KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Movie theatres have been slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between closures, revised health guidelines, and a lack of new releases, movie-lovers are craving a safe return to the big screen. The Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival (HIFF) hopes to soften that blockbuster withdrawal.
Since 2007 HIFF has featured a slew of independent films, bringing filmmakers and movie-lovers together to showcase cinema from Atlantic Canada and beyond. The slate features at least one film from each Atlantic province, including several from Nova Scotia.
The festival will look a little different this year. Rather than selling out venues across the city, this year’s HIFF will be exclusively online, and free.
Taking place from November 12-15 at HIFF.ca, the festival’s lineup includes 11 feature films and three sets of shorts. Viewers can choose from the list of films, which are available for 48 hours after showtime. Once a film starts, it’s available for up to 24 hours for viewing.
Initially on track for a mid-June event, the decision was made to postpone the festival while Nova Scotia experienced a high number of reported cases of COVID-19.
Festival organizers watched as the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival transitioned to a virtual event while others like the Halifax Jazz Festival axed their annual lineup.
Tara Thorne, HIFF Coordinator and host of Halifax Examiner entertainment podcast The Tideline, hopes audiences will be able to return next year to celebrate the festival’s 15th anniversary. In the meantime, she hopes this year’s lineup will hook audiences in the same way, even from a distance.
Thorne describes HIFF’s mandate as supporting the local film community, whether it’s through workshops, gear rentals, or other resources to help people make films
Typically, Thorne says, filmmakers are brought in for showings, networking and professional development opportunities, and Q&A sessions with audience members.
This year’s virtual festival will feature a Zoom Q&A period with filmmaker Jessica Dunn Rovinelli. The pre-recorded session, facilitated by Thorne, reflects on Rovinelli’s 2019 feature-length film, So Pretty, about a polyamorous “proto-utopia” fighting to preserve their community in New York City.
“We’re just trying to offer alternative experiences and the kind of quality filmmaking that people come to expect from the festival,” Thorne says.
Heather Young, HIFF Programming Coordinator, is one of five committee members in charge of selecting what she calls a bold slate of films for the festival. She wants to inspire local filmmakers who don’t have the resources to make the big-budget, Hollywood-starring movies screened in theatres nationwide.
“We really hope to be a festival that inspires the emerging filmmakers in our local industry,” Young says.
La Flor, a 2018 film by director Mariano Llinás, brings a whole new meaning to feature-length films. Clocking in at 808 minutes, about 13.5 hours, the film shot over the course of a decade in seven languages claimed the title of the longest film in Argentina’s history.
Young admits she’s only watched the first two hours of La Flor, but has advice for viewers aiming to finish the film: watch it in chunks, like a six-episode miniseries.
“We try to choose films that we think really deserve to be viewed,” says Young. “Unfortunately they’re not going to be viewed on the big screen this year but [that] we really think deserve theatrical screen time here in Halifax.”
One film that blew Young away for its cinematography alone comes from director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, titled This Is Not A Burial, It’s A Resurrection. Winner of the Special Jury Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Young describes the feature as a touching portrait of a woman nearing the end of life and her community in the African country of Lesotho.
The festival kicks off Thursday with L.A. Tea Time, a feature from director Sophie Bédard Marcotte, who will participate in a Q&A after the presentation.
HIFF is run by the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative, a non-profit community organization supporting filmmakers, productions, and presentations in Nova Scotia.
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