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Victoria Film Festival 2010

victoriaffsmallI arrive in Victoria on Friday January 29, 2010 to host a couple of seminars and do an on stage interview with Kris Kristofferson at sixteenth annual The Victoria Film Festival. Following a 5 hour flight and 15 minute puddle jumper to get here I am welcomed an emblematic symbol of the left coast of Canada—an eighty year old hippie, dressed head to toe in spandex, on roller blades speeding through the city. Did I mention he was making bird calls as he went?

I’m not one much for the west coast’s hippie-dippy, tree-huggy vibe, but I have to admit to admiring the guy’s spirit. I hope I can make bird calls while doing anything when I’m eighty, let alone barrel along a busy downtown street on six tiny wheels.
Like the man on the rollerblades VFF is idiosyncratic. Charmingly so. For instance, party invites have the festivities beginning at 5:29 pm. Why wait until 5:30 to get things going?

This year they’re unspooling 160 films from 16 countries and if history repeats itself, they will be well attended.  Last year attendance surpassed the 20,000 mark which was a 23 per cent increase over 2008. Films include Woody Harrelson’s Defendor (one of my faves from this year’s TIFF), Coopers’ Camera starring Daily show correspondents Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, Like Dandelion Dust with Vancouver Island star actor Barry Pepper and Open Your Mouth and Say… Mr Chi Pig, a look at the personal life of Kendall Chinn, AKA Mr. Chi Pig, singer of legendary punk band SNFU.

As varied as the films are there are also a varied and interesting group of guests attending, many of whom I’ll had a chance to chat with over the course of two 3 hour SpringBoard sessions I’m did on Saturday and Sunday. The idea is to take a group of industry professionals—everything from producers to publicists to actors and directors—and give them a fifteen minute forum to talk about their experiences and their art. The media kit expands on the idea saying “how they see their art, the new trends that affect their work, or perhaps insights that will provide a better understanding of the medium. These are talks meant to move, inform and inspire.”

Guests included Charles Martin Smith who spoke on the relationship between director and actor. His bottom line advice for directors? Take an acting class. Matt Frewer who spoke about his time as pop culture sensation Max Headroom, sneaking into movies at the Odeon Theatre in Victoria as a kid  and the challenges of working on his latest film, Darfur, a completely improvised dramatic film.

In a fascinating, almost metaphysical speech on Sunday Oscar winning animator Chris Landreth finally put into words why I find Robert Zemeckis’s films so creepy. Using a graph showing the “uncanny curve,” some footage of Lawrence Olivier, Al Pacino and Bob Dylan he illustrated (see what I did there?) something that I’ve always had a hard time articulating. Now, thanks to Chris, I’m on to you Zemeckis!

Stand-up and producer Todd Allen played a round of a comedic game show he is working on with Merv Griffin’s company in Los Angeles and Fido screenwriter Dennis Heaton suggested that you NOT ask him to read your screenplay, which reminded me of a recent tweet: “The only thing worse than being asked to read your friends poem was being asked to read their screenplay.” Here, here. I completely agree.

Producer Rob Merilees gave a frank and funny speech about the realities of being a producer and director Warren Sonoda spoke about the guerrilla marketing of his first film Ham and Cheese, the importance of the Victoria Festival—they were the first to show his films—and his more recent work in Hollywood.

Perhaps my favourite was Madeleine Sherwood, an 87 year-old Victoria resident who originated the role of Abigail in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on Broadway and starred in both the Elia Kazan stage productions of Tennessee Williams’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth before recreating the roles on screen opposite actors like Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Barbara Bel Geddes and Ben Gazzara. She is an original member of the Actor’s Studio, was a confidant of Marilyn Monroe and was blacklisted by Joe McCarthy.

Her best known role was as the Mother Superior on the television series “The Flying Nun,” but it is for her work on stage—she acted in eighteen original Broadway productions—and in civil rights—she worked with Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested during a freedom walk and received six months hard labor—that she will be best remembered.

Following a short film about her life she took the stage, earned the first standing ovation of the festival and then charmed everyone with a personal, funny and touching speech about her life and career.

Offstage the fest has been just as engaging. In two separate newspaper pieces I have been described as “jovial” and “dynamic.” “Jovial,” I think, is code for chubby, so I’m not sure exactly how I feel about that, but I will embrace “dynamic”! Also this nice message came in via facebook: “Hi Richard – I’m smiling because in 45 years I’ve never written a fan letter before – facebook simplifies things a little 🙂 I’ve always found you to be such a gracious and insightful film critic and will always keep the morning news on if you’re on. And seeing you moderate at the Vic Film Festival you were even more gracious, insightful, curious and kind in person – particularly yesterday in helping Madeleine Sherwood shine as she should. What a gentleman. Thanks for the fun and interest you brought to the Springboard talks.”

Starting at 5:29 pm everyday there have been rounds of pre and post screening parties. Snapshots from those included Charles Martin Smith telling me about a television pilot he did in the 70s for Norman Lear where he played a dog, the beautiful smell of curry pouring out the The Empress’s Bengal Room, producer Rob Merilees ordering something called the W. Somerset Prawn, the opening night party at the Parkside Victoria Resort and Spa which one guest described as feeling like the grotto at the Playboy mansion, drinking unbelievably tasty nut brown ale at Sips, discussing animation with Chris Landreth at the James Joyce pub, and telling him that if I had an Oscar I would wear it as a necklace at all times (not a good idea he tells me… they’re far too heavy) and the now classic line (from a party goer who shall remain nameless), “She’s so beautiful I want to buy her a house!”

Today is Ground Hog Day-which someone on facebook suggested should be renamed Hog Wild Day, which I fully support—and Oscar nomination day. I’m up at 4 am to do some radio hits and then head out to the CTV affiliate in town to comment on the nominations for my regular gig on Canada AM. My first thought in the morning, other than “Your room of long standing starts to resemble your mind and becomes symmetrical and/or complimentary to your mind,” (I’m kidding about that BTW), was that my interview with Kris Kristofferson was still seventeen hours away. It`s going to be a long day…  We`re giving Kris the festival’s inaugural IN Award and, if I can stay awake, it will be an amazing event. More about that tomorrow…

Tuesday February 2, 2010

Tuesday February started early. Like ass-o’clock early. In Victoria to host an on-stage interview with Kris Kristofferson, I’m on west coast time, but doing radio and television hits for NewsTalk 1010 and Canada AM in Toronto.  Up at 4 am I swilled a big jug of caffeine, ran through the shower and squeezed myself into a suit before doing my regular radio hit at 4:40 am (7:40 T.O. time) on the phone and jumping into a cab to get to the CTV affiliate to do a satellite interview with Canada AM about the Oscar nominations which were being announced live from Los Angeles at 5:15ish.

I arrive on time, get miced up and lit and wait for my cue. And wait. Seems the announcements are going to be delayed. To pad for time host Seamus O’Regan asks me for my picks in advance of the announcements. I’m tired. I non-controversially choose Jeff Bridges for Best Actor. Ditto Meryl for Best Actress, Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor, and Avatar for Best Film. I talk about how, for Best Director, it is a two person race between exes James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, with my vote going to Bigelow and then I go blank when asked about Best Supporting Actress. The list of possible nominees is printed in front of me but when I look at the page it’s as though it’s written in hieroglyphics.

“Who do you think will win for Best Supporting Actress?” he says, pressing me for an answer.

Blank… Anna Kendrick, I say, even though I don’t really believe it. Maybe I did at the moment, through a veil of not enough sleep and a three hour time change, but I must have sounded convincing because Seamus replied, “Really!!??!!??”

I remember rambling for a minute or so until the name Mo’Nique pops into my head. Too late now… can’t change my mind on air. I’ll have to atone later. Consider it done now.

When the red light finally goes out on the camera it’s still so early that Starbucks isn’t even open. I wait around outside the store until 6 am and then pay $5 for a specialty tea drink. If I wasn’t so in need of caffeine I’d have complained, but I really needed the chemicals for the walk back to the hotel.

The Empress is beautiful, an old school hotel complete with a suite for the Queen and photos of Helen Keller and Franklin Roosevelt in the lobby. I feel like I’m in good company even if they did stay there over 50 years ago.

Back up in my room I crank up the computer, give the Oscar noms some serious thought and do several radio hits on the phone. Then something weird happens. I walk past my window and there is a huge seagull perched on the window sill. Huge. Like something out of a horror movie. It was staring in the window. At me. Hungrily. I snapped a picture. Then another. The bird seemed to be posing for me. I walk away and out of the corner of my eye I see him start to fly away. I turn back and he does a u-turn and comes back, landing on the sill, beady eyes focused on my every move.

It’s not even 9 am and I’ve been up for almost five hours, had a full day and the Kris Kristofferson interview is still more than twelve hours away.

The bird finally leaves. I relax and get on with my day.

It’s a quiet day in Victoria. I have to be at the A Channel studio to do another TV hit with CTV’s News Channel at 4 pm, but apart from that the day is mine. I walk around. Explore Fan Tan Alley, have lunch with festival director Kathy Kay, who I think is secretly nervous that I don’t have much ion the way of written notes for the Kristofferson interview. I assure her that I have it all in my head. She tries to look convinced. We have French Onion Soup, sit by the fireplace and share festival gossip.

Later we meet at a place called The Office for a pre interview drink. Kathy brings Mary Walsh, whose film Crackie is playing at the festival and singer and lady-about-town BJ Cook with her. We have some fun, and BJ, a singer (big hit? Wildflower! She was on Rock Concert!!)  who has known Kristofferson since the seventies brought some incredible photos to share. The first batch were from a party she and her former husband David Foster threw for Ronnie Hawkins. The guest list? Everyone you can imagine AND President Bill Clinton. Even cooler were the snaps from the set of Heaven’s Gate and a photo of BJ with the former world heavy weight champion Joe Louis.

It was a fun, if intense dinner (Mary and BJ are… big personalities…) and around 8:45 we headed for the theatre to meet up with Kristofferson.

We arrive at the theatre, walking past a line up that snakes from the auditorium down a long ramp to the street. Looks like SRO. Kristofferson (his wife Lisa) is already in the green room, signing autographs. He’s got a bad chest cold and seems nervous. He lights up when he sees BJ. “You’re like family,” he says to her, squeezing her a bear hug. We chit chat about the weather, his cold… passing the time until show time. He’s gracious, shy and when I suggest that we can cut the show short if he’s not feeling well he won’t have it. The show must go on and he’s prepared to go the distance.

Show time. The sold-out crowd greets him warmly. Here’s here to collect the IN Award for his artistic innovation so we give him a beautiful painting by artist Richard Hunt and the interview begins. I won’t try and recreate the moment other than to say he didn’t disappoint. Like the work he does on film and on record he was honest, engaging and a pleasure to talk to; great stories about Johnny Cash, Sam Peckinpah, Janis Joplin (during which he teared up) and so many others. The night was capped off by a man in the audience who tells us his mother is such a fan that she named him Kris in honor of the singer. A great night and you can listen to it all here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven

When I get home after a celebratory cocktail (or three) I have a number of twitter direct messages, including “Thank you so much @RichardCrouse Your interview w/ Kris Kristofferson was really something special.” Couldn’t agree more. Thanks to whoever sent it.

The next morning I run into Kris and his wife at the airport as they get ready to fly home to California. They greet me warmly and we chat for a few minutes. (The later airport celebrity spotting of Mike Harris wasn’t as exciting.) For the puddle jump from Victoria to Vancouver we are all seated in row 19, far from business class. A flight attendant notices Kris and comes barreling down the aisle.

“Mr. Kristofferson,” he says, “we have a seat for you in first class.”

“I’m fine where I am, thanks,” he said and buried his head in a well worn paperback for the rest of the flight.

Cool. Like him even more.

We say our good byes in Vancouver and I begin the trip east, hoping to come back next year.

Richard interviewing music and film legend Kris Kristofferson onstage at the Victoria Film Festival, February 2010.

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