ARTS | St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival 2021

ARTS | St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival 2021

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The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival returns with an inclusive and diverse lineup that greatly represents our impeccable local industry and beyond

Following a successful 2020 installment that saw the celebrated, three-decade-plus festival go virtual, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival (SJIWFF) – Canada’s longest-running women’s film festival since its inception in 1989 – is back for its 32nd year, with their most diverse and fan friendly lineup ever.

Streaming online from October 13-17, and with a record-setting 950 film submissions, the SJIWFF has built a can’t miss program of feature films and shorts made by women from Newfoundland and Labrador, and both nationally and internationally. 

“We had to be quite reactionary, as everyone had to be. Things are changing so quickly,” shared Executive Director Jenn Brown on the festival’s efforts in 2020 and again in 2021 to stay mailable during the pandemic.

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“One thing I can say about the SJIWFF is that we know ourselves. We’ve been around for over three decades and we know our community. And we always look to our local community and our audience, our filmmakers. What do they need and how can we serve that? And with that in mind, we took a really different approach than other international film festivals across the country last year. We decided, well, what’s the point of having a festival if people can’t attend? So we tried to remove as many barriers to access as possible. We cut our ticket fees almost half and increased access. We almost doubled the amount of films that we were screening. We doubled the amount of foreign panels that we were looking at. We tried to figure out how to put as much money in local artists pockets as possible. 

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‘Celebrate Our Province’

“Even though we were home, how to celebrate our city, how to celebrate our province, from local businesses to just the landscape, how can we really just promote and celebrate and show off how amazing our arts community is here in our province,” Brown adds. 

“We’ve always been trying to think of ways of how do we share our work beyond St. John’s? Newfoundland and Labrador is so huge, we were so excited for the first time to be able to share our lineup beyond the Avalon. That was massive for us.”

Featuring  54 films to stream on demand for film enthusiasts across Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario (some provincial restrictions apply), with feature films curated from some of the globe’s most acclaimed festivals, 11 local short films and the jam-packed industry forum, the slate for the 32nd instalment of the SJIWFF boasts a dynamic and diverse host of films to appeal to the die hard cinephile, or those just looking for a break from the ordinary.

 “Just sharing local talent in such a big way is truly an honour. It’s a privilege of ours. We’re so proud to do it, and the audience loved it. People are just blown away with the caliber of talent of storytellers and artists from Newfoundland and Labrador. And we were able to share that in a really big way. We ended up being really successful last year,” Brown explained. “Hey, no surprise that last year people really liked staying at home watching movies, so we leaned into that. We encouraged like, ‘stay home, stay safe, stay on your couch, keep watching movies, but watch our movies.’ So we want to curate a really special lineup that would entertain you, challenge you and also offer that sense of community. Offer that distraction. Offer that way to kind of escape and see something new, which was really successful.”

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For Brown, who has occupied spaces in numerous avenues of the film industry locally, the SJIWFF represents a peak time in both her career, and in that of a body of hungry, driven local filmmakers. 

The growing profile and international reputation of the festival only serves to underscore that very same talent and work ethic that those in the know of our local film landscape have been in on for so long.”

‘Rich History’

“I was working as a crew member in the film industry when I decided to leave a big production in order to work with a feminist, not-for-profit film festival, which was a bit of a risk for me at that time, and one that was the greatest decision I ever made,” Brown shared proudly. 

“You know, I find it very easy to brag about this festival because it has over 30 years of the fingerprints of thousands of people all over it. It’s so community focused. The community in this province and its people have shaped it to be what it is today. It’s not a solo organization, you know? So it’s such an honour to look at the rich history where it came from. 

“We’re one of the longest running women’s film festivals in the world. And the fact that this isn’t a big city like Toronto or Paris or London, you can say that it’s St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. That says so much about our province and our people and the women here who created it. To be able to have a small part in supporting that culture and that history is an honour.”

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‘A Great Medium’

Brown closes by toasting Newfoundland’s interdisciplinary arts, which has allowed the medium of film to flourish for decades. Capturing and sharing magic for a lifetime of viewers is the juice that keeps the SJIWFF thriving for 30 years and counting. “I think everyone can remember the first time they went and saw a movie on the big screen or their favourite movie and what it does to them,” she shared. 

“Being a part of an organization where we see that happen to thousands and thousands of people every year because of the work that we’re sharing, especially local work, is profound. It’s a magical thing that really shows how important art is, how much it connects us, and being able to see people connect and talk about the work after, to be inspired or work on their own or have really important conversations to attack the bigger subjects? It’s the whole reason why we’re here. And I think being around, this is our 32nd year, the power of that can’t be understated.”

For the full slate of films, ticket info., including festival and accessibility passes and much more visit womensfilmfestival.com

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Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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