Friday will mark the start of the fifth annual Forest City Film Festival, but unlike previous years, cinema lovers won’t be venturing out to take in the latest in local filmmaking talent.
Instead, that talent will be coming to them.
As was the case with other arts and entertainment events in the city, the coronavirus pandemic forced festival organizers to get creative to keep the show going.
The result? An online-only festival featuring 75 films, all premiering over the course of nine days, complete with 28 virtual Q&A sessions, competitions, and 12 industry sessions with people in the business.
As in previous years, nearly all of the films being presented have connections to southwestern Ontario, said festival founder and executive director, Dorothy Downs.
“Almost everyone is connected to this region, whether it’s Niagara Falls, Hamilton, London, Brantford — all fantastic,” she told 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly this week.
With so many films on the docket, there’s likely something for everyone. Thirty shorts, nine features, eight documentaries, six animations, and 15 music videos are competing. Several other films are screening out of competition.
“We have such a range of films, and they’re very, very high quality,” Downs said. Trailers for the films being screened can be seen on the festival’s YouTube channel.
Among them, The Last Out, an American documentary film about three young Cuban baseball players trying to get into the major leagues. The film, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, is co-directed by Sami Khan, a Sarnia-native.
“Opeka is about a priest in Madagascar, and that one is by a filmmaker who grew up in the Petrolia region and London region,” she said.
Organizers are also bringing back the Forest City Youth Film Festival on Oct. 22 for a second year, with more than 20 films on display and grand prizes of $500 for the winner of each of the five categories.
While a large part of the festival focuses on screening southwestern Ontario film talent, it won’t be the only thing attendees can take in.
The festival is also holding Fanshawe College-supported industry sessions featuring in-depth conversations, panels and workshops with professionals in the business including actors, directors, executives, producers and writers.
Among the notable names is London-born actor Victor Garber, an award nominee for his roles in Argo and Alias among others, who will sit down for an hour-long conversation with Downs about the industry and his storied career on Oct. 24.
Budding screenwriters can also participate in the festival’s screenplay competition, with the grand prize winner receiving $500, professional industry feedback, and a pass to the Toronto Screenwriters Conference.
“We like to think of ourselves as really helping to build the industry in this region from the ground up,” Downs said.
“The foundation of everything for film is great screenwriting. So that’s been growing beautifully over time, that we really do focus on screenwriters that are from this region.”
A separate competition, called PitchFest, sees local filmmakers pitch their best short film ideas for a chance at winning a bevy of prizes.
“The registration for the pitches has passed, but we’ve got some fantastic pitches that are going to be done,” Downs said.
“People come up and they do pitches to five judges who are in the industry, and it’s really fun to watch… There’s almost $12,000 in prizes.”
Although the festival ends Oct. 25, all films will be available on-demand from the time of the festival’s closure until Nov. 1.