How VIFF is reinventing itself for a new audience

While cinema remains at the heart of the Vancouver International Film Festival, organizers aim to woo TV fans and gamers

September 7, 2016

By Fiona Morrow / Photo: Voyage of Time

Confidently projecting itself into the fast-evolving world of multimedia experience, the Vancouver International Film Festival launches its 35th year with its focus firmly on the future. Embracing the notion of “screen-based” entertainment, the festival’s new model is called FILM+, a tent designed to be big enough to house everyone from cineastes to cult TV fans to gamers.

The seeds of the transformation were planted before the rebrand made it official: there was the coup that saw Vince Gilligan talk just two days before the Breaking Bad finale aired, and last year’s focus on virtual reality. Now in the first year of a four-year plan, FILM+ sees not just a new philosophical model but a new business model, too. The three distinct arms of the organization—the festival, industry conference and year-round Vancity Theatre—are being corralled into one, with programming streams, talks and master classes all intended to be interwoven throughout the festival and beyond.

“We want to consolidate that content and talent and create a much richer experience for our audience,” festival executive director Jacqueline Dupuis says. “We want to build on our industry focus by acknowledging that the interest in creators—from writers to editors to FX artists—is far broader than those simply working within the industry. By making that component fluid, and allowing it to dovetail with the festival and the year-round programming, we believe we will engage a wider audience.”

Dupuis hopes to catch the interest of a younger generation whose ideas around what to watch—and how to watch it—are fluid, while continuing to satisfy VIFF’s loyal audience, hungry for the annual smorgasbord of the best cinema from across Canada and the world.

The choices for the opening and closing night galas exemplify that balance: Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke open the festival with Irish director Aisling Walsh’s Maudie, the story of Nova Scotian artist, Maud Lewis. At the other end of the innovation scale, this year’s VIFF will close with the 40-minute Imax version of Terrence Malick’s documentary, Voyage of Time (the 90-minute regular format version premiered at Venice on Tuesday).

In between, talks will include television stars (Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, Better Call Saul writer Gordon Smith), internet filmmakers (writer Matt Johnson of web series Nirvana the Band) and acclaimed Canadian director Zacharias Kunuk (on his latest movie Maliglutit, also known as Searchers).

“We are all about creators,” Dupuis says. “With FILM+, we now have a way of talking about that as an organization. We are explicitly furthering our commitment to creators…. We have always been innovators,” she insists. “We just haven’t been very good at shouting about it.”

The 35th Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 29 to October 14. For information and tickets go to viff.org.

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