Tuesday, September 23, 2008

CIFF parties on at industry bashes

Two parties, both alike in star power and local pride but not much else, were the hot tickets at this year's Calgary International Film Festival.

At the exclusive downtown Escoba, industry insiders mixed and mingled after the world premiere of 45RPM on Sunday night. Director David Schultz lent big personality to the affair, with lead cast members Kim Coates and August Schellenberg always nearby. Emmy-winner Chad Oakes, who co-produced the film, also attended.

The warm, unpretentious atmosphere, along with a substantial spread of fine cheeses and a free-flowing bar, kept industry guests happy well into the evening. While local productions and crews dominated, emerging stars from across the country brought a frisson of excitement. Vancouver-based filmmaker Jodie Martinson and Mexican writer/director Ismael Nava were both quickly beseiged by local media.

"This is how we tell our stories ... and it's so much cooler than the Hollywood machine," said tuxedo-clad actor and filmmaker Bill Baska, "Even if it's terrible schlock, at least it's our schlock!"

Most festival-goers agreed. The previous evening, a flurry of excitement had spread through the CIFF delegate lounge, staff rooms and venues. Tom Green was hanging out -- or bouncing around, to be more precise -- before the gala screening of his new film, Freezer Burn: The Invasion of Laxdale. The film was shot entirely in Alberta and directed by Calgary's Grant Harvey.

A queue of 300 people and a crowded black carpet welcomed the late-night series opener on Saturday. Cast and crew, including the hyper-friendly Green (with a trailing publicist desperately attempting to focus his energy), Mark Jenkins, Dave Brown, producer Josh Miller and director Harvey walked the carpet. Harvey said he was impressed by the festival's growth and proud of making an unabashedly Canadian film.

Freezer Burn concerns Gazcon, an oil company, which appropriates land in rural Alberta as a ruse while the aliens -- yes, aliens -- who run the company develop a hot new interplanetary vacation resort. Steeped in local references and stereotypes, the film was a crowd-pleaser and set the tone for a well-attended festival.

The after-party, sponsored by Space network and Skyy vodka, featured volunteers clad in costumes from the film, high-energy cast members and the nostalgic small town-sophisticate atmosphere of pizzeria Pulcinella. Green kept the crowd stoked by signing autographs, posing for photos, performing taste tests on random drinks (the featured cocktail -- an odd mixture of grapefruit juice, tangerine juice and vodka -- was not to everyone's taste), and simply jumping up and down. Elbow room was extremely limited -- perhaps inviting every ticket holder to the VIP after-party wasn't such a great idea, after all.

Published in the National Post, September 27 2008