A year ago, my welcome note flashed with excitement for a big KCFF milestone – our 20th edition! We’d booked more films, more guests and more special events than ever before, even adding an extra day to the Fest. Atom Egoyan was coming to Kingston! Ticket sales were through the roof, we had assembled a stellar team and perhaps best of all, the movies were amazing. A week prior to opening night, faint talk of the pandemic circulated – but it seemed like a distant concern, especially for a small community like Kingston. We were keen and confident the show would go on! (This is the part of the movie when the needle scratches *whirrp across the record….)
On day two of KCFF (Thursday March 12, I clearly remember) we woke to inboxes full of cancellations, heated words of warning and heightened concern. CTV reported that health officials were suggesting something called “social distancing” which did not gel with festival plans whatsoever. By noon, nearly all our special guests had bailed and the creeping anxiety among staff, volunteers and festival-goers had accelerated. Knowing we’d never make it to closing night alive (metaphorically speaking) an emergency Board meeting was called and we immediately drew up cancellation plans. With over 18 months of preparations, KCFF20 stopped dead in its tracks. By the time Monday rolled around – when we’d normally be tying a nice bow on the Fest – Princess Street resembled a ghost town. To top it all off, Pearl Jam had cancelled their international tour, which meant my colleague Megan’s 40th birthday plans were toast.
It’s one of those moments you don’t forget: the conversations we had that afternoon are still vivid, heartbreaking and tear-jerking (in regards to the Fest, not Pearl Jam). But, at the same time, I distinctly remember the outpouring of support that came both fast and furious – I think it’s what they call happy-sad in the movies. Our inboxes still humming along, the anxious tone morphed into one of support and encouragement. Dave from KCCU wrote “we’re devastated and in solidarity with KCFF and will do everything we can to minimize the impacts on you and this valuable community festival.” Michèle at ACFOMI replied immediately saying “we remain a full supporter of the festival, and you can count on us for next year.” There were lots of others, as well – I’ve saved them all to my KCFF20 email folder which should really be christened the happy-sad folder for the Festival’s history books.
In the meantime, we’ve wrapped our heads around the digital Fest and are really excited for KCFF21! Unlike our 20th, we do not have more films, guests, or special events than ever before but we are just as proud of the incredible line-up of films on offer and especially that you can enjoy them from home. We’ll miss the energy of The Screening Room, rush line conversations at The Grand, and the mid-festival mixers at the Tango but hope you’ll have a chance to hop on a livestream, ask some questions in Q+As, and take your time over the 10 days to enjoy watching these movies at a more leisurely pace than normal. Our inboxes are somewhat less chaotic, but we’re pleasantly receiving messages from cinephiles and newcomers all across Canada and beyond, requesting ticket and pass information. Many of the films have travelled an unusual path this year with release schedules turned upside down. The entire film industry seems both perplexed and intrigued by the digital festival model, yet there’s the underlying feeling of “we’re all in this together.”
It’s been a strange and challenging year for everyone and we look forward to hearing YOUR stories, how you’re doing, and maybe (fingers crossed) catch a movie together in a theatre very soon! And for Megan’s sake, hopefully Pearl Jam reschedules that tour.
It’s very hard to write anything about the past year of life on this planet without using the word “unprecedented.” Suffice to say that things have been very different for the KCFF team in preparing for our 21st edition, the festival’s first to be entirely virtual.
The changes have been many but what hasn’t changed at all is the pride and excitement we feel over being able to introduce viewers to the most exceptional, most extraordinary and most engaging movies made by filmmakers from all over this country. In light of the many challenges of recent times, we are more grateful than ever for the ability of Canada’s visual storytellers to create connections, offer insights, foster empathy, inspire action and straight-up entertain. What’s more, we know how difficult it is to make this work — and to drum up the attention it deserves — even in far more predictable circumstances than the ones we’re coping with!
Even though audiences will be experiencing the KCFF via their TVs, computers and tablets instead of inside the venues we all miss so much, there’s no shortage of discoveries to be made. That’s true whether you’re most looking forward to seeing startling debut features like BEANS and VAGRANT, thought-provoking documentaries such as THE MAGNITUDE OF ALL THINGS and NO ORDINARY MAN, uniquely compelling dramas like MY SALINGER YEAR, MARLENE and DEATH OF A LADIES’ MAN, or new cult faves like BLOODTHIRSTY and THE KID DETECTIVE.
We believe that with its continued strength and diversity, Canadian cinema continues to set new standards. We might even say the quality on display at KCFF21 is unprecedented but we’re going to avoid that word for now!