Kicking off a festival best known for its rad local shows, mostly-unknown bands and a myriad of venues is Sled Island’s best kept secret: Sled Film. Programmed by fiercely passionate Jeanette Burman, this component of Sled Island is the first to hit the streets of Calgary from June 18 to 20, and does so with a bang.
Featuring music-inspired documentaries, a unique series of auteur shorts, a number of feature-length movies and a handful of question periods and special guests, Sled’s compact program leaves little to be desired. Spanning from a deeply personal, moving documentary on the nature of music and hearing, to exploring the Vancouver’s punk roots, blending a number of shorts, and partnering with Calgary’s Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) to showcase outdoor movie classics it comes as a striking, yet brief glimpse into music and expression on film.
While it may be easy to ignore this new kid on the block for the limelight occupied by CUFF and CIFF, Sled Film brings a unique and individual look at filmmaking, often showcasing directors instead of actors and pushing the envelope with what they describe as “boutique auteur” films.
“It’s a small program in a larger festival, which means it can be easy to overlook,” says film programmer Burman. “Especially if you’re like me and you get completely focused on seeing the shows you’ve never seen and the bands you love. I get so wrapped up in the music that I don’t want anything else to interfere with that, which is why we made the decision to run the film component of the festival first.”
Burman has been running Sled Film for the past four years, a passion of hers whose unique nature she fervently defends.
It isn’t intended to stand alone, Burman says, but to “augment the greater festival, and give more value to the festival pass.” She admits that while ArtCity and High Performance Rodeo offer similar tastes of collaborative and diverse programming, what makes Sled unique is their approach.
“We stay in the spirit of Sled Island,” she says, “being multi-venue, promoting unique vision, alternative narratives and experimental or auteur films. It’s unique because of the way we present our shorts, having a distinct vision to portray, independent-film focused, and director driven.
“We would never call ourselves world class, because we don’t have the star power for it. But that’s because we’re searching for things that are different from what you would normally find on a film festival circuit, while still working to create a platform for our local community.”
There is admittedly a focus on music, but sometimes it’s in more subtle ways than you’d expect. She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column, for instance, recounts the story of a group of young female artists from Toronto in the early eighties. Coming together to become influential in the practice of art, gender roles and femininity, these women used music film and self-publication to defy the norms.
Other times, as in the case of Calgary premiere of Just Like Being There, it’s all about the music. Or, at least, the music posters. This inside look at the culture and art behind gig postering features artists Daniel Danger and Jay Ryan who endeavour to prove that creating this artwork is a way of life, not just a career.
Not to go unmentioned are films Lost And Sound, which recounts three inspiring tales of people facing deafness trying to rediscover music; The Great Northwest, which relives a tale of four Seattle women found in a scrapbook at a thrift store; Bloodied But Unbowed, an in-depth look at Vancouver’s punk rock roots and to be attended by Director Susanne Tabata and Canadian punk legend Art Bergmann; Uprising: Hip Hop and The LA Riots, a documentary exploring hip hop’s role in the LA riots; and an intimate look of indie rock icons Archers of Loaf in a rare showing of in-your-face concert footage and rare interviews in What Did You Expect? The Archers of Load Live at Cat’s Cradle.
Filling out an otherwise solid program of feature-length films are the Shorts Competition and Shorts Showcase, and a free CSIF showcase of a medley of retro anti-drug PSAs and a mystery feature-length classic film from 1957.
Despite the stout yet compact programming of Sled Film, Burman says she is constantly asked, sometimes accusingly, of what Sled Island offers that is different from larger film festivals.
“People won’t really understand how different we are until they go and experience our film program,” she says. “I can list all day descriptions of how we’re unique, individual and have a vision that is very different from things like CUFF and CIFF, especially because I’ve been following and supporting their efforts for so many years, but people really just have to go.
“It’s hard to be the new kid on the block, because we face so much criticism for trying to branch out. But the film program really doesn’t try to be its own festival. It’s a part of the larger festival and one that has a voice and identity very much its own.”
Despite criticisms and a lack of awareness of its programming, Sled Film is a force unto itself. Many of the screenings are free or by donation and the remainder have at-the-door ticketing and admission is included for Discovery and Plus pass holders. With accessibility like that, Sled Film promises to be an impressive opening act to one of the most anticipated events of the season.
by Bree Gardner