Film lovers are buzzing as the Cinefest International Film Festival prepares to kick off this Saturday.
“We’re wrapping up those final details,” said managing director Patrick O’Hearn. “We’re all set and everybody’s really excited. All our departments are clicking really well, and we have all our volunteers in place. We’re ready to go.”
This year will be the 34th edition of the festival, set to run Sept. 17-25. One of the largest film festivals in Canada, Cinefest will be featuring films, documentaries, and shorts of all genres from across Canada and around the world.
It’s the first time in two years that the festival has been able to return normal programming, with plenty of in-person screenings hosted at the SilverCity Sudbury Cineplex in New Sudbury. O’Hearn said so far, audiences are eager to return to the cinema.
“We are seeing some great interest,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of returning audiences. We’ve got people who haven’t been able to travel the last couple of years coming back. I can’t give you a true sense in terms of where we’re at against 2019 just yet, but I can tell that the box office is pretty much always dealing with customers. We think we’re going to have a really strong turn out.”
As part of their transition back to regular programming, Cinefest will also be offering some virtual options that will allow viewers to purchase tickets to watch the film in the comfort of their own home. But throughout the week, the in-person screenings, as well as the gala presentations each evening, will be the highlight.
A couple films have been attracting a significant amount of attention.
Ashgrove, a film by Jeremy LaLonde and Jonas Chernick starring Amanda Brugel (The Handmaid’s Tale), has generated significant buzz. Set during a not-so-distant pandemic, it follows scientist Dr. Jennifer Ashgrove (Brugel) as she attempts to find a cure to a crisis that’s poisoning the world’s water supply.
The film will be screened Saturday evening, after which the festival will be hosting a Q&A with both LaLonde and Chernick.
“They’ve been screening films at the festival for close to 20 years now,” said O’Hearn. “We know people are exciting about that. It’s a great film to kick off the festival with.”
Also among the festival’s most anticipated movies will be the documentary film “The Issue with Tissue: A Boreal Love Story,” which will screen Sunday afternoon.
“This film has some great coverage across northeastern Ontario,” said O’Hearn. “It looks at a very important environmental issue.”
The film documents the largely untold story of the boreal forest and the Indigenous peoples who call it home. Director Michael Zelniker said he wanted to examine deforestation in the boreal after learning that large swaths of the forest were being clearcut to make toilet paper and other paper products.
“What began as a story about trees and toilet paper emerged and evolved into a much deeper narrative that now runs from tree and toilet paper to treated, from carbon and climate change to colonization, from birds and water to Indigenous knowledge and stewardship,” said Zelniker. “Our storytellers have drawn a connection between colonial violence and unfettered extractive industrial exploitation.”
Throughout the film, Zelniker speaks with dozens of First Nations elders and leaders, as well as scientists, activists, and politicians.
He said it was important for him to take himself out of the narrative as much as possible and to instead create a film that allows Indigenous leaders from across the boreal to be in the same room together.
“It’s really a love letter to the boreal and to the Indigenous peoples who call it home,” he said. “It’s not my story. What I’ve done is built a platform for all these various voices to share their stories. The way it’s edited together, it’s building a conversation, a kind of talking circle between all of them.”
Cinefest will mark the global premier of the film, and according to O’Hearn, they’re set for a packed house.
Zelniker will be present for a live Q&A after the screening, but also attending will be several prominent Northern Ontario First Nations chiefs and leaders. They’ll include Chief Keeter Corston of Chapleau Cree First Nation; Alison Linklater, Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council; Chief Corston, Grand Chief Linklater, and several others.
“There’s just so much excitement for The Issue with Tissue,” said O’Hearn. “We have some great representation from a lot of the Indigenous communities throughout northeastern Ontario. We celebrate the film industry and its success in Northern Ontario and this film reflects that.”
Another ripped-from-the-headlines film in the lineup with be the drama Call Jane, with a star cast featuring Sigourney Weaver and Elizabeth Banks.
“It deals with a really timely issue, with the abortion debate in the United State about Roe v. Wade,” he said. “We’re going back to the ‘60s, to a movement that started to make sure women had the right to choose.”
With plenty of other films screening throughout the week, O’Hearn said there’s something for everyone.
“It really depends on what you’re looking for,” he said. “We have films about hockey, we have drama, romance, and mystery. We have great intellectual thrillers and psychological films. If you haven’t attended before, that’s what we’re here for. We have volunteers and staff who will be there and we’d be happy to make recommendations.”
If you go
Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival will run Sept. 17 to 25 at SilverCity Sudbury. Both in-theatre and virtual programming options are available. Tickets can be purchased for individual screenings, or in books of 4 or 10. Passports are also available to gain access to all festival film presentations, as well as other perks.
For more information and to view the full lineup, visit www.cinefest.com.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star