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Sisters role a Glee-full detour for Monteith

ON SCREEN What: Victoria Film Festival When: Feb.
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Dustin Milligan, left, and Cory Monteith in Carl Bessai's Sisters & Brothers.

ON SCREEN

What: Victoria Film Festival

When: Feb. 3-12

Where: Empire Capitol 6, Odeon, Vic, Parkside Victoria, other venues

Cost: One-time festival membership fee (mandatory): $2

Tickets: $10 (features, shorts programs); five-feature tickets, $48; 10-feature tickets, $95; Film Pass (excludes gala, special events), $135; Gold Pass, $250; Platinum Pass, $500; Springboard Industry Pass, $250 or $125 for single-day pass, or $200 and $100 for ViFPA members; Springboard Student Pass, $75, with some restrictions.

Special Events: John Landis event, $25; Spotlight: Linda Blair, $20; Springboard Talks, $35, Swiss Design Exhibit, free

Note: Cash only accepted at the door.

Reservations: 250-389-0444 or visit 1215 Blanshard St., 10-4 Mon.-Sat.

For more information: victoriafilmfestival.com

When Cory Monteith flew into Vancouver to shoot Sisters & Brothers last year, it was a case of art imitating life.

The Victoria-raised Glee star turned heads, as he often does, when he walked through YVR with fellow actor Dustin Milligan (90210, Repeaters), stopping occasionally to sign autographs. But this was no ordinary trip home for these close friends.

Carl Bessai, the prolific writer-director known for his improvisational technique, filmed them as they picked up their bags and walked out of the airport - masquerading as Los Angeles International for his film, which weaves scenarios involving four sets of siblings.

"There were no four or five takes at the airport," Monteith, 29, recalled with a laugh. "It was all real as it happens. I was actually arriving in Vancouver and getting my baggage. We just pretended it was L.A."

In the film, part of the Victoria Film Festival beginning Friday, Monteith plays Justin, a selfabsorbed movie star whose relationship with his altruistic brother Rory (Milligan) is strained when he invites him to his Hollywood digs.

Any resemblance to his character is "purely coincidental," however, he maintains.

"I like to think I'm a little more real," says Monteith, whose character is clearly from the shallow end of the gene pool. "I think he's more swept up in the glamour and exclusivity of the position he is in, that I am also in."

Justin, a Hollywood chick magnet, represents something of a cautionary tale, says the Calgaryborn actor best known as Finn Hudson, McKinley High's good-natured musical quarterback in Fox's hit series, which has spawned concerts, albums and a 3-D movie.

"Gleeks" are already abuzz about "Finchell," as the romance between Finn and Rachel, Lea Michele's character, has been dubbed - especially now that Finn has proposed to her, a Glee development he had to keep secret for awhile.

"It was important that it be a shocker," says Monteith, who will be back for a fourth season with Michele and Chris Colfer. "Hopefully it was."

Monteith said he welcomed the chance to take a detour from Glee long enough to work with Bessai and reunite with Milligan on the indie film.

The actors shared an apartment on West Broadway and worked at True Confections dessert restaurant back in the day. "We've had a long relationship as friends, so it was very satisfying being able to work at that level of improvisation," he said.

The one-day guerrilla-style shoot took place at the airport, in an SUV, at a restaurant and at a luxury home in West Vancouver.

"It was a lot of fun stepping outside of what I'm usually doing on set. It's a bit of an exploration and it reminded me of the theatre classes I used to take with [Vancouver actor and coach] Gina Chiarelli. It felt like a very organic artistic experience."

Describing Bessai as "definitely an eccentric" with a clear artistic vision, Monteith said his faith in the director's skill helped him negotiate the highwire. "That's exactly what the project required - a great deal of trust in the filmmaker," he said.

"Because these four vignettes were all kind of stitched together, it required a lot of Carl in the editing room making everything copacetic."

Monteith is also featured, as narrator, in another festival entry close to his heart - Teaching the Life of Music. David New's documentary is about El Sistema, maestro José Abreu's celebrated program that provides underprivileged children and at-risk youths in Venezuela with free music education and instruments. It has inspired the creation of similar organizations worldwide.

"It couldn't be more aligned with what I want to do," says Monteith, who has played drums since he was seven and has firsthand experience with the transformative power of music. He has overcome his own problems, including substance abuse and "hooliganism" in his high school years.

The onetime Wal-Mart greeter and Bluebird Taxi driver famously landed his Glee gig after creatively drumming on Tupperware, glasses and coffee mugs with a pencil on his audition tape.

He says he can relate to how people's lives can be changed through the arts, the program's inspiring objective.

"That is absolutely synonymous with everything the show that I am on stands for, and any kind of impact I hope to have on people through my work," says Monteith.

He said he'll do anything he can to promote a system like El Sistema, and hopes the film will inspire others to do so.

Meanwhile, Monteith has other irons in the fire, including an EP he's working on with Bonnie Dune, the California indie rock band he plays drums with; offers to do Broadway - an opportunity he says he would love to seize when the time is right; and a heist film he's developing and will star in for Fox 2000.

Whichever way the wind blows, he says it will always bring him back to Victoria, where he brought Bonnie Dune last year. "It's an important place for me," he said. "It's always been a touchstone for me, and I'll always come back."

Sisters & Brothers screens Feb. 6 at 9: 30 p.m., and Feb. 11 at 2: 45 p.m. at the Odeon. Teaching the Life of Music screens Friday as part of the Mid Program: Living Music with Figaro On The Go at 7: 15 p.m. at Empire Capitol 6.

Watch an interview with Cory on "Teaching the life of Music

mreid@timescolonist.com