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Atlantic Film Festival 2014 - Shorts and Documentaries

Chris Campbell

Nick Cave in the documentary 20,000 Days on Earth

Nick Cave in the documentary 20,000 Days on Earth

While the feature dramas make up the bulk of the attention received by the Atlantic Film Festival, there are dozens of shorts and documentaries that give opportunities to see unique and challenging work with an appreciative audience. With a focus firmly built around the region with the Atlantic Shorts programs as well as some standout Canadian and international shorts programs, it's a rare opportunity to see collections of short films in a theatre. With solid documentaries from within the region and around the world, it makes the task of determining what to see just a little bit more challenging.

One change this year is the broadcast-length documentaries are now in individual slots of about an hour or so instead of being part of a longer program, which makes it easier to customize what you are seeing. With the shorts programs as well, you can see dozens and dozens of films in a short period of time and balance out the features you'll be watching. Figuring out the right balance can be hard, and that's why the best deal and easiest way to enjoy as much as possible is to get one of the passes. But even if you don't have the time to see a lot, with careful planning you can get a lot of cinematic pleasure in a short period of time.

Friday

On Friday you can start early with Les Sceaux d'Utrecht, a documentary from Paul Bossé about the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which is an exploration of the treaty hosted by Algonquin / Métis rapper Samian. You can see the winner of the Best Canadian Feature Documentary at Hot Docs, Out of Mind, Out of Sight. Directed by John Kastner and it looks into the lives of four patients in the Brockville Mental Health Centre with filming over a year.

A film that I saw recently was The Boy Who Was Bullied, which is Greg Hemmings' short documentary about Hampton, New Brunswick's John Humphrey who was key player in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which the United Nations adopted in 1948. A second short documentary directed by Hemmings plays later and in Code Kids you can see how kids learn to write computer programming code in the Maritimes. Both films will let you find out more about the people in the region as well as giving you hope for the future.

If you're in the mood for personal portraits of individuals you can see Danic Champoux's documentary Self(less) Portraits which has 50 people boldly sharing a range of personal subjects with the camera celebrating the diversity of the lives that we live. Geoff D'Eon's short documentary Bounty: Into the Hurricane explores what happened in October 2012 when the tall ship Bounty) set sail into the path of Hurricane Sandy.

The final documentary on Friday night is Giuseppe Makes a Movie where you can find out more about a teen actor turned director who makes films quickly with non-actors. With over 30 films in his body of work, the documentary is a portrait of a minimalist filmmaker outsider that should be inspiring and entertaining.

The Atlantic Shorts play every day of the festival after the opening night film. If you want to see the talent from the region, it's the best way to get a concentrated look at those in front of and behind the camera and what they are capable of. The first of the Atlantic Shorts programs is on Friday at 4:30 with Atlantic Shorts 1 which has a diverse range of films from documentary to animation to drama to humour in all sorts of combinations.

Saturday

Saturday has Atlantic Shorts 2 with NSCC Screen Arts grad Luke Freeman's Lord of Chaos, Michael Melski's Miles From Nowhere, Jesse Anthony's Crates, and Righteous from Cory Bowles. Atlantic Shorts 3 then follows in the late afternoon slot and all three of the Saturday Atlantic Shorts also have screening times the next Monday which can help in squeezing them all in.

The French language compilation of shorts, Courts Métrages, which is part of the Cinéma en Français S.V.P. programming stream that runs through the festival, is screening at 4:15 on Saturday. Sure to contain some gems, this program has featured some of the best recent short films from Québec. The film La coupe (The Cut) written and directed by Geneviève Dulude-De Celles recently won the Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction at Sundance should be one of the highlights of this program (and it also is part of Shorts 1 on Monday).

Saturday

Saturday has a lot of great documentaries to choose from as well as an exhibition related to one of the films. Jennifer Hogg's short documentary State of Mine looks at the creation of portraits by Chris Geworsky of seven musicians. Later on Saturday and on Sunday you can view the State of Mine Exhibition related to the photographs at the NSCAD University Academy Building.

For international documentaries on Saturday there are The Overnighters from Jesse Moss which looks at a pastor in the North Dakota oil fields, Gabe Polksy's Red Army telling the story of the Soviet Red Army hockey team, and I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story from Dave Lamattina and Chad Walker about Sesame Street's popular giant character.

Locally there are interesting topics explored in three documentaries on Saturday. Santa Quest by P.J. Naworynski is about actor John Dunsworth in an international Santa Claus competition along with some philosophical insights. Patrick Callbeck's Rainbow Valley tells the story of the P.E.I. amusement park which closed after 36 years. Danny has Justin Simms and William D. MacGillivray telling the story of the former Premier of Newfoundland Danny Williams).

Sunday

Another big day with many documentaries focussing on people, the choices they make, and what they do with their lives are available on Sunday. Vocation, directed by Rhonda Buckley which looks at a group of artists who choose to work as artists and talk about what being an artist means to them. In keeping with the artistic theme, but in a much different direction, the Kickstarter-funded documentary Art and Craft from Sam Cullman and Jen Grausman is about the most prolific art forger in U.S. history. Jackie Torrens finds common ground between the UFO hunters of Shag Harbour, Halifax Steampunks, and some Kings County yodellers in her documentary Edge of East.

Later in the afternoon Douglas Kass and Roger Kass illuminate the struggle of migratory songbirds in Europe and the challenges that they face from poaching in Emptying the Skies. In Raising Windhorse Kent Martin looks at the intersection of spirituality and farming at the oldest working sustainable farm in Canada. With Sister Morphine, Brad Gover provocatively profiles some of the nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador who struggle with addiction in the difficult circumstances of their profession.

The documentary day wraps up with a pair of documentaries about artists and their work. First at 8pm is Ron Mann's latest, Altman, which looks at the great American director. In his other films, Mann skillfully weaves together archival footage to construct brilliant stories with insight into their subjects and this look at Robert Altman should be the definitive reflection on him. Finally the experimental documentary 20,000 Days on Earth from Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard weaves together music, writing, fact, and fiction in a collaboration with Nick Cave which should be a delicious combination.

There are three shorts programs on Sunday, all Atlantic and all interesting looking with Atlantic Shorts 4 consisting a short documentaries about artists and artistic practice and how it helps people in the world. I've seen John Pollack's short Art, Medium Roasted, which is a tasty treat for those interested in art and coffee. The gala for the day is the CBC Atlantic Shorts Gala with producer Lora Campbell and writer / director Lisa Rose Snow's When Fish Fly having a world premiere at the gala. Their earlier collaboration, Two Penny Road Kill is a beautiful film and their latest film should be great as well. The final Atlantic Shorts program for the day, Atlantic Shorts 5, has a lot of humour and animation including Ruby Boutilier's Ken trilogy (featuring the misadventures of Barbie's love interest), as well as ubiquitous actor (appearing in 5 films in the festival this year) Glen Matthews writing and directing the wrestling picture Saving Face.

Monday

The first three of the Atlantic Shorts programs have encore screenings during the day on Monday. Then things get more experimental with Atlantic Shorts 6 with a range of visual and sonically cinematic explorations including Chris Spencer-Lowe's Transfer and Graeme Patterson's beautiful and intricate stop-motion animated Secret Citadel. Something a bit different from the Atlantic shorts could be Shorts 1 with some of the best short films from Canada and around the world. The final shorts program of the day is the new program, NextGen Atlantic Shorts with emerging filmmakers from the region featured. Screen Arts grad David Mullins debuts his FILM 5 short Hero D, and Screen Arts grad (and my daughter) Caitlin Campbell premieres her short musical documentary Leaving, which is about Cud Eastbound. The NextGen program also has Kirk Pennell's virtuoso 11-minute, one-take short POV which is amazing.

The documentary Advanced Style from Lina Plioplyte, grew out of the blog of the same name and takes a stylish look at 7 New York women ranging in age from 62 to 95 who show how to define beauty in a world obsessed with youth. Director Bashar Shbib looks for one of the first Canadian feature films and the Longfellow poem that spawned it in The Search for Evangeline in a journey that ranges across North America.

Tuesday

Things slow down a bit the next day, but you can start early on Tuesday with youth oriented screenings with the Viewfinders Shorts at 10am and an encore screening of I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story at 10:30am. There is also an encore screening of Atlantic Shorts 4 at 4:30pm. At 6:45 you can see Shorts 2 with more of the best short films from around the world and Canada.

There are a couple of documentaries in the evening on Tuesday exploring history, politics, and identity. You can explore the teen movie genre in Charlie Lyne's Beyond Clueless which looks at over 200 teen movies in the post John Hughes era. The Swiss documentary The Circle won the Best Documentary award this year in Berlin and it tells the story of the gay male organization and the 50 year relationship of a Swiss couple through interviews and recreations.

Wednesday

A pair of documentaries on Wednesday both promise to be compelling and interesting for different reasons. First up is The Green Prince, a documentary by Nadav Schirman constructed like a thriller about the son of the founder of Hamas who became a spy for Israel. Sturla Gunnarson's Monsoon goes into the heart of the massive Indian weather system that annually covers the country. For Wednesday shorts you can catch the encore screening of Atlantic Shorts 5 followed by Shorts 3 with international and Canadian shorts exploring life and death.

Thursday

The final day of the festival has one documentary in the morning and encore shorts screenings throughout the day. Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity is a documentary by Catherine Gund that paints a fascinating portrait of extreme choreographer Elizabeth Streb and the amazing and physically demanding performances that redefine dance and risk. The NextGen Atlantic Shorts have an encore screening at 4:45, the CBC Atlantic Shorts Gala screens again at 8pm, and Atlantic Shorts 6 has another screening at 10pm.

You can see the results of the intense 10x10 music video and director collaboration (and find out who wins) at the 10x10 Music Video Screening at 7:30pm. Over the course of five days, bands and filmmakers met and in that short period of time they will have made 10 music videos that will all screen at this event. The RBC Foundation's Emerging Artist Award of $10,000 goes to the winning video and is divided between the filmmaker and the musicians.

The key to a good festival is balance and mixing drama, documentaries, and shorts is a great way to get a diverse experience and have a lot of fun at the Atlantic Film Festival. Good luck planning out what to see!

Anticipating Atlantic Films

Chris Campbell

Still from Andrea Dorfman's film Heartbeat

Still from Andrea Dorfman's film Heartbeat

A couple of days ago the Atlantic Film Festival made their first round of announcements and unveiled the Atlantic Program. These films are the heart of the festival and it is the best place to see what the filmmakers of the region have been making. This year it seems to be another bumper crop of shorts and features, drama and documentary, all worth seeing and sure to be thought-provoking and entertaining.

I'm lucky to teach filmmaking at NSCC in the Screen Arts Program, so many of the grads and current students have worked on the films. It's always great to hear about their adventures working on films and even better to see the results of their hard work. I've also been part of the film community in the region for a few decades now, so it is great to see friends and colleagues continue to tell stories in their own way year after year.

There are some new Atlantic Programs this year and more than a dozen feature-length films too. The usual Atlantic Shorts are filled with a mix of humour, drama, and documentary. One of the new programs that I am anticipating is the Nextgen Shorts which is highlighting emerging talent in the region. In that program there are two Screen Arts alumni, Dave Mullins with his FILM 5 short Hero D, and Caitlin Campbell (who just graduated and is also my daughter) documentary about Cud Eastbound, Leaving.

In the 10x10 Music Video Mentorship Program Dave Mullins will also be making a music video along with music videos directed by Paul Benjamin and Steven Gill who just graduated from Screen Arts. The 10x10 program is exciting as the directors are teamed up with bands and over 5 days they make a music video which is then screened. There is an audience and jury vote with the winning team split the RBC Emerging Artist Award along with a $10,000 cash prize.

Screen Arts grad Luke Freeman's film Lord of Chaos is screening in the Atlantic Shorts 2 program. It's in great company along with Michael Melski's documentary short Miles From Nowhere and Cory Bowles' Righteous who are two established filmmakers whose work I always enjoy. In the Atlantic Shorts 5 program you can see Ruby Boutilier's funny and unique Ken trilogy interspersed with the other shorts as well as Glen Matthews directing and writing the wrestling picture Saving Face.

The CBC Atlantic Shorts Gala highlights the best of region short film and for me I can't wait to see Lisa Rose Snow's When Fish Fly. Her previous film, part of FILM 5, Two Penny Road Kill is one of my favourite shorts and her latest should be similarly great.

The most exciting announcement and film that I've been eagerly awaiting is writer / director Andrea Dorfman's Heartbeat. Her third feature film and another collaboration with Tanya Davis, it's sure to be warm, heartfelt, and visually stunning. The team and cast look like an amazing collection of Halifax-based artists with superb cinematographer Stéphanie Weber Biron being the sole import. Andrea exemplifies what it means to be a collaborative artist here and it will be a wonderful experience to see the world premiere of her latest feature at the Atlantic Film Festival.

Sappyfest 9 - Day 3

Chris Campbell

Basia Bulat

Sappyfest is a lot of fun and it is possibly annual. At the very first festival the attitude was established. It was called the Sappy Records Music Festival and we were welcomed to "the first and possibly annual" festival. There is something nice about knowing that nothing is guaranteed and that you should value every moment as who knows if it will happen again. The first Sappy was casual and fun with a tiny tent beside Struts Gallery and there was some rain. The crowds weren't massive, but it was fun. We were all figuring it out and knew that this wasn't going to be like other music festivals. It was Sappyfest and if there was only one that would be have been cool. But it wasn't the only one and with the ninth one over, it feels good to have been there every year.

My connection with Sappyfest started with Paul Henderson. He was the director of Faucet, the media division of the arts behemoth that is Struts Gallery. Paul got me to teach a few workshops on things like stop motion animation and Final Cut Pro. The workshops always had great people in them and were fun and once Tara K Wells and Shotgun Jimmie were even in a workshop. Sackville is a small and magical town. When I first bought my pass to Sappyfest there was a little note from Paul in the mail that made me realize that he was the some person who brought me to the workshop.

Egg and Cheese Bagel from The Black Duck

Now it's years later and Sappyfest is still here, under new management, but the vibe is the same. It's small and personal and honest and fun. As the final day of Sappy rolls around everyone is into the groove. We're taking our time, smiling at each other as we pass on the street and everyone knows why you are there. The town fills up and there is music and laughter everywhere. Now there is an invisible social media layer all over the festival with photos and tweets and updates flying around connecting us all.

On this lovely Sunday morning in Sackville the great coffee and food of the Black Duck beckoned to me and breakfast was their delicious egg and cheese bagel. Following the food it was time for a peaceful walk around the Sackville Waterfowl Park. So nice to get out into nature and walk around before starting a day filled with film and music.

Sackville Waterfowl Park

The Sappyfest events for me began in the Vogue Theatre watching the deeply odd and fascinating film Asphalt Watches. A based-on-a-true-story about hitchhiking across Canada, this isn't the typical movie of the week. Asphalt Watches is a unique animated film from Shayne Ehman & Seth Scriver that surreally documents a road trip that they took. Done in a bright, primitive animation style and with a catchy, experimental soundtrack, it is strangely compelling. Musical and fun it was a good, strange way to start the day while sipping coffee in the dark.

The great thing about the afternoon shows in the tent on Bridge Street is that there are chairs. The tent usually will fill up, but there is enough space to sit in a chair or on the ground to listen to the music. That is important after standing for hours the previous two days. It's good to be able to rest and enjoy music. One of the many neat things about Sappyfest is how small and flat the structure is. The musicians appear on the stage before their sets and get their gear ready as we watch in the crowd. After the show and the applause they quietly return to the stage to unplug their gear so the next band can get ready. Many of the other performers are usually in the audience watching and they slip backstage near the end of the previous set to get ready for their set.

Rae Spoon

Wandering out of the Vogue after the film, Banded Stilts were playing in the tent. The seats were full and after being in the theatre for a couple of hours it was good to stand for a little while. After they finished some seats opened up and there were some great seats to relax in as Rae Spoon set up their gear. I've heard Rae Spoon's music, but hadn't actually seen the film about them yet, but having listened to one of the albums, I knew that there was a good chance I would be in for a treat. Taking the stage alone it was fun and neat to see a set filled with humour and small-personal songs that ranged from dance to grunge. The crowd loved it and I did as well.

Fredericton's The Olympic Symphonium wrapped up the afternoon with a great collection of songs and constantly reconfigured themselves switching instruments and vocals. I had not seen them perform before and they were a nice, gentle ambient folk band that provided a fitting end to the afternoon show and hints of what was to come in the evening.

The pace seemed to be just about right for this final day and after a beer and light supper at Ducky's there was time to get the blog post about day 2 done and rest a bit before heading back down to the tent for the evening show. The evening was packed and it started gently with Michael Feuerstack singing his own songs as well as some Snailhouse songs. Accompanied by some of the members of Olympic Symphonium, it made me realize how much of Sappyfest is interconnected with all sorts of collaborations happening between the talented artists who make the festival what it is. Gently-crafted, honest, and personal, they are lovely and it was interspersed with some humour as well. A great Sappy way to get the evening started.

A sweetly-smiling Basia Bulat took the stage and our hearts as she started to play. There was an amazing energy as she played her songs and switched instruments. Such a lovely voice and beautiful songs. We sang along sometimes and stood, transfixed as she sang and played. It was magic. She finished and was drawn back by the applause and chanting of the audience for one more song.

The power-duo of Shotgun & Jaybird reunited for the penultimate set in the tent. Fred Squire and Shotgun Jimmie alternated playing guitar and drums and pleased the packed tent. So nice to see them play together again in another reminder of Sappyfests past and of the bright future the artists who are part of the whole experience. They set up things for the Constantines who were reunited and powerful and friendly and rocked the tent. All the pent-up energy and anxiety from the previous 8 Sappyfests and the possibility of there not being another combined in moments of rock and roll perfection. Sappyfest never went anywhere and we'll always have that feeling in our hearts. Thanks to everyone for continuing to make it so special.

Constantines

Sappy forever.

Sappyfest 9 - Day 2

Chris Campbell

Shotgun Jimmie performs in Thunder & Lightning

It's the final day of Sappyfest as I write this and it's been a lot of fun. Overall it feels a little bit smaller, but all of the elements are there. Some things that are strange, some things that are sweet, and always things that are honest and true. Sappyfest is a collection of people who love what they do and love other people.

Yesterday, Saturday, was a packed day in the Sappyfest way which starts around noon. Bridge Street starts filling up as the sun wakes people up (or reminds those who haven't slept that it is time to get some coffee or food). This year I brought a little French press and pre-ground coffee so I'd be able to have coffee close to the time I woke up in the residence. On Saturday I took advantage of that. Breakfast was a takeout wrap from The Cackling Goose and it was very tasty.

Transient

Feeling a bit tired, I later got a macchiato from The Black Duck who make some very amazing coffee. Then the first show of the day was in Paul and Jon's lovely little pub Thunder & Lightning which is on Bridge Street, right beside the Sappyfest tent. This was the first time I was in there and we squeezed in and saw a great set from Shotgun Jimmie as I sipped some Picaroons beer. It was warm and intimate and fun and I am so lucky to have been one of the people who was able to get in and see one of the treasures of Sappyfest bring it on home.

After Jimmie in Thunder & Lightning it was nice to get outside and wander around a bit before going in to the tent to see JOYFULTALK and their great, synthesizer-based rhythmic music with hypnotic beats and mysterious samples. It was nice to sit down and let the music wash over me. Feeling hungry, it was time to visit Sackville institution Mel's Tea Room for a veggie burger and fries before an afternoon of more music.

The Vogue Theatre is a solid venue for music and it started with Nick Ferrio & His Feelings playing. It was a gentle and funny set and in addition to his feelings, he had some help from Steve Lambke, Julie Doiron, and Misha Bower. The second act in the theatre was EONS which is made up of Matt Cully and Misha Bower with Matt writing the songs (he was co-creator and songwriter of Bruce Penninsula, so I had a suspicion that I'd like the music and I did). Then it was time to get out and get some air and food and beer.

Ducky's Bar has an amazing selection of craft beer on tap. With food from Pickles (and good vegetarian options too) and lots of local beer that I hadn't tried, it was a good place to eat and have a drink. Who knew that there were craft brewers in Riverview, NB as well as Nackawic? I really loved the Hopicide IPA from Celtic Knot Brewing in Riverview and want to have some more. The beer on tap of Ducky's is diverse and the staff is knowledgeable, so it's a great place to discover some great regional beer.

Will Kidman and Julie Doiron

It was into the tent again for the final sets of the night and Julie Doiron (with Will Kidman) played an amazing set that went from big and high-energy to small and quiet. She had the tent captivated and singing along and had her wonderful banter and self-deprecating style. A great performer and wonderful person, her honesty comes through in her songs and her voice. It was another perfect Sappyfest moment to see her on the stage again.

The final set of the night was an energetic one from Cousins with the duo rocking the tent and ending a great day of music. Near the end of the their set it was time to slip over to Thunder & Lightning again to bring the day full circle and have one last beer before sleep. It was perfect to see Jon and Paul and then relax and reflect on a day filled with swamp magic as the next iteration of Sappyfest grows and fills the town with music and love.

Sappyfest 9

Chris Campbell

I suppose I am a bit of a completist. If there is something that is enjoyable and I like it, there is a tendency to want to get all of it. That's kind of what has happened with Sappyfest. Starting in 2006 on the August long weekend in Sackville, NB, it was a nice, small festival that was filled with interesting people and great new music. In the first year I discovered some great music and met some neat people.

Back in the old days it was even before Twitter, but in year 2 I was on Twitter and started tweeting a little bit. For some reason I didn't blog here, but on the now defunct Vox.com service, but I was able to find some of the posts, and should try to retroactively post them, but here is the first post that I made about the first Sappyfest.

I'm in Sackville, New Brunswick at the Sappy Records festival. Things started with a great small set by Julie Doiron with some of her songs from her 'broken girl' albums. Then Al Tuck played a set. While I was buying a cd and t.shirt Julie said, 'buy that one too, it won a Juno.' Of course I bought it. It's a tiny bit wet outside, but lots of fun is only beginning.

August 4, 2006

Now it's 8 years later and I'm still here, still enjoying myself and bought another t-shirt. Now Paul and Jon have stepped back from organizing the festival to open a bar. Julie is still going to be performing and it still feels like a lovely collections of friends sharing a weekend together. Looking forward to more great performances and new discoveries at the little festival that provides a weekend of music and happiness every year.