VFF 2011 – Having Fun Yet?

It’s one of those universal truths: as condos go up, music venues shut down. Whether you live in London, New York or even here in Victoria. One need only look as far as the former home of Steamers (now a bike shop topped with heritage apartments) for proof of this adage — and when Melissa James moved from Montreal to Vancouver, she saw evidence of the trend everywhere.

It’s one of those universal truths: as condos go up, music venues shut down. Whether you live in London, New York or even here in Victoria. One need only look as far as the former home of Steamers (now a bike shop topped with heritage apartments) for proof of this adage — and when Melissa James moved from Montreal to Vancouver, she saw evidence of the trend everywhere.

“Not every city can be like Montreal, which I totally understand, but I had a hard time finding places to go that I could hear the type of music I like,” she says.

“I started going to places that were a bit more off the grid and found out through this that a lot of these places didn’t necessarily have permits to be open as music venues. So it spurred this question of, ‘Why?’”

James, a filmmaker, set out to make a 20-minute web video examining the challenges faced by live-music venues in Vancouver, particularly focussing on the punk, metal and noise scene.

She met Kate Kroll, another filmmaker and loud-music lover, at the Sweatshop, a venue that served as an indoor skate park, retail store and gallery — until it, too, shut down.

What started as a 20-minute video was quickly becoming a full-length documentary.

“During the course of filming, a lot of the venues that we started following all happened to close down. It was kind of luck, for want of a better word,” says James.

“We’d been filming all these venues and one after the other, we watched the people and the community around these venues suffer from it. That’s really why we got a lot of momentum for the project, because people were really frustrated with it at the time.”

Momentum behind No Fun City, Kroll and James’ documentary, came in the form of support from Lynn Booth of Make Believe Media (“She lent us some better gear,” says Kroll), interviews with everyone from Skinny Puppy to Three Inches of Blood to D.I.Y. venue folks like the Cobalt’s Wendy 13 and David Duprey and countless volunteer hours from editors, camera operators and other folks who wanted to see the film come to fruition.

And it’s paid off; No Fun City has toured to Calgary, Montreal, Tuscon, New York and even the U.K. — and has been met with a great response.

“When we made this, a lot of people were saying, ‘Well, who is going to care about this film about Vancouver? We’re tired of hearing about Vancouver being the no-fun city,’” says James. “But since it’s come out, it’s screened in cities all over the place because everybody seems to be able to relate to it.”

Hard work on the part of Vancouver’s D.I.Y. music scene has paid off, too; the City of Vancouver has started to recognize the importance of creative cultural spaces — and the challenges faced by people trying to set up or maintain them — and has launched its Regulatory Review for Live Performance Venues, which aims “to address issues in various civic bylaws and policies … that impact the creation and operation of live performance venues.”

Kroll and James say it’s a step in the right direction.

“We’ve got plans for the DVD release in April, and hopefully it can be a celebration of how this city has changed,” says James.

• 9:30pm Fri., Feb. 4 at the Odeon

Rocking out in no fun city

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