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Professional heavyweights: what makes the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival so very awesome?

It’s one of my absolute favourite events of the year. The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival kicked off its five-day run last Tuesday night by slamming it down and packing a few punches.

What’s so special about this apparently random film festival that takes place in a smallish city at the eastern edge of Canada every October? And why is Canada’s movie industry so drawn to it? Film industry people – men and women – from across the country scramble to attend. The festival boasts close to 4,000 participants and every year, receives about 500 film submissions from around the world. And when the festival is over and everyone drifts back to their home cities and towns that have suddenly become sad and lonely places on account of not being where the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival is, PFD sets in: Post Festival Depression.

Opening night at the Arts and Culture Centre

A big part of why this particular film festival is so loved, and why it’s flourished over the last 22 years (making it one of the longest running women’s film fests in the world), is because of the vibrant community of people who make it come alive. Their creativity behind the scenes, organizing the line-up of shorts, feature films and the kind of workshops you’d usually have to travel to LA to attend. And their creativity with a camera too, actually making, mentoring and assisting on so many local films that then become part of the festival line-up. St. John’s is a film and movie-making melting pot thanks partly to the incredible programs at the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative (NIFCO). It’s also worth noting that although the festival focuses on films that are either written, directed, or produced by women – there’s always plenty of male input too. It not just for the ladies.

Opening night band The Burning Hell

The opening night screening and gala was a testament to this creative community, with the premier of the Telefilm-supported feature film comedy, Beat Down, written and directed by Deanne Foley and produced by St. John’s-based Pope Productions. Filmed right here, Beat Down tells the story of Fran, the feisty teenage daughter of a single dad who also happens to be an ex wrestler. She wants to become a pro wrestler too, but her highly-hilarious-as-he’s-going-off-the-deep-end father has other ideas. It stars some of Canada’s best acting talent, including locals Marthe Bernard and Mark O’Brien of Republic of Doyle  fame, Rob Wells, Andy Jones, and Tony Nappo, who was so dead-on in his portrayal of a cheesy, aging pro wrestler that before I realized he was a well-known Canadian actor (I’m from England, I don’t know!) had me convinced he was an actual wrestler. I kept thinking how the heck did they manage to find a wrestler who could act?

Beat Down

Later in the week I also caught a night of short screenings at the best intimate and interesting venue in town, the LSPU Hall. I love shorts (of the film variety). I love that if the film sucks a bit (and, well, you never know), you only have to sit there and continue watching for a few more minutes. But if the film is amazing – and even if it’s just interesting or unusual – it’s like this little golden nugget of inspiration. And then suddenly it’s over and another nugget is about to start.

LSPU Hall

I didn’t get to see nearly enough of all the films over the span of the festival, but out of what I did see,
I particularly enjoyed, Beat Down, Kathy, Clipper Gold, Martha & Dee Visit the 5th Dimension, and A
River in the Woods. I’m sad that I didn’t get to see Decolored and Regarding our Father, which aired on the closing night. I heard great things about them. 

A River in the Woods

Here are some more recommendations from Flare magazine. And here is the contact info for the St.
John’s International Women’s Film Festival, so you can find out how to get your hands on some of the films. You might even want to submit your own for consideration in 2012’s line-up.

Oh, and there’s another reason why the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival is so very awesome and why film industry types beg and plead with people to let them fly in and attend:

The parties.

I’m still recovering and it’s three days later.

But that’s a whole other blog post.