The Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival is a weird and challenging “gem-finder” | The Coast Halifax

The Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival is a weird and challenging “gem-finder”

The 18th edition of the festival is set to take place this weekend at the Bus Stop Theatre

The Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival (HIFF) began partially as a response to the Atlantic International Film Festival, or rather, a response to what the Atlantic International Film Festival wasn’t. It was a place to show cool, innovative films that were often left off the program of more mainstream festivals.

Eighteen years later, it’s still going exactly as it started.

“We started as a place for weird, challenging, indy-type films and in that way, it hasn’t changed,” says Tara Thorne—now in her fifth year as festival coordinator for HIFF. “The mission remains as strong today as ever.”

HIFF is a platform for films that challenge the imagination, both in the topics they tackle, but also in the way the stories are told. With less money to work with, filmmakers have to be more technically innovative. They use experimental techniques in the actual shooting, some are still shooting in analogue and others use mixed-animation techniques.

And aside from challenging audiences with non-traditional narratives, HIFF has served as a launching pad for filmmakers that have gone on to more mainstream success; often allowing vanguard filmmakers to show their “weird little first film” (Thorne’s words, not mine).

Two years ago, for example, HIFF showed We’re All Going to the World’s Fair—the debut film of Jane Schoenbrun. Thorne had hoped Schoenbrun would be able to come to the screening, but they were unavailable. Why? Because they were already in production of their next film I Saw The TV Glow, a $10M A24 film that came out recently to mainstream audience acclaim.

“We get to see them grow as filmmakers and grow beyond us and then we’re not able to get them here again!” says Thorne. “We get to show their debut and they get to parle that into a larger audience and make a bigger stir. So, we’re a jumping-off point. A gem finder.”

As for this year’s line-up? Expect more laughs than usual.

“This year is going to be a lot of fun. Of course, there's a lot of drama, but there’s more comedy than usual,” says Thorne.

It will also have some high-profile names that you might actually recognize—adds Thorne with a huge laugh.

The Sweet East is the directorial debut of cinematographer Sean Price Williams—who shot notable films Her Smell and Uncut Gems—and stars Jacob Elordi (Bottoms, The Bear) and Ayo Edebir (Saltburn, Priscilla).

The most buzz-worthy (and fastest selling) ticket for this weekend is The People’s Joker—which screened once at TIFF in 2022 before receiving a cease and desist. The film is a trans interpretation of The Joker story, written, directed by and starring Vera Drew.

The festival will also include a retrospective of filmmaking legend Lulu Keating—award-winning writer, producer and filmmaker. Born in Antigonish and currently based in Dawson City, Yukon, Keating has worked across the globe in multiple genres, including documentary, narrative fiction and animation.

The HIFF will run May 29-June 1 and all films will be screened at The Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax’s north end.

2024 Halifax International Filmmakers Festival Schedule

Tautukavuk (What We See)
Carol Kunnuk & Lucy Tulugarjuk
May 29, 6:30pm

In the stillness of pandemic isolation, Tautuktavuk (What We See) traces the silent contours of sisterhood stretched across continents. Through the verité lens of lived experience, Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk capture what sparse, digital threads bind them as onscreen sisters wherein the screen becomes a window, affording viewers a glimpse into the depths of shared joy and trauma. One sister imparts warmth as the narrative spans vast, icy landscapes and sisterhood avows her own resolve. Conversely, the other sister’s hand-poked tattoo affirms how siblingship serves as a refuge wherein one may unravel, being assured by a likeness that is threadbare. The intensity and introspective nuance of Tautuktavuk is a testament to the power of sisterhood and the silent, unyielding courage of survival.

Permit Garden
Jenny Yujia Shi
May 29, 6:30pm

A dreamlike parable about immigration, Permit Garden follows a nameless child as they toil to gain exit from the Garden. But as time goes on, they wonder if escape is even possible.

Permit Garden is the third short film created through HIFF’s Open Field grant, which gives alumni of the Atlantic Auteurs program the resources to make new work with no creative guidelines. The previous films created through the grant are Good Grief [2022] (dir. Sylvia Mok) and I’m Just Trying to Have Fun [2023] (dir. Henry Colin).

Al Warren
May 29, 9pm

Dogleg is the feature debut from actor/filmmaker Al Warren, co-written by Michael Bible. The film follows amateur director Alan Warner (Warren) on one increasingly nightmarish day of his life.

When Alan’s fiancée goes out of town, he’s put in charge of her high-maintenance and medically dependent dog, Roo. After losing him at a gender reveal party, he scours Los Angeles for Roo while trying to proceed with the shoot day he had planned for his five-years-in-the-making film.

Dogleg is an affectionately rendered, beautifully shot and very funny film, employing the kind of dry humor that sticks with you and builds with each viewing. It’s a cathartic acknowledgement of the endless hurdles of any creative pursuit and promises to distress, reassure and ultimately fortify our audience of filmmakers.

Lulu Keating Retrospective
May 30, 7pm

We are thrilled to present this year’s retrospective on the ever-witty and delightfully innovative Lulu Keating. Born in Antigonish, NS, and currently based in Dawson City, Yukon, Keating worked as a filmmaker across the globe in multiple genres, including documentary, narrative fiction, and animation. Creating whimsically exploratory films on culture and notions of self since the 1980s, Keating’s unique visionary style, DIY determinism, and involvement with film co-operatives and organizations has greatly shaped Canadian independent cinema. Join us in welcoming Lulu back to town with this special screening and artist talk.

Atlantic Auteurs
May 30, 9pm

Atlantic Auteurs is our annual program focused on showcasing innovative regional shorts hot-off-the-press to our audiences. This year’s program centres around themes of exploration: of self, others, and time, and its relationship to community, culture, and home life. Stay after the screening for a Q&A with the artists, followed by an evening soiree at the Tusket Falls Beer Project (2220 Gottingen Street) in celebration of Maritime cinema.

The Sweet East
Sean Price Williams
May 31, 6:30pm

The Sweet East is the directorial debut from Sean Price Williams, a cinematographer (Good Time, Her Smell, Funny Pages) whose oft-emulated gift for capturing grime in motion has largely defined the aesthetics of modern independent filmmaking.

Midway through a school trip from South Carolina to Washington, D.C., a violent outburst sets a fleeing Lillian on a directionless trek across the Eastern Seaboard. With a lead performance from Talia Ryder (Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always) and an ensemble featuring Ayo Edebiri (Bottoms, The Bear) and Jacob Elordi (Saltburn, Priscilla), the film serves as a chaotic meeting point for some of the next generation’s most promising talent.

Scripted by film critic and essayist Nick Pinkerton, the story functions as a road trip through the American imagination, encountering grifters and grotesqueries far beyond anything Alice found through the looking glass. Detached yet political, amoral yet deeply principled, The Sweet East is a film smart enough to accept its contradictions, and in them it finds something like an ethic for living in a time of perpetual calamity.

Jumana Manna
May 31, 9pm

For centuries, native plants such as za’atar and ’akkoub have been part of Palestinian culture and identity, upholding stalwart roles in the kitchen and home with their culinary and medicinal uses. Yet within the last few decades, the Israeli government has banned Palestinians from foraging these wild crops under laws claiming to protect these plants, though they grow abundantly and naturally flourish when regularly picked.

In this meditative and alchemical brew of documentary, archival footage, and scripted fiction, Palestinian filmmaker Jumana Manna examines how propagandistic and legal apparatuses can exploit the natural world to disempower and alienate people from their traditional land. Shot in Jerusalem, Golan Heights, and the Galilee, Foragers shines a stark light on tyranny while revealing the warm resilience of Palestinians’ devotion to their land and to each other.

The People’s Joker
Vera Drew
May 31, 11pm

After screening once at TIFF in 2022, only to have its subsequent festival screenings pulled because of copyright complaints—a notorious origin story that only adds another layer of meta rebellion to Vera Drew’s debut feature—The People’s Joker is back!

The People’s Joker is a trans coming-of-age story taking place in Gotham City, where comedy has been monopolized by Lorne Michaels, overlord of the United Clown Bureau. Because performing comedy independently is illegal, Gotham’s outcasts sidestep the law with anti-comedy. Vera becomes Joker the Harlequin, a persona she accesses by huffing the anti-depressant Smylex, the drug that has been forcing a smile on her face since she first expressed gender dysphoria as a child.

Drew co-writes, directs, edits and stars in the film. As a performer Drew is a warm, grounding presence; as a filmmaker she elegantly combines CGI, live action and animation (crowdsourced from over 100 artists!), and through The People’s Joker she asserts the queer relevance of modern mythological IP and rejects dogmatic narratives from the worlds of comedy, superheroes and trans representation.

Canadian Shorts
June 1, 11am

Our annual Canadian Shorts program showcases a selection of bold national shorts that are pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. This year’s program welcomes you into intimate, domestic and familiar spaces. There are themes of loss; of another, a space or parts of oneself, and the resilience of the human spirit to persevere through these periods of immense adaptation. Join us on this contemplative Saturday morning program to watch an inspiring group of Canadian shorts.

Felipe Esparza Pérez
June 1, 4pm

In a house nestled within the Peruvian Andes, a father and son recede into a transient relationship. The father labours ceaselessly each day under the open blue sky, his leathery hands hammering fissures into the colossal formation of volcanic rock to break off gleaming white slabs. The son spends hour after hour in a sumptuous cathedral filled with iconography, painstakingly employing all manner of photographic technology to map a 3D, virtual simulacrum of its interior. The sparse dialogue gives way to an immersive soundscape echoing the rhythms of human-made materials colliding with the natural and sacred, in a place gripped by a colonial and industrial past. A succinct but profound sojourn into slow cinema, Felipe Esparza Pérez’s debut feature contemplates the sublime and what we create in its image.

When Adam Changes
Joël Vaudreuil
June 1, 6pm

When Adam Changes is the debut feature animation from Quebecois filmmaker Joel Vaudreuil. The film follows 15-year-old Adam, whose body morphs into exaggerated shapes every time someone mocks him. Dealing with his changing body is the least of his worries as he navigates the painful, awkward world of high school, family dynamics and suburban class tensions in a story that will leave viewers cringing. Throughout the film, Adam finds himself with heaps of responsibility, tending to a four-legged cat, a nearly perfect lawn, and an unrequited crush, all while being haunted by a big bad mistake from his past. The film has a unique illustration style, full of magical realism that perfectly captures the anxiety of teen years.

Do Not Expect Too Much From The End of the World
Radu Jude
June 1, 8pm

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
is the newest release from filmmaker Radu Jude, who rose to prominence in the Romanian New Wave of the mid-aughts and has found new life over a decade later as one of cinema’s prickliest satirists.

The film follows Angela (Ilinca Manolache), a production assistant who’s on the road recording casting interviews with injured employees for a corporation’s bad-faith safety video. Jude’s world is a place where vaudevillian comedy and cratering realism collide, and Do Not Expect Too Much captures Bucharest as a city where you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.

Following the success of Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, which earned him Berlinale’s Golden Bear in 2021, Jude’s latest is the work of an artist at the height of his powers — one who’s swinging at life’s profound absurdities with a sword that’s never been sharper.