By Fiona Campbell/Quinte Arts Council
On March 8, 2020, organizers of Belleville Downtown DocFest were buzzing after the close of a wildly successful film festival that brought close to 5,000 people to the city to celebrate the best in documentary film. Just over a week later, the world as we know it changed with the first COVID-19 lockdown.
Since then, artists have demonstrated again and again their tenacity and resiliency, and the organizers behind this year’s DocFest (their 10th anniversary) are no different. The intention behind the community-rooted film festival – to connect like-minded individuals around film, art and culture – will once again be made possible, albeit in a virtual format. While the streets of downtown Belleville won’t be filled with filmgoers, the calibre of this year’s program is on par with any in-person festival so far. What’s more, film buffs won’t have the frustrating decision of picking between two docs playing at the same time in different venues: the virtual programming offers outstanding flexibility around scheduling and ease of viewing from home.
“Transitioning to an online festival this year has been an interesting challenge, but we felt it was important to adapt and overcome, not only for our loyal audience, but also to do our part in supporting the documentary film industry during this challenging time,” says Adam Gray, DocFest Coordinator. “I think our audience is going to be blown away by the selection of films and the state-of-the-art digital platform. It’s pretty cool.”
The festival is fully digital and runs from Friday, March 5 to Sunday, March 14. A selection of films will be released each day over the first seven days of the festival; films are available for a three-day period and viewers have 24 hours to watch each film once unlocked.
DocFest organizers say they are proud to launch the festival with the acclaimed film, Meeting the Beatles in India, by two-time Canadian Emmy Award-winning film and television producer-director Paul Saltzman. In the spring of 1968, Saltzman travelled to India to study transcendental meditation at the same ashram where The Beatles were guests of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Saltzman spent a week with the band during a pivotal moment as they wrote songs for the forthcoming The Beatles (aka The White Album).
After the film, viewers can experience the festival’s signature Gala music event featuring Belleville’s Mark Rashotte and Andy Forgie performing “Music from Rishikesh,” a concert broadcast from the historic Empire Theatre in downtown Belleville, home to DocFest’s past celebratory Galas.
Rashotte and Forgie began their life long friendship and musical journey together as 7th graders. The year was 1968, the same year The Beatles released what has come to be known as The White Album. For the past 20 plus years, the pair have become recognized internationally and here at home for their performances with “All You Need Is Love: Celebrating the Music Of The Beatles.”
When asked about top picks from the festival’s full slate of films, organizers named the award-winning The Mole Agent (2020): set in Chile, the film tells the story of Sergio, an 83-year-old widower hired by a private investigator to monitor the care of an elderly patient in a retirement home. Sergio’s increasing involvement in the lives of other residents in the home makes for a touching film on the nature of aging and friendship and our treatment of the elderly.
Next up on the not-to-be missed list: Ronnie’s (2020), the story of Ronnie Scott and the world-famous jazz club he opened in 1959 in London’s Soho district. Over the next 60 years, Ronnie Scott’s became the cornerstone of the UK jazz scene welcoming the biggest stars of the day. The film features amazing performances by artists including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald.
And finally: Aggie (2020), about New York philanthropist and art patron Agnes Gund, who was so moved by Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary “13th” on the mass incarceration of African Americans, she sold her favourite Lichtenstein painting for $165 million to establish the $100 million Art for Justice Fund to reform the American criminal justice system and end mass incarceration in the U.S. This film tells the story of a remarkable person and the power of art to inspire social change
“We are delighted to be presenting an amazing line-up of 50 films that truly includes something for everyone. Our programming team made a special effort this year when everyone needs a boost to include docs that are inspirational and that show the best of what people can be and achieve together,” says Holly Dewar, DocFest Board Chair. “DocFest also wants to celebrate the resiliency and strength witnessed so many times this past year and that inspired DocFest to present our first ever virtual film festival. Here’s to the next 10 years!”
A full lineup of films is available at docfest2021.eventive.org/films. Tickets ranging from the single pass for $12, 6-ticket pack at $60, and All Access pass for $100, are available at: downtowndocfest.ca/tickets-passes/
With files from Holly Dewar