By the 6 day marker of the film festival last year, things were getting way too crazy for me to handle. I wasn't sleeping at all, I was stressed out beyond belief, and I had gotten sick and felt as though the end was near. This year – with friends of mine dropping left, right, and center due to some sort of illness best described as the film festival flu or "FFF" in typical Vancouver festival-going acronym style – I was a tad worried it would be a repeat of last year. I, however, was holding up quite well. I had seen a handful more movies than I had thought I would, and with newfound friends in every direction, I was ready to head into the second calendar week full bore. Although that would eventually happen, I didn't want to abandon the Hollywood movies that are my bread and butter and keep me employed and writing year-round. After all, you'd never cut off your own nose to spite your face. Or would you? So I tried to do the balancing act and was sure that it was going to either come off swimmingly or I was going to be in big trouble and an implosion was near. Let's see if I was able to balance the two for the next 7 days of the festival.
Wednesday, September 29th afforded me the opportunity to do a little bit of both. Another light day on my schedule, I at the last minute ditched the festival to check out the Hollywood football drama Friday Night Lights at an early screening. The only problem was a running time just shy of 2 hours and a festival screening of David Weaver's excellent Siblings starting at 9:15, which was sure to be sold out and hard to get seats at. Another thing was that the theaters were a good 7 minutes away from one another by Skytrain, and there was absolutely no margin of error. Things were either going to work out perfect for my friend and I in terms of timing, or the whole thing was going to blow up in my face – and knowing my luck, it would be the latter. Luckily, however, we booked it back to the Granville 7 and made the film with about 5 minutes to spare, finding our seats that were being held for us. Having seen the film prior to the festival at the press screening, I was equally impressed with it the second time and the Q&A with director David Weaver was also very informative. I had asked the film's publicist a few days prior if an interview was possible, but hadn't heard back. Luckily, as I walked out of the door, she stopped me and said to call her the next day to set it up. Score one for me! Continuing on the night's stretch of good luck, I went up to the director in the lobby and we chatted for a bit, which is one of the best things about the festival – the easy access to the creative talent involved. After this it was off to make a brief appearance at the "Dragons and Tigers" Party at Ginger 62 (a venue I'd return to over the weekend) and then a quick hop, skip, and a jump down to the Railway Club where Don McKellar was hanging out along with Michelle Nolden and Nicki Clyne, who I met for the first and time and someone I'd continue to run into just about anytime there was a notable party happening.
After a long night on Wednesday, it was back up and at 'em early on Thursday morning as I had an important must-see screening to make at 10am. The screening was for Don McKellar's Childstar, which I had already arranged an interview for prior to the festival beginning. The problem? If I missed the screening due to oversleeping or anything, there wouldn't be another chance to see it prior to the interview, which would leave me in a big bind in terms of being prepared. In fact, I was originally scheduled to talk to Don and Mark Rendall (the child star in question) that afternoon, though as luck would have it that would be pushed back approximately 24 hours. That was a bit of a relief since I hate not being prepared, and if there's one thing I don't like to do with my interviews, it's have too many 'stock' questions. I saw the film and dug it, came home, did some writing (which I tried to cram in whenever possible), came up with a few basic questions, and headed back downtown. I caught a screening of some random un-memorable film, and then was going to hit Clean which was getting a lot of buzz. Instead, at the last minute, the decision was made to see a second shorts package which featured my friend Candice's roommate Magda in one of the shorts. I saw that, it ran long, and then the Q&A followed which was very interesting. Then, that led to a conversation on Granville Street with some of the filmmakers of Commentary On (a short detailed in my Shorts article) and then a food stop. Lo and behold, the next thing you know, it's 1am and I'm just heading home. The problem: I still needed to write questions for the McKellar/Rendall interview and on top of that, throughout all the craziness of the day, I got a confirmation on a David Weaver interview 20 minutes after the interview with Rendall/McKellar would likely finish. So I pulled another one of my typical all-night writing sessions and woke up early to prepare for the other interview.
I stayed up till 4am writing questions and then was back up at 11am to do the same, as I made the mad dash to finish everything prior to leaving for downtown around 1:30pm to get there at 2pm and get into the zone for my interviews. Interview #1 with Don and Mark went well, though there were some technical problems with my minidisc recorder when it fell on the floor. Luckily, the thing auto-saved the content and the crisis was averted. Interview #2 started a tad late and I had to rush to cram in my questions in 20 minutes rather than the typical 30. I really enjoyed sitting down with David Weaver because I loved his film so much that I saw it twice – once during the festival and once prior at the press screening. Usually, I'm not one for interviews, but when I enjoy the work, it's always interesting to meet the people behind it. I left the Crowne Plaza Hotel feeling like I had done a good job, and then it was time to kill some time in downtown Vancouver before meeting up with my cronies to see Childstar again (at the behest of Don McKellar). I caught up with Candice, hung out a bit, ran into Nicki Clyne (again), and met up with her and Jason and saw the film and Q&A. Then, it was back over to Granville for the dreadful Izo.
Saturday was another early start as I had to catch Clean after the last-minute change from a couple nights prior. All in all, it was worth the wait, though my drowsiness from a lack of sleep from the past few days was showing big time. Then, it was a couple hour break to just hang before the Love Crimes of Gillian Guess, an awful film by Bruce McDonald – director of the excellent Hard Core Logo. The film was just brutal, but the screening itself was a spectacle as the cast – including Phil Collin's lovely daughter Joely – arrived in a very cool limo bus. The original plan was to hit the after party, but when the film sucked, that was thrown out the window. Instead, we caught part of A Whale of a Tale before heading over for the late show of Electric Shadows. After that, it was home to to prepare for my third interview of the festival with Wilby Wonderful's director Daniel MacIvor.
I found myself on Sunday moving into the home stretch of the festival. With only a handful of days left to go, I once again took a step back to relax and prepare for a third interview. After a late start, the interview with Wilby Wonderful's director Daniel MacIvor went well, though due to it starting a few minutes behind schedule I didn't have a chance to attend the screening I was hoping to see immediately following it. Oh well, it would have been a rush and with the amount of movies I had been taking in, it didn't feel all too terrible to miss one. So I did some wandering around downtown, making sure that I got a bite to eat, before meeting back up with Jason after his screening to catch a bus out to the Ridge theatre (the only VIFF venue outside the downtown core) for a screening of Ill Fated. Going into the film, I knew very little about it, though I knew Nicki Clyne – the actress I'd been running into everywhere over the past few days – was in it and the publicist seemed keen to get us media types out to the screening, even offering my colleague and I tickets at the box office (something we didn't of course need due to our full access media passes). After running into Bill Marchant (fresh from the Calgary Film Festival) and Everyone producer Tyman Stewart, as well as other local actors and actresses, we ran into Nicki and wished her luck on the screening. Then it was out front to meet some of the other talent involved in the film, including director Mark. A. Lewis and producer Andre Garrison. The film started a few minutes late as they tried to pack everyone into the Ridge's nearly 800 seats. A few minutes later, the film was unspooling on the screen, and when a title card with a credit for Cobie Smulders hit the screen, my interest perked up even more. You see, Cobie Smulders and I went to high school together, and the last time I ran into her about half a year back, she recognized me at the same time I recognized her. Not bad for an actress to recognize a Joe Blow-type like me from high school. The movie turned out to be a sharply-written small-town tale of a boy who wants to leave but is unsure how to do so, combined with the usual small-town hijinks. After that it was off to the after-party to hobnob with the elite party types and congratulate everyone involved for their hard work. That wrapped up around 1am and it was time once again to head home to catch a few hours of shuteye before things got rolling in the morning.
It was back to reality for me on Monday as I had to work a screening as part of my other job at the unflattering time of 10:30am. Normally a 10:00am movie is a bit of a stretch for me, but on this day it was pure hell and I was into zombie mode as I greeted fellow press members at the screening. Following that, it was time for a nap (though only a short one) before heading back downtown to catch The World According to Bush, a sort of French take on the George W. Bush presidency. I thought the film was decent, but wasn't really as shocking or fresh as I would have hoped. Then it was time to meet up with Candice to see the Danish film Terkel in Trouble, a CG animated film that certainly isn't for kids. It reminded me of the South Park movie with its twisted take on the traditional Disney animated features. A good time was had by all at the screening, or so I thought, as some personal drama took place following the screening which led to another late night and a stressful situation for myself.
I don't really remember much about Tuesday and the notes I had made for myself during the festival are quite vague as to what happened. I do know my first screening of the day was Irish director Robert Stone's Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, a fascinating look at the SLA's kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, which turned out to be one of the first known cases of Stockholm Syndrome. I also remember running into a number of people involved with Ill Fated just before that screening started (20 minutes before mine) and saying hello and how I loved that film. The hours between 5 and 9pm are more of a blur, but it's quite possible that I met up with Candice before heading to The Woodsman, a well-acted Kevin Bacon film that will see commercial release later in the year in North America. Following that, it was back home to try and get to bed at a regular time, something that became increasingly difficult as the festival progressed.
Two days left in the festival, and instead of increasing my output, it seemed to be decreasing with only one film on deck for the evening. Bill Marchant's Everyone, a film which by this point I had sitting on my desk in DVD format for at least the past month and a half, maybe longer. I had seen snippets, but had never sat down to see the full work. Marchant, a friend to one of my nearest and dearest festival buddies, is a great guy who I had seen a few times throughout the festival and who had already heard of me due to a planned interview that to this day has yet to happen (which is all my fault because of a busy workload). The plan was to see the film and support Bill and his tremendous cast of Vancouver actors, including Carly Pope (who was yet another person I had gone to high school with and had interviewed a couple weeks prior for the release of Intern Academy). Jason and Candice had already seen the film, but had been raving about it, so I sat down hoping to be blown away – and for the most part I was. Some more personal stuff happened within the core of my group, and despite some extreme nervousness about attending the after party due to its location and some bad memories of last year, I attended the shindig at SkyBar and had a rocking time. I ran into Bill, Tyman Stewart, Carly Pope, and of course Nicki Clyne, and a good time was had by all until the thing shut down relatively early at 11:30pm. Next it was over to the internet bar with Jason, a few phone calls, and then back home to bed where I so desperately needed to be by that point.
The tension within my core group of festival friends hit its highest during the my sole Thursday screening of Stage Beauty, a wonderful period piece detailing the history of men in English theatre, currently in limited release from Lions Gate Films. Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, and Rupert Everett appear in this well-shot, well-acted, quaint little story that while historically accurate, in that it happened, has taken some liberties with the events and the order in which they occurred. The film was quite strong, but not without some problems. I don't generally like these sort of movies, so the fact that I was entertained and having a good time despite the terribly uncomfortable Vogue seats is really quite an accomplishment. Still, the film managed to do its job and distract from the awkward moments that preceded it during dinner. Again, I don't really remember what happened after the screening, but it's possible that everyone went straight home and rested after the tension-filled hours – which, when you think about it, is a bit of a shame as with only 24 hours left 'til the festival ended, another chance to see a movie (without paying for it) would have probably been a good idea.
So two weeks to the day after the festival started, things were beginning to wind down. Only one more partial day of screenings left (most of the venues wrapped up with a 3pm set of shows on Friday), and the gala screening and after-party stood as the only things left to cover before the festival would officially be in the books for another year. It would be back to our regular lives without the option to see films from sunrise to sunset and all night long. Gone would be the majority of film festival friends, not to be seen 'til next year, and all that would be left would be a handful of memories of the fun we had rushing from screening to screening with little to no time in between.
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.