St. John's festival turns camera towards rookie filmmakers

St. John's-based filmmaker Kerrin Rafuse says she "kind of fell into filmmaking," starting out as a photographer and then finding her feet as a writer.

Eventually the call of the director's chair pulled the self-described introvert out of her shell — and into the fray as a filmmaker.

The 32-year-old was tapped as this year's winner of the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award for her short, La Véillée.

She's one of dozens of industry workers on hand for the St. John's International Women's Film Festival, running Wednesday afternoon through Sunday, who'll get their fill of films from around the world.

Rafuse, along with a number of writers and directors, also represents Newfoundland and Labrador culture on the global stage. 

La Véillée, a quirky Franco-Newfoundland take on fairy lore, starts off with a story: the same one heard by her husband as he grew up on the west coast. As the film's grandmother recounts the tale to her family, "her grandson is off having an encounter of his own with a possibly not-so-nice fairy," Rafuse said.

She's also written her script entirely in French.

"Newfoundland French," she adds. "So it's a very interesting patois."

'Do it with whatever you have'

This year's festival zeroed in on newer filmmakers like Rafuse, says the festival's executive director Jenn Brown, removing the ticket fee for panels and talks in hopes it'll wrangle in new faces and fresh talent.

Rafuse goes a step further: forget simply mingling, she says. Even those just thinking about putting their ideas to the screen shouldn't shy away from using smartphones to make shorts.

Malone Mullin/CBC

"Do it with whatever you have. If you have nothing, then use that to your advantage. Make something that plays on the idea of having no budget to work with, or your actors aren't real actors," she advised.

"Never ever listen to the old fuddy-duddies at the top, who tell you how things should be done. Because those rules are meant to be reinvented."

30 years on

Aside from hoping to welcome a different cohort, this year's St. John's International Women's Film Festival is also a birthday party of sorts.

This year marks three decades of one of the world's longest-running, female-focused film festivals.

Supplied by the St. John's International Women's Film Festival

Brown says the word spreads year after year, with big names now requesting to host workshops rather than the other way around.

"They just can't believe the hospitality and experience of coming to Newfoundland.... They do believe this place is magical," she said.

"It's an easy thing for us to brag about and be sincere about it."

What's on

Wednesday night's red carpet affair starts at 6 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre in St. John's, followed by a screening of Black Conflux — a portrait of adolescent restlessness set in 1980s rural Newfoundland.

Thursday sees an array of shorts at LSPU Hall followed by a late feature. If a matinee is more your style, head to an afternoon showing of Luben and Elena, a look at the Bulgarian artists that took Gander by storm in the 1980s, at The Rooms.

Malone Mullin/CBC

CBC hosts a Q&A at the Hall Friday night after a run of shorts. Stick around for Drag Kids, which follows four preteens as they hone their struts.

Saturday's Becoming Labrador, an immersion in the Filipino community that's sprung up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, takes you inside the homes and dreams of the Big Land's unusual newcomers.

Wrap up Sunday with a medley of shorts, followed by the festival's closing night feature, Rustic Oracle.

Find the full schedule, including panels, meet-and-greets and shorts, here.

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