Several local filmmakers are front and centre in the upcoming Victoria Film Festival (VFF), which runs Feb. 3 to 12, and is set to present more than 100 features and shorts at various venues around the city.
Festival director Kathy Kay is running the event for the 26th time.
Just over 300 people attended the first film fest, which was started by CineVic, the local film society, in the early 1990s. But VFF has exploded over the years, with 26,000 film buffs participating last year, and a similar number is expected in 2023.
Kay says she’s been inspired by other film festivals around the globe, but is fuelled primarily by a lifelong passion for the medium.
“My original inspiration was that I just love movies. And so sharing that with people beyond mainstream films was really interesting. I like Hollywood films, but also really enjoy films that challenge the norm or offer different perspectives.”
Seven Victoria filmmakers are taking part: Arnold Lim with his short My Name is Arnold; Leslie D. Bland & Harold C. Joe collaborated on the feature documentary A Cedar is Life; Connor Gaston with his short Year of the Tortoise; Suzanne Marie Moreau with her short Blood Buddies; and Erynne M. Gilpin and Peruzzo de Andrade who co-directed a short documentary Temosen.
Kay said the quantity and quality of the films the festival offers make it unique, helping to draw bigger crowds. Also popular are the several bonus features, which this year will include Japanese dancers at the screening of feature Family Mottoes.
VFF 2023 will show films from 26 different countries—82 features and 26 shorts—maintaining its tradition of showcasing a diverse range of global art.
Running over 10 days, the festival will kick off at The Vic Theatre, which the VFF runs year-round. There will also be seven days of movies at Capitol 6, seven days at the Odeon (one screen each) and six days at Blue Bridge Theatre. To add an extra quirk, there will also be short films on a Prince of Whales catamaran in the Inner Harbour.
“We did it on the boat in the Inner Harbour for the first time last year and it sold out. People loved it.”
Kay and her team work year-round on the festival, securing funding and finding sponsorship partners, and have added more staff as they’ve grown. They also run Art of the Cocktail, Freaky Film Festival, some youth programming, plus pop-up events in the summer.
VFF will also host an art exhibition at the Atrium, where local artists interpret bringing film to life, for all 10 days of the festival.
Assisting Kay in choosing the festival films is program manager Bryan Skinner.
“This is my second festival and the first year we’re 100 per cent in-person. I have a filmmaking background, so it’s been interesting to be on this side, working with the programming committee and different programmers to put this year’s festival together.
“We work with people around the world. We have a team including programmers for different sections, such as our UK programmer, Joanne. I’ll work with her to ensure deadlines are being met and each film is of interest to our audience.
“Another programmer, Proffesor Dan Russek from the Hispanic and Italian studies program at UVic, programs our Spanish language films, as he has current knowledge of Latin American and Spanish language films. So, I’ll work with him and arrive at a finalized list.
“For the European and US films, Kathy and I worked together on programming. I go out and work with all the distributors and do the negotiating and ensure we get the films and that they’re going to be Victoria premieres, et cetera.”
A number of films that did well at Cannes, Vancouver and TIFF will also be at VFF.
Skinner added: “I’m super-psyched for the festival and feel like we have a diverse range of presentations. If you’re interested in emotionally impactful films, thrillers, activist polemics, and fascinating science-based documentaries, you’ll find them at the festival. French language, Spanish language, Indigenous films, they’re all here. We have a strong slate of work and I’m super honoured to have played a part.”
Here’s a peek at the Victoria filmmakers involved in this years’ VFF:
Arnold Lim is an experienced Victoria filmmaker of both features and shorts. In VFF 2023 his short My Name is Arnold (Prince of Whales, Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m.) is about a 10-year-old Korean-Canadian boy who struggles with his own identity after moving into a small Canadian community. Lim was awarded a $125,000 grant from Telefilm to make his first feature-length film, ALL-in Madonna, which featured in 2021.
Leslie D. Bland & Harold C. Joe have collaborated through their company Orca Cove Media to produce a feature-length documentary A Cedar is Life. It explores how one critical species, the cedar tree, is central to the cultural life of West Coast First Nations. Bland has over 150 professional film and theatre credits, including last year’s Tzouhalem, co-directed with Joe. A Cedar is Life plays at the Vic Theatre on Feb. 6 at 5:30 p.m.
Connor Gaston is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has screened at top festivals around the world, including TIFF. In 2015, he completed his first feature film, The Devout, which premiered at Busan International Film Festival and earned seven Leo Awards, including Best Picture. Gaston has a short in this year’s VFF: Year of the Tortoise (playing 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Prince of Whales).
Suzanne Marie Moreau is a Victoria-based screenwriter, director and indie filmmaker who has a short, Blood Buddies, in the Love & Happiness section of this year’s festival. This collection of pieces will be screened at the Prince of Whales on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Moreau retired from a three-decade public service career in 2015 to get back to her artistic roots and believes creative self-expression is a fingerprint of the soul.
Erynne M. Gilpin and Peruzzo de Andrade co-directed Temosen, a short documentary examining the inter-generational legacy of W̱SÁNEĆ artist Charles Elliott through land-based Indigenous storytelling. Together they share UATÊ, an intersectional land-based film production company. Temosen: Local Hero Edition is playing Friday Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. as a part of the short film program Indigenous Voices at Cinema Onboard.
For more information, the digital guide and to book tickets, visit: victoriafilmfestival.com.