For more than 30 years the Vancouver International Film Festival has celebrated cinema in an annual fall event that has become a cultural touchstone in the city.
Troubled at times by technical problems, struggling with limited budgets, battling some years against unseasonably warm weather that drew people back to the beaches and away from theatres, VIFF has nevertheless managed to prosper, this year exceeding attendance targets while showing more than 300 films from 70 countries.
It is impossible to imagine September or October without the excitement created by VIFF – and without Alan Franey as festival director. But after this year's event, which had to overcome the sudden closing of its main host theatre on Granville Street, VIFF announced Mr. Franey is stepping down. In an interview on the weekend, he talked about his past and future with VIFF.
How long has it been?
I've been director for 26 years, but I've been here for the full 32 years. And I hope to stay.
But not as director?
Not as the festival director. In the past I've had both the executive and programming functions. I would [now] like to concentrate on programing, which will mean I'll be doing a lot of what I've been doing in the past, but solely that, so it'll be looking at submissions, travelling to festivals, choosing films, representing the films, dealing with the programming staff. It's not a full departure.
It still sounds like a lot of work.
Really what I'm aiming for is more like a normal work week, but not 60 to 80 hours a week, six months of the year.
I have strong messages from my family that they'd like me to live a more balanced life. My dad is a big part of that. My mother died rather suddenly two years ago and I'd kind of promised her that I'd be able to attend to their, you know, pretty vibrant years in their late 80s, but I missed that opportunity. I want to be around for my dad who's still very healthy now. And I have two kids who I wish I had spent a lot more time with through the summers. They are now in their 20s. So it's a mix of personal and professional reasons.
What can you remember from year one?
Well, I was still in university and I was manager of the Ridge Theatre. There were essentially three of us the first year and I was director of programing. We showed 39 films at the Ridge only. And then it grew very quickly leading up to Expo in 1986. We became a non-profit in the second year, but we didn't think about government grants until the mid-80s.
Where do you hope VIFF goes from here?
Well I hope we stick to our programing mission. There is lots of argument for what the future will be for motion pictures. We only showed four 35-mm films in the festival this year, which is absolutely extraordinary. I mean two years ago, I would have bet money we'd still have 35-mm for a few years, but it's changed so radically, so quickly, and you know what, the audience doesn't really care about it much. All they want is a movie-going experience, worth their money and time … where the doors close and you really immerse yourself in a quality experience and you do it with other people.
Is there a particularly thrilling moment over the years that comes to mind?
There have been so many. I think apart from the electricity of being at a Q-and-A session with a director and the audience after a very bracing film, the general sense is the camaraderie and good spirits that come with the festival atmosphere. That's what really makes it worthwhile … that's what's kept me here doing those long hours and that's what I think we all enjoy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.