Festival Diary: the 15th Kingston Canadian Film Festival

March 9, 2015

by Thom Ernst


On March 1st, as the Canadian Screen Awards handed out trophies at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, the 15th annual Kingston Canadian Film Festival simultaneously wrapped up its four-day run with a free screening of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, which would end up receiving nine statues at the CSAs.  But this particular case of serendipity went largely unnoticed by the Kingston festival crowd, because while Dolan was dominating the podium at the CSAs, the KCFF was busy handing out accolades at their own inaugural awards show.

The vibe in Kingston is different, which is a good thing. The KCFF’s first official awards ceremony is informal enough to be more celebratory than ceremonial – for one, it’s set at a popular Kingston pub, where filmmakers and festival supporters gatherlike spirited wedding-crashers itching for the band to start. Festival organizers use a slightly raised seating area as their make-shift stage – more of a soap-box, really – to announce the year’s winners in the festival’s top three categories: People’s Choice Award, Youth Short Program, and The Steam Whistle Home Brew Award (Best Short Film).

But before any awards are announced, Marc Garniss, the general manager and director of the Kingston Canadian Film Festival takes a moment to do a quick survey of the room, as if the past four days can be summed up in the faces of those standing around him.  By Garniss’ estimations, this season will likely surpass last year’s numbers – a year the festival saw a 20% increase in attendance.

In fact, it was a 21% increase in this year’s attendance over 2014, which is a 41% climb in two years. Those are encouraging numbers not only for a self-proclaimed small film festival, but also for anyone with an interest in Canadian cinema, because the KCFF is distinguished by its commitment to being exclusively Canadian – the festival promotes itself as “the globe’s largest stand-alone showcase of Canadian film.” Still, it’s a market shared with other film festivals – namely TIFF.

But this is not a David versus Goliath situation.  The KCFF maintains a close relationship with Film Circuit (TIFF) who help to organize special guests, print traffic, and with booking some titles. “Obviously, TIFF and KCFF are very different,” says Garniss.   “I’m not sure who provides the bigger spotlight (on Canadian film) – usually when using the word “bigger”, TIFF is going to win!  However, I do think some of the Canadian titles are overshadowed at TIFF.”

The task then is for festival programmers, led by film critic and TFCA member Jason Anderson, to secure smaller films that deserve to be discovered, as well as the more popular titles that have not yet been saturated by screenings at other festivals. But there are enough cinephiles and movie lovers in and around the Kingston area who don’t make the trip to TIFF, or to Montreal for Festival du Nouveau Cinema, so that more popular titles like Maxime Giroux’s Fèlix and Meira, Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy can still pack houses.

A few of this year’s festival highlights include  Luck’s Hard, a documentary chronicling former Lowest of the Low frontman Ron Hawkins’ efforts to release a double CD recording with his new band, The Do Good Assassins.  Director Sean Garrity returned to the festival with his latest film, After the Ball, ­a Cinderella-like story without the prince.  And there was strong support for local favourites,  Leigh Ann Bellamy who debuted her first feature, Fault, a Tennessee Williams-influenced tale of family secrets and dark histories, and Brent Nurse (along with Steven Spencer) who premiered his post-apocalyptic thriller, The Stronghold.

A still from KCFF winner "All the Time in the World."
A still from KCFF winner “All the Time in the World.”

As for the results of inaugural awards ceremony – this is how things turned out:  the People’s Choice Award went to director Suzanne Crocker for her documentary All The Time in the World, Noah Lalonde’s Countdown won the Youth Short Program, and Adam Kirky took The Steam Whistle Home Brew Award (Best Short Film) for his science-fiction comedy, Sir John A. and the Curse of the Anti-Quenched.  Each category comes with a $500 cash prize, but the Steam Whistle Home Brew Award is a little more fun: in addition to an extra $2,000 in production equipment, the beer company also throws in a year’s supply of (yep) Steam Whistle beer.