Sights and sounds

Picture This… Film Festival returns

Two realities strike Sheryl Lenthall the longtime festival director of Picture This… Film Festival as odd. Firstly far more people outside of Calgary know about the three-day festival even though it’s been hosted annually in the city for 13 years. “I attended a festival in Liverpool” she says. “And I was stunned at the number of people who heard that someone from Picture This… was going to be there and came over and introduced themselves. Every year in Calgary people will come up to me and say ‘never heard of it.’”

But secondly and a touch more disturbing is the presumption that the festival will be a downer because the films screened are either about or made by people living with disabilities. Kind of a bizarre assumption no? (If it doesn’t strike you as strange just substitute another historically oppressed group in for “disability.” Odds are it comes across as racist/sexist/homophobic.)

“I have been told that people have expected it to be very depressing. I ask ‘Would another film festival be depressing?’ A lot of other film festivals play the films we play. That’s a huge thing is the constant trying to convince people that it’s good films good stories.”

And Picture This… has indeed shown good films over the past dozen years. Selections span five genres — animation documentary drama education and performance — with a wide array of lengths and moods. Some movies previously shown at the festival have gone on to be shown on CBC. One even won an Oscar.

“Over the years I’ve seen an evolution: the films are more sophisticated” Lenthall notes. “We’ve had films from — with the exception of Antarctica which someone keeps reminding me — every continent. It kind of makes the world a small place. You can do a tour around the world in an afternoon in the middle of February in Calgary.”

It’s a tour designed with people living with disabilities in mind; from the festival’s inception the venue chosen has been wheelchair friendly including accessible washrooms and elevators. Incidentally that disqualified many of the old theatres in town. After beginning at Fort Calgary in 2001 films have since been screened in all four quadrants of the city. The southeast’s West Island College — right next to the Calgary Farmers’ Market — is serving as the venue for the latest iteration.

“It’s very diplomatic as we’re going into different parts of Calgary for a couple of years then moving on. I’d love to say this is completely deliberate” Lenthall says laughing (various issues ranging from faulty elevators to sun-saturated screens required the festival to move around).

Some of the films are also being accompanied by audio description a technique that details what’s happening on the screen; it’s a process that allows visually impaired folks to experience the films. The process to get the plan executed was a complex one. Until recently the “translation” process for audio description for Canada was only done in Ontario; it’s a specialized role with plenty of rules and regulations surrounding it.

But thanks to some connections Lenthall had in the U.K. (she takes a selection of Picture This… films to Oska Bright Film Festival in Brighton England every second year) she managed to wrangle together a whole program. Now people with sight impairments will be able to listen to films through headphones as others watch.

Such efforts are just further steps in making Picture This… an even more noteworthy event. Each year attendance numbers have either remained steady or increased. Some 70 entries were submitted for selection this time with around 30 making the cut (countries of origin include India Canada France China the Canary Islands Serbia and Uzbekistan).

“As long as we get entries we can keep going” Lenthall concludes. “I just want people to see films.”