Culture | Fokus Film Festival 2010

Festival organizer runs down McGill film fest for this year

The Fokus Film Festival is an annual showcase of student filmmaking hosted by TV McGill. Since its humble beginnings in 2006, the festival has grown exponentially. Taking place this year on March 25 at Cinema du Parc, the festival is set to feature 26 McGill student-produced films – a staggering amount of celluloid for a single evening. To find out more about this year’s edition, The Daily talked to Natalie Cross, current organizer of the Fokus Film Festival.

McGill Daily: What have been your personal experiences with the Fokus Film Festival?

Natalie Cross: It’s amazing to see how much it’s grown over the past few years. The first time I went, it was in its first year and they just had it in the Arts Building (Arts West 215). [The set-up consisted of] a projection screen and maybe 50 seats at most. Now we’re having it at Cinema du Parc, and it seems like it’s going to sell out beforehand, which is 250 seats. I really wanted to be a part of that growth. I’ve always been interested in the arts, especially at a place like McGill where there aren’t that many outlets for creativity. To be able to organize something like this, to see the results at the end, and to feel that satisfaction is something I wanted to experience.

MD: Why do you think advance ticket sales of the festival have increased so much this year?

NC: I think it’s probably due to word of mouth. Friends of friends will come; I know I encourage all of my friends to come. But you’ll always be surprised; there will always be people who have just heard about it and decide to show up as they’re interested in taking part in it and creating an environment and seeing what students have come up with.

MD: Has the increase in the number of films being shown changed the format of the festival at all?

NC: Yes, we decided to run it more informally ¬– almost like a festival. The way it’s going to work is that we’re going to have the films just running. That way there will be a three-hour block where people can come, and hopefully most people will stay, but they’re free to leave and get snacks, et cetera.

MD: How has the planning of the festival gone this year?

NC: I expected it to be much more hectic. We’ve actually been quite organized; there’s a really small team of us working on it, which maybe worked out better in the end. It has been a really fun process…and very rewarding. We’ve managed to get thousands of dollars worth of sponsorship, and we have some really amazing prizes this year. We’ve had more submissions than ever before and it’s really rewarding to see how many people are interested in it. It’s funny how all these filmmakers pop out of the woodwork at McGill!

MD: What are some of the prizes the filmmakers can win?

NC: We have gift certificates to Lola Rosa; they’ve been great to us. We also have Juliette Et Chocolat certificates. Apple has been one of our sponsors for the past few years, so they’ve given two Final Cut Express programs, which is editing software, and an iPod touch. Just For Laughs has also sponsored us, which was sort of a last minute deal, but I’m really happy it worked out. They’ve given us a very generous donation of tickets to their shows during the summer and things like that.

MD: Who are the judges this year?

NC: We have four judges, two of whom are McGill professors and the other two who are members of the Montreal film community. We have Giles Walker, who teaches the English class “Directing Docudrama,” and Antonio Delfonzo, who teaches Quebecois cinema but is also a filmmaker himself. Then we have Harley Dover, who used to work for the Segal Center for performing arts, but now is a freelance filmmaking consultant and does a lot of stuff with the media. Then we have Michael Ryan who is the director of Young Cuts film festival.

MD: Have you watched all of the films yourself?

NC: Yeah! I had to watch all of them, and it was really tough to reject some…. We only reject a few, because there are certain time limits we have to stick to. Unfortunately we can’t have everyone, but we’re showing as many as we can, [and] really pushing the boundaries. We have a lot of different types of film this year- we’ve got one with a music video style, and then we’ve got really experimental ones, and some of them have quite some funny stuff too.

MD: Can you elaborate on the themes of the films submitted?

NC: We actually got so many comedies [that] we decided to make a comedy category itself. We had 15 fiction submissions, [making it] our largest category, so we thought we’d split it up into fiction and comedy. I think that that’s a really cool development, especially as we have Just For Laughs sponsoring and maybe next year can expand on that.

MD: This was the first year there wasn’t a fee to submit a film to the festival. How did that progression come about?

NC: In the end we unfortunately had to ask the filmmakers to buy their own tickets, so I guess that’s kind of where it evens out. In the past they would get free admission, but they would have to pay to submit so it was something we just decided to try. Asking people to pay to submit initially screens people and might turn some people off, which can be a good thing, but at the same time, I think that not having a fee can encourage more people to submit if otherwise they were feeling insecure.

MD: How do you feel about the fact that most of the submissions this year came from students who are not involved with TV McGill?

NC: Sometimes I’m frustrated, because I’m like, where have you been all year? We need you working at TV McGill! Especially when you see what they come up with. These people are really good and it’s obviously something they’re really passionate about. I would really encourage anyone out there with any interest in this to join TV McGill.

MD: Do you think the festival and TV McGill have grown in tandem?

NC: As I said, as much as the festival has grown, TV McGill also has grown so much over the past four years. Just this past year we won our referendum and we’re all really excited about it, so next year – though unfortunately I won’t be [at TV McGill] – there will be great things!

—Compiled by Zara Meerza

The Fokus Film Festival will be taking place at Cinema du Parc (3575 Parc) at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 25.