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Visual feast Whether it’s a glorious film about a gourmet chef or the transformed lobby of the Atrium, food is king By MICHAEL D. REID, Timescolonist.com February 3, 2011

Crowd8If there’s one thing you can count on at the Victoria Film Festival, it’s food, glorious food — on and off screen.

This year is no exception, starting with Friday night’s opening gala presentation at Empire Capitol 6 — a film that gives new meaning to the term “frozen food.”

It’s The Chef of the South Polar, Japanese director Shuichi Okita’s stunningly photographed portrait of life in Dome Fuji, an isolated Antarctic research station where Jun Nishimura, a gourmet chef, dishes up a mouth-watering variety of culinary creations to boost the morale of scientific researchers battling homesickness, isolation and sub-zero temperatures.

The South Pole theme will be reflected post-screening at the Atrium, 800 Yates St. The lobby is being transformed into a sparkling ice castle with a faux glacier and bar sculpted out of ice. Expect music by Lady Gaga-influenced local DJ Veela (a.k.a. Victoria Burnett), food by local restaurants such as Bon Rouge, Pescatores and Sips Artisan Bistro, as well as Driftwood Brewery’s Reel Beer and other festival-specific cocktails and surprises.

Okita’s visual feast continues a long tradition of putting foodie flicks on the festival menu. So will Saturday’s Canadian Opening Gala presentation — the world première of Food Security: It’s in your Hands, Duncan-based director Nick Versteeg’s new documentary (7 p.m., Odeon).

Versteeg’s film encourages viewers to change how we think about farming and food by relating his own experiences growing food on his hobby farm the Laughing Geese, with input from experts on topics from soil to the fate of bees.

Festival-goers have long hungered for such films, says festival director Kathy Kay.

“Outside of film festivals, you don’t often get a chance to see them,” Kay says. “It’s always a good opportunity. Victoria in particular has such a foodie culture, so we always have our eyes peeled.”

As for the festival itself, it’s going on a bit of a diet this year thanks to arts cutbacks. The festival program guide is smaller than usual, with expanded descriptions going online; and fewer guests are being brought in.

“That’s been key. We’re lean and mean,” laughs Kay, who is mounting this year’s festival on a $646,000 budget. “We get money from the Victoria Foundation which has helped offset our problems, and we generated $130,000 from our box office.”

This year’s guests include Bruce McDonald (Trigger, Hardcore Logo 2), Ron Mann (In the Wake of the Flood), Larry Weinstein (Politics Is Cruel) and Don McKellar (Twitch City), with CTV film critic Richard Crouse returning to emcee Springboard.

Speakers at that popular opening-weekend industry event include Angie Burns, vice-president of publicity and promotions for Maple Pictures, Telefilm Canada’s John Dippong, independent production pioneer Pat Ferns, and Tom Alexander, Mongrel Media’s director of theatrical releasing. This year’s Springboard highlights include Ferns’s Friday pitching workshop, and The Great Convergence: Film, TV and the Internet, a Sunday master class conducted by Rainbow Media’s Harold Gronenthal.

Success lies in the ability to be as resourceful as possible, notes Kay. They’re hoping that reducing the size of the program guide but printing more copies will boost box-office revenues and continue the festival’s trend of rising attendance each year.

More than 160 films from 23 countries will be shown during the 10-day showcase, including a generous slate of Canadian and homegrown fare. It includes the première of Victoria filmmaker Jim Knox’s feature debut Cascadia, and shorts by locals Apeman Struthers (Down to the Sea on Drugs, Part One), Maureen Bradley (Pants on Fire) and Alice Faye Hopewell (Dearest).

Popular programs such as Sips ‘n’ Cinema, Dinner and More Than a Movie — featuring erotic fare at the Superior — and Converge, where viewers take to the streets to watch short films in offbeat venues, will also be back.

New initiatives include Contemplating Victoria (see sidebar), and a Grindhouse double-bill.

It opens with Machete Maidens Unleashed, Australian director Mark Hartley’s documentary recalling how directors of shlock and exploitation flicks in the 1970s shot them in the Philippines because of its exotic locations and cheap labour.

It will be followed by The Big Bird Cage, Jack Hill’s steamy 1972 “women in prison” exploitation flick starring Pam Grier as a buxom revolutionary who, with the help of a nymphomanic inmate (Anitra Ford), engineers a prison breakout to provide “babes” to satisfy the itches of mercenaries who work for her sleazy guerrilla-leader boyfriend (Sid Haig).

And don’t forget about those two Oscar-nominated films booked at the 11th hour to fill the Saturday night time slot that was to have been filled by horror meister George A. Romero before he announced he’d have to cancel for personal reasons.

The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet’s adaptation of the Jacques Tati classic, screens at 6:45 p.m., followed at 9:15 by Alejandro Inarritu’s Biutiful, starring Javier Bardem as a man coming to terms with his imperfect life while wandering through Barcelona.

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