sifa up close
a critical look at this years films
An afternoon of interpretation and discussion exploring the artistry and culture of these films. A moderated and panel led roundtable event.
Led by a panel of four film critics, SIFA UP CLOSE provided an opportunity, through roundtable discussion, to explore the significance and artistry behind our nominated films. One of SIFA’s goals has always been to reveal the uniqueness of our artists, our stories and of the film medium itself.
The 2018 edition of the Saskatchewan Independent Film Awards on November 23rd marked the fifth year running for the event, making it an extra special celebration of the independent filmmaking done right here in Saskatchewan. This year, 18 different films were nominated, from shorts to features, and each embracing a different vision from filmmakers across the province. Since its inception, the SIFAs have grown in popularity, selling out once again this year in the days leading up to the event. While only a certain amount of tickets could be sold for the SIFAs, the Filmpool decided to supplement the awards with an additional event the following day, entitled SIFA Up Close.
Moderated by filmmaker and University of Regina faculty member Mark Wihak, SIFA Up Close was an opportunity for filmmakers and film lovers alike to take a deeper look at the eleven short films – both from the Short Film and Student Film categories – that were nominated the night before. The discussion involved a panel of creative professionals, including Chrystene Ells, a Regina-based visual artist, filmmaker, and puppeteer; Jon Montes, a Winnipeg-based producer for the National Film Board; Peter Kosanovich, an international graduate student at the U of R whose thesis revolves around feminism and sci-fi television; and Trudy Stewart, a Regina-based writer, director, producer, and programmer, and is also a member of the Flying Dust First Nation.
Each panel member chose a few of the nominated films to lead a discussion about, allowing for an in-depth look at the creative choices within each film. This discussion was not one-sided, however, as many of the nominated filmmakers were in attendance and had the opportunity to discuss with panel and audience members why they did what they did in the creation of their films. Some of the filmmakers in attendance included Kolby Kostyniuk (A Focused Portrait of Hartley Smith), Aaron Sinclair (Bad Poetry: Megan Nash), Mike Rollo (Farewell Transmission), John Graham (Being), and Gerald Saul (The Lost Art of Inertia). The other nominated films up for discussion included Four in a Blanket, Gavin Baird; Greg Allen’s Supernatural Sasquatch, Jeremy Ratzlaff; and in the student category, Beta Test, Joel Makar and Kenton Evenson; Sir Bailey, Matt Ripplinger; Der Jude, Spencer Zimmerman; and Moonshine Acres, Joel Kereluke (although Joel was unable to attend, his cinematographer, Luke Halyk, was present to discuss a few of the creative choices made on set).
During the discussions there was an opportunity to learn more about the process that went into creating the films, and what choices and factors influenced this process. These discussions were even when a filmmaker was able to provide their own input, Two of the discussions that stood out were regarding Jeremy Ratzlaff’s Greg Allen’s Supernatural Sasquatch and Spencer Zimmerman’s Der Jude, both extremely different in their subject matter but ultimately exploring some meaningful themes that the panelists discussed.
The film to start off the entire event, Ratzlaff’s Greg Allen’s Supernatural Sasquatch, was a documentary about visual artist Greg Allen and his fascination with creating the world of the sasquatch in his work. Ratzlaff’s film combined traditional documentary techniques with fantastical, fictional re-creations of the events that his subject, Allen, imagines when he paints the world of his sasquatch.
Chrystene Ells led the discussion of this film, citing its shift from a typical interview-based documentary into an artistic examination of Greg Allen’s work. There are several scenes where Allen is walking through the woods and comes across a portal, a motif that is present in his artwork and something he feels is what connects the sasquatch from its world to our own. Regarding these scenes, Chrystene said: “Soon, the artist becomes the art himself, and he almost kind of becomes the sasquatch.” Indeed, the film allows for its subject to become an active participant in the art he is creating, as well as the art the filmmaker created. Fellow panelist Jon Montes added onto Chrystene’s analysis of the film: “I just really loved the way that the film blurred the line between documentary filmmaking and fiction filmmaking. Doc filmmakers borrow from fiction and fiction filmmakers borrow from doc all the time, and I really like that [Jeremy] was just unabashedly doing that.”
In a complete aesthetic and thematic shift from Ratzlaff’s film, Spencer Zimmerman’s Der Jude, although less than four minutes in length, tells the story of a young woman and her connection to a Nazi soldier during World War II. The film is a poignant look at the effects of war on personal relationships, and how ultimately those relationships will live on, despite the distance between those involved. Peter Kosanovich led the discussion of the film, commenting on the simplicity of the film as one of its most important aspects. Of this simplicity, Peter said that “you weren’t getting lost in other things or trying to be over-technical, you were just trying to tell the good, simple thing that it was, which I though [Spencer] did a great job with.” It was the communication of such an impactful story in such a short amount of time that seemed to stand out in everyone’s minds, and seems to reinforce the idea that films do not need copious amounts of dialogue or grand shots in order to effectively tell a story. It is clear in Der Jude that quality production design, aesthetic choices, and sound design are just as effective in conveying a meaningful story to an audience.
When the discussion was extended into the audience, fellow filmmaker and nominee Kolby Kostyniuk commented upon the layered sound design throughout the film: “That first shot was so simple. Even the sounds underneath it really give you a good sense of what is about to happen.” The opening of the film does not allow for viewers to see much except a locket and the woman holding it, but the sound of clattering and a crying child immediately indicate the danger and chaos surrounding the lives of the characters.
Although only so much can be discussed when there are eleven films to bring to the table, SIFA Up Close was a successful afternoon of celebrating Saskatchewan filmmakers achievements over the past year. Not only was it an opportunity for filmmakers to gain some critical feedback about their films, but it was also a chance for the general public to engage with the filmmaking community, especially for those who were unable to attend the awards the previous evening. This engagement with artists and art supporters alike allowed for the event to engage with the province’s filmmaking, and indeed artistic, community as a whole.