The 2021 Yellowknife International Film Festival (YKIFF) is now open for submissions from filmmakers throughout the circumpolar north.
The event, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, is tentatively scheduled for November 3 to 7. While programming will remain predominantly online like last year, organizers at Western Arctic Moving Pictures (Wamp) hope to add a few in-person screenings at the Capitol Theatre if Covid-19 allows.
Wamp executive director Courtney McKiel said audiences across Canada will also be able to tune in this time around, as the organization looks to lift the technology that restricted online access to northern residents last year.
“I think it’s really important to give our northern filmmakers a platform and stage to showcase their work,” McKiel said. “We’re hoping to be able to negotiate letting go of geo-blocking … so that we can open it up to all of Canada and get more exposure.”
Last year’s festival received a record number of entries according to festival director Jeremy Emerson, and this year is already shaping up to be similar. The festival opened for submissions on Saturday and has so far received more than 15 entries from around the world, including films from Sweden, Lebanon, Italy, and Denmark.
While excited to see engagement internationally, Emerson said he is looking forward to seeing what filmmakers from the NWT submit.
“It’s always a surprise, the people that come out of the woodwork with their short or feature films, what they’ve been working on, and the quality of it,” Emerson said. “It’s nice to celebrate that with a home audience.”
Celebrating the North and its artists
Many NWT films have made their way to the big screen via YKIFF in the past 15 years.
Melaw Nakehk’o’s K’i Tah Amongst the Birch was featured last year, documenting her family’s retreat to the land as the Covid-19 pandemic began. Red Snow, a film about a Gwich’in soldier taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan, opened in Dettah in 2019, while Yellowknife artist Jen Walden’s fantastical Elijah and the Rock Creature premiered in the city in 2018.
Pablo Saravanja is the former president of Wamp, a long-time festival volunteer, and a filmmaker himself. He said the importance of creating spaces for northern artists to showcase their work is immeasurable.
“Festivals, generally speaking, are just the greatest way for a filmmaker … to sort-of test their wares,” he said. “It’s the joy of watching something with a crowd and seeing how they respond to every little joke, every little scary piece, every song choice.
“You get to experience it in the air when you’re sitting in the theatre with all of those people, so it’s a really important tool in the filmmaker’s toolbox.”
The opportunity for local audiences to see themselves reflected on-screen is just as important, Saravanja continued.
“It’s really lovely to see people you know and stories you recognize share the same screen-time and the same sort of stature as those great big superhero films,” he said.
“We all know really interesting people up here, and … when a local filmmaker shines a light on some kind of northern innovation or northern person who is doing interesting things, we all get to understand how we should maybe celebrate those people, and we understand how the rest of the world probably sees them.”
The early-bird deadline for submissions to the YKIFF is May 31, while the regular deadline is June 30.