The 2022 Kingston Canadian Film Festival starts today! The festivities begin with the opening night in-theatre screening of Michael McGowan’s All My Puny Sorrows, based on the beloved book by Miriam Toews. KCFF runs through March 13 with a mix of online and in-person screenings. The hybrid events lets audiences take in some of the docs that they couldn’t see on the big screen at other festivals, or new chances to catch digital runs of some of the year’s most acclaimed Canadian films.
This year’s KCFF slate is a who’s who of Canadian Screen Award nominees, while audiences can catch two of the three films nominated for the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, Night Raiders and Scarborough. (The other nominee, Beans, screened at the fest last year.) Similarly, KCFF closes with a screening of Wildhood, whose director, Bretten Hannam, is the recipient of this year’s Stella Artois Prize for Emerging Artist from the Toronto critics. It’s one of my personal favourite Canadian films on the circuit right now.
The doc front at KCFF offers a quartet of social filmmaking. One can easily take in the full non-fiction slate at the festival this year, so we’ve offered a quick rundown of the doc highlights at this year’s festival. Plus – find out how to win tickets!
For the Socially Conscious
Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy
Screens digitally from Friday, March 4 at 2:00 pm to March 13 at 11:59 pm
This doc by Ella-Máijá Tailfeathers is a powerful portrait of the Kainai First Nations’ response to the opioid crisis as Tailfeathers returns home to her community and observes as her mother, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, among the community elders leading a humanist approach to the epidemic. Nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards including the Ted Rogers Feature-Length Documentary Award, Kímmapiiyipitssini provides an alternative to the hard-hitting, often clichéd portraits of addiction. Instead, it offers a community-centric portrait guided by empathy and respect, ultimately advocating for harm reduction and holistic approaches to a growing crisis. “It became very apparent that there isn’t one singular voice within my community in terms of experience, understanding or perspectives towards addictions and harm reduction in general,” said Tailfeathers on her approach in an interview with POV. “I came to understand that there needed to be a really rich diversity of voices from within the community. I think that’s something that we often don’t see in documentaries is a wide breadth of voices.” Win tickets to see Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy at KCFF!
For the Film-loving Feminist
The Secret Society
Screens digitally from Saturday, March 5 at 12:30 pm to March 13 at 11:59 pm
Director Rebecca Campbell draws upon her experience donating her eggs to a friend in this documentary that zooms out to consider reproductive rights, fertility clinics, and the stories of egg donation on both sides of the exchange. “I didn’t realize what a complex world I was entering: a world of secrecy, criminalization, and ethical concern. And I learned just how hard it is to physically give your eggs,” writes Campbell in her director’s statement. “With a packed waiting room at the fertility clinic at every appointment, I also discovered that more people than I had realized were going through this. Each of these women had a story – with my experience as an egg donor and my access into this world, I had to be the one to tell it.” Win tickets to see The Secret Society at KCFF!
For the Environmentally-friendly
Wochiigii Lo: End of the Peace
Screens digitally from Friday, March 4 at 12:30 pm to March 13 at 11:59 pm
Heather Hatch’s Wochiigii Lo: End of the Peace unpacks the economically impractical and environmentally disastrous construction of the Site C dam along British Columbia’s Peace River. The Haida director draws upon various perspectives from First Nations members to convey the history contained in the land that will be ruined by the dam’s completion. The visually compelling film draws notable power from the landscape to underscore the beauty and heritage contained within the neighbouring valleys on which many of the interviewees’ ancestors walked—and upon which their children never will when the damage is done. “Hatch’s documentary is compelling and tells an important, and infuriating story of corporations and the government causing environmental destruction under the guise of bettering the economy, when it’s actually about political grandstanding,” wrote Kelly Boutsalis while reviewing the film during TIFF. “It also adds to the evidence of how First Nations people continue to be the stewards of the land, and how sometimes that brings them through the legal system, or to a protest site.”
For the Animal Lover
Last of the Right Whales
Screens digitally from Friday, March 4 at 3:30 pm to March 13 at 11:59 pm
A fine companion to Wochiigii Lo is Last of the Right Whales. This doc directed by Nadine Pequeneza tracks the stories of several surviving right whales and the valiant researchers, photographers, volunteers, and animal lovers who fight to save them. The film is an emotionally and intellectually compelling study of these animals, which are endangered as a direct result of human activity. However, the film finds hope in this man-made threat: if humans are behind the right whales’ endangerment, saving them may be possible if we correct our behaviour before it’s too late. The film is especially striking for its aerial cinematography that captures the whales in motion up close, including some heartbreaking images of entanglement. “It’s a film about a critically endangered animal, but it’s really about how we treat nature and how we see, or don’t see, ourselves as part of the ecosystem,” said Pequeneza in an interview with POV. “It’s about trying to recalibrate that relationship with nature. It’s really a film about us.”
Bonus KCFF Picks!
Since there are only four docs at KCFF this year, I thought we could offer some additional recommendations for must see Canadian content.
For the Experimentally-inclined
Screens digitally Saturday, March 5 from 8:00 pm to March 13 at 11:59 pm
Rhayne Vermette’s first feature Ste. Anne won the prize for best Canadian feature at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and with good reason. This hypnotic study of life of in a Métis community is an artfully composed consideration of fractured families. Shot on 16mm film and favouring fragmentary impressions in lieu of straightforward narrative scenes, Ste. Anne is a kaleidoscopic riddle.
For the Bird-watcher
Screens in-theatre Friday, March 4 at 8:30 pm
Canada made the right choice when picking Drunken Birds as its Oscar submission in the race for Best International Feature. This drama by Ivan Grbovic is my pick for the best Canadian film of 2021. Nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards including Best Picture, Drunken Birds simply needs to be seen on the big screen if you have a chance. This exquisitely shot epic follows Mexican migrant Willy as his search for his lover Marlena leads him to a family farm outside Montreal. Light touches of magical touches and surrealism—a Formula-1 racer whizzing through downtown Montreal, a visit from a former lover—invite audiences to question their surroundings and reconsider how life appears on the surface. This visually sumptuous film invites audiences to look at stories that are hidden within the Canadian landscape. As Willy’s quest leads him across borders, fields, and cities to find Marlena, Drunken Birds creates a stirring fable about the universal impulses that connect us. Read more about Drunken Birds in my interview with Grbovic at That Shelf.
The 2022 Kingston Canadian Film Festival runs March 3 to 13.
Many of the digital screenings are available nation-wide.