It’s the most wonderful time of the year for movie lovers on Vancouver Island.
The Victoria Film Festival (VFF) pulled the curtain back Thursday night on what’s in store for the 29th annual event, taking place Feb. 3-12 at various venues around town, including one that’s rather fitting for locals — a whale-watching boat.
Screening locations include The Vic Theatre, Capital 6 Theatres, Cineplex Odeon downtown, the Blue Bridge Theatre and, in a unique experience, the Prince of Whales Boat Cinema.
All will help helm the festival’s motto for this year, “Bringing film to life,” with a total of 109 films, including 83 feature-length and 26 short films, set to screen over 10 days, when one film will make its international debut and eight will make their Canadian debuts, according to the festival’s program guide.
Forty-four films have a female director, while five films have Victoria-based filmmakers, including A Cedar is Life by Harold C. Joe and Leslie Bland — one of four Indigenous features to screen alongside four LGTBQ+ features. The docuemntary is an investigation into the cultural significance of what most Pacific Northwest First Nations call the Tree of Life.
Kathy Kay, festival director, sums up the film fest as “just great.”
“Guests come to town. This year, we’ve got several that have a decent body of work. It’s all about people who live film,” Kay told CHEK News in an interview.
Screenwriter Paul Schrader, known for films like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and American Gigolo, will be presented with the Modern Masters Award by the VFF and participate in “In Conversation with Paul Schrader,” the festival says.
It’s one of many industry events, including panels, one-on-one pitch sessions and Masterclasses, to take place, with guest panellists including Academy Award-winning composer Mychael Danna, screenwriter Sophie Jarvis, cinematographer Jeremy Cox, director Kurtis David Harder and talent agent Ari Wise.
As part of the festival, a free art exhibit called Bringing Film to Life is also taking place at the Atrium at 800 Yates St., where film and visual arts will combine and 10 local artists will put their pieces on display.
Like in past years, organizers hope to leave audiences wanting more.
“The community comes out, I think that’s important. I know lots of other festivals that happen, but we try to make it quirky,” according to Kay.
“There will be some Japanese drummers, my understanding is that they will come and perform before a Japanese film. Daniel Lapp is going to perform before a film about fiddling. We try to supplement the screening so that they’re more fun.”
It’s a festival that’s been running strong for nearly three decades, even when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a few hiccups for organizers.
“The festival has carried on each year,” said Kay.
“In 2020, we happened just before the pandemic got going, and then in 2021, we did it completely online, which was a really odd experience. And then last year, we did a hybrid, we did both. This year, we will do it all in person.”
Kay likes in-person festivals best.
“For me, it’s not really a film festival unless it’s in person. Part of the fun and experience is being in line, chatting with other people and getting that sense of excitement over film,” she said. “I think you don’t get that so much when you’re sitting at home and watching the TV.”
Kay’s expecting the Victoria Film Festival to be busy and tickets to sell quickly, so she’s encouraging people to purchase theirs in advance. Film vouchers and passes to in-person panels, sessions and classes can be found online.
“Individual film tickets are the same price as last year. We’re on a mission to be the inflation busters,” added organizers.
“Well, we’re doing our best.”