Festival of a Thousand Stories

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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In its 21st year, the St. John's International Women's Film Festival continues to find fabulous films close to home, and around the world.

“Unrestricted access to independent minds” is the theme for this year’s St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, which will kick off Tuesday with a gala at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

Filmmaker Barbara Doran got access to another independent mind to make her film, which will be screened at the gala.

“Still Rowdy After All These Years” is a documentary featuring — who else? — Grand Falls native and Canadian acting icon Gordon Pinsent.

It took a bit of arm-twisting to get Pinsent to agree to the project — he originally declined, telling Doran, “You don’t want that. You don’t need that.”

He finally agreed, and six months later Doran realized what she had in mind for the biography wasn’t going to work at all.

“When I started to make this documentary, I was going to call it ‘Not So Rowdy Anymore.’ That was my working title,” she told The Telegram. “And then, after hanging out with him, I thought, You know what? This is not going to fit anymore. There’s not a feather out of him, even at 81 years old.”

The documentary was filmed in bits and pieces, Pinsent fitting Doran and her crew in for a day here and there, whenever he had an opening in his schedule.

The result is a film that shows not only Pinsent the legendary actor, but a man with a complex history of highs and lows.

“He revealed a lot about himself — his first marriage, leaving his children, and not having seen them for 18 years,” Doran said, adding his children are featured in the film. “All of that pain and all of that regret is there, but his children adore (him) and they have a very close family now. They understand that Gordon Pinsent had to leave because he couldn’t have been Gordon Pinsent if he hadn’t.”

Doran showed Pinsent the finished work during a visit to Toronto, where he lives. His response to her? “You’re wonderful.”

“Still Rowdy” is one of two films Doran is screening at the film festival. “Where Did I Put ... My Memory,” produced by Doran and directed by Josh Freed, will be shown at the Johnson Geo Centre 11:30 a.m. Oct. 30.

The documentary will also be aired on CBC Television’s “Doc Zone” on Oct. 28 at 9:30 p.m.

Memory loss is the second greatest health fear for Canadians, after cancer, the film points out, and memory loss is a growing epidemic, as we are more and more bombarded with information. The demands on our brain to remember phone numbers, PINs and email passwords are often overwhelming, Doran said.

“The moment you can’t remember a person’s name or where you parked your car at the store or you can’t find your car keys, you start thinking, ‘I’m losing my memory, therefore I must have Alzheimers,’” Doran said. “Most of us don’t. Instead of worrying about our memory, what we perhaps should do is try and find ways to protect what we have.”

This includes modifying our diet, exercising and keeping our mind active by reading, travelling, engaging in meaningful conversation and doing simple puzzles like sudoko.

Experts are interviewed in the film, and so are some gifted competitive memorizers. A British lady with no memory at all, due to a viral infection, is profiled, as is American Jill Price, known as the Woman Who Can’t Forget.

“She could tell you what she had for lunch 25 years ago, who she was with when she was having lunch, what she was wearing, the name of the restaurant,” Doran explained. “We wanted to ask her questions that we could actually check. We’d ask her what was happening on April 14, 1972, and she could tell us what the headline in the newspaper was, who was in office at the time in the United States government, maybe something that was going on globally, the episode of a television show played that day, and what day of the week is was. This comes off the top of her head.

“We think, Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of memory? but, in fact, you remember everything — every slur, every argument, every death of a child or friend or family member, every moment of sadness in your own life, and God knows there are many.”

***

Written by Wanda Nolan, directed by Dana Warren and produced by Lynn Andrews, “Four Sisters” is one of festival films with the biggest buzz. The 12-minute comedic drama won best dramatic script at the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards in 2009, and was screened to a packed house at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax as well as at the LA Femme Film Festival in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Starring Janet Michael, Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings, Ruth Lawrence and Janet Edmonds as sisters Norma, Theresa, Clara and Lily, the film is a tale of family relationships that sometimes get tangly.

When Norma corners Clara at a family gathering and makes her tell Lily about her relationship with Lily’s ex-fiancé, she exposes her own past with the man and causes a blow-up that’s been a long time coming.

The sisters are forced to look at themselves and each other for who they really are, Nolan explained.

“Family is complicated, but ultimately, in most cases, they are also there for you,” she said of the film’s theme.

Nolan said the idea for the script came from a friend of hers, who had told her that his mom and her sisters all had the same haircut, even though they lived in different towns.

She’s been getting good feedback about the film so far.

“I think the thing we heard the most (after the screening in Halifax) was that the casting was really well done and the actors are really, really good, and there was a strong chemistry between them,” she said.

Closing the film festival will be a profile of Ron Hynes in Jordan Canning, William D. MacGillivray and Terry Greenslaw’s “The Man of a Thousand Songs.”

The Digital Dames Summit, a conference on convergence, focusing on the art of digital technology, will take place for the first time, as will a partnership with MusicNL to host a panel called “The Art of the Music Film.”

Panels and forums on different film-related topics will take place throughout the five-day event.

Seventy-one films from around the word will be shown at venues around the city, including the LSPU Hall, Masonic Temple and Empire Theatres Studio 12.

Festival passes are available by calling 754-3141 or emailing info@womensfilmfestival.com. During the event, passes may be purchased at the Masonic Temple on Cathedral Street by cash or cheque only. Cost is $100 or $50 for seniors and students.

A schedule of screenings and other activities is available online at www.womensfilmfestival.com.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, CBC Television, Digital Dames Summit LSPU Hall, Masonic Temple and Empire Theatres Studio 12

Geographic location: St. John's, Grand Falls, Toronto Halifax United States Newfoundland and Labrador Los Angeles

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