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Northwest Fest: something for everyone, even your dogs

The Northwest Fest International Documentary Festival is ready to press ‘play’ with its annual look at what’s new, what’s hot, and what is more real and interesting than any adventure the Avengers could cook up. After all, truth is stranger than fiction and it’s also more informative and often more entertaining. Program director Guy Lavallee would be the first to tell you that.

“Documentaries ... there’s such a huge thirst for them these days,” he said. “We really expanded the programming to encompass all sorts of documentaries from social issues to environmental issues, but also music docs and biopics and things like that.

Formerly known as Global Visions, this film festival is the longest running documentary festival in the country. The organizers changed the name in an effort to better establish its identity and its presence internationally.

Also, Northwest Fest sounds cooler, like an Alberta cousin to South by Southwest, the Austin, Texas music, visual arts and film festival.

“It's just a way to graphically identify where we are in a real shorthand when you're submitting your name out to the world. It’s something that we hope rolls off the tongue that’s nice and easy for people.”

This year’s Northwest Fest runs from May 2 to 11, a fine departure from the previous late fall entrance of its earlier incarnation. The festival moved to the spring to enable Lavallee to program earlier in the season to ensure the freshest, shiniest crop of docs around.

All of that is evident starting with the opening night film on May 2. After So Many Days features Jim Hanft and Samantha Yonack, a new couple-slash-singer/songwriting duo on a quest to play one show every day for a year. The challenge not only puts their musicalities through the grinder but their relationship gets its ultimate test too.

The good news is that they made it. They will also be in attendance for the screening and Lavallee can’t wait to screen the film and energize audiences for the new fest.

“I'm super excited for audiences to see our opening night film this year. It's a real unknown quantity. I had been looking like long and hard for our opening night film this year and just nothing was jumping out at me. The minute I saw this, I just fell in love with it. It's a really wild story but their music is fantastic. That's what really, really resonated with me.”

The highlight reel

With a few dozen films spread out over 10 days, there has to be something for everything. And there is, Lavallee vows.

“We really strive for having a balance of the programming so that it's not just what I would choose to go see if I was paying my money to go see a movie. If you like music docs, there's something. If you like biographies, there’s something. If you like heavy hitting films, films that are more about social issues or politics or the environment ... you've got The Silence of Others and Midnight Traveler and The Brink and Untying the Knot. These films that are really, really heavy, important, extraordinarily well made films that will have people talking. There's such a wide array of film. I think that's why I love documentary so much. It constantly amazes me what can be done with documentary as an art form,” he said.

The Brink offers a behind-the-scenes look at Steve Bannon, a heavy figure who was briefly a key figure during the current White House administration. It plays on May 3.

Kifaru follows two young Kenyan recruits who joined Ol Pejeta Conservancy's rhino caretaker unit to care for and protect the last male northern white rhino. Screening on May 4.

Salvage looks at Yellowknife’s city dump, a place considered to be an attraction as it’s filled with numerous colourful characters who mine the garbage looking for recyclables and other treasures. A new city council wants to make some changes to that, which would also have ramifications on Yellowknife’s overall identity too. Salvage plays on May 5.

Artifishal explores the various costs of how engineered solutions affect habitat destruction. It traces the impact of fish hatcheries and how much public money is wasted on an industry that hinders wild fish recovery and pollutes our rivers. Screening on May 8.

Maiden looks at Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old charter boat cook who became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World event in 1989. It plays on May 7.

How to Bee is the documentary of filmmaker Naomi Mark and her dad, a beekeeper whose life changed after being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It follows the two over three beekeeping seasons as he imparts his knowledge on to her and they come to terms with his changing health, all set against the beautiful backdrop of Canada’s North. It also plays on May 5.

Memory: the Origins of Alien looks at the genesis of one of sci-fi film's most impressive and lasting entries. It screens on May 4, preceded by Alien itself, screened on May 3.

Hail Satan! looks at the recent rise of the Satanic Temple in the United States, delving deeper into the culture behind the controversial religious movement and its enigmatic leader Lucien Greaves. Screening on May 4.

Gay Chorus Deep South looks at the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as the troupe embarks on a tour of the American Deep South as a response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws in the Southern states and the divisive 2016 election. It plays on May 10.

Saturday night is all right for St. Albertans

The closing night of any film festival is special for a number of reasons, but this year’s Northwest Fest is practically a tribute to talent coming out of this fair burg. Look for a double bill on May 11 that should make you proud of your hometown.

Brent Hodge returns after last year’s astoundingly popular doc on the TV show Freaks and Geeks. Here, he retains his pop culture sensibility with Who Let the Dogs Out, an in-depth exploration of the Baha Men’s one-hit wonder that seems to pose a question that no one has ever been able to answer.

It might seem funny to you, but the pop song has a long and convoluted history, including some legal wrangles that make it all the more interesting.

“I feel like at this point it's just becoming a great library of very weird comedic documentaries, which not a lot of people are doing,” he said of his ever-expanding filmography. “No one's really hitting this realm, this pop culture comedy realm. I think documentaries have always been classified as very serious. You shouldn't eat meat. The world is crumbling. I think those are great films. That doesn't run through my veins the same way. I think you can get to those topics in a head-turning way and a really quirky way.”

Hodge and his film company followed Ben Sisto, a man who dedicated eight years of his life to exploring and exposing the song’s back story that is steeped in complications of show business ethics, legal battles, female empowerment issues, and artistic integrity, all complete with one catchy hook that rhetorically asks the question that everyone can bark along to.

That will be followed by F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story, director Sean Patrick Shaul’s loving look at the German-born director, now Vancouver restaurateur, who made his mark on Hollywood by making a series of films that are universally dismissed by critics but still have some audience’s hearts. He’s like a modern Ed Wood with 32 titles to his credit including such classics as Postal, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, BloodRayne, and Alone in the Dark.

“I knew of the mythology around him and then I ended up working on one of his films ... called Assault on Wall Street. I saw his classic directorial style and was just fascinated watching him work,” Shaul said, tongue in cheek.

Years later, he was working on a TV show that was shooting in Boll’s restaurant. A light went off in Shaul’s head for the subject for his next documentary.

“He's got a great story here.”

Frankly, Shaul simply could have just put Boll in front of the camera and let him talk for 90 minutes. Fair warning: there’s a lot of strong language in the film and Boll says that he couldn’t care less what you think, except he says it in different words. Check the title if you need an example.

Both Shaul and Boll will be in attendance for the screening.

Bonus day!

Even though the closing night is Saturday, there are still screenings on Sunday. Watch for Bathtubs Over Broadway and Ask Dr. Ruth, just in time for Mother’s Day.

Check for screening times, tickets and more.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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