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Cinema Spectacular: Fresh and Compelling


Roberta McDonald West Coast Editor

Billed as An All Canadian Motion Picture Variety Show, Cinema Spectacular has been carving out a reputation as a compelling and unique event with a stellar line up of shorts, live music, and mingling galore in the Vancity Theatre atrium.

Meeting with co-organizer Laurel Brown in her airy Mt Pleasant kitchen, her zest for filmmaking is palpable as we sip coffee in kitschy cups. After graduating the film program at SFU and struggling to get her own films made and into festivals, she started looking for other options. In 2014, she decided it was time to showcase indie shorts from outside the mainstream festival circuit, started inviting fellow filmmakers to submit their work and booked the famed VIFF theatre on Seymour in the heart of the city.

Along with her festival partner Alexandra Caufield, Brown began curating films that range from experimental animation, to artful documentary, to poignant dramas. They steered clear of programming films with the same running time, keeping it fresh.

“It’s like reading a book where all the sentences are the same length. You start to tune out after a while,” she explains. “So we put in punctuation, shorter, more experimental films to cleanse your palette between the next bigger narrative piece.”

Due to their succinct programming, film enthusiasts can take in the whole event without fear of missing out on other events booked at different venues, as can be the case with larger scale film festivals.

“It’s still a very quick and dirty festival. We’re not taking up theatre space for a week or two. It’s just an afternoon,” says Brown.

Although the festival doesn’t have a theme per se, Brown has noticed a retreat from online debate as artists learn to protect their vulnerability and instead of engaging in social media rage fests, they’re making films. She says this year’s line up reflects a more contemplative approach to storytelling.

“This year, a lot of our films are very internal, more meditative and quieter. Last year, things were more bombastic. This year, people are simmering about a lot of things it seems.”

For Sydney Southam, a multidisciplinary artist, exploring mystery through film is part of her practice, but she’s not interested in mainstream festivals.

“I consider myself a filmmaker but I’m not in the film world, I’m in the art world,” she says. Her film Ice Cream is screening at this year’s event and has garnered international awards and screened throughout Europe.

In keeping with the Cinema Spectacular programming, Southam’s film is thoughtful, poignant, and challenging. Much of her work explores the suicide of her father when she was seven years old. The film is comprised of footage of him as a young boy at various meticulously curated family outings, eating ice cream.

“Everyone has that experience of a hot summer day eating an ice cream cone. It’s nostalgic. It’s also absurd,” she says.

Brown says she delights in showcasing work that may be overlooked regionally, but resonates elsewhere. Case in point, the singular work of animator Robert Valley. Last year, she invited a shortened version of his autobiographical film Pear Cider and Cigarettes to screen and it went on to be nominated for an Academy Award, yet didn’t get selected for VIFF.

The intimate vibe means both the audience and the filmmakers are engaged and it makes for a lively post screening discussion. “Last year we had an amazing Q&A. Really good conversation with our audience and filmmakers.”

Cinema Spectacular is on Sunday April 30 at 3 pm at the Vancity Theatre