Around Town: Film buffs converge for sneak peek at festival

Maybe it’s because the Commons, the airy, industrial-chic new venue that arose from Pescatore’s massive makeover last year, is a more spacious Victoria Film Festival launch party venue than Oyster once was.

At restaurateur Mike Murphy’s bustling, intimate Humboldt street hotspot, cinephiles literally had to rub shoulders.

Now, Oyster, adjacent to the Commons, has become an integral part of his dazzling, three-tiered bigger picture.

Or perhaps this year’s event had a distinctly different vibe because of festival director Kathy Kay’s decision to reveal some film titles weeks before the program-guide launch for a change.

While there was excitement about the 2016 edition of the 10-day festival, which begins  Feb. 5, the atmosphere seemed more relaxed than usual.

“I feel more prepared than ever,” said Kay, appearing laid-back as she and programmer Donovan Aikman welcomed  guests to Tuesday night’s sneak preview of the 22nd annual festival.

It also helped that Aikman had confirmed this year’s titles by the end of November, allowing for some pre-Christmas announcements that Kay felt would give fans more time to plan.

“It’s always such a big push, and [in the past], we weren’t confirming some films until the day before the program guide goes to bed, which is so stressful.”

While we already knew such films as Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men & Chicken and Icelandic filmmaker Dagur Kari’s Virgin Mountain were on the movie menu, there were enough revelations at the launch party to get people talking.

The 125-plus crowd was the first to learn that Philippe Falardeau’s new film My Internship in Canada would be the opening gala presentation, that guests would include Mad Men producer Semi Chellas, and that The Girl in the Photographs, the Victoria-made horror film executive-produced by the late Wes Craven, was on the roster.

Another hot topic was the return of Converge, which will screen films at 30 pop-up cinemas, including the Victoria City Hall clock tower, and kick off with a big street party on Broad Street.

“There’s a bit of a steep learning curve, technology-wise,” said  Matthew Payne, the Theatre SKAM artistic producer who is  helming the offbeat program.

“Converge is pretty related to the work I do as a theatre producer, seeking out unique locations, except in this case I’m animating them with film.”

Familiar faces included Victoria-based filmmaker Patricia Sims, looking dazzling in her faux fur Dr. Zhivago-style pillbox hat, and cinematographer and editor Michael Clark.

Sims said she was as excited about having their documentary When Elephants Were Young make its hometown première here as they were about its world première at last month’s Whistler Film Festival.

“We’re excited about bringing it here because this is where it all began and where World Elephant Day was more or less born,” said Sims.

Clark joked that they talked so much during a 90-minute Q&A after a Whistler screening, they had to be kicked out.

“It’s not just a film. It’s become a part of our life, a chapter,” he said, comparing their cinematic labour of love to having a kid. “You never get tired of talking about your kid.”

Mary Galloway, the Qualicum Beach-raised First Nations filmmaker who was awarded $35,000 at last year’s festival to develop her short film Ariel Unraveling, was accompanied by her mother, Lucy.

“I’m her No. 1 fan,” said Lucy, whose daughter’s short as well as Fire Song, a feature she stars in, are being showcased.

“This festival is what started it all,” said Galloway. “I hadn’t taken a chance with my writing before I came here. I kept it to myself and winning the [BravoFACT] pitch contest gave me the confidence to write more.”

Connor Gaston, whose feature debut The Devout, makes its hometown première, was also surrounded by fans, albeit not as many as in Busan, South Korea, where it made its world première last October.

“I signed 200 autographs after both screenings,” said Gaston.

“People thought we must be famous, maybe because I’m white or have a big movie, even though it’s a tiny indie you shot in your own backyard.”

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