The Halifax Independent Filmmakers' Festival has a local focus, but festival director Nelson MacDonald says you'd be wrong to assume that priority is a kind of parochialism. "I feel no obligation to show local films," says MacDonald. "I show local films because they're good."
In addition to two programs of local short films, the June 10-13 festival will show three international feature films and two retrospectives. All films will be shown with their directors in attendance. The point is not simply to show movies, says MacDonald, but to inspire audiences to do filmmaking differently—inspiration that is sorely needed in the wake of the blow dealt by the provincial budget. "We're trying to energize filmmakers, to make them think differently about how to make films. You don't need all the big lights and the most expensive camera—if you make a good film, it's going to get seen."
The absence of submission fees and reduced admission for film industry workers and film students is evidence that HIFF is a filmmakers' festival, says MacDonald. But perhaps the most important way in which the festival serves filmmakers is by getting them together with other artists and the festival programmers who can bring Nova Scotian films around the world.
Ashley McKenzie is one of the artists screening a short film at the festival. Shot guerrilla-style in Sydney, the short tells the story of the friendship between a struggling student and a drug addict. The opportunity to show that film in front of programmers from prestigious festivals such as the Edinburgh and Vancouver Film Festivals and South by Southwest is "huge," says McKenzie. "For the longest time Atlantic Canadian work really didn't get past Montreal."
McKenzie's short is in some ways a warm up for the feature-length film on which she goes to camera this summer. And as it turns out, shooting a no-budget short film was good practice in more ways than one—with the reduction of the film tax credit, that feature's micro-budget has shrunk even further. McKenzie says she's also worried about how cuts to the credit, as well as the dissolution of Film and Creative Industries, will affect emerging filmmakers trying to develop in the same way she did.
Raghed Charabaty is one of these film- makers. His Starfish Student Art Award winning film Alia—produced in his third year at NSCAD, blending a Lebanese folk song with the incident that sparked the country's civil war—will be screening at the festival. Charabaty says it's essential that students be provided opportunities for their work to be seen by both audiences and the industry. "HIFF is a push for the [film] program to be like, 'Oh you guys mean something to the industry.' It's so valuable to have that connection with people."
For Santiago Giralt, the Argentinian filmmaker whose made-in-Halifax feature Here Kitty Kitty will be screening at the festival, his connection with Nova Scotia is bittersweet. He says that the province is an attractive place to shoot, but worries the reduction of the film tax credit will make it hard to bring future productions here. Ultimately, though, he thinks the existence of festivals like HIFF bodes well for the future of filmmaking in the province. After all, policy decisions come and go, but as Giralt points out, "movies are forever."
Halifax Independent Filmmakers' Festival
Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street
NSCAD Academy Building Studio, 1649 Brunswick Street