Confronted with the challenge of losing its main venue, the Vancouver International Film Festival is reinventing itself, spreading out to the east and concentrating some aspects of its schedule. And it will be back at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts despite new, controversial ownership.
With the use of venues that will include the Centre, Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas, the Vancouver Playhouse and SFU Woodward's, VIFF will be centred in Gastown, the area called Crosstown and the eastern part of downtown this year, but maintain a central downtown presence at the Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque. It will also use the Rio Theatre, farther east at Commercial Drive and Broadway.
Time to polish up your walking shoes (or your TransLink pass).
"[The festival] has really changed with the city over the years, and this will be the new invention, the new normal," VIFF director Alan Franey says.
The venue change was necessitated by the closing of the centrally located Empire Theatres Granville 7 cinema last year. Festival staff had known it would happen eventually, but losing the multiplex that was the hub of the festival for several years posed a significant challenge, especially given the dwindling number of cinemas in the city.
"The issue really was all of the venue closures over the last few years, so the options were just kind of falling off the table, which was the frustrating part," says Jacqueline Dupuis, VIFF's executive director. She says she hopes the concentration in Gastown and the inclusion of the Rio will help the festival reach a younger demographic. "It actually ended up being more of an exciting opportunity for the festival than a frustration."
But then the surprising sale of the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts to an evangelical church threw another twist into plotting out the schedule.
When the Centre was sold to the Westside Church, there were concerns about the impact on VIFF and other cultural organizations that use the facility.
As details of the sale were being finalized – and the media were writing about it – it was unclear whether the festival would be able to use it. But once the church secured the site, Ms. Dupuis says, they were able to work out a deal.
"Patience prevails," she says. "It was a little tense around here for a few weeks."
Mr. Franey has had discussions with the church, which has some controversial views; its lead pastor has described homosexuality as a sin.
I asked Mr. Franey if there were any concerns should the festival screen a film in that venue that might not be consistent with the church's beliefs.
"They have not brought that up as an issue," Mr. Franey said, adding that he has shown church officials VIFF programs and let the festival's history speak for itself.
"Sometimes there's controversy attached to [our films], but we haven't had any indication that we're only welcome there if we show absolutely anodyne stuff. We're showing normal festival films."
When I asked whether he would factor in the philosophies of the church in programming the venue, Mr. Franey said: "That's an interesting question. I'm not sure that we won't, but first and foremost, we're going to be thinking about the film's appropriateness for each venue. You think in terms of your neighbourhood, you think in terms of the time of day, who the audience is, what kind of screening format it's in. There are so many considerations that come into play there."
Ms. Dupuis said the festival will show whatever it wants at the venue. "Our job is to put the appropriate films in that space based on the space itself and the size of it. And we'll treat it as we would treat any other venue in the constellation of the festival footprint."
(The church, which takes possession of the venue in early August, told The Globe and Mail on Friday that nobody was available for an interview.)
The Centre is described as a "key venue" for the festival, and with 1,800 seats, VIFF's largest, with about 48 planned screenings, including galas.
Beyond the Centre, International Village will become a new sort of hub for at least part of the festival, screening films in three theatres, although it is available for only 10 of the festival's 16 days. (It's a busy time for commercial releases.) The Rio will be a satellite venue, used for late-night screenings and potentially music and other genre films.
Because of the changes, there will be a slightly reduced number of screenings and seats. Last year, about 230,000 seats were available throughout the festival; this year will have about 200,000.
Some aspects of the festival schedule will be more concentrated. The VIFF Forum, which has traditionally started just before the festival, will take place during the festival's first full week. And the guest period will run from Sept. 27 through Oct. 6, rather than throughout the entire festival (Sept. 26 to Oct. 11).
Audiences will still get the same 16-day event – long by film festival standards – and this year, maybe a bit more exercise.