Last year, the renowned St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival (SJIWFF) marked a milestone, celebrating 30 years of supporting and showcasing women filmmakers. And while large, public gatherings have been put on hold for the time being, the SJIWFF team still plan to celebrate all things film in fine style, albeit in a different way.
Back in March, the SJIWFF’s “Scene & Heard” Industry Series, featuring national and international guests, was ready to go when the pandemic and ensuing lockdown forced the team to pull the plug. As a result, they took the event online with #CozyChats, a series of interactive talks with filmmakers hosted on Instagram Live. This abrupt change in plans also gave the team the chance to reimagine how to deliver their upcoming programming says Jenn Brown, Executive Director of the SJIWFF. Since the film festival falls later in the year, in October, Brown adds, it also gave them the opportunity to observe and learn from other festivals and arts groups to help them finesse what they wanted to do.
“One of the most wonderful parts of this whole thing has been the connection (with) other arts organizations. I can’t tell you how many chats I’ve had with organizations across Newfoundland Labrador, and across the country, who were so generous. We were sharing research and information and what worked, what didn’t…It’s such a reminder of the magic that is in our community (and) how fortunate we are,” Brown says.
While many other film festivals are scaling back their programming in the face of the ongoing pandemic, Brown says the SJIWFF is taking a different approach and kicking things up a notch by almost doubling the number of films being screened and expanding their industry events. In an effort to make things even more accessible, they have also decided to decrease ticket fees and the price of their festival pass, and make all forum events free.
“We decided now more than ever, our industry and our artists and our community need support,” Brown says.
“We pay artist fees and screening fees for every single film that we present…we really prioritized our budget and we tried to move as much as possible into the pockets of our artists, especially locally.”
Another plus of this year’s festival, Brown adds, is that film lovers can watch what they want, when they want, from anywhere in Canada (except for two international features, which will only be available to viewers in Atlantic Canada) from October 14-18.
“So if you want to have a movie marathon and watch everything on Friday night, or if you want to watch early morning or whatever that is, you can do so. So we’re really hoping that that suits people’s lifestyles now, especially with COVID realities, and that it just makes it more accessible. And that’s the same with our panels. Putting them in that same format, so people can consume them whenever they can, will also help our local film industry as well. This is professional development that’s for them…we certainly didn’t want people to miss out because they’re working,” Brown says.
“We’re really encouraging people (to) plan those watch parties with your friends who you couldn’t meet up with in person. All of the sadness and the frustration that has been with the travel bans and whatnot, maybe this can be one way to have that sense of community, to be able to share the love of cinema with people all over the country.”
While this year’s festival is virtual, there will be one in-person event with a special presentation of “Little Orphans” (the debut feature film of both director Ruth Lawrence and writer Emily Bridger) at the Mount Pearl Cineplex on October 17. The film is also the SJIWFF’s opening night feature.
“We’re taking over the entire Cineplex in Mount Pearl. So we’re renting all six cinemas and doing a socially distanced event,” Brown says.
“We wanted to make sure that we went above and beyond. So we worked with the provincial government and built a full set of guidelines and policies and procedures, and worked really closely with the health inspectors locally to get it approved from the very top. So it’s another level of security that we feel really comfortable about and confident.”
Like previous events, this year’s festival is also featuring some fun partnerships with local businesses like Rocket Bakery, who will be doing some prize giveaways. And for the second year in a row, the SJIWFF is teaming up with Quidi Vidi Brewery and Eastern Edge Gallery to offer “Director’s Cut,” a limited-run festival beer (available at NLC locations across the province) featuring labels created by local women artists.
“This year we had, I think, over 125 submissions. So that’s huge and it’s…another way that people can cheers and kind of have their own parties wherever they are and watch good movies,” Brown says.
“It’s certainly going to be a cozier dress code this year.”
For more information on the SJIWFF and to purchase tickets, click here.