I just got back from the Atlantic Film Festival, which was another great festival-going experience. The festival is in its 31st year and takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is a beautiful waterfront city.
The biggest problem with going to a festival in Halifax is that it takes multiple flights and a long time to get there from Los Angeles. I opted for a red-eye so I wouldn’t lose an entire day in transit. It was odd arriving at LAX at 8:30pm for a 10:30 flight, but I got through security and had some dinner and managed to sleep a little on the first flight.
I had a three-hour layover in Philadelphia during which I napped some more on the floor at my gate, which is exactly as uncomfortable as one would expect. By the time I arrived at Halifax Airport I was exhausted, but also really excited to check out the city and the festival.
I had a nice surprise when I got through customs and there was a woman with an Atlantic placard. The festival, it turns out, had arranged transportation to and from the airport for visiting filmmakers. I felt like a VIP. On the drive to the hotel I got a taste of the international flavor of the festival. Our driver was Scottish, one of the other filmmakers was Australian and the other two were South African. I felt like I was part of an English accent convention.
That first day in Halifax a thick fog lay over the city, giving it a spooky quality as we drove across the bridge into the shrouded city. I got checked into my hotel, fought off fatigue and headed out to get my festival credentials and see what there was to see. The walk through downtown Halifax was much shorter than I’d expected. It’s a very compact city. I passed the historic Citadel, which sits atop a hill overlooking the harbor, and down to the Delta Halifax where the festival was headquartered.
There’d been a mix-up with the credentials, so I had to wait while they printed out a new badge for me. I took the opportunity to leave some postcards around, advertising my screening. I found out later that they worked pretty well, as most of them were taken and we had a good crowd for the screening (I take full credit, of course).
Unfortunately, by the time I got my badge and a tote bag with the catalog and some other swag, I’d missed the opening night screening. It was just as well, as I was starving. My friend Erik had recommended the Wooden Monkey as a place to eat, and he didn’t lead me astray. I had a great meal of local haddock there. When I arrived back to the Delta to catch a shuttle to the opening night gala, they had installed searchlights in the front, and now I really felt like I was part of a film festival!
The shuttle let me off at Olympic Hall and I felt even more like a VIP as I entered the gala along a red carpet, with photographers snapping pictures all the way. I hope their editors don’t reprimand them too badly for wasting so many shots on me.
The party was huge and loud, with thumping music and green lights playing back and forth. It was very hot inside, so a lot of people were congregated outside under a tent in the rain. I did my best to be social, and had a good conversation about the films of David Cronenberg with a reporter from a Canadian movie magazine, but fatigue was catching up with me fast, and I finally had to admit that I was going to lose that battle. I caught another shuttle back to my hotel and went to bed.
I woke up completely refreshed and ready to rock the festival. Of course, that was because I’d slept about 10 hours and it was past noon. So after picking up a coffee from the excellent Steve-O-Reno’s right next to my hotel, I skipped breakfast and went straight to lunch, an amazingly fresh banh mi from Indochine.
Then I walked around the corner to the Park Lane Mall, where most of the festival screenings were taking place. I picked up my five comp tickets and headed off to explore the city and see if I could give them away before the screenings started at 7pm.
I found a city park with, inexplicably, a giant statue of a glowering Winston Churchill. Maybe he was in such a bad mood because of all the pigeons that’d had their way with his head.
I also stopped into a folk instrument shop and noodled around on beautiful and amazingly cheap banjo. If I could’ve gotten it home without having to pay $50 to check it on my flights, I might have bought it. Instead I headed down to the Delta to replenish my postcards and then to the waterfront where I took in the harbor and bought some knick-knacks to bring home.
And before I knew it was time to head back to the Park Lane for my screening. I hadn’t found any candidates for my comps, so I just went through the box office line at the Park Lane and asked if anyone was interested in the Shorts 1 program. I found five takers pretty quick, all of whom seemed very grateful for free tickets. I told them which film was ours, hoping that my largesse would translate to louder applause.
Then I headed into the theater and met Mark Flindall, the programmer for short films for the festival. He’d been very friendly and helpful in getting me set up at the festival and had very positive things to say about our film. He introduced the program and I got up and said a few words about the movie, as did another filmmaker who was in town from Los Angeles.
The program was really good. The first film was a beautiful but tragic story of a plane crash over the north Atlantic, and I was nervous as our film followed that. But the audience bounced back from the sadness and we got a really good reaction. With that over, I settled back and was able to enjoy the rest of a very strong program without chewing on my fingernails.
After the screening I hung out in the lobby a bit and talked with a few audience members who stopped by to ask questions or just give us a thumbs-up. Then I weighed my options. I was pretty hungry, but also wanted to see more movies, and the next program was starting right away. I ended up opting for movies, and went straight into the Shorts 2 program, which turned out to be the right decision.
Whereas Shorts 1 was a program mostly of comedies, often with a romantic storyline, Shorts 2 was mostly suspenseful films, and the highlight was the first film, a Swedish short called IN, about two men who venture into a train tunnel in the middle of the night to try to retrieve a teddy bear lost by the young son of one of the men. Though very little happens, the movie is intensely suspenseful and goes off in a direction that was completely unexpected and very creepy. A really excellent short film.
I left that screening and decided I couldn’t make it through another, I absolutely had to eat. I left the mall and walked past the Churchill statue again and came upon a very strange intersection. On one corner was a park, but on the other three were unaffiliated, competing pizza restaurants, all of them with a Middle Eastern flair, serving donair kebab along with pizza. I found out later from some locals that it is a well-known Halifax landmark called, appropriately enough, Pizza Corner.
I chose one of the shops almost at random and had a very cheap but delicious kebab pita. Then I continued to the Taboo Nightclub where the festival was having its Friday night party. It turned out to be a better environment for talking, or maybe I was just feeling more outgoing now that I wasn’t falling asleep. Whatever it was, I talked with a bunch of people. Some were film lovers at the festival as audience, but many were film folks, many of them local to Halifax. I spent a good chunk of the evening with two brothers who compose film music together. They were really nice and introduced me to a bunch of other Halifax film folks. It turns out that Halifax and Atlantic Canada in general, have a truly thriving film scene. Several of the features and shorts programs in the festival showcase local talent, and there’s a film school in Halifax. In fact there are at least three universities—it’s a real college town, as became obvious when we left the party about 1am and the streets were packed with people. It was way more happening at that hour than I’ve ever seen in LA!
We stopped in to another party briefly, and then ended up at the filmmakers’ hospitality suite at the Delta. Finally around 2:30 in the morning we all decided it was time to head home. I said goodbye to my new friends and made my way back through the crowded streets to my hotel, where I did my best to pack up and then collapsed into bed.
My alarm woke me up and I just about had time to shower, finish packing, check out and grab a quick breakfast to go at Steve-O-Reno’s. Then it was time to say goodbye to Halifax and Canada for now. A shuttle was waiting for me in front of the hotel—the transportation at the festival was first-rate from start to finish—and the volunteer driver told me about some of the history of the area as he drove me back out of the city and to the airport.
As with 1 Reel, I got on my flight both exhausted and exhilarated by the experience. I wish I could’ve stayed for more of the festival, but the couple days I did get to spend were a great experience. Now it’s time to set our sights on the next festival: Williamstown. Stay tuned for that coming up in late October!