Crisis, catharsis & other people’s popcorn.

Every year I set an intention for my time with the Kamloops Film Festival. I swear that THIS will be the year I take careful and consistent notes. I will record daily documentations featuring vivid impressions, articulate reflections, where I ate, what I wore, who I KFF’d with. When the festival concludes, I will effortlessly capture the essence that was  #KFF(insert year here).”

Every year I break that promise.

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Instead, all I wind up with is a bag full of bits and pieces: KFF guide, pass, blanket, lip balm, tissues, mints, ticket stubs, leftover Twizzlers (that lived in the most indiscreet plastic packaging. No sneaky, secret licorice for you, doll).

When the time comes to reflect, I turn into some grizzled, hardboiled detective, piecing together evidence of the past ten days.

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It reminds me of Almost Famous when young journalist William Miller, on a deadline, tries to write about an entire experience that had just ended. He doesn’t know where to begin. He rifles through his collection of polaroids and receipts he’s collected along the way. It all means so much, you just can’t possibly know how much it means. There needs to be time for reflection, but the longer you wait, the further away you feel from the details that define a timeframe.

It all goes by so quickly.

Suddenly, it’s a more than a week past Closing Night. It’s a feat to recall it all in crystal clear detail. It’s all a blur in the best kind of way. That’s how it is every year, I am left with a memory of feeling, my imagination brimming with cinematic lifetimes.

Upon the opening of this year’s film festival, I was up to my ears in some big-time winter blues. All the world was itchy wool to my sensitive soul. There has been grief. There has been uncertainty. There has been a fist of sadness digging pressing into my heart. I was feeling like a tangled ball of frayed yarn: nervous, weepy, agitated—and, as a bonus—also profoundly exhausted. February was like a long and tedious play you were forced to sit through…because all the doors are locked. The seats are uncomfortable; the theatre damp, and the audience packed with sickly people harboring annoying habits. Still, you try to sit in that discomfort with a gracious smile, sitting attentively, responding appropriately, straining to find meaning in the moment.

Ugh, this too shall pass, am I right? As always, the film festival offers a reprieve from emotional ailments. I was gladly swept away to other places, times, lives– nothing cures an existential crisis more than a thorough examination of the human condition.

On opening night, during the beautiful and emotional Shut Up and Say Something, I felt very grateful to be sitting in the dark. It was like catching your breath after being under water for one second too long.

Yes. I’ve been waiting for this moment.

I call this kind of movie a “throat soaker,” where the tears can’t (and won’t) be contained. And why should they be? The theatre is a safe space. The festival is a time for unabashed emotional catharsis. When it comes to assessing and realigning my emotional landscape, I’m the equivalent to a group of middle-aged divorcees at an all-inclusive on Spring Break. I’m just going to cut loose; enthusiastically and openly cry my god damn eyes out to any movie I damn well please. That’s what the giant sunglasses are for.

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Sheesh, for the Wineing Discussion on closing day, I wore black cat-eye glasses as my little puffy mole eyes were raw like sushi after the 10 am screening of Indian Horse, only to be worsened by the noon screening of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

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After Indian Horse, my KFF BFF Tanya sat alone in the theatre, broken-hearted and bereft. Often, during the festival journey, you reach these points along the way when the stories are too painful, too real, and the education you are receiving is brutal beyond words.  Based on the late Richard Wagamese’s novel of the same name, Indian Horse provided an enraging, blistering, redemptive lesson about a blight on Canadian history–Residential Schools.

The most popular film of KFF 2018, Indian Horse broke a KFF single film attendance record of 924.  Indian Horse also won the KFF 2018 Audience Choice Award.

(KFF FUN FACT: The same film has never before won both awards, which speaks to the impact it had on Kamloops–the adopted home of Wagamese.)

Now back to my Tanya, who hasn’t felt a film this deeply since The Color Purple.  We’ve got to recover, and quickly. I’m one step away from taking the vintage melodrama route and shaking her back to reality with a vigorous speech reserved for downtrodden teams in football movies. “Get up! Get up! Pull yourself together! You’ve got this. We’ve got this. As god, as my witness, you’re will  make it to the next movie.”

Although, I had come fresh from crumbling in my friend Jeffrey’s arms, sobbing freely into his chest. “Oh honey,” he said, patting my back. “I haven’t seen the movie yet; I’m catching the six.”

Forgive me friends, I’m telling this story out of order. (This is why you write things down!)

First of all, the film festival timeline was punctuated with several other events, (Kamloops was positively happening!) which left me with a rather shameful score of 14/22 for movie attendance.

KFF FOMO: I missed Entanglement to catch the Bahamas show at Cactus Jacks, with my husband, brother, and sister-in-law. I missed “A Fantastic Woman” as I was working with another fantastic woman: Mary Walsh (who was performing her one-woman show at TRU for IDays.)

After her show ended, I hustled downtown to catch Call Me By Your Name. 

KFF Highlight Alert!!!  It was hands down was my favorite love story of the season. I had to sit in the cinema until it had emptied out because I was sobbing so deeply into my insufficient pile of  tissues. It was such a beautiful, elegant, humorous film set in such a warm and romantic place. It was like a heartbreaking holiday.

KFF FOMO Part 2: I missed the International Women’s Day screenings of In the Fade and The Divine Order because I was the “Mermaid of Ceremonies” for a Sustainable Seafood dinner for I-Days. (Yes, that last sentence really happened).

I also, as a last-minute decision, skipped The Insult to do some laundry, wash my hair, and grab dinner with my husband. I was originally pleased with my self-care techniques, but was instantly remorseful when I arrived at the Brewing Discussion and listened to everyone gushing about the gripping legal drama. I had a flicker in my mind that made me think—how important is personal and marital hygiene anyway?

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With the benefit of hindsight, I would have caught Insult and skipped Dim the Fluorescents, which was my least favorite of the KFF season. (I was not alone in that sentiment) Let’s be honest. Every artist needs a ruthless editor who forces you to kill your darlings. No matter how much you think it’s all necessary, most of it needs to go. This movie had perfectly adequate ingredients, but it went on about 4000 years too long. I fell asleep at some point and woke up around 11:20 pm and the film was STILL HAPPENING. Seriously guys, cut at least 40 minutes out of this and never call me again.

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KFF Highlights!

  • All the times I was too busy to get popcorn, but was always offered samples of other people’s popcorn.

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  • Playtime at the Family Friendly party. Mandarin oranges and David’s Tea shared with little friends was a perfect way to kick off the day.
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  • Saturday triple feature: The Breadwinner, Tulipani (an absolutely charming and heartfelt film) and Tomato Red, with nibbles at Blue in between.
  • All the steeping, brewing and wineing discussions.
  • Kamloops Independent Short Short film festival–too many gems to choose from.
  • Ditching the second half of Happy End. (Not the most popular film of #KFF2018, that’s for sure. In fact it was the least popular film in the year.) I had more than one guest hand me a “1” on the voting card, as they left the film midway through).
  • All the red carpet action, naturally.

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  • Sunday Brunch at Blue. Eggs benedict, coffee and mimosas make everything better.

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  • The Oscar PJ Party was a fun little affair, especially when the internet cut out and I had to riff about Gary Oldman for a short sliver of eternity.
  • The trippy, twisted telepathic adventure that was Thelma.

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  • Patricia Clarkson’s crackling cynicism in The Party. This film was short but far from sweet.

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  • Staving off sleep in Loveless, feeling like I’m forever falling into some post-apocalyptic Russian realm.

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  • Annette Bening in every second of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. When she was carried down the stairs in her sunglasses, head scarf and fur coat at the end of the film…I just bawled. The dignity of glamour darling, it masks so much sadness.
  • Catching Indian Horse at 10am, so I could finish KFF2018 on a lighter note with Adventures in Public School.
  • Midnight on closing night, when all the stresses of the festival had melted away.

(“There’s actually still a considerable amount of paperwork to do,” Chair Dušan Magdolen shouted over the pulsing dance music).

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No matter. Nothing was better than dancing, Denny’s and being the designated driver. Laughter and singing and being faux-Olympic skaters on the dance floor once the guests had left, and the high heels cast aside on the floor. Time change included, I crawled into bed around 4 am. Sunday was a day of “Couch Island,” with all day pj’s, naps, food, tea and quiet reflection.

Despite the standard post-festival malaise, there is something within that feels recharged and reconnected. One can feel so alone in their feelings and experiences, it’s easy forget that it has all been touched before.

As my friend Monica would say, “You think you invented any of this?”

While there is suffering, there is still beauty. What a comfort. Heck, it’s a privilege to exist at all. To feel, express, reflect, connect. So little in life is guaranteed, but what we can know with absolute certainty is that stories are a gift. Narratives can cure loneliness, soothe depression, quiet anguish, quell anxiety–for the time being at least.  Alternatively, they can transcend you to dark places so you can be awakened, activated, alleviated.

Words never quite express my love and gratitude for those ten days-the food, the friends, the films, the fun–and for what remains long after the credits roll.

“All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that, and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside; we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time — Richard Wagamese.

March Madness & the cinematic soul mate

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Film Festival recap time! No time like the present am I right my friends? Why, yes, thank you for noticing, it is April, and the film festival closed March…11th. Seriously though. What happened to the other half of March? Is this what everyone means by March Madness? Talk about a time warp. It’s like I came home that Saturday night, kicked off my shoes, took a jump to the left, step to the right, and then suddenly it’s April Fools Day. What is this, a joke?

Now that I look back, I really should have taken better notes in order to appropriately capture the immediate responses to the films and events. As per usual it’s a whirlwind of wine, films, cheese and conversation. And so, I present my disjointed, disordered recollection of events.

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Perhaps for you, the thrill of those ten days are long gone. Just dim memories of dark theatres. Or maybe you found a film or two or ten that was like a finding long-time friend or a cinematic soul mate.  Running the gamut of emotion. Feeling all the feels. Welcome to my happy place. Losing yourself in a story and finding your way back by  the film’s end. Witnessing stories unfold, watching characters develop. Love blossoming, bonds breaking. Reunions and departures. Sacrifices and losses. Successes and victories; all the things that lift us up and tear us down. Some films were based on true stories, and while others were works of fiction, the tales still tend to hold a mirror up to our faces. What a privilege to be a part of that shared experience;  to grateful and ashamed for the human condition in it’s entirety. All that empathy, community, catharsis and buttery popcorn…what else in life does anyone need? 

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Over ten days, I caught 15 movies. I ugly cried four times, napped three times, abandoned one movie (ahem, Toni Erdmann) and–more times than I could count–laughed until nearly crying and vice versa. I lost sleep, danced, drank wine. I wore sequins, high heels and red lipstick. Each night I’d nestle in my standard seat with my Frida Kahlo bag filled with blankets, tissues, and other goodies and necessities. Each night I’d feel like all was well with the world.  

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My dear friend and Events co-chair Tanya and I spent a little  quality time at Hotel 540’s Blue. We enjoyed a lot of Privato Pinot Noir, (doing our part for the Flavors & Flicks initiative). We had a glorious brunch and a multitude of mimosas on a snowy Sunday.  Champagne buzzed and hollandaise high, we watched Window Horses, a trippy little cartoon about a young Canadian poet who travels to Iran to perform at a poetry festival.

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That same day, before I, Daniel Blake, we wandered over to PDK café for lattes and donuts with Kirsten Carthew, the filmmaker of The Sun at Midnight. 

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Quick note: congratulations to I, Daniel Blake—for being the first movie of the #KFF2017 lineup to make me ugly cry. It was a real face contorting, heart breaking kind of film.  Following that film, we strolled over to the Noble Pig for ciders and comfort food.

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Though KFF 2017 was drama heavy, there were moments of levity; The Space Between was incredibly heartfelt and good-humored, as was The Grand Unified Theory.

Nothing made me squirm in my seat more than Mean Dreams.  In fact, the Mean Dreams/Land of Mine double feature was a rather intense evening all in all. The Brewing Discussion at Red Collar was cozy, and I was laughing hysterically with my friend Sam on the way back to the Paramount. Suddenly it was young men dismantling landmines in a post-World War II landscape. Within the first few minutes the Commander head-butts someone in the face, which really takes the edge off the hilarity from the walk over.

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After that double feature, the most emotionally impactful evening was Angry Indian Goddesses and Maudie. That was a back-to-back sob-fest. Goddesses‘ preview really leads you to believe that it’s a buddy comedy, and while it is….it really isn’t. Regardless, it was the kind of unexpectedly devastating movies that requires you to just hang out in your seat until the theatre clears up a little. Maudie was equally as dehydrating, a sweet little love story about a most unlikely couple. A despite-the-odds tale about artistic expression. (And the #KFF2017 Audience Favorite!) 

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Weirdos was very nostalgic and sweet. Paterson, while so lovely, it was also like a shot morphine.  Admittedly, I took a little snooze during that one. All those scenes of sleeping and beds only served to augment my exhaustion. I j’adored Ville-Marie. The film within a film was an emotional intersection of humanity at it’s most raw and vulnerable. Monica Belluci’s emotional undoing is a revelation.

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Note, all these years I’ve been said “Monica Bella-lucci” and when filming videos for the festival, Sam, friend and videographer, said “Um no. It’s Bell-uci.” “Oh. Really?” “Yes, really.”  “Well…I prefer Bellalucci.”

After the film ended, I wandered out into the streets, feeling like a chic yet maudlin Montrealer in my green peacoat. Over a solo lunch, sighing deeply while staring out the window of a sushi restaurant watching the snow fall, feeling beautifully blue.

Once the last film credits had rolled, I got a little lump in my throat. It was partly related to 20th Century Women, but as always, it’s that end of an era feeling. The closing of another festival year. There’s so much time spent preparing for it, and suddenly it’s just like popcorn  and discarded ticket stubs on the floor.

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Then, of course, is the party, so you just shirk off your sentimentally for the moment. Chatting all things films, events, and special guests with other partygoers; gin and red carpet photos and shaking it like a polaroid picture on the dance floor. What a way to celebrate another season with all the fabulous film festival folk that helped make such a magical time happen.

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For more information about Kamloops Film Festival refer to the website or follow the link for a detailed account of the #KFF2017 

Photos courtesy of Alicia Ashcroft, Jen Randall Dustin, Robin Phelan & Chris Warner.

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