Wendy Huot is the owner/operator of The Screening Room, Kingston’s independent cinema specializing in alternative, international and classic cinema, as well as ‘special event’ film screenings. Since moving to Kingston in 2006, she has volunteered to help plan and promote countless local music/art/film/fundraising event via her participation with Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, the Apple Crisp Concert Series, The Artel Arts Accommodation and Venue, and the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.
1. Tell us about yourself, your background with respect to film and how you came to be involved in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival?
I’m a lifelong cinephile; during my student days it was my absolute favourite way to escape from my studies and various life anxieties. I moved out Kingston in 2006 to work as the Web Development Librarian at Queen’s University, and in my spare time I started an underground film screening series called Cameo Cinema. When The Screening Room went up for sale back in 2011, I couldn’t pass up the uncommon opportunity to become a movie theatre proprietor, so I bought the theatre and quit my job. I was asked to serve on the KCFF board while in the process of buying the theatre, and I’ve served on it ever since.
2. What makes the KCFF different from other film festivals? How has the festival changed in recent years, and what direction would you like to see the festival grow in the next decade?
You might assume (like I used to) that most cities would have their own Canadian film festival, but that is not the case! There are only a handful of festivals that showcase Canadian cinema as KCFF does — Kingston is lucky in this regard. KCFF isn’t tiny but it isn’t huge either; I like the scale of it – you see the same faces again and again and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with moviegoers, visiting filmmakers and volunteers.
This is the first year that the festival will be licensed, so you can enjoy a Steamwhistle beer or a glass of Casa-Dea wine with your movie… very civilized! We’re spinning Canadian vinyl on The Screen Room’s lobby turntable all weekend long. This is the first year we’re offering students 2-for-1 single ticket admission ($12) for all screening. And this is an especially good year for special guests – over half the films will have filmmakers in attendance for post-screening Q&A’s.
I’d like to see KCFF do more year-round special cinema events – last Fall the festival co-presented an incredible screening of Nanook of the North, accompanied by a thouroughly subversive live soundtrack by Inuk jazz vocalist Tanya Tagaq. I don’t think the festival itself needs to grow any bigger than what it is; it’s a good and appropriate size, and I like quality (and variety) over quantity.
3. As a KCFF Board member, what does your job entail? What were some of the challenges and tough decisions you had to face this year, and how did you overcome them?
The major work of “making the festival happen” each year is handled by staff (headed by Marc Garniss, KCFF’s highly capable and concientious General Manager), interns and volunteers. The board plays a supportive advisory role, though we handle important hiring and policy decisions.
The major challenge for the festival this year is the same challenge we had last year – finding suitable screening venues now that there is no multiplex downtown (the Capitol 7 Empire Theatre closed December 2012). The Screening Room has two small cinemas (with 85 and 56 seats) with top-of-the-line cinema projectors and comfy new seats (upcylced from the Empire Theatre); it’s great for quality niche-interest films that attract smaller audiences, but it isn’t able to handle the large crowds that flock to high-profile films and galas. The old multiplex used to provide two screens to the festival that could accommodate big audiences, but now there is no mid-size event venue downtown that’s appropriate for seating 100-250 people.
But this year, we got a Celebrate Ontario grant that allows KCFF to temporarily transform non-traditional venues into cinema environments. This year, Memorial Hall will be the venue for the three largest screenings – offering an unusual opportunity to watch a movie in Kingston’s historic City Hall!
4. As the owner of The Screening Room, you’re also playing host to a great number of the films being screened at this year’s KCFF. How important are festivals such as KCFF in the realizing your objective of delivering high quality entertainment not found elsewhere in Kingston?
I’m a big believer in the cinema experience – the experience of leaving the comfort of your own home to dedicate two hours of your life to watch a movie in a dark room with a bunch of like-minded people. Seeing a movie in the cinema is fundamentally different than watching it on Netflix or DVD – the movie becomes something you mentally and physically commit yourself to; you don’t have the option of checking your email or getting up to make a sandwich. Movies are better when you see them in the cinema. Film festivals bring a wide variety of movies to the big screen and create an opportunity for risk-taking and excitement – you’re taking your chances on films that you know very little about, and the experience could be delightful, torturously boring, emotionally resonant, embarrassing or magical. A festival moviewatching experience has the potential to stick in your memory for years to come.
KCFF brings movies to town that would otherwise not play at The Screening Room or anywhere else in Kingston, and the screening events are framed in a way that is distinct and special – with local short films, filmmaker Q&A’s, and the festival’s general atmosphere of anticipation.
5. What do you think of the state of Kingston’s film scene, both in terms of people making movies here (who should ppl watch out for) as well as the level of audience interest in Canadian-made feature-length films?
In Kingston there’s a handful of people heroically producing and releasing feature-length films – movies to watch out for in 2014 include Anthony D.P. Mann’s Phantom of the Opera, Nicholas Arnold’s William’s Lullaby, Leigh Ann Bellamy’s Fault, and Lenny Epstein’s prison farm documentary Til’ The Cows Come Home (which will play at The Screening Room in June).
In general, Canadian films never get the same kind of media saturation necessary for big opening weekend grosses, so they succeed in theatrical release only if they can generate excellent word-of-mouth recommendations. In recent memory, Monsieur Lazhar, Still Mine, Cloudburst and Watermark (KCFF’s free closing night screening on March 2) all did excellent business at The Screening Room.
6. 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?
The major films of the festival are Gabrielle (my money’s on it to win the People’s Choice Award), Cas & Dylan (a road trip movie directed by Jason Priestly!!) and Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan’s dramatizaiton of the notorious trial of the West Memphis Three).
I’m really impressed with this year’s lineup and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased… personally, I’m most intruiged by two imaginative revenge stories: Rhymes for Young Ghouls and The Dirties; the acclaimed family drama Le Démantèlement (bring klenex), and the black comedy Whitewash (“if Samuel Beckett had ever set a play in the Canadian hinterlands” – sign me up!).