While there is some definite star-power coming to this year’s FIN Atlantic International Film Festival (AIFF), they are only a small part of what will make this year’s festival special.
In the second in our two-part series on this year’s AIFF, executive director Wayne Carter talks about the resurgence of film festivals and some of his recommendations for this year’s festival.
Now into his eighth festival, Carter has seen the biggest change of the years was from audiences skewing older just a few years ago to a growing appreciation for festivals from younger audiences.
“Young people didn’t seem to be so interested in film festivals but with the proliferation of streaming services is suddenly waking up people’s interest in film again,” he says.
With the streaming services, for which Carter says film festivals owe a debt, has come a broader interest in documentaries and foreign language films, with both genres becoming mainstays for many film festivals, including the AIFF.
But while services like Netflix may have increased the appetite for variety, he sees mainstream film distribution squeezing out many films as consumers look for the next big event, superhero, or children’s animated film.
“Film festivals are filling an important void in allowing a lot of the more eclectic content to be accessible to people when they normally wouldn’t,” he says. “And a lot of times these films wouldn’t be as well known to the public if they did not get played at festivals and have all of the press and buzz that film festivals create.”
Among the more eclectic content at this year’s Festival, Carter’s first choice comes from his own love for dark and edgy films with the return of last year’s popular Extreme program.
“This year’s three films are edgy, but they’re edgy in a different way and I’m hoping audiences are as excited about these three as they were about the three last year,” says Carter.
This year’s Extreme program includes Bachurau from Brazil, Deerskin (Le Daim) from France, and the multi-national co-production Monos from Colombian director Alejandro Landes.
“It’s sort of Apocalypse Now meets Lord of the Flies,” says Carter of the film, which tells the story of child soldiers. “It is edgy, and jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at. It’s a very tense film, but I highly, highly recommend it for anybody who’s looking for something unique and unforgettable.”
Documentaries will also have a large continuing role in this year’s film festival, including several music documentaries. Among them are films about Gordon Lightfoot, INXS lead singer Michael Hutchene, a profile of Linda Ronstadt, and a documentary about the Blue Note jazz label.
“There is also a film about an alternative band called Swans who have been making music for 35 years and many people won’t know,” says Carter. “This guy in Toronto decided he wanted to make a documentary about them, and it’s just captivating to watch, and it’s a bit of a sonic experience.”
Beyond the music, Carter is also excited about Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out in America, a late addition to the festival’s programming from Canadian documentarian Brigitte Berman. It documents the Playboy magnate’s television shows, which were filmed in Hefner’s New York penthouse and ran in the fifties and sixties.
“It’s just amazing to see the people on Hefner’s show,” says Carter. “I mean in the fifties he was allowing these people to have a voice when frankly, these are the people who would probably have had to come in a different door into the penthouse because segregation was still very much a thing.”
Another festival staple, the foreign language film, has not been forgotten. Included this year are two that Carter considers the most important foreign language films made this year. He believes both will be competing at Oscar time.
The first is Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) from French director and screenwriter Céline Sciamma.
“To call it art in motion, would be probably an apt description,” says Carter. “It’s just an extraordinary film written and directed by a woman, starring two women. It’s just captivating.”
The second is this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Parasite (Gisaengchung) from South Korea’s Joon-ho Bong, the same director responsible for the 2014 critically acclaimed sci-fi epic Snowpiercer.
“I don’t think anybody was prepared for just how spectacular Parasite is,” says Carter who saw it receive a standing ovation at Cannes.
“It’s a social commentary, a black comedy, and a commentary about current living,” he continues. “And buried deep, there’s a very interesting commentary about North and South Korea.”
Beyond the genres at the festival, Carter is also impressed by the selection of films coming out of France this year. “I don’t know what’s going on in France, but they’re just knocking it out of the park these days,” he says.
Among them is Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God), François Ozon’s film about the Catholic abuse scandals.
“People have asked me how it compares to Spotlight and I respond by saying that while Spotlight was very much about the media blowing the cover off of this whole story, Grâce à Dieu is very much about the victims.”
A final highlight for Carter this year is the aptly titled Agnès Varda documentary, Varda by Agnès which will screen along with four other Varda films as part of this year’s Restored Program. Considered one of France’s most important filmmakers, it is a documentary film Varda made about her own life and career in art.
“She took the film to Berlin earlier this year for its premiere, and then passed away shortly after,” says Carter. “She was such a wonderful woman, respected by cinema all over the world and you really get that sense when you’re watching the movie. I can’t think of a more meaningful way to leave a legacy than to have allowed yourself to tell your own story.”
The 2019 Atlantic International Film runs September 12-19 with film screenings at the Cineplex Park Lane Theatre (5657 Spring Garden Rd, Halifax). Tickets are available online now at finfestival.ca or through the festival box office in the Park Lane Mall.