I t’s a Sunday night in March in Dawson City. Outside, the snow falls lightly in the crisp calm air. But inside the Odd Hall it’s hot. The bulb on the video projector is still cooling while David
Curtis, clad in a robin-egg blue suit jacket and a crisp new white dress shirt, still sporting its package folds, heads to the front of the Odd Hall. He’s handing out some of the Dawson City International Film Festival’s MITY Awards.
“MITY” stands for Made in the Yukon,” says Curtis, the founder and volunteer director of North America’s most northerly film festival. When I first came to Dawson in the in summer of 1998, people joked with me that the whole territory was held together with duct tape and haywire.”
The MITY Award is a roll of duct tape suspended in gold-painted haywire and mounted in a half-round stove-wood base. Curtis sketched out the design and he had a friend build it. “Filmmaking here tends to be very do-it-yourself,” he says, “and the MITY Award was intended to reflect that.”
Every Easter weekend for the past six years, short films from the Yukon and around the world (this year countries such as Japan, Russia, Poland and Estonia, and others were represented). Curtis emphasizes the community input — both from filmmakers and local volunteers who sit on screening committees — which he says is crucial to the spirit of the festival. “I mean we’ve had as many as 15 people come out for a selections committee meeting,” he says. “The mandate of this film festival is to reflect the values and perspectives of the community,” Curtis says. “The perspectives of the community are diverse and sowe have a diverse mix of films.
”The festival’s opening screening on Friday night, for example, presented Two Winters: Tales from above the Earth, a film by veteran Yukon film-maker Carol Geddes. Geddes, who has predominantly been known as a documentarist, has branched into First Nations mythology and animation in this 27-minute film. Set in the early 1980s, Two Winters follows a northern Aboriginal family as they attempt to survive after a volcano throws the North into an extended winter.
Other films among the 70-or so that screened in the three-day festival include: The Dawson Flood of 1979, by Dawson resident Jay Armitage; FUD, a one-minute effort by eight-year-old (when it was made, but now nine) Cooper Moss Hart of White-horse; Mother’s Day, by Whitehorse filmmaker Richard Lawrence; Random Acts of Silence, by Yukon animator Jay White; Where There’s Smoke — A Summer of Fire in the Klondike, by forest firefighter brothers Doug and Greg Cote; Dogs in Concert, by Yukoner Werner Walcher; I’d Rather Be Snow Shovelling, by Valerie Salez and Hannah Jickling; and Yukon Morning, by Mark Hill of Whitehorse.This year’s DCISFF (Note to self:Find a way to shorten that acronym)also tried a new workshop format the organizers have dubbed “Hitting the Mark.” It was an opportunity for film-makers to screen their work in front of the audience, and then to hear directly from the audience “what works and what doesn’t work in their film” as the festival program puts it. Curtis says he was nervous that the typically politeYukon audiences may “hold back”their criticism of the films. Instead, he said Hitting the Mark was the highlight of the festival this year: “I think theaudience gave great feedback, and Franka Cordua-von Specht did a great job of moderating the workshops.” Jay Armitage (The Dawson Flood of 1979)and musician/filmmaker Matthew Lien(Malkolm the Birder Boy: Quest for the Blue Throat) were the mensches who volunteered to “lead the charge out of the trenches” for the sake of their art. (And to give credit where credit is due, the director and cinematographer of Malkolm the Birder Boy is Ken Madsen, who did some beautiful scenic and wildlife videography in the film, and also directed it.) Also going on (it was a very busy weekend) were presentations and workshops by the likes of Canadian writing/directing dynamo Andrea Dorfman (features Parsley Days and Love That Boy) and editor Michael Vernon.
Dorfman presented a work-shop on her inspiration (fears, and other personal angst) for her short films, including titles such as I Love You This Much, Swerve and Nine. Vernon, who is the cinematic equivalent of a huge undiscovered seam of very rich precious metal, is a British-born and educated filmmaker who came to Canada and later edited Dorfman’s excellent Love that Boy. Vernon works with Northern Native Broadcast Yukon in Whitehorse.
My favourite festival moments:
“Filmmaking as Storymaking” Moment: Geddes, an articulate story-teller in person as well as on celluloid, telling an enraptured audience about her tribulations and satisfactions in the time she’s produced and directed about25 films. She also described her latest project, which I dearly hope to see on television soon (more to come on this project in a future column, I hope).
Cringe Factor Moment: whenDorfman, for no apparent reason turned beet red in front of the audience at her short film workshop and then mentioned the fact she was blushing (which anyone who’s ever suffered this fate knows makes you turn even redder. God, don’t you hate it when that happens.) Andrea, we feel your pain.
Favourite Prequel to an Award Acceptance Speech: When Greg(exceptionally tall and lanky) andDoug (short and stocky) Cote came to the front to accept their MITY awards for Where There’s Smoke, Greg said“Yeah…we’re brothers,” as though he’d answered the questions 1,000 times, and was just circumventing the inevitable.
Favourite Entertainment Biz Awards Moment: When Curtis, the hardest–working man in Dawson showbusiness, strode up to the front of the festival he started six years ago,looking like with a million bucks inthe blue suit he could quite plausibly have borrowed from colourful festival producer Lulu Keating, to hand out MITY Awards.“This festival is all about people coming from the community and from around the Yukon and seeing newt hings,” Curtis told me later. Seeing new things like excellent blue suit jackets.
For more information on the Dawson City International Short Film Festival,www.kiac.org/filmfest/