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Vancouver Island Short Film Festival explores hope and hopelessness

Two-day festival runs March 22-23 at Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus

A Nanaimo-based film festival will see a handful of changes for its 19th year.

The Vancouver Island Short Film Festival will span two days, Friday-Saturday, March 22-23, at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre, culminating in the Goldie Awards on the last day.

Festival director Zoey Heath said submissions poured in from across the country and internationally.

This year’s selection committee was open for application, instead of being handpicked members by the festival directors, and included two filmmakers, an actor, a film critic from Germany and an avid film festival community member.

Although shy of the all-time record of 270, the 225 submissions received was a substantial jump from last year’s 160. The upcoming programs will feature works by filmmakers from B.C., Quebec, Labrador, Iran, France, Iceland and the United States, and a new award will be added to the Goldie Awards ceremony specifically for B.C. filmmakers.

Also new this year will be a youth festival showcase in which 18 films by filmmakers 18 years old and younger will be featured, as organized by youth coordinator Nick Janzen, a film teacher for School District 68. The youth showcase will also include a question-and-answer session, as well as its own mini Goldie Awards.

Both Friday and Saturday will feature online and theatre viewings, as well as their own programs followed by question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers.

Heath said she looked for similar themes while curating the programs so the audience could feel woven in and out of the storytelling.

“This year, there was a theme of hope and hopelessness and how we find hope in nothingness. And whether the film ends up being a dark play on that or a light play on that, there’s this very clear thread through all the films, kind of looking at death and loss and hope,” she said.

On Friday, returning filmmaker Alireza Kazemipour will present The Gold Teeth – a film about an Afghan refugee in Canada who tries to get help from an Iranian ex-dentist to extract her late father’s gold teeth before he’s buried.

Also on Friday, the film Reflection by Cameo Wood will make its world premiere and tell the story of how a 911 call thrusts a person into violence and destruction where they find themselves making the ultimate sacrifice.

As a first-time submission to VISFF, Brazil filmmaker now based out of Vancouver, Rebeca Spiegel, submitted her stop-animation film, Cranberry Juice.

The short runs nearly four minutes long, and was originally created last summer for Vancouver’s Run N Gun 48-hour film competition. The short made it to the finals and won best writing. Following the debut, Cranberry Juice has also appeared in Vancouver’s Badass Film Festival.

Spiegel said the film’s narration is very experimental as there is no linear storyline, “like simply following the character’s internal thoughts.” It tells what happens internally to a woman who, after a threesome proposal, drinks cranberry juice non-stop in hopes of it improving her sex life.

“I really like talking about female sexuality because I think it should be more normalized,” the filmmaker said. “And also about characters coping with difficult things. Like in Cranberry Juice, she’s coping with her own insecurity and drinking a lot of juice instead of figuring out what the real problem is.”

The filmmaker hopes to submit Cranberry Juice to an animated-focused film festival in the future.

Another B.C. film that made the cut was Victoria filmmaker Michael Makaroff’s The Dog – A Rapidly Condensed Guide to Treading Water.

VISFF will be the fourth film festival Makaroff’s The Dog has been featured in, with plans to submit to two more in the near future, including the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

The film, which runs just over 14 minutes long, features several Victoria locations, including a concert hall at the University of Victoria.

The narrative of the film is told through prolific Canadian-born actor Kevin McNulty, who stars as the lead, as he sits at a bar and recounts his career in body parts insurance sales as an attempt to affirm his life choices. The filmmaker described his piece as a dark and ominous film with funny highlights and plenty of melancholy.

“It’s an existential exploration of wasting away one’s life, and I think it’s done through the guise of the commoditization of oneself – like looking at people’s body parts as being an object that you can buy and sell and put value on. And about how people value their own self and their own time and how easily that’s wasted away,” said the filmmaker.

More information about the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival, including ticket information, can be found online at

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Vancouver-based filmmaker Rebeca Spiegel’s ‘Cranberry Juice’ will be featured as part of the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival’s program on Saturday, March 23, at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre. (Submitted image)