– Kate Yorga

Kate Yorga, the Programming Director for NIFF, says the festival is not just about seeing a movie, it is an experience.

“We all remember the first non-typical film we saw,” said Yorga. “Because it does take a while to get your palette adjusted to something that doesn’t have the typical story structure or a different style of storytelling. This is a great chance to explore those kinds of films.”

Yorga says veteran programmer Tony Watts has been globe-trotting and attending film festivals for months now, chasing over 100 films for 40 slots and scouting critically acclaimed features in preparation for making his best picks for what to be showcased at NIFF.

“There are thousands of films around the world and it is a complicated process but mainly we are looking for premieres: world premieres, international premieres, or national and Canadian films,” said Yorga. “We are always asking ourselves: is it a great film? Is there something entertaining or informative about it in the sense of a documentary? What is their plan for the film? Distributors make a plan for each particular film that they choose and they set up which festivals all over the world to release it to audiences. If it has already played in Canada, we probably won’t take it, because again, we are looking for premieres.”

This year’s festival will present three Canadian premieres over the course of three days: the documentary The Lost Aviator and comedies People, Places, Things and Unexpected. They will also showcase a vast variety of genres and styles in order to appeal to a greater audience. Featuring a smattering of sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, spotlight films, dramas, shorts and everything in between; ensuring every genre is properly represented and that there is something to appeal to the vast demographic audience present in Niagara.

“Festival audiences are a special breed of people,” said Yorga. “These are people that are adventurous and are willing to see something that is not showing at the regular multiplex theatre. We are lucky to have a vast audience in Niagara and we choose films that suit a wide range, from dramas to comedies, to family films and documentaries. Some thrillers and darker fare. Maybe some foodie films and anime.”

Set in the golden age of Aviation, The Lost Aviator director Andrew Lancaster follows the life and times of his great uncle, Captain Bill Lancaster and uncovers a fascinating tale of high adventures, obsession, a love triangle and a sensational murder trial.

People, Places, Things directed by James C. Strouse stars comedian Jemaine Clement and will have audiences in stitches. Follow Will Henry, a newly single graphic novelist, balancing parenting his young twin daughters and a classroom full of students while exploring and navigating the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him.

Unexpected, a comedy by director Kris Swanberg, features a large cast including academy award nominee Elizabeth McGovern and How I Met Your Mother alum Cobie Smulders.  An inner-city high school teacher discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies.

Other movies to screen at NIFF include I’ll See You in My Dreams; a soon to be favourite directed by Brett Haley starring Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott and Martin Starr.

Yorga said that though their team travels around the globe to try and choose films that are unique and different from the norm, it is impossible to reach every international film festival. Online screening processes and the internet have made it easier for festivals like NIFF to capture a broad scope of films and uncover cinematic masterpieces from around the globe.

“It is a great process now with online screeners,” said Yorga. “In the old times you had to get film teams to send the hard copy [of the film] to you. Even with DVDs it wasn’t the easiest. But now you can send them to us online and everything is protected by watermark so we can watch them and see what we think without fear of it getting into the wrong hands.”

Along with the feature length films, The World’s Smallest Film Festival competition is back featuring one to three minute shorts shot entirely on any smartphone or tablet. This year’s theme for the films is water, staying true to Niagara’s defining characteristic, and must be shot entirely on either a smart phone or tablet.

Niagara Rises will also return for a second year. The program exclusively showcases homegrown features made by Niagara Region’s resident film makers, writers, directors and producers.

Other events returning include food and film events Filmalicious and Film Fest. Filmalicious will pair local wineries and world renowned cuisine with original feature-length films for a night of world class dining and film outside in the vineyard; with Film Feast, wineries will once again host an evening of food, wine and short films.

“There is so much to do in the Niagara Region so the fact that you can combine seeing a great vineyard with having a wonderful dinner and enjoying a film is a special thing,” said Yorga. “It’s about making magical memories.”

Ticket prices start at $25 dollars for individual films and move upwards depending on the event. Yorga said she encourages movie goers to choose at least one foreign film to view throughout the course of the festival.

“I always advise people to check out the foreign films in particular because those especially will not be coming to a theatre near you and this is probably your only chance to see amazing cinema from around the world,” said Yorga. “It is a special opportunity.”

NIFF was brought to reality by the legendary 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.

For more information on the festival schedule, events and purchasing tickets, visit niagarafilmfest.com.