Film festival begins tomorrow in Ottawa, highlights local talent

This year Ottawa’s arts community will become more diverse and inclusive with the inauguration of the Mirror Mountain Film Festival.

Being held from Dec. 4-6 at SAW Gallery, 67 Nicolas St., the festival is screening films from all genres, including experimental and science fiction, documentaries and shorts. 

Festival director Christopher Rohde says the goal is to “see a festival in Ottawa that plays all sorts of movies to all sorts of people.” 

He adds that although Ottawa has a vibrant arts community, the existing festivals are usually exclusive to one genre only and are specialized to suit one audience. This festival is different, Rohde says: “We basically have every type of genre of film that is existing represented in the festival somehow.”  

Along with the screening of more than 50 different films, there will be workshops and panels. One of the goals for the festival is audience engagement and interaction with the filmmakers themselves. 

On Saturday, Dec. 5, at noon, there is a workshop called Minding the Gap: A Diversity Toolkit. Co-presented by the Carleton University Art Gallery, the presentation focuses on diversity and inclusion in the contemporary and independent film industry. 

On Sunday, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m., another workshop called Start Smart: a Filmmakers Guide to Festivals aims to pass knowledge about the film festival circuit from experienced filmmakers to the novices of the industry. 

At 11 p.m. on Saturday there will be a 45-minute screening at the Arts Court Theatre, upstairs from the SAW Gallery. Short films of the “exceptionally strange, disturbing and unique,” according to the festival’s website, will be shown.

It will be followed by a 25-minute collaboration of live performances between filmmaker Roger Wilson and the “post-apocalyptic” rock group Scattered Clouds. 

Some local film highlights include Pixie Cram’s stop-motion animation film called Joan, telling the story of Joan of Arc. 

Artist-turned-filmmaker Cheryl Pagurek’s Bodies of Water combines human silhouettes with flowing water to show what she calls “the ongoing flow of humanity.”

And Gary Thibert’s short film Do Not Touch is described as follows: “An anxious young man gets his first job: cleaning parks for the city. Everything seems to be going fine until he stumbles upon a mysterious post-it note.”

There were many people and many hours of work put into planning this inaugural event, say organizers. The executive team was made up of seven members, including Rohde and other filmmakers and directors from across Ottawa. 

In February, they began publicizing the festival through international portals such as, Festival Focus and Short Film Central. Mike Scholtz from Minnesota found the festival on FilmFreeway and entered his award-winning documentary Lost Conquest because he liked the logo, which features colourful chevrons and the word “mountain” in mirror-like reflection.

The name Mirror Mountain, says Rohde, “brings to mind an epic, monumental destination but one that also reflects the viewers back at the themselves, and reflects its own surroundings.”

Since then, the panel began sifting through more than 600 film submissions from all over the world, with many coming from here in Ottawa.

Getting the word out also involved relying on Ottawa’s close-knit film community. 

Cram says the community is very small and friendly. It was this collaboration between artists, Rohde says, that made the team’s work easier.

Rohde said they wanted to connect with locals. “We wanted to see their work and to tell them they were welcome to share their work and vision with us. We wanted them to be involved.” 

The organizers implemented the festival program called Local Heroes, which highlights talent from Ottawa and the surrounding areas, and will include Bodies of Water, Do Not Touch, Joan and others. Those screenings will be on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Pagurek says she hopes the festival will bring more attention to Ottawa’s film scene. 

“I think it’s great to have an opportunity for people to see something that’s a little different than what they see in the mainstream theatres,” she says. “Sometimes people might be hesitant to walk into a gallery, but there’s a familiarity of going and watching movies. So I’m hoping that people beyond the art and video sub-community venture into some of the screenings as well.”

The screenings begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4. Tickets for individual shows are $5 and can be purchased online or at the door.