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‘Representation matters’: Young Canadian filmmakers celebrated at 17th Hamilton Film Festival

The fluorescent lights of The Westdale Theatre’s marquee cast a glowing blue haze over a crowd that shuffled in from the cold to watch the Hamilton Film Festival’s collection of Emerging Shorts last Friday (Nov. 11).

Inside, the theatre seemed frozen in time. Heels clicked against the checkered tile floors, cutting through the hum of voices that echoed through the halls. Mid-century pendant lights hung from grandiose vaulted ceilings, their light reflecting off gold accents on the walls. As the crowd took their seats and the lights dimmed, the dreary November weather couldn’t have felt further away.

The Westdale Theatre's marquee lights up the night with fluorescent text that reads "Hamilton Film Festival: Emerging Shorts, 6:30 P.M."
Nine independent shorts created by young Canadian filmmakers were showcased at The Westdale Theatre.

For the next 101 minutes, the screen lit up with nine short films. Stories ranged from murder-mysteries to lighthearted coming of age moments. Dotted with diverse characters, settings, stories and emotions, the collection of films seemed to have nothing in common – save for the fact they were all created by young and emerging Canadian filmmakers.

Jae Ng, a graduate of Centennial College, sat at the back of the theatre and waited for her short film, Vibe with Me, to appear on the screen.

The opening scene was a familiar one for any creative. A young woman hunches over her desk, a pencil in hand and a blank page in front of her. Strewn around the room are piles of crumpled papers – the quintessential representation of a creative rut. To procrastinate, she slumps over on the couch and scrolls through a dating app on her phone. There, she meets a woman who changes her perspective and inspires her to pick up the pen once more.

“Most of the characters I come up with are very much reflections of my internal process,” she said. “I take a lot of inspiration from the people in my life.”

“I started filmmaking because I really believe in representation, and that representation matters,” she added. “I want to make more films that have as many diverse stories as possible, because we need to hear more of them. I think there are a lot of stories that are important, and it’s important to see people like you and people like me up on the screen.”

Other films had an edgier vibe and darker themes. Steel Bey’s Cocaine Caddy details a particularly harrowing night for a young man forced to sell cocaine. Yesterday Will Hurt by Serafina Fraracci and Emily Bak tells the story of a young, traumatized woman who suffers with frightening flashbacks from her childhood.

The audience applauded and cheered as the screen went black and the lights turned on. As the crowd fidgeted in their seats, Hamilton Film Festival Director and CEO Nathan Fleet took to the stage to thank the audience and the young filmmakers in attendance.

“This is the future of filmmaking that you’re seeing right here,” he said. “It’s very important that you’re here watching these short films that aren’t programmed from an algorithm. When you open up your YouTube, it’s going to show you things that you’ve watched before. And that’s all you’re ever going to see. But being here and seeing this diverse group of short films, it opens your mind to what else can be done, what else is out there, and what other stories are being told.”

Internationally recognized and locally focused, the Hamilton Film Festival has run annually for 17 years. This year, the festival ran from Nov. 5 – 13, showcasing independent Canadian films at several well-loved Hamilton theatres.

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