Film festival still going strong

The World Community Film Festival (WCFF) will run in five downtown Courtenay venues Feb. 1 and 2.

THE SCENES ABOVE are from two of the many offerings in this year's 22nd annual World Community Film Festival.

Twenty-two years old and still going strong, the World Community Film Festival (WCFF) will run in five downtown Courtenay venues Feb. 1 and 2.

A preview of Dirty Energy ( will be shown at North Island College’s Stan Hagen Theatre on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. Admission to this film is by donation at the door.

Co-ordinating a volunteer-run film festival is a daunting job. Many organizations fold after a year or two. That WCFF has lasted for over two decades is a tribute to both the volunteers and the high level of community interest in world and local issues.

As with any non-profit organization, volunteers come and go. But Wayne Bradley, Janet Fairbanks and Valerie Sherriff — involved since the beginning — are still committed to the cause.

“We have noticed the festival is more challenging as the years pass by,” admits Bradley. “We get such tremendous feedback from community groups that burnout isn’t really an issue. But, back at the start, if someone would have asked if we wanted to volunteer for the next 22 years, the answer would probably have been no.”

As usual, the lineup this year includes a selection of documentary films that will generate tears, laughter, thought and discussion. The Friday night opening features Reflections; Art for an Oil-Free Coast and Big Boys Gone Bananas.

“A number of films are arts-based,” notes Fairbanks. “Reflections is about 50 artists that went to the Great Bear Rainforest to paint and create sculpture as a way to get people to be aware of nature and the threats it faces from projects such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

“Another, Sing Your Song, explores the other side of singer Harry Belafonte,” she adds. “Many people are aware of Belafonte as a performer but his role as an activist in the civil rights movement and in prisons is less well known. Even now, in his 80s, he’s still active.”

The festival attempts to tailor films to the community and, as everyone knows, fresh food is a big part of the Comox Valley.

“We have four films relating to food this year, which should appeal to anyone who eats,” says Bradley. “My personal favourite is Symphony of Soil.

“The film takes an expansive look at soil and its role in ecology and how it’s impacted by what humans do. There’s wonderful cinematography from different parts of the world. It’s very uplifting and hopeful.”

Each year a committee of four select the films and everyone must agree. According to Fairbanks and Bradley, that’s the easy part.

“The hard part comes when we realize we have four hours of film too many and something has to be cut,” Bradley explains.

Although scheduling 26 films into five venues over two days sounds like the stuff nightmares are made of, early on in the festival, a visual approach — cards representing the length of each film — was devised and continues to be used.

One change this year is marketing to a broader audience.

“We think there’s something at the festival that would be of interest to a lot of people in the community. And we have more sponsors, which is a bonus,” says Fairbanks. “We like to pay the film makers well and that’s always a struggle.”

Continuing this year is the school-based film festival at Lake Trail Middle School.

“It was fabulous last year at Highland,” says Fairbanks. “It was a very high-energy event and it’s wonderful to see young people addressing issues.”

A popular part of the festival is the Saturday night banquet. This year, the feast is being prepared by chef Bobby Herron and crew from non-profit organization Elevate the Arts.

The closing night film, Occupy Love, delves into the worldwide shift in attitude and the realization that big governments and corporations don’t always have the answers. Directed by award-winning film maker, Velcrow Ripper, an added feature is the question and answer Skype session with Ripper afterwards.

Once again, the festival will hit the road with events scheduled in 13 locations including Ontario, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and B.C.

Bradley and Fairbanks estimate that on the Saturday of the festival up to 80 volunteers will be on hand. And it’s not too late to join in if you’re so inclined.

Ushers, projectionists, people to set up and take down and help in the kitchen are always needed. Interested people can contact Valerie Sherriff at 250-337-5419.

Tickets, including some for low-income folks, are available at the Sid Williams Theatre. The festival schedule and more info can be viewed at

Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.

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