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Whitehorse's premiere film festival celebrates 10 years

Venture North ~ Winter 2011 (V5I4)



photo: archbould.com

It may not draw celebrities like Cannes or launch careers like Sundance, but the Available Light Film Festival (ALFF) is one of the most hotly anticipated events of the year for Yukon film buffs. Since its humble beginnings, in 2003, when it was just three nights of screenings, the Whitehorse festival has grown and added more films, workshops, and guest speakers each year. This February, when ALFF celebrates its 10th anniversary, festival goers will have 30 fiction and documentary films to choose from and the option to attend the three-day Yukon Media Forum, which features workshops and talks with visiting filmmakers and film-industry professionals.
   Festival director Andrew Connors, who’s been at the helm for seven of the fest's 10 years--including the first--recalls the inaugural event, which featured Inuk Canadian director Zacharius Kunuk's groundbreaking Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). Shot in Kunuk's hometown of Igloolik, Nunavut, Atanarjuat was the first feature film written, produced, directed, and performed in the Inuktitut language.
  “This was a really inspiring film for people in the North,” says Connors. “It was made for a $2 million budget, which was unheard of for this type of film. It had won awards at Cannes and the [Toronto International Film Festival], and it was gaining all this attention in mainstream cinema…. It was filmed in the community, using actors and crew from the community, and its first audience was in the community. It just proved that films could be made outside of urban areas and that they could tell the story of a remote community and still have it be universal.”
   As Connors' comments indicate, the festival and its parent organization, the Yukon Film Society, have loftier goals than simply entertaining film buffs. While ALFF has always showcased films by and about the North, there has been an increased focus on
professional development. In practical terms, this means not only providing Yukon filmmakers a place to screen their work, but also offering skill-development workshops and opportunities to network with other filmmakers.
    “We're starting to see the benefits and results of the connections that people are

results of the connections that people are making at the panels and workshops,” says Connors, who’s a filmmaker himself. “It is very rewarding for us to get that kind of feedback.”
    This year's fest will feature special programming from several Yukon filmmakers, including Dawsonite Dan Sokolowski, whose experimental feature, Degrees North, will be re-edited and shown as a video installation at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery, and Whitehorse's Daniel Janke, who will present a special performance based on Nell Shipman's 1923 silent film, The Grubstake.
   The filmfest is by no means strictly for aspiring filmmakers, and there's plenty on offer for attendees just looking to catch a few good flicks. In keeping with the fest's northern-themed mandate, this year's lineup includes On The Ice, a feature-length mystery drama set in the Barrow region of Alaska; Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, a documentary about trapping in Siberia; and People of A Feather, which explores the relationship between the Inuit inhabitants of Belcher Island, Nunavut, and the eider duck.
   There will also be plenty of films with more universal themes, including Andrew Bird: Fever Dream, a concert film, and, for the first time, two features presented in 3-D: Pina, a tribute to German choreographer Philippina "Pina" Bausch, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a historical documentary by acclaimed director Werner Herzog.
    “I tried to get Werner Herzog as a guest, but he is far too busy,” says Connors, noting that the German director is on his list of ALFF dream guests. “But we've got a great lineup this year, and there's still lots of great guests.”
   Though the fest has expanded beyond all expectations since 2003, the 10th anniversary will see it return to its roots somewhat, with a repeat screening of Atanarjuat and a guest appearance by its producer, Norman Cohn.
    “It's still a great film,” says Connors, “and not just because it’s from the North.”

The Available Light Film Festival takes place Feb. 6–12, with screenings at the Yukon Arts Centre and The Old Firehall, in Whitehorse.  For more information, visit alff.ca or call (867) 393-3456.
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