Founded in 1989, Film Circuit is TIFF’s national outreach programme, engaging film enthusiasts cross the country with the best in Canadian and world cinema. By facilitating screenings of recent Canadian and international films, such as Closet Monster, Son of Saul and Film Circuit People’s Choice winner for 2016, Brooklyn, as well as guest visits by acclaimed artists such as Deepa Mehta, Gordon Pinsent and Don McKellar, Film Circuit is providing filmgoers with an opportunity to see challenging, yet rewarding films that otherwise wouldn’t be available in their region.
In 2016, Film Circuit worked with 164 groups to bring films to 151 communities, from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, to this article’s featured locale, the quaint, coastal town of Powell River, British Columbia.
The Reel Love Film Festival in Powell River was founded in 2002. Initial screenings were shown to audiences on an overheating film projector in their high school’s gymnasium, but since then the festival has grown considerably, transitioning to a charity and changing its name to the Powell River Film Festival. Now celebrating 10 years with the organization, Festival Director Michelle Hignell has seen the event change from tape and film to digital files, and expand to three theatre venues including the gorgeous Patricia Theatre, Canada’s longest continuous-run cinema.
We recently spoke with Michelle about the festival and their work with Film Circuit.
Hello Michelle! Could you tell us how you become involved with The Powell River Film Festival?
I’m similar to the changing demographics here in Powell River. I had been working in the film and television industry in Vancouver, but moved here because housing is more affordable. We didn’t know if we would stay, but the city really won us over. A mill town that was settled by workers over 100 years ago, Powell River is unique because it’s so isolated; it’s hard to get here and hard to leave. Generally people are here because they choose to be.
I had become interested in film festivals after my time in the entertainment industry; I find curating very creative and rewarding. I love storytelling, whether it’s through visuals or words. There isn’t a lot of work in the arts in Powell River, so it was great to get my foot in the door. I had a strong mentor and worked my way up the ranks, and am now Festival Director.
What is your history with film and how did you fall in love with cinema?
I was a big fan of nature documentaries while growing up – the opposite of Hollywood glamour, ironically. This interest spurred me to seek out more schooling and work in the documentary industry after university.
__How is TIFF Film Circuit involved with The Powell River Film Festival? __
We use the Film Circuit guide and programmer advice for some of our film research. By having this fantastic reference tool, we are able to book films that are a really great fit for our community. Powell River has an aging demographic, so we keep in mind what will be popular, but also challenging. Films that contain outdoor adventure, social justice, and environmental subjects play well here. We also work hard to include First Nations and topical issues. Music films are also appreciated.
Film Circuit is a wonderful service; it makes diverse Canadian and international titles accessible to smaller communities.
What have been some of the festival’s highlights over the years?
Two years ago we screened Red Army through TIFF Film Circuit. Powell River is a hockey town, so we partnered with one of the local hockey teams, giving out tickets to the film at their games.
The night of the screening, we incorporated a shorts programme, including a piece directed by a young man from the local Association for Community Living. The combination of Red Army and the short films satisfied our regular audience as well as a whole other crowd who loved sports. We gave away tickets at a local game and also arranged for the young hockey team to come to the screening. That was definitely a highlight and lots of fun!
Other highlights include our fundraising events, like when we screened Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and had donors enter for the chance to win golden tickets, and our youth film contest, where young people enter their short films for the chance to stay in Powell River for a weekend and attend our Adventures in Film Camp. It’s all about building awareness and enjoying immersive story-telling, in the theatre or behind a camera.