OIFF 2014: Festival Wrap-up and 'Best of the Fest'

A Mile in These Hooves
The fifth annual Ottawa International Film Festival is officially a wrap! It’s nice to see the festival going strong in its fifth year. OIFF 2014 is my fourth year covering the festival and this year arguably marks the most well attended festival since I first caught the local fest at the now-defunct World Exchange in 2011. (I’m only using a visual gauge of the crowds, for official attendance numbers have not yet been released.) The surest sign of the festival going strong is its comfy new home at Ottawa’s Mayfair Theatre, which marks a much more appealing home than previous venues both in terms of atmosphere, access, and a/v quality.

The single-spot of OIFF also makes it easier on a film reviewer eager to cover the festival, since one avoids scurrying to multiple venues. The new media accreditation also makes OIFF 2014 the busiest festival so far. I think I was the only person reviewing the fest in previous years, but OIFF 2014 had new filmies from the Ottawa Film Scene and even from Toronto covering the fest. Welcome to the party and I hope to see everyone at OIFF 2015!

One thing that needs improvement for OIFF 2015, however, arguably remains to be the feature film selections at the festival. Sunday transit complications unfortunately made me miss the final feature, Brazil’s Chess Game, but the features this year sadly leave something to be desired. OIFF 2014 includes two fine docs with My Father and the Man in Black and In the Turn, but I’m still a bit taken aback by the inclusion of the conservative and comparatively artless The Lost Key, which saw several walk outs at the festival. I almost made a turn for the exit myself because the film’s out-dated views on gender and equality are offensive, but I stuck through it hoping it would prevail in the end. It didn’t. (And I then had to wait a whopping fifty minutes for the bus, so shame on me for wanting the extra review…)

More disappointing, though, are the festival’s two local features, Girlhouse and American Descent. Girlhouse, for all its faults, displays a technical competency from the Ottawa film scene that at least warrants its inclusion in the festival, but American Descent is sloppy on all fronts. I really want to see both the festival and Ottawa’s film scene grow, so, while it’s frequently unpopular/controversial to dismiss local films, I find it hard to champion local content for its own sake, especially when films like American Descent hide their local character and leave few reasons for a local fan to overlook flaws in the production. If we’re attracting films and media from outside Ottawa, we really need to show the best that Ottawa has to offer and perhaps that means omitting the weak links. Some of the OIFF 2014 films do Ottawa proud, though, for both the shorts The Garage and particularly Wired are worthy of inclusion in the festival on merit alone.

OIFF 2014 instead marks a stronger, more noticeable growth for the festival in terms of curating and attracting international content, for previous editions of OIFF were largely domestic affairs. The OIFF selections for 2014 are an impressive sample of films from around the world with an international scope of films from Chile, Venezuela, China, Brazil, Russia and the USA. Most impressive, I think, is the inclusion of the short Market Hours from the Weinstein Company. The significance of having such a noteworthy American distributor at the festival really can’t be overstated. This addition means that people are noticing OIFF and, more importantly, it means the local films receive more attention as they compete alongside their peers from outside the Ottawa region.

The shorts are especially impressive finds by the OIFF team, for even the lesser of the shorts this year are comparatively impressive in terms of their professional craftsmanship. The highlights of the shorts programmes of OIFF 2014 include Wired, which arguably marks one of the strongest local productions in years—and far and away the best Ottawa short I’ve seen while covering the works of the local film scene alongside Hollywood films and world cinema. Especially notable among the OIFF offerings is the Oscar winner The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life. Lady, like Market Hours, simply represents a significant selection for the Ottawa International Film Festival with the heavy pedigree of an Academy endorsement and the benefit of exposure that it brings to the Festival in turn. Sunday’s shorts screening with The Lady in Number 6 marks one of the busier screenings of the Festival, as well as one of its most exciting events with the participation of producer Chris Branch and the attendance of several actors working in his latest picture, including Bollywood star Jacqueline Fernandez.

The best film of the festival, however, is easily the uproariously funny A Mile in These Hooves. This spot-on film by James Brylowski is one of the sharpest, wittiest, and cleverest mockumentaries I’ve seen. Hat’s off to the whole Hooves team for providing one of those hidden gems that film lovers hope to find at a festival. Hooves, like Wired, is one of the best shorts of the year and I thank OIFF for offering Canadian shorts that could easily make by top ten list when it comes time to rounding out the best Canadian films of 2014. If OIFF improves on the features with even half the impressive leap of the shorts of 2014, then the Ottawa International Film Festival will be on even greater in its sixth year. At five, though, OIFF looks to be on solid ground as it grows and contributes the burgeoning culture of cinephilia in the 613. Here’s to many more years of OIFF at the Mayfair!

What are your OIFF'14 highlights?