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Interview: Canadian Film Fest Founder Bern Euler

Canadian Film Festvial - Bern Euler

In a city where film festivals come and go on a regular basis, often with massive corporate sponsorships or charitable connections or studio involvements of various sorts, it’s great to know that Bern Euler’s Canadian Film Fest (running in Toronto at The Royal from Wednesday, March 28th to Saturday, March 31st) stands as a true and inclusive festival based out of the love of cinema and a desire to allow emerging Canadian filmmakers a chance to peddle their wares and get their films seen by larger audiences.

A writer and actor himself, Euler understands the value of smaller, more intimate festivals and the importance of giving everyone a fair shot at getting their work noticed. After taking a hiatus for a few years, his festival returns with a line-up of nine features, ten shorts, and two panel discussions – one focusing on genre film in Canada and another about the more general state of film in the country. The films chosen range from the opening night drama (Cloudburst) to documentaries (Material Success, If I Should Fall) to several horror outings (Below Zero, The Unleashed, and closing night film, A Little Bit Zombie) and everything in between.

The dedicated, polite, and charming Euler talked to Dork Shelf last week about the genesis of the festival, his personal attraction to it, and why this stands to be the best one yet.

Dork Shelf: Your festival seems to be filling a bit of a void in this city by giving emerging filmmakers a chance to let their voices be heard.

Bern Euler: Yeah, I know. I don’t understand why that is. Some programmers – now I’m not saying all, but definitely some – and people in the film world kind of turn their noses up at certain kinds of films, like genre films especially. Films that people actually like to go see. (laughs)

DS: That’s pretty true since most of these films that you’ve chosen are made with small budgets and a lot of heart and good intentions, which I think often goes unnoticed. Even if it’s a film that I don’t particularly like, it seems important for festivals like this to exist or else how can we really hope to forward any sort of emerging talents in this country? It feels a lot more genuine than most of the stuff that passes for festival fare these days.

BE: Yeah, absolutely, and it comes down to story for me. I mean, obviously when it’s an emerging filmmaker. I don’t care if there aren’t any big names in it or the production values. For me it’s about the story being there. To me it’s the number one thing.

But you know, it’s so hard to make a movie. There’s a million steps involved with making a film. If you screw up just one step and the entire movie is a bomb. So whenever people can get through all those steps and deliver a good movie, I’m just automatically a fan and that’s something that should be celebrated more than it often is.

DS: So how did the festival get started for you?

BE: I’m a writer myself, and I’ve got a bunch of different scripts in different stages of development, and all that. Obviously, I’m just really interested in movies in general to begin with, but it really came to a head when I was in a video store and I just felt like watching a cool horror movie – and this was a while ago – but I saw Ginger Snaps. I picked it up, took it home, watched it, and thought, “This movie’s awesome!” This movie was so good that I wanted to have had the opportunity to see this on the big screen. I would’ve paid to see this in a movie theatre. Of course, I hadn’t even heard of it at the time and I just came across it by accident just on the shelf of a video store. I just thought it was ridiculous, so I thought that if it was so hard to catch Canadian movies on the big screen that I might as well show some movies and throw some parties. How hard could that be? I honestly had that exact thought. (laughs) I was so naive.

DS: And how long have you been doing the festival?

BE: Six years, but this is our relaunch. We went on hiatus for about three years. When the economy nosedived about four years ago sponsorship money was the first thing to dry up at every company. I all of a sudden, I didn’t have any money, and I thought that national, municipal, federal, provincial, at any level would be able to help. Nope. No one at any level ever helped the film festival. Not for lack of trying, too. So we didn’t have any money. So I said that it was just going to go on hold for a while. But now everyone seems to have a little more money. People are getting interested, and with the really relatively recent advent of social networking, it’s so much easier to get word out to like minded people. Those who WANT to see Canadian movies.

Also, I will say that this year we have more media sponsorship this year than in every past year combined times four. It’s just insane. The sponsors have pulled together some really amazing stuff. We just put our TV spots up on the site today and getting some TV play, as well. We’re hoping that we can get the word out to filmmakers, as well, because our festival is really well attended by filmmakers. Just as importantly is just the average moviegoing audience, because if Canadians don’t know where to find Canadian movies they aren’t going to see them. This is just our little way of saying “Here are a whole bunch of movies, have at it.”

DS: What would you say you learned the most about from putting on this festival?

BE: Wow. There’s a million things that I’ve learned – good and bad. You know, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s not just me that wants to see Canadian movies. Everybody does. Every year I have at least a couple of people who come up to me and say that they came to the festival because their friends wanted them to go and they didn’t realize how amazing our movies were. It’s a crying shame that these films aren’t out for a normal theatrical run. It’s not just people in the film world, either. The general population wants to see our stories.

When I watch a movie –whatever kind of movie it is – and I recognize Toronto landmarks there’s always that cool little novelty, but Toronto’s always playing New York or Chicago or Detroit or whatever. But watching a movie where Toronto’s playing Toronto and where people are paying for something with Canadian money is refreshing. All of a sudden the story gets so much closer to me. It’s so much easier for me to get into it.

For more information on the films and for tickets, head to the Canadian Film Fest website, and come back on Wednesday as we take a look at some of the films being offered!

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