With today marking Victoria's 150th anniversary, the timing could not be better for the Victoria Film Festival to incorporate a memorable slice of the city's moviemaking history into the latest edition of its popular summer Free-B Film Festival.
Harry In Your Pocket, Bruce Geller's 1973 caper flick starring James Coburn as a master pickpocket who relocates his crew to Victoria and Salt Lake City when the heat is on in Seattle, is the highlight (Aug. 11) of the Beacon Hill Park film series.
The film, which also brought Michael Sarrazin, Trish Van Devere and Walter Pidgeon to town 40 years ago to shoot scenes featuring downtown, the legislature and the Fairmont Empress hotel, is one of four being shown.
The family-friendly festival of screenings at the Cameron Bandshell opens Saturday at 9 p.m. with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and will also feature Beetlejuice (Aug. 18) and War Games (Aug. 26).
"Harry is our little twist film this year, something out of the ordinary to let people know we're not complacent," said programmer Donovan Aikman, who wanted to showcase a madeinVictoria film not everyone automatically thinks of.
"It's not a title that immediately jumps into your head. When most people think about movies shot here, they think about Bird on a Wire or Excess Baggage, movies like that."
Dozens more have been filmed here, of course, such as X-Men, In the Land of Women and Fierce People.
Victoria's original film commissioner, Brian Small, credited legendary cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs with persuading the filmmakers to shoot here. While Kovacs was here to shoot scenes for Five Easy Pieces, he raved to Small over beers at the Imperial Inn about the quality of the light and the outdoor shots he got for that film. "He told me he was going to tell all of Hollywood about this very unique place," Small recalled. "Harry in Your Pocket was going to be shot mostly in Seattle, but Laszlo convinced them to come to Victoria."
Harry in Your Pocket opens with scenes at Sea-Tac Airport. The thieves take the Princess Marguerite ferry to Victoria and check into the Fairmont Empress, part of their plan to fit in with their wealthy marks.
Small recalled that when he was manager of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, then located in the old Bank of Commerce building on Fort Street, his staff watched elaborate pickpocket manoeuvres being filmed from a second-floor balcony.
"There was an elaborate theft near what's now the Bard and Banker," he said. "They were passing wallets into newspapers."
He said Van Devere and her then-fiancÃ©, George C. Scott, the Oscar-winning actor who went on to film scenes here for the 1980 horror movie The Changeling, ate daily at Sam's Deli.
While Jacqueline Bisset was here to shoot The Survivor's Club eight years ago, the actress recalled having vivid memories of her only other visit to Victoria - a pleasurable one with Sarrazin, her then-boyfriend, while he was doing Harry in Your Pocket.
"I remember spending the afternoon looking all over town because Walter said he missed good jam," Bisset said. "I said, 'I'm going to make a project of this,' and we just hit it off. He was so charming and pleased he had his jam for breakfast."
One reason Aikman booked Harry in Your Pocket was "because they didn't try to hide Victoria." The programmer chose the festival's other entries for equally good reasons.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is our most often requested film. It's generational," he said.
And why Beetlejuice, starring Michael Keaton as the demented "bio-exorcist"? "We have a longtime love affair with Tim Burton and everything he's made."
Although it's dated by today's standards, War Games was chosen because of its impact at the time, Aikman said of John Badham's 1983 thriller. It stars Matthew Broderick as a computer whiz who inadvertently triggers a potential Third World War.
Free-B festival showtimes are 9 p.m. Filmgoers should bring their own snacks and blankets.