Vancouver Island short film festival reveals ‘complex, intimate portraits’ from the island and beyond

In its second year online, VISFF continues to innovate and support local filmmakers, says festival director Hilary Eastmure.

Dim the lights and throw some popcorn in the microwave this weekend, because the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival (VISFF) is back. 

Following a successful online festival in 2021, VISFF will once again be streaming an exciting assortment of local and international short films for audiences at home. The festival runs April 8 and 9 from 7 p.m. onwards. It will feature a total of 14 short films from Canada, Austria, Germany, Iran, the U.K. and the United States and include live Q&A’s with filmmakers at each intermission and closing of the two programs.

“I think for our audience, it’s really exciting to get to see locally made films, alongside films from across the country and around the world,” says festival director Hilary Eastmure. “It just makes for a much more diverse program.”

Last year, the challenges brought on by the pandemic forced the festival to close its doors and move its offerings to the web. Eastmure says the change was exciting for some, because it gave those who might not otherwise have been able to attend the chance to enjoy the films. “It’s amazing the amount of people that said that they had wanted to go to the festival in the past,” says VISFF co-founder Johnny Blakeborough, “but couldn’t because of accessibility issues.”

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VISFF is the only Vancouver Island event that caters to short films specifically and has helped put Nanaimo on the festival map. The festival was originally designed as “an engine to try and help build and support local filmmakers,” Blakeborough says.

In order to do so, Blakeborough and co-founder John Gardner decided to focus solely on short films, unlike most other festivals that existed at the time. Showcasing short films seemed like a good idea because he and Gardner felt they were both underappreciated and accessible. 

“They felt kind of relegated to [the role of] filler” Blakeborough recalls, “And we realized that short films were something that was more democratic and more people could do because you didn’t have to have a huge budget to make a short film.”

VISFF puts Nanaimo on the international festival map

Since its inception in 2005, the festival has grown both in local popularity and international recognition. In 2010, Blakeborough decided to open the festival to international submissions.
That year, he recalls, VISFF received more submissions than ever before, with 70 films entered. 

Although the festival is open to filmmakers from around the world, Blakeborough says VISFF concentrates its budget on recruiting local filmmakers. Blakeborough thinks some of the most memorable films to have screened at VISFF have been local. 

Android 207 was one of the first films ever submitted to us,” he says. “And I still think about that movie. It’s … such a great black and white stop-motion animated film that [Paul Whittington] just made in his basement.”

Blakeborough remembers a more recent submission that also stood out: Before the Beauty is Gone. Directed by Comox Valley’s Mackai Sharp, the film explores the depletion of “feeder fish” stocks, like herring, and the catastrophic knock-on effects of this trend.

“It was just exceptionally well put together and beautifully shot,” says Blakeborough. “Very interesting, poignant, important.” 

The VISFF team celebrate a successful run in 2010.
The VISFF team celebrate a successful run in 2010. Photo courtesy of VISFF

Two Vancouver Island films to watch

Of the 14 screening slots offered each year, two are reserved for films shot here on Vancouver Island. This year, these slots were given to A Barbaric First Date by Nanaimo’s own Kaliandra Capri — who also stars in the film — and Dream Book by Connor Gaston of Victoria. 

Both films are billed as comedies, a genre Blakeborough believes VISFF has done a good job of showcasing over the years. 

“I think another thing that allowed our festival to stand apart … is [that] we supported and recognized films of all types,” he explains. “I think there are some festivals that are a little prejudiced against comedies because they don’t … think of them as real films.”

Across the board, this year’s lineup boasts a variety of genres, moods and stories.

Each year the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival concludes with an awards ceremony to celebrate the best films, known as the Goldie Awards. The award is shown in gold, a VHS tape on a plaque.
Each year the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival concludes with an awards ceremony to celebrate the best films, known as the Goldie Awards. Photo courtesy of VISFF

Eastmure’s advice to festival goers? “You don’t have to do any research on the films! Just go in with an open mind and be prepared to see something you weren’t expecting.”

She adds the films are not rated, and given some of their explicit content, they aren’t suitable for children.

According to Eastmure, the power of these short films lies in their intimacy. “It can be sometimes hard to relate to the life of an Avenger,” she jokes. “We love to watch those big blockbusters as a form of escapism. But I think these … smaller stories reveal something really intimate about people’s daily lives and the challenges that they face.”

Eastmure says shorter stories can still carry deep inspiration. The multiculturalism on display also ensures viewers will be exposed to people and subjects they might not otherwise see in Hollywood pictures, she adds.

“We have three films by Iranian directors this year, [and] two of those directors are women,” explains Eastmure.  “They’re telling very personal stories.” 

Eastmure gives the example of Mani Pedi, which tells the story of a young man from Laos who learns to fight in a refugee camp, and later turns that into a boxing career in Canada.

“These are just… much more complex, intimate portraits of the challenges that people deal with in daily life,” says Eastmure. “And I just think it gives [us] a much more meaningful look into people’s personal struggles.”

You can find the VISFF’s program guide on their website.. Tickets are pay what you can — ranging from five dollars minimum, to a donation of the purchaser’s choice — and grant viewers access to both nights’ screenings for up to three days after they air. [end]

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