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Film festival aiming for ‘red carpet experience’

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

With a new name and new focus, the Durham Regional International Film Festival will roll out the red carpet next week.
Colin Burwell, a member of the festival’s steering committee, says adding “international” to the name and some of the new programs they are offering are part of a dedicated effort “to change up some of the flavour of the film festival.”
Now in its third year, the event was organized by the region itself for the first two, with a non-profit group of volunteers taking over the reigns in 2017.
“The first few years, we were really gunning towards a family-friendly kind of event,” Burwell says. “For the third year, we really wanted to get people to associate the festival with the red carpet experience.”
“With the international-type of vibe, we felt that would give the festival a bit more credibility and attract an audience that are more film buffs or filmmakers themselves,” he continued.
That international aura is evident as films have been submitted from across the globe.
“We are screening films from eight different countries. We have a few from the U.S., and countries such as Iraq, France, and Switzerland,” Burwell noted.
Not to be outdone, Canada, Ontario and of course, Durham Region, are all healthily represented as well.
One local filmmaker whose work will be highlighted during the festival is Carla Sinclair of Oshawa’s Empty Cup Media.
Sinclair’s interest in filmmaking began at the age of 12 when she picked up her “friend’s grandmother’s old ‘handycam’.”
“I got really invested in it and that’s what I spent all my time doing.”
Sinclair would go on to study film in British Columbia, including a program on international film design with an emphasis on “cinematography, advanced editing, and business.”
Eventually, Sinclair would join the ranks of Empty Cup Media, where she has honed her craft locally.
She was involved with two films submitted for DRIFF, including Armoured Time Machines.
The 11-minute documentary focuses on Persian Gulf War veterans reunited with their fellow soldiers and the military vehicles they went into battle in more than 25 years ago.
Alan Duffy, president of Oshawa’s Ontario Regiment Museum, approached Sinclair’s company with his idea for the film.
“It was a brilliant film to make,” Sinclair says, reflecting on the experience. “It was cool to first just interview [the soldiers] and then see the emotions they were experiencing at the time.”
While those emotions were quite varied, Sinclair says she really could see the soldiers were overjoyed to be reunited with their former colleagues.
“The camaraderie they had with the people they had been friends with before was very prevalent,” she added.
While Armoured Time Machines is not meant to be a political film, Sinclair says it was an eye-opening experience on the topic of war.
“One gentleman spoke about how, which really caught my attention, the people who abhor war the most are probably [the soldiers],” Sinclair says. “They are not necessarily excited to go fight, but it’s an important role to play and it if comes down to it, you have to go to battle, but you can probably find the most anti-war advocates in the soldiers.”
Aside from the pride of showing her work, Sinclair says she too is optimistic about the growth of the festival.
“I very excited for a festival of this calibre to be in Durham Region, and I love TIFF, but just going into the city can be challenging, so having this kind of foreign content in our backyard and coming together to celebrate the arts in this fashion is great.”
Burwell, a filmmaker in his own right, says there is a huge buzz growing around the local
film scene.
“I think 2017 is really the tipping point for film in Durham. After this, we will no longer be living in the shadow of Toronto’s film world, we will be our own entity and competing with Toronto.”
Explaining that Durham is quickly becoming a filming location hotspot, Burwell says he believes this will not be a well-kept secret for long.
“It’s blowing up and we really want the festival to be a catalyst for this explosion.”
For Burwell, one example of the region’s largely undiscovered charms is Newcastle’s Docville Wild West movie set.
“It’s one of those hidden gems in Durham that a lot of people haven’t seen. It’s a really neat venue.”
The set will host a full day of events during the festival, including an opportunity for patrons to be on camera as part of a ‘movie-in-a-day’ project, which includes the ability to see how the film is put together.
In another effort to give the event a larger feel, DRIFF will feature screenings of critically and commercially successful feature films such as 54, Bang Bang Baby and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, to name a few.
Some of the directors and producers of these films will be attending Q&A sessions after the screenings, Burwell states.
“That is the ingredient to add to give the festival more of an international feel and red carpet experience.”
The festival will feature the adjudication of films across nine categories, including Best Animated Short, Best Feature Film, Best Documentary Short, Best Documentary Feature, Best Comedy Short, Best Short Film, Best Student Film, People’s Choice Award and Best Regional Film.
More for information, such as ticket pricing and festival schedule, visit