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Experiencing home

A Journey through the AIFF’s Reel East Coast Shorts Gala

As someone from the Maritimes, storytelling is an important part of my culture. That’s why I was thrilled to attend the Reel East Coast Shorts Gala, where seven short films were broadcast for viewing on Sept. 17, as part of the 43rd annual Atlantic International Film Festival (AIFF).

These films place a spotlight on talent from the Atlantic region. The directors and actors took bold, creative risks, creating a distinct Atlantic experience with every scene. 

Escape the Usual

My initial fascination with attending the shorts gala was sparked by Escape the Usual by Colby Conrad. The short revolves around three teenagers living in rural Nova Scotia, and the realization that they have found themselves at a dead end if they stay in their small town. 

Coming from a rural area of Nova Scotia myself, I was eager to follow the boys and see how similar their experiences were to mine. The title of the piece itself evoked a nostalgic response from me, as I had often contemplated leaving my small town to pursue opportunities my town could not give me. 

For some, job prospects are so constrained that the only choices they believe exist are dangerous work fishing, or illicit activities like drug dealing.

Conrad explores this in the film, and while this may be an extreme point, it rings true. Many high school students in rural areas believe they won’t be able to find jobs after they graduate unless they move out West or to bigger cities.

Thoughts from the director 

After the films were screened, a Q-and-A with the directors and some of the actors followed. Conrad elaborated on his motivations and choices. 

He spoke of feeling rarely supported in his small hometown of Liverpool, N.S., and the awareness that he would have to leave in order to gain traction in the film industry. 

Looking for actors for his short film, he knew he wanted to take from the often-overlooked talent of Liverpool. To his surprise, there was a theatre program consisting of nearly 60 kids and teenagers, run by The Astor Theatre, hosting workshops and camps. 

By casting actors from Liverpool, Conrad created an opportunity in rural Nova Scotia that his younger self had only dreamed of, and began to receive the support he deserved from his community. 

Other films

The shorts gala had six additional films, each captivating in their own right.

Slay by Kevin Hartford, while comedic in nature, touches on the impact of friendship in life. The film highlights the notion that no friendship can ever be replaced. It follows Hartford’s attempts to try and rekindle old friendships before his best friend moves away. 

Evelyn, by Millefiore Clarkes, follows the life of 94-year-old Evelyn and her surroundings of nature. Evelyn spoke of the importance of nature and resilience in a troubled life by saying, “What good would it do to worry about it, dear.” 

Similarly, Mother’s Skin also touches on resilience. Director Leah Johnson uses Irish folklore to explain the struggles of a child coping with her mother’s depression and father’s rage. 

Immediately after this heart wrenching short, The Healing Jar by Andrea Cass allowed for a space to breathe and reflect on the viewer’s own healing. 

Father Archie directed by Todd Fraser, narrated in English and Scottish Gaelic, reflects on the life of Father Archie, an important member of the community. 

Hebron Relocation by Holly Andersen was the last short film. It emphasizes the connection between people and places, asking the question of what really makes a place a home, in the wake of the forced displacement of northern Labrador Inuit. 

Home across films

The theme tying all seven films together was the depiction of what home feels like. For many, the concept of ‘home’ holds great significance. This collection of films created an environment where ‘home’ became a shared experience, uniting under the connections and emotions felt by each piece. 

As I sat alongside the directors, watching the films, I couldn’t help but appreciate that every person has a unique story to tell. The passion was obvious in the atmosphere, making the shorts 10 times more exciting to watch. It was obvious that the directors and actors put their all into their creations. 

If ever anyone has the opportunity to attend the Atlantic International Film Festival, I would highly recommend it—it’s an experience that will remind us of the power of storytelling. 

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