If you don’t care about celebrity sightings and want to attend a film festival where the films take centre stage, the Calgary International Film Festival’s main slate of 200 features and short films might be up your alley.
Inside CIFF’s activity-rich venue at Eau Claire Market cinemas, a ripped ticket, a steamy bag of popcorn and an empty seat transport you from reality to a world of cinematic escapism featuring local talent as well as household names.
“This year’s crop of Canadian films has some of the most powerful stories coming from emerging directors in many genres,” said Brenda Lieberman, lead programmer and jury coordinator for CIFF.
“When we are putting together the line up, we are looking for a mix of award-winning films that are travelling the festival circuit, all the way to discovery titles that our audience wouldn’t be able to find otherwise.”
After waiting in a long line, audiences discovered Calgary-based filmmaker Sylvester Ndumbi’s climate change documentary “Without Leaving Anyone Behind.” It’s a deep dive into the global energy industry told through the lens of a university professor and a filmmaker.
“How do we come together and face what is the biggest question of our time?” asked Ndumbi.
“How do we transition to a low carbon future and address the climate crisis without leaving anyone behind?”
“It’s not one of those climate denial films. It talks about practical approaches we can take, individually and globally, on how we can make the impact necessary to keep everything going,” Brian Owens, CIFF’s artistic director, said.
Typically, after a film is screened, most people leave the theatre, but the climate change documentary had notable crowd retention for its post-screening question-and-answer period. Ndumbi says the countless requests for private screenings in Vancouver, London and the Caribbean validate how important the topic of climate change is.
“We were not able to get through all the questions because we ran out of time. But that’s our goal right now, to have screenings that stimulate meaningful discussions,” Ndumbi said.
Creators say festivals are a valuable platform that creates buzz and allows them to connect with supporters, because films being added to streaming sites can make it hard for audiences to discover them.
“In Toronto, the actors take all the questions, and at the Halifax Film Festival, a hurricane shut down most screenings,” said Owens.
“Here, filmmakers had a full house and were able to communicate directly with the audience and it was enthralling.”
The fall festival was also a networking opportunity for those in the industry looking for their next gig. Ndumbi voiced his desire to recruit local creatives to join his production company Simba Creative as writers, animators, camera operators and sound engineers.
Those that attended the festival just to watch the films also had access to virtual reality experiences, a throwback video store, a gaming area and a lounge.
The lounge boasted a casual western vibe that is a departure from the perceived over-the-top glamour of the Toronto International Film Festival. Jeans and cowboy boots, a cocktail dress and a sparkly blazer: attendees’ accoutrements represented a diverse metropolitan city that is inclusive and unassuming.
“You get to make the festival your own. I always consider this film festival to be very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of event and that includes how you want to dress for it,” said Owens.
Once the last curtain closed on the 24th annual, 11-day showcase, CIFF had welcomed over 28,000 audience members. The inaugural CIFF was held in 2000 for six days and was attended by 8,000 people. CIFF is now the largest film festival in Alberta and the sixth-largest in Canada.
CIFF 2024 will have a new venue because Eau Claire Market will be torn down next year to make way for a Green Line LRT underground station. The new location will be announced in the spring.
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