Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

All for the love of film

No, Farts of Fury doesn't refer to the potential consequences of munching too much popcorn at the Victoria Film Festival. Nor does A Little Bit Zombie necessarily sum up how you might feel if you watch too many of the films it showcases.
Victoria Film Festival director Kathy Kay took the helm of the festival 15 years ago and is still going strong. (Jan. 2012)

No, Farts of Fury doesn't refer to the potential consequences of munching too much popcorn at the Victoria Film Festival. Nor does A Little Bit Zombie necessarily sum up how you might feel if you watch too many of the films it showcases. And Donovan's Echo doesn't describe programmer Donovan Aikman's state of mind after he screens films for 10 days straight.

They're three of nearly 150 films - including 78 features and documentaries combined, 13 animated films and 44 shorts - on the menu once the pink carpet is rolled out for the 18th annual cinematic smorgasbord. The festival begins Friday at Empire Capitol 6 with House of Pleasures, Bertrand Bonello's artfully erotic excursion into a brothel's final days in Paris of 1900.

After the opening-gala presentation, ticket holders head to the Atrium for a dance party, complete with a homage to classic film and the Maiden Blush, a themed cocktail that combines gin, absinthe and grenadine.

This year's typically eclectic lineup includes two world premières, six Canadian premières and 14 B.C. premières of films from 30 countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Spain and Turkey.

Farts of Fury, incidentally, is the English title of an Estonian comedy about beerbellied rockers who reunite 35 years after their breakup. A Little Bit Zombie is Casey Walker's Canuck zombiemovie spoof. On a more sombre note, Donovan's Echo stars Danny Glover as an alcoholic physicist plagued with premonitions years after the tragic death of his wife and daughter.

As global in scope as Victoria's popular film showcase has become since festival director Kathy Kay took the helm 15 years ago, it hasn't lost its homegrown perspective. It's not only the consistently strong Canadian content - expect 53 Canuck flicks this year, more than twice as many as the U.S. entries - but cinematic treasures that hit closer to home.

Of particular local interest is Edwin Boyd, Nathan Morlando's acclaimed feature starring Scott Speedman as the notorious post-Second World War-era bank robber. Described as Canada's John Dillinger, the charismatic war veteran who robbed banks to feed his family died nine years ago right here in Victoria, where he had remarried and lived under an assumed identity.

Victoria native Cory Monteith of Glee fame also has a notable presence at the festival, as narrator of Teaching the Life of Music, David New's documentary about how music is transforming the lives of atrisk youths in Venezuela, and as a Hollywood movie star who comes into conflict with his brother (Dustin Milligan) in Carl Bessai's Sisters and Brothers.

The festival will turn the spotlight on Emily Carr in Bone Wind Fire, Jill Sharpe's intimate documentary on the creative process of not just the iconic Victoria artist but Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo. Art Makosinski brings a local story into focus in Figaro on the Go, which follows St. Michaels University School music teacher Duncan Frater as he puts his junior school students through the paces for their 2010 production of the opera The Barber of Seville.

The Whale, Michael Parfit's and Suzanne Chisholm's retooled version of their beloved documentary Saving Luna, now with actor Ryan Reynolds on board as narrator, will also make a splash at the Victoria Independent Film Professionals Association's showcase. Local highlights on the shorts front include Jeremy Lutter's quirky girland-her-robot charmer Joanna Makes A Friend and Behind the Scenes: Victoria, eight shorts commissioned by the Victoria Foundation inspired by the link between arts and the community.

This year's cast of characters is nothing if not diverse. Expect gangsters (Bullhead), vampires (Midnight Son), separated twins (Lone Twin), lovers with issues (Nuit #1), conflicted TV puppeteers (Sunflower Hour), venture capitalists (Something Ventured), aging lesbians (Cloudburst), reformed dictators (The Redemption of General Butt Naked), jazz singers (The Girls in the Band), anti-graffiti vigilantes (Vigilante, Vigilante) and even a troubled hockey superstar (Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire).

It underscores this littlefestival-that-grew's reputation as being not just filmmakerfriendly, but notably inclusive.

"That's why so many people come, I think," says Kay. "They know they're going to find something different."

Kay makes no apologies for expanding the repertoire to include more "geek-friendly" movies, such as the campy Japanese gorefests Deadball and Mutant Girls Squad - part of a horror showcase in honour of guest Linda Blair of The Exorcist fame. Other offbeat entries include Lloyd the Conquerer, Michael Peterson's romp about fanatical LARPS (live action role players); Tatsumi, a tribute to comics artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi; and Dragonslayer, a portrait of skateboarding man-child Josh "Skreech" Sandoval.

"I love my geeks," says Kay, laughing. "We try to program for different groups. We want to hit all the marks."

She says the Victoria festival has reached the point where it's no longer perceived as "the new kid on the block," with a corresponding increase in submissions and recognition in the global community and by trade publications. At the same time, it's more of a challenge to stand out in a growing crowd of film festivals worldwide and to fulfil expectations.

"We're always trying to think of new ways to stimulate audiences so they feel engaged," she says. "There's so much competition now with big-screen TVs and easier access to film. This is what we do for a living, so we try to do special things."

The Sips 'n' Cinema program is now pairing films with post-screening cocktails, not just wine, for instance. The second House of Pleasures screening Feb. 12 is followed by cocktails at Veneto (advance tickets are sold out), while the Sisters and Brothers screening Feb. 11 is paired with wine at Saffron Bistro at Swans.

And in honour of special guest director John Landis, this will mark the first year a "Quote-Along" film (his 1980 comedy The Blues Brothers) will be shown. CTV film critic Richard Crouse will interview the Hollywood filmmaker onstage before the screening Saturday at the Vic.

Other guests include Stephen McHattie (The History of Violence), who plays a deranged zombie hunter in A Little Bit Zombie; co-star Crystal Lowe; Matt Frewer (Watchmen, Max Headroom), featured in the quirky Canadian road flick Foreverland; and Lloyd the Conquerer star Evan Williams (DeGrassi: The Next Generation).

Still, you don't want to fix what ain't broke, so expect more showcases of French and Italian films, adds Kay. "There's a strong core group of Italians here, and UVic has a strong Italian program, so the demand is there."

Since films for foodies have always been a recipe for success, organizers have high hopes for the German documentary Taste the Waste, about how too much of what we eat is thrown away, along with Sushi: The Global Catch, and Bon Appetit, a romantic comedy about a Spanish gourmet chef who falls for a German sommelier.

A new program, Feast and Film, is also on the menu. It will pair a three-course dinner at Spinnakers with a screening at Capitol 6 of To Make a Farm, Steve Suderman's film documenting a year in the life of new farmers whose labour is resulting in social change.

Also being retained are Future Perfect and Pleasure Paradox. The first showcases films about the benefits and downsides of futuristic developments, while the theme of the second is pleasure-inducing experiences that can have a flip side.

Kay is also reviving Springboard, the opening weekend series of lectures, workshops and networking events for film-and televisionindustry players.

A hot Springboard addition this year is an inaugural "pitching competition," with a $10,000 US grant for producers who successfully pitch proposals for two new documentary series being developed by Seattle public television station KCTS.

One of the most rewarding programs, Kay says, is World Perspective, which features entries from independent filmmakers around the world whose achievements haven't entered the mainstream or who might not have gained name recognition yet.

She likens it to Victoria's defunct Harpo's Cabaret, where musicians such as k.d. lang and Pearl Jam played before becoming famous.

"They brought people in you'd never heard of, but years later they're huge."

Festivalgoers got the chance to see Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in films such as Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002) and Adam's Apples (2005), for example, before he achieved fame as Le Chiffre in the James Bond remake of Casino Royale.

"No one had heard of him, but he's a very interesting actor to watch," said Kay. "That's why people come: to discover."

[email protected]