When Oscars season arrives in late January/early February, people change. All of a sudden, everyone and their dog becomes a film expert; the general public is preoccupied with finding a cinematic gem and making something up that sounds intellectual to show how deep and clever they are.
“I was conflicted by La La Land— the colours really spoke to the intense but often shallow postmodern tendency to romanticize nostalgia.”
“Manchester By The Sea was amazing — its use of mise-en-scene to anthropomorphize its characters’ facetiousness made my heart break.”
“Suicide Squad’s insistence on post-compartmentalizing its tragic use of ironic steadicam made me lose all feeling in my big toes.”
These fancy declarations can seem intimidating, but there is a much more effective way to impress your friends: by finding the best and most obscure films around at the Victoria Film Festival.
The VFF, running from Feb. 3–12, is a fantastic opportunity to support local filmmakers and watch some of the best independent cinema of 2016 — improving both your film knowledge and your hipster credentials at the same time.
But with 88 films to choose from, it can be difficult to sort the diamonds from the haystack — which is why this list will give you a good idea of where to start.
Free Fire (England)
Dir. Ben Wheatley
Free Fire won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival for good reason — it’s just a lot of fun to watch. When an arms deal between the Irish Republican Army and a South African gun runner quickly goes wrong, each character finds themselves with a gun and a lot to lose. The resulting chaos is filmed with Wheatley’s sharp eye for mayhem, and undercut with wit that is sure to delight any audience member.
Watch for: The unbelievable cast. No other film at this festival can compete with a cast that includes Brie Larson (Room, the upcoming King Kong), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Inception), and Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium).
King Dave (Quebec)
The Victoria Film Festival is a fantastic spot to watch great French-Canadian films, and King Dave may be one of the best this year. The film is based on a play written by Alexandre Goyette, who stars as Dave in this cinematic adaptation. Both the play and film deal with toxic masculinity and the circle of violence, and the result is a film that feels familiar in its setting yet completely unique in its unflinching delivery.
Watch for: The single continuous shot. Since the film was based on a play, director Podz (real name Daniel Grou) elected to replicate the ‘live’ feeling by filming the entire 100 minute film with no cuts. What’s even more impressive is that the film itself is not written as a continuous linear timeline — and, if that sounds as confusing and interesting as I think it does, then you should go watch King Dave.
The Salesman (Iran/France)
Dir. Asghar Farhadi
As one of the most intense films of the festival, The Salesman parallels life and art, portraying a deeply thematic look at love and violence. When a young Iranian woman named Rana is violated in her new home, her husband Emad seeks out her attacker for retaliation — all while the two work as actors in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. With an award-winning screenplay that continuously and heart-breakingly wins over its viewers, this is a touching film that is hard to forget.
Watch for: The acting. Lead actor Shahab Hosseini won the Best Actor Award at Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Emad, and his role is impressive. His ability to thread strength and vulnerability throughout the film requires tremendous acting talent, and his award was not undeserved.
So there you have it — three films that are sure to give you enough to talk about with your cool friends and hip baristas.
There are also several exhibits and seminars offered throughout the festival, including attention to outstanding short films, and lectures on the future of film and storytelling. Grab a membership for just $2 and leave the festival with enough pretentious ammunition to last you a lifetime — though you’ll almost certainly want to come back next year.
For more info, visit victoriafilmfestival.com.