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Andrew Connors is the guiding light illuminating the screens in Whitehorse. He’s built the Available Light Film Festival by bringing more attention each year to the Yukon’s cinematic showcase. Filmmakers from across Canada and folks in Whitehorse have taken to this rite of winter. The fest is housed in the Yukon Arts Centre, up on a hilltop overlooking the town and the mostly frozen river that surrounds it. Some kind of hierarchy must have ensued, as the prison sits halfway up the hill, and the Arts Centre hovers above it like an overseer.
Day one saw three films about survival. In Finding Farley, Calgary couple Leane Allison and Carsten Heuer, along with their scene-stealing child and dog,venture north and east by canoe to retrace the journeys of the venerable Farley Mowatt, whom they hope to visit in his Maritime hideaway, but are almost consumed by mosquitoes and black flies before even making it to Labrador.
Call her fearless or maybe foolhardy, but BC documentarist Dianne Whelan joins a team on a mission to patrol the North Pole and fly our country’s maple leaf in This Land. The team journeys by snowmobile north through the Arctic under impossible conditions. Never mind that the team gets lost, runs out of food and Whelan has a close brush with death; she delivers a film that is hard to believe. Producer Selwyn Jacob admits they took risks but lauds Whelan for pulling off this feat.
Philip Lyall and Nimisha Mukerji’s 65_RedRoses tells the harrowing tale of a young woman awaiting a lung transplant – her only hope of living a few more years. Eva has suffered from Cystic Fibrosis since birth. Her fight to survive is vibrantly told by first-time directors who gained remarkably intimate access to Eva’s life at home, with her online friends and in the operating room.
Visiting and local film folk later holed up in Whitehorse’s Capital Pub for bottled Yukon Gold. This guest was confused by the 19th century-attired belle I mistook for a waitress. She was one of several candidates for Sourdough Queen and was trying to fundraise. So instead of a whiskey, I ended up with an earful of saloon history and a couple of raffle tickets.