This year marks the exciting return of the gala program to the Oxford Theatre for the Atlantic Film Festival. While a bit less convenient than having everything happening at Park Lane, it gives screenings an extra bit of excitement and glamour with the classic theatre as one of my favourite places to see a film. If you're going to the gala screening and the parties afterwards, it makes a lot more sense to have the event in a different theatre and it makes it all just a bit more special.
The opening night gala is the only gala event that doesn't happen at the Oxford with the screening of Maudie happening at the even more glamorous Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. It screens on Thursday, September 15 when the Atlantic Film Festival begins and it's the only day with one film, so the only decision you need to make is whether to go or not. Directed by Irish director Aisling Walsh with a screenplay by Newfoundland's Sherry White, it promises to be a beautiful biography of one of the most acclaimed Canadian folk artists. Set in Nova Scotia, but shot in Newfoundland with Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis and part-time Nova Scotia resident Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett, it's the perfect film to kick off the 36th edition of the festival with the opening night party after the film at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia surrounded by Maud Lewis' art.
The Atlantic theme continues with the first of the gala screenings at the Oxford on Friday, September 16 being Bruce McDonald's Weirdos, a Nova Scotia road movie set in the 1970s. Written by Daniel MacIvor, the nostalgic film follows the coming of age of Kit and Alice as they hitchhike to Cape Breton in July 1976. Shot in black and white by Becky Parsons and with a proudly Nova Scotia crew, it should have something for everyone. The gala party is in the Compass Room at Casino Nova Scotia with a "disco inferno" theme which should be fun and colourful. There is an encore, non-gala screening of the film that is also happening on Saturday night at 6:30 pm at Park Lane.
The Saturday night gala is Andrea Arnold's latest film, American Honey. With themes similar to her amazing Fish Tank, but set in the US, the film won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year. With her naturalistic shooting style and a mixture of experienced and new, young actors it should a great looking and thematically challenging. Her earlier films, Red Road and Fish Tank used her understated approach for character studies of complex women. Her remarkable adaptation of Wuthering Heights stripped out plot details to focus on the emotional side of the characters. With her bold and uncompromising direction combined with a road trip across the American midwest as a backdrop, the film promises a new chapter in her fascinating career. It also features a soundtrack that is getting rave reviews which will pair nicely with the Festival Music House Atlantic which happens later on Saturday night for festival pass holders and Strategic Partners participants only.
The CBC presents the Sunday Night Gala which is the showcase of Reel East Coast Shorts, a collection of the best short films from the region in the past year. There are nine short films in the program that range from documentary, to animation, drama, and comedy. With introductions from the filmmakers and in the packed Oxford Theatre, it's a wonderful night to see the breadth and depth of the filmmaking talent in the Atlantic provinces on the big screen. There is also a non-gala encore screening on the final day of the festival on Thursday, September 22nd.
On Monday, September 19 the gala at the Oxford is the NFB documentary Theatre of Life, an inspiring film from director Peter Svatek about a soup kitchen in Milan that grew out of Expo Milan 2015. Chef Massimo Bottura challenged other chefs to transform the food that would be discarded into meals for those in need in Milan. It's a film that should inspire with the stories told and the lives that changed in a deeply human way.
Tuesday, September 20 has the latest film from Québecois cineaste Xavier Dolan with It's Only The End of the World (Juste La Fin du Monde) featuring an all-star French cast in an adaptation of a play. Starring Nathalie Baye (who was also in Dolan's Laurence Anyways) as well as Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, and Marion Cotillard as members of a dysfunctional family. The film sharply divided critics at Cannes (as most of Dolan's films have). It should be intense and it ultimately won both the Grand Prix and Ecumenical Jury prizes at Cannes.
The Wednesday night gala is Michael Melski's documentary Perfume War which tells the stories of Captain Trevor Greene and Barb Stegman who work together after Greene faces horrific violence while serving in Afghanistan and works to recover from his injuries. The tickets for the gala have already sold out (but pass holders can still attend) and there is an encore, non-gala screening taking place on Thursday, September 22nd.
The closing film of the 2016 Atlantic Film Festival is Kenneth Lonergan's drama Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. Set north of Boston, the working-class New England drama is Lonergan's first film since his critically-acclaimed and haunting Margaret, released in 2011. A story of loss, isolation, and transformation, it is a powerful film that is receiving great reviews for the cast and story that it tells. The closing night party happens later at Pacifico as it all wraps up for another year.
This year has another great lineup of galas to choose from along with all of the other films. This year the festival has several pass options including one that will allow you to see all of the Oxford galas if you don't want to immerse yourself fully with the full pass. These high profile films form the glamourous stream of the festival for those who love red carpet events along with their cinematic excellence.