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Cinéfest still presenting hybrid festival for 2021, but trying to restore some normalcy

The number of in-person screenings has been boosted compared to last year; lineup ‘really strong,’ organizers say

The 2021 edition of Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival will still be very different from its last pre-pandemic festival two years ago, but organizers say they’re glad to be able to restore at least a little normalcy.

As it was in 2020, this year’s Cinéfest, which runs Sept. 18-26, will be presented in a hybrid in-person and virtual format. 

However, with COVID-19 restrictions having loosened, the local film festival will be able to present 60 of this year’s roughly 150 films in-theatre. That’s up from just 26 last year, when the pandemic was still relatively new and there were no vaccines. 

As for the lineup itself, Cinéfest executive director Tammy Frick, speaking to Thursday after the festival’s lineup release, said it’s very strong this year. 

“The films that were submitted, I think with the pandemic, there was a number of films that were heading into production that just kind of halted,” she said. “So we are seeing a large number of really strong films come forward this year.” 

Star power in the films includes Benedict Cumberbatch (in the Sunday night gala The Electrical Life of Louis Wain), and Antonio Bandaras and Penelope Cruz (in the Monday night gala Official Competition).

As has become a mainstay of the festival, there will be several gala films shot in Northern Ontario.

Those include the opening night gala All My Puny Sorrows, which was filmed in North Bay, and the Friday night gala Lakewood (this one stars Naomi Watts), also filmed in North Bay. 

(See below for a full lineup of this year’s gala films).

Frick said she’s looking forward to films including Julia, a documentary about the life of cooking guru and television personality Julia Child, and Dear Future Children, another documentary that examines young activism worldwide.

Most, if not all, of the gala films will also be available for screening in the virtual format.

Frick said the purpose of a film festival is not just to watch films, but “but also to have an opportunity to converse” with like-minded people.

She said organizers are trying to bring back a more traditional festival experience “slowly in a comfortable, responsible environment.”

Those attending in-person film screenings will be able to physically distance from fellow festival-goers. 

Movie theatres are still required to operate at 50 per cent capacity, although with physical distancing factored in, it’s more like 25 per cent capacity, Frick said.

The largest theatre at the film festival’s Silver City venue is just under 370 seats, but only 90 seats will be able to be occupied.

Vaccinations against COVID-19 will not be required for those attending in-person Cinéfest screenings. 

Frick said festival organizers are following rules set out by the provincial government for movie theatres, as well as Cineplex’s corporate policies. However, all Cinéfest staffers and volunteers will be double vaccinated against the virus.

Once again, there will be no post-film gala parties in 2021, as it would be too difficult to maintain physical distancing, she said.

As for the virtual side, Cinéfest had great uptake on its online film offerings in 2020, Frick said. The film festival will continue to offer virtual screenings even after the pandemic has waned, she said, just because it makes it possible to expand its offerings, including short films.

Another mainstay of Cinéfest is special guests answering questions about the films they’re involved in for audiences. 

Frick said with the pandemic, it actually expanded the star power of these guests, as they were able to get taped messages from celebrities, including Viggo Mortensen in 2020. 

There will be a limited number of special guests coming in for in-person screenings this year, including Michael McGowan, the director of the opening night gala, All My Puny Sorrows.

Festival tickets are now available on Cinéfest’s website. You can also purchase tickets at the Cinéfest office (40 Larch St.) or at SilverCity Sudbury during the week of the festival.

Cinéfest Sudbury 2021 gala films

Opening night gala 

All My Puny Sorrows (Michael McGowan, Canada, 2021) - Based on the international best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows is the poignant story of two sisters-one a concert pianist obsessed with ending her life, the other, a writer, who in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about her herself.

Sunday night gala 

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (Will Sharpe, UK, 2021) - English artist Louis Wain rises to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings.

Monday night gala 

Official Competition (Mariano Cohn & Gastón Duprat, Spain/Argentina, 2021) - A wealthy businessman hires a famous filmmaker to help make a smash hit film.

Tuesday night gala 

Falling for Figaro (Ben Lewin, Australia/UK, 2020) - A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands.

Wednesday night gala 

Juniper (Matthew Saville, New Zealand, 2021) - When a self-destructive teenager is suspended from school and asked to look after his feisty alcoholic grandmother as a punishment, the crazy time they spend together turns his life around.

Thursday night gala 

The Vinland Club (Benoit Pilon, Canada, 2020) - 1949. Brother Jean, a progressive teacher and passionate amateur archaeologist, plans to conduct excavations with his students in order to prove the presence of a Viking settlement along the shores of the St-Lawrence River.

Friday night gala 

Lakewood (Phillip Noyce, Canada, 2021) - A mother desperately races against time to save her child as authorities place her small town on lockdown.

Saturday night galas

Night Raiders (Danis Goulet, Canada/New Zealand, 2021) - A mother joins an underground band of vigilantes to try and rescue her daughter from a state-run institution.

One Second (Zhang Yimou, China/Hong Kong, 2021) - A movie fan in a remote farmland strikes a relationship with a homeless female vagabond.

Closing night gala 

The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, USA/UK/China, 2021) - Redemption is the long game in Paul Schrader's The Card Counter. Told with Schrader's trademark cinematic intensity, the revenge thriller tells the story of an ex-military interrogator turned gambler haunted by the ghosts of his past.