Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘Open for Submissions’ review: Victoria Film Festival


What better way to kick off a film festival than by watching a film about a film festival? 

Open For Submissions is a mockumentary (think “This is Spinal Tap” or “Best in Show”) that follows the organizers of the Victoria Festival of Cinematic Arts as they try to put on a festival amid jealousy, sabotage, and film’s answer to Alex Jones. 

Co-written and directed by local filmmaker Bryan Skinner, the movie features plenty of local actors and settings. As a result, the Odeon theatre was packed with fans and friends alike, all eager to support the most local film playing at the Victoria Film Festival. 

See also: 5 films to watch out for at this year’s Victoria Film Festival

Open For Submissions starts with a death, as the beloved Executive Director of the Victoria Festival for Cinematic Arts, Linda, tragically dies. 

This vacuum of power is filled by the vacuous Desmond (local actor John Emmett Tracy), who is picked ahead of true festival hero Booker (Tyler Lionel Parr) under dubious circumstances. In Baggs’ hands, the festival lurches from hi-jink to hi-jink, as it loses funding, loses films, and becomes embroiled in controversy. 

The strength of Open for Submissions is in its actors, with all three leads (Tracy, Parr, and Kassiani Austin) putting in convincing and endearing performances. 

The stand-out of the film, for me, is Al Jams (Chris Mackie), a conspiracy theorist and blogger cut from the same cloth as Alex Jones or Bill O’Reilly. 

He has a few standout moments, and although the character’s jokes are sometimes quite tonally different from much of the film, Mackie’s performance somehow keeps it grounded enough in reality to stay amusing.

And, sure, it’s best not to think about the film’s plot points too closely, and a fair number of jokes don’t land. (A running thread in the film is a spoof of modern social justice movements with a fake film about people who don’t identify as human, or “Otherkin.” It’s painfully reductive and dull.) 

The film also switches in between true documentary style — with Bryan Skinner appearing as himself to great effect — and more typical dramatic filming style. The result is confusing, and the film would do better for sticking to one or the other. 

But Open For Submissions injects some sincerity and truth at the end of the film to great effect. This sincerity washes away the controversy and jokes (good and bad) to deliver a true and unpretentious message about the power of cinema.

Sitting in a packed movie theatre, watching the local actors sit with their friends, and listening to director Bryan Skinner answer questions from fans in the audience, it was very hard not to believe in that power. 

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