The Reel Shorts Film Festival celebrates short films and the filmmakers who make them by screening gems of storytelling brilliance from around the world, across Canada, and here in the Peace Region. The purpose is twofold: to entertain, educate, and engage audiences; and to grow the filmmaking community in the Peace Region by inspiring, developing, and showcasing its filmmakers.
In 2006, Terry Scerbak attended the Edmonton International Film Festival as the Writer/Producer of a short film programmed in the Our Own Backyard series. She came back to Grande Prairie inspired to share some of the great short films she’d seen. As a volunteer with Grande Prairie Live Theatre, one of Canada’s largest nonprofit community theatres, she founded the Reel Shorts Film Festival with the first fest taking place in March 2007. It took place in April in 2008, 2009, and 2010, before opening on the first Wednesday in May from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, it opened on the first Tues in May and then moved to the second Tues in May starting in 2016.
In 2007, the fest screened 1 feature and 37 short films over 3 days. In 2008, 44 short films. The years 2009-2011 had programs of 62-72 films. In 2012, the fest screened 101 films from 26 countries over 5 days which was the largest program of short films presented by a film festival in Alberta. In 2013, two of the films in the fest’s program of 102 films from 22 countries were produced by the festival: The Horizon Project which was shot in July 2012 as part of the 2-week internship program called Shoot for Reel; and HB which was shot in April 2013 as part of the 7-week Youth Film Mentorship Project. After having their world premiere in Grande Prairie, these films went on to have a successful festival tour including festivals in Europe and North America. HB won the Best Overall Youth Short Film at the 2013 Calgary International Film Festival and it was the first international film to win the Young Filmmakers Program Competition Grand Prize at the Austin Film Festival in 2013.
Shoot for Reel played a pivotal role in the creation of a filmmaking community in the Peace Region as several of its participants formed PRIMAA (Peace Region Independent Media Arts Association), the region’s filmmakers’ cooperative, in November 2012. In 2014, the fest and PRIMAA partnered to present the Frantic48, an annual 48-hour film challenge during a weekend prior to the fest with the screening of films and awarding of prizes happening at the fest. Including the 11 Frantic48 films and 1 feature, the 2014 fest screened 111 films from 28 countries. In 2015, the fest screened 121 films from 25 countries including 13 Frantic48 films. In collaboration with PRIMAA, the fest also introduced the first Filmmaker Insights Day with 1 workshop and 2 panels. In 2016, the Filmmaker Insights Day included a workshop and 3 panels followed by an animation roundtable discussion the next day. With 1 feature, 81 short films, and 14 Frantic48 films in the program, 96 films from 27 countries screened in 2016.
In 2016, with the support of Grande Prairie Live Theatre, the fest’s volunteers formed a new society – the Reel Shorts Film Society – to produce the 2017 and subsequent festivals. With 90 short films and 17 Frantic48 films in the program, 107 films from 22 countries screened in the 2017 fest. The 2-day Filmmaker Insights Symposium, a collaboration with PRIMAA, presented 2 half-day workshops and 2 panels. Attendance at the 2017 fest was 3,600 including 2,400 Grade 1-12 students from 19 schools, the largest school program of any film festival in the prairie provinces.
Since 2010, audiences have chosen their favorite film for the Audience Choice Award:
- 2017 – The Babysitter Murders, a 22-minute film from the United States written and directed by Ryan Spindell
- 2016 – Discipline, a 12-minute film from Switzerland written and directed by Christophe M. Saber
- 2015 – The Gunfighter, a 9-minute film from the US directed by Eric Kissack
- 2014 – Fool’s Day, a 19-minute film from the US directed by Cody Blue Snider
- 2013 – A Senior Moment, a 6-minute film from the US directed by Michelle Davidson
- 2012 – Sugar (Suiker), an 8-minute film from the Netherlands directed by Jeroen Annokkée
- 2011 – The Legend of Beaver Dam, a 12-minute film from Canada and the US directed by Jerome Sable
- 2010 – Multiple Choice, a 5-minute film from Australia directed by Michael Goode
Since 2015, school audiences have chosen the Youth Audience Choice Award:
- 2017 – Get up Kinshasa!, a 21-minute film from France written and directed by Sébastien Maitre
- 2016 – Dji. Death Sails, a 5-minute film from the Republic of Moldova directed by Dmitri Voloshin
- 2015 – Foster Dog, a 14-minute film from the US co-written, produced, and directed by Lisa Alonso Vear
Since 2014, the fest has presented juried awards:
- Best Live Action Short Under 15 Minutes – Camping with Ada (Campingliv), a 15-minute film from Norway directed by Ina Lerner Grevstad
- Best Live Action Short 15+ Minutes – La Femme et le TGV, a 30-minute film from Switzerland written and directed by Timo von Gunten
- Best Animated Short – Borrowed Time, a 7-minute film from the United States written and directed by Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats
- Best Documentary Short – 12 Days in Idomeni, a 20-minute film from Germany written and directed by Javier Sobremazas
- Best Live Action Short Under 13 Minutes – The Jacket (Die Jacke), a 9-minute film from Austria written, produced, and directed by Patrick Vollrath
- Best Live Action Short 13+ Minutes – Wolf Head (Guele de loup), a 25-minute film from France written and directed by Alice Vial
- Best Animated Short – The OceanMaker, a 10-minute film from Belize and the United States written, produced, and directed by Lucas Martell
- Best Documentary Short – The House is Innocent, a 12-minute film from the United States produced and directed by Nicholas Coles
- Best Peace Region Short – The Souvenir, a 7-minute film written, produced, and directed by Chris Beauchamp and Gordie Haakstad
- Best Live Action Short – The Way of Tea (Les frémissements du thé), a 21-minute film from France written and directed by Marc Fouchard
- Best Animated Short – Strings (Cuerdas), an 11-minute film from Spain written and directed by Pedro Solis Garcia
- Best Documentary Short – The Lion’s Mouth Opens, a 27-minute film from the US directed by Lucy Walker
- Best Peace Region Short – Outside the Lines, an 18-minute film written and directed by Scott Belyea
- Best Animated Short – Oh Sheep!, a 7-minute film from Germany directed by Gottfried Mentor
- Best Documentary Short – Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven (Morfar och Jag och Helikoptern till Himlen), a 15-minute film from Sweden directed by Johan Palmgren and Åsa Blanck
- Best Live Action Short – Dotty, an 11-minute film from New Zealand directed by Mick Andrews and Brett Gorman
Screenwriter development programs and competitions that have been offered include:
- 2014 – SCaMP (Screenplay Competition and Mentorship Program – $2,500 won by Susie Winters for her script “Little Thailand” which is in post-production
- 2014 – Youth Screenwriter Mentorship Project & Screenplay Competition – $2,500 won by Devon Burbank for her script Julian which screened at the 2015 fest
- 2013 – Screenwriting Competition – $2,500 won by Chris Beauchamp for his script The Device which screened at the 2015 fest
In 2013, the fest became a qualifying festival for the ACCT (Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television), one of four in Alberta and 39 film festivals across the country to be recognized as such.
The school program of screenings, workshops, and class visits is an important part of the film festival. In 2017, more than 2,400 Grade 1-12 students from 19 schools in the region came to one of six film packages programmed specifically for them. These screenings introduce students to short films from around the world that help to broaden their world view while providing a basis for further classroom discussion. Over the first six years of the fest, filmmaking workshops for junior high and high school students introduced them to the most collaborative art form in the world and to the experience of sharing their films with an audience. Filmmaker class visits give students the opportunity to meet a filmmaker, watch his/her short film, and then participate in a discussion of the film and the filmmaking process.
Comments from attendees at the 2016 fest can be read here.