The Vancouver International Film Festival (Sept 30 - Oct 15) has unveiled its annual environmental series, Ecologies of Mind, hot on the heels of its new Life Above All: Africa Today program and a Trade Forum (Sept 28 - Oct 1) with an expanded documentary program and a new Filmmaker’s Day (Oct 2).

“Ecologies of Mind is really about the politics and philosophical dimension of how we live on the planet,” VIFF president/CEO Alan Franey told ScreenDaily. Its films “are about how we imagine our futures.”

Eco-titles include Robinson in Ruins (UK, dir: Patrick Keiller) narrated by Vanessa Redgrave; The 4th Revolution - Energy Autonomy (Germany/US, dir: Carl A Fechner), a solutions-based environmental documentary that examines best practices in Denmark, Germany, Brazil, Bangladesh and Mali; and In the Wake of the Flood (Canada, dir: Ron Mann), about author Margaret Atwood’s eco-friendly book tour on the value of fiction and bird songs.

VIFF presents some 220 feature films, but Franey said its “three pillars” are still “non-fiction films, Canadian films and Asian films.” He says documentaries comprise almost 50% of the festival and noted that this year’s spotlight was chosen because: “There’s a tremendous increase in films about Africa this year.” He suspects the volume is partly because the World Cup drew global attention to Africa and adds that VIFF’s program is also because there was “interest from some sponsors who run foundations for work in Africa.”

The wide spectrum of subjects and styles range across a rapidly changing Africa from Chad, Congo, Kenya and Ethiopia to Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa and Zanzibar. However, titles aren’t necessarily from those countries as “many still don’t have the sophisticated industry capable of exporting films of interest to western audiences. But from Europe, Asia and the United States, et cetera, filmmakers are dealing with African subjects.”

Franey points to “exotic” films such as Shooting with Mursi (UK, dirs: Ben Young, Olisarali Olibui) as a prime example of films about “truly unique people who have left Africa and still not become westernized.” The Ethiopian co-director Olisarali Olibui learned filmmaking in Australia and returned “with a Kalashnikov in one hand and a camera in the other” to document inter-tribal rivalries and threats of encroachment on the Mursi’s traditional lands.

Kinshasa Symphony (Germany, dirs: Claus Wischmann, Martin Baer) shows how people living in one of the most chaotic cities in the world — Kinshasa, in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo — have managed to forge a symphony orchestra. Titles also include debut feature Togetherness Supreme (Kenya, Dir: Nathan Collett) which focuses on three young adults from three different tribes, all living in Kibera, Kenya, East Africa’s largest slum.

VIFF’s robust Asian program, Dragons & Tigers, has yet to be unveiled, however Franey told Screen that “the big name Asian films of the year that we are showing — that have also been in Cannes, or will be in TIFF and New York — are this year’s Palme d’or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, as well as Poetry, I Wish I Knew, and Hahaha.”

Franey said that of the 63 confirmed films in Dragons & Tigers, most are feature length premieres. He also noted that director Apichatpong “Joe’ Weerasethakul” will be on the three-person “high profile jury.”

VIFF’s documentary pillar will be further supported by the Annual Film & TV Forum which kicks off with an expanded issue of the successful creative documentary pitch forum, Storyville Vancouver and follows up with thematic streamlined programming on DOC Day, FILM Day, TV Day and New Filmmakers’ Day.

The sophomore outing of Storyville Vancouver focuses on stimulating the co-financing and co-production of the creative, feature length documentary. Pre-selected feature length documentary projects, at various stages of development will be publicly pitched to participating commissioning editors including Hans Robert Eisenhauer, Head of Thema, ZDF/ARTE; Tom Koch, Vice President, PBS Distribution; and Tomoko Okutsu, Producer, Program Development Centre, NHK.

Franey says the focus on co-financing and pitching a feature-length documentary is key. “In this day and age, picking films is almost like running for public office,” he notes. “You need to be charismatic; you need to have all your ducks in line. You need to have a good pitch and you need to win more votes than the other candidate. So its quite an extraordinary experience seeing people in this intensive, quality, focused pitching session with the very people who have the power to provide them with the money or not.”