A rookie at Yorkton Film Fest

I was really excited to experience the Yorkton Film Festival. I was a total rookie going there. I’d heard great things about the fest from our CEO John Gill and Melissa Kajpust, NSI’s director of programming, who both attended in 2012.

It’s about a five hour drive from Winnipeg to Yorkton. The ride out was lots of fun. I drove with Chris Vajcner, NSI’s director of communications and revenue development. We only missed two turns (which were really Chris’ fault), and those were before we’d even left Winnipeg. Richard, our GPS, led us the rest of the way.

We had lunch in Minnedosa and had excellent iced lattes at Chipperfield Coffee Company.


We crossed a number of things off the “Sights of the Prairies” checklist including sparkling waters, grain elevators and geese. We think we saw the Riding Mountains to the north but we’re not sure. You’ve got to love small town gas stations: they’re a one-stop-shop for a Subway sandwich, curry shrimp platter, bannock in a bucket and live bait (stored with the bottled water).

We were barely at the Home Inn and Suites, our Yorkton hotel, for five minutes before we ran into Kit Redmond (RTR Media, former NSI program advisor) and Norm Bolen (NSI board member), Rob Hardy (from Force Four and former NSI staffer and alum), Lindsey Vodarek (CMPA), and Indie Game: The Movie’s Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, among others.


L to R: Randy Gustin (festival co-chair); David Pollock; Lindsey Vodarek (CMPA); Rob Hardy (Force Four); Charlotte Engel (producer/writer); Dennis Heaton (writer); Craig David Wallace (Todd & The Book of Pure Evil); and John Bolton (NSI Drama Prize/NSI Totally TV grad)

Over drinks and meals during the whole weekend we met loads of interesting people including Richard Gustin (festival co-chair), Dana Lesiuk (festival jury committee member), Randy Goulden (festival executive director), Shelley Fayant (SaskFilm), Joanne McDonald (Citytv), Susanne Bell (SaskFilm), Katrina German (OneStory.com), Scott Leary and Jeff Dorn. Everyone was super friendly.

The premiere screening of Rufus, a film by David Schultz which had been shot in Saskatchewan, kicked off opening night. The film just won four Rosie Awards. It was nice to catch up with NSI alumni including Craig David Wallace (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil) and John Bolton (NSI Drama Prize and NSI Totally Television).

The screening took place at the Painted Hand Casino. At the end of the event, as we were leaving, casino staff handed out $10 vouchers. Chris came away with 1 cent; Danielle Audette (APTN) got 10 cents. I won $26 on my first pull. A good start to the festival!


The festival panel sessions covered topics such as pitching, how to build on your current success (panelists: Craig David Wallace, Dennis Heaton, Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky, Daniel Cross, and Scott Leary) and scoring for TV and film (panelists: Craig David Wallace and Shawn Pierce).

The Pitch-O-Rama session was hosted by Charlotte Engel of Rock Yenta Productions. Volunteers were given 10 minutes to create a pitch for a show based on a title and a random genre. Then they had to pitch their show to Danielle Audette and Bill Lundy (Bell Media). Rob Hardy’s “Cat Couch: The Musical” was a highlight.

At the mayor’s lunch, Chris and I met a few of the high school students who had participated in Student’s Day on Thursday (led in part by our new friends Scott Leary and Jeff Dorn). They were very excited about being at the festival and had many questions about what NSI does.

Friday night was very interesting. It was Lobsterfest, a unique community event involving lobster (or steak) and skeet shooting. It was a blast. Craig Wallace and I were neck and neck at three skeet a piece. Chris missed everything 100% but got a sweet bruise to prove she was there. The evening capped off at the CMPA Festival Lounge (Rayzr’s Pub).


Chris and I presented the first session on Saturday morning titled “Wake Up With NSI.” We talked about our courses and answered some really good questions from the delegates.


The rest of the day’s sessions included a discussion of hints and tips for first-time directors moderated by Lindsey Vodarek (panelists: Kim Bell and Tom Davidson); a discussion with Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky about their film Indie Game: The Movie (moderated by Daniel Cross); life beyond television (panelists: Katrina German, Kit Redmond, Erica Hargrave and Jeff Beesley); and a fantastic script writing master class with Dennis Heaton (writer on Motive, The Listener and Fido) interviewed by Norm Bolen. One piece of advice I learned from Dennis is for people experiencing writer’s block. Always be working on multiple projects. If you get stuck on one move on to another so you don’t lose your flow.

Throughout the afternoon, as we were attending panels, the festival transformed the second floor of the Gallagher Centre into a ballroom for the Golden Sheaf Awards gala.

We had the privilege of sitting with Randy Goulden, Norm Bolen, Kit Redmond, Costas Maragos (recently retired CBC news anchor and Golden Sheaf Gala host), James Ingold (president, SaskCulture), David Kyle (president, Saskatchewan Arts Board), Suzanne Bell and Joanne McDonald. We were treated to a wonderful Ukrainian feast. I even tried the studenetz (head cheese).


L to R: Chris Vajcner; filmmaker Chris Yip; Danielle Audette; filmmaker Tiffany Cassidy; Randy Goulden (festival executive director); and Karey Harris (festival co-chair)

As I said the award ceremony was hosted by Costas Maragos. He was an excellent host – fun and charming peppered with a few senate expenses and Rob Ford jokes.

Chris and I had the pleasure of presenting the student production award to Marcus Henkel and Ian Bawa for their film Offline.


Chris accepted the best documentary science/medicine/technology award on behalf of NSI’s Elise Swerhone and NSI grad Merit Jensen Carr for Surviving the Teenage Brain. Chris also accepted Frantic Film’s lifestyle award for Pitchin’ In, season four.

The night again ended at Rayzr’s Pub, where seasoned festival attendees confirmed that Chris did indeed have the unofficial title of Biggest Bruise in festival history.


Great, big thanks to Randy Goulden, Richard Gustin, Karey Harris and everyone at the Yorkton Film Festival. You really made this rookie feel welcome. I hope I’m able to come again next year.

When Chris and I arrived back in the office, we happily handed over the Golden Sheaf to its rightful owner. Congratulations Elise!


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