The Atlantic Film Festival is 35 this year and with the unveiling of the full lineup there is a great range of films from the region and around the world to see. At the core of the festival are the Atlantic films, with feature length dramas and documentaries, as well as many great short films. The best of the region is combined with the best of the world to give you a condensed experience of seeing a lot of films in a short period of time. With over 200 films screening it can be a challenge to figure out what to see.

The highest-profile parts of the Atlantic Film Festival are the galas and events and if you want the full festival experience you should go to at least one. The festival runs from September 17 to the 24 and tickets for the more popular screenings can sell out, so making choices early can be a good thing and if you want to experience a lot more, a pass is a great way to see a lot of films and to be able to go to the events and be able to hang out in the Reel East Coast Festival Lounge at the Lord Nelson Hotel. Most days have a featured gala so lets go through the festival day by day to see what the gala choices are this year.

Thursday, September 17

The easiest day for decisions is the first day since there is only one film screening and everything starts up with the highly-anticipated Canadian war drama Hyena Road from writer / director / actor Paul Gross . Set in Afghanistan with Canadian soldiers facing moral dilemmas, it looks tense, dramatic, and timely. Paul Gross and Alan Hawco will be in attendance for the screening which is at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

After the screening the opening night party is in the Lord Nelson Hotel (where the Reel East Coast Festival Lounge happens during the rest of the festival). The opening night party is always a great time and a good chance to find out from other festival fans what they are going to see.

Friday, September 18

The Atlantic Gala this year is the first feature film from Stephen Dunn and it’s a Newfoundland coming-of-age story Closet Monster. The cast is fantastic with Connor Jessup (who was in the great AFF-screened film, Blackbird , a few years ago), Aaron Abrams , Joanne Kelly , Newfoundland treasure Mary Walsh , and the always intriguing Isabella Rossellini . It’s a story about identity, creativity, and growing up from one of the emerging talents in the region. After the film is the Atlantic Gala Party at the Argyle Bar and Grill which is a fun venue to connect with people as the festival gets up to speed.

Saturday, September 19

On Saturday we get to see Patricia Rozema s latest film in the Spotlight Gala with Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood starring as sisters surviving in a post-technological world in Into the Forest. Based on the novel of the same name by Jean Hegland, it has an intriguing premise and it follows the sisters as they learn to survive in an isolated forest after the collapse of society.

Rozema has done some great adaptations with writing and directing Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park , a film version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, and co-writing the script of the dramatized version of the Maysles Brothers’ documentary Grey Gardens. Rozema is always interesting and seeing Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood in a film built around them is a good thing.

Saturday also has a special celebration of the 40th Anniversary of NIFCO, the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative with the NIFCO 40th Anniversary Screening. If you haven’t seen some of the older and amazing shorts from NIFCO, this is your chance to get caught up on the best of Newfoundland filmmakers.

Rounding out the evening is the Festival Music House Atlantic at the Marquee that is for those with full festival passes or Strategic Partners delegates. The bands this year are the psychedelic The Brood, Rose Cousins, Buck 65, and the legendary Sloan. It should be a great night of music at the Marquee that people will be talking about the next day.

Sunday, September 20

On Sunday afternoon at the Lord Nelson is the celebration of Atlantic talent with the 35th Atlantic Film Festival Awards Reception. Happening early in the festival gives you more of a chance to see some of the award-winning films and filmmakers that will be playing later that day and throughout the week. It’s great to celebrate the talent of Atlantic filmmakers in the middle of a festival sharing their work.

The heart of the Atlantic Program is the Reel East Coast Showcase Gala happening Sunday night. The films go from animation, to dramas, to documentary, to comedies, to thriller. With a packed house of filmmakers and cast members, the Atlantic screenings are always fun with many opportunities to network with the people who have made the films. The Showcase Gala is a chance to celebrate great short work from the region.

Tuesday, September 22

The gala on Tuesday is part of the Cinéma en Français s.v.p. program and has Philippe Falardeau s comedic Québecois My Internship In Canada (Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre). An independent Quebec MP ends up holding the balance of power in a parliamentary vote on whether Canada goes to war and consults with his constituents accompanied by his wife, daughter, and an idealistic intern from Haiti. Starring Patrick Huard and Suzanne Clément (who was remarkable in previous AFF films Mommy , Laurence Anyways , and I Killed My Mother ) it promises to a satirical film that is fun and thought-provoking. It’s also screening on Wednesday morning as part of the ViewFinders stream of the festival too.

Wednesday, September 23

The international Cinéma en Français s.v.p. Gala is Jacques Audiards highly-anticipated Dheepan won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. His previous film Rust and Bone was one of the highlights of the festival in 2012. The film is about a Tamil warrior who flees Sri Lanka and works as a caretaker outside of Paris as he tries to make a home in the face of violence around him. It’s the type of story that Audiard excels at in powerful and visceral ways, and this should be no exception.

The party at the end of Wednesday evening is a celebration of AFCOOPs FILM 5 program which is now 20. Earlier in the evening there is a retrospective screening of FILM 5 shorts and the party happens at AFCOOP which will be populated with many member of the vital community nurtured by the co-op.

Thursday, September 24

On the final day of the festival things wrap up with Deepa Mehta s crime drama Beeba Boys. Writer/director Mehta will be present to introduce the film which looks intense, colourful, and filled with music and drama. Set in Vancouver’s Indo Canadian community, Beeba Boys is about a gang war, family, and a cultural clash. Later on Thursday if you don’t feel like going right to the closing night party you also have a chance to catch up on the Reel East Coast Showcase Gala if you weren’t able to make it to the Sunday screening.

The final even of the festival the closing night party, which is at Pacifico this year, so there probably will be a lot of dancing happening along with the many conversations about the films seen during the week.

This overview scratches the surface of the festival and over the coming days I’ll highlight some of the other dramas and documentaries that you can see during this 35th edition of the festival.

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