Spoiled for choice

When coming up with a description of the Available Light Film Festival (ALFF) for the uninitiated, Andrew Connors, the festival director and artistic director of the Yukon Film Society, highlights the festival’s diversity and character.

“It’s an intimate festival that celebrates northern, Indigenous and Canadian cinema with some international spice thrown in for good measure, packed into a condensed time period in a great venue,” he said. “It’s also a well-loved annual event that is really embraced by the Yukon community.”

“Every iteration of the festival has its own flavour that stems from the diversity of the films, the mix of guests and how they all come together. It really has its own special alchemy,” he added.

It’s a striking contrast to larger festivals, like the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, from which Connors recently returned. “Our festival guests can be found exploring the community over the course of the festival and hanging out with each other,” he explained. “You don’t see too much of that at bigger festivals.”

Connors is really excited for the diversity of this year’s program, sharing that he feels that is a real strength for this year’s festival.

The program includes a media art exhibit installed in the Yukon Arts Centre’s Community Gallery; ALFF After Hours, a multi-day program of live music and stand-up comedy at the Edgewater Hotel; a full day of Indigenous cinema at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on February 1 featuring free admission and a stew and bannock lunch; and a special screening for schools (and the public) of 2040, an innovative feature documentary exploring what the future would look like if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us to improve our planet and shifted them into the mainstream.

The festival will kick-off on January 30 with a live taping of Ryan McMahon’s comedy podcast Red Man Laughing – an Indigenous arts and culture podcast rooted squarely at the intersection of the good, the bad and the ugly between Indian Country and the mainstream.

A series of special events are scattered throughout the program. On February 1, six Yukon creative teams will pitch their short film projects to a jury of guest panelists in front of a live audience. They will be vying for two production prizes, each worth $5000 in cash and $4000 in services. On February 4th, the Old Fire Hall will host Analog Avant Garde, a 16 mm film performance by John Price Film Works, accompanied by live music and score by Toronto-based sound artist, Greg Jones, which Connors described as, “a presentation that happens in the moment, from two filmmakers who are doing interesting things on the fringes.” And on February 8th, award-winning drag tragicomedienne Pearle Harbour presents her cabaret spectacular Agit-Pop! – musical meditations for the pre-post-apocalypse.

And then there’s the films. “There’s a lot of really strong Canadian cinema in this year’s program,” said Connors. “And a lot of it is very international looking – for example the documentary about Robbie Robertson and the Band, Once Were Brothers, that was the opening night film of 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), or The Hottest August which was shot in the five boroughs of New York.”

Many of the screenings will play host to special guests.

“It’s such an honour to have Michael Greyeyes joining us,” said Connors. “He’s such a talented actor who has more than 70 credits under his belt including a lead role in Woman Walks Ahead with Jessica Chastain and Smoke Signals.” Greyeyes plays the tribal sheriff in Blood Quantum, a zombie film that takes place outside the isolated Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow, whose Indigenous inhabitants are immune to the zombie plague.

Up and coming young actress, Kacey Rohl, was named one of TIFF’s Rising Stars. She will be attending the festival with her film White Lie. Connor’s describes her performance in the film as “standout, unnerving and amazing.”

Joining the group of talented actors at the festival are an equally talented slate of directors and producers. Matthew Rankin’s film The Twentieth Century has just been selected to be part of the Berlin International Film Festival. Marie Clements’s film Red Snow, about a Gwich’in soldier from the Canadian Arctic caught in an ambush in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is the opening film of the festival. John Walker turns his finely crafted documentary skills on an exploration of assholes with the help of Monty Python’s John Cleese and LGBTQ activist Vladimir Luxuria, while Kazik Radwanski’s Anne at 13,000 ft was named a TIFF Top Ten Canadian Film for 2019. And Mira Burt-Wintonick’s Wintopia has its Canadian premiere at Available Light, which Connors calls a real feather in our caps for the festival.

The local filmmaking community will get the opportunity to benefit from the presence in the Yukon of these talented individuals as many will be running master classes as part of the industry conference associated with the film festival. Vivian Belick, co-programmer for the festival, is really excited for the industry conference as she feels it is the fullest and most well-rounded program in recent memory. She attributes the strong response the conference is seeing already from Yukon’s filmmaking and digital community directly linked to this.

Whatever section of the Available Light Film Festival Yukoners chose to take, they can be sure to be spoiled for choice. “We’ve created a program that has great diversity throughout the whole day,” said Connors. “We tried to schedule great films throughout the whole program, so it doesn’t matter if you want to take in a film Monday at noon or Friday at 9 pm, there will be something worthwhile to see.”

Available Light Film Festival runs from January 31st to February 9th, with the majority of the program focused at the Yukon Arts Centre. You can find their full program on their website at https://yukonfilmsociety.com/alff and purchase tickets from the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office or https://www.yukontickets.com.

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