The downtown offices of the Victoria Film Festival look a little like the backstage area of a theatre, with props and lights and a team of people running around.
It’s fitting, as the full-time staff that work behind the scenes are about to put on quite the production celebrating the festival’s 24th annual film showcase.
“You’re always looking for something that’s a little different,” executive director Kathy Kay says of the festival’s lineup. “You want to hear a new voice.”
Kay and her team received more than 800 entries this year and had to whittle those down to 110 selections (70 features and 40 shorts). The films screen Feb. 2 to 11 in venues across the region, including the Victoria Conference Centre theatre, a new addition this year.
Putting it together is like a big puzzle, Kay says, so that underserved populations get the opportunity to see films they may not otherwise.
The festival’s mandate has always been to support Canadian culture and local Victoria filmmakers when possible. Half of the films this year are Canadian and Kay says each year, the festival sees more entries telling women’s stories, with women in the director’s chair.
“There are more men in this industry than there are women,” she says, but when choosing what will make the final cut, she and her team of programmers – two male and two female – judge purely based on merit.
“I’m not looking is it by a female or a male director,” Kay explains. “It’s just – is it a good film? What’s the new thing that they’re trying to say or the new take on the story?”
Kayak To Klemtu, a film from Heiltsuk/Mohawk director Zoe Hopkins, explores the impact of oil spills, pipelines and tankers on the West Coast from the perspective of a 14-year-old Indigenous girl. It’s just one of the selections Kay is excited to bring to audiences.
And while more avant-garde films can be a tough sell, it’s important to push the traditional boundaries, she says. “You also want to show stuff that is interesting and challenging.”
The festival takes a look at everything from Brexit and high fashion, to Beau Dick, the abuse of police power, the impact of technology on the trades and why Canada doesn’t label genetically modified foods.
“We really have tried to program quite a broad spectrum of films,” Kay says. “The documentaries often are just really engaging, because we’re looking at documentaries that go beyond what you’d see on television.”
Ask The Sexpert, from Indian director Vaishali Sinha, puts Mahinder Watsa, the Mumbai Mirror’s 93-year-old sex columnist into the spotlight. Kay says the film puts India’s complicated relationship with sex on display, with advice from an unlikely source.
“Some of the states won’t allow for sex education in schools, and so people are just really needing the information,” she says.
A virtual reality workshop, talkbacks, Q and A’s and the longtime favourite, Sips and Cinema round out the festival’s events. And of course, there’s the annual gala on Friday, Feb. 2 in the centre court of The Bay Centre. This year it’s a Scottish theme, complete with a whisky tasting and bagpipes, a feature film Waterboys (Netherlands, 2016) and dancing to the Slowpokes Ceilidh Band.
Alongside the seven full-time employees, 230 volunteers will keep the festival running for the people who sit in front of the screens – there were 23,000 audience members last year.
For newcomers, Kay says try something a little different than what you usually sit down to watch, and don’t be afraid to explore non-mainstream offerings.
“Sometimes the foreign films are really quite fun,” she says. “They have a different viewpoint, a different sense of humour, which I think a lot of times is universal.”
For more on the Victoria Film Festival, visit their website or pick up a free program now available city-wide. Tickets for the gala can be purchased online or stop by the office at 1215 Blanshard St. in the Capital 6 building.