Last year, the Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) was one of the first events affected by the COVID-19 pandemic here in Kingston.
Marc Garniss, Festival Director for KCFF, said last year’s festival did have ominous overtones, but they didn’t realize how quickly things were going to head downhill.
“Our opening night was Wednesday, Mar. 11, 2020, and a week prior, our staff and Board did chat about the pandemic, but it seemed like nothing was imminent for Kingston closures,” Garniss told Kingstonist. “South by Southwest had cancelled and some of the really big international festivals as well, but Kingston still felt safe and secure.”
That feeling didn’t last. “By noon on Thursday, Mar. 12 nearly all our guests from out of town had cancelled. Bedouin Soundclash had arrived, but were instructed by their management to turn around and come home,” he continued. “We had received some complaints and heightened concerns from attendees, and a general fear seemed to be growing. Many volunteers cancelled their shifts, and we still had four days to go! I think we could've made it to the Friday, but the writing was on the wall that we would have to cancel.”
“Of course, health and safety of everyone was top of my mind, so we shut things down early afternoon that day,” Garniss shared. “We did have some people upset by our decision -- trust me, we were upset too, and shutting down was last thing we wanted to do. We put 18 months of preparation into the Fest.”
A year later, Garniss says he’s convinced it was the right move. “Hopefully it played some small part in Kingston staying relatively healthy in comparison to other centres. When we cancelled, a lot of other places followed suit Many people have told me KCFF20 was the first time that COVID sunk in as an immediate and serious concern.”
This year Garniss says they considered an in-person festival, but dismissed the idea in December and focused on providing content virtually.
“With the second wave looming, it would have been a bad decision and we didn't want to run the risk of cancelling two years in a row,” he said.
The film festival begins Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, and Garniss says the virtual format allows a much broader reach for the Canadian films.
“We've sold tickets to people in all the provinces and into the US, as well. We've even sold tickets to cinephiles in Germany! We're welcoming tons of newcomers who wouldn't normally attend. I think that's the major positive at this point --- so many new people learning about KCFF and/or Canadian film for the first time.“
Story by Jessica Foley, The Kingstonist, for the Local Journalism Initiative