SJIWFF25 – SATURDAY!

Hello, Internet, today is Saturday, October 18th – the last day of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival!

Wow.

This morning began with a raucously funny panel of female comedy writers: Sue Kent (This Hour has 22 Minutes), Kerri MacDonald (Republic of Doyle) and Deanne Foley, whose feature Relative Happiness screens this evening in the festival’s closing night slot. Moderator Dave Sullivan started the panel off on the right foot with the question “when did you realize you were funny?” and the morning went forward from there. With questions flying about overcoming writer’s block, working towards a deadline, the role of YouTube in the careers of early filmmakers and the importance of social media, and despite the inevitable freezing and stalling of Sue’s presence via Google Chat (she was unable to come out in person due to the oncoming storm), there was seldom a full minute without a laugh, and a few core messages came through. If you’ve been to a writer’s panel before, you will have heard them: read and watch obsessively, write often, don’t self-edit while you’re writing, and never be afraid to fail. An encouraging message and an enjoyable way to spend a rainy Saturday morning.

After a rainy walk from NIFCO to the Hall and some fast chana masala for lunch, I nestled in for my fourth feature film, Heartbeat, by Andrea Dorfman. You may remember Dorfman from the wildly popular short film, How To Be Alone, which she created with musician and poet Tanya Davis. How To Be Alone was presented at SJIWFF in 2010, and Dorfman says that it was at this film festival 4 years ago that she sat with Davis at a Water Street cafe and came up with the idea to make her the central character in a feature.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I didn’t know that yet. Like all of these films, I went in knowing nothing, although I recognized Davis’ voice and the animated cursive handwriting right away, and settled in to Really Like what I was about to see.

Turns out that I loved it. Really. This might be, not just my favourite piece in the festival, but one of my favourite films. Ever.

Heartbeat is on the same plane as Juno: beautiful, evidently Canadian (in this case, Halifax) shots and characters that immediately put us at ease. It’s the story of Justine, finally released from a dragged-out breakup, who tries to find the joy in her life now that everything’s different.

I am hesitant to give too much away here, since I want everyone to see it for themselves. And according to the Lindsey Vodarek of the Canadian Media Production Association, who hosted the talkback with Dorfman after the screening, the film is set to be released in cinemas in Toronto and in Halifax in November, and a staggered release throughout the rest of the country thereafter. So, I hope, everyone will get the chance to see this film.

I love a film where the characters have everyday problems and everyday joys, where the ex is not the villain and an argument between friends is not the end of everything, where we see relationships change without ending and communities shifting and growing. A nice surprise to see Mary-Colin Chisholm again in a minor role, as well.

The end of the festival (for me) was the 3:30pm screening of short films: a collection of 8 short films for, and in some cases made by, young people. It was a lovely program, and I have a particular personal interest in the Wolverine story told in Kuekuatsheu Mak Muak because of my storytelling work, especially with tricksters. But I particularly loved the heartbreaking The Gallant Captain, and the two films produced by SJIWFF’s own FRAMED program. Odd Socks, made in Corner Brook (in an office any graduate of the Grenfell theatre program would recognize) had me giggling from the first moment to the end, and Straight Edge is a great short doc made with the support of my recent partners For the Love of Learningabout a few people living in St. John’s who choose not to consume drugs or alcohol. Bravo to all of the folks involved in that fantastic program.

Although prior commitments stand in the way for me, I know that tonight’s screening of Relative Happiness and the party that follows will be an amazing time for everyone who can make it, and that as of noon today there were still a few tickets left. So, if you can only take in one piece of this fantastic festival’s silver anniversary… get yourself to the Arts & Culture Centre by 8 and spend some time celebrating the work of the filmmakers, festival board and staff, and the host of smiling, enthusiastic volunteers who have given this city an amazing, week-long gift.