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2004 VIFF: The First Five Days

Gimme ten!
by Jason Whyte

As per usual with last year's Vancouver Film Festival coverage and this year's Victoria Film Festival coverage, it is time to stop reviewing films and report on all of the interesting happenings at the festival besides the presentations over the first five days. I touched into Vancouver on Friday, September 17th to view some press screenings and to touch base with some of my fellow friends, and since I have survived many films, conversations and even made a few new friends during the festivities. I’m so excited and wrung-out at the same time; you could make a sequel to “Cinemania” and have it star yours truly.

This is not a festival for the weak. For 16 days, it is your duty to line up, get your tickets and challenge yourself to sit through films from all over the world. From high profile foreign films like the brilliant “The Motorcycle Diaries” to the nearly unheard of “Your Next Life”, from the gala-supported Canadian film “Being Julia” to the small budget Canadian “Ill Fated”, from the upcoming Gala film “Electric Shadows” to the small “Taipei 21”, there is really something for everyone here. And while this year’s line-up isn’t as high-profile as previous years, I am still having a wonderful time despite a few problems here and there.

Without further ado, a "quote by quote" rundown of events and happenings:

”Did somebody say…party?

My first party at the festival happened a few days prior to the festival with a huge pre-fest bash thrown at Cin Cin restaurant on Robson, a pretty darn good place I must say. Presented by publicist Rory Richards, all of the tables were cleared to make way for local talent and a few other special guests to make their way onto the scene. I was told Kristin Kreuk (“Smallville”) and Chris Evans (“Cellular”) showed up, but through the masses of people crowding around, I couldn’t find them. I did spot Carly Pope (“Popular”, “Everyone”), Kevin Sorbo (“Andromeda”), Laura Bertram (also from “Andromeda” and might be known to Canadian baby boomers from “Ready or Not”), Ben Ratner (“Moving Malcolm”), Vicki Gaberau (the local “Vicky Gaberau” show) along with many interesting local talent.

Later that week, I attended the VIFF Trade Forum party held at Storyeum in Gastown, which was a slightly quieter but still entertaining event with many of the speaking guests on the panels. Okay, Kristin Kreuk didn’t show up at this one, but that’s okay. Getting to visit the exhibit along with the elevator projection show was a quite interesting break from the festival.

"Well honey, that line didn't work"

Remember in my VIFF Primer article where I mentioned the new line-up system at the Granville 7 where the festival volunteers would approach YOU in a common passholder line instead of visiting a door entry table to collect your tickets for the mutliplex venue? As I approached the Granville on the very first day of the festival, I noticed people literally standing all over one side of a line . "This is an absolute mess," a passholder ahead of me remarked, as she continued "We were told by one person to come in and another person told me to wait in line, and nobody could give us a straight answer on where to go." And I could see the festival staff falling all over the place trying to get things to work properly. Yikes! And on the very first day.

As I left my second matinee to go get lunch with a friend, I noticed something different as I arrived outside. These people were now sitting at a desk in the exact same formation that I remember a year ago. Calm as Hindu cows, I asked if they reverted to last year's system, and I was informed that they did, to which I then commented on the numerous complaints I heard about in line. “Trust me,” one of them said, “We got a lot of them too.”

I still have a minor complaint about not allowing passholders to pick up evening show tickets at the multiplex venue in the morning, however I have not been sold out of one show so far, so it’s not that big of a deal really. All in all, having a pass pretty much guarantees you full access to the festival, except for the galas, of course.

”Hey, didn’t you play Gandalf in that “Rings” movie?”

A celebrity sighting! Prior to my screening of “The Motorcycle Diaries” last Saturday, who should appear in the Vogue lobby before me than Sir Ian McKellan himself, here to see the movie with a few of his friends. Mr. McKellan made a good choice, as “Diaries” is one of the year’s best films, a stunning look into the life-changing experience of a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara prior to his revolution in Cuba.

Among the other sightings:
· Bruce Greenwood, who attended the non-screening gala of “Being Julia”, in which he co-stars, and remarked about working with director Istvan Stabo
· Don McKellar, director and lead of “Childstar” was sighted outside of the Vogue on Monday night after a screening.
· William B. Davis, best known as “Smoking Man” on “The X-Files” has been seen many times in the festival lines…and many of the filmmakers, actors and producers involved with the competing films have been doing interesting Question and Answer sessions with the audience.

”Bill, you don’t look a thing like you do in your movie!

The talented Bill Marchant, head of the acting department at the Vancouver Film School, has an upcoming film at the festival called “Everyone,” which is a story of multiple characters surrounding a gay marriage. I viewed “Everyone” nearly a month ago and finally ran into Mr. Marchant at a recent screening, who looked thinner and younger than his character in the movie, who had a much different haircut, to say the least. Watch for a forthcoming interview with Marchant along with a few of the “Everyone” cast members.

”Now at the VIFF: You can now show up late and not miss a thing!

Is it just me, or is the pre-show at this year’s VIFF even longer? The lights go down, the sponsor for AGF plays, then the Vancity commerce commercial plays, and then the VIFF trailer plays. To add to the fun this year, there’s also a new animated trailer for VIFF right before the feature begins. This is different than when I cover the Victoria Film Festival, where the film simply begins as the lights go down. All of this said, the ads this year are a bit more enjoyable and less distracting, and the added couple of minutes are allowing those pesky latecomers to get in and sit down before the feature.

One thing that is still irritating this year is that latecomers are guided by volunteers that are unaware on how to be subtle. Shining flashlights all over the auditorium is not something that people who showed up on time want to see. And I also tire of festivalgoers who are theater hopping (those who go from auditorium to auditorium looking for something interesting) and then go looking for the best seats (or the seat where my bag is on) when there are plenty of seats near the front. Either stand in the back or go for the sore-neck row.

”Here a glitch, there a glitch, everywhere a glitch-glitch.”

As is the case with running prints to various theaters for different showtimes, it is understandable to have the occasional technical error on screen. But the staffed projectionists at this festival must be taught to thread a projector in frame. For most of the starting films at the festival, the image on screen is either too low or too high. Adjustments are always made as the film starts, but it would be nice to have everything smooth and operational, right away.

It gets worse when video projection is part of the main attraction. The other night, I attended a shorts program called “Passages,” an entertaining 90 minutes of comedic based shorts from over Canada. As is the case with these programs, the lineup has different projection formats: video, film, HD projection, and so forth. The breaks were sometimes overlong and I was expecting something to break down, but nothing prepared me for the error present in William B. Davis’ fine short feature, “Packing Up” about a man facing retirement. As the film begins, we hear various sound effects and music, finally setting on Mr. Davis as he answers the phone. But then…nothing comes out of his mouth. I was confused for a second and thought that this was an artistic choice, but then I saw Mr. Davis, in attendance during the screening, jump out of his seat and run out of the theater to find the nearest person for help. A second try to run the film yielded the exact same result. I’m hoping that the future screening of his film goes off without a hitch.

”You may have over 1100 seats, but that doesn’t make a great theater”

I could never see myself paying $50 to see a movie in the Vogue. The “showplace” of the festival has slightly better projection and sound quality this year, however I still feel that this is just not a place to show movies! The Granville cinema’s #7 has over 650 comfy seats (note: sit near the back for the best sight-lines) with an amazing, gorgeous wide screen and a fine digital sound system, and I would love to see films presented there rather than at the 1144 seat Vogue down the street.

Best movies so far:

As mentioned earlier, The Motorcycle Diaries is the film to beat at the festival for being such a realized and beautiful peace of work about a man who finds himself and wants to make a change in the world. Gael Garcia Bernal’s performance as “Che” Guevara is one of the best of the year, although Christian Bale in The Machinist delivers one of the most fearless, torturing and brutal performances I’ve seen all year as the world’s most insane insomniac who is losing his mind. Memories affectives is also about a man who is losing his mind, but from amnesia and is trying to piece together his past. It is a cold, dark but rewarding experience into a broken mind. That film is from Quebec, as is the hilarious Camping Sauvage, which nearly defies description but is about a man who witnesses an awful crime and finds himself in the witness protection program. Features some of the best humour I’ve seen at the festival so far. Silver City, by John Sayles, is another one of his multiple-character studies that revolves around a dead body investigation and a gubernatorial candidate (Chris Cooper); it is lightly flawed but still an entertaining work that reminds me of the earlier works of Robert Altman. Your Next Life is a Dogme 95 entry and is a heartbreaking story about a priest working in a woman’s prison who may be having a child with a birth defect, and a prisoner who seems to have a bit more power than expected. And Winter Solstice is a small and intimate piece about a father and his two distant sons with different paths in life. Terrific performances and good writing seal director John Sternfeld’s directorial debut.

Coming Soon: More film reviews, an interview with “Everyone” director Bill Marchant, and another article on “Another Five Days at VIFF” on Sunday. Until then…check out for more information on the films, showtimes, updates and news. If you have any comments or questions about this article, you can email me HERE.

-- Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 09/29/04 03:05:26
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