If there’s one thing Kathy Kay has learned as director of the Victoria Film Festival, it’s that you can’t please everyone.
“For everybody who doesn’t like something about a movie, there are so many others who just love it,” said Kay, who will surely bear witness to that phenomenon when the festival “brings film to life” for another year starting Friday.
Kay was gamely reflecting on House of Pleasures, last year’s opening film that had more than a few cinephiles seeing red.
Then again, maybe they were just feeling red from blushing. The nudity and stylized sex in Bertrand Bonello’s artful portrait of a Paris brothel’s final days could have that effect on folks who didn’t realize what they were getting into.
Depending on your sensibilities — and there was a variety, judging from opening-night chatter — last year’s gala choice could have been seen as either arty, borderline softcore porn, or a moving meditation on the historic objectification of women.
So it’s no wonder Kay was so cheerful when asked about this year’s. It’s Hannah Arendt, Margarethe von Trotta’s film starring Barbara Sukowa as the influential, cigarette-puffing German writer and philosopher, and it’s more smoky than steamy.
Kay insists she didn’t book von Trotta’s film that focuses on the outspoken political theorist’s travels to Jerusalem to cover the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann that inspired her controversial The Banality of Evil just to avoid a sex scandal.
“It was my favourite film at the Toronto festival,” said Kay, who confesses she initially thought a film about a German philosopher might be perceived as a snore. “It’s so dazzling. It’s smart and it crackles.”
Kay says festival organizers don’t have an opening-night “pattern” — just a desire to do things differently each year.
Indeed, Hannah Arendt is the polar opposite, pardon the pun, of 2011’s pick, Shuichi Okita’s culinary crowd-pleaser Chef of the South Polar, about a Japanese gourmet chef dispatched to feed a remote scientific observation team at the South Pole.
Another thing you can count on is that most entries on this year’s movie menu won’t be confused with Hollywood fare. As organizers continue to think out of the popcorn box for VFF’s 19th annual edition, a perusal of another typically eclectic lineup reveals they cannot be accused of ageism, homophobia or failing to take risks as their cinematic charter dictates.
We can expect, for starters, films about the preservation of the penis (The Final Member), female superheroes (Wonder Women!), fashion icons (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel), the exploits of wacky male strippers (Jackhammer), gender identity (Carla), reality TV (Reality), geriatric ping-pong players (Ping Pong) and scooter-riding seniors (Go Grandriders!).
The penis picture, Kay emphasizes, “is not a lascivious attempt at all” to sex things up.
“The man running this museum is very serious. For him it’s a pursuit,” she says, referring to Sigurdur Hjartarson, the eccentric curator of the Icelandic Phallogical Museum — I’m not making this up — on a quest to collect a human penis to complete his museum’s collection of specimens from other mammals. Sounds like there could be some stiff competition.
Those are just a few of the 150 features, animated films, documentaries and shorts from 26 countries, including Argentina, Denmark, Estonia, France, Japan and Mexico, coming our way at Empire Capitol 6, Vic Theatre and Parkside Victoria.
This year’s cinematic smorgasbord includes two world premières, 11 Canadian premières and five B.C. premières.
After the pink carpet is rolled out Friday, opening-gala ticket holders will be directed from Empire Capitol 6 to a “secret location” evoking a “decadent underworld of champagne, oysters, bathtubs and jazz” for a Speakeasy-themed bash.
It’s one of many parties, receptions and peripheral events that will augment screenings at venues including the Empire Theatres Lounge at Yates Street Taphouse, Spinnakers, Oyster, Veneto Lounge, Argyle Attic, Centennial Square and Bay Centre.
And, yes, there will be guests, albeit perhaps without the star wattage of past visitors like John Waters, Beverly D’Angelo, John Landis or Keith Carradine, although anything can happen, such as the year Barry Pepper showed up at the 11th hour.
There will be no shortage of filmmakers here, including Gareth Edwards, the hot young British filmmaker and visual effects guru in pre-production on a new take on the Godzilla franchise. Film fans can also expect to bump into Broderick Fox, whose deeply affecting documentary The Skin I’m In documents his journey of self-discovery culminating with his getting a full-back tattoo designed by Victoria-based First Nations artist Rande Cook. Other guests confirmed at press time included Trina Robbins, the influential comic-book writer artist seen in Wonder Women!, and Inescapable director Ruba Nadda (Cairo Time).
The movies are the main event, of course, and there’s compelling fare to spare, including two Oscar nominees — No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal as a Chilean advertising man who helped topple dictator Augusto Pinochet; and 5 Broken Cameras, the documentary chronicling Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat’s non-violent resistance to the Israeli army in a West Bank village.
5 Broken Cameras was a last-minute replacement for Saturday’s 2 p.m. screening of Wasteland, the twisty and gritty British heist thriller starring Timothy Spall. “It’s really smart, and you don’t know what happens until the end,” says Kay.
The digital print for Wasteland will show up in time for its second showing Feb. 7 at 9:15, Kay assures us.
This year’s noteworthy entries include Inescapable, Ruba Nadda’s tense drama about a Syrian-Canadian father caught up in a diplomatic nightmare when circumstances force him to revisit his hidden past as a former intelligence officer; Lunarcy!, Simon Ennis’s documentary about characters obsessed with colonization of the Moon; The We and the I, Michel Gondry’s drama about the changing dynamics of a group of high school students during a city bus ride; and Wonder Women! The Untold Story of America’s Superheroines, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary about overlooked female comic-book heroes.
Other highlights: Louder than Love, Tony D’Annunzio’s nostalgic flashback to the Grande Ballroom in late 1960s Detroit, where musical giants such as Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and The Who once reigned; and, in keeping with tradition, two great films for foodies. The gastronomic drama Haute Cuisine dramatizes the story of how Daniele Delpeuch was appointed chef for former French president Francois Mitterrand, and Step up to the Plate, Paul Lacoste’s culinary excursion to France’s Aubrac region, where legendary three-star Michelin chef Michel Bras prepares to pass the torch on to his son Sebastian.
Keep an open mind for new, different films, organizer says
The footage in both films is said to be so mouthwatering, viewers are advised not to attend on an empty stomach.
While on the subject of food, organizers made the festival’s graphic designer Guido Martini an offer he couldn’t refuse this year. Martini will whip up an authentic Italian pasta dish to be served with a beverage and a cookie at the Vic during its new lunchtime short films showcase Feb. 4 — an initiative intended to broaden the festival’s appeal to downtown daytimers.
Kay urges all prospective festival-goers, especially first-timers, to attend with an open mind.
“Some people have this misconception that we just show weird films,” she says, laughing. “They think that if a movie isn’t ‘popular’ it can’t be good.”
No festival would be complete without, whenever it’s justifiable, a tip of the hat to Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale), the chameleonic actor who plays a kindergarten assistant ostracized by his small Danish community after being wrongly accused of sexual abuse in The Hunt (Jagten), the new thriller from Dogme 95 co-founder Thomas Vinterberg.
“He’s really back on his game,” says Kay, noting it’s Vinterberg’s best film since The Celebration, his naturalistic drama about a father’s 60th birthday dinner that goes awry when his son accuses him of sexually abusing him and his late twin sister.
“It’s an intelligent look at how friends can suddenly turn on you,” Kay said. “It’s about suspicion and what it can do to you.”
One thing you won’t hear this year is that familiar sound of film unspooling. For the first time in its history, the festival will be all-digital, says programmer Donovan Aikman, who admits he won’t miss the extra shipping cost and technical headaches.
“We’ll have celluloid as an anachronistic decoration,” quips Aikman. “There’s no wear and tear in the digital world. I won’t have to worry any more about a great film flown in from Turkey, where somebody tried to put it together with a stapler.”
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