By Kyle Wells
Monday magazine contributor
As they say in the “biz,” that’s a wrap.
The 25th annual Victoria Film Festival came to a close Sunday after 10 packed days of shorts, features, documentaries, cartoons, events, speakers, art installations and one big celebratory party. It has been a blast.
On the final night of the festival the awards recipients were announced for the following categories:
Best Feature Film – Sink or Swim, directed by Gilles Lellouche
Best Canadian Feature –Through Black Spruce, directed by Don McKellar
Best Canadian First Feature – Robbery, directed by Corey Stanton
Cultural Currents Award – Warrior Women, directed by Christina King and Elizabeth Castle
Best Documentary – Children of the Snow Land, directed by Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson
Audience Favourite Short – Encore, by Connor Gaston
Best Short Animation – The Backward Astronomer, directed by Jake Nelson
Cineplex Entertainment Audience Favourite – Children of the Snow Land
FilmCAN Sr – The Geez Documentary, directed by Presley Dickau
For this writer, as is the case for every film festival I attend, the highlight has been the movies themselves. The opening gala was a great opportunity to see old friends, meet new film fanatics and celebrate the impressive past and present of the Festival, but you’ll always find me the happiest sitting in a darkening cinema, eager to see what is about to unfold on screen.
That said, I offer up my picks for best of the festival, in no particular order, and with recognition that there are many movies I missed. So if your favourite isn’t here, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I mean, it might mean that, but I also just may have not seen it. Here we go:
Mouthpiece, directed by Patricia Rozema – A harrowing watch, for certain, but also a profound and cathartic one, Canadian director Rozema’s adaptation of a play written by the film’s co-stars Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava would be my pick for best of the fest. Its central performances by two women playing two sides of the main character’s psyche could have come off as gimmicky, but Rozema uses the conceit to rich depths, exploring the complexity of grief and life as a woman in the modern world.
Old Boys, directed by Toby MacDonald – A movie set in an all-boys British boarding school could be a dark and troubling exercise indeed, but MacDonald crafted here a sweet coming-of-age take on Don Quixote about a young misfit who falls for the new French teacher’s lovely daughter. It’s not terribly original, but the film rides the line between charming and silly well.
Easy, directed by Andrea Magnani – Another charmer, Easy follows a former up-and-comer in the world of auto racing as he attempts to transport an occupied coffin to the Ukraine from Italy. It’s a long story. Set firmly in the vein of oddball road trip movies, Magnani fills this loveable-loser tale with enough mayhem, quirk and affection to make for an effortlessly enjoyable little film.
Non-Fiction, directed by Olivier Assayas – If you like your movies as French as French can be, Non-Fiction was the film for you. Something of a more lighthearted lark from perhaps the most interesting French director currently working, Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper), the film is a lightly-plotted collection of adultery, philosophical and literary discussions, and wine and cheese consumption. It’s pretty delightful.
Ash is Purest White, directed by Jia Zhangke – Not quite the crime epic it’s advertised as, this is nonetheless a captivating film about relationships, modernity and the sweep of history. Intimate in its subject and epic in its scope, Zhangke’s film takes viewers on a beautifully shot trip through modern China while mining the complex emotional journey of a couple intermittently brought together and torn apart by violence, passion and necessity.