I was excited about attending YFF, my first film festival in our province of Saskatchewan.
Just as I was about to purchase my ticket, the Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association (SMPIA) reached out to let me know I had won a free ticket in their draw. Fantastic! I've been super lucky lately.
SMPIA is a wonderful organization - I've met others in the industry through their networking events and attended great training events organized and hosted by SMPIA. Their regular newsletter keeps me informed of important events and updates. And now this - thanks SMPIA!
In the Vancouver festival I attended I focused on skills development. At YFF I decided to focus on making connections with people in our industry while watching as many good films as I could. I wanted to learn about the talented people we have close to home. IMHO filmmaking is all about teamwork; it was time to meet people that would be good to work with.
Ok, let's talk about some of the best films shown at Yorkton this year!
(Note: any and all of the great films missing from my lists below are my fault alone. Apologies to the great YFF films I haven't seen or mentioned yet.)
The Golden Sheaf Awards
The Golden Sheaf Awards at Yorkton are inspired by the beautiful fields of wheat you'll see on the drive to the festival. Identifying award winners is a huge commitment involving over 70 jurors set up in cities from coast to coast across Canada.
All of the nominees and award winners from YFF are online here - so many great films. My personal picks are captured below.
Huge kudos to Lisa Peters, the host of the 2018 awards gala, for an entertaining and memorable evening! Lisa was smart, funny, and we absolutely loved the selection of outfits.
Must See Indigenous Films
As a returning Canadian who lived in the US for several years, I missed out on much of the truth and reconciliation lessons and news as it happened.
For example, I never knew about residential schools when I lived in Canada previously, even though they were happening at the same time I was going to school here. The last residential school closed in 1996, after I had already graduated from university! There are people in our country my age and younger who were forcibly isolated from their families and culture, suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect at the hands of our government and religious organizations. This is horrifying; clearly the impact of this will be far reaching into our future.
Residential schools aren't the only grievance. Villages and townsites established for indigenous people were specifically chosen because they were far away from "white people towns". Today, these distant locations continue to have challenges with water quality, goods and services availability, and a serious digital divide (internet access - a crucial resource for skills and knowledge development, communications, etc.). The historical choices I've learned we made as a country have rocked me to my core. This is my Canada? I want to be proud of my country; but should we be, knowing all this? How does a country atone for this level of savagery?
I have a personal mission to learn the stories of my fellow Canadians who have not had the positive experiences growing up that I did. I want to learn, I want to help.
The Yorkton Film Festival brought some excellent stories of honesty, courage, and hope. Here are my top four indigenous films from the festival that I highly recommend.
Run As One: The Journey of the Front Runners
Directed by Erica Daniels, whom I had the pleasure of sitting with at the YFF awards, Run As One does a wonderful job of telling the story of a team of indigenous athletes who helped carry the torch to the Pan American Games in 1967, as Canada celebrated its 100th birthday.
This film does such a great job of taking the viewer through a wide range of emotions as experienced by the athletes. Both funny and moving, Run As One is as enjoyable as it is educational.
Erica shared with me that she brought her daughter with her to the awards, as she had been pregnant with her all through filming and thought it fitting that she attend the awards show as well. Everyone was thrilled with this decision, as her daughter stole the show by gnawing on Erica's Golden Sheaf Award while attempting to give her acceptance speech.
Click this link to watch Run As One: The Journey of the Front Runners on CBC Shortdocs. You'll be glad you did!
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
Indigenous people have had a profound impact on the music of today - but this story has largely gone untold. Rumble does a fantastic job of introducing key influencers in the history of rock, blues, and folk.
If you love music or fascinating stories well-told, you'll quite enjoy this movie. Rumble on Rotten Tomatoes (a 100m movie) has links to viewing sites.
To Wake Up the Nakota Language
There are only a handful of Nakota speakers left in Saskatchewan. This short film shares what the community is doing to preserve it.
I met director Louise BigEagle at the YFF opening night screening, and learned how she came across this cool story. I asked if the Nakota language has a written form, and mentioned Microsoft Translator Hub (which I supported at Microsoft Research), a community-driven resource for building language translations.
This endearing, 6 minute film is a wonderful story about an endangered language and what the community is doing to save it.
An eye opening account of what life was like in a residential school, Holy Angels shares an important perspective - the view of a child.
More information about Holy Angels on the NFB site.
Must See Dramatic Films
I took full advantage of the screening room at YFF to watch a ton of film. These are my favorite dramatic films from the festival.
Skin for Skin
I met Skin for Skin producer Carol Beecher and director Kevin D.A. Kurytnik at the Friday night Lobsterfest. Really nice people - genuinely interested in others, they asked about what I'm working on and shared several good ideas.
I asked about how they made Skin for Skin, and Kevin explained that one of the things they needed to do was get the animators trained in Maya so they could achieve the look they were going for. Bravo for their choices here, this animated film is beautiful and has a very unique style that is a joy to watch.
I was thrilled this film won two awards, for Animation and Best of Fest. I was talking with Steve Bates of Telefilm Canada at the beginning of the awards night when I mentioned that Skin for Skin would absolutely win an award. I didn't know it then, but he would be the one announcing the winner of the animation category. Later, when he opened the secret envelope, it was Skin for Skin. Called it!
I suspect Skin for Skin will be available from the NFB site when released. If you get a chance to watch this film, please do! Must watch in my books.
Must Kill Karl
YFF winner of the Comedy category, Must Kill Karl is a delightful 12m film about that one friend we all can't stand. The actor that plays Karl, Mike Lobel, does an amazing job.
Turns out you are very lucky - this film is online now and available to watch! Must Kill Karl on CBC Reflections. Adult themes.
I met director Joy Webster after the awards ceremony, chatting with other award winners. Joy won the Emerging Filmmaker award, and you can see why after watching Game. It is a gripping story about two young siblings largely left to fend for themselves.
The trailer for Game is online here.
The Undertaker’s Son
Winner of the YFF Drama category, The Undertaker's Son is a quick, compelling story taken from a point of view one rarely sees or understands - giving a fresh perspective on an age old career.
The trailer is on the producer's site, Foreshadow Films.
While searching, I came across a real gem from the same production company, Soggy Flakes (5m animated film). Such a treat!
This gripping short film won the Student Production category, and it is easy to see why. This story grabs you from the beginning and takes you on an emotional roller coaster.
I met director Lina Roessler in the beverage line at Lobsterfest., where I shared with her all of the positive reviews I had heard about Mustard Seed. Lina is a talent to watch.
While writing this article, I'm realizing that Lina was on Lost Girls, one of my favorite Canadian TV shows. I'm fangirling here - huge missed opportunity; I could have asked Lina all kinds of questions about that show. :)
Watch the trailer for Mustard Seed here.
Must See Documentaries
IMHO, films should entertain first and only if successful at that, perhaps educate too. These four great documentaries all meet my personal high bar for both entertaining and educating.
Talking At Night
Winner of the Best of Saskatchewan Award, Talking At Night gives us a peek into the operations of the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service, which provides 24-hour crisis resolution to people in distress.
What I loved about this short doc was the intensity you feel while watching it. Hearing call takers help people in difficult situations. The percussive heart beat of the phones ringing all night long. This doc will help bring attention to an increasingly important service.
I met director Eric Thiessen right after the opening night screening, where I asked about how they made the film so intense. He shared one approach they used, mapping scenes and sounds onto a soundtrack that isn't heard, which gives the movie a musical feel. He shared a story about two of the service's call takers watching the film and commenting on how well it makes you feel like you are there -- it even made them anxious about returning. Powerful drama.
I asked Eric about what he is working on next, and it sounds ingenious! No spoilers though, you'll have to wait until this film is released.
Watch a clip and interview about Talking At Night here.
Bridging Borders is a TV series from City Saskatchewan that tells the stories of new refugees to Canada and the families that have helped them.
My wife and I have been watching this series, and we love it! Seeing the passion and drive of ordinary Canadians who want to help, and how new neighbours meet and overcome the challenges of moving your family across the world, learning a new language, finding work, and fitting in to a new community.
I met director Colin McNeil over drinks after the awards show, in a large after-party hotel room. (Which was awesome, and packed, and noisy, and boozy.) He was disappointed they didn't win an award, but excited that we enjoyed the show so much.
I previously met one of the show's producers, Christopher Triffo from Wavelength Entertainment in Regina. Christopher taught at the SMPIA Producer's Workshop I attended, and I ran into him again at Yorkton. I thanked him for the great training and we talked about some interesting producer situations.
Speaking of SMPIA connections related to Bridging Borders, another great instructor from the same event, Will Dixon of City Saskatchewan, was also at Yorkton. He focused on the art of pitching and gave us great ideas and approaches to consider, often by sharing stories of his own pitching successes and failures. It was great catching up with Will.
Anyway, all of these cool, interesting people related to Bridging Borders were at YFF - it was great to see and chat with them!
The first four episodes of Bridging Borders are available to watch online. Guaranteed you won't be able to just want one - they're addictive.
I had no idea how interesting the production of honey could bee -- this short doc from Bamboo Shoots was entertaining and amazingly informative.
Howland's Honey won the award for Community Television Production. I met the two main people/actors in the doc at the awards show, and thanked them for a great informative film. They were pleased - this is exactly what they were going for, raising awareness about honey production.
Watch the trailer here, full show available from SaskTel maxTV Local on Demand.
Under The Radar
This is a very cool and uniquely Canadian story – told with passion, humour, and helpful visuals. A small team of Canadians racing against time (and NASA) to transform satellite radar results into viewable images, with the computing capability found in today's pocket calculators.
Watch Under The Radar (10 mins) here!
Did You Know: YFF is the Longest Running Film Festival in North America
I had a blast in Yorkton, met tons of interesting filmmakers, watched several great films, and enjoyed the local hospitality (and lobster). I found the festival to be motivating, inspiring, and a great celebration of Canadian talent. I definitely plan on attending again.
Thanks again SMPIA for the ticket, and many thanks to the board and volunteers of YFF for putting on a wonderful event!