Yellowknife film fest mixes business with pleasure

Yellowknife film fest mixes business with pleasure
A still from Alaskan filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s first feature, On the Ice.Photo: Sebastian Mlynarski.

With Arctic Air, Ice Pilots and The Lesser Blessed thrusting the Northwest Territories into the spotlight, organizers behind the Yellowknife International Film Festival are making it a priority in their sixth year to talk business in between catching flicks.

Alongside a week-long lineup of short and feature films from the North and around the globe from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, this year’s festival aims to gather the film industry, government and filmmaker hopefuls into one room to sort out the future of filmmaking in the territory.

The first three panels of the newly founded “forum,” held at a Chateau Nova boardroom, will look at the industry in the NWT, comparing it to what’s happening in Yukon and Nunavut, and also hear from southern producers about their experiences working in the NWT.

“We’ve certainly targeted filmmakers and government people as guests to the panel, but if you’re interested in the arts, it will definitely be interesting,” said festival director Lesley Johnson. “If you’re interested in seeing more filmmaking in the territory, if you’re a supporter of film and television and you like what you’ve seen and you like that shows like Arctic Air are coming here, then I think it will definitely be an interesting conversation to listen to.”

Johnson said the forum is a timely conversation in the wake of creation of the NWT’s new film commission. In particular, she said, the conversation with Nunavut and Yukon filmmakers will be a good chance for the territory to see what can be done.

“That will not only help us as filmmakers, but will inevitably help the industry to come along and help the government to advance its own guidelines for the newly-established film commission,” she said. “I think that the other territories can give us a really strong perspective on how we can grow our own industry that is in its infancy, and we can get better structured guidelines to attract filmmakers from the south and keep generating business.”

Apart from the industry forum, the following days of discussion include a digital media seminar with the National Film Board and both a producing and directing workshop with Christina Piovesan and Anita Doron, producer and director of The Lesser Blessed.

As for the films, Johnson said the selection stays true to the vision of the festival.

“We try to represent the territory as much as we can, so as much as we can we like to give filmmakers from across the NWT the opportunity to submit works, and basically we’re looking for Northern and circumpolar and indigenous films,” she said. “From that, we also look at the rest of Canada and international works, but Northern and circumpolar are certainly what we try to highlight.”

This year, festival-goers will be able to catch a set of NWT short films, including Kelvin Redvers’ “The Dancing Cop,” Andrew Silke’s “Amelia” and Aidan Cartwright’s “Caribou,” along with a live narrated performance of the award-winning “Welcome to Pine Point” interactive web documentary by director Michael Simmons.

Other highlights include renowned Canadian actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley’s new work, Take This Waltz, northern Alaskan suspense film On the Ice, American Arctic adventure documentary Wild Bill’s Run and While the Wind Blows, an indigenous film from Siberia co-presented by the Imagine-NATIVE film festival.

“We tend to try to pick engaging films that are made from within and not sort of gazing at a place by a filmmaker who’s not necessarily from that place,” Johnson said.

There will also be a package of short films from Alberta, the rest of Canada and an array of other shorts from around the globe.

Social events will also be interwoven with films throughout the week, including a unique cultural gathering hosted by the Tlicho government before the screening of The Lesser Blessed, which will feature handgames, stew and bannock. The festival kicks off with a party at the Top Knight with a spotlight on Yukon filmmaker Dan Sokolowski, and ends with a shindig at the same venue featuring a multimedia band called Sinister Oculus.

And as a bonus addition to this year’s festival, “YKIFF on the Road” will take a selection of films to regional centres including Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Inuvik, Hay River, Norman Wells and Behchoko, although details are still being worked out.

“It’s going to be more of a compressed version,” said Jeremy Emerson, executive director of the festival’s host organization, Western Arctic Moving Pictures.

Emerson, who has been with the festival since its beginnings, said every year just gets bigger and better, while staying true to the event’s roots.

“Every year it grows and we get more sponsors, and more films,” he said. “But a lot of things have remained the same, too, because of the selection we use. We love to screen Northern films, we try to support them as much as we can and have professional development activities, so a lot of that is the same, but we’ve kind of grown into what we want to achieve with it.”

For more information on the festival, including schedule and venues, visit

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