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VIFF2006: Vancouver As Cultural Backwater


Two hundred films bypass Vancouver every year.

Art, independent, Canadian, foreign, low-budget, experimental — the kind of films Vancouverites would flock to if there was a theatre owner in town who cared enough about film to build a thriving art-house cinema.

But there ain't no one like that in Vancouver, and as a consequence 200 well-reviewed, high-grossing (in markets similar to Vancouver, like Portland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Baltimore, Boston and other medium-sized American cities) indie films never cross the border to find a home in Vancouver.

Each year, the Vancouver International Film Festival screens some 250 feature films, very few of which have a Canadian distributor in place. So, whether it's Dito Montiel's terrifically-nuanced and affecting Sundance produced A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, or the hard-hitting Australian drama Candy — neither one of which has a Canadian distributor in place — if you live in Greater Vancouver, and don't catch a screening of many of the films included in the VIFF schedule, you're pretty much out of luck when it comes to seeing these pictures on the big screen, or ever.

In Vancouver, we have Leonard Schein's Festival Cinemas or Cinemark's Tinseltown Cinemas, both of which screen indie and art-house films. But, unless a film has been picked up by one of the big Canadian distributors — Lionsgate or Alliance Atlantis, or is set for release by one of the boutique, art-house divisions of the majors — like Universal's Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics or Viacom's Paramount Vantage — neither one of Vancouver's art-house cinemas will book the film, and Vancouverites are left in the position of either having to wait for Videomatica to import the DVD (if one exists) or sit in front of their computers reading, longingly, about the film — on one or more film-oriented websites — as the film screens in cities located elsewhere on the North American continent, opening to rave reviews and boffo box office, but never destined to screen in Vancouver.

Fortunately for Vancouver-based film aficionados, the Vancouver International Film Festival opened the VanCity Theatre a year ago, this gorgeous 175-seat cinema serving to present outstanding international films throughout the year. But thus far, and to the chagrin of VIFF Director Alan Franey and the staff at the VIFF, the Vancouver International Film Centre / VanCity Theatre has failed to grab hold of the filmgoing public's imagination, many of the films presented in their superb programme going virtually unnoticed. Franey announced at the opening press conference for VIFF 2006, that the VIFF will work to consolidate the position of the VIFC as a première art-house cinema over the course of the next 12 months,

As another alternative for those who love film, there is the tried-and-true Pacific Cinémathèque, which later this month will screen Michael Apted's well-reviewed 49 Up. But, for the most part, the Cinémathèque is a film education society whose mandate is to "foster critical media literacy which serves to advance cinema as an art as a vital means of communication," their programme the equivalent of a cinematic museum given over to the presentation of the works of international film auteurs of times past.

Let's face it, then: although Vancouver bills itself as an Olympic city, and presents our home province as super, natural British Columbia, Vancouver British Columbia is, in reality, more of a cultural backwater than a thriving cultural metropolis. All of which means, of course, that the VIFF has its work cut out for itself, each year, as the VIFF film schedule is put into place.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 10, 2006 12:15 AM in VIFF 2006


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