Topics of aging, mental health dominate film festival

Tara Bradbury
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Susan Kent (in red), Howard D’Arcy and Carroll Godsman star in filmmaker Eva Madden-Hagen’s short film, “What Remains,” to be screened at the Nickel Independent Film Festival Friday night. — Submitted photo

“A film screening you can bring your Nan to” is how Nickel Independent Film Festival co-ordinator Janelle Hickey describes the upcoming festival’s Friday night lineup.

The 11th annual festival, which supports local, Canadian and foreign film, will open at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s Monday and run until Friday, and will feature 55 films from around the world, both short and feature-length.

There are comedies, dramas, documentaries, animations and a night dedicated specifically to horror films, among others.

“We find themes are kind of cyclical when they’re coming in, and a lot of them are on aging and death this year,” Hickey said. “We had two films accepted called ‘The Wake,’ but I think there were four submitted with that title. I’m not sure what it is, or why it happens this way.”

Aging and mental health was another of this year’s hot themes, and the festival has grouped them into the Friday night screening, happening at the LSPU Hall from

8-10 p.m.

Ten short films will be shown — all from Canada, apart from one; three of them local: Dana Warren’s “Four Sisters;” Andrew Winter’s “The Wake” and Elsa Morena’s “Watching Emily.”

Morena’s four-minute film has a cast of just three, and centres around Grandpa, played by Kevin Lewis, and his four-year-old granddaughter Emily, played by Emma Mahoney, whom he’s asked to babysit. During the time he’s alone with her, Grandpa notices he and Emily face a lot of the same obstacles in a fast-paced, technological world.

Morena, a native Montrealer who wrote, directed and produced the film as part of the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative’s first-time filmmaker program, said she based the concept of the film on her own childhood.

“I know a lot of people like me, who were sort of raised by their grandparents; after school, you’d go home to your grandparents and they’d watch you,” she explained. “I remember my grandfather, who was in a wheelchair, would watch us. How do you bond with someone who’s in a wheelchair, and with such an age difference?

“I remember this one day, we decided to teach my grandfather how to play Nintendo. He was absolutely terrible at it, but it was so entertaining seeing him play, because the technology was so different for him. That’s where I got the inspiration to write the script. I thought it would be really cute to make a film about that; how Grandpa has the responsibilities of watching a little girl, but at the same time, he was to be watched. It’s like he has more in common with his granddaughter than he does with his daughter.”

One of the most challenging aspects of making the short, Morena said, was that she had just one 11-minute roll of film to shoot it on. Working with a child actor and not being able to have many takes wasn’t easy, but she’s pleased with the end result.

Nova Scotia filmmaker Eva Madden-Hagen’s 14-minute piece “What Remains” is another film Hickey’s excited about, which also deals with aging and mental health. Also screened at the L.A. Women’s International Film Festival, the film centres around Julia (played by St. John’s actor Susan Kent) who visits her grandparents to tell them she’s engaged. When her grandfather, who suffers from dementia, disappears, Julia and her grandmother must look for him.

“It’s all about the search, and the relationships of a young couple and an older couple, and the relationship around the grandfather’s mental illness,” Hickey explained.

Festival organizers attempt to feature live entertainment along with the film screenings each night, and Friday night will see St. John’s author Chad Pelley read from his novel, “Away From Everywhere,” a story of two brothers who are brought together when their father’s dementia sets off a chain of heart-breaking events.

Hickey said that particular night’s screening has caught the attention of the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, which has been helping to promote the festival among its demographic.

“We do hope that we can appeal to everyone and that’s the thing that we strive to do,” Hickey said. “We think this is maybe a demographic that we haven’t tapped into before, and this may be a great way to do it, because it’s such an interesting subject matter.”

Apart from film screenings, the Nickel festival will offer workshops for film lovers throughout the week, covering topics such as screenwriting, composing music for film and post-production.

Tickets for the events are selling quickly, Hickey said, adding she expects the opening and closing night shows to be sold out.

People seem particularly interested, she said, in author Kenneth J. Harvey’s “I’m 14 and I Hate the World,” his first foray into film, as well as Christian Sparkes’ “River in the Woods,” shot behind the School for the Deaf on Topsail Road.

Once the festival is over, the Nickel will again begin its Reel Downtown series, screening films outside on Soloman’s Lane, Water Street, every Monday in July at 9 p.m.

Tickets for individual festival screenings are $10 plus tax, and a pass for six screenings is $50. A full list of films and schedule of events is available online at

Organizations: Nintendo, L.A. Women, Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador School for the Deaf on Topsail Road.Once

Geographic location: Canada, Nova Scotia, Water Street

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