In 1968, a teenage John Walker packed up his 35mm camera and boarded a coast guard supply ship, headed for the most remote communities of Canada’s Arctic – known then as “Eskimo” country.
That summer job and the photos Walker took then would prove invaluable nearly 50 years later, when he would return to the North to make Arctic Defenders, the story of the Inuit activists that worked to create a territory of their own, Nunavut.
Walker’s documentary kicks off this year’s Available Light Film Festival, Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre.
“There’s always an imperative for films from the Canadian North, and aboriginal experiences,” said festival director Andrew Connors.
Check, and check.
With new films like Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary Hi Ho Mistahey, (which follows Attawapiskat teenager Shannen Koostatchin’s fight for decent education in her hometown) and the residential school revenge-horror-comedy Rhymes for Young Ghouls, by Jeff Barnaby, the strength of northern and aboriginal filmmakers is on display.
Ghouls, in particular, captured Connors’s attention. “That’s a difficult subject for a lot of people in the Yukon – and to turn it into a black comedy is extraordinary and brave, and kind of messed up,” said Connors. “It’s a great film, very entertaining, but graphic in places and hard to watch, but very funny.”
Lead actress Kawennahere Devery Jacobs will be in attendance for the Tuesday 6:30 p.m. screening.
Mainstream Canadian comedy is well represented this year. Brent Butt stars in the Vancouver film-noir comedy, No Clue; there’s Jason Priestley’s directorial debut, Cas & Dylan; and there’s Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction, which tells the story of a struggling Newfoundland fishing village and their scheme to acquire a big-city doctor.
In a cheeky nod to our Russian friends, the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer will screen February 9, while the Sochi Olympic games holds its opening ceremonies.
Some local filmmakers will get a bit of limelight. Dennis Allen’s Crazywater takes a personal look at alcoholism among First Nations people. Two episodes of Werner Walcher’s new television show, The Call of the Yukon, follow German-speakers in the territory. Daniel Janke composed music for the animated short Subconcious Password, which will screen with the Arcade Fire documentary Miroir Noir on Tuesday.
It’s not all Can-con, though. Festival favorites from around the world include The Summit, an innovative documentary about a doomed expedition to K2; a free screening of the anime classic My Neighbour Totoro; and award winner The Rocket, a feel-good family film from Laos, which closes the festival.
Cinemaphiles will be happy with some technical improvements for this year’s festival, including better surround sound and a new, 25-per-cent larger movie screen. “It’s always looked good, but it’s always been a screen in a performing arts theatre,” said Connors. “It’s going to look like a cinema this year.”
That bodes well for guaranteed visual stunners like Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal’s globe-spanning documentary, Watermark.
Another improvement in this year’s programming will be moderated post-screening talks with filmmakers.
Globe and Mail film critic Geoff Pevere will host talks with John Walker, Don McKellar and No Clue director Carl Bessai.
Montreal filmmaker Vincent Morisset will kick off the free noon-hour Fire Hall film talks on Sunday with a look at interactive digital films. Morisset was responsible for a number of lauded Arcade Fire video projects that stretched the boundaries of user-interface.
For a complete festival schedule, surf to www.yukonfilmsociety.com/alff
Contact Ian Stewart at