All it took was a side trip to SilverCity to see Sylvester Stallone blow away more bad guys in Bullet to the Head to reinforce the significance of the Victoria Film Festival, the region’s annual cinematic window on the world.
Granted, the Walter Hill-directed action flick doesn’t pretend to be more than Hollywood junk food. Still, it was an empty and forgettable experience compared to the real-world issues and characters featured during the festival, which ends Sunday.
While the word “inspirational” is overused, it really does describe the tone and impact of many festival films, notably documentaries such as Ping Pong and Go Grandriders! that showcase the astonishing pursuits of feisty senior citizens.
And whether it’s the obsessions of an eccentric Icelandic curator devoted to penis preservation in The Final Member, or those of the irrepressible fashion designer Bruno Ierullo in Jesse Mann’s Material Success, its celebration of passion is a rush.
The festival is also a valuable reminder of things we might not think about enough — such as how freedom (No) and racial equality (The Last White Knight) should never be taken for granted, and how the destruction false accusations can engender (Denmark’s The Hunt) is universal. The festival is also a catalyst for change sparked by reminders of injustice in powerful films like The Central Park Five and Jason Buxton’s bullying drama, Blackbird.
It’s amazing how many colourful characters, on and off screen, you’ll meet at Empire Capitol 6 and other festival venues. Take, for example, Christopher Carson, the most memorable eccentric in Lunarcy!, Simon Ennis’s quirky documentary on the exploits of moon-obsessed dreamers, including an astronaut who’s been there, done that — Alan Bean.
Determined to colonize the moon and become its first permanent resident, Carson is as captivating and deadpan hilarious as he is ridiculously optimistic, yet the lunar enthusiast’s earnestness makes him so endearing, you can’t help but root for him.
Festival guests who turned heads this week included Trina Robbins, the comic-books icon who stopped by Legends Comics for a meet-and-greet before Wednesday’s screening of Wonder Women!: The Untold Story of American Superheroines at the Vic.
“What made the day great was seeing a comic-book store filled with women,” said Legends co-owner Lloyd Chesley. “I mean vibrant, educated, literate women, many representing the best of Victoria’s local art scene.”
The Wonder Women! screening attracted costumed supporters of Superheroes of Victoria, the local charity league that has raised funds and awareness for B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation, Cops for Cancer and Easter Seals Drop Zone.
“You don’t have to lift a bus over your head or shoot laser beams out of your eyes to be a superhero,” said founder Mark Ashfield, who hails firefighters as real-life superheroes. “You just have to use what you have to help those who have less.”
Ashfield, 33, was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and grew up with constant migraines. He became a fan of comic books and superheroes after his grandfather gave him books that encouraged his imagination when he was a child.
“The idea of superheroes helped me get through my time at the hospital,” said Ashfield, who was surrounded by fans dressed up as superheroes, including Batman and Wonder Woman, at the screening.
“I’ve always been a comic-book geek. Never apologize, I say. I take that term as a compliment.”
The most crowded event so far was the Jackhammer bash at Sugar, where hundreds of patrons could sample a special Jackhammer cocktail and watch aerial dancers strut their stuff after Saturday’s world première.
Mike Hanus’s off-the-wall comedy, set in an alternate male-stripping universe, has been the festival’s hottest ticket, prompting organizers to schedule a second screening, also sold out.
Documentary filmmaker Gerry Anderson (brother of star Pamela Anderson) shot footage at the première that is now being sent to other festivals, said producer McKinley Hlady, adding some major ones have already expressed interest.
“It’s perfect being able to both start and finish the festival, and it’s great seeing so many unknown faces,” said Hlady, who is also working with Gerry Anderson on production of Week, an underground fight flick being shot in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, he’s capitalizing on Jackhammer mania to help raise funds for one of Anderson’s favourite charities — the Inga Foundation, which helps communities in the Honduras and elsewhere protect rainforests from slash-and-burn agriculture.
The Chop Shop hair salon, one of Jackhammer’s featured locations, is offering discounts to patrons who donate.
The Andersons have collaborated with founder Mike Hands on Up In Smoke, Adam Wakeling’s film about the issue.
Lauren Davis, Western Canada’s feature-film executive for Telefilm, the federal film development agency providing Jackhammer with post-production support, said the value of the enthusiastic festival response can’t be under-estimated.
“It’s great to have the Victoria Film Festival serve as a launch pad for new talent like Mike Hanus,” said Davis. “They’re not only getting to see a new Canadian film but also creative talent in their own community.”
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