NorthwestFest International Documentary Festival
online screenings from May 6 to 16
*Please note: All films are geo-locked for viewing within Alberta only.
All films are available to stream starting Thursday, May 6 at 12:01 a.m. until Sunday, May 16 at 11:59 p.m., and are available to stream for 48hrs from the time you press play on a title.
All-Access pass - $79.95, good for one stream per film with no limit on the number of films you can attend
Shorts Pass - $19.95, valid for one ticket to all five Shorts Packages + three great mid-length films
4-Ticket Pack - $44.95, valid for one ticket per film for any four films of your choice
Visit northwestfest.ca to get started
There’s nothing better than staying in and watching movies. It's awesome, says Guy Lavallee, artistic and program director for the celebration of great documentaries known as NorthwestFest.
He’s trying to help you ignore for a minute that the international documentary festival is online again this year courtesy of the ongoing worldwide pandemic. Sure, festivals are meant to be in-person events for both attendees and special guests alike, but if there’s one kind of festival that is best-suited for the virtual arena, it’s a film fest.
“It's the same quality program that people have come to expect from coming to our event in person with obviously the key difference just being that you can watch it from home,” he began. “You could still get out and enjoy the sunshine during the daytime, do some yardwork, go out for a walk, but then after dinner, settle in.”
For movie night, you don't need a babysitter – you can make your own popcorn and snacks, and you can stop the screening any time you need to take a bathroom break. That's the other important thing, especially if you’ve had a libation or two. You don't have to go anywhere or worry about parking, he added, “and you can watch two or three movies in the night if you want, especially if we get a rainy day or two.”
There, that’s better. Now we’re all well and jazzed for the start of this year’s festival, which launches on Thursday.
“There's some really, really robust programming, and it's all brand new,” Lavallee continued, explaining that this year’s crop of incredible docs (along with five shorts packages, each with several excellent titles) was also helped along by the pandemic.
As a programmer, he always needs to plan his lineup months in advance. Things being what they are, he knew a lot earlier in the process that the fest and the world in general probably wouldn’t return to normal until 2022. If anything, current restrictions afforded some elements to be improved.
“We made the decision, I think, in early January that we were going to do a virtual edition this year. It just gave us a lot more time to prepare and put together a more normal version of the festival. By ‘more normal’, I mean it's the same type of lineup now that you're going to get online that you would have gotten if we were doing it theatrically. In fact, I'd say it's a little bit enhanced because we're not limited by screen space: having only one screen and a limited number of time slots. We were actually able to add a few additional films this year that we normally wouldn't have been able to because we wouldn't have had the space to run them. So that's kind of nice.”
He received so many incredible submissions this year that he didn’t have to turn filmmakers away like he usually would have.
“Filmmakers ... they want their films to be seen with an audience, and they want to be able to go to a festival with their film and meet the audiences and meet people that are watching the film. But the exact opposite happened. They were sitting on their films last year and they're like, ‘You know, we can't just wait forever. We need our film to get out into the world.’ We actually ended up having a record number of submissions this year, which really surprised me. Wow, what a treasure trove of films we had to select from. There's some really solid stuff ... Even though it's not in a theatre, I hope people are able to make the time to catch some really, really quality films at home this year.”
NorthwestFest typically offers between 25 and 30 features, but there are 40 this year, he said, and they’re all Alberta, Canada, or international premieres, instead of many encores of docs, such as what were offered during last year’s edition.
Here’s a quick look at several titles coming to the virtual marquee.
The Magnitude of All Things
You should already know Abbott’s earlier work The Corporation for its import in examining the world that we live in. Her new work is about grief but that which is felt for something larger than simply the loss of a loved one. It's about mourning for the planet.
“A lot of people do seem to relate to that particular perspective, largely because so many people have lost loved ones that are humans, and especially now, I think, they understand at quite a deep level the whole idea of collective grief: that we would grieve things that are other than human,” she began, noting that the kernel of the idea started on her B.C. island home when she observed little white specks falling from the sky one day.
They weren’t snowflakes. It was ash from a distant forest fire that was related to climate change.
“It was really in that moment that I went, ‘Oh, the feeling I'm experiencing is grief,’ grief for the changing world around us. It was just a few years earlier that I lost my sister to cancer. I recognized that the feeling was similar in tenor but different intensity to the feelings of grief when I lost my sister,” she continued.
“It was at that moment that the film was born; I realized that there was this whole angle of the climate change story that wasn't really being discussed. Certainly I'd never seen it in a film. To this day, I don't think there's another film about climate grief. I decided I really want to do this film about the emotional psychological dimensions of the climate crisis, tell the story through these two parallel narratives.”
Wuhan Wuhan and Someone Like Me
As expected, there are several documentaries that tackle the subject of COVID-19 but only some were intentional.
Wuhan Wuhan takes place inside behind the curtain in Wuhan, China where the virus first reared its ugly little head. The documentary was made during the early months of last year just as the disease was "really about to hit its peak," Lavallee said.
"It's fascinating seeing this on the ground behind the scenes look at the beginning of all this."
Juxtapose that with Someone Like Me, which started out as an inspiring story of a B.C. group that sponsors LGBTQ immigrants to come to Canada to escape persecution and punishment in their home countries. It parallels the journeys of Drake, a gay asylum seeker from Uganda, and a group of strangers from Vancouver’s queer community who are tasked with supporting his resettlement in Canada.
"He's so excited to start his new life and have freedom and go to his first Pride Parade, and all this stuff, and then COVID hits. This hit while they were filming the movie, so obviously they had no idea this was going to happen and it completely changed the trajectory of what their story was. It's fascinating," Lavallee said.
"My point being we have one or two films that directly address the pandemic but then we have two or three films that were affected by the pandemic because they happen to be filming during it. It's fascinating seeing how they had to finish the film, or go in a different direction from maybe what they had originally anticipated."
This film is all about the rise of the alt-right and the white supremacy movement, particularly in the United States.
"I don't know if there's a more timely film than this. This film was completed and meant to be released last year, even before all the election stuff, and the riots at the Capitol and all that stuff. It's very, very interesting to see the genesis of how this rise of the alt-right has become very mainstream," Lavallee said.
Let the People Decide
Take a step through the history of voting rights for Black people in the United States with Let the People Decide.
Lavallee said documentaries are often seen as overwhelmingly serious records of heavy topics. That's not always true as NorthwestFest offers some fun ones that scream to be audience faves.
"You have these really timely films that that directly resonate to current events that are taking place right now but what we've done is trying to balance that with movies like Hail to the Deadites, which is just a really fun, made by the fans for the fans, all about people who are obsessed with the Evil Dead franchise."
There's more fun titles to join it, too.
The enthusiastic film-fest programmer admitted to being a full-time, vinyl junkie.
"I'm a record-store kid. When I first heard about Vinyl Nation, I was intrigued and then when I watched it. Man, I was just blown away. It's just so entertaining, really the one that I think people are just going to fall in love with."
Alien on Stage
You know the movie Alien, right? You know the bus drivers from Dorset, U.K., too then, I'm sure? What, no?
This is the one film Lavallee wishes the most could be seen with an in-person audience this year.
"There's a group of British bus drivers that, every year, what they do is they select either a classic movie or play to put on as a production. They've done this for years. A couple of years ago, they decided to do Alien, like the actual original building sets and costumes. Now keep in mind, none of these people are professional actors. They're all bus drivers and they all just do it for the love of it. This is like a real life Waiting for Guffman, except I hesitate to almost use that comparison, because just the way Guffman plays out, this one plays out much differently. It's such a crowd-pleaser. This is the movie I think people are really going to fall in love with. If they get a ticket for this one, and it's the one film I really think people are going to be like, ‘Man, I wish we could have seen this with a full audience.’ It's just a pure crowd-pleaser from beginning to end."