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Available Light Film Festival mixes in-person screenings with online programming

“It’s a mixed blessing in a lot of ways”
Sadie Segriff’s piece Insensate will be featured in the free Open Air Cinema taking place Feb. 6 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. This screening is part of Indigenous Short Films and Open Air Cinema at KDCC. (Sadie Segriff/Submitted)

Lights, camera, (socially-distanced) action: the Available Light Film Festival will remain a marquee event in the winter calendar this year, even as many screenings and industry gatherings move online.

“This year, with no travel, no artists and industry delegates coming in, it’s a mixed blessing in a lot of ways. We’ve pivoted online on both sides of the festival, both in the presentation and also in the industry series,” said Andrew Connors, festival director.

“On one hand, it’s great that the festival can be reached from anywhere in Canada this year so people don’t have to leave home to attend. The industry series we can make accessible to creatives in Yukon communities, in the Northwest Territories, and even in British Columbia. So, you know, it’s a bit of a wider reach for the festival,” he said.

Last year the Available Light Film Festival was one of the last film fest events in North America to be held in person prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Later in the year Canada’s two largest film festivals, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) were forced to go largely online.

“Now we’ve had 10 months where other film festivals have forged a path. We’ve been able to do a lot of research and a lot of consulting with those other festivals and figure out what to do, what not to do and how things can work,” Connors said.

Connors said as in other years, Available Light 2021 will focus on filmmakers and artists from the three northern territories and Indigenous filmmakers from Canada and around the world. Many of the titles screened during the festival can be hard to find elsewhere.

“We understand how hard it is to see Canadian films on cinema screens, and even just connecting Canadian films with Canadian audiences, is a challenge in the streaming world,” Connors said.

The festival’s advisory committee has been working since August on the film selection. At least 50 per cent of the festival’s programming is dedicated to Canadian content.

“After that our programming team strives to just find a diversity of genres and perspectives in the cinematic storytelling of the international films,” he said. “We want films that are going to draw a broader audience, and then we want to challenge audiences with films that are experimental or pushing the boundaries.”

This year’s festival has over 60 films, including 25 feature-length titles. Despite the pandemic moving some of the festival events online this year, in-person events are going forward with a smaller number of patrons, and special features like interviews with filmmakers will take place virtually.

Connors said two of the most exciting films will be the festival opener and closer. On Feb. 5 the festival will screen Beans, the story of a 12-year-old Mohawk girl growing up during the 1990 Oka Crisis. The movie is inspired by true events and received awards and critical praise at both TIFF and VIFF last year.

The 92-minute feature film screening will be followed by a live, virtual question and answer session with writer and director Tracey Deer.

Many of the films that are available during the festival have local ties.

The feature-length The Arctics which screens Feb. 7, follows the history and impact of the Arctic Winter Games. It will screen alongside King Covid, an animated short directed by Dawson City filmmaker Lulu Keating.

Another narrative feature, Monkey Beach, screening on Feb. 13, follows Lisa (Grace Dove) from East Van up to Kitamaat Village in order to save her brother (Joel Oulette) from a tragic fate. Her journey brings her face-to-face with mystical creatures, reconnection to the land and family ghosts.

Finally, the festival closer on Feb. 15 will be First We Eat, a documentary set in Dawson City that follows filmmaker Suzanne Crocker and her family as they eschew the grocery store and face the challenge of eating entirely local in the North.

This year the festival received sponsorship funding to launch a Made in the North Award, which will offer funds to Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and LGBTQ2S+ Canadian filmmakers with a focus on those living in the northern territories.

The three award categories are Best Canadian Feature Film with a grand prize of $5,000, and $2,500 each for the Best Canadian Short Film and Best Northern Short Film.

“Canada Goose came to us specifically because they wanted to support filmmaking in the North. They want to support underrepresented voices,” Connors said. “The Available Light Film Festival is over the moon to be shining an even brighter spotlight on diverse filmmakers, especially those in the North.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at

Beans by director Tracey Deer will be the festival’s opening film on Feb. 5 and will be available online. Opening night will be accompanied by a in-cinema and live-streamed performance by local musician Jeremy Parkin. (Submitted)