Sometimes in life you need to step away from something for a little while and regroup before you can be truly successful at it. After a brief hiatus, the Canadian Film Festival came back to Toronto screens last year to great success and return this year at The Royal better than ever, running from Wednesday March 20 all the way to Saturday March 23. The festival features a wide variety of shorts and feature films from filmmakers all across our country, as well as industry and filmmaking panel discussions. In advance of the festival we got a chance to sit and talk with the festival’s executive director Bern Euler about what the Canadian Film Festival is all about as well as the sensation of essentially starting all over again.
So it’s the 7th year of the festival!
Bern Euler: Yup.
And you’re over the growing pains that all festivals deal with…
BE: [Laughs] Actually, no we’re right in the middle of all of those because we had started in 2004 and had shown growth every year and things were going great. Then in 2008, when the economy collapsed, so did the sponsorships. They all dried up and we had never been able to secure any government assistance at all and I really have no idea why, but we just never had any luck with it. Ultimately we could have put on a smaller festival, but instead decided to put it on hiatus and we took four years off and just last year we came back and our numbers were outstanding. Even though it is technically our seventh year we feel like we are starting all over again from scratch especially in terms of securing sponsorship because even though people love the idea, they still have to take a wait and see approach because we are so new so there are still plenty of growing pains, as this is basically our second year.
In the city of Toronto, there is pretty much a film festival every single week…
BE: There are TONS!
Other then the Canadian aspect, which is an obvious draw, what do you think sets the Canadian Film Festival apart from the others?
BE: That is a great question and really the festival is designed to do a couple things. First, like you said, that Canadian slant. You need a place for Canadian filmmakers to show off their stuff and not just that, but for audiences to be able to find a Canadian movie on a Canadian screen isn’t always that easy. What I really think does set us apart is that we are trying to build a genuine networking hub for filmmakers and for industry people to do business. As an example, just last year, we showed 9 features and 3 were picked up for distribution. On top of that we had various people at whatever networking events we had who took meetings with each other and went on to do other things. Having set up that hub where Canadian filmmakers and professionals can meet and get business going is what really sets us apart from others where it is strictly about showing movies to an audience.
I can imagine that The Royal must be a great home for a film festival that encourages Canadian film business.
BE: Absolutely. The people at The Royal are professionals and great to deal with zero pretentiousness which is a little surprising because it would be pretty easy for them to get away with because it is such a beautiful venue in such a great part of town. It’s because they carry themselves so well that they have a good name and people like going there. It’s nice to go into an older building like that and show a movie because it just has such an atmosphere around it. I’m very happy with the venue and I work great with their staff.
Anything in this year’s lineup that you are looking forward to in particular?
BE: Oh man, what am I NOT looking forward to [laughs]. Here’s the deal with how we program our festival, we don’t cater to one particular genre. So as long as it is Canadian and it tells a good story, we’re in. It is all over the place, but really in the best way possible with a little something for everybody. Our opening night film out of Quebec is The Storm Within, a very hardcore thriller and this is its English language premiere. Our short program is just outstanding this year, Toronto filmmaker Matt Sadowski is debuting his short S is for Bird. It’s a quirky little romantic comedy that’s just great and this guy is just so talented. It’s amazing. Another short, The Race of Life, is having its Toronto premiere and it also played at the Cannes Film Festival. We’ve also got the short Fondue from director Torin Langen who is only 19 years old. I watched it, and it started off normal, but then it took me on a really scary, haunting trip. There was no dialogue and no obvious plot contrivances and there’s no real gore, but it’s one of the scariest shorts that I have ever seen. The maturity that this filmmaker has at his age is just astounding. It’s all atmosphere and it’s incredible to watch.
All our movies our Toronto premieres, The Disappeared which is from the East Coast, and Mr. Viral, our closing night film, is really just the definition of independent filmmaking at its best. They just raised a bunch of money by crowdsourcing it and it was written and directed by Alex Boothby who has a great background in visual effects from working on films like Panic Room, Black Swan and Fight Club, among others, but he’s always wanted to make his own movie and what he did with this small amount of money was truly amazing, making a story about the dark underbelly of the advertising world. It takes place in Toronto and Montreal and they actually are Toronto and Montreal. It’s always nice when Canadian cities get to be Canadian cities!
So a little something for everybody?
BE: That is definitely one of our many selling points, especially for the audience. We get so many great submissions that we try to show a little bit of everything and we’re really excited about this year’s lineup.
The Canadian Film Festival runs from March 20 through the 25 in downtown Toronto. For the full schedule of films and to purchase tickets, visit canfilmfest.ca.