Lia Rinaldo’s world is draped in celluloid. With six weeks to go before the beginning of the Atlantic Film Festival, as festival director, she and the AFF programmers take in new films every day, selecting the hundreds of features and shorts that will flicker on local screens come September. For a film buff on the outside looking in, it sounds like heaven. It isn’t always, though.
“We’re in the business of running a festival,” says Rinaldo. “It’s a very fun but a very stressful environment. We wanted to create an event that would be fun again, where some of the natural mistakes that happen with being outside aren’t the end of the world. You’re making a spectacle of it, basically.”
In 2001, Rinaldo and her creative associates---including Gregor Ash, AFF executive director; Andrea Thomas, director of operations; and Tom Metuzals, formerly of CBC Halifax---also wanted to appeal to a much larger audience, to get away from that idea that the festival is a closed industry or an artsy event. “It really isn’t,” she asserts. “It’s way more mainstream than it was perceived to be at the time.”
So the alFresco filmFesto was begun, with movies projected weekly on 16mm (these days the movies are digitally projected) through late July and August on the harbourside wall of Electropolis, the former power station and current film studio. It satisfied some of the long-discussed guerilla film activities around the AFF, activities that the organizers are much too busy to execute come September. “We get so wound up in the details it becomes hard to find those moments to jump out of a van and project randomly on the side of a building.”
The first year of the festival the movies all had a water theme, beginning with On The Waterfront and including South Pacific, The Princess Bride (the characters are in a boat for a while) and From Here to Eternity. The program has become more eclectic through the years, with the classics and family pictures spiked by a healthy selection of cult favourites---Xanadu, Cabaret, Time Bandits, Rushmore, Donnie Darko and two Coen Brothers’ movies, Raising Arizona in 2002 and The Big Lebowski last year. The selection process for these titles goes beyond just the programming department of the AFF office.
“It’s a wild mix,” says Rinaldo. “In the beginning years we did keep it in programming, and then I realized that people in the office were so invested in it. So we started building this list, and I put it out to the entire staff, and there’s a very large, complicated voting system. And we certainly take input from the outside as well. It makes it a lot of fun for everyone in the office.”
Aware that Nova Scotia Power, owners of Electropolis, plan to turn the building into their new head office, Rinaldo says it won’t endanger the outdoor festival. “ have been big supporters since the very first day. They’ve given us the space and always repaint the screen every year and have installed all the power for us.” But if the building does come down, the festival is portable. “It’s a wonderful spot, it may still be . But there are a lot of spaces. It’s exciting thinking about moving around.”
With so many film-related events programmed through the year (including Viewfinders International Film Festival for Youth and other annual events), have they ever thought of a permanent location for an all-festivals cinema?
“Of course, it only makes sense. The town could definitely support it. It supported Wormwoods for over 20 years. There’s definitely room for a cinemateque or a repertory cinema. It’s talked about every year.”
This year’s festival kicked off last Friday, with Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. This Friday, August 1, is a Cameron Crowe double feature: Almost Famous and Say Anything---arguably his two best films, the latter starring John Cusack as Lloyd Dobbler. It’s a favourite of Rinaldo’s: “He got every girl who grew up in the ’80s with that movie.”