Film buffs rejoice; the Available Light Film Festival, Canada’s largest film festival North of 60, is back for its 21st year.
Andrew Connors co-founded the ALFF because he wanted the Yukon to have a bigger, more international event, that would allow the Yukon Film Society to bring in a wider scope of films and filmmakers to appeal to Yukon audiences. He says he saw a need for another avenue for independent films, cinema and storytelling.
“We’re just making more space for Canadians engaging with the world through cinema.”
While the past few years of pandemic have been a challenge, they were able to still present ALFF to audiences, mostly online with some masked, in-person events the past few years. This year, they’ve “flipped the script” Connor says, with “80 per cent in person, and 20 per cent online.”
This is what Connors is most looking forward to this year: “Hosting filmmakers and industry delegates and artists in person. And audiences in person.”
Another big change this year is the number of screens available; ALFF 2023 will have three screens for three of the festival days, which allows them to present many films more than once, granting audiences more opportunity to see the films they want to. In addition to this, they’re able to have more screenings, almost doubled what they would have been in 2020, says Connors.
“Seventy-five screenings, just for for live events. And then another 12 or 13 events for the Industry Forum. So close to 100 events, including all the film screens.”
This year, in addition to the screenings, performances, media art exhibitions and the Industry Forum, ALFF will present a VR exhibition for the first time. Colin Van Loon’s “This Is Not A Ceremony” is a 20-minute experience that touches on the residential school experience, and imagines a future where colonial rules and assumptions are forgotten.
Over the decades, ALFF has grown a great deal from the initial event in 2003 featuring iconic Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk and his “Atanarjuat,” to a nationally acclaimed medium-sized film festival. Connors points out that the ALFF is able to present a unique experience among film festivals, providing more options for audiences to see more films, as well as a more intimate setting between them and the filmmakers and industry professionals themselves.
This provides opportunities for aspiring filmmakers, as well, such as networking with other filmmakers and industry professionals, says Connors. “I think [it’s] really important developing projects and careers for people to get to know decision-makers and funders and their colleagues in a more intimate setting than at a larger festival.”
“So I think it’s a great place for the engagement with creative people, storytellers and filmmakers.”
For the sixth consecutive year, ALFF has gender parity in the programming, where women or women-identified directors have directed more than 50 per cent of the program. In addition to this, there is significant LGBTQ2IA+ and BIPOC representation.
“There’s a ton of great queer content this year. Always is, but this year there’s even more, [it’s] a really exciting time for LGBTQ filmmaking in Canada right now.”
ALFF strives to spotlight on underrepresented voices in cinema, says Connors, and he mentions that the industry is becoming a more diverse place. “The film industry has really changed in Canada. Diversity and inclusion initiatives across the board are having a really big impact on giving more resources and training and tools to underrepresented filmmakers.”
When asked if there were any filmmakers or movies that he’s really looking forward to seeing, Connors read most if not all of the program, before laughing and saying he didn’t want to leave anyone out. He did mention that next Friday, there will be a Yukon spotlight shorts screening called Yukon Light, which will have many filmmakers.
The ALFF Industry Forum began Feb. 7 and continues until Feb. 19. The Yukon Arts Center, the Yukon Theatre, and the Old Fire Hall will host screenings. Passes are available online, with a variety of options for in-person and online events, and free options for LGBTQ and BIPOC creatives in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and British Columbia.
ALFF is very excited to welcome people back into cinema. Twenty-plus guests from out of the territory will be on-hand for the festival.
“We feel really fortunate to have the audiences that we do. I know, it sounds like I’m trying to butter people up,” Connors laughs. “But it’s only what it is because the audiences have been so supportive and enthusiastic over the years and have really gotten behind it.
“There’s a lot of people who have put a lot of sweat and blood and passion into this into this festival to make it what it is.”
Storm Blakley is a freelance writer and poet based in Whitehorse.