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Victoria Film Festival 2011 Interview - "No Fun City" director Melissa James

No Fun City - At Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

"No Fun City is a Vancouver-set documentary what happens to independent music and nightlife when faced with the issues of gentrification, noise complaints and stringent city by-laws. It is about a loud vibrant underground music scene, the promoters, bands and fans that support it; and their struggle for space in a city that is rapidly being commercialized, where their culture isnít deemed as valid anymore. Itís also about determination and DIY culture, how people have chosen to do things their own way, open venues regardless of laws and play loud music despite it being difficult. Itís a classic battle of us against them I guess, and hopefully itís a chance for the underdog to be heard." Director Melissa James on "No Fun City" which screens at this year's Victoria Film Festival.

Is this your first film at the Victoria Film Festival? Tell me about your festival experience, and if you plan to attend Victoria for the filmís screenings.

This is our (along with co-director Kate Kroll) first time at Victoria and we are really honoured and excited. It seems like there has been some buzz about the film too which is great. The festival offers so much variety and a really cool selection of films. Having Bruce McDonald there is also exciting for us and we are hoping to be able to stay for Hard Core Logo 2. I am also really proud to be a part of the Springboard talks event on Sunday where I will talk about do-it-yourself filmmaking.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to the industry.

I am from Montreal originally but have lived in New York, Toronto and London. I have a background in marketing and publicity, mostly in the music industry and have also worked at music venues in various cities. I started dabbling in video production a few years ago and then moved to Vancouver to study full time. This is my first feature film. Kate is from Alberta and has been working in the film industry for a few years now in Vancouver including the award-winning DGC Kickstart short "Shi Shi Etko".

How did this whole project come together?

It began as a small DIY project for the web, and as the issue here became more frustrating to the music community and more venues started shutting down we were kind of propelled into the spotlight. We received a lot of media attention for the original demo I created which pointed out what was on a lot of peopleís minds at the time. Then through that exposure, we received interest from Lynn booth at Make Believe Media who really believes in helping emerging talent, and she then helped us make the film on a much larger scope; also helping was Luis Lam who is our incredible editor along with many other awesome people.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the filmís cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

The film was originally shot with consumer level and very inexpensive gear such as a Canon HV30 and a Sure band microphone. We also borrowed, begged and stole along the way. At one point when Make Believe came on board we upgraded and switched to the Sony ex3 so we could shoot the whole thing in HD. I had to rewrite the film at this point to make it from more of a flashback viewpoint, so we could reshoot in HD but include what had already happened. In the end we used most of the HV30 footage as archive and it worked out perfectly.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?

The best was being able to see so many great bands and also that it helped inspire people to come together over the issue. Currently things are being changed at city hall which we hope we had at least a little part in. The worst was probably when we started applying for funding in the early days and realizing that there just werenít any avenues for a film like ours. The film world is evolving constantly though with technology and the internet so now its more about seeking out those alternatives which is great.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

ďA Part of the Weekend Never DiesĒ a doc about the band Soulwax which was all shot on one cam and had really cool editing inspired me in the early days. I also love Mike Leigh although he isnít a documentary filmmaker but he always makes you feel like a fly on the wall; as if you are seeing right in to people. Also Nick Broomfield, Louis Theroux, those types of journalistic story tellers I have always really admired. The film DIG! was also very inspiring, and recently I loved "Exit Through the Gift Shop". There wasnít one direct influence but a culmination of many things.

How has the film been received at other festivals or screenings? Do you have any interesting stories about how this film has screened before? What do you think you will expect at the filmís screenings at Victoria?

So far we have screened at fests in San Francisco, New York, London, Montreal and others. And trust me, we were initially surprised with the amount of interest outside of Vancouver. It isnt just a local problem; people are facing similar issues with venues in other cities and we made sure that the film wasnít too Vancouver-centric so that other people could relate. It was great to be able to expose the music in the film to a wide audience too as people love the soundtrack. Our screening in London was amazing! We had two bands play in the lobby of the theatre and the screening was sold out. We did an event at the Rickshaw in Vancouver and were lucky to have bands from the film play including the Subhumans which was a thrill. A lot of people in Victoria will know the characters personally and the bands so I think it will be a blast this weekend.

If you werenít making movies, what other line or work do you feel youíd be in?

Kate and I would be brain surgeons. Just kidding. I have always worked in a media related field so something in that realm. Filmmaking gives me the opportunity to express myself in my own words which I love. And my current job at Make Believe with documentary research I find very fulfilling. I do lots of things on the side though and so does Kate. She is a dancer in a band and will be going back on tour shortly.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think for a DIY film like ours with little to no budget media is totally critical. It played a huge role in getting people interested in the film and on board to help. This only really works for issue driven projects though or subjects that touch a lot of people, otherwise it can be very hard to get media attention or anyoneís attention for that matter especially in this oversaturated media-driven world we have created. I also think people shouldnít take critics too seriously; at the end of the day you made a film and accomplished something and if you are proud of the end product, thatís all that should matter.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

It already played at the Prince Charles Cinema in Londonís west end which was surreal. Other than that I am not sure. Maybe at the old CBGBís before it closed down.

If you could offer a nickelís worth of free advice to someone who wanted to make movies, what nuggets of wisdom would you offer?

If you canít get it done any other way, do it yourself!

What do you love the most about film and the filmmaking business?

Collaboration, creativity. The combination of journalism, photography, music and promotion makes documentary filmmaking the perfect thing for me, and like I said it gives me the opportunity to express myself in my own words which is important and not many people get to share their view point with an audience like I have. I am honoured when anyone watches my film! I also love documentary because it never gets better or crazier or sadder than real life and itís important to keep showing real peopleís stories.

What would you do or say to someone who is talking or being disruptive during a movie?

In our film thatís just par for the course! Its loud and raucous and donít be surprised to see people drinking too.

A question that is easy for some but not for others and always gets a different response: what is your favourite film of all time?

"Naked" by Mike Leigh, "The Rivers Edge", "American Movie", "Visitor Q", "Paradise Lost", "A Clockwork Orange" ... I could go on and on...

"No Fun City" screens at Victoria Film Festival, Friday, February 4th, 9:30pm at the Odeon.

This is one of the official selections in this yearís Victoria Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this yearís fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VFF í11 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #vicfilmfestival is the official hashtag.

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/04/11 17:22:58
last updated: 02/04/11 17:23:18
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