Talent On Tap – Jacqueline Dupuis Talks VIFF for the Last Time

The Vancouver International Film Festival is fast approaching and I cannot wait! Because it’s an International festival, it really exposes you to so many different cultural stories and impactful documentaries. It opens Sept. 26 – Oct. 11. Having attended the press conference I was privy to what is coming to our fine city of Vancouver. The sizzle reel is spectacular and full of exciting splashes of films that will premiere at this year’s festival. If you’ve never been to VIFF, you should have it on your bucket list. Over the years I’ve been very privileged to be able watch so many Indie films with that Wow factor. 


As an Indy filmmaker myself, I realize I don’t have the budget of a big studio, therefore my story has to stand out amongst special effects or star talent. This seems to be the biggest difference between big budget films versus Indy films. The stories are more compelling and the writing is so spot on. Another delicacy you can look forward to at VIFF is the variety of films; Avant-garde films, thrillers, dramas, romance, comedy, documentaries, animation and many more. The festival offers you the opportunity to see so many films over the two-week period. In addition to the diverse films, there are also the amazing guest speakers, hand selected for their industry experience and talents. There are workshops, panels of speakers and other live events that make VIFF world-renowned and inspirational to anyone considering the film industry, young or old. 


I was very fortunate to catch up with the Executive Director of VIFF, Jacqueline Dupuis.  Extremely intelligent and beautiful with immeasurable class and poise made for a very enjoyable conversation. During my time at the conference I learned that this would be Jacqueline’s 8th and final year as Executive Director at VIFF.  


“We see the festival grow every year. Has it outgrown it’s home at Vancity and are there plans for a larger venue in the works?”

“We aren’t able to hold popular films over because we need to make room for either renters or new films coming in that are scheduled. It would allow us to hold over our programming into a second theatre. Ideally a second year round venue would be great.”


Vancity is going to be moving forward with a revitalization project that will enhance the festival experience for film goers and give filmmakers and producers new spaces to practice their art. Having seen the concept model on the big screen, it will in deed be a game changer in terms of support behind Indy film and for VIFF and other festivals in the future. 


“How did first become involved with VIFF?”

“I was the executive director of the Calgary International Film Festival for 6 years before moving here 8 years ago. I had gotten involved through the board of directors. I had come onboard to assist in fund raising. I really fell in love with the work so I ended up stepping into the organization to help iron out some problems they were having and then taking on the position of Executive Director. From there I was asked to come and join VIFF as a leadership transition from my predecessor to myself. Since then I have been thinking about festivals and how they survive with the many changes in content, creation and consumption. We’ve really shifted our programming to address that with our live events as well as focusing on talking about the fact that our events are live and interactive. It’s a completely different experience that you get versus sitting on your sofa watching Netflix.”


“What would you say is your best tool in marketing VIFF?”

“We’ve actually learned that we need to almost become our own broadcasting company to promote VIFF. We’re working on all platforms, such as blogs, video, social, our website and we’re also working on a printed guide. That also means working with different artists, writers, creators, cinematographers and editors, you name it. In terms of what the most effective platform is, I really can’t say. You’d be surprised by the large percentage of our audience that still relies on the printed guide. What we’re seeing with our new programming is people engaging on social media. We’ve also worked a lot with our online advertising campaign, which is run out of my company in New York that’s just been fabulous. If you go to our website, imdb or other destinations you’re going to continue to see information about VIFF. It’s incredibly helpful in continuing to bring presence of mind for people to our event.”


“How soon after this years VIFF ends will you have to start preparations for next years event?”      

“After we wrap we’ll debrief and then our operations get quit busy again. Early in the new year we’ll start planning for the next festival. It’s really a year round focus with most efforts concentrated from May through to September.” 


“As executive director, can you talk us through some of duties you’re tasked with?”

“How long have you got? (laughter) I oversee the senior leadership team, which means marketing, revenue development, programming as well as operations. I also oversee the entire programming team as well as acting creative director as we move through some of the changes that we think will improve next year’s event. To a large degree I also deal with advocacy about public funders and some of our larger sponsors. I get a little involved in the programming in terms of special guests, the galas and special presentations. I wear a lot of hats and I found that I’m a master at filling the holes and work with the team to break down barriers when we come across a problem. The one thing I’ve learned the most is the importance of building a strong team. We’ve been really fortunate here at VIFF to have an incredibly strong and intelligent team that allows all of us to grow. The organization has literally grown 40 percent over the last 5 years, as well as tripled the attendance and revenue year round.”

“Is it fair to say that you are overseeing the invites to determine the guests as well as star status that you might be reaching out to?”

“Yes, some of the special guests will go through me when we’re looking for female speakers or heco file guests.  Often times we’ll extend those invitations through my office but certainly the programmers do a lot of that as well.”


“I know that TIFF has many distributors in attendance. Does VIFF also invite distributors?”   

“We do but it’s slightly different. We do have distributors come out to talk with filmmakers, mostly in the form of informational sessions. We’re not a big festival for premieres because TIFF falls 2 weeks before us and they’re very much a market festival. Distributors are going there to buy and sell content. Because we’re not a market festival, it doesn’t really make sense for distributors to come here. We do bring a number of them here to meet with local creators to ensure that they’re continuing to build relationships and bring opportunities for local creators to meet them.”


“Are you always trying to implement improvements from year to year?”

“Absolutely, I think we’re always refining. In fact, we have three takeaways already from this event already on how we can make it better for next year and it’s just started. Each year is a refinement and I think what we’ve learned last year was that our audience really responds well to the live events that we did. Last year we had RZA from the Wu Tang Clan come out and score The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. We also had a media artist come out and do a live scoring event with the kids and we thought that it’s a program that we can continue to grow, which is why we have 6 slideshows this year. They’re smaller in scale but they’re very broad in terms of the depth that they cover. The goal of the program is to always be linking things back to cinema and the importance of cinema and where it intersects with other art forms like music.”


“It takes a lot of talent to put those sizzle reels together. I was really impressed with this years.”         

“We did it internally this year for the first time. We’ve had a production partner up to this year doing it but they weren’t able to do it this time around. It’s a lot of work; we’re making a short film about ourselves.”


“Is it difficult to not be bias and put more Canadian films in the spotlight?”

“I think if you asked our director of Canadian programming I think he would say it’s difficult not to be bias but what he’s done with the Canadian programming team is a beautiful thing because he’s really decentralized decision making. They work very much as a collaborative team, so they have an Indigenous programmer, they have a Quebec Cinema programmer, a documentaries programmer, someone that works with Avant-garde cinema and himself and a number of consultants.  They really sit and discuss/break down each film and collectively come to a decision. If someone has a favourite/a horse in the race, there are another 6 people that you need to convince. It’s an interesting approach because often times, programming is done by one person who makes the decisions. I think we’re seeing a very diverse Canadian program because of this collaborative programming model. We certainly have our local favourites and folks we love to work with but we hold everything to a very high standard, so when you see the BC Spotlight including films like Daughter, they are films that stand up against everything Internationally as well; the bar is high.”


“What type of film background do you have?”

“I’m a film lover. I’m not a student of film, I don’t have a background in film and being an executive director of the film festival was an astute opportunity for me to use the skillsets that I brought from the business sector and marry those up with my passion for film as an art form and do what I love. It’s been a happy accident.    


Jacqueline Dupuis is amazingly candor as well as humble about her position as Executive Director at VIFF and she is quick to point out that it takes a strong team to make it all work. As her last year with VIFF she has raised the bar to a level of excellence and world status. Who she passes that torch to will generate much anticipation I’m sure. All the best in Jacqueline’s future endeavors and all the best to opening night at VIFF!     


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