• By: OLM Staff

Ottawa International Film Festival Premieres in Style

The Ottawa International Film Festival (OIFF) is not a household name – yet. However, judging from its impeccably-organized kick-off party, which took place Wednesday evening at Ottawa’s Gordon Harrison Art Gallery, it may well be heading in that direction. The festival started off with a bang. Party-goers got to witness a preview of the diversity of participants in this year’s event, an enthusiastic and able group of festival organizers, and even a mayoral send-off.

What better way to legitimize an event, then by an opening speech by the mayor? Ottawa’s mayor elect, Jim Watson, elaborated his well-wishes for the festival, while tying it to his commitment to arts development in the city. Watson oversaw the passing of a financial arts pledge in city council a few weeks ago, and is in the midst of promoting his new-found arts vision for the city – in addition to the already-approved Arts Court renovations and Landsdowne expansion.  He clarified that his wish and commitment is to “support the arts at the local level.”

So where does OIFF fit into that plan? He explained to Ottawa Life Magazine that OIFF “is in its growing stages. We’re not at the same level as TIFF [the Toronto International Film Festival], but [OIFF] is a great opportunity to support the local talent in our nation’s capital.” When further asked why he now seems to be focusing on broader arts funding, he explained that, “While arts funding is often the first thing that gets cut, people should look at it as part of the economic fabric. It attracts jobs, employment, and tourism.”

Nina Bains, the festival’s Executive Director – and most fervent fan – rounded out the speeches of the night, thanking the crowd that came out. OIFF’s story really begins with Bains, the initial mastermind behind the festival. Bains had been working at a 9-to-5 government job when her life circumstances changed: she became a single mother after a separation, and met her current partner who, she eagerly explains, “dreams big.” She describes looking back at her days as a film student at Carleton University, and remembers how watching the cult hit Donnie Darko captivated and changed her. This may be the reason behind OIFF’s big attraction this year: Aaron Ryder, the executive producer behind Donnie Darko.

Like many brilliant and too-often-unrealized ideas, the first concoction for the festival came from the ground up – in this case, from a large in-home movie theatre. Bains wanted to have friends over to watch films, and came up with the idea of expanding it to the community. They had their first screening at a community centre on Elgin last year, starting with the 72-Hour Film Challenge. “The response was overwhelming,” Bains exclaims. This time around, things are evolving even beyond what she first imagined: “We’re not just trying to get bigger; the filmmakers are forcing us to get bigger.”

She sees new ideas being inspired out of the coming together of talent, as OIFF provides an arena for local film networking: “What was really interesting was that somebody said ‘I don’t know all these people.’ So I said, ‘This is great, OIFF can bring all these filmmakers together.’”

After Bains gave her thanks to the crowd, the party really began. This was, after all, a celebration. Party favours were distributed, fruit cocktails and delicious blue – the official colour of the festival – martinis were catered, and cheese plates were stacked. Party-goers mingled amongst the paintings, even spilling out onto Sussex Drive. Julie Lan of PopChampagne – Ottawa’s premiere pop blogger – summarized the general mood: “The atmosphere was full of creativity and enthusiasm. It was a pleasant night and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

Meanwhile, the lofty expectations did not end with OIFF organizers. The invite-only crowd saw the coming together of local acting talent, filmmakers, and all the important in-betweens that make up a film crew. Resident filmmaker and general man-about-town Luca Fiore – actor in the 72-Hour Challenge winning Polar Bear Love, and in another local screening, A Sensitive Subject – said he looks forward to “a lot of fun and [his] curiosity to be quenched” during the festival. Ivana Borojevic, Luca’s co-star in Polar Bear Love, echoed Bains’ hopes by being pleasantly surprised at the turnout: “I’m just surprised to see the mayor here, and just how the Ottawa arts community is coming together. It’s for people to be inspired and stay inspired.” Finally, Nicholaus Hillier, the man behind A Sensitive Subject, said that it’s nice to be recognized in one’s home town, having just come back from a showing in Chicago.

Another invitee was Kevin Burton, President of Digi60, Ottawa’s original digital film festival. Digi60 is screening several of its 2010 films at OIFF on Saturday. Burton really buys into Bains’ vision, telling Ottawa Life that OIFF rightly encourages collaboration, rather than competition: “OIFF shares our [Digi60] mandate of getting Ottawa filmmakers noticed. I thought, ‘We’re a filmmakers’ festival, they’re a film festival, it’s a good fit.’”

Gathering from general party-goers’ sentiments, it seems that Bains is in the midst of realizing that lifelong dream.

So, what is there to see and do at the actual festival? The festival kicks off with film screenings Thursday, and ends on late Sunday. Highlights include the world premiere of the anticipated local feature Kennyville, which screens on Friday, as well as the Digi60 run of short films and Music Video Challenge, both taking place throughout the weekend. No doubt, the biggest and most international attraction is the alluded-to evening with Hollywood producer Aaron Ryder, taking place on Saturday. Ryder will be presenting two of the most well known films under his production-belt: Memento and Donnie Darko. Make sure to check out the Ottawa Life Magazine blog for updates on all OIFF festivities.

To see a full schedule of events, go to the OIFF website at www.oiff.ca.