It was almost midnight when Carrie Hunter reached the bottom of her “in” basket and unearthed the telegram announcing another entry was on its way to the Banff International Festival of Films for Television—this one from Moscow. “Moscow, Idaho, I thought to myself,” recalls Hunter, the festival’s co-ordinator. “Then I saw it was signed by Soviet TV. I wanted to run down the street yelling, ‘The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!’ ” Instead, Hunter phoned Edmonton film-maker Fil Fraser with yet another confirmation that his brainstorm, a television film festival, had mushroomed into a major event.
Not only are the Soviets—traditionally oblivious to first festivals—entering the Banff competition, but TV film-makers from Japan to Brazil flooded Hunter’s mail with entries. There are submissions from every North American network as well as from Asia, South America, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries. Overwhelmed by more than 200 films, Hunter had to scramble at the last moment to organize a pre-screening committee to cut the competition in half. Running from Aug. 23 to Sept. 1 in Banff, the festival is not the only one of its kind (the Italians and the Swiss have held them), but is unique in accepting only made-for-television motion pictures shot mainly on film, not videotaped, and in offering hard-cash prizes—$1,000 for the best film in each of five categories and $5,000 for the festival’s best.
The TV festival grew out of the inter-
national film festival that Fraser (whose production credits include Why Shoot the Teacher?, Marie Anne) organized for the Commonwealth Games last year in Edmonton. Not even Fraser, however, anticipated such enthusiasm from the international film community. “TV is now responsible for hundreds and hundreds of hours of film that is aired one night and disappears forever,” says Len Hill, ABC’s vice-president of motion pictures for television. “The excitement of a festival such as this is that it allows us to evaluate, discuss and appreciate projects that would otherwise vanish.” Hill also stresses the value of an international forum for a group otherwise geographically isolated. “Besides,” he laughs, “Banff is pretty.”
Gathering in the Rockies, the world’s TV film-makers will take part in a series of workshops ranging from global finance and marketing, with former Paramount executive Bernard Donnenfeld and J. Victor Rogers of the investment firm Nesbitt, Thomson, Bongard, to film technology led by Leo O’Donnell of Toronto’s Film House. Costs of the festival, sponsored by New Western Film and Television Foundation, are being picked up by various levels of government and private donors.
Never a television fan herself, Hunter has discovered from screening the entries that Láveme and Shirley is not the final statement in television art. The films range from The Corn Is Green, starring Katharine Hepburn,
and Friendly Fire, from the U.S., about the fallout of Vietnam on the family of a soldier, to Italy’s Ligabue and The Children Have Crossed the Seven Seas, a film about the rescue of 1,600 Japanese war orphans which moved even the film-saturated organizers. “Five men sat and watched that one night,” says Hunter, “and every one of them cried.” Dave Billington, Edmonton Sun critic and a member of the pre-screening panel, was impressed by the over-all quality: “I can’t believe there is so much good stuff for TV. Why aren’t we seeing it?”
Few members of the public will see this year’s festival lineup. Although the screenings are open in Banff, Hunter admits none of these films will have theatrical release across Canada. “It would be nice to package the best and tour the country,” she says, “but that’s not the case with any festival.” Still, several buyers have asked to attend this year and by next year a formal marketplace should be organized for international deal-making. With funding promised for three years and overwhelming international response, the festival organizers are confident of a smooth course. The optimists are even predicting the festival could set Banff on the road to becoming North America’s TV Cannes. Still, this salute to all that is good in current television counts among its entries at least one dubious achievement—a two-hour version of The Incredible Hulk. Suzanne Zwarun
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