SJIWFF Goes Virtual for their 31st Annual Festival

“By supporting one another, we all do better. I think that’s part of the magic of Newfoundland and Labrador’s arts scene.”

There is no question that the pandemic we are living through has altered our normal routines, causing us to change and adjust to the way we live, work, and create. Artists have had to figure out ways to continue making art, and make sure everyone continues to be safe and follows public health guidelines. Here in St. John’s, there are many festivals and celebrations of the arts, and in a time before Covid-19, it was easy to attend, support, and show your love to these amazing artists for their work. But with the pandemic, there are many moving pieces to create a festival that would not only showcase artists in a way they deserve, but also follow the Covid-19 guidelines. This year, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival has done just that.

For the last 30 years, the team at SJIWFF has created a space to showcase and display films made by women, featuring artists and creators from all different walks of life, backgrounds, and experience levels. This festival is a place to show incredible support to women filmmakers, and show the public what amazing art is out there. From St. John’s to Vancouver, films made by women are highlighted and celebrated.

Jenn Brown, Executive Director of SJIWFF, knew that the festival had to continue, even through the pandemic.

“We never questioned if we’d present the festival or not,” Brown told the Independent. “We knew we were going ahead, no matter what. We started brainstorming scenarios right away. We brought on our technical director, Victoria Wells, on a few months early to begin researching, consulting and experimenting with various platforms. We then developed our entire box office.”

This brainstorming session led the team down a completely new path. To make this festival work, Brown and the team had to think about the best way to make it accessible to everyone, while also highlighting as many artists as they could.

“When programming this year’s films, we decided to increase our number of selections, which meant paying more artists and giving more choices to audiences,” she explained. “We then lowered our ticket fees and made our films available for all of Canada.”

By doing this, SJIWFF has not only created a safe space to enjoy these films, but also gave many artists the opportunity to show off what they have been working on. This is extremely important in a Covid-19 world, where artists have less opportunities than ever.

Planning a festival isn’t a light task, especially now, but Brown says that it wasn’t too hard to leap into the changes and face them head on.

“Instead of thinking about the fun, familiar stuff we weren’t doing, we focused on and looked for great opportunities and new possibilities.”

This mindset brought the team to plan an action packed festival which delivers amazing films, including “Little Orphans” written by local artists Ruth Lawrence and Emily Bridger which will be presented live during the festival.

“With a local feature as our opening, we needed to offer the experience of watching and sharing it on the big screen. The team deserved that experience,” Brown told the Independent. “To present this event, we needed to go above and beyond safety precautions and mean it.”

“The screening didn’t require special permission [or] approvals. Still, we went to the provincial government and health officials to build a set of robust guidelines and a thorough strategy to ensure this event is as safe as possible and fun.”

Along with showcasing more films, SJIWFF has gone above and beyond to support local artists here in St. John’s. They have included streaming a selection of short films by local artists such as Jordan Canning, Kerry Gamberg, Jamie Miller, Andrea Cass, and Prajwala Dixit, as well as access to free virtual talk back panels—including Spotlight on Local, Conversation with Little Orphans, and Storytelling Through Animation.

SJIWFF has also been able to highlight local artists by having local artists create labels for beer cans. Teaming up with Quidi Vidi, SJIWFF created 31 beer can sleeves—all by local artists—in honour of showcasing and displaying as much work as they could.

“We chose 31 artworks made by women across all of Newfoundland and Labrador, and each was turned into a custom label to showcase and show off more of the great art scene here. It’s a giant adult scavenger hunt, trying to collect them all.”

During times like Covid-19, the world looks to artists to push through, to distract, to entertain; it is our escape from the world, from the pandemic, from the seriousness of what is going on around us. “Art inspires and engages us, which we all need badly right now—with so much isolation and unknowns, connecting people is a powerful thing.”

There is no better time than now to highlight artists and creators in our community, giving them the extra boost they need to continue to create in a time such as this.

“By supporting one another, we all do better. I think that’s part of the magic of Newfoundland and Labrador’s arts scene,” Brown explained. “It’s interdisciplinary and interwound like nowhere else. Our cultural sector is what it is because of this relationship.”

So grab one of the amazing SJIWFF beers from Quidi Vidi, get comfy, and dive into the work presented at the 31st St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, running October 14th to the 18th. Check out SJIWFF Facebook page for more details on how to tune in to these virtual shows.

Photos via Jenn Brown.

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