Itty-bitty Wakefield, Quebec is holding its first annual International Film Festival. They have a banner and everything, though they’re forced to screen movies in the loft of the old farmhouse-restaurant where my mother met my stepfather a quarter-century ago. Wakefield is a part of me — childhood, family, lifestyle — and it feels trippy to wed my Wakefield half with my film-buff half. I’m nothing less than delighted.
The organizers’ long-term goals may be ambitious, but the festival is modest for now — even quaint. In a town with no movie theatre (or community centre, though that’s about to change), schedule must bow to space. The program’s eight films screen every Sunday between February 7 and March 28 — up in that cramped little loft, where thirty-odd chairs are sardined among video equipment copped from the organizers’ own living rooms. Attending a screening is a test of brotherly tolerance, but folks seem too pleased with the affair to mind the heads blocking their view or a medically questionable lack of legroom. WIFF has, accidentally or no, returned cinema to its collective-experience roots; there’s something to be said for really feeling the audience around you, at least when it’s as curious and as courteous as the one I encountered.
The festival’s focus (this year, at least) is on documentaries with connections to Canada, China, France, Laos, Great Britain and the US. This being Wakefield, subject matter is environmental, liberal, and post-colonial — topics tailor-made for the locals. My first WIFF experience was a screening of Jennifer Baichwal’s Act of God (her follow-up to Manufactured Landscapes). Baichwal indulged the audience in a little Q&A via webcast post-show, and the evening was rounded out by a short film by Amrita Sandhu called The Power of the Mind. Other films on the docket include Dirty Oil (narrated by Neve Campbell), Last Train Home, The Betrayal, and Encirclement: Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy (you can see the full program here).
Wakefield is a natural festival venue, and it already boasts a few annual events. It’s only a half hour’s drive from downtown Ottawa so it can take advantage of a region that contains over a million strong. And not for nothing, the village is already its own little tourist dynamo, packing a ridiculous number of restaurants and accommodations within a single square mile. They come for the picturesque riverside ramble of a main street, the ski hill, the steam train, the covered bridge, the storied Black Sheep Inn, the pastries and the shops (the traffic that passes through today’s Wakefield still shocks me when I recollect the quiet of my childhood). Some of the changes around here aren’t necessarily for the better, but most are, and WIFF is one of them. –Ranylt Richildis