NSI’s Chris Vajcner on her Yellowknife Film Fest trip

Chris Vajcner with Kirsten-Carthew and Camilla MacEachern

Chris Vajcner with Kirsten Carthew and Camilla MacEachern

Serendipity – a good movie (I’m a John Cusack fan), and a great explanation of how I ended up at the 2015 Yellowknife Film Festival.

The back story: in August, Brendon Sawatzky, NSI’s director of programming, was heading up to Whitehorse to deliver training and decided to make a northern holiday of it and also visit a buddy in Yellowknife.

Meanwhile, back in Winnipeg, I’m checking through Facebook, and Kirsten Carthew (NSI Drama Prize, NSI Features First) is shooting her NSI Features First-developed The Sun At Midnight in NWT during Brendon’s time there.

Brendon Sawatzky (middle) on the set of The Sun at Midnight with Kirsten Carthew

Brendon Sawatzky (middle) on the set of The Sun at Midnight with Kirsten Carthew and producer Amos Scott.

So Brendon surprises her on set. Very cool. He also meets with Camilla MacEachern, NWT associate film commissioner and Jeremy Emerson, Yukon Film Festival director and executive director of Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP) and they invite NSI to attend their film festival and do a session about NSI. And I’m the lucky one that gets to go.

What an amazing trip. Here are some of the highlights.

I attended a producing workshop by Anne Marie Gelinas (War Witch, Turbo Kid) and learned a lot about co-production challenges and rewards, and the transition from doing films about heartbreaking and poignant topics and situations to a “love song to the ’80s with 80 gallons of blood” (Turbo Kid).

Stunts for writers and directors with stunt performer/stunt coordinator/filmmaker Maja Aro (Once Upon a Time, Smallville) was fantastic.

I always thought of stunts as being for action movies. But when your character falls off a bike in a drama, or slips on something in a comedy, that’s when a stunt performer/coordinator is essential.

Maja was really fun. She stressed the importance of safety and landing on your soft spots as much as possible – easy to say, but it takes a lot of skill (and guts!) to throw yourself into a glass wall. Stunt performers are basically professional athletes.

Maja offered a stunt workshop too. Unfortunately (or luckily) I have a pinched nerve in my neck so I only observed the brave participants. Maja was really supportive and the participants did great.

Maja Aro’s stunt workshop

Film screenings were excellent and very well attended. It was great to re-meet Suzanne Crocker. Liz Hover and I met her at the Dawson City International Film Festival in 2007.

Her fascinating doc All the Time in the World follows her family – husband and three children – as they move to the bush outside Dawson City to live in a small log cabin without watches, running water or electricity, for nine months.

Every good festival has lots of good parties, and Yellowknife was no exception.

The festival team was so welcoming and fun, and the emerging and seasoned filmmakers were mingling and having a great time. There is a great artistic community in Yellowknife.

There was a bit of time to be a tourist too.

Old town was fascinating with the architecture – old and new – and the year-round houseboats on Great Slave Lake – North America’s deepest lake.

Houseboats Yellowknife

There were floater planes at docks where you’d usually expect boats and galleries with beautiful paintings and crafts, and fun tourist knick knacks.

Yellowknife Cultural Crossroads

I walked down Ragged Ass Road and marvelled at the beautiful Yellowknife Cultural Crossroads. Several weeks ago at Manito Ahbee, I met Gwichin flute player William Greenland from Yellowknife. He performed during the festivities and, wouldn’t you know it, I met him in a coffee shop while I was in Yellowknife – and he was in Kirsten Carthew’s film.

Ragged Ass Road Yellowknife

Pablo Saravanja and his lovely girlfriend Lauren took Suzanne, Anne Marie and me out of town to see the northern lights. Amazing! And the following night outside our hotel, Maja, Anne Marie and I saw even more, and they were a beautiful green.

Northern Lights Yellowknife

And – true story – I met a couple from Hong Kong. They asked me for directions and I said I didn’t know and that I was also from out of town. So here we are, +3 degrees, windy, snow flying, as close to the arctic circle as I’ve ever been, and the gentleman asks where I’m from. I say “Winnipeg” and he goes “Oh, Winnipeg. So cold,” and shudders. Cold air, warm hearts in Manitoba and NWT.

(Full disclosure. I cannot tell a lie. The northern lights photo was indeed taken by my iPhone, it’s just that my iPhone took a photo of a postcard of the northern lights. But I promise, they looked a bit like that.)

Very special thanks to Jeremy Emerson, Camilla MacEachern,  Nancy MacNeill, and Pablo Saravanja for making my great northern Canadian adventure so fabulous. And Kirsten Carthew – you’re a superstar. Many years ago Kirsten worked on her NSI Drama Prize film in the NSI office in Winnipeg, so she’s not just an alumna, she’s family. It was so cool to visit her turf.

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