From Tasty Truffles to Inconvenient Indians: Doc Highlights at VIFF

By Pat Mullen

The Vancouver International Film Festival returns today for its 2020 edition. While things look somewhat different for the festival, which offers a mix of in-theatre and online screenings this year, the line-up is more robust than some of the other major festivals this year. VIFF 2020 features a smorgasbord of Canadian content and documentaries in addition to the glitzier titles doing the circuit after TIFF. (One side effect of the changing festival landscape is that festivals have a bit more overlap than usual.) This year, however, residents across British Columbia may enjoy the festivities since screenings are available province-wide. For Vancouverites eager to brave the theatres or anyone else looking to enjoy the festival from the comfort and safety of their own homes, here are some of the documentaries highlights at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

No Visible Trauma

VIFF features many docs that speak to the events making 2020 a roller coaster ride unlike any year we’ve seen. No Visible Trauma from directors Robinder Uppal and Marc Serpa Francoeur adds Canadian perspectives to the outpour of anger that ignited this summer in response to ongoing cases of police brutality. The film features the stories of three men in Calgary who experienced undue and excessive violence at the hands of the police. The doc follows their stories as the survivors and their families seek justice in the face of a broken system. Read more in Marc Glassman’s interview with the filmmakers. Screens online.

POV has a few tickets left to attend the online premiere of No Visible Trauma! Email and one is yours. First come, first served. (BC residents only due to geoblocking.)

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

Sure to be one of the docs at every Canadian festival this fall, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan follow-up their 2003 hit The Corporation. This “unfortunately necessary sequel” is a movie of and for the moment as it unpacks the mutations of corporate culture that have risen since the previous film. From Donald Trump’s presidency bringing the interconnectedness of private interest into public matters flagrantly into the open, to new evolutions in corporate philanthropy, climate change, COVID-19, and the uprising of protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the doc tackles every pressing issue of the day. Read more about the film in Marc Glassman’s review and my interview with the directors. Screens online and in-theatres.

Inconvenient Indian

Arguably the breakout Canadian film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Michelle Latimer’s sophomore feature Inconvenient Indian won the Amplify Voices Best Canadian Feature Award and the People’s Choice Award for documentary. The film brilliantly adapts Thomas King’s book of the same name and examines the role that representation plays within greater conversations about Indigenous sovereignty. This provocative and sharply produced essay film connects King’s book with the wave of protests and blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en earlier this year, reminding us history habit of repeating itself. Read more about Inconvenient Indian in Marc Glassman’s review and my interview with Latimer at Complex. Screens online.

The Reason I Jump

Another groundbreaking book receives the doc treatment in this outstanding film directed by Jerry Rothwell (How to Change the World). The Reason I Jump uses Naoki Higashida’s book of as a jumping off point to explore how young people with autism experience the world. Featuring Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, who penned the translation of the book and speaks to his ability to better understand his own son’s perspective after reading it, the film inventively and respectfully explores the world anew. Read more about The Reason I Jump in our interview with Rothwell and Mitchell. Screens online.


This year’s winner for the directing award for US documentary at Sundance has been accumulating raves throughout its run on the circuit. VIFF audiences are among the first to see the doc in Canada. (It was announced for Hot Docs, but not among the virtual line-up that eventually played.) Garrett Bradley’s poetic film reflects upon the experiences of incarcerated Black Americans and the families effected by their imprisonment. “Bradley’s spotlight remains set on the trial and tribulations of a mother of six and a fighter for all,” wrote Inge Coolsaet while reviewing Time at Sundance. “We see resilience and tenderness come together to amplify the radicalism of Black love.” Screens online and in theatres.

Prayer for a Lost Mitten

This year winner for Best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs had this reviewer nostalgic for the lost art of human connection. The film takes audiences inside the lost and found booth of the Montreal metro, and inserts itself into the lives of fellow urban dwellers to learn more about their recovered items and the personal stories behind them. Jean-François Lesage’s film plays like a time capsule in 2020 and reminds one of a distant past in which strangers who ride the subway comfortably together, mingle in pubs, or socialise in close proximity. Read more about Prayer for a Lost Mitten in our interview with Lesage. Screens online.

The Magnitude of All Things

The New Corporation director Jennifer Abbott pulls double-duty at VIFF with The Magnitude of All Things, one of the world premieres of the festival. This NFB doc offers a personal examination as Abbott grapples with the loss of her sister to cancer while also confronting her concerns about the growing environmental crisis. The film explores the often unexamined element of grief in climate change. What happens to the families of people who die after their water becomes contaminated by carcinogens? How do people face the future when they lose loved ones to floods or other natural disasters, starvation, and pandemics? Abbott confronts the global environmental crisis from vastly different angles in her two works at the festival, demonstrating the need for both personal and collective responses. Screens online and in theatres.

John Ware Reclaimed

Audiences at TIFF found one of the festival’s bigger disappointments in the raging dumpster fire that was Concrete Cowboy, but stories of Black cowboys receive far better consideration in John Ware Reclaimed. Filmmaker Cheryl Foggo examines the story of John Ware to correct the racist myths that surround the stories of Black cowboys. Foggo turns the interrogation upon herself in the process, asking how we record and understand history through archival records that speak to a legacy of racism and discrimination. Screens online.

No Ordinary Man

A fascinating correction of history also serves as the foundation for No Ordinary Man. This notably trans-inclusive film by Chase Joynt and Aisling Chin-Yee corrects the story of jazz musician Billy Tipton, which largely endures as myth that he was a woman masquerading as a man to forge a career. The film revisits Tipton’s story through voices that are now able to live as their true selves thanks to the sacrifices of people like Tipton and the opportunity for conversations that their stories create. The directors imagine Tipton’s story through audition scenes and camera tests with transgender actors, while the performers speak candidly about their experiences in direct address interviews, as does Tipton’s son, who poignantly considers the legacy his father left behind. Read the POV review of No Ordinary Man here. Screens online.

Call Me Human

Although her films strangely don’t play at the high-profile festivals in Toronto, Kim O’Bomsawin is quietly becoming one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of her generation. The Abenaki filmmaker gained attention for her 2018 documentary Quiet Killing, which examined the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and won the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social or Political Documentary Program at the Canadian Screen Awards. Her new film examines a different kind of absence—what happens to communities when elders move on to the next world—through the story of aging Innu writer Joséphine Bacon. Call Me Human comes to VIFF after winning the DGC Best Canadian Documentary Award at the Calgary International Film Festival this week. Screens online.

The Truffle Hunters

The Truffle Hunters is a truly decadent slice of cinema. It whisks audiences to the seemingly magical forest of Piedmont, Italy where elderly truffle hunters forage for buried treasure. The film offers an enchanting adventure that heightens the senses, in particularly evoking the olfactory delights of aromatic truffles. Featuring some truly adorable dogs and some mouth-watering fungi, The Truffle Hunters truly enhances one’s appreciation for the most prized food item on earth. It’s comfort food for the soul. Read more about The Truffle Hunters in my review of the film and Jason Gorber’s interview with the directors. Screens in theatres.

VIFF runs Sept. 24 to Oct. 7.