Fest’s second year boasts 46 film-related events
This may only be the second year NorthwestFest is sporting its new name, but as Canada’s longest running nonfiction film festival, its history goes back decades.
Formerly the Global Visions Film Festival, the new moniker NorthwestFest International Documentary and Media Arts Festival has far more heft, as does the festival itself. What was once a three-day event is now a 10-day smorgasbord of variety designed to entice a wider audience, festival director Guy Lavallee says.
“We realized that to really have more of an international festival flavour, you need to be more than three days long,” he says.
Consequently, the festival expanded while subtly shifting its tone in the process.
“Before, the emphasis was a little bit more on the activism side of the types of films that [we] were showing,” Lavallee says. “By their very nature, documentaries, a lot of times, are going to be about issues.”
However, by promoting the festival as more of a collection of real stories, Lavallee says they elicited a stellar response from attendees.
“It’s not just strictly hardcore social issue documentaries,” Lavallee says. “It’s documentaries about people and music and all sorts of different subject matters.”
In total, the festival reviewed almost 550 films, more than 80 percent of which were submissions. The 46 scheduled events at the festival span more than just movie theatre screenings.
At some screenings, filmmaker and celebrity appearances will sweeten the deal for a charitable cause. For instance, Theoren Fleury’s book signing event during the festival’s opening night and premiere of Victor Walk at Metro Cinema on Friday at 6 pm.
Other special events at the festival include a pair of Mother’s Day screenings at the Royal Alberta Museum theatre in Glenora, a series of Donald Trump-focused documentary screenings at the Matrix Hotel, and a National Film Board of Canada premier of Invisible World, an interactive virtual reality film at the Art Gallery of Alberta on May 13 at 12 pm.
NorthwestFest is also trying something new this year, with live daily lunchtime podcast sessions at The Needle from May 8 to 12. They feature discussions from professionals on topics like the divide between Edmonton’s sports and arts scenes, or the evolution of podcasting in our city.
Lavallee says these value-added events help NorthwestFest feel more like a festival rather than just a collection of screenings—something that’s essential without the conference atmosphere touted at other film fests like Sundance or the Toronto International Film Festival.
“When you have a smaller regional festival like we have and with not as much of an industry presence, it’s more of an audience-driven festival,” Lavallee says. “We want, as much as possible, when people are coming out—whether it’s a screening or whether it’s an event or whatever it is—that it feels like an experience that you can’t get sitting at home watching Netflix. That’s why we’ve tried to introduce a lot of more experiential type things.”
He says it’s all part of the constant battle for attention. The festival moved from November to February, and now to May to try to carve out some space for itself—but there are always challenges.
“With any festival, you’re always fighting competition against other events,” Lavallee says. “We’re launching [this] week against the Oilers’ first playoff run in 11 years.”
Public attention was distracted at last year’s festival as it opened the day Fort McMurray tragically burned to the ground. Despite the uncontrollable distractions, Lavallee thinks NorthwestFest is on to something with its new format and programming.
“We realized we were making so many drastic changes while keeping the core of what had been done for the last 30 years, which was documentaries and nonfiction film—shining a spotlight on that,” Lavallee says.And he says the decision has paid off, so far.
“The response last year was overwhelmingly positive from people who came to the festival,” he says. “They loved the name and the feel and everything, so we feel like we’re in a pretty good position right now moving forward.”
In the future, Lavallee wants the festival to be a heavy-hitter in Edmonton, one that people schedule vacation time around months in advance. But for now, he says putting forward a varied experience is a great first step along the road to that lofty goal.
“It takes a long time to get to that point, so even though Global Visions was around for more than 30 years, in many ways we’re really just in the infancy of reinvention,” Lavallee says.
Fri., May 5 to Sun., May 14
The Needle, Metro Cinema, Matrix Hotel, Royal Alberta Museum, Art Gallery of Alberta
Individual event tickets from $5, all-access pass $99