VIFF is online this year! And I’m watching it in the comfort of my own home with a BC wine in tow and completely pants-less! Here is my review of the wine and the films.


2019 Woops Wine, The Vibrant Vine

This wine is a 7 varietal white blend with intense tropical aromas, spicy floral notes, stone fruit and citrus zest. It is light and has a nice fleeting mouth feel with fleeting sweetness. The Vibrant Vine is based in Kelowna BC. I was introduced to them one year at Cornucopia Whistler. Very delicious wine that is my go-to list.

Sanzaru, Xia Magnus, United States, 2020

A ghost horror story, as elderly Dena’s (Jayne Taini) health declines, Filipina caregiver Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) senses an ominous presence lurking in the woman’s Texas country estate. As things begin to go bump in the night, it’s as if this haunted house is yearning to make a deathbed confession about something rotten at its core. As Evelyn’s investigates the history of Dena’s family, Xia Magnus’ elegant, claustrophobic thriller deftly illustrates the perils of confronting repressed memories and unwanted truths.

So, right off the bat, Sanzaru isn’t as scary as I thought it’d be. There are glimpses of the spooky and haunted, but claustrophobic thriller sums up the pacing and the vibe of the film accurately. The characters get to know each other intimately in a short amount of time and space.

The good? Aina Dumlao does a stellar performance as Evelyn. Though she’s the gentle and patient caretaker, she carries herself with an assertive grace in the work. To the end of the film, she is a resilient protagonist.

The bad? The backstory of this character is puzzling. The circumstances of Amos’ birth and Evelyn’s mother’s death, I feel should be more important, considering the voices you hear throughout the work. The spirit intervention felt uninteresting to me. The most powerful moment in the film was Clem’s moment of PTSD when the ghost visits him in his mother’s room while he’s lying next to her. I understood his haunted character in that moment at the very end of the film. I felt more of a punch finding out who Mr. Sanzaru was but I felt lost at Evelyn’s personal history.

The ugly? The animations and special effects. And I’m a sucker for practical effects or low-budget effects. However, I feel like with how good the cinematography already was, I don’t really feel like it was necessary to show the ghost later on in the story. The red hand coming out of the portal when Amos finds the dead bird made me laugh out loud. Even more so when that bird’s head was a bright light saying cryptic things.

Overall, the film was engaging to me except for these bumps. It is great at building mystery that pulls you right to the end. I enjoyed the thrill of the unknown throughout the ride that Sanzaru was.

Akilla’s Escape, Charles Officer, Canada, 2020

 After years in Toronto’s drug trade, Akilla (poet-rapper Saul Williams) wants out. That’s when a straightforward deal goes south, and Akilla is expected to retrieve the lost merchandise while playing guardian to a novice gunman newly recruited by an international crime syndicate. This is a somber and soulful neo-noir from director Charles Officer, whose last film at VIFF was Unarmed Verses (2017), named Best Canadian Documentary that year.

This movie is a beautifully shot, lyrical paced work that starts off feeling like a political music video. It shows the cycle of poverty, crime and abuse, the helplessness that urban city dwellers have to their environment. It is hard to say anything else without spoiling this film, but I recommend it out of the first three I watched.


Citizen Penn, Don Hardy, United States, 2020

Sean Penn may be controversial for his excursions to Iraq, Venezuela, Cuba and into the narco world of el Chappo, but this vivid firsthand account of his efforts on the ground in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake paint a portrait of a tireless humanist using everything at this disposal – his wits, his money, his celebrity and his bloody-minded determination – to help those most in need.

So, Trump’s comment about Haiti being a shithole place kept floating in my head as I watched this film. His words could never be more untrue. The people of Haiti empowered themselves to help their communities with Sean Penn’s intervention. Though at times the documentary felt like clever marketing, it does quickly go back to Penn’s genuine love and passion for Haiti and its people. The scene of him getting progressively pissed off each year at his gala at all these rich cheapskates who don’t give a shit truly was a memorable scene. The progress he makes leaves you so damn inspired to help other people.