Victoria Film Festival: Take your seats and enjoy the show

What: 24th Annual Victoria Film Festival
Where: Various venues, including the Victoria Conference Centre, The Vic Theatre, Capitol 6, Odeon 5, SilverCity
When: Friday through Feb. 11
Information: VictoriaFilmFestival.com

The steady journey of the Victoria Film Festival — from modest beginnings to an event expected to draw 23,000 patrons this year — is something that fills festival director Kathy Kay with pride.

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“I feel like we’ve done a good job,” Kay said. “A lot of festivals have come and gone over the years, so it is something to have it be sustained for so long.”

Kay, who has been with the festival for 21 of its 24 years, points to the schedule of events as evidence of the festival’s continued success. This year’s 10-day event will showcase a record 73 feature films — up from 23 during the festival’s early days.

And with offerings ranging from animated shorts to feature-length documentaries, the variety of titles and countries of origin remains healthier than ever.

Films from the U.K., Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan, India and China are in the lineup this year, along with showcases for Canadian, French Canadian and Indigenous films and filmmakers.

“We have a really strong Indigenous program, and that evolved naturally over the years,” Kay said.

“We started off screening one or two Indigenous films, but finally we realized there was a real need for them here.”

The variety on offer is a testament to Kay and her team, which includes head programmer Donovan Aikman, several genre-specific guest programmers and members of a final selection committee.

The team had 800 submissions to sort through this year. Coupled with films the Victoria programmers sought out and Kay — who travelled to Scotland in search of films — puts the number of films contending to be screened at more than 1,000.

“It’s not like all the films come through on our call for entry. We go out to other film festivals and see them.

“Sometimes we’re championing particular films ourselves, so we’re always trying to make space for more films so that everything people like gets in.”

Only 120 made the final cut.

Six films will make their Canadian premières at the Victoria Film Festival, joining 36 B.C. premières and 28 hometown premières.

Opening-night festivities at the Bay Centre on Friday will feature appearances by Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen (starring in Pickups, playing Feb. 3), Indigenous filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (Our People Will Be Healed, Feb. 3) and gay writer Armistead Maupin (The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, Feb. 4 and 6), among others.

Kay expects a big reaction for Gillen, whose Game of Thrones character, Petyr (Littlefinger) Baelish, is a huge fan favourite. But Maupin, who Kay calls “inspiring and groundbreaking,” could also make an impact on a busy opening night.

Cory Bowles (who plays Cory in the hit TV series The Trailer Park Boys) will attend the festival this year to showcase his first feature film, the award-winning Black Cop (Feb. 3 and 5).

Bowles visited the festival last year, but Kay is happy to give him an even bigger pedestal in 2018.

“He kind of went by pretty much unnoticed last year, and now he’s one of our jurors and is coming back with a feature film.”

Ten venues are taking part in the festival, with a variety of offerings, from virtual-reality workshops to filmmaker-fan meet-and-greets. A thread of discovery runs through it all.

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me (Feb. 8 and 9) is a film that some might write off “as a piece of fluff,” which would be a shame, Kay said.

“It’s fascinating. It opens up your mind and puts things in perspective for you. History kind of rolls over some people, and you don’t really look back and try and piece it together and find the deeper meaning sometimes. Things like a documentary about Sammy Davis Jr. does that, and in an interesting way.”

Perceptive patrons will also recognize a distinct British presence, with several films guest-programmed by Jo Duncombe from the U.K.’s Independent Cinema Office to reflect contemporary Britain.

The Party (Feb. 2 and 4), Edie (Feb. 9 and 10) and Pickups, the Gillen vehicle making its North American debut, all touch on the impact of Brexit. Some of these films will provoke much discussion, Kay said. “This year, we’ve got some great ones for that.”

Kay said the festival isn’t directly addressing the injustices of Hollywood and subsequent MeToo movement, but it isn’t avoiding hot topics, either. The Victoria Film Festival brass has always programmed films by, for and about women, Kay said.

“I think if you look at our program, there’s a good number of films by women directors, on subjects about women.

“But I think we’ve always tried to be broad and diverse like that. What’s been going on hasn’t affected us.

“It’s about the artist making the film, but it’s also about offering films from underserved communities. That’s our mandate. That’s our job.

“Film has such a big impact that if you see more lifestyles that are different, or more philosophical viewpoints, you start to rethink your little narrow world. That has always been my goal, to broaden that.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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