Well folks, as they say in the business, that’s a wrap.
The Victoria Film Festival came to a close for its 20th year of operation this Sunday, and out of Victoria’s cinemas stumbled a zombie-like hoard of bleary eyed movie fanatics in desperate need of sleep, fresh air and food prepared in ways aside from popped.
I know. I was among them.
I have to say, in all honesty, this was a fantastic year for the festival. There were amazing guests, an impressive number and variety of films of mostly high quality and a general ambiance of real cinematic love. I had a great time.
And so did others, it seems, with a truly impressive number of sold out screenings and a general hubbub in the air around the whole thing. The Odeon was alive with lineups of folks from all walks of life talking about the last film they saw and waiting to see the next.
In total I saw 19 movies, which could be seen as bragging if it also wasn’t kind of sad.
I’m not going to get into all of the films I saw since the first weekend but I would like to point out a few notables.
Out of the final batch of films I saw, I have a couple of favourites.
The first is a film I loved for the simple pleasure of it. We tend to see a lot of heavy material during a film festival, so it was a welcome respite to merely laugh my way through a lovely little Irish film called The Stag.
The Stag is about just what you think it would be about: a stag. Five Irishmen head into the woods and hills for a weekend hiking trip to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of the group. Everything is set to go splendidly until something goes wrong: The bride’s brother, named The Machine, shows up. Nothing will be the same.
Again, the film is a simple, light comedy, but genuinely funny and, at times, sweet, and wonderful proof that a movie can be progressive, reasonably clean, and still be a riot.
Another favourite of the festival was the last film I saw, Vic and Flo Saw a Bear. This is a weird one, no question, which starts off as your typical indie family drama, full of natural scenery and stifled conversations, but ends up veering wildly off into areas touching on horror and revenge exploitation.
I had to shake my head as I left the cinema and heard a group of about eight older folks complaining about what a terrible movie they had just seen. They hated it. They were reveling in their mutual hatred. But their main criticism seemed to be “well THAT was different.” Which, and forgive me if I’m way off, sounds like a good thing to me, especially at a film festival.
It made me angry to see them all tearing “one” on their voting ballots, because we don’t want to discourage the festival from bringing in demented little films like this.
It’s very uniqueness is what made the film so enjoyable, and, again, especially in the middle of a film festival, where it’s not hard to fill your boots with straight laced indie dramas, even if some of them are excellent. Vic and Flo doesn’t go for that though. It goes midnight movie on us, delighting one (perhaps twisted) half of the audience while obviously alienating the other.
I was a firm member of the former group, and for those who think they would be too, Vic and Flo Saw a Bear is a film to look out for.
That’s not to saw a “weird” movie can’t go too far.
I had A Field in England pegged as one of my more anticipated films of the festival, a decision I regret now having seen it. In retrospect I should have seen this coming, as I based my anticipation on the only other film I have seen from director Ben Wheatley, Kill List, a movie with a lot of interesting things going on in it but which ultimately left me frustrated as a viewer.
But I saw a lot of potential in Wheatley as a director, based on his visual prowess, and hoped his output would improve with time.
Sadly, I was more than disappointed. A Field in England is a shallow mess of a film with very little to say it seems and with little point other than to broadcast psychedelic, albeit masterfully edited, sequences of utter visceral vomit. It has all the subtlety of a laser light show.
I knew as soon as the main characters started taking magic mushrooms, initiating a drug trip sequence, this was not the film for me. While I admire much of what Wheatley achieves visually, he offers little to back it up as being anything beyond purely self-indulgent directorial flourishes.
And it just got worse. Story and characters are minimal, and the films seems to have no particular point to make, that I could decipher. Just trippy visuals and drug sequences. And lots of violence and bodily functions.
I did enjoy much of the dialogue, written by Wheatley and his wife, Amy Jump.
Look, I love a highly visual film with a strong directorial presence, but only when it’s for a purpose beyond merely indulging in what the director deems as looking cool. What are his viewers supposed to get out of this? It seems to me Wheatley isn’t overly concerned.
Ultimately it’s a personal thing. If I identified with Wheatley’s style, I would probably like his films a lot more. If Nicolas Winding Refn, another highly visual director, made it I would probably find a lot more to like in the movie because I appreciate his style (although Only God Forgives was unforgivably self-indulgent as well). You could even argue that I didn’t like A Field in England for the same reason the old folks didn’t like Vic and Flo Saw a Bear. It was too different.
But I don’t buy that. I like different, if it’s for a good reason, if it has something interesting to say or do. Endless drug trip sequences couldn’t be more redundant. Drugs are weird. Got it.
Obviously, I simply don’t connect with Wheatley as a filmmaker. I find him pessimistic and his movies ugly and pointless.
My other big disappointment of the festival was the documentary Nicky’s Family, about an Englishman who helped to save hundreds of Czech children from the scourge of the Nazis at the outbreak of the Second World War.
What was so frustrating about the film is how such a great story is ruined by truly heavy handed and embarrassingly amateurish filmmaking. I mean really, the movie looked like a Canadian Heritage Moment, or some educational VHS doc we would have watched in elementary school in the early ’90s.
Sepia-toned reenactments, archival footage “enhanced” with sound effects, off-topic meanderings into subjects only remotely related to the subject and a shocking lack of depth from the subject himself, do not make for a good doc.
There’s really no point in going into the ins and outs of what worked or didn’t work in the film, because really the whole thing was flawed from the start. Truly disappointing.
I also wanted to mention who much I ended up enjoying Tide Lines, from local Victoria director Andrew Naysmith, along with Arwen Hunter. This is a doc which works and which manages to find its voice even with a limited budget and some technical challenges, in contrast to Nicky’s Family.
What separates Tide Lines from the environmental documentary genre, which I generally dislike, is it’s just as much about the people as it is the issue. Equally important to the filmmakers is the personal relationships and personalities of the three men who head out to sail the world, surf and investigate the impact plastic use is having on beaches.
That they thought to included the parents and girlfriends of the main subjects really works to the film’s advantage as it draws us in as human beings, not just as concerned citizens worried about environmental degradation. And when you connect on that level, your film is going to work on multiple levels. Tide Lines achieves this and is all the richer for it.
On the whole I had one heck of a good time at the festival, watching some amazing films from around the world and spending time with people who love movies. See you all there next year.
Find me on Twitter @CineFileBlog