A society of filmmakers

CSIF celebrates three and a half decades of movie memories

Ask anyone involved with the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers what their mandate is and they’ll give you a reductive answer: They ensure that the city’s filmmakers keep busy making films. Yet such statements fail to completely capture what the organization does; in offering workshops community outreach and providing essential resources they’ve helped to train nurture and even launch the careers of filmmakers in the city. And they do so in an environment free from commercial concerns. The beloved $100 Film Festival for example challenges upstart auteurs to produce a 16mm film for less than — you got it — $100.

The $100 Film Fest has been in operation for more than two decades but the CSIF turns 35 this year a fact it will celebrate with Projecting The Future a party meant to commemorate the organization’s past while setting their gaze to the coming days. They’ll be commandeering the National Music Centre with a montage of CSIF-aided films DJ work by Teddy Celebration and Sean Stewart and installations by artist Lane Shordee.

But we’re most intrigued by the event’s speakers who’ve all launched careers in film with the help of CSIF. Take for example Michelle Wong whose films have intertwined autobiographical fare (see: Pieces of a Dream which has Lee tackling her brother’s suicide) and the immigrant experience. Return Home which centred on her grandparents’ trip to Canada was one such film — and was filmed on 16mm using CSIF’s equipment. “I was referred to the CSIF by a friend who saw their street sign outside of a church on 16th Avenue” says Wong. “I was wholeheartedly welcomed by the staff there who listened to my project and they helped me with contacts equipment access and introduced me to other like-minded filmmakers.”

Filmmaker Kyle Thomas would surely agree. He got his first taste of working with celluloid as a teenager at the CSIF’s Summer Media Arts camps and he hasn’t looked back. He went on to study film at Montreal’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema screened a short Not Far From the Abattoir at SXSW and is prepping a badland-centric feature The Valley Below after receiving a grant from Telefilm Canada.

“The CSIF has been involved in all my projects” he says. “It is one of the only organizations in Calgary that fosters film as art. Although celluloid is rapidly heading towards extinction it is imperative that the CSIF continues to provide that option to creators.”

Corey Lee — who says he’ll acknowledge the CSIF for “helping provide fertile soil to inspire my own filmmaking dreams” when he’s invited to speak — has led plenty of filmmaking workshops at the CSIF. The Edmonton native who lists Defining Edward and his documentary about his father Legend of a Warrior among his highest accomplishments says CSIF’s greatest asset is the community it fosters.

“I discovered CSIF while I was attending film school in 1992” he says. “It was as if I’d discovered a secret club or some amazing lost civilization down there.” In addition to providing him with accessible equipment he says the organization also encouraged much-needed collaboration. “The most important thing the CSIF has offered Calgary is to provide a place where filmmakers can gather together learn help one another and access the equipment needed to create films.”

Of course there’s also the question of how CSIF as an organization will help grow film in Calgary. Each of the three speakers has their own ideas.

“We chose Calgary because we felt that artistic independent cinema was under-represented here” says Thomas when we ask him about why he chose to return to the city. “I think that the CSIF’s future role will be to continue supporting local artistic films and preserving their original mandate while also accommodating huge shifts toward digital technologies.”

Wong for her part echoes that sentiment — listing RED Camera Technology she stresses that it’s important for CSIF to keep up with film technology. But when it comes to the community it provides the org has to keep on keeping on. “I believe the role CSIF plays… is to create and maintain a community of creative filmmakers” she says. “We all know people can buy a 5D camera and a laptop to edit their work but nothing is more important to me than having a ‘community’ to access and be supported by and that is what the CSIF does.”

Lee however has grander expectations: It’s only a matter of time before Calgary produces its next great film. “The CSIF has evolved into a hub for all kinds of filmmakers” he says “and we must continue to support it so that it can in turn help churn out the next brilliant film from this community…. We must continue to make films films that tell the stories of who we are films that push boundaries and challenge the status quo that perhaps even inspire positive change in ourselves or how we view the world.”

Hear hear. Happy 35th birthday CSIF.