Big Picture: Film fest begins to unspool

Is it really that time of year again?

The question many of us have asked as Christmas looms larger could as easily refer to film-festival season.

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No sooner had the closing credits rolled on last weekend’s Whistler Film Festival than we were reminded that the Victoria Film Festival’s launch is less than a month away.

While the 22nd edition of Victoria’s 10-day festival doesn’t unspool until Feb. 5, the buzz begins at Pescatore’s on Jan. 5, when the 2016 programs hit the streets.

As always, you can get a sneak peek in this space, with more information being rolled out incrementally on the festival’s revamped website.

For now, festival director Kathy Kay isn’t above revealing some teasers and the festival’s 2016 poster with its new “Bring Your Eyeballs” tagline.

While our star quotient might not include Whistler festival magnets such as Kiefer Sutherland, who was there for a tribute and to promote his western Forsaken, anything can happen on the celebrity front.

Let’s not forget Barry Pepper’s surprise appearance here in 2009, when Like Dandelion Dust, in which he played an abusive steelworker trying to turn his life around, was shown.

While it’s anybody’s guess which of the 150 films screening at venues including Cineplex Odeon, Vic Theatre and Sidney’s Star Cinema will be hot tickets, Kay assures us its opening gala will be dreamy.

“We thought it would be fun to do dreams and breakfast this year,” she said, referring to the gala’s dominant theme in a spacious, to-be-announceddowntown venue.

“Guests will be able to walk through three dreams — sweet dreams, bad dreams and wet dreams,” teased Kay, whose themed opening galas are legendary.

And who better than Sigmund Freud (or a reasonable facsimile) as tour guide through a cinematic dreamscape. While further details are still under wraps, we do know there will be gourmet treats from Camosun College cooks-program students, wine from DeVine Vineyards, craft beer and cider from Spinnakers Gastropub and cocktails courtesy of Ampersand Distilling.

“It makes sense because Victoria is all about breakfast,” adds communications co-ordinator Fulya Ozkul, referring to eateries such as Shine Café, Jam, John’s Place and the Blue Fox that consistently draw lineups.

Pyjamas are optional at the gala, just as they are at the Vic during the festival’s popular Jammies and Toons program. And for those who need encouragement, a giant cereal box will figure prominently.

While we’re thinking outside the box, here’s another offbeat element: To mark the return of Converge, the festival’s mobile short films showcase, Victoria City Hall’s clock tower will become a mini-venue.

Kay has confirmed that one of the festival’s biggest fans, Toronto filmmaker Larry Weinstein, will be back, this time for the world première of Devil’s Horn, his new documentary on the history of the saxophone.

Weinstein, whose local premières have included Inside Hana’s Suitcase, Mozartballs and Mulroney: The Opera when it was a work-in-progress, explores the dark side of the instrument once banned by the Nazis.

Hometown premières include The Devout, Victoria filmmaker Connor Gaston’s crisis-of-faith drama starring Ali Liebert and Charlie Carrick that was filmed in the capital region, and When Elephants Were Young, Patricia Sims’s documentary narrated by William Shatner that explores the plight of endangered elephants through the story of a Bangkok street beggar and his young elephant.

Brian D. Johnson, the former Maclean’s magazine film critic, also returns to the festival, but this time from behind the camera as director of Al Purdy Was Here, his debut documentary about the Canadian poet.

Another potentially popular attraction is Into the Forest, Canadian director Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jean Hegland’s novel. The drama, set in the near future, stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as two resourceful sisters who must fight for survival after a blackout with long-term consequences at their home in the Northern California wilderness.

Other festival highlights include a CineVic retrospective in honour of the local film collective’s 25th anniversary, and an expanded Sips ’n’ Cinema program, with screenings paired with wine and cocktail receptions at 10 Acres Bistro and the Churchill, respectively.

Meanwhile, festival vouchers for cinephiles on your Christmas gift list are available until Dec. 22 by calling 250-389-0444 or visiting the festival office, 1215 Blanshard St., weekdays from 9-5.

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