Available Light Film Festival a showcase for northern and Indigenous artists

Now in its 18th year, Yukon's annual film festival is showcasing more and more Indigenous films and filmmakers.

Yukon's annual film festival has evolved over its 18 years, says artistic director

'Film festivals play a really important role in terms of pushing the envelope,' said Andrew Connors, artistic director of the Available Light Film Festival. The festival began Thursday in Whitehorse. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Andrew Connors remembers the very first Available Light Film Festival in 2003, and being a little unprepared when screening Zacharias Kunuk's Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

"We showed up at the venue, you know, early in the morning and there was a lineup!" Connors laughed.

"So the cinema was full, and here we were, you know, kind of amateurs because it was our first year."

Seventeen years later, the festival is a local institution and Connors — the festival's co-founder and now artistic director — has an even keener sense of what Yukon audiences want.

"We try to focus the festival programming around Indigenous cinema and Northern cinema ... the bulk of the festival is Canadian," he said.

"Film festivals play a really important role in terms of pushing the envelope, I think, and providing you know, those stories to audiences — and audiences want that. The audiences in Yukon have always been really into Northern cinema, really into documentary films."

Along with film screenings, the festival includes workshops, panel discussions and music performances. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

They're also into meeting filmmakers, he said. Over the years, the festival has welcomed plenty of luminaries — Kunuk, Alanis Obomsawin, Guy Maddin, Richard Van Camp, and dozens more — to talk about their work and share their insights.

"That exchange I think is really important, in terms of you know, having a dialogue around the themes in the films and and how the films are made," Connors said.

"I don't think anyone's said no so far in all the years. Yeah, everyone wants to come to the Yukon."

Director Marie Clements, who attended the screening of her award-winning film Red Snow at the festival's opening night on Friday, agrees that the festival is about more than watching movies.

"You're bringing audiences and communities together. And I think really that's kind of exciting, it just has energy," she said.

Director Marie Clements, whose film 'Red Snow' screened on Friday at the festival. (Howard J. Davis)

Red Snow tells the story of a Gwich'in soldier captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and grappling with his past while under interrogation. It was partly filmed in the N.W.T.

To Connors, headlining feature films like Red Snow represent the evolution of the festival, and the revolution in Indigenous storytelling through film. It's a different world than it was 17 years ago, when Atanarjuat was a pioneering work by a then little-known talent.

The Available Light Film Festival is an ideal showcase for what's now happening in Canadian film, Connors says. 

"I think film festivals have always shown a broader and more diverse slate of work or programming than the mainstream distributors and studios have," he said.

The Available Light Film Festival continues until Feb. 9, in Whitehorse.

With files from Christine Genier


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