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Vancouver Queer Film Festival returns to in-person screenings

The 34th annual event runs August 11 through 21 at seven venues
Vancouver Queer Film Festival executive director Brandon Yan stands outside the Pacific Cinematheque, which is one of his festival's venues | Rob Kruyt

One of Vancouver's longest-running film festivals is returning to in-person programming after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to be almost exclusively an online event for the past two years.

The Vancouver Out on Screen Film and Video Society's 34th annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) is set to run August 11 through 21, with 97 films from 20 countries, executive director Brandon Yan told BIV.

That is down from the pre-pandemic era, as the festival showed 122 films in 2019.

Unlike 2019, when the festival was entirely in-person screenings, this year's festival will include some films not shown in cinemas that are available to be streamed online within 24 hours of the ticket purchase.

The festival is gearing up for more than 20 in-person screenings this year, which is about half of the 44 in-person screenings that the festival had in 2019. Some screenings of short films can include up to 10 titles, which is why there are so many more films than screenings, Yan explained.

He expects the festival to lose money this year, and to fund that deficit with surpluses made in the past two years.

The festival was entirely virtual in 2020. In 2021, it had three in-person events, such as outdoor screenings at Beaumont Studios.

The festival has geolocked its film-streaming to be available only to those in B.C. – a phenomenon that Yan said enables broader access across the province.

"Around 10 to 12 per cent of our audience over the last two years has been from outside Vancouver," said Yan, who has been executive director since 2020. "People who would normally not be able to travel, or partake in the festival, were able to watch films."

Yan estimated his festival's audience at around 10,000 in 2019. That fell to around 3,000 in each of the past two years and he declined to predict how large the audience might be this year.

Various festival passes are on sale.

Individual ticket prices range between $5 and $21, with seniors, students and those who say they are unemployed eligible for lower priced tickets. The $21 tickets are for online streaming when the buyer says multiple people are going to be watching the home viewing. The standard adult ticket price is $14 per film.

All ticket buyers must also buy a $5 membership.

The BC Film Classification Office has not rated all films shown at the festival, and for those films that are not ranked, ticket buyers must be at least 18 years old.

The festival is set to rotate between seven venues, and include two parties. Its opening gala launch screening August 11 is the local Dave Rodden-Shortt film The Empress of Vancouver, followed by a party at a nearby outdoor plaza.

The Out On Screen society operates with an annual $700,000 budget, with about 90 per cent of that spent to produce the festival, Yan said.

Sponsors help with much of the festival's revenue, as the title sponsor Royal Bank of Canada (TSX:RY) is pumping in more than $20,000 for that level of sponsorship. Some of the other sponsors include the Canada Media Fund, Warner Bros. Discovery Access and Canada Media Producers Association of B.C., Yan said.

Ticket revenue pre-pandemic generated around 10 per cent of the festival's revenue.

Individual donors provide revenue, while the festival also gets tens of thousands of dollars from various government grants.

It then pays film-makers and distributors for the right to show the films, and it rents venues.

Out On Screen has 10 year-round staff, with that count doubling in the lead-up to the festival, Yan said. He estimated that there are also a few hundred people helping as volunteers.

"I would definitely describe this year as a transition year," he said.

"We are transitioning from one artistic director to a future one, who we are searching for. We are also transitioning through the pandemic."

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