When the Okanagan Film Festival opens mid-October with 30 films and a filmmaker or executive at every screening, Kelowna will have a few dedicated souls to thank.
Two years ago, the society running the festival was $35,000 in debt and a trio of cinema types were making it their mission to ensure the show would go on.
The group included Leo Bartels of Leo’s Videos and filmmakers Jeremy Heynen and Adam Scorgie. Scorgie soon moved on with major film projects. Bartels took on a new role as an urban farmer, though continued to screen documentaries for the festival.
Heynen thus assumed a lead role on OFF, operating the festival as a business as it had lost its charitable status.
“I received advice that I should run it as a business and then, after it has been successful for a few years, try to reapply to get society status,” said Heynen. “So that’s what I’m doing; but it hasn’t been easy.”
Three weeks from opening night, he’s secured the executive producer of In the Family, Andrew van den Houten, who will be in the city to scope talent.
He knows Dancing Still director Robert Munic will be on hand along with actor Louis Ferreira and executive producer Jeff Myers.
And he knows that every one of the 30 films he will be screening is something he will be proud to show and each will have a filmmaker at the show.
What he doesn’t know is how he’s going to get any sleep.
Last year, he managed to secure a hefty Knowledge Network sponsorship but for 2012 the deal fell through. Heynen is doing interviews between running out of pay-as-you-go phone minutes and surviving on care packages.
While from the outside it would appear OFF is blossoming into quite the success story with industry insiders dubbing it a vacation from the paparazzi, there’s the makings of a movie in the effort it’s taken to get this far—and it’s by no means on solid ground.
“I wanted to take this on as something to help other filmmakers and it ended up consuming all of my time,” said Heynen.
A graduate of film school 12 years ago, Heynen worked in New York and now has local film projects on the back burner he needs to get back to.
“People will go out of their way to try to do whatever they can to watch the submissions,” he said, “but I ended up having to make the rule that if you want to be a screener, you have to at least take on another role.”
And yet, after staying up all night, he still rallies to talk about OFF’s films.
In the Family is a 3 1/2 hour epic which mainstream festivals cannot air because of its length. Roger Ebert has lauded the film and its first-time writer and director, Patrick Wang, for touring the country to small festivals like this to have it shown.
On the documentary side, Do You Really Want To Know? will turn heads as it looks at the new frontiers of genetic testing and whether we should know the ailments we are predisposed toward.
The Okanagan Film Festival runs Oct. 11-14 in Kelowna under the tagline Making the Okanagan a Destination for Talent.
A schedule and information on ticket sales will be released on Facebook, Off Festival, on Oct. 1. Challenges or not, Heynen is confident the audience will come out to see the films.