Ottawa’s first queer film fest since 2002 is on the horizon, and it has been a labour of love for its main organizer, who says it took months of planning and plotting to make it happen.
The event, which runs from Oct 25 to 28, is a satellite festival of Toronto’s queer film fest, InsideOut.
The man who cooked up the whole idea, and the fest’s primary organizer, Jason St-Laurent, says his first hurdle was convincing the Toronto board of directors that the initiative would fit with the goals of the organization. He’s the programming director for the Toronto festival.
“One of the mandates of InsideOut is to promote and exhibit the work of queer artists, and we thought maybe it was time to expand and reach a brand new community,” St-Laurent says.
“There were concerns at the board level that we might overextend ourselves, but then it became clear to them that I had solid enough contacts in the city,” says St-Laurent, who has been working full-time on the project since the idea was first hatched back in June. He’ll spend most of the month of October working in Ottawa, leading up to the festival.
Beyond just convincing the board that the idea was solid, St-Laurent also had to put together a proposal that the board couldn’t refuse.
“I think I just needed a solid plan, which is basically what they wanted to see. I mean, they’re the purveyors of the organization, so it’s very important for them to make sure that we don’t exceed out capacity internally in the office,” St-Laurent explained.
“They realized how strong our contacts were with the distributors and artists and we convinced many of them to play in Ottawa for free for our inaugural festival. So in addition to all the sponsors and partners of the festival, there are distributors and filmmakers that are supporting the festival in their own right by waiving the rental fees. So everyone’s very supportive of our expansion to the city,” says St-Laurent.
A July open forum in Ottawa, held to gather opinions and information from the community, confirmed that there was indeed interest from key players in the community.
The Toronto festival crowd is so supportive that the entire staff as well as several board members have confirmed that they will be travelling to Ottawa to help out, on a volunteer basis. Another 40 or so volunteers from the community will be needed to complete the team.
And members of the Ottawa community have also stepped up, offering a flurry of in-kind donations. Library And Archives Canada, through the festival’s association with The Canadian Film Institute, has offered their space free of charge and Fido has come on board as the lead sponsor, while Capital Xtra is the fest’s founding media sponsor. One of the last and most pertinent details to get ironed out was the question of how to accommodate the artists and staff volunteers for the duration of the event.
“Our latest sponsor is the Rideau Inn, which is a gay-owned bed and breakfast in Ottawa, and they’ve agreed to put up the staff and artists of the festival, so that was the last piece of the puzzle, and that’s a really amazing contribution. It’s a huge stress that’s taken off our shoulders,” St-Laurent says.
An Ottawa advisory board was also struck to help guide the initiative. It consists of members of Ottawa’s arts and culture communities. Board member Philippe Hamelin is a programmer at the SAW Video Centre for Media Arts, and says that the board has been consulted on such issues as ensuring the festival’s name was as inclusive as possible and on some of the films that will be screened. They’ve also helped with publicity and getting the word out at such events as Pride, where they manned a table, handing out information and selling passes to the film festival.
“We are kind of a consultation group, a committee that InsideOut put up to make sure that they would not impose their own vision and that they would be very sensitive about what people in Ottawa would like. [Jason St-Laurent] wanted to be very respectful of what the communities here were looking for,” Hamelin says.
St-Laurent has spent the last three months securing rights to show films, as well as ensuring that the films (or ‘prints’ as they’re called in film speak) arrive on time from whichever film festival they were at last, and that they will get sent safely to the next festival.
“You need to keep a window open for the transportation of the print, a week before your festival, and a week after. So that means one print can only go to 26 festivals in the entire world. So you’ve got to convince a distributor that by playing Ottawa, it’s going to be an important screening for that film,” St-Laurent explains.
“And to do that with an inaugural festival was a challenge, but, you know, I’m like the squeaky wheel and I got the grease.”
If the Ottawa initiative is a success, there could be plans to create satellite festivals in other Canadian cities, and St-Laurent says Windsor has been tossed around as a possible expansion location, as has Halifax. But since there is not yet any formal funding for the Ottawa initiative, or any future ones, he says the focus is on making the Ottawa fest a success first.
“We’re going full steam ahead, there’s no scaling back anything for Ottawa.”