An Interview with The Atlantic International Film Festival – Atlantic Canada’s Curator of Epic and Unforgettable Stories

The Atlantic International Film Festival is an amazing multi-day event and organization that celebrates the art of cinema. With a focus on showcasing diverse and innovative films, the festival has become a highlight for both filmmakers and moviegoers.

We had the opportunity to interview the organizers to learn more about the passion and process behind bringing such an exciting event to life. Join us as we dive into the storytelling and creativity with the talented individuals behind the Atlantic International Film Festival.

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Can you provide a brief overview of the history and evolution of the Atlantic International Film Festival from its humble beginnings to its 44th year in 2024?

The Atlantic International Film Festival began as a small grassroots organization in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1981. While the founders originally imagined the festival cycling annually throughout the four Atlantic provinces (NS, NL, PEI and NB), after the first year in St. John’s, the festival moved to Halifax and never left.

Four decades later, AIFF is firmly established as one of Canada’s premier film festivals. We are a not-for-profit organization with a Board of Directors and six full-time staff members, hiring additional contract staff as needed during our peak period (June to October). In addition to our cornerstone event, we offer a range of year-round programming, including AIFF Partners, a high-level international co-production market; AIFF Kids, a youth film festival and film competition; and AIFF Filmmaker Lab, a professional development program for emerging filmmakers. 

What makes AIFF stand out as a premier celebration of film and filmmaking in Canada, and how does it contribute to the regional industry?

AIFF is the largest film festival in Atlantic Canada, with deep roots in the East Coast arts scene and the film and television industry going back over four decades. AIFF is proud to have screened the early work of many of our established filmmaking voices, and to continue to support local artists and the local industry through high-profile screenings of their work, pertinent panel discussions, and ongoing networking opportunities. AIFF’s programming reflects concerns, trends and interests in Atlantic Canada, and invites filmgoers to engage with work that challenges them to think differently about the world. AIFF is also a discovery festival, championing new, innovative voices and elevating work from creators who are female-identified, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ and Deaf and Disabled.

Could you highlight some of the key highlights and events that attendees can look forward to during the 44th Atlantic International Film Festival?

The 44th Atlantic International Film Festival will open on Wednesday, September 11th with our Opening Night Gala screening at Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane. The film selection will be
announced at our Program Launch mid August but it is always a Canadian film (sometimes
Atlantic Canadian), and often a premier screening of something we’re excited to share with
audiences. That screening is followed by our iconic Opening Night Gala Celebration, a late-night red-carpet party in downtown Halifax.

The first two full days of the festival include AIFF Partners, our co-production / co-finance
Market. AIFF Partners focuses on dramatic feature film, television and digital fiction series,
featuring projects in all stages of development looking for essential partnerships and financing. Other highlights from the first two days include our Love Film Party, another late-night gathering of film fans, filmmakers and the local industry.

Saturday and Sunday are jam packed with screenings, industry panels, artist talks and
celebrations. Our Atlantic Gala screening on Saturday night is a celebration of an exceptional film from Atlantic Canada, followed by a suitably East Coast late-night party. On Sunday, local and visiting filmmakers gather for a laid-back Filmmaker Luncheon, followed in the afternoon by our Atlantic Awards ceremony, presented in collaboration with the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative’s Linda Joy Awards. Sunday evening closes with our annual Reel East Coast Shorts Gala, presented in collaboration with CBC.

Monday, September 15th – Wednesday September 18th are prime evenings to catch repeat
screenings of some of the most buzz-worthy films from the opening days and weekend, and to experience local feature films, shorts programs and screenings from our Late Night Visions stream of horror and genre films.

The festival ends on Wednesday September 18th with our Closing Night Gala screening which is always an audience favourite and a celebratory way to close the festival.

Can you tell us about the venue for the festival, Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane, and why it’s chosen as the heart of the event in downtown Halifax?

We have a longstanding partnership with Cineplex, and the Park Lane location is in the heart of downtown Halifax. Nearly everything we offer during AIFF is able to be within walking distance once you are downtown, so it is a perfect pairing.

What is the process for selecting films to be featured in the festival, and what criteria do you use to curate the lineup of national and international offerings?

We have an amazing Programming Department with a combined many years of experience, headed up by AIFF Director of Programming Lisa Haller. They screen hundreds of submissions every year and apply a rigorous and thoughtful set of criteria to create a balanced program that has something for everyone. The curation provided is of the highest level and quality, and anyone who attends can rest assured that our offerings are fresh, innovative and diverse.

AIFF is known for providing an immersive experience for attendees. Could you describe some of the unique experiences and opportunities that movie lovers, filmmakers, and industry professionals can expect at the festival?

AIFF screenings go above and beyond a regular cinema experience, not to mention just
watching a movie at home. What you are going to see with us is not available to stream or
watch anywhere at the time we are showing it, unless it is another film festival somewhere else in the country or the world. The communal experience of watching these brand new films together, and oftentimes with someone from the filmmaking team present to introduce the movie, or do a Q&A after, all takes place in an intimate theatre setting. The opportunity to learn and interact even more is available in the form of industry-focused panels, a variety of receptions and parties, and unique niche offerings like face painting for children to accompany our family-friendly screenings.

How has AIFF adapted and innovated in response to the evolving landscape of film festivals, including the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The impacts of the pandemic are many, but perhaps the most positive and lasting one is taking AIFF online. In 2020 we offered a fully online film festival that was very well received and since then we have continued to offer a portion of our programming online via our own streaming platform, AIFF Online, which is exclusive to Atlantic Canada. This has given us the opportunity to bring AIFF to all Atlantic Canadians, a unique chance for anyone in our region to participate in the festival by watching local films and supporting our talented regional filmmakers and creative voices.

Are there any notable guests, directors, or filmmakers that audiences can anticipate meeting or hearing from during the festival?

Because our programming line-up isn’t solidified until much later in the summer
(announcements are typically made in August), we can’t share any specific names or titles with you at this time. Past guests at AIFF in recent years however have included some notable talent such as Atom Egoyan (SEVEN VEILS), Sarah Polley (WOMEN TALKING), and Willem Dafoe (THE LIGHTHOUSE).

Be sure to visit The Atlantic International Film Festival website to check out the schedule during summer and mark your calendars for the event date!

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