On Sunday, March 5th, I walked away from the Gulf Island Secondary School with a sense that I was returning from somewhere far away, somewhere incredible. In fact, I was walking away from the 18th annual Salt Spring Film Festival. And it was a fantastic voyage ― right here in our community.
This year, the Film Festival Society screened over 100 films from around the world and distilled their choices down to about 40 films. If you’re an eager filmgoer, you could watch nine films over the entire weekend.
But you wouldn’t be merely watching films. The Salt Spring Film Festival is so much more than passively planting yourself in front of another screen for education and entertainment.
Here are a few examples of what I mean. James Cowan, festival manager, talked about a film called Show Me What you Care About. It addressed the isolation and loneliness that can urban dwellers can experience. The film raised a lot of questions about the filmmakers’ approach. Because the two filmmakers Brianne Nettelfield and Naomi Mark were present, the whole audience stayed to have a discussion about the film and the concepts it explored.
To the filmmakers’ surprise and enjoyment, audience members opened up about their own experiences with loneliness. The conversation spilled out of the room and down the stairs to the Social Justice Bazar where others joined in the conversation.
Friday evening, the Gala Night, was a festival highlight that also went far beyond the film itself. Spirit Unforgettable was both beautiful and sorrowful. This documentary was poignant for those familiar with the band Spirit of the West and those familiar with Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the film documented the progression of lead singer John Mann’s early onset Alzheimer’s.
The filmmaker and band members introduced the film, but what was truly astonishing and special was when John and his wife Jill stood up after the film to answer questions. As John struggled to tell the audience "Thank you, I love you," everyone could see how much his Alzheimer's had progressed since the making of the film. It's unknown how many more public appearances John will be able to make.
Another dimension of the Film Festival is the filmmaker’s reception, which is a gathering for the filmmakers, board of directors, and some guests on Saturday night. James said that witnessing mostly independent filmmakers, who have never met, introduce themselves and start talking about projects, and then getting deeper and deeper into conversation, was another highlight of the weekend.
And of course, the filmmakers who accompany films is also a great feature of the festival. Filmmakers from nine different films attended this year’s festival to interact with the audiences and discuss their films.
A long list of volunteers helped make this festival a success. James said it was the best year for volunteers yet, and the team is fueled by good camaraderie. Many volunteers return year after year. The list of sponsors was equally impressive. Country Grocer was the presenting sponsor, and the two back pages of the guidebook were covered with donors, partners, and sponsors.
The organization that went into the festival and the deep sense of it being a community-driven effort was palpable throughout the entire weekend.