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Victoria Film Festival gala will have a tartan flavour

When the 2018 edition of the Victoria Film Festival kicks off on Feb. 2, the dance moves at its opening gala will be more Highland fling than swing.
Ethel & Ernest tells the story of the parents of author and illustrator Raymond Briggs.

When the 2018 edition of the Victoria Film Festival kicks off on Feb. 2, the dance moves at its opening gala will be more Highland fling than swing.

Film lovers might also find themselves exclaiming “I’m goin’ tae the pictures” for days after the Scottish-themed gala that organizers promise will be “pure dead brilliant,” as a Scotsman might say.

Wee drams of whisky, oatcakes, haggis, Highland dancing and dead-sexy filmmakers should spring to mind after a bagpiper leads guests into Bay Centre’s tartan-draped centre court.

The bash will punctuate the Canadian première of Waterboys, Robert Jan Westdijk’s comedy-drama about a crime novelist who, after being kicked out by his wife, embarks on a road trip from Amsterdam to Edinburgh with his estranged 20-year-old son, who has also been dumped by his girlfriend. Father and son are influenced by the women they meet on the road, and by the music they hear at a Waterboys concert.

Waterboys, to be screened at the Victoria Conference Centre, is one of 73 features, the highest number in the festival’s history, to be shown during the 24th edition, festival director Kathy Kay said.

The film is part of a new program from the U.K. featured during the 2018 festival, which will be highlighted by films selected by additional programmers to broaden the scope of its international content.

“It lets us focus more on diversity of programming,” Kay said. “We’ve always had a good contingent of Canadian films, and we want to put things more in context in a cultural or global sense.”

To set the stage for the U.K. program, Kay journeyed to Scotland in June to attend the Edinburgh Film Festival, where she met Jo Duncombe, film programmer for the Independent Cinema Office.

“We had already decided to bring more programmers on board for a change,” said Kay, who persuaded Duncombe to curate the U.K. section.

While at Hot Docs in Toronto last spring, Kay also recruited Alex Rogalski, the onetime Backstreet Boys roadie and Hot Docs and Calgary International Film Festival programmer, to program the Canadian Wave showcase.

“I guess you could say that’s our upswing this year,” said Kay, whose decision to employ more programmers reflects a trend that has included hiring guest curators for the Indigenous Perspective program.

“It has become ever clearer in our minds the importance of showing Indigenous films since we first showed [writer Sherman Alexie’s] Smoke Signals [1998],” Kay said.

Although it’s too early to reveal which familiar names and faces will walk the festival’s pink carpet, organizers have confirmed Mina Shum will attend as guest of honour.

The Hong Kong-born indie filmmaker, best known for her hits Double Happiness (1994) and Drive, She Said (1997), will attend a screening of her bittersweet comedy Meditation Park.

Shum reunited with Double Happiness star Sandra Oh, who plays the conflicted daughter of a dutiful wife and mother (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Cheng Pei Pei) on a journey of self-discovery after learning her husband has been unfaithful. The cast includes two past festival visitors — frequent guest Don McKellar and Liane Balaban, who was here in 2009 to promote Michael McGowan’s One Week.

Iranian filmmaker Moastafa Taghizad’h has expressed interest in attending the festival screening of Yellow, his drama in which five inventors attempt to immigrate to Europe from Iran with their patented invention. When one falls into a coma and requires an organ transplant three days before their journey, the unexpected development sparks an ethical crisis that causes his colleagues to reveal their true colours.

Based on the success of last year’s virtual-reality workshops, film lovers will also get the chance to discover new VR experiences and learn how to make their own.

The full festival lineup and program won’t be released until Jan. 8, but Christmas gift certificates and online vouchers are now on sale. They can be obtained online at, by calling 250-389-0444 or from the festival box-office, 1215 Blanshard. St. Features in store include:

Oh, Lucy! — In Atsuko Hirayanagi’s quirky culture-clash comedy, a lonely middle-aged Tokyo office worker obsessed with her offbeat English teacher (Josh Hartnett) follows him to California with her sister.

Ethel & Ernest — Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent head the vocal cast for this hand-drawn animated tale of two Londoners, based on the parents of author and illustrator Raymond Briggs.

Kayak to Klemtu — Evan Adams, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Lorne Cardinal and Sonja Bennett star in director Zoe Hopkins’s drama about a Kitasoo/Xai’Xais activist whose death inspires his 14-year-old niece to embark on a perilous journey through the Inside Passage to take his ashes home to a B.C. community threatened by a proposed pipeline.

Pickups — Art imitates life in this British drama, in which Game of Thrones star Aidan Gillen plays a sleep-deprived actor coping with sudden fame.