At the end of my first summer in Dawson, I swore I would never again live in a place with such a small library: I would simply waste away if I strayed too far from the millions of volumes of a well-stocked university library. Fast-forward five years, and after spending two more summers in Dawson, I stayed for the winter and learned an important lesson about quality over quantity. This "city" might not offer quite the same level of variety enjoyed elsewhere; what Dawson offers instead is an unparalleled opportunity for people to participate, instead of merely forming the audience. I may have been to a few film festivals elsewhere, but only in Dawson was I able to help make a film festival happen.
Selections for the Dawson City International Short Film Festival are community based. Rather than having an elite hand-picked jury choosing the films, everyone in town is welcome to attend the selection screenings and to weigh-in on the films submitted. Each person gives each film a score out of thirty: a possible ten points for production value, ten points for creativity and another ten for how engaging the film is. There is also a point-blank yes or no: should the film be accepted into the festival? There’s a safety valve, too, and films that are clearly not suitable for the festival can be voted off if half the selection committee agrees. It’s a process that brings the best of the submitted films to Dan’s attention, making his job as festival producer a little easier. It also injects some of Dawson’s unique character into the festival.
I attended almost every single selection screening this winter, only missing a few when I was away on vacation. I’m a rather exacting critic, and during the screenings I tried to keep my eye on the prize--choosing the absolute best films for the festival. I rarely hesitated to begin voting off a film if I didn’t think it should make the cut, and gained something of a reputation for the readiness with which I called out “One!”
I was also a member of the festival planning committee. This was a somewhat less exciting committee to be on, as all the fun film watching was replaced with things like debating the meaning of “ex-officio” and approving meeting minutes. All worthwhile, of course--the gears hidden behind the clock-face, and all that. Meg and Gord did a great job sourcing out festival swag, and I think that apron versus scarf will be the great debate of the weekend (easily solved by just getting both, of course). Our best committee meeting was the last one, when we convened at Peggy’s to rename the martinis in honour of the festival’s special guests. Alcohol consumption and hilarity ensued, and the morning after I wasn’t sure if I should be embarrassed or proud of my contributions to the discussion.
I loved the process of the screenings--the wine Dan provided and the good company of my fellow screeners certainly contributed to this--and with the festival only a couple of days away, I can hardly wait to see the end result. Sometimes going out to the movies can be such an individual experience: people sit, cocooned in the dark, not talking and only watching. But this weekend at the Dawson Film Fest, I’m going to be more than a spectator. I’ll be part of a community, surrounded by all the volunteers, filmmakers and Dawsonites who make this festival possible, and who make this crazy town a city like no other.
I hope this sense of community will spill over into the blog. Bill Kendrick and Jessica Viens will be blogging over the weekend, keeping us all updated on the screenings, socializing and salacious gossip. I hope that you, dear readers, will contribute as well: you are cordially invited to participate in the blog, too, by leaving comments on the posts. Just remember to set your martini down on a flat surface first: you’ll need both hands to type.