It’s 2 ½ hours north by car from the nearest airport in Quebec City, but those who spend isolated winter days at Canada’s Saguenay International Short Film Festival feel it’s well worth it. Between March 15-19, the Fest (known best by its short name, REGARD) celebrated its 21 st year with more than 200 short films from more than 40 countries and with foreign guests from, among other faraway places, France, Italy, and Serbia. But more than anything, this Fest is a celebration of the flourishing film culture of the Canadian province of Quebec. The Fest has a mandate: “To create and enhance industry for short films in Quebec.”
For example, in 2016, the Fest’s 20 th anniversary, 90 of the 224 shorts programmed were made in Quebec. And many of those, with the legendary National Film Board in Montreal as a model, were skillful animations.
So to be at REGARD, with headquarters in the Saguenay town of Chicoutimi, is to be surrounded by filmmakers of shorts, producers of shorts, programmers and buyers of shorts. Narratives, animations, and documentaries. “The short continues to stir us, touch us, make us laugh, and, most of all, surprise us,” declares the artistic team behind REGARD, and their passion for short films is infectious. That’s the one and only subject at cocktail receptions, panels, speaker programs. If short filmmakers sometimes feel ignored, devalued when among feature directors at many festivals, here there is nothing but pride. The majority here only desire to want to make more shorts, not concerned about “graduating” to the feature. They are like committed short story writers who have no plans for novels.
REGARD encourages this pride in short films. (The longest in 2017: 29 minutes.) The Fest lists among its objectives to “Raise the awareness and educate young people to short films” and to “Create a keen interest for author cinema in shorts.” The first is encouraged by having a Young Cinephile Jury at each Fest. The last is a fascinating challenge, and perhaps REGARD is up to it: to locate and celebrate the Godard, the Truffaut, the Agnes Varda of short cinema.
Some of the features of REGARD: outdoor screenings on winter nights, a Short Film Market, a very accessible Video Library with every film shown at the Fest, and a functional shuttle service between screening places in Chicoutimi and nearby Jonquiere. Perhaps most appealing of all, REGARD takes advantage of the Saguenay area being a kind of “winter wonderland” by offering daily adventures to all of its guests. One day, filmmakers are taken on a toboggan sled ride, the next up in a helicopter, the next to a spa for a dip in thermal water. Fun in the deep white snow!
The big prizes here are for Best Short in the International Category and Best Short in the National Category, both French and English-Canadian. The most unusual category for an award is Shoot No Matter What! In a country which strongly supports cinema with government funding on a national and provincial level, this category is for Short Film mongrels, filmmakers who have made their movies totally independently.
The 2017 REGARD was the first occasion for a FIPRESCI jury of three to choose a winner among 34 films in the National Category. Based on the quality of the films and the hospitality and splendid organization of the Saguenay Short Film Festival, it seems reasonable to expect that FIPRESCI will be back in Chicoutimi in future years.
Edited by Gerald Peary
© FIPRESCI 2017