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VANCOUVER FILM FESTIVAL: The First Five Days
by Jason Whyte

It has been five days since I set foot at the Vancouver Film Festival, and 25 films later, I must say that, despite some flaws, this is one mighty festival to be a part of. With so many interesting films from all over the world and such an easy way to get to screenings, it is a thrill to be able to share the experience with such enthused moviegoers.

And boy, there are some interesting people here. Since the festival started on thursday, I've had many interesting conversations with people near me in line, those sitting next-to or near me, and even some of the festival's volunteers and management, who are working overtime to make sure everything goes smoothly. Most of the film's screenings are centralized within a few blocks of each other at the Cineplex Odeon Granville 7, the Visa Screening Room at the Vogue down the street, and the Pacific Cinematheque which is a few blocks away. And let's not forget The Ridge, on 16th and Arbutus...and I still haven't made it to a screening out there yet. Hopefully soon.

If you've ever been to a film festival before, you no doubt have had your share of joys and complaints with festival fever. I'm going to run down what I've found over the first couple of days:

The Good:

- The Granville 7's presentations have been spectacular. 35mm films screened there are almost ALWAYS in frame and in focus, with the sound level comfortable and easy to hear and the sharpness immaculate. I should also mention that the management and volunteers here are quite brisk to get films going on time, so kudos to them.

-Theater 7 is a massive showplace cinema which has just over 650 seats, is THX certified and most films play back in powerful Dolby Digital sound. This is the best theater downtown to see a movie. Both "The Barbarian Invasions" and "A Problem With Fear" screened here recently with outstanding presentation quality. My hats off to the projection team.

- The feature of Door Entry Tickets at Granville really helps. Simply show up at the registration desk, tell them what movies you want to see, show your pass, grab all of your day's tickets and away you go. This really helps on lines and transfer time inbetween cinemas, and everyone I've talked to thus far has remarked on the ease of the registration.

-Having a pass at the festival is absolutely wonderful if you plan to see a couple dozen of films or so. And the passes are even better at the Vogue, since they let passholders in first. Kind of has a great "tee hee hee" factor to it.

-The Film Festival Program is a thick, sturdy, endless book with specific descriptions and schedules which are very easy to follow. And mine is still holding up, so I can definitely keep it for a long time.

And, of course, The Many People I've Met at the Festival including fellow filmgoers as well as directors like Scott Smith, Tsai-Ming Liang and especially Mr. Gary Burns, whom I spent a bit of time with after the "A Problem With Fear" screening, and I should have a brief interview with him to be posted here within a week or so.

The Bad:

-The Vogue Theater. With all respect that is due to the Vancouver Film Festival people, this theater is NOT a great place to show film, and what's worse is that the films are poorly presented here (more on that in a moment). The seats are uncomfortable and stiff - especially for this 6'2" filmgoer -- and what's worse is the only real good seats are down in the orchestra level, so if you happen to be in the balcony, the screen is flat for orchestra, so you are almost looking downward at the screen. As for the presentation, I have seen five films there so far, and there is consistent image bleeding on all sides of the screen. The sound, which has only been analog since I've been there, is poor. If I must offer any praise to the Vogue, the staff is terrific and very helpful, but galas should be moved to Granville #7.

-Latecomers: While it is understandable for many to be fsat hopping their way between theaters, many of the shows I have attended have had people coming in as much as a half hour late, disrupting others as well as staffers having no other choice but to shine flashlights all over the theater trying to get them into the seats. Some even just stand in the back of the theater to avoid this. Please, listen to me my fellow festival-elite, make a schedule and keep with it so you don't trip in late and over me to get to a seat which you don't deserve.

-Granville Street itself is messy, filled with panhandlers and noise. A few nights ago, one manager remarked to the audience not to "run into the theater" as soon as the lines open, but you know what? With all of the insanity that is outside on Granville Mall these days, I don't blame the runners...just don't run me over. If you find yourself in a crammed line, the best time-killer to all of this is to turn to the nearest person in line and strike up a conversation about the festival. Everyone who is in the line is a film buff and in love with seeing new films, so trust me, you'll have lots to talk about. I have done this many times since Thursday, and I've already made a bunch of friends.

---

My favorite films so far? Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, which is the sort-of sequel to his "Decline of the American Empire", is both hilarious and sad story about a good man who is dying from cancer and his family and friends who care for him. This is a beautiful story told by Arcand, with excellent performances to match. A Problem With Fear is Gary Burns' excellent comedy about people stuck in a society in a fear storm; the film stays edgy and original to the very last frame; this should have opened the Canadian Images section of the festival instead of the repugnant "Falling Angels". Distant, from Turkey, is a beautiful film which centers on a problematic relationship between father and son, and contains some of the most memorable sequences of any film this year. I also loved Bus 174 which chronicles the events of a hostage takeover on a bus in Brazil from different viewpoints. And Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself is the new film from director Lone Scherfig ("Italian For Beginners") about a suicidal man, his brother and a goofy hospital worker (played wonderfully by Shirley Henderson).

My best bets for the coming days, among many, include Gus Van Sant's Elephant, Errol Morris' The Fog of War, two Guy Maddin films, The Saddest Music in the World and Cowards Bend The Knee, as well as the documentary The Corporation, which received raves at the Toronto Film Festival. All screenings here have sold out, so I plan to be there early.

---

So that's a summary of the first five days of this year's Vancouver Film Festival. So far, so wonderful, with only a few bad films and the Vogue failing to live up to its name, everything is spectacular. I hope to see you in line (I'm wearing my badge, so please say hi if you see me!) for a few more films. See you there!

For more information on this festival and to purchase advance tickets, please visit the festival's official website at www.viff.org -- JW

---

Chiming in on the end of Jason's most excellent sum-up, this has indeed been a great start to a festival, despite several gaffes from well-intentioned but seemingly over-worked festival staff. Granville St certainly is a mess, but being as it's a Canadian mess, it's certainly a few steps lower on the 'threat' chain than say the main drag in Detroit. Or even Flint.

The standard of the documentaries on offer has really impressed me so far, with Los Angeles Plays Itself, Los Zafiros, Power Trip, Bus 174, The Weather Underground and more others than I can rightly remember having played to packed and appreciative houses. The latest Nick Broomfield chapter in his fascination with serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer) was perhaps more suited as a DVD extra than a stand alone doco, but hey, they can't all be legendary.

I too saw and enjoyed A Problem With Fear, and would love to tell everyone about it, but the publicists involved have placed it under embargo until it's released, which is as short-sighted a move as a marketing boffin can pull in this day and age. Internet buzz can make a film, and this film would surely generate buzz if it were 'permitted'.

Argentina's Common Ground has been the most memorable narrative highlight for me thus far, but I just got back from a screening of Day of the Wacko, a dark Polish comedy that could well be the cleverest and funniest flick of the fest to this point. A close second would have to be Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, but if I hear one more person say "the pig wants to kill itself?" with a big stupid grin, I'm going to have see to it that their jaw is soon wired shut.

Japanese films have made a splash, with the new Zatoichi flick (yes, that's right, there's a NEW Zatoichi, for all you Blind Swordsman fans) having sold out quickly thus far, as has the new Miike Takeshi weird-out, Gozu. Vibrator, a film that I enjoyed a lot, has only managed a late night screening thus far so it hasn't found the buzz it deserves, but Gozu will mess with your head and then some. A little too much breastmilk for me, but maybe I'm just odd.

But perhaps the highlight of the fest so far has been the pre-screening Film Festival ads. Normally these get old real quick (Sundance and Seattle, I'm looking at you), but Vancouver's promo ads have been recipients of the biggest laughs of the festival. Talk to me in a week and I may be sick to death of them, but for now all I can say is "No! You shut your pie'ole!"

Oh, and the folks at VanCity need to stop playing their annoying pre-screening promo now while it's only embarrassing, and not yet infuriating. If you're going to use movie quotes in a film festival ad, you might want to look a little beyond Jerry Maguire and Forrest Gump for your inspiration.

That'll do for now. Unlike Jason, I won't talk to you in line, that is unless you correctly identify my Strongbad T-shirt, in which case... respect.
--Chris Parry


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=803
originally posted: 09/30/03 17:59:57
last updated: 12/30/03 09:35:19
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