I don’t attend many film festivals, at least not with any regularity. I work Seattle every year and for all the great films it has brought to me, every year it becomes more of a seven-week slog that, but for the bright spots, is just more work. I’ve covered Toronto for the past two years and while I get a charge out of it (and appreciate its brevity), it too is a working festival, where I juggle screening schedules and interview times and try to find time to eat and maybe even write between screenings. I attend Le Giornate de Cinema Muto (better known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival), my favorite film festival in the world, whenever my budget can accommodate it (which isn’t that often). And I’ve sampled other fests big (Venice) and small (Port Townsend, WA) and in between (Portland, OR). But as any freelance writer quickly learns, when you have to pay your own way to a festival, expenses demand that you pick and choose, and I always like to choose at least one festival for me beyond the working fests. Pordenone aside, the Vancouver International Film Festival is the most enjoyable festival for me to attend, a 16-day event just a few hours north of home. Some of the comfort comes from proximity and price: it’s easy for me to drive to and from and inexpensive to attend. But it’s also a great balance of relaxing environment and busy film schedule, and it’s beautifully compact: every theater but one (The Ridge) is within a six-block radius and seven of the screens are within a single multiplex, making it easy to jump from one theater to another as your impulse takes you. And the process for passholders to get tickets is very civilized and organized, if sometimes a little frustrating. Passholder line up in the morning and in the evening to pick up door-tickets for the films they pick, and know then and there is the passholder allotment has been exceeded. Even then, there’s the rush tickets option.
I’ve also taken a real liking to the Granville 7 Cinema, the central hub of the festival – all seven screens are dedicated to the fest, from the smallest house that accommodates video presentations to the biggest house of the festival, located on the top floor of the cinema. There are three levels of cinemas, and between the main floor and the big auditorium on top is a little nook where you can take a break, pour over your program guide or use the restroom (hot tip: this restroom has the shortest lines of the theater because most people forget that it’s there). There’s a labyrinth of staircases and escalators that is charming in its own right, more like a theme park than a cinema. Yes, they can get crowded and hard to rush when a film gets out and you’re dashing to the next screening, but that’s hardly an inconvenience next to crossing the city and trying to find a parking spot.
And, oh yes, there’s the films: one of the most interesting line-ups of Asian cinema in North America (not always the best, but invariably a showcase of promising directors in their formative years), a solid sidebar of French films, a dedicated section to Canadian films and filmmakers and a fine sampling of films carried over from Toronto.
I’ll be writing about the festival in the coming days on GreenCine. Until then, you can check out the schedule at the official website.