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Arthur Erickson's Dyde House film image

January 2024

Reel Talk

Image: Arthur Erickson’s Dyde House, at VIFF Centre

We sat down with Tom Charity, VIFF’s year-round programmer, to chat what’s coming up at the VIFF Centre this month.

Tom has been at VIFF since 2009. Before that, he worked as a film critic, and brings his keen eye and love for film to his work selecting films for our year-round program.

What do you look for in the films you program?

The main criteria is excellent films. Quality is really my guiding light. That sounds like a no brainer, but actually that’s not how most cinemas are programmed. We’re a nonprofit, so it relieves some of the burden of just playing the most commercial titles. After I’m satisfied that the film is worthy of our audience, it’s a question of looking to have a diverse, rich slate programming so it’s not all one kind of film — it’s many different types of film, from different types of filmmakers and countries reflecting different cultures, ethnicities, and genders.

How do you find the films that you program?

Most of the films we show first-run [recently released films] are from independent distribution companies, most of them in Canada, some in the US. It’s a question of looking at what they have to offer and choosing the best as much as we can.

If that’s the backbone of the program, then you’re building all these fun stuff [around it]. Be it one off events or archival repertory screenings, or series like Pantheon. In some cases it’s a question of keeping an eye on what is going on in the film world, in centers like New York, LA, London, or Paris.

Or it might be because, for example, Arthur Erickson, the architect has an anniversary happening in Vancouver next year. That kind of wider cultural event might be a peg to do a little film season because he designed so many buildings in this city, which have then been used as film sets or film backdrops. So that might suggest a program. Just learning, Oh, it’s 100 years since Arthur Erickson was born, that kind of thing.

Also, filmmakers might not have a distributor in place but might reach out. I go to the Toronto Film Festival, the Vancouver Film Festival, I see as much as I can of films that might be in play for the next 12 months.

Are there any that you’re particularly excited about in January?

I’m always excited about our program because I’m excited about movies, and I think there are a lot of good films. I don’t understand why people aren’t here every day. I would be. I am. (laughs)

I’m excited to bring back the new Spanish cinema festival. We’re reviving that for the first time in 10 years, and it’s January 5 – 8. We’ll be showing the new Victor Erice film. He’s a veteran Spanish filmmaker, and we’re showing his new film which didn’t make it into VIFF but did premiere at TIFF. It’s called Close your Eyes. And I’m really excited to be sharing that with people.

I think there are lots of really terrific Spanish filmmakers whose films are not widely distributed in North America. We’re showing an earlier film by the director of The Beasts, which was in VIFF 2022. We brought it back last summer and it was a big hit with our audience.

Close Your Eyes film image, man emptying water out of his shoe

Close Your Eyes, New Spanish Cinema

Rodrigo Sorogoyen made four or five terrific films prior to The Beasts which were never released here. So we’re showing The Candidate, which was a 2018 release in Spain. It’s a political thriller and about corruption and blackmail, and it’s a riveting piece of cinema. It’s nice to be able to rescue something that perhaps has fallen through the cracks. Especially because of COVID, there are quite a few films that in ordinary times would have been playing in cinemas, but because of the lockdown that was not possible. So here’s a chance to do a little catching up.

At the end of January we’ve got the Middle East and North African Film Festival (MENA) coming back. As we all know, it’s a painful time in that region, and the films that are going to be showcased are a timely reminder of the common humanity that is to be found if you look beyond like the news headlines and beyond the political riffs. Ordinary people are trying to live their lives and are caught up in this nightmare. And I think one of the great gifts of film is how it allows us to empathize with people from completely different cultures that we might not otherwise get to know very well in the course of our lives. So I think it’s a really important festival this time more than ever.

The Candidate film image, men meeting around table

The Candidate, New Spanish Cinema

Are there any new releases you are excited for people to see in January?

I’m really excited about a French movie called And The Party Goes On by veteran filmmaker Robert Guédiguian. His films have been featured at VIFF for probably 25 years. He’s a Marseille-based filmmaker who makes very local films, with a very tight knit group of actors. The leading lady in his films is his wife.

And the Party Goes On film image, people sit on beach

And the Party Goes On, at VIFF Centre

I would compare [his work] to Mike Lee or Ken Loach in that they’re dealing with ordinary working class people and ordinary dramatic situations, but bringing a great deal of humor to them, and compassion.

And The Party Goes On is made in the wake of a building that collapsed in Marseille. A dozen people died in the collapse of this building, and they were predominantly immigrants because it was the cheapest housing. The film is about the grassroots movement to improve housing conditions for these people. The way Guédiguian approaches this story is through the relationships between characters of different ages and different social strata. And those kinds of emotional connections bring the story to life. I think it’s one of those films that will really speak to our audience because we’re all dealing with the same kind of issues around housing, and poverty, and around getting old and connecting with our kids. These are universal experiences that the film brings home.

Then there’s a French film by the veteran American documentary filmmaker, Fred Wiseman, who’s 93. He’s made a four hour film about a restaurant called La Maison Troisgros. The film is called Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros, and it’s a restaurant that has had three Michelin stars for 50 years. It is about a time of transition between the parents who have been running it for 20 years, passing it on to their children to take over the reins. It’s such a pleasure and a delight to experience the food vicariously — through our eyes if not through our taste buds — and to see what goes into the level of service and the culinary arts that are demanded of a three star Michelin establishment. It’s a really insightful, deeply enjoyable watch.

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros film image, chefs around table

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros, at VIFF Centre

Has your taste changed since you started?

I think I’m enjoying watching films more than I did as a film critic. Because really my job is to cast a wide net and to share the work that excites me and that I think is interesting. And that is very rewarding. As a critic a lot of the time you might be seeing films that you don’t enjoy or don’t really have an interest in. Whereas the output of this job as a programmer is really to share work that you are excited by. And we have a really enthusiastic and engaged audience at this theatre. I get a lot of positivity back from our audience and from the volunteers too. It’s a real pleasure to do.

Anything else you want people to know?

I genuinely do want people to give us feedback and to make recommendations. It’s true that I get a lot of a lot of people saying, “how about film x y z” and I can’t make everybody happy. But it’s really useful for me to know what people care about, and what they would like to see. I’m here a lot, and I’m introducing films a lot, so don’t be shy about introducing yourself and making comments or suggestions or criticisms. It’s all good. We want to be better.