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AFF-luent 

One week into the Atlantic Film Festival, festival correspondent Carsten Knox reports on the city’s miraculous transformation to Haliwood.

It happens overnight. Halifax goes from being a town where Canadian and foreign language films are an endangered cinematic species to a place where a comedy set in a Newfoundland outport called Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With, and Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar’s Volver, both shown at the Atlantic Film Festival, sell out their screenings. It’s enough to make the cineast’s heart burst with pride. Or, at least, swell with hope.

Three screenings of a single film started the affair last Thursday night: The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, the Inuktitut, Danish and English-language follow-up to Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner by directors Zacharias Kunuck and Norman Cohn. Though an informal poll of attendees suggested the film left some scratching their heads, the mood at the Argyle Street gala party directly following was ebullient. The Acadian zydeco musicians booked for the outside stage had a tough time engaging a crowd more turned on by the DJ-spun retro dance tunes, and the distinct absence of a visiting star may have diminished the glamour a notch, but the lights, cameras and complimentary Hypnotiq helped the evening go over well. Rumours of foreign filmmakers scoring with posses of sexy, young Haligonians went unsubstantiated.

As per usual with the AFF, the Atlantic Shorts programs sold out quickly, as the local filmmaking community (and all their friends and family) rushed to see the results of the past year(s) of work. More Canadian-made movies attracted big audiences: Snow Cake, an Ontario-based dramedy with a hefty star-studded cast including Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss and Alan Rickman filled all its seats, though there doesn’t seem anything like a consensus in reaction to it. The historical drama Above & Beyond, a romantic and old-fashioned tale of the efforts to fly bombers to Europe via Gander in World War II, also sold out, even though the “movie” is but the first half of a CBC miniseries to be shown in October. As the CBC is a sponsor of the AFF, Mother Corp programming is de rigueur, but the fact that Above & Beyond’s status as a miniseries, an incomplete one at that, wasn’t widely advertised is sort of funny.

Away from the darkened screening rooms, the Strategic Partners industry programs are wheeling and dealing—if you listen intently, you can hear the machinery pumping pistons under the red carpets. Trying to keep the commerce and art separate and indivisible is probably for the best, though the business is a bit more obvious just before the gala screenings, where a multiple-row swath of prime seating remains vacant, reserved for sponsors’ show-time arrival while the ticket-buying film nuts crane their necks down near the screen and grumble. It’s a small reminder that though the Atlantic Film Festival is still considered modest by some standards, the price to pay for a flourishing, commercial film festival is increasing corporate presence. Commerce and art, indeed.

Speaking of neck craning, we’ve been fortunate to have a few of our best and glitziest to gape at. Mary Walsh and Andrea Martin made a big impression at the gala of Young Triffie, and at the Late Shift party, Ontario-born actor Kris Holden-Reid, starring in the south-shore family drama A Stone’s Throw, confounded tipsy party-goers with his uncanny resemblance to Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

At press time—the fest continues through Saturday, September 23—the deepest impression made at this year’s festival was by the tragic love story Away From Her and its self-effacing director, Sarah Polley, who came in on Sunday nursing a flu probably picked up in the gauntlet of the Toronto Film Festival’s press squeeze. Despite that, she was still able to fulfill her media duties here, impressing with a frank and unaffected candour one might not expect from someone who, at the ripe old age of 27, has been in show business all her life. Nothing if not gracious, Polley admitted to a packed house of eye-dabbing filmgoers during the post-screening Q & A that she was terrified to become a director, and learned a great deal from the responsibility of helming a feature film. Since the Toronto festival has concluded with a US distribution deal for Away From Her, as well as Oscar buzz for her leading lady, the legendary Julie Christie, Polley can rest assured the career shift was a risk well worth taking. If the audience’s sustained applause at Sunday evening’s screening is any indication, they agree. Wholeheartedly.

Read Carsten Knox’s daily film fest reports in our blogs section. The festival ends September 23, 422-6965 or www.atlanticfilm.com for ticket info.

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