A few weeks after the closing night of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival, the Granville 7—an old-school multiplex in the heart of downtown Vancouver with screens squirrelled away on four levels (including that funky little screen hidden between two floors)—was shuttered and slowly gutted. It was a failing theater, to be sure, with no investment in the new digital projection technology. But for two-and-a-half weeks every fall, it was the center of screening operations for VIFF: seven screens right downtown, only a couple of blocks from at the Vancity and Pacific Cinemateque satellite screens.
VIFF 2013 has been forced to spread its screenings through downtown Vancouver (and one satellite screen farther afield in the city) and the transition comes with challenges for the staff (a whole new set of venues means new layouts, organizational issues and audience confusion) and for longtime attendees who (myself included) had settled in to the convenience of the old VIFF. This year’s opening weekend weather didn’t help. Day-long drizzle isn’t new to VIFF, but it takes on an added dimension of frustration when you are hiking fourteen blocks from the International Village to the Pacific Cinemateque.
Given those challenges, the transition has been (a few glitches aside) largely manageable, thanks in large part to friendly volunteers keeping their cool through the procedural changes on a day-to-day basis and patiently directing patrons to the correct lines (it got pretty darn confusing at the Cineplex Odeon on the third floor of International Village, where space is so tight that lines were formed on two levels to keep crowds organized).
The signature programming—including the Dragons & Tigers line-up of more than 30 features from Asia, the Spotlight on France sidebar, and the Canadian Images’ focus on homegrown cinema—remains intact but largely packed into the first week and a half of screenings (before a number of theaters drop out of the line-up). Which makes VIFF 2013 just as lively as ever as it picks up dozens of films fresh from a North American premiere in Toronto and shares plenty of programming choices with the much more prominent New York Film Festival, such as VIFF opening night film Nebraska, Palm d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, Locarno prize-winner What Now? Remind Me (which skipped Toronto entirely and made its North American debut concurrently at VIFF and NYFF), Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs, Agnieszka Holland‘s Burning Bush, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son, and Roger Michell’s Le Weekend.