Okay, if you were to ask me last week how many movies I planned to see at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, lovingly referred to as VIFF by film geeks young and old, then I would have told you I had a tentative schedule of nearly 50 ready and lined up. 50 movies in 16 days for an average of 3.12 movies per day, and that's not even including the regular Hollywood studio movies that I planned to cram into my schedule wherever an opportunity presented itself. So here we are roughly one week into the festival and I've seen a total of 15 festival movies (I think). All right, some of those screenings occurred just prior to the festival in the three weeks of press screenings put on at the Pacific Cinematheque as well as some set up for media only that have been held at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas for accredited media while the festival roars downtown. After a busy first 4 days that saw a minimum of 2 films per day all the way up to the more insane 4 or 5, I've spent the early part of this week relaxing and writing up coverage as my schedule slowed down to a more normal 3 films in as many days. But whoever said a 22-year-old film fan needed sleep, a social life, or time to actually write articles and reviews was highly wrong, because after the downtime, I'm back and ready to hit the festival longer and harder. And heck, with some cool movies still to screen and some celebrity guests left to interview, the time to rest is through. Like the age old saying goes: You can sleep when you're dead. So here's a look at some of the happenings of the first few days of the festival from my perspective.
Thursday September 23rd was the official launch date of this year's festival, and with no fewer than three interesting features I wanted to check out, my festival experience got off to a rather slow start as a lack of sleep the night before and a work backlog that would continue to grow prevented me from attending the first 2 films I had scheduled. I did however head down to Ground Zero (a 2-block stretch of Granville Street) around 5pm to get tickets to a couple of evening screenings. After noting that the ticket lineup procedure had already reverted back to last year's system, I was good to go. Tickets in hand, I met up with Jason Whyte -- a friend from a few years back -- and we got set to see some movies. He had already been going strong all day and we decided to head down the street to see all the VIPs file in for the Opening Night Gala screening of Being Julia. We watched as celebrities entered, while the Granvillle street traffic prevented any real red carpet-like treatment. Note to VIFF planners: I know this is a more low-key festival than Toronto, but a nice red carpet spectacle would definitely give it a higher international recognition factor. Instead of limos, we saw cabs, and the only real event was a car explosion with dripping anti-freeze and other car fluids all over the street right in front of the Vogue. Now that's what I call an opening. Shut out of seeing the feature and unable to make my pre-scheduled screening, we stumbled in to Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, which was not exactly the best start to the festival for me. After that, we caught Winter Solstice, a strong debut from filmmaker Joshua Sternfield who I not only met before the show but also participated in a Q&A with following the 9:15pm screening, all while the Opening Night Gala after-party raged on across the street. That's dedication folks.
Friday was another slow start for me as I hit the festival only during the evening, and again went one for two in terms of movies I had planned to see and what I actually saw. Dear Frankie was the lone screening for me this evening and was a pleasant and heartwarming surprise. It's the tale of a deaf boy and his mom (Emily Mortimer) who sends him letters from his father who she left a number of years ago. A beautifully shot and small personal story from Shona Auerbach, the film does have theatrical distribution and should be a runaway hit when released later in the year or early 2005. After that it was down to Storyeum in historic Gastown for the CineClix-sponsored Trade Forum Party. CineClix (www.cineclix.com) is a new downloadable movie website where for a small fee you can download independent movies straight to your computer. The party wasn't that happening an affair, but the location was nice, the drinks were cheap, and there were a few familiar faces including producer Paul Armstrong and of course my close friends Greg Ursic from the UBC newspaper as well as Jim Gordon from CTV/104-9 FM/Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine and "the voice" of the Virgin Megastore. A couple hours there and a cool tour of the largest elevator ever created (holds 200 people) later, it was time to call it a night.
Saturday was the first real day I went nuts, attending three back-to-back screenings at the Vogue theatre. Up first was the dreadful A Hole in My Heart followed by the light and fluffy Head in the Clouds and then The Motorcycle Diaries, which I had seen almost three weeks prior at a press screening. Having seen it twice now, I can say that The Motorcycle Diaries is without a doubt one of the best of the year. Originally I only planned to catch the first two, but I'm glad I stuck around for the third as the company was good with my friend Jason and my new friend Candice.
Day 4 was an interesting one with 1:00pm, 4:00pm, and 9:30pm screenings that I wanted to see. What would I do in between the second and third screening? If I were to go home, I'd lose all motivation to go back downtown. So after the fluffy but only average Being Julia and the predictable by-the-numbers revenge film Dead Man Shoes, Jason and I decided to hang around downtown. Bored by 7:00pm, we went and checked out a collection of Canadian shorts entitled "Passages". Not usually one for shorts, I enjoyed a number of them including Elliott Smelliot, a tale of a boy genius who loves a 20-year-old. Adding to the fun of the night was an introduction to Bill Marchant, director of Everyone, a film which Jason did the first ever review for and one that I'll be reviewing soon. Bill seemed to know who Jason and I both were as publicist extrodiniare Rory Richards has promised to line-up interviews for the both of us. After a screening plagued by technical problems, we tried to meet some of the Show Me cast, but time was tight and The Machinist was calling us.
The next two days brought a decidedly different atmosphere as Monday's sole festival screening was Silver City, and even then the screening was a media-only affair. No festival crowds, just 20 or so people in a screening room. Then Monday night we hit Shark Tale for some Hollywood action and then back downtown just to hang out and chat. Tuesday was much the same with a Wilby Wonderful screening and a lot of resting as I prepared for another crazy busy weekend.
Now it's time for a breakdown. "The Good, the Bad and The Ugly" so far at the festival.
THE GOOD: The people. I've been having a good time hanging out with pretty much everyone I've come across. Jason Whyte and I are hitting pretty much the same screenings (though he breaks far less than me). Jason has also introduced me to someone who is fast becoming a really good friend and one I hope to see year-round at movies and other events. Although Candice is the same name as an evil ex-friend of mine, I'm willing to look past that. Film-wise, The Motorcycle Diaries, Camping Sauvage, and Siblings have been highlights.
THE BAD: Some of the projection problems at the Vogue and Granville 7. I don't believe I've been to a screening yet that hasn't been plagued by some sort of projection issue. Either bad framing at the start or at the changeover point (at the Vogue) has hampered the viewing experience. Film-wise I could have done without Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and Seven Times Lucky.
THE UGLY: The unfortunate projection problem that plagued the "Passages" (shorts collection) screening and sent William B. Davis packing before his scheduled Q&A. For those not in attendance, the dialogue audio on the digitally presented short was absent not once but twice during playback. Also adding insult to injury was that another short in the package who's director was present started in the wrong aspect ratio. Technical problems are liable to pop up with multi-format playback during one presentation, but to have it happen with guests in the audience looks highly unprofessional. Film-wise, I needn't say more than A Hole in My Heart.
So that's about it. Keep it here for more reviews, interviews, and general ramblings about the 23rd Vancouver International Film Festival. Until then, I'll see you at the movies, unless I'm asleep somewhere.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.