The 2015 Victoria Film Festival (VFF) went back in time during its opening night. Crowds had a great selection of movies to choose from on day one. Some even began an hour earlier so that a total of six movies were available that ranged from matters of the heart to comedy and music.
One particular film, Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood went right to the birth of cinema, circa 1912, to explain how the great studios were started by Canadians and in how people from this country continues to be an influence.
The opening gala film, Boychoir, showed that time cannot stand still for Stet (Garrett Wareing). He’s a vocal talent who, eventually through puberty, will lose his greatest gift. In matters of the heart, like in 1001 Grams, he really must show to a brutal headmaster that he really truly wants to succeed.
Before the film began, Adam Sawatsky from CTV News emceed the night, introducing Kathy Kay, the director of the Victoria Film Festival who then thanked all the generous hosts and people who helped make this show possible. Afterwards, a local all girls choir, Youth Choir 61, wearing the film festival’s bright pink colours arrived on stage to set the mood for the movie.
The VFF organizers hoped that director Francois Girard of Boychoir could come, but in a taped video explaining his situation, audiences laughed and simply rolled with it.
Even before the festivities started, the organizers were busy getting all the sundries ready for attendees to groove to. That included a mobile lounge that was sitting outside the Odeon Theatre. What was inside were lava lamps and everything groovy, including flowers and peace signs decorating the double-decker bus’ walls.
Filmgoers had the opportunity to make a trip down memory lane as the Promis Building on 1008 Government Street is stripped down to reveal what it looked like back when it was originally built. Plenty of brick walls and pipes lined the sides, and it spoke of a time when people from anywhere were feeling fatigue in a world besieged by war. The nations affected needed to flock to something new, and cinema offered retreats into a world of noir, comedy and Disney as escapism — so long it wasn’t coloured by propaganda.
Musically, swing was very popular, and throughout the night, the Pacific Blue Naden Band blasted favourite tunes for people to dance and bebop to. Listen carefully, and the astute may recognize Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
A few cardboard stand-ups of notable performers like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains could be found for those who were looking. If they were around, they were at least present in spirit.
Unlike previous years where the catering was done by Spinnakers, the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association and the Camosun College – Official Professional Cook Program offered plenty of delectable delights to fill people up. Plenty of sausage, seafood, fruits and meats were offered in unique pairings with gentle sauces throughout the night.
Even the staff of the Victoria Film Festival were busy, offering avid party goers an opportunity to dress up in some favourite vintage outfits and pose for the camera. Festival Programmer Donovan Aikman was behind the lens for that.
Even Clare Lawlor, Manager of The Vic Theatre — where part of the films will be playing — helped out serving the alcohol.
Intentional or not, street performers were nearby showing off some careful fiery juggling acts.
In the house was Richard Crouse, and as films ended on the first day (or they haven’t started yet), other visits to this party included Tennis Pro’s Phillip Peterson, David Drury and Sean Lowry making an appearance before having to leave to introduce their film Big In Japan. Other personalities that showed up for the night was comedian Ron James (The Ron James Show), and if people were out trying to star gaze, Mark McKinney (The Kids In the Hall) might have been there. They were simply blending in to enjoying the festive night. Even long time Odeon Theatre head manager Pierre Gauthier came dressed in 40’s attire to show that he loves the movies.
Local filmmakers like Ian Ferguson and Leslie Bland were also on hand enjoying the night. With their documentary Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood spotlighting a vast array of celebrities talking about how Canadians have become part of the world of entertainment at large, that alone should sate the appetite for celebrity spotting even though that was on a big screen.
Unlike previous years which had really well-known names like John Landis, Linda Blair, Gareth Edwards appearing, this one is light on recognizable names but heavy on numerous directors appearing to talk about their films.
This year is about showing off many a local talent in a mix that includes Canadian Wave, a special program that highlights diversity within this country; French Canadian Wave, celebrating the works from Quebec (Henri Henri really must be seen; it’s highly recommended); the Indigenous Program, to look at the works First Nations filmmakers have crafted recently and World Perspective, spotlighting the best the independent films from the last two years or so.
Not everyone danced the night away. To those that did, they were certainly well dressed and enjoying the music the band was playing. In the list, favourite tunes like “You are my Sunshine” and “In the Mood.” The latter is only fitting to get film buffs ready for a bustling ten days where the best of independent cinema will soon be spotlighted.