Clandestine gouda, cinematic responses & chesterfield romances:
An ode to space, place and community engagement

Alicia Ashcroft

After the announcement that the Paramount would close its doors dropped, ripple waves of grief and nostalgia spread through the community.

There was a lot of outward expression of memories about visiting the theatre as a kid – and of course, every film festival fan was seized with absolute horror.

What would become of the Kamloops Film Festival?

Luckily, with the help of the Kelson Group, the Kamloops Film Society kept the Paramount open – and now that festival vibe is kept alive throughout the year.

Alicia Ashcroft and Dušan Magdolen

Admittedly, I’ve attended some films, but not ALL films. Every film looks interesting, fascinating and excellent, but I haven’t been able to make it – or the event date just slips through my fingers.

I’ll admit it. I’ll own it.

I’m not always an award-winning supporter of the arts.

I appreciate it, promote it, discuss it, post images of ticket stubs and programs on social media, and spread the gospel. I believe in the arts. I celebrate the arts. I acknowledge its importance in terms of community wellbeing.

I just don’t always put my money where my mouth is, and sometimes that’s the support that’s required. You must buy the ticket, invite a friend and get those butts in seats.

Nine times out of ten, I’m out and about working on another project. Or, admittedly, I'm at home hoarding my personality away like some introverted monster.

While I'm relishing in the solitude or family time, I'm steeped in guilt because I know it's essential to engage.

I’m forever mindful of the Joni Mitchell adage from “Big Yellow Taxi”: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. If we want things to remain in the community, we must contribute however we can.

Of course, all of these complexities become factors in our collaborations and preparations for the festival season.

When planning events, crafting scripts, and cultivating content, this is a question we ask all the time: what does an audience want?

What makes people lean in? Engage? Show up? Stick around? Stay late?

It’s always a gamble, and sometimes you get it wrong.

To me, the 2016 German comedy, “Toni Erdman”* is the worst film festival movie that I’ve ever forced myself to nap through. When I woke up, the movie was still playing, and I still didn’t care about the story.

*Not familiar with the movie? It's about a practical joking father who tries to reconnect with his workaholic daughter by creating an outrageous alter ego and disguising himself in a tacky suit, weird wig, and fake teeth and infiltrates her work circle, claiming to be her CEO's life coach. This film was so misleading, and sometimes that happens with a festival flick. It was a critical hit, had a high Rotten Tomato rating, but it just wasn’t an emotional match.

I left the theatre and headed over to Hotel 540 to prep for the wine and cheese event. After the 2h 42min movie, I witnessed the outpouring of guests leave the theatre and then scatter in every direction but towards the massive platters of cheese and pre-poured glasses of wine.

Typically, being left alone with a few select people and $200 worth of cheese would be a straight-up culinary fantasy, but it wasn't then.

That night I went home with a heavy heart and a fistful of clandestine gouda wrapped in a napkin and stuffed in my pocket.

That memory haunts the event planner in me. What could we have done differently?!

I hosted a weeknight dinner event a while back, and the organizers harboured a great deal of hope that guests would stay and dance late into the night. The evening went well, but the minute that first song started, people started to shift towards the exits as if there were a fire. I moved to the door to bid guests a good evening, but admittedly, to also take the social temperature.

People celebrating at KFF social event

One attendee summed up the collective sentiment perfectly: “Oh honey, this has been great, but I want to get home for some couch time and comfy pants.”

Pfffft. Who in their right mind can argue with that? I was fantasizing about the very same thing.

The love affair with the couch is reaaaaaaaal. There is no more magnificent, warmer, cozier, or safer place than being tucked up on the sofa under a million blankets, watching the tenth episode of a show in a row, stopping only for snack and bathroom breaks.

At home, we have a sectional that came with a matching ottoman that, if you push them together, you get what we call "Mega Couch."

Sure, Mega Couch sounds harmless, but it’s also a TRAP. This is not a healthy or sustainable relationship.

It's like some ill-fated romantic entanglement; the couch is my Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights” - let's call him Chesterfield. There’s this heat between us – Chesterfield and I - and try as I might to resist it, I'm not always equipped to do so.

“No, please; we can’t – I have a life – I have to leave.”

And Chesterfield be like, “Stay with me here forever.”

It’s like “The Phantom of the Opera”, but with sweatpants and takeaway.

So, I get it. I love the couch, but I know I can't stay there.

#Couchlife is no way to live – and sometimes I think that we can stagnate if we stay too close to home. Art has a way of blowing a fresh breeze through the window of your heart and soul. And, sometimes you need to leave the house to have those life-altering experiences.

So, now that has become part of the consideration in the planning process how do we get people to get off the couch? (Or if they've gotten off the couch for the movie, how can we keep them out for just a liiiiiiittle while longer to participate in a social event?)

There’s a million obstacles and responsibilities that can pull you under, but that’s all the more reason to access stories that provide a perspective that can reinvigorate the way to see the world and how you see your place in it. Let a story carry you away, activate your emotions, enlighten your empathic capacity, and remind you about the magnitude of humanity. It’s all so precious and tedious, devastating and disappointing, horrific and heartwarming, and experiences like that pop the bubble of your personalized worldview.

You can see yourself in those narratives and make decisions about the kind of person that you want to be, and you don’t necessarily have those moments binge-watching with Chesterfield.

Going out to catch a show always feels like a small and accessible achievement, and the world feels a little different than it did before – it’s like a three-hour holiday (add a pre or post-show dinner in there, and you’ve got yourself a whirlwind adventure, and you don’t even need a passport.)

In order for our city to flourish, we need to acknowledge the holistic needs of a community – we need theatre, we need sports, we need cinema, we need spaces for those places to thrive – and we don’t have to engage with it to wish it well in our community. Can we talk about the Centre for the Arts? Why does this always feel like a touchy subject? It’s like politics at the dinner table; it can ruin a lovely Sunday roast.

To take a quick temperature – one needn’t wander too far from the comments section – but as I like to think, if God is in the details, the devil is in the comments section.

As for me, you couldn’t find a less-interested individual when it comes to sports – it just doesn’t speak to me in the same way theatre does. I mean, wake me up when someone like Lady Gaga or JLo provides the half-time entertainment – I’m happy to hang out and nibble on a chicken wing or two when that’s happening, but other than that…meh.

When I was in Toronto last, I caught the season opener of the Raptor’s game, which I attended with three serious sports fans.

I was sitting between two men – one who provided a lot of technical insights – which had me nodding and furrowing my brow in the same concentrated effort as when someone tries to explain a math problem to me. On the other side, I was getting a lot more relatable bits of wisdom, like, “See that player over there? He was married to a Kardashian.”

Oooooh, now I’m interested.

While it wasn’t my cup of tea, it was a marvelous evening outside of my comfort zone. As the game went on, I had what Oprah refers to as an “Ah-ha moment” – sports IS theatre, or at the very least a spectacle; it’s like athletic improv. The more I built a story around the game, the more I understood it, and the more I felt invested.

No, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be rushing out to catch other games-but I opened myself up to that experience and was pleasantly surprised.

It’s nice to have options to explore – and it’s best to explore them. Without an audience, without spectators, it’s like an artistic equivalent of, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?

Two women at KFF event

When you read this, you might be sitting in the Paramount waiting for a film to start, or reading it at home, as you carefully select your film choices. Thank you for being here. Or maybe you’re flicking through this unthinkingly - and you’re not interested in the arts and don’t feel that you can make art a priority in your life. Wherever you are, I do invite you to consider ways that you, as an individual, can do to support arts and culture offerings in the communities, and for a split second, image your life and city without them. Pretty dreary, if you ask me.

I acknowledge the limitations in terms of finances, time, childcare, but there are ways to attend events on your own terms: Pay What You Can matinees at Western Canada Theatre or the Free Family Flicks at the Paramount.

You can vote in the upcoming referendum, share links to the show, fill out surveys so organizations can better understand how they can serve populations better.

Here’s the thing: these initiatives are all too often the work of small factions of committed and increasingly exhausted individuals and non-profit groups who, like Tinkerbell, will die without the sound of applause. The same goes for community events. There needs to be support and nourishment from the public in order for spaces to grow, productions to develop and artistic opportunities to continue onwards. The show must go on, but we can’t do it without you.