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23rd Atlantic Film Festival

by John Hopkins

The Atlantic Film Festival, held from September 12 to 23, is now in its 23rd year. Its former Executive Director, the late Gordon Parsons, helped grandfather the event as a natural extension to the wonderful, now defunct, Wormwood’s Dog and Monkey Cinema—located on a part of Gottigen St. famous for a few post bar-hour brawls that even the cops couldn’t handle. Today’s festival mostly takes place at the comparatively sterile but spacious Park Lane Cinemas right around the corner from the illustrious Lord Nelson Hotel, which now serves as the festival headquarters and hive for schmoozing film deals.

There is more corporate flavour to today’s festival compared to the Wormwood’s heyday. The festival’s directors are more or less following the trend of what other festivals are doing around the world. Nevertheless, the Atlantic Shorts Programs remain wildly popular. These shorts have nurtured filmmakers such as Halifax’s Mike Clattenburg who “rolled” the campy booze-breath flavour of his short Liquor Store into The Trailer Park Boys series. The Strategic Partners program, for example, offers opportunities for Atlantic Canadians to co-produce and pool finances on films with themselves, “Upper” Canadians, Europeans, and the odd US bigwig. CBC, CTV, IFC, and VisionTV are also there scooping up the best projects. Says SP delegate Norm Bolen of Alliance-Atlantis, “Contacts, business deals,. . .delegates are able to meet senior level people who make things happen at home and abroad. . .”

Agencies in the region such as the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, FilmNB, and NFLD Film Development Corp. are at this festival in force putting on the table what each can offer Canadian and international producers in return for shooting and employing crews in their respective provinces. Millions abound, so much so that major banks send special representatives to court those making deals. TechPEI could gain by increasing its presence and sponsorship at this major regional event. Not surprising, Cellar Door’s Gretha Rose and the wily Campbell Webster were seen there tugging at the change up for grabs. The Island Media Arts Co-op was savvy to have advertised in the festival catalog.

Modeled on events held at the Rotterdam and Mannheim Film Festivals, SP, established in 1998, accepts film projects from around the world in advance, selects the strongest, and churns out a catalogue distributed to more than a hundred of delegates. Producers from any country can then scan the selected projects for information about its creative aspects, the production company involved, the attached production team, financing already secured, and moula being sought. At the festival, Strategic Partners then allows people meet each other to pitch individual project’s one-on-one, which is different from other festivals that employ shotgun “public pitch” approach such as Hot Docs and Banff where nervous filmmakers must down a bottle of St. John’s Wort and pitch their project in a few minutes to everyone in the room at the same time. If one influential broadcaster shoots you down the herd tends to follow. That’s the tradeoff for having a crack at everyone en masse.

Strategic Partners is more targeted and, some would argue, a better format to generate success. It’s pretty cool to sit down and have the chance to have the undivided attention of Mark Shivas the Exec Prod for Truly, Madly, Deeply to tell him the story of why your niece’s goldfish keeps your grandmother up at night. If he hates the part where your cat swallows the entire cast of gilled performers, including the Guppies, you can always try Larry Meistrich the producer of the Academy Award-winning Slingblade. Gulp!?

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