By Josiah HughesWhen it comes to live venues, it's undeniable that Vancouver, BC has been plagued with bad luck. Despite a wealth of talented performers of all shapes and sizes, the city's venues are constantly being shut down or switching ownerships. As a result, a number of DIY, semi-legal and downright illegal venues continue to pop up, and the city has been given the unfortunate nickname "No Fun City."
Vancouver-based filmmakers Melissa James and Kate Kroll see the situation as the perfect documentary subject. What started as a simple exploration of the city's DIY venues has now grown into No Fun City, an upcoming documentary exploring the difficulties facing Vancouver's independent musicians and promoters.
On the phone from her Vancouver home, James says she was surprised by the number of underground venues when she relocated to the city from Montreal four years ago. "When I first moved here, there were a lot of DIY venues that weren't legal, but were being operated for bands," she explains. "You could go out and see bands and get drinks, but they didn't have all the necessary permits to exist as a music venue. I started looking into that and kind of came across this whole bigger subject, which is how difficult it is to own and operate a music venue in the city of Vancouver and elsewhere... There are just so many laws that make it really difficult."
Working as a team, Kroll and James started uncovering the city's deep DIY underground. And as they kept searching, the documentary kept growing.
"All the places closed down within a few months of me starting the project, so it became more and more interesting," James explains. "I also though the Cobalt [a legal punk and hardcore bar] was an interesting place, and they started getting noise complaints, so I started following [Cobalt promoter] Wendy 13 and then suddenly things escalated. The story grew and grew as we were filming."
The film hit its apex when the Cobalt was shut down last summer. Since then, many of the city's promoters have been struggling to find appropriate venues to put on shows.
"Yeah, the Cobalt's gone, but there are some positive initiatives going on in the city right now," James argues. "I know council is looking at trying to review some of the laws, and next year they're going to decide what they'll allow us to do. Especially because of all the attention it's been getting, and the groups of people getting involved. There are different groups here like the Safe Amplification Site that also rally a little bit to get these laws changed."
Some of these issues will be explored when No Fun City is released this spring. Currently in post-production, James and Kroll are hoping to premiere the work at some of the bigger Canadian festivals before releasing it on DVD.
When the film is released, James hopes it encourages people all over the world to make things happen creatively, regardless of what sort of red tape is in their way.
"The message of the film is twofold," she explains. "On the one hand, you can do something about changing things. You've got to be aware of it. You can approach city counsel, you can do those things. You have a voice. The other side is that no one's going to stop creativity. Music is a force, no one's going to say you're not allowed to play. So this is an interesting way to show what people have done otherwise. If you can't find a place to play, make your own place."