The Victoria Film Festival: Make believe and reality

By Linda Rogers, January 2011

150 films bring the world to Victoria.

It’s a wet Victoria morning and Victoria Film Festival manager Kathy Kay immediately offers tea. This is auspicious. It is the attention to detail and small graces that help events create community, which is what has happened for the festival, now in its tenth year. In a small city that hugs hard when it is properly embraced and discards when it isn’t, this is telling. The good times keep on rolling when Victorians feel the respect. After events like the Film Festival and the Fringe there is as much buzz about meeting people as there is about the onstage and screen performances. We are not a gaggle of spectators. The key to success is having Victoria feel the experience.

The Film Festival attracts diverse performances that enrich and educate our small city at the end of the world. Victoria is not Berlin or New York, yet we have the same or perhaps an even greater hunger to experience diversity. There’s no question of the heterodoxy of the festival jurors, which includes filmmakers, directors, business people and one city councillor. When the jurors select from over 1000 entries, they balance our need to know with our need to escape. This is the chemistry of magic.

One of the feature docs this year is Make Believe by American director J Clay Tweel. Make Believe follows the stories of six young magicians compelled by the possibility of transformation of reality as they move through difficult adolescent experiences to altered states of grace. Tweel says he loves showing at festivals “because you get a chance to screen for an audience that truly loves movies.” He is also hoping to connect with young Victoria magicians, of whom there are many—this is a city that accepts magic and make believe.

This morning there is a jubilant energy in the VFF office filled with hard-working staff members who have doubled their energy since ruthless attempts to decimate our culture came down from both federal and provincial governments. They have captured the flag. The good news today is that the VFF has signed Out of the Ashes, a much talked-about documentary about the Afghani national cricket team. In addition to providing a window into the culture of Afghanistan, the film documents the collision of cultural expectations.

“I like to bring films with texture, layers of resonance,” says Kay, who studied history at York University and later became a chef, which explains why the food is so good at festival events, which include an evening of erotic shorts at the Superior Café, tasty schmoozes at The Office, sips and conversational clips at The Legacy Art Gallery and Veneto Tapa Lounge, and a gastronomic finale at Spinnakers Brew Pub. She makes it clear the festival is a party and everyone is invited—and well fed.

Films bring the world to Victoria but VFF also presents a window into Canadian movie making. The Canadian Gala launch this year is Food Security, a doc by Duncan filmmaker Nick Versteeg, who says the dialogue his films generate on a local level are valuable to him and his cause, which is the production of healthy food. “I hope that I can inspire young and upcoming filmmakers to keep creating productions with a message that will give people food for thought and motivate them to get involved in making our environment a better and healthier place.”

“This is a great year for documentary,” Kay enthuses. “We’re also showing In the Wake of The Flood, which documents the chorally-accompanied reading tour by Margaret Atwood after publication of her novel The Flood.

Another standout Canadian director featured this year is Bruce MacDonald, who is bringing his film Trigger, based on the all-women rock band. Starring actors Tracy Wright and Molly Parker, Trigger has been gathering laurels in this awards season.

“It’s also a stellar year for women,” notes Kay. We are all aware of the complaints from seasoned actors like Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon about the paucity of good parts for mature women in Hollywood. Gender bias has also had a huge impact in the literary, art and music worlds, where great artists like Fanny Mendelssohn, Dorothy Wordsworth, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Camille Claudel were either silenced or plagiarized by men who had greater access to audiences. The film !Women, Art, Revolution reveals how the feminist art movement of the 60s fused free speech and politics into an art that radically transformed the art and culture of our times.

Sara McIntyre of Kiss Dust Productions in Vancouver is exhilarated by the opportunity to hear feedback on her already celebrated new film, an ironic dialogue between First Nations activists on the eve of a roadblock. For McIntyre, who admits Two Indians Talking is a smaller film that won’t likely have a wide-screen theatrical release, “Film festivals offer a chance to show independent films like this on a big screen and to cultivate an audience before the televised broadcast, or DVD distribution happens. But what I find most compelling is that festivals provide a unique chance to have direct conversation with an audience and find out how the story is resonating.”

Kay says she is grateful to the Victoria Foundation, which has made it possible for Victoria short filmmakers to be screened at the festival as “tweeners.” “It’s important for emerging voices to be heard. How else will they take the next steps?” How many of us remember a young Atom Egoyan making short films in Victoria? Baby steps come before giant steps and we are all invited to witness the exciting process.

Even though the festival has juried awards for Best Feature Film, Best Canadian Feature, Best Documentary, Best Short and Best Short Animation, the Audience Favourite is of huge importance. After all, it is the movie we take to heart and that is, in the end, what counts.

The Victoria Film Festival presents 150 films over 10 days, February 4-13. All screening and event information is on its website, www.victoriafilmfestival.com.

Victoria Poet Laureate Linda Rogers is a poet, novelist, teacher and journalist who believes that celebration—the ritual integration of expressive art forms—is essential to a community.