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FAVA Fest celebrates Edmonton’s DIY filmmakers

Celebrating local film in style // Aaron Pedersen
Celebrating local film in style // Aaron Pedersen

Just picture it: you’ve stepped on stage to accept an award from your peers. You’re dizzy as the waves of applause wash over you—hot damn, this thing comes with a cash prize! And then they hand you … an old boot?

Are you upset? No, because this is FAVA Fest—a six-day celebration of Edmonton’s independent film community, put on by the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta—and that old boot is a symbol of the scrappy tenacity it takes to make moving pictures in this isolated land we call home.

The boot, explains Trevor Anderson, filmmaker and director of programming for FAVA, was inspired by legendary German director Werner Herzog’s visit to Edmonton in the ’90s for the Local Heroes festival, precursor to the Edmonton International Film Festival.

“He gave us a pair of his old boots to represent DIY filmmaking,” Anderson says. “This year, we’ve got awards called Herzog’s Boots: anyone who wins gets $1000 and an old boot—but not his old boot.”

The Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta was started by 16 artists back in 1982. Back then, it was damn-near impossible for an independent filmmaker in Edmonton to have both the gear and the practical experience to make movies and videos. Acting as the Northern Alberta hub for video artists, animators and filmmakers, FAVA grew from a small equipment co-op to a dynamic creative force that now boasts hundreds of members.

Today, FAVA acts as a network and an invaluable resource for budding and established filmmakers, Anderson says.

“It’s for independent-minded Edmontonians to seize the means of productions and do it themselves to make their own video art,” he notes. “We have a lot of gear, and basically you can get the info and the community that you need. The community is important—knowing there are other people making art, that you’re not in total Edmonton isolation.”

That community, says Lindsay McIntyre, local filmmaker and FAVA’s film chair, is what keeps her in this city.

“It’s why I don’t work in Vancouver, Toronto, New York or Montréal,” McIntyre says from her home, shortly before leaving for a video project in Peru. “Because the support here is so strong and so solid. It’s absolutely essential; I wouldn’t want to think about what Edmonton would be without it.’

McIntyre is one of the FAVA members screening work at the 2015 festival. A collaboration with Dave Morgan, McIntyre’s short film Castaway Art: Art from the Wasteland is a portrait of local artist Chad Baba, who makes sculptures, lights and other artwork from Edmonton’s garbage. Shot in black and white on “clunky old 16 mm,” the film was made with grants from Make Something Edmonton and cash from FAVA’s Helen Folkmann Film Award.

Folkmann was the long-serving executive director of FAVA before her death in 2004. Local filmmaker Eva Colmers remembers meeting Folkmann back in 1997, when Colmers was “pretty green.”

“It was [Folkmann] that showed me how to get a crew together,” Colmers says. “She was always the producer and production manager for my short films. To me, she is still there each time I do a film project; each time I honour her.”

Colmers will be the MC for an evening at this year’s festival called Hooray for Helen. To remember the influential Folkmann—”She was very brave and bold,” Colmers says. “She took the message of importance of media to the mayor and ministers, provincially and nationally”—they’ll be screening some of her film work and sharing stories, as well as handing out an outstanding achievement award in her name.

The awards are a big part of FAVA Fest. This year, FAVA members are set to score $66 000-worth in cash prizes, commissions and services. While the dollars and kudos are a huge benefit to Edmonton’s independent filmmakers, perhaps equally important is the fact the festival screens and celebrates local works.

“Its a weird thing: it’s hard to get your film work shown in the city you live in—it’s almost easier to get shown at international festivals than in your own city,” McIntyre notes. “It’s a way to get buns in seats, to get people to recognize what’s happening in this city. And the awards get a lot of people to make sure they finish their work, because of the cash prizes. It’s actually increased production in Edmonton.”

Along with local films, Anderson helped bring in some compelling work from outside Edmonton. Anderson, also known for his work with the Wet Secrets, has shown his short films and music videos at high-profile festivals in Toronto, the US and Berlin. He recently showed his short The Little Deputy at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW, and is sharing some of the cutting-edge art he saw there with his hometown crowd.

FAVA Fest will feature selections from the Calgary Underground Film Festival, short films that Anderson say will be “edgier.” And Edmonton audiences can save the airfare to Utah as FAVA is screening eight short films from Sundance.

“I think we’re the only place in Canada that shows this package, it usually only tours in America,” Anderson says. “That’s very exciting.”

Another treat for this year’s fest is the screening of Bye Bye Blues, a made-in-Alberta movie that premièred at the Garneau Theatre 25 years ago. Due to copyright issues, the movie has been unavailable to the public for decades. But, that settled, FAVA will be showing the film in a mint-condition 35-mm print from the University of Alberta archives—and Anne Wheeler, the film’s director, as well as star Rebecca Jenkins and copyright lawyer Joel Bakan, who helped save it from obscurity, will be in attendance.

With such a wide range of film and events to enjoy, Colmers says FAVA Fest isn’t just for members or diehard Edmonton movie buffs—it’s for everybody.

“The event is amazingly fun,” Colmers adds. “People dress up and celebrate. And there is good booze and good food.”

Mon, Apr 13 – Sat, Apr 18
FAVA Fest
Visit fava.ca for full schedule

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