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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #13: The Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival

The Victoria Independent Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

Victoria may not be as much of a player in the film-world as Sundance, or SxSW, or Toronto, or even Vancouver. But it does host a good festival. The capital of BC puts on a festival around every February a mere week after Sundance finalizes and has its own unique approach to giving viewers a peek not only into the industry but they program some nifty films, short features and creative programs that will keep the cineaste more than entertained. The Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival has been chugging along since its start in 1994 at one screening venue (The decades-old Roxy, which still operates to this day as a double-feature repertory house with the worst acoustics in the world) and has since evolved into a growing festival with every year bringing new films.

So if you plan a vacation around February and are looking to take in the festival, here’s a rundown of what to expect.

Where It's At: Victoria, BC, Canada along with suburbs (University of Victoria in Oak Bay, BC and Sidney, BC)

When It's At: For the most part, the festival screens either in late January to early February for ten days. For reference: The 2004 festival screened January 30th-February 8th, and the 2005 festival is scheduled for February 4th-13th.

How Expensive It: First things first, a $2 membership fee to enter the festival, since the films are unclassified and a membership must be purchased. It’s the law! After that, every feature screening will set you back $8. You can also get a 5-pack of tix for $35, which brings ticket prices down to $7 each, or a 10-pack for $75 (you must select your screenings when purchasing). No full passes are available. There are also separate costs for the available trade forum panels, various master classes and other special events, but they vary yearly. (The site’s OFFICIAL WEBSITE has an entire list of features with pricing.

Number of Films Screened: Roughly 150+ features in the form of 35mm features, 35mm shorts packages and video presentations of the same. Like any other festival, the formats vary wildly.

Value For Money: Considering there are no full festival passes here, you will only get value out of the tickets you buy. $8 admission runs 25 cents shorter than what it normally costs to see a movie in downtown Victoria, and most of what plays here doesn't open in the city, so it is pretty much your only chance to see the featured films. Also, it's a great benefit to see a festival picture with the talent involved.

What You'll See: A good mix of Canadian and some foreign films, along with films that have played other large Canadian film festivals, such as the Vancouver Film Festival. If you attend any of the other film festivals, perhaps you will have seen some of the films that Victoria has up to offer, but if not, then it is a great opportunity to see particular films that may not get a chance here otherwise.

Celebrity Spotting: Nada. The Victoria Festival people have made it very clear in the past that they wish not to get any "big names" for the festival, as it deteriorates attendance to screenings. The last big name to show up at this festival was John Waters, and his showing up killed attendance at many shows as most people were just showing up to get him to sign autographs. That said, many of the people involved with the screening films show up, and they are all approachable, so if you see a film you like there, it's very easy to just approach that director and talk with them personally. And with that said too, every now and then there will be an interesting name to show up. In 2000, the now-departed Richard Farnsworth ("The Straight Story") came to town for the festival. In 2003, actor Tzi Ma ("The Ladykillers", "The Quiet American") attended, and director Dylan Kidd ("Roger Dodger") also showed up the same weekend after winning a festival award. And at the 2004 festival, Jonathan Lipnicki, best known for playing that lovable Ray in "Jerry Maguire", came for two days to promote his recent film.

Accommodation: That's the good part about this can find a fairly good hotel for pretty cheap in the city if you wish to come to celebrate the festival. The Laurel Point Inn, the festival's official sponsor hotel, rents rooms for about $70-120 a night during the festival, and it's one of the nicest places to stay in Victoria. There are also frequent shuttles to the theatres from the hotel on the first weekend. If you wish for something a bit cheaper, there are motels merely blocks away from the action that run anywhere from $35-60 a night, such as Paul’s Motor Inn ($44 a night) and Hotel Row on Gorge Street. The prices stay the same year-round. If you’re up for spending a bit more, the world-famous Empress Victoria or the Hotel Grand Pacific might be up your alley, but I’d go with the Laurel Point Inn which is not only close, but right where the festival action is.

Transport: If you're "with" the festival, meaning a filmmaker, or festival volunteer or media, you have a free shuttle from the main vantage points of the fest for the first weekend. Otherwise, most of the screening venues are close to each other so all are within walking distance, as is Laurel Point Inn where the main party and panels are located. Grab a taxi if you must, or rely on public transit, which stops mostly within a block of all venues. If for some reason you need to get out to Sidney's Star Cinema, take the 70 Pat Bay Highway from downtown. There are no busses going from The Laurel Point Inn, but it is a simple 15 minute walk from the main downtown core.

For you drivers, pay parking is in effect until 6pm in Victoria Monday to Saturday, so get out the coins. Parking is easier to find downtown in evenings as the more popular movie theatre and shopping is located in suburbia. If you find that you need to get to the Sidney venue from downtown Victoria, just drive north on Blanshard street and don’t make a turn. Follow the directions in the festival booklet.

Parties: Not many, but fairly intimate and easy to get into. The opening gala party will only set you back $25 (which includes your ticket to the opening gala film) and absolutely everyone involved with the festival will be there to hang until about 1am, no later. There are also various little parties scattered around during the entire festival, along with free festival panels. And after the first weekend, things mostly taper out as the venues have evening screenings only and many filmmakers head home. The final party costs about $15 and announces the festival winners, and features any filmmakers that are still at the festival that weekend.

Best Venues: Now here's the tricky part. Victoria is not a city known for its good movie theatres. I could go on for ages about the sad, sorry state of film projection and management rampant in this city. The majority of screenings take place at the Capitol 6, which is a multiplex built around 1984. The seats, sound and projection are serviceable, but not without technical glitches. If you want a cozy, small and intimate movie going experience, the Star Cinema in Sidney has two 150-seat screening rooms that are very narrow on sightlines to an extremely small screen, but it has a likable atmosphere, great staff and for some reason, comedies works best on their screens. Don’t ask me why.

In 2005, the Odeon 7 has been added as a film venue, and is a comfortable multiplex with good sound and picture quality.

Worst Venues: It depends if you are into video projection or not, but some of the video projection houses (Multi-Cultural Centre, Alix Goolden Hall were venues in 2004 and One Lounge in 2005) have received complaints from festival-goers in the past for its small screens, grainy projection and poor sound.

Places To Hang Out: Victoria is a very touristy town, and it looks good in February. Being the capital of British Columbia brings all walks of life to the amazing visual quality of the Inner Harbour, which is right in-between the Laurel Point Inn and the screening rooms. There are night-spots like Sugar, One and Legends that stay open until about 2pm. For drinks, I recommend the Sticky Wicket on Douglas or Steamers on Yates Street.

Traps for young players: None that I can think of. The Victoria fest is probably best for first time festival-goers as it is never too busy, it is easy to get tickets as long as you book ahead, and the accessibility to filmmakers is very easy. If you’re a movie-lover that is shy or lack people skills, the Victoria Fest will take that away from you. Swear.

Press facilities/access: The media office is very helpful to all types of media (website, independent print) so if you belong to an outlet that will provide news and festival coverage, you’re in. That said, you better bring it with your coverage, because they’re watching close, and they want reports. There are no press screenings but the screening tapes are a’plenty, and most you can take home with you as long as you bring them back. You can interview anyone you want who attends the festival as well, either by talking with the festival publicist or approaching the filmmaker directly.

What Needs Fixin’: Again, Victoria doesn’t want John Waters at the festival, but a few more involved participants with the larger films, done properly, may help boost the festival even further instead of hurting it. I also wish the programming team would tap into some more of the booming Asian market of films. And the fest should find a way to get access to more of the arts culture city and get them to come back downtown; if I hear the words “Oh, I only go to Silvercity (stadium seating complex) because the seats are comfortable” I’m going to go nuts!.

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for VIFVF: B+. There are a few problems with venues and programming, but otherwise a fine festival for the city. and a great way to communicate smaller-seen films to audiences.

Check out the official festival website at for news and showtimes. Coverage of this year’s 11th Annual Victoria Film Festival begins February 4th.

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originally posted: 02/01/05 06:26:46
last updated: 09/24/05 07:13:05
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