The Victoria Film Festival unspooled with a bang Friday, when its speakeasy-themed opening gala bash was preceded by fireworks, gunshots and a camel-coloured 1931 Model A Ford idling by a giant black-and-white streetscape.
“Are they making another movie?” asked a passerby as she shuffled past movie smoke and floodlights on View Street.
No, but 300 film buffs, most having just seen Hannah Arendt, Margarethe von Trotta’s talky, thoughtful portrait of the political philosopher, celebrated the movies in style after being led through Sapphire Day Spa and hidden passageways to a secret location.
“Watching the film reminded me why I chose not to study philosophy. It makes my head hurt,” laughed Victoria councillor Pam Madoff, sipping a Prohibition-era cocktail in The Blind Pig, where swing dancers boogied to music by Cold Cut Combo.
The other venue sharing space once occupied by Reckless Bikes and The Patch was The Shutter Club, where DJ Moses “El Pachanguero” provided a different vibe.
Filmgoers got into the speakeasy spirit by dressing up as flappers, gangsters and molls, turning both venues into a sea of sequins, fedoras, feather boas, pink hairdos and fur coats. (Hopefully, those furs at Darren Beck’s vintage photo booth, where patrons donned period costumes, were fake, or else organizers will have a lot of explaining to do to Pamela Anderson.)
Other thematic eye-catchers included a poker game, a booze-filled bathtub, classic props from a vintage black phone to a Remington typewriter; archival photos of anti-Prohibition protesters clutching We Want Beer placards; and continuous footage from silent films and talkies until “That’s All Folks!” appeared from a Merrie Melodies cartoon on a giant screen.
There was champagne and oysters; theme fare such as Spinnakers’ charcuterie-packed Al Capone Phyllo Cigars; and libations from Victoria Gin to a legendary liqueur that, judging by one couple’s antics, proved absinthe can make the heart grow fonder.
The eclectic opening night crowd included filmmakers Peter Campbell (Take My Advice, I Can’t), Broderick Fox (The Skin I’m In), Patricia Sims (Return to the Forest), producer McKinley Hlady (Jackhammer), British filmmaker Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), and Jeremy Lutter and his Floodplain collaborator Daniel Hogg, still walking on air after making the semi-finals in Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Screenwriting Competition for Six-Chamber Heart.
“I get to see good movies, stay in a great hotel [Fairmont Empress] in a great town and meet interesting people. What’s not to like?” said Ross LaManna, the Rush Hour screenwriter making his fourth appearance since 2007, this time to talk about the changing marketplace for screenwriters.
“The [market] I grew up with and made money in all those years is completely different. You’d write a spec script, give it to your agent and they’d sell it. Now everybody’s going in with original material and being told, ‘What am I supposed to do with that?’ So you have to find new ways to find a home for your original material — or make your own film.”
Musicians on hand included David Parfit, Kytami and jazz diva Maria Manna, who in her long black evening gown looked like she was already dressed for the Victoria film commission’s Oscar-night fundraiser at the Westin Bear Mountain.
Jonathan Holiff (My Father and the Man in Black) found himself reminiscing at a patrons’ reception at the Fairmont Empress with Heather Erskine, a friend from London, Ont., who was his first babysitter when his parents were touring with Johnny Cash.
“He took his first steps for me,” laughed Erskine, recalling the time Jonathan’s father, Saul Holiff, who managed Johnny Cash, once called from a concert to say he’d be bringing Cash and some friends back to the house, and to turn the floodights on.
“The doorbell rang and the first people who came in I thought were stagehands or something, so I said, ‘Can you help me find the floodlights?,” she recalled, not realizing who they were until Saul showed up with Cash. “He said, ‘You met the Statler brothers, right?’ Then Johnny promptly passed out on my feet, stoned.”
One filmmaker who wasn’t cutting up the rug was Barbara Hager, whose left foot was still in a cast following an injury she incurred in Times Square while in New York with producer Pat Ferns on business.
“I bent it like [David] Beckham,” laughed Hager, who was rushing to see Ricky Martin in Evita on Broadway at the time.
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