by Jason Whyte
Alan Partridge - VFF 2014 Commence!
Happy 20th Birthday, Victoria Film Festival. You have emerged from a small screening venue at the former Roxy Cine-gog cinema into an island event taking over downtown Victoria every year with a huge selection of movies and filmmaker events to match the cinematic fun. We go back a long way too; walking in kind of blind as an eager film loving kid to a screening of Brett Wagner's film FIVE YEARS all the way back in 2002 set the tone for this moviegoe in a festival that was originally entitled Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. I wonder if one day it will be referred to as the Victoria DCP Festival.
But anyway, enough jokes for now.
Inaugurated in 1994, the Victoria Film Festival now enters its 20th year and with it comes a new series of films, events and a level of class that I like to see in any film festival. I have seen countless films that still remain among my all time favourites, filmmaker question & answer sessions that can get rather intense as well as an opportunity to mingle with attending guests. Over the years the festival has seen the likes of John Waters, Richard Farnsworth, Dan O'Bannon, Bill Plympton, Barry Pepper, Laszlo Kovacs and countless other talents, and some previous attendees like Atom Egoyan and Don McKellar are even back this year. Egoyan and McKellar return over the opening weekend as part of an intimate In Conversation series which also includes great Canadian talent Guy Maddin.
The festival opens tonight with a gala screening of ALAN PARTRIDGE at Cineplex Odeon Victoria cinemas. Yes my readers, an Alan Partridge movie. If you are a fan of Steve Coogan and the titular series created by Coogan and Armando Iannucci, the UK hit feature movie feauring Partridge dealing with a hostage crisis in his own unique way looks like a fun way to kick off VFF year 20.
I for one am thrilled a lot of great movies are playing at the fest this year. Along with getting the opporunity to view a lot of new films on this end, there are also lots of selections here I was lucky enough to view over the course of attending South By Southwest, Toronto International Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, Vancouver and Whistler festivals during 2013. The VFF folk seemed to have been following me around as they have booked a helluva lineup in tune with my tastes for their 2014 edition. Let's take a look at what you should see or not, shall we?
Burt's Buzz (3/4) Jody Shaprio's doc on the Burt's Beez guy, Burt Shavitz, has more resonance and power than you might expect at first. Both a tribute to the man's inimitable craft of creative natural health products along with stories on his wife and dog (oh that heavenly dog), we get to see Burt as a kind of a man detatched from current society, from another generation. I for one was the most moved by the connection with his dog, and any dog lover who checks out this movie better have some tissues handy.
Cas & Dylan (3.5/4) Speaking of tissues, the opening gala at last December's Whistler Film Festival, Jason Priestly's wonderful film features many tearful moments and as well features oustanding performances by Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany (VFF '13 entry PICTURE DAY and also on the TV show OPRHAN BLACK). A flat out road movie, Cas (Dreyfuss) is a doctor who discovers he is ill and takes to the road, meeting up with the much younger Dylan (Maslany) and strike up a unique bond. Equal parts funny, moving and sad, this is a great film that is also a love letter to the beauty of Canada as well.
Cinemanovels (3/4) Terry Miles, one of the best do-it-yourself filmmakers I have seen in a while, has a unique vision in every single one of his movies. CINEMANOVELS is no exception; Grace (Lauren Lee Smith) is a young woman who discovers that her recently dead father, whom she had been estranged from, was a filmmaker with some truly unique work. So Grace tries to curate a festival of his work and finds some interesting things about her dad along the way. That's just a setup for a series of darkly comic and original moments that reminds me how underlooked Terry Miles' work can be. Worth checking out.
The Congress (4/4) My top pick of last fall's Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, THE CONGRESS is a spiritual experience in line with LIFE OF PI and CLOUD ATLAS. Mixing live action, animation and a truly bizarre premise, Avi Folman's follow up to the Oscar nominated WALTZ WITH BASHIR asks what would happen to actress Robin Wright Penn if she decided to sell the physical being of her actress to Mirimount studios. What results is a unique part animated, part live action movie that takes turns beyond your wildest dreams. Another movie that belongs on a big screen.
Cyber-Seniors (3/4) Already arriving to Victoria Film Fest with a huge buzz behind it, CYBER-SENIORS has a lot more under its surface than I initially led to believe. At first I thought it was going to be a point-and-laugh-at-seniors doc that would make fun. Rather, we get to see a really unique and lovely bond between a group of teenagers who teach and assist seniors on the wonders of the world wide web, Facebook, and creating Youtube videos. Director Saffron Cassaday shows intimate connections between different generations that shows that one can learn from the other. Also I feel seniors should all learn how to tweet instead of use Facebook, but that's just me.
Devil's Knot (2/4) Dreary, oddly paced and featuring one of the strangest performances in recent memory, Atom Egoyan's take on the famous West Memphis Three case feels like a low rent MYSTIC RIVER at times. There is a very strong performance by Reese Witherspoon here, but what sets DEVIL'S KNOT apart is a performance by Oscar winner Colin Firth that simply has to be seen to be believed. The accent, the mannerisms and nearly bewildering mannerisms suggest a Kaubki like level of a performance from Firth, and I almost want to recommend the movie on that alone. Whether or not you think it is good or not, you just have to experience his work here. Sadly, Egoyan's look and feel of the movie weigh it down and there's also a finale that might frustrate a few moviegoers as the credits roll.
Down River (3.5/4) As a long time fan of Vancouver filmmaker Ben Ratner, I am always interested to see either a directing, writing or acting performance from the man. I was not prepared for this powerful look at women in Vancouver in all their quirks, aspirations and dedication as we follow multiple stories of a family trying to find themselves, even when their mother is hiding a big secret. Featuring the likes of Helen Shaver, Gabrielle Miller, Colleen Rennison and Ali Liebert, this is an incredibly strong piece of work featuring some of the best Canadian actors at the top of their game.
Empire of Dirt (3.5/4) Presented as the Canadian Opening Gala film of this year's festival, Peter Stebbings (who had the DEFENDOR here at VFF 2009) directs this telling and sometimes harsh look at a young mother-daughter duo trying to make it in Toronto. Lena (Cara Gee) was a former addict who had a teenage pregnancy, and now is trying to raise her kid Peeka (Shay Eyre) who is starting to emulate Lena's past. Written by Shannon Masters with a lot of true-to-life inspiration, the movie is equal parts powerful and well acted, but also quite real to life with even some comedic elements thrown in. This was one of my favorite films at the recent Whistler Film Festival and I'm happy to see it spotlighted here in Victoria. Don't miss it.
Life's A Breeze (3.5/4) Another one of my top picks at Whistler Film Festival, this simpler-is-better type of Irish story features a strong cast young and old and a wonderful premise; after a kind family decides to renovate their mother's house, it is discovered that the mattress they disposed of had nearly one million dollars stuffed into it, and the resulting adventure kept a smile on my face for the entire film's running time. It is just the kind of light-hearted, fun moviegoing experience that I long for out of all the film festivals I attend, and also a movie deserving of a big release in the future here too.
Putzel (3/4) The title of this movie refers to the lead character in the movie, Walter (Jack Carpenter), who just doesn't seem to have any luck in the world whatsoever. He wants nothing more then to run his father's fish-deli business but his dad Sid (John Pankow) has other ideas. Enter in the gorgeous Sally (Melanie Lynskey) who helps throw Putzel's whole life out of whack. Even though I had some problems with the limited scope of the movie, along with some frustrating characters from time to time, Jason Chaet's feature is strong in heart, has some very witty dialogue and even though some of the characters can come off as a little thin at times, the performances by Carpenter, Pankow and especially Lynskey are very memorable.
Sarah Prefers to Run (3.5/4) One of my favorites at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival, Chloe Robichaud's feature is a unique and telling coming of age story about a young track runner who gets in over her head when she joins McGill University's athletic program, even going so far as to get married to a friend of hers in order to obtain more money so she can continue her studies. Beautifully paced and with an outstanding lead performance by stunning actress Sophie Desmaris, the movie is also well recommended for young female students entering university life and shows the ups and downs and what to be aware of.
Siddharth (3/4) Director Richie Mehta showed his film AMAL here in 2008 and won a huge fanbase for not only himself and actor Rupinder Nagra. In that movie it was a simple but elegant story about two people who meet and connect, and in his follow up feature he focuses on an aged street merchant in Delhi who is desperate to find his son who has suddenly disappeared from him. Mehta's approach is very subtle but it also shows in a very telling manner the pitfalls of this society that refuses to help a man find someone he is looking for, and lead actor Rajesh Tailing gives a beautifully nuanced performance as a man just trying to do the right thing.
A Story of Children & Film (2/4) When I watched this at TIFF, the movie never seemed to end despite the movie having the most wonderful concept; Mark Cousins' documentary on depicting childhood in movies and how they compare to real life has a great concept but a wandering narrative, far too many clips from movies that seem to ramble on, along with personally shot hidden camera footage of his kids playing. I wanted to love this movie but just couldn't get past the snail pace of it all.
Tidelines (3.5/4) Full disclosure: I am friends and associates with many people in this production, from director Andrew Naysmith to producers Arwen Hunter and David Malysheff. With this out of the way, I am thrilled to share that the long in production TIDE LINES is not only a great locally produced film, but it is a triumphant documentary that takes what would appear to be a climate change and pollution concept and instead becomes a unique and inspiring doc about three best friends who sail all over the world and want to make something out of their lives...and find a lot of waste and environmental problems along the way. Never beating in a point and never getting too topical, I found myself very moved in the journey. These are real people with real passions behind them, and throughout we are reminded that you have to stay passionate and motivated in your life to stay happy. That and keep your damn plastic off of our coast line.
Young & Beautiful (3/4) Every year there will be a movie at a film festival that will completely divide an audience and YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL is no exception; famed French filmmaker Francois Ozon's new feature on gorgeous young Isabelle (Marine Vacth) and her sexual awakening caused quite a stir when it screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year. Might have something to do with the fact Isabelle is still in high school and moonlights as a call-girl in Paris after having a bad first sexual experience might also have something to do with it. Getting past all of that, I still enjoyed the film as a warning sign to teenagers as well as a unique character study. That and it also has some surprising elements of honesty and stellar performances in the mix. But definitely go check out a screening and find out for yourself.
Along with the films listed above, I am also excited to see Denis Villenenvue's ENEMY, the Oscar-nominated docu THE SQUARE, the well acclaimed French thriller STRANGER BY THE LAKE and the documentary LINSANITY, which I still haven't seen missing the South By Southwest screening. Added to this, I'll be in my PJ's on Monday morning eating cereal at the Vic watching cartoons for Family Day. I have priorities!
For additional information on the Victoria Film Festival including screening times, ticketing information and other events happening around the city in the next ten days, point your browser to www.victoriafilmfestival.com.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @jasonwhyte for live updates throughout the fest including Instagram updates, commentary and links to upcoming interviews and coverage. If you see me in line, please say hi!
Also HUGE thanks to Eva Mitic and the staff at Victoria Film Festival for assistance with this article!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3619
originally posted: 02/08/14 07:01:38
last updated: 02/11/14 07:38:08