A Crowd at the Yukon Arts Centre applauds during question and answer period at the ALFF in 2017. (Grant Douglas Photography/Submitted)

Available Light Film Festival develops

‘It’s just a bigger event with more importance to the audience and the community’

Fast and furious — no, it’s not another instalment in the (never-ending) street-racing film franchise. It’s how Andrew Connors describes planning for the 2018 Available Light Film Festival.

“It’s just a bigger event with more importance to the audience and the community now,” says Connors, festival director. “It’s sort of entrenched itself into the calendar. Everyone’s calendar, five years ago, kind of turned a corner.”

That reputation has made organizing the 2018 festival, held Feb. 3 to 11, a much bigger job than it used to be.

When ALFF was founded in 2002, it attracted under 1,000 attendees. In 2017, it drew more than 8,000.

Connors says there are a number of reasons for this.

Moving to the Yukon Arts Centre in 2008 was a coup, he says. So was renting (and eventually buying) the festival its own cinema projector.

As well, the addition of high-profile guests (Tanya Tagaq played in 2015, the year after she won the Polaris Music Prize) has brought in more viewers, and submissions.

There are films this year from China, Israel, the United States, Spain, New Zealand, and, of course, Canada.

“It’s key to support Canadian stories and Canadian artists,” says Connors. “At least half of the program is always going to end up being Canadian.”

And though there has also always been a strong mandate to bring Indigenous stories and experience to ALFF, he says the number of Indigenous guests and films this year is higher than in previous years.

One of those films is Journeys to Adäka — a documentary from Yukon director Fritz Mueller and producer Teresa Earle. The film, released last summer, follows performers and participants as they prepare for the Adäka Cultural Festival.

Though it has played to audiences in Australia, San Francisco, Alaska, and Banff, Earle is excited to screen it as part of ALFF because of what the festival means to Yukon filmmakers.

“Even just five years ago a Yukon title at the festival was hard-won because the industry wasn’t as accessible,” she says. “But we have a lot of really talented people here who are working very hard and pulling it together. The festival is a backdrop to that.”

Connors agrees. He says in the past, to work on bigger projects, filmmakers sometimes had to go outside the territory to get the right editor, cinematographer, or aerial photographer. That’s changing though. Those people are coming up North.

For ALFF at least, one of those people is Jesse Wente, an Ojibwe broadcaster, producer, activist, and pop culture critic.

“I think that Jesse’s a really important voice in Canada for Indigenous artists and communities and it was just a great fit,” says Connors, who approached Wente a year ago, when Wente was working as head of film programmes at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

In addition to giving the keynote address on Feb. 3 (beginning at 1 p.m., Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre hosts a day of Indigenous programming) Wente has curated a selection of films including Waru, a New Zealand film focussed on a sisterhood of Mãori female directors sharing their thoughts on child abuse.

Connors is excited about that screening, though he says being asked to choose stand-outs from among the 60 films and performances is like choosing a favourite child.

Still, he highlights Being Skidoo — a documentary short by Vuntut Gwitchin artist Jeneen Frei Njootli.

“She’s on fire right now,” says Connors of Frei Njootli, who will attend the festival for an artist’s talk and performance at KDCC on Feb. 3.

Also present that day is Amanda Strong — a Michif artist from Vancouver who does stop-motion animation.

“She’s stunning,” says Connors. “Think of Wes Anderson. Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s that detailed. She works with elaborate sets and they’re award-winning, really amazing.”

There’s also a showing of the best of Dead North Film Festival on Feb. 3 at 10 p.m., a selection of Yukon shorts Feb. 5 at 6 p.m., and a screening of Oscar contender The Disaster Artist on Feb. 7 at 8:30 p.m.

Live performances are still being announced, but include Jim Bryson, K!mmortal (a Filipino rapper from Vancouver), and an album release for Whitehorse singer Kim Beggs.

Check yukonfilmsociety.com/alff for details and information on ticket purchase.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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