Irreverent comedy takes top honours at Victoria Film Festival

A surreal Belgian comedy that puts a wildly irreverent spin on the New Testament took top honours Sunday night at Lucky Bar as the curtain fell on the 22nd annual Victoria Film Festival.

The Brand New Testament, Jaco Van Dormael’s dark theological comedy that imagines God as a control-freak who lives in Brussels with his wife and rebellious daughter, was named best feature film.

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A drama that explores faith in a provocative but more conventional manner — Victoria-based filmmaker Connor Gaston’s The Devout — walked off with the prize for best Canadian feature.

The awards were announced during the End of Festival bash marking the end of the 10-day festival that showcased 160 features, documentaries, shorts and animated films.

The prize for best documentary went to Andrew Marchand-Boddy and Jean-Sebastien Francoeur for The Roots Remain, their moving and visually striking portrait of Fonki, a Montreal-raised graffiti artist of Cambodian descent. While chronicling the charismatic artist’s therapeutic attempts to memorialize victims of the Cambodian genocide, the film is also a hopeful plea from the younger generation for Cambodian renewal.

Amanda Strong and Bracken Hanuse Corlett collected the best animated short award for Mia’, their eight-minute film in which a young indigenous artist paints scenes rooted in her people’s supernatural history.

Stacey Ashworth won the Metropol Audience Favourite Short award for No Breath Play, her 13-minute film observing a reclusive woman’s botched experiment with BDSM (Bondage Domination Sadism Masochism).

Tanna, the Australian feature set in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, received the Cineplex Entertainment Audience Favourite Award. The film observes the troubling impact of inter-tribal warfare on a young girl’s relationship with a tribal chief’s grandson, and their moral dilemma when she is betrothed as part of a peace deal. It made its Canadian premiere and was presented by the non-profit Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project.

The festival’s inaugural Cultural Currents Award was awarded to Chinese filmmaker Chouchou Ou for The Grand Song, her epic romance featuring songs that reflect the culture of China’s Dong ethnic minority.

The Beijing Film Academy graduate flew in from China with the film’s star Haoran Xiao and crew for the film’s world première last Monday at Cineplex Odeon.

The new award, was introduced to honour outstanding achievements that capture the essence of a unique society, said festival spokeswoman Fulya Ozkul.

Christelle Alde, a grade 11 student at Claremont Secondary School, won the FilmCAN Sr. student competition senior category award for Brainwashed, her short about how advertisements “brainwash” viewers.

The FilmCAN Jr.award went to Kalaya Jae, Elliot Smith, Josie O'Brien, Jessica Soule, Genevieve Gwillim and Jordyn Mercer for Mischief in the Makeup Room.

There appeared to a higher than usual number of sellouts this year, and festival organizers said they hoped to bring some of the most popular entries back for engagements at the Vic Theatre.

Other popular entries included When Elephants Were Young, Into the Forest, Summertime, Handmade in Love with France, The Steps, Valley of Love, Demimonde, Our Little Sister and Foodies.

The Girl in the Photographs, director Nick Simon’s horror movie starring Kal Penn that filmed here last year, also drew a large crowd at the Vic on Friday night, with several crew in attendance.

During a post-screening Q&A producer Thomas Mahoney said they had such a good time he wouldn’t hesitate returning with another project he has in development.

The 23rd annual Victoria Film Festival takes place Feb. 3-12, 2017.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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