Personal stories are the province of the emerging filmmaker and every year the BC Spotlight competition at VIFF is filled with a fresh batch of intimate debuts. This iteration is no exception, but this year the new arrivals have landed within a climate that has shifted somewhat. Earlier this year, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey penned an op ed in The Globe and Mail bemoaning a certain tendency among Canadian indie features to favour small, personal stories – “coming of age, family tensions, falling in and out of love” – over more ambitious and widely aimed socially and politically minded works. Shocking as it was, coming from perhaps the single most powerful individual in the Canadian festival scene, this contemptible lecture thankfully received pushback from filmmakers. It remains to be seen whether anyone will take Bailey’s complaints to heart – perhaps it is too early to be reflected in the debuts of 2017 – but it remains one of the questions haunting Canada’s mounting national debate over what exactly lies ahead for its cultural industries.
Luk’Luk’I, the feature debut of Wayne Wapeemukwa, seems initially well-positioned to answer Bailey’s challenge for a more socially conscious cinema. Even if it weren’t emerging from a mostly vacuous and Hollywood-chasing local film scene, it’s audacious concept would still be just as striking and original. Set over the course of the last day of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, it follows the plights and paths of five marginalized residents (played by four non-actors and one professional) of Vancouver’s rapidly gentrifying Downtown East Side as they navigate a fevered city counting down the hours to the gold medal hockey final.