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Available Light Film Festival highlighting more ‘challenging’ work this year, director says

The annual film festival runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 this year

Available Light Film Festival (ALFF) attendees can expect to see some “more challenging work” playing alongside big-budget productions this year, according to festival director Andrew Connors.

While the annual Whitehorse-based festival is still nailing down a few final screenings, Connors said in an interview Dec. 23 that a “new wave” in Canadian filmmaking of making “unorthodox” films, both in style and content, will be shining through.

“(They’re films that are) challenging our view of Hollywood-type filmmaking … Films that are a little more unsettling, I think, in a psychological way rather than a visceral kind of horror,” he said.

For example, among the confirmed movies is Anne at 13,000 ft, about a Toronto daycare worker whose life is transformed after she goes skydiving for the first time. The “very small-budget” production was shot entirely with hand-held cameras, Connors said, and all the shots are extra-tight.

There’s also One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, a period piece set in 1961 outside of Igloolik where an Inuk man and his family living on the land are visited by a government agent, who tries to convince them to give up their traditional way of life and move to a settlement. Besides touching on Canada’s dark colonial history, the film, based on a true story, is also shot in a decidedly un-Hollywood style — there are lots of single, long takes, Connors said, and the story is a “slow burn.”

The unconventional style isn’t limited to just the festival’s fictional offerings; one documentary, Danny, was assembled entirely from archival VHS tapes from the filmmaker’s uncle, who created video diaries as he grappled with leukemia.

“So that kind of work, you know, that’s pushing the boundaries … I think there’s more of that in this year’s festival programming, I’d say there’s at least half a dozen if not more films like that,” Connors said.

For attendees looking for something more familiar, though, a number of larger titles that Connors predicted would have a “broader appeal” are also in the mix: Blood Quantum, an action-horror-comedy featuring a fictional Mi’kmaq reserve whose residents are immune to a zombie plague that’s wiped out the rest of the planet, is playing opening night.

The festival’s opening feature film, Red Snow, is another (relatively) big-budget Canadian production that’s been making waves both locally and abroad — it tells the story of a Gwich’in soldier who’s captured and tortured by the Taliban while doing a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He gets away with the help of a local family, but he must contend with both the difficult landscape and repressed memories as they make their escape, with dialogue in four languages: English, Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun and Pashto.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Available Light without some Yukon offerings. Connors said there will be at least three Yukon-made feature films this year including the documentary Sovereign Soil, on which he served as producer.

The film, six years in the making, centres on people growing food in and around the Dawson City area, with all the subjects, except for the people at the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching & Working Farm, living and working largely off-grid. It’s a follow-up, of sorts, on the back-to-the-land movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and what sustainable and self-sufficient agriculture looks like in Dawson today.

The ALFF screening will mark the film’s Yukon premiere; it had its world premiere in Guelph, Ont., in November, and is also set to play at festivals in Norway and California before playing in Whitehorse.

Director David Curtis, who has lived off-grid in West Dawson since 2006, told the News Dec. 27 that he’s excited to see how a local audience will react to Sovereign Soil, noting that audiences in Guelph and even Yellowknife were “totally shocked and surprised at what we were growing here.”

“I think people in Whitehorse will be a lot more familiar with what’s possible and what’s happening so they won’t be as surprised by that, but I’m … interested to hear what they think of the portrayal of place in this film,” he said, describing the landscape as the documentary’s “most important character.”

“I think people have a real close connection … to the landscape that’s around them and so it’ll be interesting to see what they think about how we portrayed it, what voice we gave it, and whether that voice resonates or not.”

The Available Light Film Festival runs this year from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. More information, including a list of films and where to buy tickets, is available online at

Contact Jackie Hong at

A still from Blood Quantum by Jeff Barnaby, a film that will be shown at the 2020 Available Light Film Festival. This year’s festival runs this year from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. (Submitted)
A still from One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk by Zacharias Kunuk, which will be playing at the 2020 Available Light Film Festival. (Submitted)