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Okotoks Film Festival's online format well received

The four-day festival saw its highest numbers yet despite its unconventional format.

An Okotoks society was met with a mixture of challenges and surprises while hosting its online film festival last weekend.

The Okotoks Film Festival Society was in the middle of livestreaming its four-day festival June 11-14 - showcasing 60 plus films of varying lengths from around the world - when an Internet outage caused by a severe hailstorm in Calgary put a stop to the screening on Saturday night.

“We had an Internet outage at Elma Street from Saturday night to Sunday night,” said festival director Katie Fournell. “The storm apparently affected something on our provider’s side. It was the longest and only significant outage we’ve had since we lived here and, of course, it had to happen while broadcasting a live interactive film festival.”

The society got the festival back up and running after switching providers while ticketholders waited patiently and conversed on a chat line.

Fournell said the society chose to livestream its fourth annual festival rather than cancel it when physical distance regulations and mass gathering restrictions were implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It allowed the society to show more films than ever, she said. The festival featured 11 film screenings including five feature films, and gave filmmakers and viewers the opportunity to chat live between screenings.

Fournell said this year was the festival’s highest attendance ever.

“We sent out almost 250 passwords,” she said, adding about half were passes bought by the public. “We were averaging about 50 different households logging in for each screening with the lowest at 39 for one of the panels and the highest at 110 for the 48 Hour Film Challenge screening. Those numbers were higher than we’ve ever seen at the festival.”

The society selected 49 films amongst 861 submissions from 17 different countries. Three had an Okotoks connection.

“We see films submitted from literally all over the world,” said Fournell. “We see every continent represented every year in our submissions.”

The festival winner, nabbing both Best Picture and Best Art Direction, was the seven-minute Greek film W, about a teacher set to do his daily teaching routine during one of his most difficult days to teach.

“Our jury really was very moved by the film,” said Fournell. “They were amazed at how much they were able to achieve in that short amount of time in that film.”

Fournell said she’s not surprised W won Best Picture.

“I had an inkling that this was going to be our picture winner from the very first minute I saw it,” she said. “It’s one of the most powerful films I’ve seen all year.”

Other award-winners include the Portugese film Ca Dentro – Inside for Best Cinematography; the American film The Scorpion’s Tale for Best Screenplay and Best Editing; the American film My Daughter Yoshiko for Best Overall Sound; the Canadian film Rustic Oracle for Best Performance; and the German film Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver for Best Visual Effects and Audience Choice.

Following this year’s success, Fournell said the society might include a livestreaming component to next year’s festival.

“We are definitely going back to having the live festival in the theatre, but we’re contemplating having a portion online,” she said. “It’s very hard on filmmakers to have their films online, especially so early in their film careers. We want to still be able to premiere big films in Okotoks and we can only do that if we still have the live festival.”

Check out next week’s Western Wheel to learn who won the 48 Hour Film Challenge. Participants will share their experience making their films while practicing social distancing.

Tammy Rollie,

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Tammy Rollie

About the Author: Tammy Rollie

Tammy Rollie is an award-winning reporter at, the Western Wheel newspaper, 51 Degrees North Magazine and the Okotokian Magazine. For story tips contact
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