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Indie spirit rewards 

AFCOOP takes a few annual events, adds some animation, dance and a symposium, and boom---Halifax has a new annual festival. Lindsay McCarney reports.

Director Cam Erais's short film Crossing Over tells the story of a man stuck in a nine-to-five world that Erais describes as "gray and cold and very routine." The man notices that the street across from his workplace is more colourful, and that people there are happier. He decides to cross the street.

Kids never aspire to be office workers, Erais points out. He wants audiences watching his film to question "what dreams they have given up to pay their mortgage or get on with their lives."

Crossing Over is one of 15 short films that will be shown at Park Lane Thursday, March 22 as part of the annual Atlantic Filmmakers' Cooperative's (AFCOOP) members' screening. The screening, which showcases a jury-selected line-up of Nova Scotia-made shorts, is a time-worn AFCOOP tradition—2007 marks the event's 16th year.

But this year the exhibition is happening within a shiny new context—as part of AFCOOP's inaugural Halifax Independent Filmmakers' Festival, which runs March 21 to 23. The event will package together AFCOOP mainstays like the members' screening and the One Minute Film (OMF) Scholarship screening (which has been showing off silent black and white shorts from first-time filmmakers for the last seven years) with new film exhibitions, receptions and parties.

The festival will also be joined by a symposium, organized by AFCOOP, that will bring together film experts and media-arts co-op members from across the country to discuss a timely question: "Is film dead?"

"The media tends to portray celluloid as a dying medium being rapidly replaced by video," says Erin Oakes, AFCOOP's program co-ordinator. But, she points out, this is largely a misconception. "Last year, Kodak had a record-selling year for motion-picture film. The reality is kind of being overshadowed by the hype of the digital age."

The symposium's five panel discussions and two keynote addresses will address this confusion and strive to predict celluloid's future longevity as an art form; all the symposium's lectures are free.

As part of the co-op's new FrameWorks animation program, six first-time and three experienced animators spent months toiling to create animated shorts. Eight of the nine films are now ready to be shown. With the members' and OMF screenings already on its roster, the co-op now had three separate screenings of local independent work that it hoped to offer. "We figured it probably made sense to put it all together," Oakes says.

Combining the shows into one event makes publicizing them easier, says Walter Forsyth, AFCOOP's administrative co-ordinator. And, he says, "People like the idea—they can get their head around one event. It's nice to give people an easy way to find their art and entertainment."

AFCOOP has chosen to pair the debut of these new FrameWorks pieces, such as Jacqueline Poole's Glow (which tells the story of a firefly in love with a neon sign) with showings of classic Canadian animation, including Norman McLaren's 1952 documentary short Neighbours, which won an Oscar. This year's Oscar-winning short, Torill Kove's The Danish Poet, will also be shown.

Two other film screenings are also part of the HIFF roster. AFCOOP is partnering with Live Art to present "Dance On Screen," a collection of eight short films showcasing contemporary dance. Already an annual Live Art event, Forsyth convinced the company to incorporate it into the co-op's festival.

Finally, Halifax animator Heather Harkins will present a selection of pieces from her favourite independent animators at a screening entitled Radiant Animation Anarchy. Harkins originally programmed the show while working as an artist in residence at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles.

"Halifax has a tradition of do-it-yourself culture, and all of the films in "Radiant Animation Anarchy!' were made independently by artists who used whatever resources they had at hand," she emails. The films she chose include Echoes of Bats and Men, "a history lesson taught by piano-playing skunks," and Lydia Li, a "queer girl love story."

If attendance at this year's festival is good, filmgoers enjoy the format and filmmakers feel they're not getting lost in the hustle and bustle of multiple screenings, Forsyth says, AFCOOP hopes to make HIFF an annual event.

Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival and Symposium, March 21-24 at various locations, free to $9,


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