The Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Festival moves online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

By: Samantha McBride, Production Assistant

Every year film enthusiasts and creatives alike descend on Hamilton for the Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Festival.  This event promises local and international feature films, short films, competitions and other programming. The festival is also an opportunity for the Hamilton community to support independent artists and engage with an international circle of storytellers.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festival has undergone major changes. The festival is currently running from Oct. 16-25, 2020 and is entirely online using the platform, Eventive. Most of the films are available on-demand but there are also live online events.

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“It's very important for us to continue to support the creators as well as help the community to see new films that they might not see anywhere else . . . [Films are] a window into someone else's world and someone else's experience and it's an important medium for us to understand the world around us and the experiences other people have in our world,” said Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Curator Ryan Ferguson. 

“It's very important for us to continue to support the creators as well as help the community to see new films that they might not see anywhere else . . . [Films are] a window into someone else's world and someone else's experience and it's an important medium for us to understand the world around us and the experiences other people have in our world,” said Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Curator Ryan Ferguson. 

One of the more notable live events is the festival’s youth film challenge, an opportunity for anyone under the age of 25 to submit their short film to the festival. The youth challenge is a chance for young filmmakers to showcase their work to the community and beyond. One film from the category will be selected to receive the audience choice award for standout film. This year’s youth and family film challenges will be livestreamed on the last day of the festival. 

The festival’s 21 short films are being offered at no cost in categories of six to seven films. These short films are eligible for the audience choice award, given to the film voted best by the audience. 

The festival also includes a number of works from local and Canadian filmmakers. One of these works is the world premiere of La Toccata created by Hamilton interdisciplinary artist Radha Menon. La Toccata is set in Sicily and explores the Western obsession with youth and beauty. It is particularly fitting at this time when the pandemic has exposed the individual and systemic lack of care for the lives of elderly individuals. 

“[I]t’s all about beauty so [the film is] made to look beautiful . . . because we are obsessed with beauty and it's that beauty that draws us in . . . [I]t has been created in our mind that the ageing process is something to be feared, mine included, everybody, it's so drilled into our psyche . . . [I]n my culture elders – well especially used to be, not so much maybe anymore because Western influences – were revered and the grey hair meant wisdom. But now, we shove our elderly behind closed doors, segregate them so we don't have to see them or be with them and it’s quite foolish because we could be learning from all the wisdom that they have,” Menon explained.

Menon was excited to premiere this work in the city that she calls home, even if it is only online. While she knows audiences will be missing the experience of being in a theatre, she thinks it is valuable to have the opportunity to see what creators are working on during this time. 

Ordinarily, the festival is geared toward the Hamilton community but as it shifts to an online event, other audiences have the opportunity to partake in the diverse programming lineup offered by the AGHFF. The move to online creates a more inclusive festival for those who would not ordinarily be able to visit the Hamilton area.

“It's exciting for us to have the opportunity to share what we do every year here in Hamilton with people all over the province," said Ferguson. 

“It's exciting for us to have the opportunity to share what we do every year here in Hamilton with people all over the province," said Ferguson. 

Overall, the festival promises an interesting online experience for audiences with exciting ways to get involved. Although audiences are not together to watch the films, the community remains united by the stories told.

The Art Gallery of Hamilton’s annual film festival is back for its eighth year and is featuring dozens of remarkable and decorated films from across the world. Check out some films in this year’s line-up that the Silhouette is most excited for and that you definitely do you want to miss.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

1. Sing Street
4:00 pm at Cineplex Cinemas Ancaster

An official selection for the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, 2015 London Film Festival and 2016 Sundance Film Festival, the John Carney directed Sing Street follows a teenager in 1985 Dublin who attempts to balance being the new kid at school, discord at home and a bright-eyed dream of becoming one of the most iconic rock stars of his era. We take a look at how the fledgling musician begins to write songs and make DIY videos to how his confidence grows to fulfill his big dreams.

2. Ixcanul
9:00 pm at AGH Annex

Director Jayro Bustamante takes audiences on a glorious ride in this stunning drama that expertly intertwines documentary and fable. An official selection of the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival and the 2015 Toronto International Film festival, this film features two young Mayan lovers who attempt to escape from a remote Guatemalan coffee plantation to live their lives in the United States, a land they believe where dreams come true.

Friday, October 21, 2016

1. Driving with Selvi
7:00 pm at AGH Joey and Tanenbaum Pavillion

Driving with Selvi dives deep into India’s patriarchal culture with a former child bride named Selvi who found herself married into a violent and abusive marriage. One day, she chooses to escape and soon becomes South India’s first female taxi driver. Directed by Elisa Paloschi, this documentary follows Selvi’s incredible transformation from a timid, soft-spoken runway to the founder of a taxi company and an educator for women in India.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

1. The Measure of a Man
7:00 pm at the AGH Annex

Stéphane Brizé’s drama feature is perhaps one of the most highly-anticipated films at this year’s festival. Vincent Lindon, who plays the film’s titular character Thierry, won the Best Actor Award at both the renowned 2015 Cannes Film Festival and 2016 César Awards. After being unemployed for 18 months having lost his job as a factory worker, Thierry begins a new job as a security guard in a supermarket at the age of 51. In the job, he finds himself faced with a moral dilemma and must decide whether his job is worth it.

2. Dheepan
9:00 pm at the AGH Annex

Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Dheepan is a tour-de-force saga from acclaimed director Jacques Audiard that stars three strangers who find themselves united by circumstance and common struggle. In order to escape the civil war in Sri Lanka, a former soldier, a young woman and an little girl pose as a family and end up in France. On the streets of Paris, this makeshift family deals with another kind of violence and powerfully embodies the immigrant experience.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

1. Boy & the World
1:00 pm at the AGH Annex

Directed by Alê Abreu, Boy & the World is a 2016 Academy Award Nominee in the Best Animated Feature Film category and has racked up over forty accolades in various film festivals. Hailed as one of the most brilliant animations to have graced the silver screen in recent years, this film is a cautionary tale of globalization and discusses the dangers of massification of the economy, of the mind and of the soul through the lens of eclectic imagery.

2. Calling Occupants
4:00 pm or 5:30 pm at the AGH Annex

Q&A with director Mitch Fillion to follow the screenings

This screening will mark the World Premiere of Mitch Fillion’s sci-fi drama, where a young man and his friends attempt to contact and establish a peaceful relationship with extra-terrestrial beings. The film follows the group of friends as they embark on their quest for the truth as they interview the world’s top UFO researchers, abductees and lobbyists.

Lene Trunjer Petersen
The Silhouette

Last Saturday, Sept. 29, I attended the AGH BMO World Film Festival screening of the American documentary Out of Print. I knew from the trailer that the film was going to be kind of depressing, especially because I’m studying literature, and absolutely love the feeling of a book in my hands. My favourite Sunday activity is to sit somewhere comfortable, open a book, touch the thin paper and let myself disappear into the world of letters. But maybe in a few years it will be some sort of an e-reader that I have in my hands. An electronic device doesn’t have the distinct scent of a book, nor the beauty. Will the reading experience be the same?

Unfortunately it’s not only a battle between old-fashioned books and e-readers, but within our culture. The ability to read a book may be disappearing into an abyss of illiteracy. People use the Internet not only for gaining information, but also to read snippets of a book, or even just reviews, so they don’t have to read the whole thing themselves. Suddenly, it’s a matter of forcing kids to read, rather than being concerned about what they are reading.

I still remember my first encounter with a book. My mother would read to me at bedtime, and at the age of six I could read by myself. My all time favourites were Mio, My Son and The Brothers Lionheart, by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. There is just nothing like feeling part of a written universe in which the characters are your new best friends - just for a while.

The filmmakers behind Out of Print emphasize the importance of reading, not only for learning, but to develop the ability to reflect, and think critically and abstractly. They question what happens with our own fantasy and development of empathy if reading does not challenge us. But it’s not really kids’ fault. They need role models and inspiration. How can we, as adults, give them that when the majority of the population is reading less than stimulating bestsellers, like Fifty Shades of Grey? Who will ever know Ishmael, laugh with Don Quixote, or sail alongside Odysseus, if they dare not open a classic book? They are not just dust and old words. They have real meaning and reach out to us throughout time.

In Out of Print, the American author Scott Turow raises additional question about the lack of diversity in our literary culture. Authors are fighting to earn a living from publishing their books. Their difficulty can be explained by a general societal reluctance to pay for literature. We look books up online, but Turow makes that excellent point that we don’t expect cars and electronic devices to be similarly free of cost - just information.

I am not here on a crusade to keep the printed book at the expense of e-readers and the Internet. I can’t live without my Internet connection, and I’m a big consumer of information both on the net and in printed form. But even though a lot of people are publishing online, we need to question the quality of what we read. I really wish that people would step outside their comfort zone, engage with different books, broaden their perspectives and remember their responsibility to inspire others to do the same. Literature is our very soul, and books can help challenge our thoughts about who we are.

So please, don’t let the printed book die.

Lene Trunjer Petersen
The Silhouette

For a film enthusiast such as myself, the annual Art Gallery of Hamilton’s World Film Festival is an obvious reason to dive into great independent films and documentaries. To satisfy my curiosity, I spoke to Festival Director Annette Paiement about how the World Film Festival came to be and what the AGH has to offer during its fifth anniversary celebrations.

As I was waiting in the lobby at the AGH, a smiling woman with curly hair came towards me. She introduced herself as Annette Paiement, and we went to some chairs near the big glass facades that make the AGH so recognizable.

Of course, my first question was, “why Hamilton?” With a big smile she replied, “why not?” Then she elaborated. She said that the nearest movie theater that runs several independent films is in Toronto. In general, it is mainstream movies that are shown in Hamilton and the surrounding areas. That means that if you like more artistic, independent films you will have to drive to Toronto. Of course, there is also the opportunity to go to the Toronto International Film Festival, but the price and distance is a factor for people here. According to Paiement, a lot of people who live in Hamilton wish to see more complex and debatable films, and these are what the AGH wants to supply.

But how do you choose between so many films that are being produced each year? Paiement smiles again and nods, before she explains that there is a deep commitment to film in this community. A lot of people email requests, and the AGH has a selection committee that includes McMaster professors. She also points out that the most important thing is that everyone who helps plan the AGH World Film Festival is a film lover and wants to share that feeling.

In the end, the job of the festival director is to figure out how the films speak to each other, what people want, and what surfaces elsewhere. For instance, she attends film festivals, reads reviews and uses sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic in order to evaluate films. One of her main focuses is how to create a platform for people to meet and discuss the themes of a film. In this way, it is not just a film, but becomes a valuable instrument in an ongoing debate.

Next year, the AGH celebrates its 100th anniversary and she really hopes that it can be combined with the sixth annual AGH World Film Festival. As for the future, Paiement has two wishes. The first one is that the festival can get access to more places where they can screen films. She is very happy that this year Anchor Bar at Jackson Square is collaborating with the AGH. They are showing short films and are always open after a film screening, which provides people a convenient place to meet and discuss the films. Her other wish is that young people continue to attend the World Film Festival.

Before I am on my way, Paiement reminds me that AGH also runs the ilovefilmseries, for which McMaster students receive a discount. The series runs throughout the year, and continues with a screening of the acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing on Nov. 13.

As for the AGH World Film Festival, it runs until Sunday Sept. 29. So don’t miss this chance to buy a ticket to what might be your new favorite film.

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