Victoria Film Festival announces 2021 virtual lineup

Tickets for the Victoria Film Festival went on sale Monday. In recent years, that was a mark-your-calendar event of considerable proportions.

Here’s the good news: Now that the festival has switched to an online-only format for its upcoming 27th edition, those who had problems securing tickets for previous editions can breathe a little easier. The new format means everyone in B.C. can secure a seat at a screening.

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“The concern used to always be that a film could sell out, and that was part of the fun of the film festival that is going to be missing,” said festival director Kathy Kay. “But now, you can wait to buy your tickets or your passes because they will always be available.”

Less competition for seats should result in increased viewership totals this year. And while the number of feature films in competition — 50 — is down considerably from last year’s 82, that decision was made with the filmgoer in mind. With fewer films to schedule, Kay expects elements to change before its Feb. 5 start date. “We decided to go for fewer films so that we would have more wiggle room.”

All-in Madonna, the first feature-length film from Victoria director and former Times Colonist photographer Arnold Lim, is among a bevvy of must-see features and shorts at the festival. Oscar contenders from Iceland (Agnes Joy), Sweden (Charter), and Venezuela (Once Upon a Time in Venezuela) are also big draws, but Kay suspects the Canadian premiere of The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth, and Chinese action film Skyfire, from Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider director Simon West, could bring the most buzz.

Kay said she is trying to secure Firth — who has a son with Victoria resident Meg Tilly — for a Q&A session that will follow the screening of his film, one of many scheduled with actors and directors during the 10-day festival.

“We’re hoping to get him,” Kay said. “We’re not saying he’s going to do it, but we’re going to try over the nexty couple of weeks.”

The festival was changing on a daily basis at one point. Kay was looking at a hybrid festival as recently as November, before provincial health protocols curtailed her ability to host in-person screenings. When the festival was forced to move entirely online, she looked at what other festivals were doing with online-only programming. “We called several to see how it went,” Kay said. “The feedback has been very positive.”

In some cases, Kay and her staff were at the mercy of distributors, some of whom were unsure about releasing their product during the pandemic. Falling For Figaro, the festival’s opening-night film, was pulled from the line-up on Friday, after its distributor changed its promotional plans. “Everybody [in the industry] is trying to figure out what to do,” Kay said.

“It has been a bit nutty.”

Tickets for the festival, which runs Feb. 5–14, are available now for $8 (for a single screening) or $79 (for an all-access subscription) from victoriafilmfestival.com.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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