Film reels are scattered here and there. A black director’s chair sits before a retro popcorn machine. Dozens of well-read books — with subjects ranging from guerrilla filmmaking to cinematic history — are stuffed on a bookshelf, which sits opposite an editing suite.
This isn’t just a cinephile’s fantasy. Rather, the 900-square-foot office in the Old Y Centre — complete with a Steenbeck editing suite — is the new home of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) after the non-profit downsized from their old 3,000-square-foot space in Currie Barracks. Although it would be easy to blame the cramped quarters for accentuating the fervour of the staff, the real reason is that the $100 Film Festival, Calgary’s flagship celebration of celluloid, is less than a week away.
CSIF has been organizing the festival for two decades, making it the oldest film festival in Calgary. A lot has changed in that time: Despite the name, there’s no longer a budget cap; the original challenge — to make a short film (between one second and 22 minutes) with Super 8 film — has been broadened to include 16mm film; and the Film/Music Explosion! feature has been added, where filmmakers display work written to specific music, which is played by a live band.
For Melanie Wilmink, the festival’s programming co-ordinator, the diverse history of the festival is reflected in the diversity of the actual product. “It really has been a festival that has its own personality, I think. There’s a lot of festivals that one person starts, and they keep with the festival forever until the festival’s over or until they feel like it’s time to move on. That distinctly colours the types of programming that the festival does in a lot of ways, because it’s one person’s aesthetic.”
Shunning that method, the $100 Film Festival relies on two volunteer juries: one for programming, and the other for awards. The first wades through the 200 submissions (an all-time high for the festival this year), and picks around 50. The second jury evaluates the screened submissions, and gives away cash prizes and trophies for awards such as “Best of Alberta.”
The entire festival — which costs about $5,000 to $7,000 each year — is supported through ticket sales (ranging from $7 to $12) and sponsorship; staff costs are covered by CSIF. Artists receive payment for their work, and they don’t have to pay a submission or screening fee (requiring an artist to pay is a typical occurrence in North American film festivals). For Wilmink, not charging fees makes sense.
“We feel that submission fees are really unfair, because they’re getting charged for the chance to have their work looked at, to maybe be considered for the festival. It’s so unfair when filmmakers are spending so much time and energy. There’s nothing else where you would be asked to pay to submit. With writing, it’s probably a scam if people are asking you to pay to submit your work for consideration. The arts are sort of weird.”
This philosophy — in addition to the fairly unique filmic nature of the festival — attracts attention from all over the world. Submissions this year came from Argentina, the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Japan and Canada. Robert Todd, an experimental documentarian from Boston, is teaching a two-day workshop as part of the festival. Shinya Isobe, a Japanese filmmaker, is even flying in for the festival, requiring Wilmink to track down an interpreter.
For the programming co-ordinator, this exemplifies the quality of culture in Calgary. On average, between 100 and 150 people show up to the festival each night, rivalling some of the crowds Wilmink has seen at much larger festivals abroad. But it’s not enough, she says. Calgarians just have to be more aware of what’s happening in their own city.
“You do have to make the effort to find it,” she says. “It’s not going to drop in your lap. But you could go to Toronto or New York and probably still ignore the arts and culture happening there. I think people that say there’s no culture in Calgary just haven’t really made any effort to find it.”