B.C. Scene: Doing the circuit: from East to West, it’s fest fest fest

Vancouver: Over-partied, underfunded filmmakers pulled themselves away from the last hors d’oeuvres table at the Toronto International Film Festival and headed back to Vancouver to begin another round of similar libations at the 14th annual Vancouver International Film Festival, running from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15

The four b.c.-produced feature films screened at the t.o. fest attracted solid critical and audience response. Although the quantity of local production is slim pickin’s, the quality is definitely there.

The War Between Us, a film about the Japanese internment during wwii directed by Saltspring Island resident Anne Wheeler, created quite a stir, with nearly 90% of the gala night audience staying around to ask questions of the production team. cbc, taking advantage of the momentum, has moved up the airdate to Dec. 10.

Margaret’s Museum (which still wins my award for the most drab title), produced and directed by another Saltspring Island resident, Mort Ransen, but shot in Nova Scotia due to funding advantages, was compared by tiff audiences to films from the illustrious Merchant Ivory team for its superb acting performances and production values. The film stars Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Nelligan and Kenneth Walsh.

As for Vancouver, judging by the high caliber of guests attending the festival and 10th annual Trade Forum, the two events appear to be hitting their stride.

At a press conference held earlier this month to announce this year’s lineup, Alan Franey said with over 400 screenings the outlook has never been brighter. Marketing maven Jane MacDonald was in the enviable position of having major sponsors like Max Factor and Mutual Exchange approach the festival unsolicited. Corporate sponsorship now contributes almost half the festival’s budget.

Among the b.c.-produced films making their world premieres at the festival are Cyberjack, a sci-fi action flick produced by John Curtis and Rob Straight (former director of the Trade Forum) and Bones of the Forest, a provocative feature-length documentary on the environmental impact of forestry policies in b.c.

(For more on this year’s viff, turn to the Special Report beginning on p. 20.)

Speaking of

Speaking of Cyberjack, Vancouver-based Robert Lee, who made his directorial debut on the film, has been offered the opportunity to direct a second feature, l.a-based First Corps Endeavors’ Pendragon, a fantasy-action-adventure film written by Michael Reeves. The principals of First Corps are Allan Apone, Bill Macdonald and Tom Berenger, whom Lee met on the set of Last of the Dogmen.

Called to the Bar

Bar None, the second feature from Vancouver-based independent filmmaker Mark Tuit, is now shooting in North Vancouver. Starring Bill Macdonald (The X-Files, Pure Luck), Bar None is set in a restaurant lounge and follows the exploits of the bar staff and their patrons. Tuit is targeting the film for the festival route and international theatrical distribution.

Takes one to know one

A first-time feature director making a film about a first-time novelist? Sure, why not? Filmmaker Mark Sawers, who scored stunning successes with his first two Genie-nominated short films, Hate Mail and Stroke (the latter invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival), begins directing his low-budget first feature, Skyscraper, on Sept. 26.

Produced by Tara Cowell-Plain (One Foot In Heaven) on an independently financed budget of less than $500,000, the film stars l.a.-based actor Taylor Nichols (Barcelona, Metropolitan) in a black comedy (with shades of Misery) about a first-time novelist struggling with writer’s block who travels to a remote cabin for inspiration but finds a lot more than he bargained for.

The five-week shoot under dop Greg Middleton begins with two weeks in Qualicum on Vancouver Island and the remainder in Vancouver.

Animation is hot

Animation production could be the hot ticket this year. Delaney and Friends just completed financing for production of 13 half-hours of its animated children’s series Nilus The Sandman, a coproduction with Toronto-based Cambium Film and Video Productions, to be broadcast in Canada on WIC Western International Communications stations.

Meanwhile, Gordon Stanfield Animation has completed the pilot episode for Kleo The Misfit Unicorn in time for its October delivery date to wic. Gordon Stanfield says production on the next 26 episodes of the series will begin in late November following a quick pitch visit to mipcom.

Animator Herve Bedard’s series Billy the Cat is still on the go. And the Alliance/BLT Productions hit computer-animated series ReBoot is currently in production. That brings the number of animated series shooting in Vancouver to a whopping four.

At the box office

The meek just might inherit the earth judging by the performance of two locally produced features at the box office this month.

According to statistics from British Columbia Film, Magic in the Water (formerly Glenorky), produced by Pacific Motion Pictures and distributed by TriStar Sony in the u.s. and Norstar in Canada, opened in a wide release in 826 theaters across North America, but only averaged us$400 per screen per week, while the low-budget Double Happiness, distributed in Canada by Malofilm Distribution and in the u.s. by Fineline, screened in a mere 19 theaters across North America but brought in a healthy us$3,500 per screen per week.

Magic’s Canadian distributor blames the warm summer weather and a glut of other family films on the market for its poor box office showing.

Meanwhile, Double Happiness director Mina Shum just signed a whopping (by Canadian standards) $2.5 million presale agreement with Fineline for her next film, Drive She Said, budgeted at just under us$5 million.

U.S. deal for the Keatleys

Father and daughter producing team Phil and Julia Keatley of Keatley Films have scored themselves a script order for a new one-hour series on the Lifetime Cable Network in the u.s.

She describes The Cold Squad as a cross between The X-Files and Prime Suspect.

It was created by ex-rcmp officer Matt McLeod who also created The Horseman, an mow for WIC Western International Communications which has yet to be aired.

Julia is currently wading through scripts to check out potential American writers for the series.

Meanwhile, the Keatleys have just entered into a treaty coproduction deal with London, Eng.-based Red Rooster Productions. They met with Red Rooster execs last year at mip-tv and again at mipcom, and now the two companies are at work completing the financing on a tv movie entitled Ollie and the Bogle, based on a book by British writer Anthony Goodman about a young girl living in rural England and her relationship with a mythical fantasy creature.

Welsh broadcaster S4C has already committed and negotiations with wic-owned pay-tv service Superchannel are moving ahead. The search is on for a Canadian director, with plans to shoot the film in Canada next spring.

Just goes to show that it pays to attend international markets.