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Okotoks Film Fest making silver screen comeback

“There's nothing that compares to hearing the rest of the audience react to be in a theatre full of people watching films on the big screen.”
SCENE-Katie Fournell BWC 9826 web
Okotoks Film Festival director Katie Fournell is thrilled to see the festival return in-person events after two years of going virtual.(Brent Calver/Western Wheel File Photo)

Film buffs rejoice — the festival returns.

The Okotoks Film Festival is making its comeback to the silver screen with in-person events after two years of going virtual.

“There's nothing that compares to hearing the rest of the audience react to be in a theatre full of people watching films on the big screen,” said festival director and co-founder Katie Fournell. “And having the filmmakers come up to the front and talk about their films, and you see their passion and being able to take pictures on the red carpet and stuff.

“That’s where a festival lives, that’s why festivals matter.”

That’s not to say the online formats didn’t expand horizons and keep the flame alive, Fournell added.

“It did a lot of good for us. We did it as live online events,” she said. “It was able to keep the audience feel like there was other people attending.

“Another thing that was really cool about the online festival was we had more interaction from our international filmmakers.”

More than 50 per cent of the filmmakers entered were able to participate in Q&A events because of this.

Born out of necessity when the festival went digital, the lessons learned will carry it forward.

“We’re hoping to keep that alive, because what we learned is the ‘live online’ actually works better for a couple of our events,” Fournell said.  

That includes the Twisted Reels, or their horror movie segment, as well as a new addition called ‘Breakfast Docs’ on the Sunday morning of the festival.

It was Okotoks Film Society President Brendan Rose who evolved those technological capabilities.

“So when we had to move it online we had to move to using streaming services and software and had to kind of totally revamp the entire software side of how we present the festival,” Rose said. “So that was on one of my computers having everything laid out so I could hit the buttons to change our views and change our cameras.

“Then going back to in person, having that system now I can use a lot of that same stuff for how we run our actual screening.”

That, in addition to grant funding aimed at getting events back in-person, has allowed the society to upgrade its tech.

“We were able to upgrade a lot of our tech – it’s all been hand-me-downs that I’ve lent to the festival over the years, we finally got to buy brand new stuff,” Rose said.  

The opportunity to get back in person will make everything worth it for the society’s tech guru.

“It will be nice to finally have it back in person after the last couple years of scrambling to make it something decent online that people would actually be interested in,” Rose said.

He will also have the assistance of two Alberta High School of Fine Arts students from the Visual Communication program.

A new feature to the upcoming event will be virtual reality (VR) screenings, held between showtimes at the theatre.

“We had intended to have it for the 2019 festival, we had been working on getting everything prepped and had film submissions, then COVID happened,” Rose said. “So we cancelled all the VR-related stuff and now we’re finally to the point where we think people are going to be comfortable enough.

“Obviously we’re still dealing with hygiene. We’ve got silicone coverings for everything, we’ve got wipes, face coverings and things like that so you’re not going to be in contact with the same surfaces as everybody else.”

A handful of local talent has made it onto the festival docket, including The Guardian: The Orbs' Archive, a concept film created by Okotoks filmmaker Aaron Glanfield.

The film, a 10-minute concept, was debuted at the Okotoks Cinemas in February, with the aim of eventually creating a feature-length film.

The post-apocalyptic tale introduces the lead character Emma, played by Okotoks actor Lyndsey Alston, who encounters and ultimately joins forces with Raddix (played by CJ Collard), a mysterious figure wielding magic to fight off enemies in his search for a legendary archive that will bring stability back the world.  

“It’s my first time actually putting films into a film festival,” said Glanfield, adding his film was nominated for the ‘Best Visual and Special Effects’ award.

“It’s nice to know the first time I put anything in, I got nominated by the film festival.”

As his first major foray into filmmaking, Glanfield wore many hats, one of which being special effects artist.  

He leveraged the increasingly accessible tools such as the Unreal 5 gaming engine to create the environment for one scene, with actors shot on a green screen.

Other scenes involved making a building appear to be in flames, and other magical effects during the hero’s fight scene.

“It’s good because I spent a lot of time doing to try to make it look good, but also I had to do a bit of research,” Glanfield said. “I had to do a lot of work to the point where I was happy how it looks in the film.”

Being able to attend in person at his first time at the Okotoks Film Festival is also a valuable experience.

“In person is always better for sure, so the opportunity to be there and see other people that have the same passion and interests, I’m excited to go be in a theatre and see films on the big screen,” Glanfield said.

The festival takes place June 2 to 5, with on-demand screenings May 29 to June 12.

For tickets and information visit

Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Okotoks Western Wheel and
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