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VIFF 2006: Celebrating a Quarter of a Century


The Vancouver International Film Festival may be a quarter of a century young, but believe it or not there are still a few people around who've never taken in a screening of a VIFF film. Hard to believe, but true.

To move Vancouverites, and those farther afield, to partake in the illustrious delights of a couple of hours in a darkened theatre being offered a window on the world, VanRamblings will kick off this year's coverage of the VIFF by offering a few tips to those as yet uninitiated in the joys and delights of Vancouver's most welcoming Festival event. So, here goes ..

How do you know you're a Vancouver International Film Festival newbie?

You know you're a VIFF newbie when you look at the list of 550 screenings of the more than 300 films from 50 countries offered at our city's illustrious international Film Festival and immediately break into a cold sweat.

You know you're supposed to be excited about the award-winning German thriller that excited the critics in Toronto, not to mention Canadian actress Sarah Polley's directorial début that wowed those same audiences. You're pretty sure you're supposed to be intrigued by the nihilistic stop-motion animation Czech film described as "darkly comic in a way that encourages laughter, horror and thought."

But, frankly, you just don't know what to make of a movie titled The Pervert's Guide to Cinema and, now that you think about it, you have no idea what a "cinephilic feast" is and whether you'll even like it.

And with 300 films at four venues on 10 screens over 16 days, you're starting to feel the weight and scope of the whole thing press down upon you. Where to begin? What to see? All of a sudden, you think it might be a good idea to steer clear of this whole VIFF thing altogether because it's just SIMPLY TOO MUCH.

But first, take a deep breath. We understand how it is. Asking a freshman to jump into the Vancouver International Film Festival is like asking a novice swimmer to jump into the ocean. The vastness of the open sea looks scary.

But here ... let us offer you some water wings.

VanRamblings has asked some of VIFF's most dedicated veterans to offer up their best bits of advice to those of you who are contemplating dipping your toe in Festival waters for the first time. Some of these seasoned VIFFers catch six films a day and have seen more than a hundred films in a single festival year. Many of them have attended the festival for decades and know all the ins and outs. Fortunately, they're happy to share their hard-earned wisdom.

What movies should I see?

Should you see the Finnish film about a sad-sack night watchman? Or, Kelly Reichardt's reportedly beautifully observed road movie? Or perhaps Pedro Costa's challenging immersion in Lisbon slum life in, a nearly 3-hour fusion of documentary and dramatic essay that may hold a fascination only for the coterie of the Portuguese director's fans?

The choices are overwhelming for sure. And figuring out how to pick a winner can seem downright impossible.

"It's kind of like betting on a horse race," says J. B. Shayne, a veteran filmgoer. "Some bet on the horse, some on the jockey, some bet on the trainer or the owner. The same goes for movies."

What he means is, if you like a certain director, a certain actor or a certain production company, see if they have anything appearing at VIFF.

Armando Gomez and his wife, Anusha, have been attending VIFF for the past 20 years. When it comes to finding good films, Gomez recommends chatting up the people in the pass-holder lines. Pass-holders tend to be more experienced VIFFers, moviegoers who often are trying to see as many films as they can possibly squeeze into their schedules. These are the people in the know.

Gomez, who is a seniors' pass-holder, also suggests checking to see what local movie reviewers are saying about the films. The Vancouver Sun and the Georgia Straight both publish reviews of VIFF films.

There's also the VIFF bible. A mere $8 donation will buy you this thick and thorough guide to the films and the Festival itself.

Most importantly, "Don't worry about trying to tackle 200 movies," says Lainé Slater, VIFF's director of marketing. "We really just want people to see even one or two films. More, of course, would be nice. But even checking out a couple can be rewarding."

Lines, lines, lines ...

You see the lines outside the VIFF venues and you think to yourself, "I'll never get in so why bother." But veteran VIFFers beg to differ.

"Not everything is sold out and you don't necessarily have to stand in long lines," says Shayne.

For starters, he says it's rare for the matinees to sell out, or on weekdays either, at the largest venue — the Granville 7 — rarely sell out.

Also, know that if you have purchased a ticket for a movie, then you're guaranteed a seat (but be sure to arrive 20 minutes before the film starts). If you're particular about which seat you want to sit in, then you'll need to get in line anywhere from a half hour to an hour early, depending on the popularity of the movie. And even if the movie seems to be sold out, wait around. The box office releases "rush tickets" (presold tickets to seats that nobody claimed). These are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, normally 5 to 10 minutes before the screening.

Home of the film freaks

Novices be warned: VIFF is a very special place for serious film lovers. Jim Ferguson is a self-described "film fanatic." Last year at VIFF, he saw 122 films. And he's hardly alone.

"The casual filmgoer needs to recognize that this is not the casual film-going experience," he says. "They will be getting a glimpse into the film fanatic's life. They are a guest in our life."

With that in mind, he asks newbie VIFFers to be especially considerate during the movie. If you're going to eat candy, please open the crinkly bag before the film starts. Absolutely DO NOT talk during the movie.

And, he warns: "Triple check your phone. If your cell phone rings, you'll be in trouble."

The lowdown on the venues

Getting between the various venues can be a bit of a hassle for people trying to see a variety of VIFF films. With that in mind, Shayne suggests that new VIFF-goers try to pick one venue and then simply watch several movies there.

There are a variety of venues and "they're each different in their own way," Slater says.

Shayne likes the VanCity Theatre because it's a comfortable theatre with comfortable seats.

The Pacific Cinémathèque, meanwhile, is a favorite of many VIFF enthusiasts. A bit off the beaten track, this is the cinéastes film theatre says Shayne.

Vets' recommendations

You're looking for a film to see but don't know where to start and are too shy to pester the strangers in the pass-holder line. Not to worry, we've asked them for you and here's are a few of the films the VIFF senior class suggests:

Aki Kaurismäki's Lights in the Dusk, Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others, Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem, Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, Bong Joon-Ho's The Host, Jafar Panahi's Offside, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's The Trials of Darryl Hunt, Sarah Polley's Away From Her, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates, among dozens of others films VanRamblings will be writing about in the days to come.

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs September 28th to October 13th. For more information on VIFF, go to, or purchase a programme guide — available at most Starbucks' and Rogers Video stores.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at September 25, 2006 11:18 PM in VIFF 2006


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