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The 2005 Victoria Film Festival - First Five Days Diary

Victoria Film Fest Underway until Feb. 13th...www.vifvf.com
by Jason Whyte

The first weekend of this year’s Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival first appeared to be a bit quieter and more subdued than the Victoria festivals I have been to in previous years. I began to think to myself; “Yo, Jay Man, it may be the concentration of films over celebrities, that they want to concentrate on the films instead of the people. Just chill, yo, watch some flicks and relax the noggin’, the nugget. Word.” (Oh, but of course, this is how I really talk to myself!). And then I started getting the party invites. Parties and free booze don’t mix, I’ll say that much. The films were there, to be sure, but as I was going between the screenings, panels and parties, I became aware that the festival is growing in maturity. The interaction is growing. The festival isn’t perfect, of course, but overall the Victoria Festival is chugging along nicely. So nice, in fact, that I was willing to forgive the odd choices in weather throughout the weekend as I navigated around the happenings.

When I did my coverage of the five days last year, I did it in a quote by quote format. I thought I would try something different this year, so here is a day by day, event by event rundown of my perspective of this year’s film festival:

Friday:

6:00-7:00pm: I arrived at the Odeon 7 cinema, dressed and groomed, for the screening of “Rory O’Shea Was Here” (3.5/5), which was the counter-opening film to “Jimmywork”, Simon Sauve’s documentary which opens the festival (read my full review of the film HERE) across the street at the Capitol 6. I located my seat in the Odeon and then zipped across the street to find, just like last year, the large red carpet infront of the theatre to welcome guests. I walked upstairs to find Mr. Sauve talking with local television media and hovering around the entrance to the theatre.

Earlier in the day, I had to miss the annual Triple Shot Talks event where Simon was being interviewed with Monday Magazine’s John Threlfall at the Solstice Café, so I was finally able to shake hands with Simon at this event. After meeting Simon, I was also introduced to Santiago Hidalgo, who is also involved in “Jimmywork” but the film’s distributor, Atopia Films. Moments later, a familiar face arrived in the form of Graham Peat of showamovie.ca and Videomatica video store (a huge rental/sales store in Vancouver), who is covering and introducing screenings at about the same running speed as I am.

The incomparable Kathy Kay, the director of the festival, soon arrived with a beaming smile on her face. Kay, who bares a resemblance to Sookie on TV’s Gilmore Girls, seemed wide-eyed that another year of the festival is kicking off. My festival publicist, Nora Arajs, looked as sleepless as I knew I was going to be in a couple of days. Kathy introduced the screening of “Jimmywork” followed by Simon saying hello to the audience and saying, simply, “This is my movie. Enjoy!” I looked at my watch: 6:59.

7:00-8:45pm: I ran back across the street to the packed Odeon cinema and was just in time for “Rory O’Shea Was Here” (3.5/5), an Irish/UK co-production starring James McAvoy as Rory, a loud, brash teenager with muscular dystrophy who arrives at a home care facility and doesn’t fit in with the quieter surroundings. He finds a friend in Michael (Steven Robertson) who has cerebral palsy and whose mumbling dialogue is easily understood by Rory. Rory and Michael eventually make their way out of the home and into the world, and hire a young woman named Siobhan (the beautiful Romola Garai from “I Capture The Castle”) to care for them. The film has an undeniable charm and works strongly on the main performances, although it tends to lose steam towards the end as Michael comes to fall in love with Siobhan. Still, the film survives on the strength of its lead actors.

9:00pm-12:30am: I jumped in a shuttle and found myself moments later at The Opening Gala party at Laurel Point Inn. And like last year, it kicked off in the exact same rockin’ style, with the Vic High School singers doing their thing while DJ Tyger Dhula also provided some support. I arrived to find Simon and Santiago near the entrance talking with the brother of Jimmy Weber from the “Jimmywork” film. “The party is this way!” I exclaimed to the shy filmmakers as I approached the main party room.

I soon found my colleague/competition (but friendly competition), entertainment writer Michael D. Reid of the local Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper working the crowd. I may be jealous about the guy’s job and hope he gets hit by a… surely I jest; Michael’s the man, a gifted journalist who can give a five-star review to “Sideways” and keep the lines forming around the downtown Odeon cinema for months after opening. When he sees something good he makes it known and gets the people to see it.

Shortly afterwards, I spotted cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (“Five Easy Pieces”, “Easy Rider”, “Ghostbusters”) hanging around near the dance floor. I approached this legend very carefully, using tact and discretion. “Yo, wuz up Las Dog, let’s dance!” I yelled in his direction…okay, none of that happened, but I did get to finally shake hands with the master, who is in town for a discussion panel on cinematography with the festival.

In fact, nearly everyone involved with the festival was found in some corner, surrounded by either media or another filmmaker. I spent most of the evening walking around, finding my way into different conversations, and occasionally running up to the hospitality suite for a free drink (and again, I won’t tell you the number unless the check’s in the mail). A very fine way to start the film festival.

Saturday:

10:00am-11:30am Although the morning began with me throwing my shoe at the alarm clock for getting me up at 8:30, I knew that it was a day to work. After downing a few cups of coffee (rare for me!) I ventured down to the Laurel Point Inn for the simple reason that I wanted to see what was going on. I wanted to observe, to watch. I knew that panels and discussions were underway, but I was hoping to see more of the action. I found myself at the exact same spot where I was downing martinis the night previous, but it was looking a bit different at this hour of the morning. I found myself looking there was a long row of people engaged in the first of the morning’s series of Film Forums, moderated by Banff Film Festival’s Pat Ferns. The morning’s topic was “The Power of the Co-Production” involving various producers giving their advice to festivalgoers on how to arrange co-productions on your film. I arrived late to this, sadly, so I couldn’t cover most of the event.

I took another shot of coffee. I really shouldn’t be drinking this stuff, but it’s helping.

Moments later, I ran into Glen Schaffer of The Province who was booking some interviews. Glen was busy covering various films and events at the Victoria festival, and it turns out we were looking to talk to Simon Sauve of “Jimmywork” and needed to head to the theatre where Simon was going to introduce his next screening. I then found Graham having breakfast, who was also heading to the theatre to introduce the screening.

12:00pm-1:30pm: Finding myself satisfied with the morning’s events, I caught a shuttle with Glen, Graham and others to the Capitol 6 and found Simon at his second screening of “Jimmywork”. Glen and Simon went off for an interview over coffee while I hung out and viewed a portion of the film. After viewing about thirty minutes I had already seen, I waited patiently outside the theatre for Simon to come from his interview. I then found festival volunteer/buddy Robert Anderson, who I remember being a fun and likable volunteer the year previous (he was awarded the #1 volunteer award at last year’s closing gala). Robert has been the eyes and ears of this festival, overseeing much of the activity that has went over the festival on the first weekend.

I then finally found Simon coming back from his interview with Glen, which appeared to have gone very well. “I’m sorry that it went on for so long, Jason,” Glen remarked, “But this guy certainly knows how to tell his stories!” The result of my interview with Simon will be posted on efilmcritic.com on Thursday.

1:45pm-4:00pm: After parting ways with Simon, I noticed a massive line of people filing their way into the 2:00 screening of “Beat The Drum”, a fine film from South Africa. I felt like a walk back to the Laurel Point Inn to see what was going on. I walked through my favourite part of town, the gorgeous Inner Harbor and down the short side-way to Laurel Point Inn. Who should I find on my way but acclaimed cinematographer Bill Butler (who lensed Jaws, The Conversation, Grease, among many others) wandering along the sidewalk snapping pictures into his digital camera. He looked familiar from the party last night, but we hadn’t met just yet. I had planned to interview Bill by locating him at the hotel through my festival publicist, but running into him on the street would be just fine.

As we shook hands, walked and talked back into the hotel, I found Mr. Laszlo Kovacs once again in the hotel lobby, overseeing the Trigger Points Pacific meetings, which had now turned into a one-on-one table meeting sessions, where participants would go to each producer for a few minutes at a time. Kind of like that speed dating thing (not that I would know anything about that personally…no, really!!!). But the fact that the interaction had become so involved, so “one-on-one”, it was something that showed me that the festival has become more mature this year. And it is something that next year I would like to even try out.

And at this point, I realized I had not had anything to eat today besides the coffee. One part of me was so overwhelmed with my day that I really didn’t care, but another part of me was trying to find an apple or energy bar for me to swipe.

4:00pm-5:45pm: Having missed a screening of “McDull, Prince de la Bun” due to having a talk about cinematography and the arts with Laszlo Kovacs for over an hour, I then followed Laszlo and Bill into the Breakout Room at Laurel Point Inn for a panel entitled “D.O.P.: Take 3” where the two D.O.P’s discussed not only their work and their careers but the importance of cinematography and technology in this industry. “I wish this went on for over four hours, because I have many stories that I want to tell,” laughed Mr. Kovacs, who spent nearly an hour after the panel (he told me later as I had to run off) telling curious cine-philes his stories.

6:45pm-8:30pm: Partially satisfying myself with an energy bar, some bottled water and a small bag of Oh Henry Bites that set me back $4 at the Capitol 6 concession stand, I finally sat back down for a screening of the fascinating, important “Born Into Brothels”, a documentary about poverty-stricken children in the red light district in Calcutta, most of them gifted in the realms of arts and photography. The sold-out screening had one of the best reactions I’ve seen yet at the festival. You can read more reviews of the film HERE.

9:00 -11:00pm: Ahh, I felt like I was at the Vancouver International Film Festival all over again, with that feeling of food going into my stomach after a very long day. I sat with a friend over a beer and a calzone at Brickyard Pizza before my final screening of the day, “Overnight”, about the power-hungry Troy Duffy whose first feature film, the unspeakably awful “The Boondock Saints” was overrun by an egotistical director on a major power trip. It’s a great look into a complete loser who makes me remember the quote that “you’ll never work in this town again!” I wasn’t surprised to see Troy Duffy NOT attending this screening.

Sunday:

11:30am-1:45pm: Coffee! Now! I normally don’t drink caffeine, and I’m not officially addicted to the product, but the friend I was staying with over the weekend made a killer pot of coffee every morning, so I couldn’t resist. It certainly helped, but the real fun began with a screening of “Behind the Mascot”, a blast of a documentary about the history of mascots and their role in making public events more fun. (The Q Mascot, for example, was all over the opening gala making everyone shake his tongue. Don’t ask.) Co-directors James Philips and Doug Marber introduced the screening along with sponsoring mascots and the screening was well received. I certainly hope that the film finds distribution, and I think it will down the line.

2:30pm-4:15pm: I came from the screening into a weird snow-rain storm, and a spot of lunch at Subway (I wasn’t repeating my “too busy to eat!” problem I had yesterday and downed a footlong roasted chicken sub in mere minutes) and found myself at the Odeon, very early, saying “I’m ridiculously early for the screening of “Primer” to Kim Tooby, the volunteer co-ordinator of this year’s festival. “You’re ridiculously early for “Primer”,” she said in agreement. “I blame the weird snow-rain that found its way to downtown Victoria” I continued, as I stayed warm inside waiting to catch a repeat screening of one of the best films I saw at last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. “Primer”, a film about time travel and the science and scientists behind it, has left a mark on confusion on nearly everyone that has seen it, and I couldn’t be happier with a second viewing of the film, and I can’t wait to see it a third time.

4:30pm-5:00pm: I met back up with Graham Peat at the Capitol 6, who was introducing a sold-out screening of “What Remains of Us”, the popular NFB documentary that had a major security blockage at this screening due to the sensitivity of the subject matter (Tibetans viewing footage of the Dalai Lama = big no-no, and anyone who gets footage from the film could jeopardize the people within the film). Metal detectors were in place to prevent anyone from cameras of any kind from entering the screening, and as a person carrying a camera, I wasn’t even able to peak my head in, but I was told that it had sold out.

Graham and I headed back to the Laurel Point Inn to just see what was going on. Immediately, I spotted Laszlo Kovacs and Bill Butler having a bite to eat in the Cook’s Landing Lounge. We went up to the hospitality suite to find Simon Reynolds, who had one of the shorts in the festival entitled “White Light” (4/5), a short but harrowing look into the minds of souls addicted to heroin. At only six minutes, it echoes some of the same feelings that Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” had on addiction and the reactions the body has when it screams for drugs. An effective short film from Mr. Reynolds, who is also a working actor based out of Toronto.

5:00pm-8:00pm After meeting Mr. Reynolds, Graham and I went back downtown to the Chateau Victoria, where the National Film Board of Canada was hosting a party at the Vista 18 lounge, which completely overlooked the beauty of downtown Victoria. Having never been in this building before, it gave me a fresh perspective of the absolute beauty of the city of which I have been living for 24 of my years. I found Simon Sauve again chatting it up, and Simon Reynolds turned up as well, as well as “Beethoven’s Hair” director Larry Weinstein, who had to run off for a screening of his film at the Capitol 6. I also found “Scaredsacred” director Velcrow Ripper, decked out in the same lime green jacket that I remembered quite vividly at last year’s Vancouver Film Festival when the film screened there. (Both screenings of “Scaredsacred’, by the way, were near sell-outs.)

And lo and behold, Laszlo Kovacs and Bill Butler were also invited to the party. I bumped into Kathy Kay’s arm by complete accident (I swear!) while passing by Laszlo, and Bill and I had an extended, unforgettable conversation about cinematography, the new methods of filmmaking versus the old ones. Bill may be 73 years old, but the cinematographer is still with the current technology; completely up to date on the goings-on in the photographic aspect of the film world. Bill is currently based out of LA and working on the film “Funny Money” with Chevy Chase.

9:00-11:00pm After having a bite with the Simon’s (one Sauve and one Reynolds) after the NFB party, I shook hands, snapped a picture and then found myself at the Victoria Confrence Centre where a screening of the locally-made film “Lies Like Truth” was just letting out. I saw director Michael Bateman and many of the actors, most notably Tom Schlote, whom I had met at VIFF 2003 when Benjamin Ratner’s “Moving Malcolm” screened, as well as Claudette Mink, the absolutely striking lead actress in the film. Mink, based out of Toronto, has star quality written all over her, and was not shy to the camera as the after-party commenced in the nearby lounge at the Empress Hotel.

I wish they had more parties here! I found Graham Peat again looking for food (as I was also looking for food, downing veggie samosas mostly), and then also ran into “Saved” director Brian Dannelly and producer Chip Proser, both of which were involved with panels at the festival and were mingling it up. I mustered up the guts to say hi to Claudette Mink, whose beauty is just incomparable. I felt like Kevin Arnold in “The Wonder Years” stuttering “I, I, I….” when she asked me who I was writing with.

It was an interesting and fun way to end a complete weekend of the festival, and I ventured back home satisfied with how the weekend turned out. I then passed out on my bed for 10 hours.

Monday-Tuesday:

After all of this insanity involving drinks, mingling and more drinks and mingling, I had to wind down from the festival. (I also had to put some time in at my other job!) What I did instead was went online and found out what else was being covered at this festival. The festival’s official website featured pictures from the opening screening of “Jimmywork” and Simon’s talk at the Solstice Café, and also mentioned a complete sell-out of tickets for “Millions”, one of my most anticipated films at the festival.

I also happened upon the VIFVF’s official “Festival Blog” (http://vifvf.blogspot.com) where they have sent out festivalgoer Liam Lux (who I have seen at the fest, but have not met at press time) to cover the festival in his own way. I like the idea of a “diary” and hope to see more of this, possibly even a video diary, in future festivals.

I also stopped by the out-of-town festival venue Star Cinema (www.starcinema.ca) on Tuesday to see how the festival was happening from the amazing little theatre that could. (That it also happens to be near my house certainly helps.) Carolyne Lewis, one of the co-managers of the adorable 2-plex in Sidney, told me that many of the screenings have been complete sell outs and has enjoyed working with the festival staff and volunteers. A screening of my favourite film at the festival, “Rhythm Is It!” was screening in the evening to a packed audience. I’m hoping that its upcoming screening will be as attended.

So that’s about it from my end for the first weekend of the festival. It’s been an exhausting experience, and the next weekend of screenings and happenings I hope will be as enjoyable. As always, I hope to see you in line!

More VIFVF coverage this week: A talk with acclaimed cinematographers Laszlo Kovacas and Bill Butler, as well as a talk with “Jimmywork” director Simon Sauve and Bill Plympton, who is having an animation tribute at the festival. Also this week, a wrap-up article featuring the festival awards and coverage of the closing party event.

Special thanks to Nora Arajs from VIFVF for assistance with this article. Further details about the festival can be found at www.vifvf.com . – Jason Whyte, jasonwhyte@efilmcritic.com


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1340
originally posted: 02/10/05 06:43:59
last updated: 02/22/05 04:43:14
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