Victoria Film Festival an enduring attraction in the download age

While the jury’s still out on whether online piracy and the growing trend of films surfacing on Netflix or as video-on-demand titles will sound the death knell for theatrical distribution, Victoria Film Festival director Kathy Kay isn’t losing any sleep over it. Despite a new set of challenges facing global festival directors and programmers, she says the festival experience remains remarkably relevant.

“I think there’s still something very appealing about all these people coming together each year who are like-minded, anticipating a good experience,” said Kay, whose 10-day festival that opens Friday. The event celebrates its 21st anniversary this year, boosted by last year’s record-breaking attendance.

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That said, Kay admits it’s more challenging to put on every year.

Those challenges include not being able to book certain coveted films discovered at the Toronto International Film Festival because they’ve already surfaced on Blu-Ray or Netflix, she said. It doesn’t really surprise her that the friendly little film festival that could has lasted this long, however. Not that Kay wasn’t worried when they only had $853 in the bank after the first festival she helmed.

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“The demographics are shifting, but I think people still enjoy that human interaction. It’s like when TV came and they said it would kill the movies. But where else can you see the movies and meet the filmmakers?”

With 110 movies from 24 countries, including Australia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, the U.S. and the U.K., choices abound. Screenings are at Cineplex Odeon, the Vic, Star Cinema and Parkside Hotel.

The opening gala film Friday at the Odeon is Francois Girard’s Boychoir, starring Dustin Hoffman as an East Coast music school’s choirmaster who inspires a troubled new student. The action then moves to Noir, a nightclub at 1008 Government St. for a glitzy 1940s-themed opening-gala party, complete with cigarette girls with victory curls, tuxedoed waiters, swing dancers and the 20-piece Naden Band.

Locally sourced food will be provided by master chef Gilbert Noussitou and students of his Camosun College Professional Cook program.

Guests expected at the opening gala include Canadian comedians Mark McKinney of SNL and Kids in the Hall fame, and Ron James, both featured during this weekend’s In Conversation With…; Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky; New Mexico director Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest); Monsoon director Sturla Gunnarsson; and Tennis Pro, the Seattle indie rockers featured in John Jeffcoat’s comedy Big in Japan. (Tennis Pro will perform at a free pre-festival concert tonight at 9 at The Copper Owl on Douglas Street.)

The festival, which has always supported Canadian films, is outdoing itself this year, with 27 Canadian shorts, documentaries and features being showcased.

Victoria’s film industry is well-represented, with titles including Two 4 One, Maureen Bradley’s romantic comedy featuring a transgendered hero who gets pregnant; Gone South, the witty Les Bland/Ian Ferguson documentary on famous Canadians in Hollywood; and Trunk: The Movie, Martin DeValk’s thriller focusing on a stranger held captive in the trunk of a car driven by a murder victim’s vengeful mother. Attention-worthy local shorts include Connor Gaston’s Godhead, Michael Farrell’s Instance and Jeremy Lutter’s Gord’s Brother, starring Gracepoint’s Jack Irvine.

Programming highlights include a South Asian films showcase curated by Kristine Estorninos and Aram Siu Wai Collier, programmers for Toronto’s Reel Asian International Film Festival, and Indigenous New Wave, a program focusing on indigenous films curated by Michelle Latimer, the award-winning Metis/Algonquin filmmaker (Choke) and actor.

“The work you see in this program is a reclamation of history, a retelling of the past from a distinctly indigenous perspective,” says Latimer.

Indigenous highlights include Sundance fave Freeland’s Drunktown’s Finest, about three young Navajo characters who balance life on the reservation with their need to form their own identities; My Legacy, Helen Haig-Brown’s personal tale about the far-reaching impact of Canada’s residential-school system; and The Lodge, Terril Calder’s stop-motion animation feature on a British war bride’s view of the Canadian wilderness.

“We have a strong community of indigenous people who are under-served in terms of getting to see media,” says Kay, recalling that the festival was the first to screen 1998’s Smoke Signals in Canada.

The South Asian program, she adds, was the result of “wanting to honour who we are.” Says Kay: “It’s a big part of Victoria’s history that so many people came here from India in the late 1800s.”

Other specialty programs include Thrill Chill and French Canadian Wave.

One of Kay’s personal favourites this year is The Riot Club, Danish director Lone Scherfig’s shocking portrait of debauchery involving entitled, amoral members of the infamous Oxford University Club of the title. “Her films are usually quite grey, and you don’t usually judge people in her films, but this is quite different,” said Kay, who became a fan after showcasing Scherfig’s Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself 12 years ago.

She also recommends Daughter, Pakistan’s suspenseful foreign-language Oscar entry, focusing on a 10-year-old girl’s flight from a tribal leader six times her age she has been reluctantly betrothed to; and B for Boy, Chika Anadu’s drama about a Nigerian woman coping with her husband’s right to take a second wife since they haven’t produced a male heir.

“They’re both about different ancient cultures and how they deal with them,” she said. “That’s what a festival does. It’s about discovery and understanding.”

Festival-goers will also notice some eye-catchers this year, including a film-projection installation in the Atrium from 5 p.m. nightly; a double-decker-bus-cum-licensed-donor’s lounge parked outside the Odeon; and Scena Ex Machina, a collection of modified vintage technological devices turned into interactive sound and video sculptures by artists Scott Amos and David Parfit daily in the Bay Centre.

A selection of films, including Seventy-One Years, Nick Versteeg’s Avro Anson documentary, will also be screened at the Star Cinema in Sidney, and the Jammies & Toons animated-film programs should keep pajama-clad kids occupied on Family Day at the Vic at 11 a.m. with Song of the Sea, and at Mary Winspear Centre’s Charlie White Theatre at 3 p.m. with The Boy and the World.

Victoria Film Festival

  • Where: Cineplex Odeon, Vic Theatre, Star Cinema, Parkside Hotel & Spa
  • When: Feb. 6-15
  • Tickets: $10 per feature/short film program
  • Note: Film festival membership ($2) required
  • Five-feature tickets: $48; 10-feature tickets: $96
  • Film Pass (all screenings, excluding opening gala, special event films): $145
  • Gold Pass (all screenings, opening gala, end-of-festival bash, In Conversation With...): $325
  • Platinum Pass (all screenings, opening gala, end-of-festival bash, Springboard Industry Pass access, Sips n Cinema; reserved seating up to 20 minutes before showtime): $600.
  • Sidney Pass (all regular screenings in Sidney): $99

How to buy tickets

Special events

  • Opening gala, film and reception: $65
  • Sips ‘n Cinema: sold out
  • In Conversation With…: $25
  • Springboard Industry Pass: includes Friday’s opening talk, panel & pitch, networking receptions, In Conversation With…: $99
  • Springboard Friday talks, panel and pitch: $20
  • End of Festival bash (Lucky Bar, Feb. 15, 9 p.m.): $15
  • Family Day Films: $7
  • Interactive Media Exhibit: free


(Friday, Parkside Hotel & Spa)

  • 1 p.m.: The Changing State of Media, hour-long talk by Harold Gronenthal
  • 2:30 p.m.: Net Neutrality, panel discussion
  • 4 p.m.: BravoFACT Pitching Competition (90 minutes)
  • Hosted by Pat Ferns. Five filmmakers are given 10 minutes each to pitch the most promising short-film idea to four judges. The winning pitch receives a $35,000 award.

In Conversation With 

(Saturday and Sunday, 90 minutes each, Vic Theatre)

  • Interviewer: CTV Canada AM’s film critic Richard Crouse
  • Saturday, 11:30 a.m.: Comedian Ron James spins anecdotes, reflects on Second City days, The Ron James Show, Blackfly. Post-interview screening: Amarcord
  • Sunday, 11:30 a.m.: Comedian Mark McKinney recalls his career as a performer, writer and producer, reminisces about Kids in the Hall, Slings and Arrows, working with Lorne Michaels, Aaron Sorkin etc.
  • Post-interview screening: Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy

Family Day programs

  • Jammies and Toons, includes a bowl of cereal (Feb. 9):
  • Vic Theatre, 11 a.m.: Song of the Sea
  • 6 p.m. The Boy and the World.
  • Charlie White Theatre, 3 p.m.: The Boy and the World

FILMCAN screenings

  • Online video competition senior category and junior category winners screen before Sunshine Superman (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Feb. 10, 9:45 p.m., Cineplex Odeon) and Song of the Sea (Feb. 9, 11 a.m., Vic Theatre)

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