VIFF 2013 Moves East
The Vancouver International Film Festival approaching closer on the calendar towards late September is filled with the usual anticipation for its smart programming of contemporary world cinema, new Canadian film, documentaries, and a variety of short and experimental work. After the Toronto International Film Festival completes its annual showcase earlier in September, VIFF also ranks as one of Canada’s largest film festivals and its longest for the annual forum for cinema spanning nearly two weeks. This year, however, brings big changes for the festival’s participating venues. After last year’s VIFF, the Empire Granville 7 Cinemas — a multi-leveled 1980s multiplex crowned with a pink and teal ziggurat-style neon marquee — closed for good in November 2012. The Granville 7’s owners cited increased maintenance and operations costs coupled with diminished patronage for shutting down. Although VIFF festival organizers anticipated that the closure would eventually happen, they didn’t readily have a plan to replace the Granville 7 as its main hub.
Earlier this year, VIFF Festival Director Alan Franey sought to secure new venues to screen many of the film fest’s nearly 350 films. The Granville 7 was a great choice because all seven screens were deployed for unspooling the bulk of the festival’s daily programming during the two-week run. Without it and without a centrally-located alternate, the festival had to find a new home. By July, VIFF announced that they had secured multiple venues across town that include The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts, three screens out of 12 at the Cineplex Odeon International Village in Chinatown, the Rio Theatre in East Vancouver, SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at Simon Fraser University’s Woodwards campus in Gastown, and the Vancouver Playhouse. These venues round out VIFF’s existing stable of screens at Pacific Cinémathèque Pacifique and their festival home at Vancity Theatre. Most significantly, some of these theater additions shift the festival’s former centrality towards East Vancouver for the first time.
Before the Empire Granville 7’s closure last fall, the theater’s central location in the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district on Granville Street near Robson perfectly suited VIFF. Additionally, one of the more attractive aspects was the Granville 7’s proximity to smaller participating festival venues in the Granville corridor: the Pacific Cinémathèque Pacifique on Howe Street and VIFF’s year-round home at the Vancity Theatre on Seymour Street. As a frequent visitor to Vancouver for the film festival, the venue locations and the walkability between them underscored VIFF’s urban appeal. The dense cluster of hotels, cafes, shops and restaurants between the Granville 7’s location near Robson Street at one end, and both the Cinémathèque and Vancity Theatre straddling near Davie Street at the other end provided for an optimal city setting to attend the film festival.
Vancouver’s quickly-changing urban density and landscape has often had its effect felt on VIFF. Before the Empire Granville 7, the late 1990s and early 2000s was a relatively sporadic period for VIFF’s range of venues which came and went with each passing year. These include the old Pacific Centre Mall Theatre, a solid two-screen venue with cavernous seating exhibiting new films by Takeshi Kitano and documentaries like Anand Patwardhan’s Father, Son and Holy War at VIFF during the 1990s. Additionally, VIFF had used UBC Robson Square Conference Centre rooms below the Robson Square Ice Rink and the Vancouver Art Gallery that screened archival Iranian cinema and music documentaries from Brazil. And on Granville, VIFF had memorable presentations of gay Canadian short films and Inuit language features at the Caprice — now a nightclub, and a sold-out screening of Takeshi Miike’s The Audition at The Vogue one damp weekend afternoon for its Canadian premiere. Despite occasional venue changes and theater closures, the emphasis on mapping festival venues on and around Granville Street must have encouraged greater accessibility and attendance; everything was nearby including ticketing locations, galas and festival offices.
Along with these venue shifts and Vancouver’s increased gentrification in Granville-Yaletown from the past 20 years, pressure spurred the festival to find a permanent downtown venue. After attracting funding to build the wonderfully comfortable Vancity Theatre which opened in 2005, VIFF not only had established maturity by then, but was better capable to exhibit films and smaller festivals throughout the year. It provides the festival with a much-needed flagship identity as an exhibition venue and an office space serving as a base-camp for festival organizers and staff. Vancity Theatre’s location in the Granville corridor also solidifies VIFF’s surface area on the festival map. In the interim, VIFF has shored up occupancy at Vancity Theatre which it has leased through 2025.
By September 26 when VIFF 2013 commences, the festival’s sprawling reach towards East Vancouver will be a big change, one that threads the festival from Granville-Yaletown through Chinatown and Gastown towards where East Broadway intersects Commercial Drive. Festival patrons emboldened to make the most of this year’s VIFF will have sensible shoes and plenty of SkyTrain and bus fare. Tickets and passes are already on sale as of August 19, 2013. For further festival information, visit the Vancouver International Film Festival site at viff.org.