New festival focuses on alternative cinema

A new spotlight will shine down on Ottawa’s film community this year as another film festival hits the city’s small but vibrant red carpet. 

Mirror Mountain is the newest addition to the capital’s expanding film festival circuit and is set to take place in early December. While Ottawa’s other festivals showcase genres and styles that include animation, human rights, sci-fi, and LGBTQ issues, Mirror Mountain focuses on the untapped niche of independent, underground and alternative cinema.

“We’re not necessarily going to show something that has a more Hollywood style,” says Christopher Rohde, the festival’s director. But he adds he’s trying to create a festival that is accessible for everyone. 

Despite the challenge of getting noticed amongst the growing crowd of film and cultural festivals in Ottawa, Mirror Mountain has already raised more than over half its funding goal of $750 and received a couple hundred submissions from filmmakers all over the world.

“To see festivals starting up is positive,” says Carmelo Zucco, a Centretown-based independent filmmaker. “Every festival is welcome in Ottawa.” 

Although the city’s well-established film festivals, such as the Ottawa International Animation Festival, attract audiences from outside of Ottawa, the many young genre festivals, including Cellar Door and Mirror Mountain, centre their attention on engaging the local community.

“We don’t expect millions or anything,” says Rohde, but adds that he’d love to see a full house every single night.

“Festivals are an excellent way of having your work shown and developing yourself within the community,” says Zucco, whose short films have been selected for festivals in Canada and the United States.

Mirror Mountain is encouraging the participation of local filmmakers by making it free to submit any work produced, shot, or edited within 100 kilometres of Ottawa.

“I find that in Ottawa support is pretty excellent because we’re a smaller community of filmmakers, as opposed to Toronto or Montreal,” Zucco says, adding that local filmmakers encourage one another, rather than compete. 

However, other Ottawa-based filmmakers such as Jith Paul say that finding support from the public can be harder. “We seem to be quite good at reaching out to filmmakers, the cast and their families but not much outside of that.” 

Founder of Treepot Media, Paul previously collaborated with the Centretown Movies – the annual summer outdoor theatre held at Dundonald Park on Somerset and Lyon Street – to screen local short films, but stopped in part because there wasn’t enough community support.

“Festivals are not just about going and sitting down in front of the screen and watching films,” says Patrice James, the executive director of the Independent Filmmakers Co-operative of Ottawa. “You should get an understanding of what drives those artists and what’s going on in that sector.”

James says that due to the availability of new technologies, festivals are popping up all over and not only in Ottawa. 

“Just because there’s more of something, that doesn’t mean it’s better,” she says.

As a filmmaker himself, Rohde considered establishing a festival for a long time, having found many festivals he submitted his work to “unprofessional” and “sloppy.” 

“I would often have problems with film festivals not contacting me to let me know I had been selected,” says Rohde. “It occurred to me after a while that if I made my own festival I would be able to fix all of these issues and do it from a filmmaker’s perspective, putting the filmmaker first.”

Mirror Mountain will take place over three days and will include film screenings, a filmmaking panel and question and answer sessions.