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2005 Victoria Film Festival -- That's a Wrap!

Victoria Film Festival -- It's in the bag!
by Jason Whyte

While the guys at efilmcritic/Hollywood Bitch Slap are currently throwing all of their South by Southwest pre-fest coverage up, and god bless ‘em for it, I thought I would step in and write a few last words about 11th Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival, which was a great little finale to the festival that could. This year, I spent a bit more time visiting a lot of the festival rather than being cooped up in a theatre for the entire time like I normally do when covering the Vancouver fest (so many films, so little time!). Getting to view some of the films ahead of time by way of screeners was a real relief, I’ll say that much.

I only missed two films that I wanted to see (The world premiere of “Beethoven’s Hair” that was scheduled at times where I was attending parties, and “McDull, Prince de la Bun” from Hong Kong) but there was a lot to do, for sure. I found myself involved with parties, panels, interviews (you’ll be seeing more of those in the coming weeks) and was keeping quite busy despite getting a pretty bad cold towards the end. I had a blast.

On Sunday, February 13th, the Closing gala party was an interesting way to close off the festival. After suffering through “Mondovino”, the last film of the festival, I ventured on down to the Reef restaurant on Yates where the end party was happening. “Why is this party on a Sunday?” three people commented to me while downing beer; but it is tradition to have the party on whenever the festival ends. (The Vancouver Film Fest, for example, ends on a Friday and it gives everyone the chance to recuperate over the weekend)

This year, all of the festival awards were handed out at the closing gala instead of previous years, where they would either be announced at the opening gala, or in the case of 2004, at the opening gala SCREENING. This year, letting all of the awards be announced at the party was a great idea.

“Jimmywork”, director Simon Sauve’s first feature, was the announced winner for the Best Canadian First Feature. The acclaimed documentary about gambler, schemer and gourmet cat food maker Jimmy Weber also opened this year’s film festival, an odd choice considering that many larger films were in competition. But the choice to open it certainly worked. “Jimmywork sparked a great deal of debate about documentary and filmmaking amidst the audience.” Festival director Kathy Kay comments, “People couldn’t stop talking about the film; it really pushed people’s comfort level and was not a straightforward film experience.”

“Two Great Sheep”, the Chinese film about two prize-fighting sheep making change in a small town was awarded the Best Feature Film award, and Daniel Roby’s “White Skin”, which was much discussed during the festival, won for Best Canadian Feature Film.

In the world of the short features, the Oscar-nominee “Ryan” by Chris Landreth took the award for Best Animated Short. It was a fight between this and the other Oscar nominee, Bill Plympton’s “Guard Dog”, which was another highlight of the festival. The live action short award went to “Milo 55160” by director David Ostry.

The Best Documentary award went to “Sneakers”, which was another film that I was angry to miss during the festival, and was so widely praised that a second screening was added in the middle of the week. Directed by Femke Wolting, it tells the story of how the sneaker shoe has impacted our society.

And lastly, “Being Caribou” won the Audience Favorite award, a curiosity for the reason the same film also won the Canadian Audience Favourite award at the Vancouver International Film Festival last fall (it tied with “What Remains of Us”, which also played this festival as well). The 72 minute documentary will most likely get a deal with broadcast later in the year.

I must also make mention of festival volunteer Robert Anderson, who I met last year when he won the #1 Volunteer Award, and also was also designated the award again this year by volunteer coordinator Kim Tooby. Volunteers are incredibly important to the festival, and while I certainly met a lot of them this year, Robert was one of the most devoted and hard-working people I’ve seen.

Jason's 2nd Annual Victoria Film Festival Awards: Once again, I must take some time and make my own personal awards, because I have my opinions and they must be known. Here we go:

Best Film: Well, it hasn’t changed. “Rhythm is It!”, which I happily viewed again, was one of the best films I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival and was well received at an afternoon screening here in Victoria. The German film, which teaches the value of dance and music to children by way of a dance teacher and a conductor, is absolutely precise in its story and execution. I’m certainly hoping that the film picks up distribution in the US and Canada in the future.

Runner-ups: “Born Into Brothels” is another terrific documentary about the creative kids in the Red Light district of Calcutta who love photography and the arts but have a terrible background. It opens in limited release this month… “Primer”, the film on time travel and scientists which has wowed everyone who has seen it, worked better on a second viewing during the festival…”Behind The Mascot” about the history of mascots and how much they mean to our society, was one of the best documentaries I saw at the festival, and certainly the most fun…and Danny Boyle’s ”Millions”, while slightly flawed, tells an interesting story about a young boy who tries to make good with a bag of money he finds. The film is a definite departure from the director of “28 Days Later” and “Trainspotting”, and a much better “departure” than “The Beach” a few years ago.

Coolest Filmmaker Award: Bill Butler and Laszlo Kovacs (tie): These two cinematographers are some of the most entertaining people that I’ve met in quite some time. I ran into Mr. Butler all weekend, from outside the hotel he was staying at to the several parties that he attended. And Mr. Kovacs is a storyteller, a man who loves to share his stories on his work with anyone and everyone. Both made the busy first weekend of the festival a major highlight of my year. And the interviews are forthcoming as Profile Interview Series entries.

Coolest Filmmaker Award, Runner-Ups: The Simons: Sauve (Jimmywork director) and Reynolds (White Light director). I had the pleasure of meeting the “Jimmywork” director on several occasions throughout the first weekend, as well as the extremely cool director/actor Simon Reynolds whose “White Light” was a fine short film in competition. Mr. Reynolds, a Toronto native, also seemed to like the city so much that he stayed all the way until the end of the festival.

Best Interview Award: This is a difficult one since I had such a busy time at the festival; and while it was brief and I had a cold, my 15 minute talk with Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton was a definite highlight. There was a fun interview from his hotel room where he not only signed a copy of one of his films, but also did a quick drawing from his “Guard Dog” on a postcard for me. The kindness that Mr. Plympton gives to his fans is admirable.

Best Party Award: All of the parties were a blast, but this year, the Opening Gala party stood out as my favourite; not only did they give out free booze this year which is always a plus, there was a very lively attitude with a lot of the filmmakers and present festival-goers. I also had fun talking cinematography with Bill Butler at the National Film Board Party during the first weekend, and mingling with volunteers at the Closing Gala Party as well.

Best Line Award: The Odeon 7 let everyone queue up inside and close to the auditorium, instead of making everyone line up outside and in the cold at the Capitol 6. (And it was COLD during the festival!).

Best Seats Award: Although I didn’t see a screening here, I went to the Victoria Confrence Centre just to go into the gorgeous, stadium-seated auditorium and sit in one of their seats. And they were good. Also, the seats in the Odeon 7 are also much nicer than the awkward, 20-year old seats at the Capitol across the street.

Best Presentation Award: This year, the number of technical glitches were much, much lower than last year. Nearly all of the films I saw at screen #2 at the Odeon 7 were right on the money. Everything was sharp, focused and in frame, although the theatre is screaming for a speaker upgrade and Dolby Digital sound. (They have the DTS system installed, but none of the films in the festival had those available soundtracks.) The Capitol also did a good job this year with their film handling, and also their newer digital projector made the smaller films look even better.

Most Walked-Out-Of-Film: Mondovino, The Python, and @festivercine.ron had many grumblings and walk-outs, but “The Python” surprised me since its intentionally slow shots I found a lot of fun. Surprisingly, I only saw about four people leave the screening of “Primer” which I thought would have eluded many festival-goers, but it kept every interested viewer in its seat.

Worst Film Award: “Mondovino” is quite simply a terrible documentary. At over 145 minutes (I didn’t even make it that far), this is a wandering, aimless, uninspired piece of flatness about the current wine culture. An interesting subplot comes up in regards to the globalization of the product but it also spends a ridiculous amount of time wandering around the world checking out different wine suppliers (and dogs, don’t ask) with a jerky, hand-held camera.

Coming in the next two weeks: look for interviews with celebrated cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Bill Butler, as well as an interview with Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton.

Thanks to everyone involved with the festival, particularly communications director Nora Arajs, for their kind assistance in helping provide coverage for this year’s festival. For more final info and pictures, visit the festival site at See you in Victoria in 2006!

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originally posted: 02/18/05 07:04:27
last updated: 09/23/05 17:31:42
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