Vancouver may have lost several movie theatres recently, but one of the many things that home entertainment can never replace is the film festival experience.
In fact, Out on Screen's new festival programmer, Shana Myara, thinks that the appeal of film festivals is so strong that it can potentially overshadow the films themselves.
"Sometimes you get so caught up in the festival experience that when the film starts you forget that's why you're there in the first place. [laughs] It's like, 'Oh! That's what we're here for. Shut up now,' right?"
It's no wonder she feels so strongly about festivals. Myara is stepping into her new role at Out on Screen (which presents the Vancouver Queer Film Festival), picking up from where previous festival programmer Amber Dawn left off, with extensive festival and cultural organization experience (Vancouver Asian Film Festival, DOXA Documentary Film Festival, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, Bike to Work Week, and Nanaimo's Barefoot in the Park Festival, which she founded).
Myara also previously worked with Out on Screen from 2003 to 2007 in media relations and fundraising development, and on the Queer History Project (she commissioned the films "Rex vs. Singh" and "The Love That Won't Shut Up"). As if that's not enough, Myara is also a UBC MFA Creative Writing graduate, wrote the screenplay for "Newcomers Swim Every Friday" (directed by Meghna Haldar), and has also written about film for the Georgia Straight.
With all of this under her belt, she thoroughly understands the importance of movie audience engagement.
"I want us to talk to one another," she said by phone. "I want the festival to be more than a passive viewing experience for our audience. So [I want] to maintain those ways that we get to talk about the films, engage in the process, and come together as a community, in addition to appreciating the work."
Although she's aware that bringing together various communities can sometimes result in friction, she keeps that in perspective with the bigger picture (offscreen, that is).
"I think it's probably part of the job to understand that some films will provoke discussion. And I think I know as a programmer that I'm there to help be a catalyst for some of these discussions. And sometimes that takes you to a place of tension in the community, but it does show that we're talking and hopefully inspiring some action….I think living in community and discussing and grappling with issues together, it can be a complicated process, but ultimately it's how we move forward."
But tensions don't just arise within communities—they also come from outside opponents, particularly when it comes to queer issues.
"As artmakers and activists in the queer community, I think most of us are aware of a certain gaze that is leveled against us," she said. "And I think probably now, we're more acutely aware of it, based on the recent attacks on Out in Schools. So it's more important than ever for us to be having these discussions and leading the discussion of acceptance in our communities."
However, she also notes that critics can be a galvanizing force. "It does work that way, that sometimes opposition unites you more strongly than before the opposition came."
Executive director Drew Dennis said by phone that another challenge that OOS is facing is finding new venue. (The VQFF previously used the Empire Granville 7 as one of its venues.)
"The closure of the Granville 7 and the Ridge—[they're] definitely leaving a whole in Vancouver's theatre landscape for sure," Dennis said. "There's just fewer and fewer single-screen theatres, in particular of a certain size. So for instance, with the Queer Film Festival for galas, we're really looking at theatres that can accommodate 600 to 800 or more people, which are almost non-existent in this city."
Dennis said they have been in talks with the city, waiting for approval for a subsidy to grant to use the Playhouse Theatre for opening and closing galas. Dennis added that they've also been talking with SFU Woodward's as a potential venue, and have been chatting with other film festivals (Vancouver International Film Festival, Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, DOXA Documentary Film Festival) about what can be done, including better equipping various venues for film presentations.
In spite of all this, OOS is gearing up for a pivotal year.
"It's our 25th anniversary this year," Dennis said. "So [it's a] very significant milestone for us, and [we're] really looking forward to the opportunity to reflect back upon significant pieces of history that Out on Screen has brought and also highlighting different particular moments in Vancouver's queer history over all 25 years, but [it's] also an excellent opportunity, we're really looking forward at the festival to look forward in terms of what can we expect in the future and what do we want our queer communities to look like."
While this year's edition (which runs from August 15 to 25) is still in the planning stages, Myara is also excited about taking stock of the past while considering what the future may hold.
"There's all sorts of ways that I'm trying to look at now at being able to look backward and also make room for new voices and new artists who are going to be the ones paving the way for the next 25 years."