30 years and counting: Yukon Film Society celebrates anniversary

The Yukon Film Society was once little more than an organization running out of someone's kitchen that produced fewer than 10 events each year.

The Yukon Film Society was once little more than an organization running out of someone’s kitchen that produced fewer than 10 events each year.

Now in its 30th year, the society has expanded its operations significantly, presenting or co-presenting upwards of 100 events annually.

It now provides media art production training and professional development, presents more independent films and media art, and supports emerging filmmakers.

“It’s grown tenfold in terms of budget,” said Connors, the society’s artistic director.

“A lot of people did the heavy lifting in terms of getting the organization into where it is today.”

Connors became a board member in 1999 and joined the staff in 2003.

The society has gone from having one seasonal, part-time contract staff person in 2001 to three full-time permanent staff and many seasonal contractors today, Connors said.

It was 2002 before the society was able to secure a desk in a shared office space.

“Now we have 800 square feet,” Connors said, adding the society has about 10,000 admissions per year and a budget of roughly $400,000.

To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the society is organizing a three-day film festival at the Yukon Arts Centre this weekend, presenting some of the most popular Canadian films that have screened at its Available Light Film Festival over the years.

They include Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat and Leanne Allison’s Being Caribou.

The films were chosen based on a survey sent out to Yukon Film Society members this summer.

Connors tried to make sure they represented as much of Canada as possible.

He said he fondly remembers when Kunuk’s film, the retelling of an oral tale told over thousands of years, was screened in 2002.

“We had to turn people away from the first screening,” he said.

“I remember the second screening was pretty full as well. The appetite in the Yukon for documentaries is really strong.”

Another film being presented this weekend is Carol Geddes’ 1997 documentary Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer.

The filmmaker wrote and directed the Gemini-nominated film about a Teslin man who documented the life of his family between 1920-1945.

Geddes said the Yukon Film Society is an important agency in the territory, “not only for the independent filmmaker, but for the entire Yukon in its encouragement of creativity in the visual medium,” she said in an email.

“The YFS has become the repository of important Yukon stories. The number of such stories has increased considerably due to the efforts of individuals associated with the YFS.

“Aside from the purely cultural rewards of endeavors, there is an additional market component that lends riches to the Yukon at large.”

Connors said Geddes’ film created a ripple effect for other filmmakers in the territory.

Because it was co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada and had a larger budget, it inspired others to follow suit with their own projects.

“The industry has changed so rapidly over the past 10 years,” Connors said.

“Access to financing has always been a challenge here. With the advent of access to video production in the early 2000s, there was a crop of films that got made between 2001 and 2004.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm back then and then it sort of leveled off. The tools for filmmakers are certainly better now than they used to be but the storytelling has always been strong here.”

The society is also celebrating its anniversary by commissioning four documentary projects to Yukon artists, among whom Geddes is included.

Marten Berkman, Allan Code and Dan Sokolowski are the other participating artists.

At least two of the commissioned works will be feature length narrative films and two will be released as interactive web-based documentaries, Connors said.

He’s hoping the projects will be completed in the next few months so they can premier at either the Available Light Film Festival in February or the Dawson City International Short Film Festival in April.

Geddes said her project is a historical documentary that focuses on the regiments of black soldiers sent to the Yukon at the start of World War II to assist with the construction of the Alaska Highway.

“Life was rough for all soldiers as the project was rushed through,” she said.

“For black soldiers it was worse. Unusually cold winters, social rejection, poor equipment, and brutal punishment for stepping out of line resulted in a significant death toll among the strictly segregated troops.

“Dramatic re-enactments will convey some of the situations that took place during this time.”

The film festival kicks off on Friday at noon and goes until Sunday evening. A total of 14 films will be screened at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Contact Myles Dolphin at