Still feeling the glow from the recent 90th Academy Awards celebration?

This is the time of year that Hollywood blockbusters dominate the silver and small screens. It is also a good time to turn our attention to independent filmmakers, as a reminder there are great, small stories that make up local film.

The Forest City Film Festival is preparing for its third annual festival in October. Submissions to enter the 2018 festival opened March 1 and on Thursday March 15, the festival will be screening winners from the 2017 festival at the Wolf Performance Hall, starting at 6:30 p.m.

For those who missed the festival, or simply want to see these great movies again, this week’s screenings are a must-see.

Strong start

The festival ran October 26-29, beginning with the sold out premiere of Clearing the Way, directed by Londoner Paul Culliton. Based on the book written by Mark Gasparatto – who was in attendance – Clearing the Way is the story of Canadian combat engineers in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan.

Author Mark Gasparatto and filmmaker Paul Culliton. Photo courtesy of FCFF.
Author Mark Gasparatto and filmmaker Paul Culliton. Photo courtesy of FCFF.

There were five Silver Cross families in the audience, who were called up on stage after the screening along with veterans who were in the film, making for an emotional night. Clearing the Way went on to win the Old Oak Audience’s Choice award for 2017.

The film has had successful screenings at other festivals, most recently the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.  It will be screened in London, at the Wolf again on May 24 as FCFF celebrates it’s Old Oak Audience Choice Winner!

Must-sea film

Moviegoers will also get a chance to see Sea of Life March 15. The film took home the award for Best Documentary Film at FCFF and continues to make an impact around the world at different film festivals.

Also screening on that night is the winner of the Best Short Documentary film, Babe I Hate to Go, by Andrew Moir, which tells a tale of a migrant worker who keeps a life-threatening secret from his family back home in Jamaica.

Opening night last year featured a special screening of the documentary, The Truth is In the Stars, directed and produced by Stratford’s Craig Thompson, and starring Canadian movie icon William Shatner.

The film discussed the impact that Star Trek has on science and popular culture. After the screening, the audience got a treat of watching a live Q&A with the director of the film, the director of Western’s Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Christopher Smeenk, and Dorothy Downs, festival executive director.

Dorothy Downs on stage at the FCFF. Photo courtesy of FCFF.
Dorothy Downs on stage at the FCFF. Photo courtesy of FCFF.

“For our opening nights, we always aim to screen excellent films that have already achieved great success and yet have connections to this region,” says Dorothy Downs. “And of course we strive to bring in a fascinating keynote speaker who will enhance the movie experience for everyone who attends that special evening.”

Scene and seen

Many industry professionals made an appearance at this festival. A notable appearance was from Sheila McCarthy, a well-known Canadian actress. She starred as the antagonist in the short film Martin’s Hagge, directed by Londoner Penny Eizenga. Sheila and Penny sat on the Start.ca couches after the screening for a Q&A session. Later that weekend, Martin’s Hagge won Best Short Film at the festival.

Award-winner Julia Barnes. Photo courtesy of FCFF.
Award-winner Julia Barnes. Photo courtesy of FCFF.

The festival’s mission is to celebrate and nurture the film industry in Southwestern by honoring the films and filmmakers from the region and the second annual festival was bigger and better than its inaugural year. The festival screened nearly double the number of films – 46 in total – offering feature, shorts, documentary and animation categories, and adding a family screening and Western Smartphone Film Festival winning entries to its lineup.

At the family screening, young moviegoers had the opportunity to meet the two main actors of Bruno and Boots films, Callan Potter (Boots) and Jonny Gray (Bruno). The children were awestruck as they received autographs from the stars.

The weekend was full of excitement filled with parties and socializing, like the Lerner’s Opening Night Gala and the LEDC Pitch Networking Party.

Industry insiders

It also held nine industry sessions — these are technical forums to help aspiring filmmakers — adding a pitch competition and a screenplay writing competition over its first year. These industry sessions, everything from bettering sound quality to getting funded, are geared to help emerging filmmakers learn and gain insight about the film industry from professionals.

The pitch competition was a way for filmmakers to gain expert advice on how to sell their films. The winner of the pitch competition went on to enter Reel Asian Film Festival and her film has since been produced. As for the screenwriting competition, sponsored by Western Arts and Humanities, the $500 winner was Lisa Hagen a Stratford native.

It will be exciting to see what films and excitement will be coming to this year’s festival, running October 25-28.  The films will be announced in the middle of August.

Meanwhile, head to the Wolf Performance Hall at the central library on Dundas this Thursday and take in the best the Forest City has to offer.

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