By Gabrielle Tieman

There is nothing more widely appealing than cinema and film. Whether you are a fan of side splitting comedies, heart pounding thrillers or a classic rom-com, movies pull people into stories and allow for an escape – at least for a few hours. This June, the Niagara Region will host the picture-perfect movie escape, marrying an idyllic combination of film, food and wine that you will not want to overlook while booking your summer vacations.

Shining a cinematic spotlight on the natural beauty of the Niagara Region, the Niagara Integrated Film Festival (NIFF) will showcase 35 of the year’s major international independent films from across the globe along with films from Canadian newcomers to the film industry. Featuring dramas, comedies, documentaries and animated films, NIFF will offer a little something for every movie goer and film connoisseur to enjoy. Pair these films with world class wine and food from internationally acclaimed wineries and can you think of a better weekend getaway?

Bringing NIFF to reality is film festival legend Bill Marshall, one of the original founders and chair emeritus of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Widely known as the world’s most successful public film festival, TIFF, originally known as “The Festival of Festivals,” was first brought to life in 1976 as an outlet for international producers and film makers to showcase their films and original productions to a broader audience. Showcasing an average 350 films from over 70 countries annually, the festival is widely known for jumpstarting the careers of many actors and directors and placing Canada on the map for film excellence and appreciation.

Marshall says at the time, bringing a film festival to Toronto was a no brainer; although his intentions, along with those of fellow original spearheads Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl, were not entirely selfless.

“The reason we started the festival was quite selfish,” said Marshall. “I was making feature films and none of us really knew what we were doing – the Canadian industry was half a dozen guys at the time, we were a very small bunch. We thought if we had a film festival we could bring other experts here from all over the world and see how they do it and we could get some ideas. This is why we got to be good at what we do – if not confident.”

Marshall said that it wasn’t only hard for the writers and directors to find quality international films for inspiration, but for residents as a whole. For a city as diverse as Toronto, there was a surprising lack of options for the community to enjoy films in their native language.

“There is an audience that likes and appreciates movies in Toronto,” said Marshall. “We didn’t know how big it was – but it was a seething underbrush. If you were Spanish or French or Italian, this festival was the only way you got to see your own country’s culture and movies – and people wanted that.”

As obvious as it was to bring such a film festival to Toronto in the mid-seventies, Marshall said it was just as clear when deciding to bring such a festival to the Niagara Region – if not a perfect combination.

“When I started in Toronto, it seemed to me so obvious,” said Marshall. “It is a city of immigrants and that is a factor to make something like this work – if you give them something they want, it can’t fail. Niagara has so many resources just sitting on the vine and not being properly exploited, it was really a no brainer.”

NIFF will be taking full advantage of the region’s untapped resources by combining the best of Niagara’s offerings into an amalgamated masterpiece of wineries, cinema and nature.
Showcasing 35 films and 100 screenings over the June 19-22 weekend, the films will take place at an assortment of venues. Venues will range from predictable and traditional locations like Landmark Cinemas in the Pen Center and Brock University, Niagara College and Ridley College auditoriums to the less traditional including vineyards, parks and even airport hangars.

And as a global food and wine destination, Niagara Region’s vineyards were the obvious pairing for NIFF events to take place alongside.

“The wineries in Niagara have gone from ordinary to world class,” said Marshall. “And it became obvious to me that the market here is so smart. It is an exciting combination – and really a no brainer. Sitting in a vineyard, eating great food and watching a movie. A movie is the cherry on top to the winery. What a positive way to spend a weekend.”

12 vineyards have registered to host events throughout the festival, including Fimalicious, a spin on the traditional “dinner and a movie” evening. Filmalicious will bring local wineries, original feature-length films and some of Canada’s most talented chefs together for a spectacular evening of world-class cinema and food – all with wine pairings to complete the experience.

Looking for a less intimate cinema and wine experience? Film Feast, a sampling and short film coupling, will give attendees the opportunity to sample flights of vintage wines and hors d’oeuvres while enjoying a selection of short films.

Included in this short films category will be the series Canada’s Not Short on Talent, a compilation of Canada’s top short films. Originally an exclusive series to the Cannes Film Festival, this will be the first time Canadians will be given the opportunity to see these short films on Canadian soil.

Another special feature exclusively for the region will be Niagara Rises. The event will showcase four features made exclusively by Niagara Region’s resident film makers, writers, directors and producers.

Marshall said he discovered the Niagara Rises films by either having them brought to him or by discovering them himself – putting an emphasis on the lengths he will go to, with pushiness and determination, to promote new, local talent.

“Niagara Rises will surprise people,” said Marshall. “I am nosey and pushy and we found these amazing guys that were wandering about wondering what to do with their films and I told them ‘Never mind my boy, don’t take them to LA, just bring them to Niagara.’ What better venue to showcase their talent than in their own hometown.”

Other events to look forward to throughout the weekend includes Pickfair, a Canadian premier short film circa 1911 from Hollywood pioneer Mary Pickford, screenings of the Oscar winning short documentary The Lady in Number 6, Mondo Wacko films curated by TIFF mastermind Colin Geddes and the World’s Smallest Film Festival, a short film competition featuring videos that have been shot entirely on a mobile device.

Though attracting tourists to the region is always a top priority for film festivals, Marshall hopes the festival will appeal as well to the local community and garner their support while willing them to come out and enjoy.

“Yes, we are going to bring in tourists to Niagara, but tourists don’t just come to see themselves and other tourists, they want to see locals here enjoying it as well,” said Marshall. “So get up and buy a ticket and come enjoy it. Everyone should just come and see it.”

Ticket prices will begin at 25 dollars and move upwards according to event, venue and quantity. For a full list of events, venue locations and information on how to purchase tickets, visit http://niff.co/ or go to their Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Niagara-Integrated-Film-Festival.