Tide Lines, Andrew Naysmith's feature documentary, sets out on the open water for an environmental quest with local guys Hugh Patterson and Ryan and Bryson Robertson.

CineFile’s top films for 2014 Film Fest

Our resident film nerd Kyle Wells shares his must-see list of films for the 20th anniversary of the Victoria Film Festival

While it’s not the biggest or most important film festival going, the Victoria Film Festival is nonetheless high in quality. Organizers do an excellent job of bringing together some of the finest features from the previous year’s festival circuit, giving us all a chance to catch up, look ahead and enjoy some of the world’s finest.

Plus with an amazing slate of guest speakers, documentaries, short films and limited release movies which otherwise would never be screened theatrically here, it’s not to be missed.

But time is money, am I right? So what to see, what to see?

For those of you looking for a little guidance as to what’s worthy and what’s worth missing, here are my humble picks for nine films to see over the festival’s nine days. Keep in mind I’m more partial to narratives than documentaries, and that I haven’t actually seen any of these. I will, however, explain why each has me excited.

In alphabetical order:

A Field in England (2013), directed by Ben Wheatley:

Why: Mainly because Wheatley is a name to watch in UK cinema for original, edgy and slightly crazy movies, especially 2011 horror flick Kill List and 2012’s Sightseers. The film itself is a historical thriller, shot in black-and-white and set during the English Civil War, but it promises to be anything but dry or “normal.” It was well received in Europe and has played at only a few North American festivals, including Vancouver.

The Congress (2013), directed by Ari Folman:

Why: Again this choice (as many will be) is based on the strength of the director, whose previous film, Waltz With Bashir, was one of the most inventive and engaging animated films in recent years. With his second major release, Folman is returning to animation, this time with a meta-level actors-playing-themselves-type affair which looks equal parts inventive and mesmerizing. Not yet released beyond the festival circuit, this is one not to be missed.

Devil’s Knot (2013), directed by Atom Egoyan:

Why: While Devil’s Knot has had a limited release, including a run in Vancouver, this will be the first chance to see it in Victoria (before the Americans no less) and, most importantly, presented by the director himself at his speaker series on Saturday. Even if you can’t make the special event, the film, starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, a crime thriller based on the West Memphis Three case in the States (also the subject of the Paradise Lost series of documentaries and West of Memphis), looks dark and riveting. Victoria-raised director Egoyan is one of Canada’s greatest filmmakers and if his last feature, Chloe, is anything to go by he is still at the top of his game.

Empire of Dirt (2013), directed by Peter Stebbings

Why: The Canadian Gala choice this year is a film about three generations of First Nations women dealing with the past and their relationships to each other. Written by Cree screenwriter Shannon Masters, the film got notice at Toronto’s film festival and unless you’re tired of all the movies centred around First Nations women (sarcasm), this Canadian feature sounds like a breath of fresh air.

Enemy (2013), directed by Denis Villeneuve

Why: Because Villeneuve (Incendies, Polytechnique) is the most interesting and talented Canadian filmmaker working today. Because his partnering with Jake Gyllenhaal is worth getting excited about, if last year’s Prisoners is any indication. Because the plot, centring around a man seeking out his exact double after seeing him in a movie (with both roles played by Gyllenhaal) sounds like a lot of fun. And because you’ll get to see it before the rest of Canada does on March 14.

Sarah Prefers to Run (2013), directed by Chloe Robichaud:

Why: Part of the festival’s commendable Women in the Director’s Chair series, this French-Canadian film looks like a delightful coming-of-age type film about a young female runner. Robichaud’s feature film debut has played in Quebec, but this is one of its first forays outside of the belle province into our Anglo world.

The Selfish Giant (2013), directed by Clio Barnard:

This UK film got a lot of notice on last year’s festival circuit and made the cut on more than a few best of the year lists, including that of prestigious British film magazine Sight and Sound. The film follows two English youth who get caught up in the criminal world of scrap metal dealing. The film looks heavy, but powerful. And hey, another female director being featured is always a good thing.

Stranger by the Lake (2013), directed by Alain Guiraudie

Another Sight and Sound pick for one of the best of the year, Stranger by the Lake is getting massive amounts of critical praise and has a good chance of making some North American lists this time next year, having just had a limited release here. This film, an erotic thriller about a summer tryst between two men in France, is worth seeing based on early reception alone.

Tide Lines (2014), directed by Andrew Naysmith

Why: Because you gotta support the hometown folks, you know? This is the only full-fledged local feature film of the festival, and it looks like a good one, following two Victoria brothers over three years as they sail the world to surf and spread the word about environmental issues related to beaches. So it’s got that whole environmental doc thing going on, which seems to be what people like. I might like this one too.

Young and Beautiful (2013), directed by Francois Ozon

Why: What’s a film festival without at least one erotic French movie? And with respected director Ozon (In the House, Swimming Pool) at the helm, this one, about a teenage prostitute, looks particularly captivating, if the critical acclaim and Palme d’Or nomination are anything to go by. And if the trailer is anything to go by, it also looks scintillating and thought provoking.

Also of interest: Alan Partridge; Big Sur; Cas and Dylan; Finding Vivian Maier; Il Futuro; Like Father Like Son; Me and You; Our Man in Tehran; Siddarth; Strange Little Cat and The Stag.

Check out Wells’ festival preview in the current issue of Monday Magazine and visit mondaymag.com throughout the festival for reviews and updates from inside the fest.

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