Qualicum-raised filmmaker’s pitch wows festival judges

It’s amazing how a film festival that isn’t star-driven can generate such excitement, reflected again in its huge opening-weekend attendance.

Monday’s sold-out screening of the Irish animated adventure Song of the Sea, repeating Saturday at Star Cinema, was one of many that have drawn capacity crowds so far.

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Other sellouts included Gone South, National Gallery and Clouds of Sils Maria. (Note: A limited number of unclaimed tickets allotted to passholders can become available at showtime, even at sold-out shows.)

Vancouver-based filmmaker Mary Galloway’s excitement was palpable after she was awarded $35,000 to develop her short film Ariel Unraveling.

Galloway and four other finalists were given 10 minutes each to pitch their project to a panel of four-judges during the inaugural BravoFACT Pitch Contest, with pitching pioneer Pat Ferns presiding.

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“When she got the result she was out of her chair and shrieking in the arms of her mentor,” said Ferns, adding that in his 30 years of hearing pitches, this year’s was the highest-quality he has heard yet in Victoria.

“What was compelling was that while we liked her project on paper, it really came alive when she pitched it. I think it married her passion with experience from very good mentors.”

The young aboriginal filmmaker is being mentored by producer Patrick Sabongui and director Carmen Moore.

“Her strength is she’s dealing with a hot-issue subject told in a very innovative and compelling manner,” Ferns said.

Qualicum Beach-raised Galloway says she was inspired by the lack of substantial roles for women, something she noticed after graduating from acting school. “I felt underwhelmed because they lack the layered personalities lots of women have,” she said. “They tend to be for sex appeal, or as the love interest, so I decided to write my own.”

Her story focuses on Arielle, a girl locked in her basement for 10 years by her drug-addicted mother, with only her The Little Mermaid DVD for entertainment.

“It becomes her basis for what’s going on outside in the real world,” says Galloway, whose heroine gets to set foot in “the real world for the first time” when fate intervenes.

Arielle’s world view comes alive through animated sequences. Her character regards a fork, for instance, as a “valuable treasure” used to comb her hair.

Galloway developed the concept after she moved to Vancouver and had a wake-up call about “how scary the world can be.” She said the fairy tales she grew up with didn’t prepare her for that.

“They taught me that when I grow up, I’m going to find my Prince Charming, and he’s going to rescue me and we’ll live happily ever.”

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Brigitte Pogonet, star of Autrui (The Altruist), took the words out of my mouth when she described iconic Quebec actress and filmmaker Micheline Lanctot’s directorial style as “uncompromising” after her film’s Canadian première.

Pogonet plays Lucie, an unfulfilled young woman whose life-changing experience after taking in Eloi (Robin Aubert), a brutish homeless man, propels the powerful and affecting drama that defies expectations.

“She’s a director with good instincts … a really brilliant woman. It was such a privilege to work with her,” said Pogonet, whose experience with the material was having helped feed homeless people in her youth.

Aubert was so convincing as the bearded, grunting and filthy alcoholic Lucie tries to help that he was mistaken for a real vagrant during shooting in Montreal, Pogonet said.

When Aubert sat down in front of a storefront during a break, the shopkeeper asked him to move along, she recalled.

“He had to face out so his back was to people and they were not looking at him.”

Pogonet was part of the lively, chatty Quebec contingent here to present an expanded version of La Tournée du Cinema Québécois, programmed by Francois Lemieux.

“This is the fun part for us, because directors and actors get to meet the audience,” said Lemieux, who, after bringing Quebec films here each year for Victoria’s francophone community, felt it was time to expand. “It was time for us to open the window more, and partnering with the festival gave us the chance to bring five movies for the first time.”

Others are Denys Arcand’s An Eye for Beauty; Martin Talbot’s Henri, Henri; Denis Cote’s Joy of Man’s Desiring; and Stranger in a Cab, Patrick Gaze’s film about a Montreal cab driver who gets a new lease on life.

“We make films to show them,” said Gaze during a reception at the Union Club.

While Quebec cinema is flourishing, with films such as Xavier Dolan’s Mommy attracting international attention, the province isn’t immune to industry-wide economic challenges, Gaze said. “Even with successes like [Denis] Villeneuve and [Jean-Marc] Vallée pulling everyone in, it’s hard for all the others,” he said. “There are fewer people overall going to see Quebec films, even in Quebec.”

mreid@timescolonist.com

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