “Lindsay’s unique cinematic voice and talent is as clear and heartfelt as the South Wind it comes from.”

For more on this film, read Perrin Grauer’s post on the Emily Carr University of Art + Design website.

Another short film on Friday, “Braiding Knowledge Through Breath, Language, and Movement” highlights the First Nations Women’s Yoga initiative in Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw territory.

Jessica Barudin, an elected councillor with the ‘Ngamis First Nation, wrote, directed, and produced this 14-minute documentary. She is a Sundancer, Indigenous health researcher, yoga teacher, and UBC assistant professor of Indigenous community planning.

The third Indigenous film on Friday, “What Good Canadians Do”, is directed by Stephanie Joline. Her four-minute production revolves around a poem by Mi’kmaw writer Rebecca Thomas and features illustrations by Indigenous artist Phyllis Grant and animation by Andrea Dorfman.

Underwriting, artistry, and war

Another award-winning film in the Friday lineup is Michael Makaroff’s “The Dog – A Rapidly Condensed Guide to Treading Water”. It won Best B.C. Film and Best Performance honours at the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival. According to the synopsis, this 14-minute comedy-drama is about an underwriter who “recounts his career in body part insurance sales in an attempt to affirm his life choices”.

The first film on Friday evening is Douglas Cook’s “Old Dragon Man”. Less than three minutes, it’s about an elderly artist reflecting on hardships and past sacrifices as he paints a dragon.

“As he skillfully wields his arsenal of tools—ink, paint, brushes, canvas, and paper—the old man acknowledges their invaluable role in translating his vivid imagination into tangible works of art,” Cook writes on his website. “However, he recognizes that the most essential element in his creative process is his boundless imagination.”

The final film of the evening is “The Steak”, an eight-minute drama produced, directed, and co-written by Kiarash Dadgar. Ali Narimani shares a screenwriting credit for this Iranian-Canadian film about preparations for a birthday ceremony being turned upside down when something horrible occurs.

Dadgar has a master’s degree in dramatic literature from Soore Art University in Tehran. “The Steak” exposes how war can create stunning transformations within minutes.

“By eliminating dialogue, this film invites the audience to interpret the story through the characters’ actions and visual symbolism, thus transcending cultural or geographic boundaries,” Dadgar says in his director’s statement. “Additionally, this film serves as the inaugural installment of a compelling trilogy exploring war narratives through a formalistic lens. I am passionately crafting the second piece of this series, driven by a desire to explore the depth and complexity of these themes.”

Watch the trailer for “The Steak”.

Event details

The Vancouver Short Film Festival runs from May 31 to June 2 at the VIFF Centre. Films are also available online from May 31 to June 9. For tickets and more information, visit the festival website. Opening-night films are restricted to those who are 19 years and older.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.