If there’s an unofficial last stop on the Canadian festival circuit, it’s the Kingston Canadian Film Festival. That’s an appropriate honour for Canada’s largest festival devoted exclusively to Canadian film. Most of the major players are present, including TIFF’s Best Canadian Feature winner To Kill a Tiger and Oscar bid Eternal Spring.
“We position ourselves as a snapshot of what’s happened in the year in Canadian film, rather than saying come to KCFF to see all these films first,” says festival director Marc Garniss. This year’s festival, for example, includes two of the Toronto Film Critics Association’s nominees for the Rogers Best Canadian Film award: Riceboy Sleeps opens this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival while fellow nominee Brother is an official selection. The festival is also the best place for one-stop shopping for cinephiles eager to check off many Canadian Screen Award nominees.
“Oftentimes, films that are released at TIFF may still be fresh for Kingston’s audiences that haven’t had access to them,” adds Garniss. A quick look at KCFF’s schedule shows sell-outs for festival circuit favourites like ROSIE, Ever Deadly, I Like Movies, Black Ice, Viking, The Colour of Ink, and Geographies of Solitude thanks to the buzz they’ve been building all season long.
Return to In-Theatre Festival
The robust list of sold-out signs also indicates a healthy appetite for Kingston audiences to return to the big screen. Garniss recalls the 2020 festival closing as soon as it began amid COVID safety concerns. “People were showing up. I think Atom Egoyan was on the 401 and we had people coming to Kingston,” says Garniss. “But SXSW had cancelled and other larger festivals had too, so it wasn’t crazy that we were doing that. In hindsight, it was totally the right thing to do.”
KCFF, like most festivals, did an online pivot for 2021 and then a hybrid event for 2022. “All things considered, 2021 was a successful festival. We were able to play a lot of our films internationally and showcase Canadian film to a different audience that wouldn’t otherwise necessarily travel to Kingston,” says Garniss. After the temporary fix, though, Garniss admits that going back to in-person, once it was safe to do so, was an easy choice. “We saw that trend internally, just by paying attention. I also work as a concert promoter in Kingston in live music and saw the audience sentiment shift for the better.” Feedback from the Kingston’s local independent theatre The Screening Room and from industry partners echoed the sentiment for a full theatrical return.
This year’s festival roughly matches the scale of the 2020 line-up. Garniss says the only notable difference is that they had built out the Thursday screenings, but have returned to an opening night kickoff with Anthony Shim’s Riceboy Sleeps with actor Ethan Hwang of Umbrella Academy fame in attendance, followed by three full days of movies and events.
On the documentary side, Garniss picks Tess Girard’s Shelter as a local highlight. “She’s from Prince Edward County, which is just around the corner from us,” notes Garniss. Shelter sees the director/cinematographer return home to Horning’s Mills, a small town roughly a half-hour drive from Orangeville with a population of 164 as of 2015.
“I remember back then, nobody was a filmmaker,” says Garniss who grew up not far from Girard. “It was a fairly culturally deprived area, but nobody was into film, so I’m fascinated that she grew up to be a filmmaker and has made a film about the area.” During Hot Docs, POV editor Marc Glassman praised the film, noting, “Girard has made a film of depth and emotion without embracing the idea that home is the right place for everyone.”
Another film that Garniss observes as a KCFF highlight is Queen’s grad Laura Rietveld’s Family of the Forest. The doc observes a family that establishes a home in the boreal forest near Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. “It’s a really great documentary about a family that’s living off the grid,” notes Garniss. “I like to draw some parallels between that film and our 2014 People’s Choice winner by Suzanne Crocker, All the Time in the World. Our audience just ate that up, so I think this one will do well for our audience.”
Ink and Industry
KCFF adds to its strong element of local programming by pairing the 1982 documentary All You Have to Do by Bronwen Wallace and Chris Wynott with Brian D. Johnson’s The Colour of Ink. Garniss says that KCFF always intended to play The Colour of Ink, but the retro screening came about organically thanks to festival board member Clarke Mackey, a professor emeritus from the Queen’s film department.
“This film was on Clarke’s radar for a number of years, and he pointed out the fact that Jason Logan, the subject in The Colour of Ink appears as a young child in All You Have to Do,” says Garniss. All You Have to Do is a portrait of Logan’s mother, Pat, after she receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. Ink, meanwhile, follows Jason around the world as he forages ingredients for artisanal ink and brings it to fellow artists. “Footage from All You Have to Do appears in The Colour of Ink, so it felt a perfect opportunity to play it this year,” adds Garniss.
On the industry side, KCFF shines a local spotlight on Mike Downie with an extended conversation moderated by CBC’s Elamin Abdelmahmoud. The festival will screen Downie’s short doc, A Century in the Making, about late Queen’s Gaels hockey legend Stu Crawford, and highlight Downie’s upcoming documentary about his brother, late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie. “Anything Downie-related in Kingston’—people eat that up, love it, and are very interested,” says Garniss. “Part of the event is an opportunity to have him talk about that film, which is very much on people’s radar.” The four-part docuseries debuts on Prime Video in 2024, which, in some ways, also makes KCFF the first stop on the festival tour for connecting Canadian films with audiences.
The Kingston Canadian Film Festival returns March 2-5, 2023.
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