On The Beach


They’re doing it in Gimli again. Showing movies, some of which are mainstream, but some that are strange and weird and wonderful.

The family movies, the kind you can take an uptight relative to or your youngest kids, are shown on the beach. There’s a framework set in the water. The framework holds the screen. The screen can be rolled up when a film is over. Good thing, too. We had a windstorm and pelting rain one night. That’s part of the gamble, of course. Will there or will there not be a Manitoba thunderstorm  for the five days of the festival?

You have to wait for dark to fall to see the beach movies. You bring a comfortable lawn chair, a drink, something to snack on, find a comfortable location for viewing and relax. The beach is flat and accommodating because the town sends a man and a machine to smooth out the sand.

On the beach, you’ll see movies like E.T., Marley, Blue Hawaii, Jaws2.  You can see these films at home on services like Netflix, but it isn’t the same as sitting on the beach, the sound of the waves lapping on the shore, the stars overhead,  waiting, in the case of E.T. for a spaceship to descend from the sky or in the case of Jaws2, a huge tulibee to fling itself through the surf to snatch some viewer up and drag him away.

There are four inside venues. The Gimli Theatre (itself an historical artifact since it was started in 1947), the Lady of the Lake Theatre, the Aspire Theatre (the Unitarian Church on Sundays) and the Gimli Park Pavilion. The only one of these venues that is meant to show films with subtitles is the Gimli Theatre. The two documentaries I watched in the Lady of the Lake Theatre had subtitles at the bottom of the screen and since I didn’t get a seat on the risers for the second film, I got up and stood along the wall with a lot of other people who also couldn’t see the subtitled dialogue. Since foreign films are one of the attractions of the festival, it might be a good idea to add more risers so that people can see over the heads of the people in front of them. Either that or seat people according to their height with short people in the front row, next shortest in the next row, etc.

There are 130 films being shown over a period of five days. For $55.00, you can attend everything including the events held for the industry and rub shoulders with film makers and wannabe film makers. You can also attend the hospitality events. It’s a bargain. Pickerel supper for two with a couple of drinks at the Beach Boy comes to around $55.00 and you are hungry the next morning. You get to fill up on film for 5 days.

There are films for every taste. You can see major films like A Separation or The Frog Princes, Guy Madden’s Keyhole (which I regretfully had to miss because of another obligation) or an hour made up of short films that might be as little as one or two minutes long. It’s the shorts that are likely to be experimental, strange visions of reality. The shorts are grouped as to subject matter. You could, for example, attend the Inuit Short Program or a series named Truly Awkward Love.

It’s great to see the festival hosting the Global Winnipeg Short Film Awards and Best Short Film for Artistic Achievement, the Emerging Filmmaker Competition ($10,000.00) There’s also The Lake Short Film Contest.

No festival survives on ticket sales alone. The brochure has half page and page ads from some expected supporters like Icelandair, Sobeys and Pharmasave. These companies are strong supporters of local events. However, Sensible Shoes Foundation Inc. and RBC have taken full pages. I, along with three others, gave a talk on stories that might make good films at the Gimli Park and that was supported by The Mauro Family Foundation. The Gavin Wood Law Corp provided box picnic lunches. When I mentioned that I had celiac disease, they whipped up rice noodles, stir fried vegetables and a piece of fish. How’s that for classy?

As the film festival has grown up, it’s added events for the film industry. There are talks on expanding the producer toolbag, a workshop on how to make a pitch, a chance to meet the festival industry guests. Having been involved with drama of various kinds over decades, I know how exceptional it is that these opportunities are provided in a small prairie town like Gimli.

Every day at the film festival, I’ve thought about my grandmother, Blanche Valgardson. In the 1920s, she was writing, directing, producing, acting in plays in Gimli. She took her local troup along the rail line to put on plays at other villages. There were Icelanders from Winnipeg and elsewhere who went to Hollywood pursuing the dream of making it big in cinema. She kept in touch with some of them, asking advice and sending manuscripts. How pleased she would be to see the Gimli Film Festival.