THE BLOG

VIFF 2014 Opening Gala: The Crowd Went Wild

09/27/2014 02:12 EDT | Updated 11/26/2014 05:59 EST

2014-09-26-VIFF2014Wild.jpg

The 33rd annual Vancouver International Film Festival kicked off last night with the gala screening of "Wild," directed by Canada's own Jean-Marc Vallée. Although he and his cast were not in attendance -- VIFF rarely sees the kind of glitterati like our sister festival to the east -- the audience was electric.

Vancouverites love film, and as VIFF founder Leonard Schein put it during his induction into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame last night, Vancouver has a sophisticated community of film-lovers who enjoy all genres from all over the world.

After opening remarks were made and the dignitaries stepped offstage, we spent the next 120 minutes in awe of Vallée's latest film. Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, an American woman who embarked on a gruelling 1,800-kilometre trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, which was documented in her best-selling memoir of the same name.

After spiralling into drug and sex addiction following the death of her mother (played beautifully by Laura Dern), Strayed set out in hopes of making peace with both the passing of her mother and herself.

In a role like we've never seen her before, Witherspoon is tough and gritty and pulls off a bad-girl-gone-good persona so well you feel like you're hiking right alongside her. Vallée intertwines Strayed's progress along the trail with flashbacks both painful and beautiful, giving us the full purview of this remarkable woman's life and struggle.

Following the film, I made my way to The Vancouver Club for the opening gala party. I'm not big on film festival parties, as a large percentage of attendees are often would-be socialites and hangers-on-ers. But I thought I'd stop by to toast the opening, with my husband (read wingman) in tow.

Guests made their way through rows of pre-poured bubbles before entering the main room, decked out in Great Gatsby-era décor. The sultry lighting and jazz singer set the mood as people filed in and claimed either a quiet corner table, or a highly visible spot in the centre of the room.

Some guests were dressed very casually (jeans and kicks), while others were glammed right up. Very typical of a Vancouver soirée.

Just as our socialite status was about to expire, two handsome guys sat down next to us and introduced themselves. Both were reasonably charming and natural networkers, so I immediately assumed they were aspiring actors. My first instinct is always to roll my eyes and sneak out of the conversation as quickly as possible. While I'm happy to celebrate the films in which these people perform, I'm not interested in personal elevator pitches, clearly crafted by some publicity hack.

Luckily, it was Matthew MacCaull and Dakota Daulby, who both star in "Black Fly", premiering at VIFF on Saturday night. Fun, engaging and an absolute pleasure to chat with, these lads were a breath of fresh air in a room full of scenesters. Maybe actors aren't all egocentric social climbers after all?

VIFF runs through to October 10. Visit viff.org for tickets and show times.

EARLIER ON HUFFPOST:

Cannes Film Festival 2014 Red Carpet