SJIWFF’s Opening Gala: Economics and Ruba Nadda’s Grief-Thriller.

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

A film festival is more than just a movie marathon. It is film industry and film together. This was emphasized in the speeches that kicked off the 25th St John’s Women’s International Film Festival (SJWIFF). Representatives from both private and public funders of the festival took turns at the microphone touting the positive economics of the film industry for our province and our country. And it shows.

Film is an art that has both mass appeal and art house credibility and the making of a film is like the fly the old woman swallowed: it starts a chain reaction of events getting larger and larger that moves money around, creates jobs that become careers, and rewards innovation. Want to see a forest grow from your seed money? Film is an almost literal way to get to view the results of an investment. Movie trumps powerpoint podium speech every time. Though the combination of speeches (thankfully without bullet points or piecharts or clipart) and film last night was a great kickoff to watching these movies all week.

With that context, it was interesting to see October Gale. Though I was immersed in the film itself, in the back of my skull I was also thinking about how it was made, what went in to distribution, the cost of the film and the decisions the producer, and the director-writer had to make about where to spend (and not spend) the funding they did have. These thoughts enriched, rather than distracted from, the watching experience. I will be thinking of the industry and the art as the week progresses.

Kudos to Ruba Nadda for getting the prime Opening Night spot for her film October Gale in a festival that is always a cut above. Also, an extra nod to Nadda for transmitting her gratitude and her excitement through a google chat with a slow connection. Your enthusiasm and openness came through loud and clear!

Now I will admit I was biased towards liking this film from Nadda’s brief explanation of the idea germinating from an image of a woman dealing with her grief. I find that I crave examinations of grief in popular art. Death is everywhere in art and media. But what about the aftermath of grief? That is so often left in uncomfortable silence both on screen and in life.

This film is about grief. And yet it is also a tense thriller, without compromising the atmosphere of either of those two subjects. One moment stands out as showing both the heavy endlessness of grief and the urgency of the dangers bearing down upon the two main characters. Helen (played by Patricia Clarkson) stands frozen at the threshold of her late husband’s office, unable to move as memories and his permanent (and still sudden to her) absence paralyze her. William (Scott Speedman) enters behind her, stops himself, takes a precious moment (they have very little time to prepare for a life and death showdown) to put his hand on her lower back. He leaves it there for a few beats, both reassuring her that he can see what she is going through, and tacitly asking permission to break the sacred atmosphere of this room. When he removes his hand, the kindness has been acknowledged and so too has the need of the moment, and William continues forward in great haste to search the office.

There was not a lot of dialogue but the lines were memorable. This made the quality of the sound extra disappointing as it did obscure some of the dialogue with a sort of reverb quality. Bad sound is one of the most frustrating things in watching a film. It is also, I am told, one of the hardest things to do well on a budget.

Luckily it was not bad enough to obscure what was my favourite line of the film. William is caught looking through the cupboards of Helen’s house and excuses himself by saying he was trying to find an aspirin. Helen, clearly established as a doctor by this point in the film, is holding a shotgun and says, “did I tell you to take an aspirin?”. There is a lot to love about that simple comic line, not least of which is that it is the start of the thread of connection and humour between the two main characters who are in otherwise unhumorous, and potentially polarizing, circumstances.

Tim Roth is given the second best line in the film, when, in a dark and off-kilter supporting role, his whole grim backstory is summed up when he equates optimism in life to a luxury, “…I knew if I fell, I would keep on falling.” Roth’s character, like those of Speedman and Clarkson, is also living his grief. Each of them, over the course of the film or as a part of their backstory, endure great tragedy and mete out violence in an instant of thought. These parallel actions and states are an effective and taut way to highlight their divergent characters.

With all that Nadda did not do (to the credit of the final product with its elegant and straightforward set up, its lack of any hint of sexual violence towards its female protagonist, and its absence of non-germane exposition), I was sorry to be drawn out of the movie at two points by the soundtrack. Twice, during moments that were clearly infused with sadness, a swelling of very sad instrumental music came and took over the scene and smacked me to make sure I was in the correct mood. This was in contrast to a scene near the beginning of the film, set on the lake, which used music very well as a sort of bridge to get us from one part of the story (the grief, the setting up) to the next (the suspense, the tension).

I will be going back and watching Cairo Time, also by Nadda and starring Clarkson. I will also look for Nadda’s future work.

Eat, Drink & Be Scene: Meet & Greet at the Christina Parker Gallery –

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Hey, everyone!

Just wanted to send along a quick reminder to make sure you head down early for a meet and greet at the Christina Parker Gallery, located at 50 Water Street, from 5:00pm-7:00pm.

Come rub elbows with some of the festival’s organizers and contributors at one of the most vibrant and prestigious galleries in this fine city. Come ‘Be Scene’ and say hello!

Day Two Preview

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

It’s Day 2! Oh, the fun is just beginning.

I highly encourage everyone to check out the full schedule of events as early as possible to secure your seats for some of these incredible screenings and panels.

Today there will be screenings of a collection of short films at the LSPU Hall at both noon and 7:00pm, as well as screenings at the Johnson Geocentre at 9:30pm.

There will also be two feature-length screenings tonight that you won’t want to miss!

The first film is E-Team, an American documentary that premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival to glowing reviews. Co-directors Katy Chevigny & Ross Kauffman teamed up to present a harrowing and honest look into the lives of emergency responders to human rights violations. It’s a powerful film that gives viewers a front row seat to the glimpses of humanity conveyed in some of the most afflicted locales on Earth. This documentary will be screening at The Rooms this evening from 7:00pm-9:00pm.

The second film screening this evening is Cast No Shadow, the highly anticipated film written by local jack-of-all-trades Joel Thomas Hynes and directed by Christian Sparked in his debut feature length. This movie swept the Atlantic Film Festival Awards, with nods to both of the aforementioned gentlemen. Hynes’ work needs no introduction, defining our province’s darkest tones with some of the most genuine dialog you’ll find in any local work. The screening will be a late one, starting at 9:30pm at The LSPU Hall.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of catching these fine filmmakers honing their craft in some of the most remarkable selections you’ll see this year.

Stay tuned! More to come.

And We’re Off!

    Posted on: Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Bradley Mercer and I have been given the honor of being the Blogger for the 25th Annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. Having spent the better part of my life considering myself a bit of a film connesieur, it gives me great pleasure to share this spectacular festival and its astounding variety of events or screenings with all you gracious folks on the World Wide Web.

Newfoundland has grown into a hub for film and television production in the past two decades, and I would be willing to bet that many of the returning volunteers and attendees have seen a sharp growth in the local support and international recognition since the festival’s inaugural year. I’m hoping we will get to talk to some of our veteran organizers or volunteers to find out what has evolved in the last 25 years, and perhaps get some perspective on the future of film in this province.

Again, I want to thank the lovely team behind the festival for having me onboard. Film has truly been an interest in which I have found a perpetual fountain of passion and I am so pleased to be sharing the excitement for the coming week.

Stay tuned & check back for some previews on the screenings and workshops!

Ross Moore on Pitchin’ It

    Posted on: Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Every year, we here at the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival bring in industry pros from the city, the province and the country to hear your ideas and maybe — just maybe — hand you a development deal.

This year we’ve got Mongrel Media, Telefilm Canada, Bell Media, Super Channel, NLFDC, CBC, Best Boy Studios, Pope Productions and you can also pitch interactive projects to companies such as Other Ocean Interactive, iThentic, Clockwork Fox Studios and the NFB/Interactive. In order to make the most of your session, and of the pitchees’ time, we’ve tried to streamline things a bit and make sure that everyone goes in prepared. We’re asking interested people to submit a one-pager for their project so we can share it with your requested pro and be sure you’re meeting with the people who can best serve you.

Our Face 2 Face Pitch session is one of my favourite events. Standing there in that room, with all of those ideas flying around, all of those beautiful brains churning away, all of that nervous energy buzzing and sparking, is an incredible experience. Everyone’s on, everyone’s talking, and everyone wants to know what you’ve got up your sleeve.

And though it seems white-knuckle horrifying, it’s actually not that bad. I’ve done it and I survived. But for a second opinion, here’s Ross Moore, who’ll be blogging about the Festival over at Jealous Opinion.

Ross Moore pass

So, you’ve pitched at the Women’s Film Festival?
Yeah, I think it was two years ago.


Who did you pitch to?
I pitched to Pope Productions and Best Boy and it might have been somebody from Superchannel.


Was it terrifying?
It was a little nerve-wracking, yeah. But really, it’s only as intense as you make it to be. Because really, they’re just people, they’re just there doing their job and, for the most part, everyone is very friendly. They’re there to have a conversation, so as long as you keep that in mind and don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you’ll be just fine. They’re not really putting any pressure on you. They’re there to hear your ideas.


So you didn’t start crying or anything?
Haha, no, I wasn’t crying during the pitch, anyway.


Did you get good feedback, though?
I did. I mean, you can’t expect someone to just say “Yes!” immediately, and then you’ll walk out of there with a multi-million dollar deal. You have to walk in expecting just feedback and, at best, you might get a soft “maybe” or a business card or something like that. If you go in with those types of expectations, and just really listen to the feedback, you can learn a lot. Hoping to land something, I think, is not really the point. You’re putting too much pressure on the moment, and on yourself, when really it’s just more of a learning experience. It’s like an audition. As an actor, I try to audition for as many things as I can, for the practice. The more you practice, the better you are.


I’ve heard that about pitching, that it’s a skill and you need to continually cultivate that skill.
It is, and the more you practice, the more natural you’ll be. And I think that a key part of the pitch, that you need to be natural. It’s not about memorizing your pitch, it’s about knowing your idea through and through.


The film industry to me seems to be so much about knowing people and connecting with people and being able to put the right people together. Does pitching help with that aspect of it?
I would say so, yeah. When I was pitching to Best Boy, I talked to a producer there, and I pitched him a couple of ideas and he was really receptive and gave great feedback. But then I ended up doing a bit of work with Best Boy and we already knew each other, so that was handy. Then conversations would come up and he’d ask me what I was working on, and I’d bring up things that we were talking about that day and that conversation would continue, which was neat. Then, when Closet Monster was shooting, I got an email from him asking to help out with auditions. So it is all about those connections. It’s about making it a conversation because you are trying to ignite what could be a friendship or a professional friendship, at least. If someone doesn’t necessarily like your idea, you still want to exit on a high note.


And you still want them to like you


It’s worth the fear?
Definitely, definitely. It’s sparked a fire beneath me now, I think I might try to pitch a few ideas this year.

To set yourself up with a pitch session with one of our pros, please visit to read the guideines, more about who you can pitch to, and to fill our your applicaiton. Deadline to submit is Friday, October 10th at 12pm. Any questions? Give Jenn a call at 754-3141.

ross mooreRoss Moore is an actor, writer and filmmaker based out of St. John’s, NL. Visit his blog Jealous Opinion for Festival updates, or find him on vimeo.