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Vancouver film festival revamps its focus

Jacqueline Dupuis took over as the festival director of the Vancouver International Film Festival at the close of last year’s event.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver International Film Festival, in the midst of a leadership transition, is also making changes to its focus and direction. The trade forum that coincides with the fall festival is being revamped to be more engaged with the local film industry, including Vancouver's booming visual effects and animation industry.

And once a strategic planning process is completed later this year, changes to the festival itself – and its year-round activities – can be expected. VIFF is developing a vision to keep step with advances in technology, content creation and consumption. It is also recognizing the city's growing technology sector, with companies such as Microsoft and Amazon setting up shop in town.

"It's a really interesting and critical time for Vancouver, both from a screen-based industry perspective, but also from an innovation perspective," notes Jacqueline Dupuis, VIFF's executive director. "We're the third-largest production centre in North America," she says, citing the Vancouver Economic Commission. "And we're the third-largest centre for visual effects and animation in the world. We also have a madly burgeoning technology and innovation industry."

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At the close of last year's event, festival director Alan Franey announced he would step aside after 26 years in the role. But he is staying on as director of programming. And Dupuis, who joined VIFF two years ago as executive director, is now in the driver's seat.

"There's a lot of continuity, but definitely there will be changes and a freshening and an adapting to an ever-changing world with the way images are consumed," Franey says.

The changes begin this year with the festival's industry component. The four-day trade gathering that was called the VIFF Film and Television Forum has a new name, VIFF Industry, with an expanded focus.

"We introduced the Film Forum a few years back, but it didn't engage the film industry the way we would have liked," said David Hewitt, chairman of the VIFF board. After discussions with local industry players, he said, the organization realized there was a bit of a disconnect between the film industry in B.C. and the festival.

"So we've rebranded [the forum] … and we intend to engage much more with the film industry – it's a huge, huge industry and our proximity with Los Angeles is obvious. We really wanted to build up that aspect of our relationship," he said.

This year's forum will see more industry guests and speakers from LA., and will expand its focus from film and television to broad-based screen entertainment, in recognition of Vancouver's growing visual effects, animation and gaming industries.

VIFF Industry also wants to promote Vancouver as a production and post-production centre, by participating in trade missions, for example, and helping to facilitate international co-productions, in particular with India and China.

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A VIFF forum event last year became a festival highlight: a session with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, which happened to take place two nights before the TV series' hotly anticipated series finale. "[That] created international buzz," Dupuis recalls. "And it was great profile for the industry here because Vince got his start in TV right here in Vancouver working on The X-Files."

VIFF is also considering more year-round events. One idea is to host a mini-festival about pilots for TV shows (many of which are made in Vancouver) and having their creators discuss them. "We're kind of the pilot capital of the world," Dupuis says.

As for the film festival itself, which this year runs Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, it will retain its artistic core and spirit – VIFF is very much an auteur event, where audiences have access to the kind of films that will never make it to the multiplex. At the same time, however, the festival wants to build new audiences.

"We're very cognizant that young people do not consume films the same way," Hewitt says. "We need to be forward-thinking to see how we can engage the new generation of film goers."

For example, the festival is considering including television and Web-based series in its screenings, emphasizing storytelling rather than medium; and using an online platform to help its films reach a larger audience.

"We just want to take this festival to the next level," Hewitt says. "It's already a huge icon in the city of Vancouver and we think it could be so much more."

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