Grande Prairie’s Annual Short Film Festival
13th Reel Shorts Film Festival May 6-13, 2019
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 goals of the Reel Shorts Film Society are: (1) to entertain, educate, and engage audiences; and (2) to grow the filmmaking community in the Peace Region of northwest Alberta and northeast British Columbia by inspiring, developing, and showcasing its filmmakers.
In the fall of 2006, Terry Scerbak attended the Edmonton International Film Festival where a film she wrote and produced was screening. With a love of short films and a background in writing and accounting, she came back to Grande Prairie inspired to become the founder and director of the Reel Shorts Film Festival which began in March 2017 as a production of Grande Prairie Live Theatre, one of Canada’s largest nonprofit community theatres. The festival moved to 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 Tuesday in May and then moved to the second Tuesday 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.
Growth of a Filmmaking Community
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 led directly to the formation of PRIMAA (Peace Region Independent Media Arts Society) in 2013 and the creation of a filmmaking community in Grande Prairie and the Peace Region. Also in 2013, Reel Shorts became a qualifying festival for the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, one of four in Alberta and 39 film festivals across the country at that time to be recognized as such.
In 2014, Reel Shorts became competitive, bringing in three jury members to select the Best Live Action Short, Best Animated Shorts, and Best Documentary Short. Grande Prairie sculptor Grant Berg designed the award to reflect the fact that the festival takes place in Grande Prairie which is known as the Swan City as a result of having adopted the trumpeter swan as an official symbol. The birds return every spring to nest much to the delight of residents. Similarly, the festival takes place at about the same time the birds arrive. The award’s flame shape symbolizes the passion of the filmmakers whose work we celebrate as well as the volunteers who make it possible to do so. As well as being locally designed, the award is made locally. Decca Industries in Clairmont fabricates the aluminum award, and DR Sales Woodworking in Grande Prairie makes the wooden bases which are engraved and presented to the winning directors.
Two screenwriter mentorship projects were offered in 2014:
- SCaMP (Screenplay Competition and Mentorship Program – $2,500 in production funding won by Susie Winters for her script “Little Thailand”
- Youth Screenwriter Mentorship Project & Screenplay Competition – $2,500 won by Devon Burbank for her script Julian which screened at the 2015 fest
In 2014, Reel Shorts partnered with PRIMAA on the first annual Frantic48, a 48-hour film challenge for Peace Region teams to write, shoot, and edit a short film on a weekend in late April. The qualifying films screen at the fest and are eligible to win cash prizes and awards. 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 Oscar Shorts packages (the Oscar-nominated animated and live action shorts) were pulled from the festival to become their own event preceding the Academy Awards telecast. As a result, the number of films screened at the festival dropped to 79-90 programmed films for a total of 90-105 films including the Frantic48 films.
In 2016, with the support of Grande Prairie Live Theatre, the Reel Shorts volunteers formed the Reel Shorts Film Society. The 2016 festival was the 10th festival and the last one produced under the umbrella of GPLT.
Growth of the School Program
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.
With the jump in school attendance, 2017 was the first year that Grade 1-12 students outnumbered the general public at screenings. Total attendance at the 2017 fest was 3,600. Comments from teachers can be read here.
In 2018, Reel Shorts partnered with The Distillery Film Company on the second Shoot for Reel, a 5-day internship for 12 Peace Region interns (8 adult and 4 youth aged 16-18) during the production of the short film AETERNITAS which was shot in Grande Prairie and surrounding area. Chris Beauchamp, co-owner of The Distillery Film Company, was an intern at the first Shoot for Reel in 2012.
Since 2010, audiences have chosen their favorite film for the Audience Choice Award:
- 2018 – The Ambassador, a 19-minute film from France written and directed by Shane Atkinson
- 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:
- 2018 – Rag Dolls, a 4-minute film from the United States written, produced, and directed by Justin and Kristin Schaack
- 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 – About the Birds and the Bees, a 12-minute film from Finland written and directed by J.J. (Janne) Vanhanen
- Best Live Action Short 15+ Minutes – The Winkles (Les Bigorneaux), a 24-minute film from France co-written and directed by Alice Vial
- Best Animated Short – Two Trams, a 10-minute film from the Russian Federation written and directed by Svetlana Andrianova
- Best Documentary Short – Fixed!, a 14-minute film from Canada written, produced, and directed by Cat Mills
- 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