|by Greg Ursic
The 24th annual VIFF enjoyed another banner year: ticket sales were up once again nearly topping the $1 million mark ($978,000 to be specific), and attendance spilled over 150,000 for the fourth consecutive year. With the exception of a few initial hiccups, the VIFF staff are now happily ensconced in their permanent new digs at Vancouver International Film Centre and Vancity Theatre on Seymour, where they will be hosting special events year round. Unfortunately we also learned that The Vogue Theater, a perennial VIFF venue favorite for special screenings, had been sold to a consortium that will be converting it into a site for dinner theater (because god knows we’re in desperate need of dinner theater…). Let’s raise a glass to another successful year and mourn the passing of a cherished friend.
Speaking of drinking (how’s that for a subtle segue?) one of the potential bonuses of covering VIFF is being invited to one of the many soirees associated with the festival. I was fortunate to gain entry to several of this year’s cinematic celebrations, starting with the 3rd annual Red Carpet Gala at Cin Cin on Robson. Hosted by Rory Richards and the people at Brightlight Pictures, it was held the day before the festival’s official opening. While I initially met with some furtive glances from Security when no one could find me on “the list” (“honest, I’m really supposed to be here”) they eventually located my name. With that potential nightmare out of the way, I enjoyed a momentary scamper along the red carpet and sauntered upstairs to beat the madding crowds.
After securing an enchanting glass of Chardonnay (the third and fourth were even better), I took a quick tour of the venue admiring the décor, then ambled out to the patio to watch the media frenzy on the street below. As each limousine pulled up, it spilled out beautiful people who walked the mini gauntlet of press answering questions (hats off to the star wranglers for keeping the mayhem controlled). I too would have been in the scrum, had I not run out of the house and left my camera and tape recorder in my other jacket, but I had more fun watching the assembled cornucopia of talent (showbiz that is).
The guest list included such notables as Deepa Mehta and Lisa Ray (the director and ravishing star of Water respectively), John Rhys-Davies (aka Gimli) who is in town filming Dungeon Siege and Actor/Director Charles Martin Smith (probably best remembered for his role as Oscar, the bespectacled accountant in The Untouchables). There was also Joeley Collins (you know, Phil’s daughter), Alley McBeal alum Gil Bellows, cast members from several different TV series and the assorted politician.. But stargazing wasn’t the only thing I had my mind set on.
There was no shortage of delicious appetizers, including a fine selection of gourmet cheeses, mini crab cakes, poached pears with something on top (I forgot, so sue me), an oyster bar and my favorite the huge lightly breaded prawns. Of course what did the most damage was the dessert table with its varied selection of sugared sin, the highlight of which was an ice cream/wafer combination that should be outlawed. With an early morning meeting in the offing, I knew that if I stayed I risked not only a hangover, but a premature coronary as well, so I wisely made it an early evening.
The next party was the VIFF opening Gala party held at the Aquarium, which, although I missed it this year, is one of my favorite venues: the sprawling complex provides myriad entertainment opportunities (the belugas are my favorite, followed by the otters as they’re so darned cute!) and offers so many places that allow for a little quiet reflection. I also enjoy the guilty feeling I get as I wander past display after display of live fish while nibbling on a plate of sushi – I’m such a rebel! The Opening Gala also tends to get the most press coverage of the parties, and by extension tends to draw out the big names. My sources told me that this year was no different: most of the luminaries who hit the Red Carpet party were there and then some, including a camera shy Darryl Hannah who did an impromptu disappearing act (at least we know she wasn’t eating sushi…)
Next up was the Canadian Images party (which I didn’t even know about until Jen in the media office gave me a pass), held at the Vancouver International Film Centre and Vancity Theatre. Sponsored by the NFB the party featured a plethora of Canadian-themed displays and a band drawn from VIFF’s very own office staff (whose quirky musical stylings I quite enjoyed). In spite of being served by one of the chintziest bartenders ever (I practically had to beg for refills) everything else went swimmingly: I played catch up with some former VIFF staff, and had a wonderful chat with Ann-Marie Fleming, the writer/director of the diabolically clever The French Guy.
Except for the cast and some of the crew of A Simple Curve (the opening film for the Canadian Images series), the VIFF media staff and Annie, an acquaintance of mine from my university days, I didn’t recognize anyone else in attendance (likely due to the fact that half of them were apparently from writer/director Aubrey Nealon’s home town). I was however struck by the fact that it was a more low key affair, with many of the attendees sporting jeans and everyone seemed quite relaxed. This mindset extended to the edible fare, and I was quite proud of my successful manhandling of the biggest and tastiest slices of pizza I’ve ever come up against (mmmm, Flying Wedge). Topping off the evening was a souvenir special edition DVD copy of the Academy Award winning Animated Short Ryan. All in all, a big thumbs up. The next event proved to be a bit more sedate.
The Anniversary Gala party was held at the Robson Law Courts, and felt like a dinner party sans tables, due in large part to the strict fire regulations at this venue that are rigorously adhered to (this led to half of the media being turned away from last year’s party - oops). As I missed dinner, I made a beeline for the buffet and loaded up on Chicken satay, fried rice and egg rolls and went in search of a comfortable step where I could enjoy some peaceful post screening gorging
After throwing back my second glass of wine (a tad dry for my liking, but hey, it was free and free flowing), I loosened my belt, pulled myself up, and was ready to go walkabout, when a video screen in the far corner piqued my interest. The movie featured Peter Weller (at least I think it was Peter Weller) running around an ancient city. I struggled to divine its significance, when I overheard two partygoers discussing the very issue: apparently the theme of the party was supposed to be Marrakech. While that explained the video, it raised a host of other questions: Why wasn’t there a band playing Moroccan music, or some nice accent rugs hanging from the walls? And where were the humus and lamb kebabs to add a little North African food flare? Most importantly, why had no one been apprized of the theme beforehand? And how sharp would I look in a Djellaba? I was in the midst of pondering these weighty issues when the wine suddenly kicked in and with brain pounding, and music waning I decided it was time for my exit.
The final official VIFF party took place at the Sheraton Wall Center, and they certainly did the place up right, complete with rows of tables and real place settings. The spread was top notch as well, ranging from high-end gourmet sandwiches (lox, shrimp salad, etc), to ham on the bone, delicious stuffed pasta and prime rib. After piling several plates with more than food than they were meant to hold, my friend and I sat down for a nice leisurely meal (thankfully we’d sprinted over from the screening and managed to snag a couple of chairs) with a side order of star spotting.
We immediately noticed Tommy Chong and his wife - in town for the documentary A/K/A Tommy Chong - whose arrival (roughly five feet away from us) was heralded by a flood of flashing bulbs. We were soon distracted by the novel live action footage being projected onto a floating video screen. As it wove its way through the crowd we realized that the screen was actually being held aloft by a young woman who was followed around by a Borg-like young man who had a camera strapped to his head and a passel of wires running to his battery pack. I hope for their sake that they were given massage waivers, because I was sore just watching them.
As with Closing parties past, those assembled were ready to unwind after a hectic month of madness and there was much dancing and merriment to behold. Unfortunately a few people made too merry and had to be poured into cabs (I played crutch for a couple rambunctious souls). By the time our entourage arrived at Bosman’s for the infamous after party, they were already over capacity and had locked the doors, which in retrospect was no doubt a good thing. Instead we wandered the streets in the pouring rain till we found someone who would take us in (I’ve been sworn to secrecy over the details, suffice it to say it had nothing to do with the Film Center…)
Which brings us to the Volunteer party, an event that celebrates the 500 plus souls who are the backbone of the festival. As I entered the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on West Georgia I was welcomed by the sounds of a party well underway. Upon reaching the party floor, I discovered that it was a “White Trash Party” theme, something my host had neglected to mention - at least I was no longer concerned about being underdressed. Partygoers in wife beaters, torn jeans, and tacky boots streamed by, beer in hand, while a country/folk band played in the main lounge, and eighties music blared from another room. The victuals were similarly classy, with tables of hoagies, twizzlers, donut holes, potato chips, and sour suckers - a veritable hillbilly feast. In the hallway people tossed beer caps for prizes and waited in line to be thrown in the “Drunk Tank” (I was far too sober to be considered at that point). But wherever you looked, one thing shone through the semi-organized chaos – everyone was having a great time. And ultimately isn’t that’s what parties are all about?
I have a few suggestions for next year's party planning: designate one Gala party as a themed event where serious discussions are the exception and not the rule. Guests are encouraged to come dressed in the clothing of the film being feted (when you say festive dress let’s mean it!). If it’s German, throw on some Lederhosen. Argentinean? Dress like a gaucho. Okay, tongue is firmly planted in here, but I ‘m sure you get the idea. I say we even go so far as to ban tuxes and suits. And let’s tap some of Vancouver’s amazing ethnic restaurants to serve authentic cuisine from the country of origin (just ask them to go easy on the hot stuff). As for music, how about a salsa band or a little reggae (again keeping the screening country in mind) to get the joint jumping, or maybe even a mini-rave – let’s not forget that there are a lot of young people making films these days. Aim for some unbridled fun, and I guarantee you people will be talking it about it long after the fest is gone, and waiting to see what you come up with next.
In closing a few folks deserve some much-needed recognition: to Bev, Helen, Jen, Saskia Andrew and Vicky, thank you so much for all your hard work - you guys don’t get paid near enough! Your unflagging enthusiasm, willingness to help and perpetual smiles turn the festival into a personal experience for everyone you deal with. I look forward to doing it all over again in another 345 days at the 25th VIFF (say that three times fast). But for now, I think we could all do with a nice, long rest. Ciao for now.
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originally posted: 10/25/05 16:05:51
last updated: 10/26/05 01:59:40