Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival revealed most of the films Thursday for the pandemic version of the annual Sudbury film festival, which runs Sept. 19-27.
You can check out the films announced so far on the festival’s website — the rest of the lineup and the festival’s full schedule will be revealed next week, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, when tickets go on sale.
Last year’s Cinéfest featured around 130 films, but that’s been scaled down for 2020, with the festival’s executive director, Tammy Frick, estimating there will be around 60 film screenings in total, when all is said and done.
And just like almost every event these days that hasn’t been outright cancelled, Cinéfest will look significantly different this year, with a mix of in-person and online screenings, and no post-gala parties, where physical distancing would be impossible.
The Toronto International Film Festival, which is a week earlier, has a similar format.
“Everyone is dealing with the same thing,” Frick said. “We’re not alone in all of this. We’re just lucky that we have wonderful counterparts who have been very gracious in collaborating with us — not only government and sponsors, but other film festivals and people in the industry.
“We’re just all really trying to make sure our audiences have access to great product in a safe environment.”
Among the films announced by Cinéfest Thursday are two of the gala films.
The opening night gala on Saturday, Sept. 19 will be “Percy.” Based on events from a 1998 lawsuit, Percy follows a small-town Canadian farmer who challenges a major conglomerate when the company’s genetically modified canola is discovered in his crops.
The film stars Christopher Walken, Christina Ricci and Zach Braff, among other familiar Hollywood actors.
Cinéfest’s Friday, Sept. 25 gala is “Girl,” shot here in Greater Sudbury — locally shot films have become a mainstay of the film festival with the development of the city’s film and television sector over the past decade.
The film is about Girl (Bella Thorne), who has spent the entirety of her youth taking care of her sick mother, who fled to protect them from Girl's dangerous father.
Armed with her hatchet, she takes the bus to the small town where she was born, intent on killing her father — only to discover someone very recently beat her to the task.
“It’s a great story,” Frick said. “Bella Thorne is quite impressive ... she really has great range in this film.”
Cinéfest also revealed another Sudbury-shot film will be featured as part of its special presentations series.
“Spare Parts” is about all-female rock band, Ms. 45, that wake up with weapons for limbs to fight gladiator-style in an arena-style auto-wrecking yard . The women must now truly band together if they’re going to get out alive.
“It’s a little bit out there,” Frick said. “It’s one of those films that you watch and you won’t forget soon. It’s a great conversation piece, some really strong acting, and some pretty cool music too.”
Other films in the lineup include “I Am Greta,” about teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the ninth and final chapter in the Sudbury film project “Perspective” starring local actors Stef Paquette, Pandora Topp and Patricia Tedford, and a documentary about the Arctic Winter Games called “The Arctics.”
As for the logistics? If you are so inclined, there will be a limited number of tickets available for about 25 in-person Cinéfest screenings at SilverCity Cinemas, with none of the crowds and lineups normally associated with gala nights at the film festival.
Theatres currently have a maximum capacity of 50 people, as does the main lobby.
“We’re working right now with Cineplex to make sure as we book the in-theatre slots that we have to stagger start times and so on,” Frick said. “We’re just working with them to make sure the scheduling works in order to maintain social distancing and physical distancing.”
In terms of the online screenings, Frick said Cinéfest has gone with a simple hosting platform used by many other film festivals. Basically, if you have a computer, you’ll be able to access the films you’ve paid to watch.
In case of any issues, she said film festival staff will be available to troubleshoot for patrons most of the day and night. Frick also has a callout for tech-savvy volunteers, in case you happen to have time on your hands and possess those types of skills.
Depending on the film, you’ll have two or three days to watch it at home, at any time you wish. Films being screened in-person at SilverCity will be available for at-home viewers the next day.
The slogan for this year’s festival is “In Your Comfort Zone,” referring to the fact that people can watch Cinéfest films this year in their jammies or boxer shorts, if they wish.
Frick said the festival’s long-time collaborator, graphic designer Tony Jurgilas of 50 Carleton, came up with the slogan.
“Everyone is reacting to this pandemic very differently,” she said. “Some people are a little bit more comfortable in certain setting, and others are being very, very cautious and just taking physical distancing and everything a little bit more seriously.
“Of course, we want to make sure that we’re appealing to everyone.”
Cinéfest gala films normally include a question and answer session with special guests such as the film's director or cast. Frick said this will continue for the 2020 version, largely pre-taped, which, if anything, will expand the people the festival has access to.
Ticket prices reflect the scaled-down nature of this year’s Cinéfest. Tickets for all in-theatre screenings at SilverCity cost $10, as do tickets for individual virtual screenings. An online pass that allows audiences to access all films available online costs $100.
Financially, COVID-19 is a challenge for Cinéfest, as is the case for many other arts and cultural organizations, but staffers are dealing with it the best they can. Frick said the festival is grateful to have received government and sponsor support.
“We’re very lucky in that we’re a healthy organization,” she said. “We’ve also been very, very cautious in how we spend money and put out presentations.
“We are a charitable organization though, and with some help, a little bit of relief funding from Telefilm Canada, and just changing the way we operate, we’re convinced we’ll get through this year and be able to balance the budget.
“Will it be a stellar year, economically? Absolutely not. Coming into it, we already know our overall budget is down almost 40 per cent. Those are some of the decisions we’ve had to make along the way … where can we save the dollars we know we won’t be generating.”
All tickets and passes can be purchased starting Wednesday, Aug. 26 at the Cinéfest Sudbury Box Office (40 Larch St,, Suite 103, Sudbury) or online at cinefest.com.
If you’d like to volunteer for Cinéfest, the folks running the festival would be happy to hear from you, so phone them at 705-688-1234 or fill in an online application form.