Jason Anderson has been the Kingston Canadian Film Festival’s Director of Programming since 2009. He regularly writes about movies and the arts for such publications as The Grid, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Cinema Scope and Artforum.com. His writing has also been published by The Walrus, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Toro, Entertainment Weekly and many other magazines and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. He teaches courses on film criticism and column writing at the University of Toronto and is the author of Showbiz, a novel published in 2005 by ECW Press. He also plays keyboards in the Toronto band The Two Koreas.
1. Tell us about yourself, your background with respect to film and how you came to be involved in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival?
This is the fourth year I’ve been on the KCFF’s team, and the third I’ve served as its director of programming. I was very pleased to be invited to join since I have a special passion for Canadian films and have long advocated on their behalf in my work as a film critic for publications like Toronto’s Eye Weekly (now The Grid), the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Like many people involved with film fests, I expended a lot of energy writing about movies before ever programming them but I believe the two pursuits have a lot in common — really, creating the KCFF’s program is just another way of encouraging people to see films that I am excited about and that deserve whatever support I can give them.
2. What makes the KCFF different from other festivals that you’ve attended or helped organize? How has the festival changed over the years, and what direction do you see it heading in the next five years?
As soon as I began working at the KCFF, I was immediately struck by the close relationship the festival has fostered with its many partners throughout the city and, even more importantly, with its audiences. There’s a very warm, inviting, community-oriented vibe that I haven’t necessarily felt at other festivals in Canada or elsewhere on the planet (including many of the most famous ones, like Cannes and Sundance). I’ve also been really impressed by how well our staff and volunteers take care of the visiting filmmakers, many of whom have been moved to say how hospitable the KCFF is compared to other places they’ve brought their movies. That’s especially gratifying since the KCFF offers a unique showcase for Canadian filmmakers, a group whose efforts may not necessarily get the attention they deserve. Given that our movie marketplace is overwhelmingly dominated by American product, I believe Canadian films can only benefit from showcases like the KCFF. Perhaps someday our homegrown efforts will no longer be stuck in that underdog position but until that time comes, I’m eager to get these films in front of audiences.
As for other changes, I think the overall quality of the selections has continued to reflect the growing vitality of Canadian cinema, which has had some remarkable success over the past few years, be it Oscar nominations for WATER, INCENDIES and MONSIEUR LAZHAR (which we’re proud to have at this year’s fest) or the enthusiasm generated both here and abroad for the likes of C.R.A.Z.Y. AWAY FROM HER and STARBUCK, which is another movie I’m sure will be a big fave at this year’s festival. The next five years will hopefully see it get even stronger. (I’m very excited about some of the movies on the immediate horizon, like Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN and ANTIVIRAL, a thriller by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon starring current it-girl Sarah Gadon.)
3. As the Director of Programming, what does your job entail? What were some of the challenges and headaches you had to face this year, and how did you overcome them?
Basically, my job entails seeing as many new Canadian features and documentaries as I can over the course of the previous year in order to create the strongest possible program for the festival. I’d estimate that I see 80 to 90 Canadian movies to suss out our slate of 15 to 20 feature-length titles — I see what I can at other festivals like TIFF and Hot Docs in Toronto as well as from the pool of submissions we receive and solicit from filmmakers, producers and distributors. Getting films that are new to Kingston is a major priority and it’s always great to land some world or Canadian premieres (we’ve got one of each this year). One major challenge is making sure there’s the right balance of different kinds of movies (e.g., features vs. docs, French-language films vs. English ones, heavy dramas vs. lighter fare). Timing is always an issue and it’s frustrating not to get titles that I know would be perfect for the KCFF but that I can’t secure because we don’t fit into the movie’s plans for release. But even though I’m sad to miss out on a few I really wanted, I’m thrilled that we’re able to present several titles well before their commercial release in Canada, like EDWIN BOYD, KEYHOLE and THE SAMARITAN, along with many other films that will otherwise never get the chance to play a big screen in Kingston.
4. Name three films you’re most excited about presenting to audiences at this year’s KCFF. Why you believe these films will be the talk of the festival?
When it comes to movies that I think will generate some buzz, it’ll be hard to beat our opening film EDWIN BOYD. A very stylish portrait of the bank robber who became Canada’s most notorious and flamboyant outlaw in the 1940s and ’50s, it’s the most impressive and entertaining debut feature to come out of the English-speaking side of the country in many years. (Scott Speedman’s great in it, too.) Director David Weaver’s con-man thriller with Samuel L. Jackson, THE SAMARITAN is another special one for us — we’re presenting the film fresh from its world premiere in Santa Barbara. And it’s exciting that we’ve got not one but two special screenings with live musical components, something I’m always eager to present. The big one’s at the Grand Theatre on March 4, when Dr. Philip Carli will be playing live accompaniment for a screening of BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY, a silent classic by Nell Shipman and a real landmark in the history of Canadian film. And on March 3, we’re delighted that our two-part presentation of NATIONAL PARKS PROJECT — a collection of tributes to the country’s most iconic natural spaces by an incredible team of filmmakers and musicians — will feature a live appearance by one of the musicians included in the film, guitarist and composer Sam Shalabi.
5. How many local filmmakers, or films with strong local ties can festival-goers expect to screen at this year’s KCFF? How do you perceive the strength of Kingston’s film making scene?
We’re definitely proud to present another bounty of locally made shorts that will be screened along with every feature (selections will be announced Feb. 27). It’s also great that our program of feature-length works includes several movies whose creative teams include former Queen’s students — I know that’s the case for EDWIN BOYD, THE SAMARITAN, COLD BLOODED and NATIONAL PARKS PROJECT. Given how hard it is for anyone to get a movie made in this country, it’s terrific to see so many past and present Kingstonites achieve their goals. Our Local Lowdown Workshop with Michael Patrick Lilly and our career event on the Queen’s campus will hopefully get more people in town thinking about what they can do to make it happen. Opportunities are always going to be hard to come by no matter where you are but other municipalities are proving that Ontario’s film industry is not just about Hogtown — financial incentives have brought many recent productions to Sudbury and North Bay and the role of postwar Toronto in EDWIN BOYD was played by none other than Sault Ste. Marie. I hope Kingston will soon be seeing more of the same activity.
6. Aside from this year’s spectacular lineup, which workshops, masterclasses or social event are you most excited about attending? Are there any presenters in particular you’re looking forward listening to, or otherwise meeting?
I’m really looking forward to our master class with Thomas Wallner and Manfred Becker, two of the most accomplished figures in Canada’s documentary film community — they’ll also be screening THE GUANTANAMO TRAP, a chilling look at individuals who’ve become collateral damage in the war on terror. The Saturday-morning seminar by Kay Armitage and the Sunday-afternoon reception at the Grand should provoke plenty of interesting talk about Nell Shipman, one of the most prominent Canadians in the early days of Hollywood. As for filmmaker guests, I’m really happy to welcome back Ingrid Veninger, who showed MODRA at last year’s fest and is back with I AM A GOOD PERSON/I AM A BAD PERSON. The Toronto Film Critics Association just gave her the Jay Scott prize for emerging talent, an honour she very much deserves.