This year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) was a celebration on several fronts. It was the first time in a few years that the festival occurred completely in person and in a year that saw Canadian cinema consistently knocking the ball out of the bark. Seriously, when you have a lineup that includes lauded works like Riceboy Sleeps; Brother; Viking; I Like Movies; Relax, I’m from the Future; ROSIE; and To Kill a Tiger, just to name a few, you are already ahead of the game.
I was fortunate enough to take in the festival for the first time as a guest of Telefilm Canada’s media contingent, including That Shelf’s Jason Gorber, Rachel West, and Pat Mullen. Bringing together Toronto and Quebec film critics, Telefilm Canada continued its brilliant initiative to encourage audiences back into the theatre by highlighting various lesser-known film festivals across the country. By extension, this also helps boost tourism as it encourages individuals to take in places they have not been before and revisit familiar stomping grounds too.
While it had been over 16 years since I had been to Kingston proper, I was immediately at home courtesy of a welcome package from Tourism Kingston. The KCFF festivities kicked off with a pre-festival gathering at a local museum which allowed organizers, programmers, and members of the Kingston community to come together and chat. At the event, I had the honour of meeting members of the Black Luck Collective, which works to create a sense of community within Kingston’s growing Black population. They organize get togethers at local cultural events, like the film festival, where they might not think to see themselves represented. Aside from the opening reception, the group was planning on attending screenings of the aforementioned Brother and the hockey documentary Black Ice.
The festival opener was Riceboy Sleeps, which was awarded Best Canadian Film by the Toronto Film Critics Association the day after the festival ended, and it played just as well as one might expect. Despite some early projection issues, the film had many people reaching for a tissue and sparked a lot of reactions that filtered over into the Q&A featuring the film’s star Ethan Hwang. Afterwards, there was a post-screening gathering with several filmmakers, including director Chandler Levack and her mother—both of whom were a delight to chat with.
Day Two of the festival kicked off with a Telefilm Canada-sponsored brunch, which again was an opportunity to bring the media and filmmakers together. I met Sean Farnel, a consulting producer on the festival film Eternal Spring, and director Laura Rietveld, whose documentary The Family of the Forest went on to win the Audience Award prize at the festival. From there we were off to the races with three straight days of films—comparing screening notes over meatball sandwiches and other locally recommend food dishes.
Over the course of the festival, I took in two of the four Canadian Shorts programs (Beyond and Northern Exposure), which highlighted some of the creativity and innovative storytelling prevalent in our country’s emerging and established talents. I also revisited two gems that continue to put a smile on my face with each viewing. The first was Stéphane Lafleur’s Viking, an amusing and ambitious film about a gym teacher who finds himself close to living out his astronaut dreams when he gets involved with the first manned mission to mars. The other film was Levack’s I Like Movies, a delightful video-store-set coming-of-age tale about a teenage cinephile whose ego and past trauma make him insufferable to family, friends and his new boss.
In the “new to me” category, Den Mother Crimson was one of the most highly anticipated titles at the festival. The film is the first in a new initiative to make Kingston, Ontario a major film production hub in Canada. Presented as a work in progress, the story revolves around three individuals tasked with trying to reboot an AI program that has gone rogue. I also took in some Quebec-made works as well that have not yet graced Toronto screens. There was Norbourg, a stirring drama that explores how an investment company caused the largest financial scandal in Canadian history. Then there was Marianne Farley’s Au Nord D’Albany (North of Albany), which follows a mother who goes to extreme lengths to protect her family when a tragedy threatens to rip them apart.
Filled with an impressively wide range of films, the Kingston Canadian Film Festival was well worth the trip. An added bonus for attendees? The two main theatres were a seven-minute walk from each other, which made grabbing food between films and/or perusing local businesses between screenings a breeze. Of course, when you have a Canadian lineup like this festival had, you really can’t go wrong.
Read more from this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival here.