25 Years Later… Where Are We Now?

May 3, 2022

Over 25 years ago, the very first Kamloops Film Festival was born. An excellent, like-minded group of people running the Kamloops Film Society was approached to put on what was called “The Moving Pictures Festival” which at the time was backed by the Toronto International Film Festival. The intent was to show Canadian films, and when The Moving Pictures Festival disbanded approximately 2 years later, the society was determined to continue. During the year the society was showing films on the weekend at Cariboo College, but after they got a taste of a local film festival, they knew they had to keep it going. So in 1997, the first official film festival was born! They showed 7 films total, and it was such a success that they continued every year after that, at around the same time, for 25 years. Brian Mitchell, who was one of the original founders, stated “All I can remember from those initial years was the excitement and passion that those of us felt on the board for pulling it all off. It was crazy.” Can you imagine all those years ago, starting something that would grow to its 25th anniversary? Who knew that despite the hardships and challenges that we’ve faced over the many years, that the festival would still be standing today.

Dianne Bell, who is currently on the film festival committee, remembers the first few festivals well.  She was in university at the time and came to the festival because of a Canadian Theatre History Class. At the time, there weren’t any film classes available at what is now known as Thompson Rivers University. Dianne saw the film Le Polygraphe, which in her words, “rocked her world”. Dianne spoke of growing up in Kamloops, and how at the time, they’d never seen anything quite like Le Polygraphe. I’d like to think that the festival has done that for quite a few aspiring film lovers. Giving folks the chance to watch something out of their comfort zone and finding a passion they never knew existed. It happened for Dianne in the very first festival and has *hopefully* happened every year since for others.

Throughout the years, Dianne became more and more of a film lover, in and out of Kamloops. She got her master’s in film studies, and last year became a part of the official film festival committee. While I was in high school, I knew her as “Ms. Bell,” who taught English and a Film Class. Even though I never took her film class, every once and a while I would sneak in and watch a film the class was studying (with her permission of course). Teachers like Dianne are why we have passionate young artists today, because she gives her students opportunities to study and enjoy art in a whole new perspective. Dianne has volunteered her students to work parts of the film festival every year, and because of that, inspired many young and aspiring film-lovers.

I love the fact that so many people are faithful to the festival and attend every year. Living in Kamloops my whole life, a common complaint from my peers is that there’s nothing to do here. I would argue that there is lots to do, but hearing Dianne talk about what used to be in Kamloops, from roller rinks to multiple bowling alleys, Kamloops was filled with activities. Now, fun things to do can definitely be harder to find, especially after the beginnings of the pandemic. However, the festival has withstood the test of time, and continues to bring entertainment, laughs, and passions for so many people. Every year the film festival has topped itself, bringing more films, events, and creative ways to bring people together. Even last year, we continued the festival through a drive-in and an online version to create new memories with fellow Kamloops film-lovers. I hope that in another 25 years, the festival will still be bigger and better than ever.

One thing that grew over the years is Darkfest, which is actually what drew me to the film festival back in 2015. I had always heard of the festival, but never had the chance to go. However in 2015, Darkfest was showing a vampire mockumentary called What We Do in the Shadows. At the time, I had no idea what it was about aside from vampires. But my friends were going, and I decided to tag along. Anyone who’s seen What We Do in the Shadows knows that this movie is fantastic. It was hilarious, and a type of comedy I’ve never really seen before. Immediately after watching it I knew it was going to be an all-time favourite. Ever since then, I’ve attended the festival annually and now, I get to play a part in running it!

Dianne and I both agree that we love the different aspects of KFF, like how the festival always tries to show local films, putting on Darkfest, and of course the fantastic documentaries shown over the years. Even in the new age of streaming, the festival continues to bring films that aren’t necessarily available online, which is a huge draw for many. The festival often plays award-winning films as well, so it’s your chance to see them and make your opinions before a ton of Oscar-buzz is out. Back in 2019, I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire and was absolutely blown away. Dianne’s students were too! Later in the year, this movie was nominated for so many awards internationally, including 3 awards at the Cannes Film Festival, 2 of which it won.

Another part of the festival that was introduced throughout the years was Family Day, which always screened a family-friendly film as a matinee and was paired with a fun activity for kids. This was a huge success, and for many is now their favourite part of the festival. Working the past few festivals and seeing both Frozen movies play as the “Family Film,” I can say with all honesty that NOTHING compares to Family Day. Trying to make popcorn for approximately 500 parents and children? Absolute chaos. But it’s the best! I love seeing families in the theatre, and I’m so glad this idea was brought to fruition back in 2016.

Hearing folks talk about the film festival over the years gives me all the warm and fuzzy feelings, because you can just see what an impact it’s made in their eyes and how they speak. It’s so crazy to think that we’re at 25 years already and seeing how much the festival has grown and adapted over the years, but also how much it’s stayed the same. Brian told me that the main goal of the original festival was to show at least 30% Canadian films, which we still do today. Sometimes even more than that! I hope all of you film lovers continue to stick with us in the years to come, so that this festival can keep on going. Happy 25th anniversary everyone, we hope you come out and enjoy all the festivities and films that we have to offer this year.

Thank you to Dianne Bell and Brian Mitchell for letting me pick their brains for this piece.