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The anniversary party 

As the Atlantic Film Festival unloads its 25th anniversary program,Carsten Knox boils it down to the essentials for you.

If ever she once was, Lia Rinaldo is no longer bothered by a new film festival in Montreal.

“It became quite clear that we were pursuing different things,” says Rinaldo, the Atlantic Film Festival’s director, of the new event that overlaps with AFF’s 25th anniversary. “So, we haven’t kept in regular contact, as one would think.”

In April, everyone involved with the AFF swallowed hard when an inaugural film festival called the Festival International de Films de Montréal (FIFM) announced their schedule as September 18 to 25, in direct conflict with the AFF dates, September 15 to 24. An event in a larger metropolitan centre would clearly compete for the precious few screening prints of new films available in a busy festival season, not to mention guest availability and national media coverage. Fingers pointed, strongly-worded press releases were issued and hurriedly-scheduled meetings were initiated, but in the end, no dates were changed. Now, on the verge of the festivals, blood is no longer up.

“From what I can tell, theirs appears to be more of a European festival,” says Rinaldo, “whereas our focus has always been more Atlantic, more Canadian, and the top hits off the circuit for our regular audiences.”

The organizers of the Atlantic Film Festival have every reason to feel confident. The buzz is now, officially, a roar. On Tuesday morning at Park Lane Cinemas the organizers outlined this year’s fest, which, barring any last minute cancellations, will be the largest in its history (with approximately 50 more screenings than FIFM). From Thursday September 15 through Sunday September 24, area cinemas will screen 220 new films, approximately doubling the total number of movies released commercially per year in town.

Gregor Ash, executive director of the AFF, glowed as he announced the scope of programming. The full program is available online at and the print edition of the guide is due September 6. Tickets are on sale now.

The gala opening and closing films are Thom Fitzgerald’s 3 Needles (a South Africa-China-Canada-shot film exploring that which we all share—blood—and starring Chlöe Sevigny, Sandra Oh and Stockard Channing) and Lasse Halleström’s An Unfinished Life (a rural drama with Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez, who will have to sharpen her chops in that company). Other highlights include titles such as Whole New Thing, Corpse Bride, Beowulf and Grendel, Thumbsucker, Junebug, Manderlay, The Dying Gaul, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, C.R.A.Z.Y., Reel Paradise and the much anticipated Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Of course, there will be parties. The AFF is challenging the hurricane gods with an outdoor opening night event: the red carpet, black tie IFC Opening Gala Party will take over Argyle Street from Sackville to Prince on the evening of September 9, with 3,000 revellers expected. Lennie Gallant will perform, the first of a swath of musical acts including Charlie A’Court, Jill Barber and Matt Mays who will be playing in town over the 10 days as Nova Scotia Music Week moves up to run in conjunction with the film festival. Speaking of music, the festival will show a series of docs, including Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt and Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.

New programs include focuses on the works of Monty Python-member-turned-maverick Terry Gilliam and Daniel Petrie Sr., the Glace Bay-born, Hollywood-journeyman director. Focus on Germany looks at five German films, dovetailing with the Strategic Partners co-production market. It’s all about the deal, giving producers from Germany, the UK, US and Canada a chance to meet and, maybe, co-finance new projects.

Beyond the galas, panels, parties and international fare that annually attract the avid cineast and scenester, the Atlantic Canada program distinguishes the festival from others, and makes it the prime venue for local filmmakers to get their work seen. This year the festival is offering the largest Atlantic program its 25-year history, showcasing 15 homegrown features and 50 shorts.

Rinaldo says the expected struggles in scheduling and logistics, no longer an issue with Montreal, come from further down the 401: The Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world’s largest, which as usual directly precedes the Halifax festival.

The AFF had “the same issues about getting prints after them, working out those details,” she says. “It was more about Toronto than Montreal.”

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