Dawson City gears up for 13th film festival

There are a lot of ways to celebrate Easter that don't involve painted eggs, and Dawson City has its own tradition - screening films from around the world.

There are a lot of ways to celebrate Easter that don’t involve painted eggs, and Dawson City has its own tradition – screening films from around the world.

The 13th annual Dawson City International Short Film Festival, which begins April 5, will show more than 100 films during the four-day event.

Almost half are Yukon-made but there are also films from places as far away as Iran and Egypt, said festival producer Dan Sokolowski in an interview this week.

“We’ve actually been getting more and more submissions from Iran over the years,” he said.

With a little luck, Dawson may even get a visit from the Middle Eastern filmmakers .

“They’re trying to work through embassies and I haven’t heard if they’ve been successful or not,” said Sokolowski.

Either way the festival will still have a bit of an international flavour, thanks to the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.

KIAC’s two artists-in-residence, Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath, and Oregon animator Joanna Priestley, will both be screening some of their films and giving presentations at the festival.

And they’re not the only ones.

This year there is a big focus on Quebecois cinema, said Sokolowski.

“We got quite a good range of films from Quebec this year,” he said. “There’s two filmmakers, Guy Edoin and Matthew Rankin, who are actually going to be at the festival showing some of their films and giving a little talk as well.”

It should be informative, said Sokolowski. Quebec has one of the best distribution systems for short films in the world.

“(Quebec) is really at quite a high level where they package films and they’re sending them to festivals and getting them out there,” he said.

“I don’t know of any other province in Canada that’s doing that. I think it’s great for the short-film makers because sometimes they get a bit short-changed in terms of distribution. People always think of short films as a stepping stone to larger films, but in fact these films are made by professionals and they’re complete statements, complete works of art.”

Though it is a short film festival, a full-length feature film, The Herd, by Canadian documentary filmmaker Peter Lynch, will kick the festival off on April 5.

The Herd is the true story of Andy Bahr’s epic reindeer drive across 2,400 kilometres of unmapped northern wilderness from Alaska to the Mackenzie Delta. It started in 1929 and took six years to complete.

Produced by the National Film Board, The Herd was shot in the Beaufort Sea and released in 1999.

But few people have seen it.

“It kind of got buried by the film board,” said Sokolowski.

Lynch will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after the screening. The next day, he’ll be leading a class on documentary filmmaking.

There is also an editing workshop conducted by award-winning editor Caroline Christie and filmmaker Carol Geddes. They will be meeting with aspiring filmmakers who are looking for advice on production development.

For people who want something a little more hands-on, there’s the One Minute Film Challenge.

It’s the fifth year for the challenge, but this time around it’s a little bit different.

Instead of producing the one-minute films with super eight film cameras, participants will be given iPads to work with. They’re still being asked to shoot the films “in camera,” which means everything has to be shot in sequence with no editing.

The one-minute films will be compiled and screened the following weekend at Diamond Tooth Gerties.

Last year about 25 films were shot during the festival.

“It ends up being quite a popular event,” said Sokolowski. “If you don’t want to sit in the dark watching movies the whole weekend, you can actually get out and get around Dawson and shoot something.

“We try to make it a little active for people.”

Every year there is also an outdoor screening of some of the films, but this year, like last year, it won’t get dark enough.

Instead they’re holding a big outdoor barbecue

“And there’s a little added bones this year,” said Sokolowski. “One of the filmmakers coming up from Vancouver, Curtis Grahauer, actually makes those cheesy videos that go in behind karaoke so he’s actually going to lead karaoke during the barbecue.”

Organizers are expecting about 1,600 people to attend this year, but everything depends on the weather, said Sokolowski.

Right now the forecast looks good.

“The weather has really just broken here,” said Sokolowski. “We’re getting those beautiful, sort of sunny, spring days.

“The snow is starting to slide off roofs and nobody is walking on the sidewalks anymore. It was well over zero the other day so everyone was out in their shorts.”

Contact Josh Kerr at


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