Yukon News

In the dark, and lovin’ it

Lisa Pasold Friday April 17, 2009

Lisa Pasold

Artsfront

More than 1,600 people attended last weekend's Dawson City International Short Film Festival.

DAWSON CITY

The Klondike capital is getting a lot more sunlight these days, but visiting filmmakers and film buffs didn’t get to experience much of it last weekend.

Instead, more than 1,600 opted to sit in the dark and feast on short films.

“Shorts are about immediacy,” says visiting Montreal filmmaker Elisabeth Belliveau, who attended the 10th anniversary of the Dawson City International Short Film Festival.

“You can capture things while you’re still feeling them.”

And that passion made for an inspiring weekend of cinema.

“You get the same passion from people who are 19 and just starting as from people who are 49 and still doing short films because they love them,” says festival producer Dan Sokolowski. “That’s what gives energy to this festival.”

Winnipeg-based Deco Dawson made his first-ever trip to the Yukon to give a well attended master class.

“With a short film, you aren’t dependent on box office,” says Dawson. “You’re liberated from all those expectations that go along with feature film. You can play, experiment and you’re not being irresponsible with somebody’s 5 million dollars.”

From experimental to factual documentary, from fiction to memoir, opening night featured a kaleidoscope of the festival’s past nine years of programming selected by outgoing director David Curtis.

These included Bruce Alcock’s animation of Al Purdy’s I Am A Sensitive Man bar brawl poem, At the Quinte Hotel, and Veronica Verkley’s stop-action animation Drift (where a driftwood bird, man and dog float on a sea of blue glass beads.)

Between screenings, festivalgoers gorged on all kinds of homemade wraps (“It’s a wrap! Get it?” joked concession co-organizer Gaby Sgaga) and attended master classes on the art of film.

Terry Greenlaw and Bill MacGillivray flew in from the East Coast to talk about their Picture Plant production company.

“I’ve seen some really heartfelt films here, important films that need to be made,” MacGillivray said, explaining why the festival is crucial for indigenous Canadian film.

For the first time, the Festival included a special First Eyes program, screened at the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre.

The dozen movies by aboriginal filmmakers from around the world ranged from the hilarious Nana, by Warwick Thornton (a child’s grandmother shoots kangaroo and clobbers drunks), to Dustinn Craig’s 4 Wheel War Pony (a spiraling mash-up of Apache skateboarders and tongue-in-cheek historical recreations.)

The screening wrapped with Duane Gastant’ Aucoin’s My Own Private Lower Post, a brave personal exploration of the crippling legacy of residential schools.

“I think of this film festival as something that the community started,” says Curtis.

And that community came out in force to support local and visiting filmmakers.

The annual free screening of Yukon Emerging Artists was standing-room only—with more emerging artists’ works than ever before.

Six-year-old Kate Crocker won the Youth Award for her Fat Cat film (really, how does a figure-conscious cat stay fit through the winter?)

Whitehorse’s Andrew Sharp won first place for the Yukon Energy MITY Emerging Talent Award for his animated Writer’s Block (with text designed by Owen Williams), while Naomi Mark took second place for her rueful examination of home, or lack thereof, in No Fixed Address.

In honour of its 10th anniversary, the festival announced it is commissioning 10 Yukon filmmakers to each create a short film to premiere at next year’s Festival.

This 10North project is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and Yukon Culture Quest, partnering with the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture, the Yukon Film Society and the Northern Film and Video Industry Alliance.

The participating filmmakers are Marten Berkman, Andrew Connors, Duane Gastant’ Aucoin, Carol Geddes, Daniel Janke, Lulu Keating, Celia McBride, Troy Suzuki, Veronica Verkley and Werner Walcher.

Late Sunday night, David Curtis was presented with the first honorary Yukon Energy MITY (Made in the Yukon) for a decade of passionate commitment to the Festival.

Whitehorse filmmaker Daniel Janke won first place in the professional MITY category with the animated NFB production How People Got Fire.

Not one, but two dog-inspired films won awards.

Lulu Keating co-authored Dog=God with Karen Hines; their dreamlike black and white “bucket-developed” film won second place in the professional MITY category. And Ontario filmmaker Jeff Winch won the Lodestar Award for Close & Low (about why his dog was “close to Heaven, and low to the ground”).

All too quickly, the weekend was over ... exactly 137 films screened, a last Yukon Brewery beer drunk and the last turkey/cranberry wrap eaten.

Maybe it’s appropriate the festival seemed to end quickly.

“There’s nothing worse than a short film that goes on too long,” noted Winch, who was still dazed from winning the Lodestar.

Lisa Pasold is a Montreal novelist, based in Toronto and currently travelling in the Yukon.

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