Girls just want to have fun

Heidi Wicks
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Cinema Women's film festival celebrates 20th birthday

When most girls celebrate turning 20, a number of adjectives spring to mind: brash, brazen, ruthless, unreliable.

Although this year's St. John's International Women's Film Festival (SJIWFF) is a classy and sophisticated creature, she has had her share of growing pains before arriving at the level of success it has arrived at today.

"We almost threw in the towel about halfway through," said Noreen Golfman, chairwoman of the board, during this year's launch Oct 6.

When most girls celebrate turning 20, a number of adjectives spring to mind: brash, brazen, ruthless, unreliable.

Although this year's St. John's International Women's Film Festival (SJIWFF) is a classy and sophisticated creature, she has had her share of growing pains before arriving at the level of success it has arrived at today.

"We almost threw in the towel about halfway through," said Noreen Golfman, chairwoman of the board, during this year's launch Oct 6.

"We realized we just didn't have the resources - either personnel or financial - and we just didn't think we could pull off another festival. We stuck with it, partly because the community here (filmmakers and audiences) wanted it so badly, and so we tried to extend the dream, however modestly." Golfman explained the festival operated at a scaled down version for a few years, still showing films and keeping the title of 'festival' for continuity only.

"Never could we have imagined that we would have a five-day inclusive workshop, industry centre, and suite of options as we do this year," she said.

"The filmmakers and audiences here are who have made this such a spirited event. We'd like to take credit that we have something to do with the growth of the (film) industry here in this province, as we have provided that forum for showcasing the great talent and work that is produced here."

Despite earlier 'puberty' issues, this year's festival is quite the well-developed dame.

The selection committee received 440 submissions, and is screening 93 films from 16 countries, including a workshop/seminar series, networking events and galas for the film industry and the public. Golfman acknowledged the tremendous support of the province for playing a leading role in helping the festival soldier on, noting the partnership of community and government as being a key component of its success.

Three full-length feature films are featured this year, all three involving local ladies. Sherry White's "Crackie" will close the festival, while Adrianna Maggs' "Grown Up Movie Star" screens on Oct 23. The opening gala features "Love and Savagery," a feature based on a book of poems by local writer Des Walsh, directed by John Smith, and produced by Barbara Doran.

Doran is arguably Newfoundland's top producer and has been instrumental in this province's film industry. She began production on "Love and Savagery" shortly after wrapping "Random Passage," and acknowledged the role SJIWFF has played in helping to expand the province's industry.

"It's growing up like the film industry here in this province itself. They've been happening at the same time, and they're intertwined," she noted. "You can go to the festival this year and see three feature films from Newfoundland. That's a first. That's a big deal. When I first started to produce here, there was no Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corp. (NLFDC). You went to the Department of Trade, and you'd be out in the room waiting to talk to the deputy minister - meanwhile, he'd be in there talking to a guy who wanted to start a chain farm up the road. It was hard for them to wrap their head around that, 'Yes, we'd like a load of money, but we're not actually going to produce anything,'" she laughed.

She gives credit to former premier Brian Tobin, who started the NLFDC.

"That was like a breath of life for us," she said, adding that Tobin and Premier (Danny) Williams are great supporters of the arts, which is why the industry has grown the way it has. "The festival can hold its own anywhere. We don't have to beg funding agencies and distributors to come to the festival anymore - they want to come."

"Thank God we're surrounded by water?"

Perhaps, but Doran emphasized the importance of not becoming insular, especially because we live on an island.

"It's very important for us to be aware of other filmmakers work, and to be exposed. The beauty of this festival is it's small and intimate and you actually do get to know people here. It's not like being at the Toronto Film Festival, where you could be talking to someone for two seconds over a glass of wine before they move onto someone else, as they're scanning the room while they're talking to you," she chuckled.

The birth of any film involves years of scheduling, budgeting, building, administration, and sometimes even becoming trained in the art of making and pouring Guinness (the "Love and Savagery" crew held regular Guinness wrap parties, so I'm told). Three pubs were constructed inside a building in Donovan's Industrial Park in St. John's, to film most of the interior scenes (while most exterior scenes were filmed in Ireland).

However, Doran encountered one roadblock which was a little out of the ordinary.

"The film was confiscated by Canada Customs because they thought it was a porn," Doran told me, laughing less than expected. "They were going to force us to have the film processed, which would have been death for us, because once you have film processed it's never the same. It could have been a disaster!"

True enough, some 20th birthday parties might include porn, but this one does not.

The 20th annual St. John's International Women's Film Festival opens with "Love and Savagery" Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Arts and Culture Centre. The festival runs until Saturday. Call the Arts and Culture Centre box office for tickets, or consult http://www.womensfilmfestival.com/ for the complete festival schedule.

Editor's Note: Heidi Wicks will be reporting throughout the festival with more from Barbara Doran and other filmmakers. Who knows? Maybe even the odd inside scoop. Check the Telegram website daily for updates.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development, Movie Star, Guinness Department of Trade Canada Customs

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Toronto Donovan Ireland

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