Whether yours was a thirst for bloody horror films, a hunger for docu-dramas or a hankering for obscure experimental videos, the second annual ImagineNATIVE Media Arts Festival had something for everyone's taste. Add to the mix educational workshops and informative panels and even the savviest of film lover was kept salivating.
Billed as the nerviest of film festivals by the Toronto media, the best in Aboriginal media arts met from Nov. 21 to 24 to explore film, video, radio, multimedia and television.
One of the highlights this year included the screening of Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner, a film that won the Camera d'or for Best First Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It is also Canada's official entry for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film Category.
"We are proud that we screened this film at this year's festival," said festival producer Richard Hunter. "This year's festival was a huge success."
The opening night screening of Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner was a gala event with SkyTracker lights beaming into the sky from the red carpeted entrance of a grand theatre. In attendance was Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, along with film industry representatives, sponsors and Aboriginal multimedia artists from around the world.
Clarkson made a small speech before the film applauding the organizers and the Aboriginal artists who had come to participate in the event. She said it was a perfect opportunity for all talented artists to show the world their art and to promote Aboriginal culture.
Other films showcased at ImagineNATIVE were from as far away as New Zealand, Mexico and Nunavut, making the film festival a truly international event. With films exploring the politics in Chiapas, contemporary life in Canada's newest territory and one man's journey into the culture of the New Zealand Aboriginal, many viewers got a first-time glimpse into other worlds.
Cynthia Lickers, executive director and founder of the festival, said she was pleased with the film lineup this year and the inspirational quality of the films.
"I was astounded by the quality of films this year. The energy and excitement around them was contagious."
And that's the way the organizers like it. For Aboriginal multi-media artists in Canada, a Native-centred festival is what they need. There aren't too many film festivals out there that are accepting Native-flavored films or taking chances on emerging directors with experimental shorts, said Lickers.
Most of the larger mainstream film festivals like Toronto or Sundance will only accept films that are spit-shined to a polish and have some buzz behind them. On the flip side, the smaller film festivals will accept new and obscure films, but their audience isn't as large and influential. Because of that many industry insiders aren't as likely to sit through hours of film to find that one gem to promote.
But that's what is different about ImagineNATIVE, said Hunter, who believes that it is still the neighborhood, grassroots Native-friendly festival, but it has the influence and contacts that make it one of the most important film festivals of the year for Aboriginal artists.
"The films were amazing. We are a big success, because we had films from all over the world. We attract some of the larger, more established artists, but we also like to give the young, first-time directors a chance," said Hunter.
"It's a prime opportunity for the film-makers to meet some amazing contacts."
Nevertheless, like all great festivals, there are time and programming restraints, said Lickers, so many films did not make the final cut. Many films were turned down not necessarily because of quality issues, but because of time restraints.
"It has to be open to everyone. We had a lot of up-and-coming directors there, but we had to turn down a lot of work too," said Lickers.
One fact remains, Hunter emphasizes. Whether your film is viewed or not, the artist always leaves the festival withbundles of business cards, contacts and information that coming to it is always worth the trip.
For instance, new directors had the opportunity to pick up some tips and hints from some heavy-weight industry insiders at the workshops.
One of the more popular workshops was one of the more important ones-How to get a film accepted to a film festival. According to Lickers they had a lot of response to this workshop since there are hundreds of Native film-makers out there with a film in hand but no means or experience on how to publicize or get it viewed.
The esteemed panel included industry insiders and festival programmers from the likes of Sundance and the Toronto International Festival. They discussed, debated and described the ins and outs of festivals and the importance of proposals and presentations.
Another popular workshop was entitled: Learn the big pitch. Again insiders and film professionals offered their insights and experience into what makes one pitch successful and another a dog. Interested individuals learned how to organize their visions and scattered anecdotes into one solid creative plot until worthy of a pitch session. Most importantly, the workshop provided information on how to find funds to produce that next critically acclaimed masterpiece.
Once the pitch is perfected, another workshop was offered whereby producers and/or directors had five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel, including Steve Martin from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Damion Mercer from Alliance Atlantis, Robin Smith from Lions Gate and Heather Rae from Winter Films LA.
Also included in the list of workshops and panels were Radio Waves in your Direction; Animation; Indigenous TV from around the World; and Buffy Sainte-Marie's Cradleboard Teaching Project, among others.
After pages of notes were taken, reels of film viewed and reels of film exposed, popcorn spilled and business card booklets filled there was the final award dinner and gala held in the Atriumat CBC headquarters on Front Street in Toronto.
Newly elected chief of the Six Nations and chair of the ImagineNATIVE Festival Roberta Jamieson opened the gala. Actors Jennifer Podemski and Darrel Dennis were co-hosts. Sister to Jennifer and wife to Darrel, Tamara Podemski provided the evening's main musical performance singing songs from her new CD Winter Moon.