By Perry Lefko
BFF doesn’t just stand for Best Friend Forever. It is the three letters that stand for the Barrie Film Festival, which turns 20 years old this year.
This year’s festival runs October 13-27 at venues throughout the city, and as always it is the work of a dedicated group of cinema lovers that come together to showcase feature films, short films, guest Q & As and receptions.
More than 20 films are shown, some of them with extra screenings, totaling more than 40.
The original festival started out with nine films over the course of a weekend, but the lineup doubled four years later because of expanded interest. In 2009, the event stretched into 10 days.
“There’s so many of us that have been involved for such a long time that are committed to it, and then you’ve got a cool commitment level of volunteers and audience members,” says Claudine Benoit, who began as a volunteer and became BFF’s Director in 2005. “It’s the people and their commitment to see these stories on screen.
“The people that come out just enjoy seeing movies that are story-driven that they can’t get access to otherwise. We do bring out the red carpet for the whole festival, and even though there is a buzz about it there’s no crazy VIP stuff. Anybody can go and experience it and I think that’s an important difference (from other festivals).”
The BFF has access to the films shown early in September at the annual Toronto International Film Festival.
“We look at ourselves as a showcase festival,” Benoit says. “We’ve had Julinda Morrow as one of our programmers from the beginning. She and I are very good friends. She was one of the people that brought me into the Festival in 1999.
“We collaborate on films we think we should bring in and now we have a programming committee and we try to see as many films as we can. You just get to know your audience. It’s a combination of films you’d like to see, but sometimes there’s films you show that you just know your audience would like.”
It was originally a project of the MacLaren Art Centre Festival, but the planning committee branched off, created a board and became a not-for-profit organization that provides year-round programming.
“Because we go to so many festivals and we just love it, we’ve sort of created our own way of doing things,” Benoit says.
“We just looked at it as a great opportunity to grow it as an independent thing.”
Benoit, who along with her husband own and operate Zoup Creative, a graphic design studio in Barrie, says the BFF is unique because of its accessibility.
“You can actually get into the films you want to see,” she says. “We bring in industry guests. A lot of leading Canadian producers and directors have come to the festival. We’ve had Adam Egoyan, Bruce McDonald and numerous other great people. You can come to our festival and be part of a Q & A session and you have an opportunity to meet these (film people).”
Whereas the feature films are selected by the board, the short films are chosen by a jury with industry experience.
Benoit says one film that stood out over the course of the series’ history is Whiplash, which debuted in 2015 and earned an Oscar for JK Simmons as Best Supporting Actor. The film was nominated for Motion Picture of the Year and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.
“People used to comment that a lot of the films chosen for our festival ended up being nominated as Best Picture for the Oscar,” she says. “A big part of that is a lot of them are story-driven. They’re not big-budget Hollywood films, although those do make it in as well. It’s pretty exciting when you’ve got a Friday night film and it’s sold out.”
Benoit says this year’s festival is still being planned, but is hoping to include a film that had been scheduled to run one year but didn’t make it in time. She didn’t mention the name of the film, but says it is one of her favourites and it will be called the Director’s Choice. She also wants to include a list of films previously featured and let people vote on which ones will be brought in.
There will also be the annual after-party, which takes place at an unexpected setting.
For more information on the Barrie Film Festival and the organization’s year-round programming, visit www.barriefilmfestival.ca.