Around 20 years ago, when the Available Light Film Festival (ALFF) was in its infancy, the week-long event included about 20 Canadian and international films that screened at either the Qwanlin Cinema Centre or the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. Super-keen cinephiles could conceivably take in the entire festival, as screen times never overlapped, and matinees were only on weekends.
Fast forward to 2023 and ALFF has evolved into a two-week, 100-plus film event. There are 45 feature- and mid-length films, over 50 short films, live concerts, a storytelling event co-produced with Nakai Theatre and featuring Christine Genier, artist talks, and the pitch event. That makes about 80 events, with screenings in the afternoon every day. For the first time ever, organizers are running a multi-screen festival with films showing simultaneously.
“This is a good year for people to look at their calendars and look at the program and maybe take some sick days if they’re working full-time,” festival director Andrew Connors suggested.
“People have to map it out,” he added. “That’s new for us.”
The format means that people won’t be able to go to everything this year; however, the most-popular films will be screened twice. ALFF 2023 will offer “a bigger experience for the audience and a bit of a bigger production lift for us,” Connors said. “But that’s awesome. We’re happy to facilitate that.”
As well, after COVID-19 shut down most live events in 2022, the return to a full-blown festival experience, including both film screenings and the industry conference, is revitalizing ALFF organizers.
“The online stuff was kind of fun, the last couple of years, but it was getting hard to get out of bed,” Connors admitted.
ALFF in-person, on the other hand, has a social energy that no online version provides.
“There’s an alchemy to it that I love,” Connors said. “You just don’t know, you know? You don’t know who knows each other in the film world, and who’s never met, and who’s going to become fast friends, and who’s going to make a movie together, and who’s going to get financing, and, you know, who’s gonna get written up.”
Something that’s been part of ALFF since the beginning is ALFF Industry, which typically attracts 30–40 Yukoners every year. Although this side of the festival is not as public as the film screenings, it’s a significant part of ALFF that draws industry folks north.
“All the industry delegates, they want to come,” Connors said. “So it’s really great for Yukon filmmakers and media producers, and creators and media artists and even visual artists and musicians, to meet with the industry on their own turf. And so it just creates this great sort of milieu or ecosystem for people to come together and get to know each other, and to get to know the work they make and what they do and how they live—and, you know, it’s the culture here.
“It’s a way for us to express our collective stories and our culture. There’s a tourism aspect to it, but more importantly it’s about the connection between people and cultures—Indigenous, non-Indigenous, diaspora—from within and outside the Yukon.”
Among the Yukon stories being told at ALFF, this year, is director David Curtis’s The Ballad of Caveman Bill, a “humorous documentary portrait [that] explores one caveman’s resiliency, adaptability and sustainability.” A very special guest is rumoured to be attending the screening.
“It looks like Caveman Bill will be in attendance,” Connors said. “It’s his first time leaving Dawson, in about five years, and the longest that he’s ever spent in Whitehorse.”
Other feature films with local talent include Polaris, a “made-in-the-Yukon eco-action fantasy” that is having its public premiere at ALFF. Voices Across the Water, Fritz Mueller’s and Teresa Earle’s documentary about canoe builders Wayne Price and Halin de Repentigny, is also being screened. As well, there are a number of locally produced short films.
The ambitious format of ALFF seems like an astonishing feat after the challenges of COVID-19 in 2022. From the opening film, an animated documentary called Eternal Spring, the 2023 festival promises to bring festival-goers an exceptional cinema experience. And, if you prefer to watch your films at home or if you live in another city, there are selected online viewings available as well.
Connors sounded exhausted, as I spoke with him and he yawned several times, but still he said that the rewards of producing ALFF far outweigh the drawbacks.
“It’s the reason I don’t take a winter holiday and I don’t take a day off for months—because the payoff is, you know, you get all these filmmakers in attendance, and the audiences are there, and there’s just a buzz to it all.
“It’s a festival. It’s awesome.”
To view the ALFF program and to get passes and tickets, visit the festival website: www.yukonfilmsociety.com/alff