Grande Prairie’s Reel Shorts Film Festival goes global -- Seventy one films from 20 countries participating in this year’s event

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Roll out the red carpet in front of your living room couch.

The 14th annual Reel Shorts Film Festival will be screening in your living room, home office or bedroom — where ever you decide.

The annual Grande Prairie short-film festival, which began in 2007, will be going online this year because of COVID-19 curtailing public showings.

However, the showcase of short films could even have a wider audience.

“Last year, we had to postpone, so we took all of the 5,000 submissions from last year and what we had selected to that point, and just carried them forward to this year,” said Festival Director Terry Scerbak.“For us, we can definitely take the lemons and turn them into lemonade.

“Obviously, you can’t replace the excitement and fun of a live event, but if we can’t do that, then what we are most excited about is the opportunity to reach more schools and classes and students.”

Scerbak explained the educational component of the Grande Prairie-based film festival makes it distinct.

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“Our school program is what really sets us apart. I think we are probably up to the largest school program in Canada, or we are getting there, but certainly in the Prairie provinces,” Scerbak said.

“In past years, over 2,000 students would come on field trips to the festival. This year, because it is online, we just have the same six school packages that teachers will be able to show their students in class, or if they are online classes, they will be able to meet together online and watch the films together.”

The 2021 Reel Shorts Film Festival has been extended by a week this year to give people more of an opportunity to take in the festival’s offerings.

This year’s festival, which features 71 short films from 20 countries, will run online from April 26 to May 9. All movies are free to view.

“When the weather is nice, nobody wants to watch movies,” Scerbak said. “It is a two-week period, and we have 11 film packages and 71 films. It is an opportunity that people can actually watch all of the films, if they want to.”

Interest in the festival by local filmmakers remains strong.

“We have five Peace Region films,” Scerbak said. “Four of the films have Grande Prairie and area filmmakers. One of the films was shot in the Grande Prairie (area); a documentary on a woman who lives near Grovedale, but the film director is from Calgary. We still count it as a Peace Region film because it was shot in the Peace Region about a Peace Region resident.”

The five Peace Region films include “SMALL TOWN STRENGTH”, a documentary by Darryl Haugen on mixed martial arts in Grande Prairie, “TYPICAL HEART” directed by Chris Beauchamp and Laura Beauchamp, “THE SWITCH” directed by Monty Simo, “UNDEFEATED: JOURNEY TO THE DEATH RACE” directed by Rew Jones, and “WITH THE LAND” directed by Calgary filmmaker Dominique Keller.

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Curating is always tricky as the organizers have to narrow down all the entries.

“We have a very large programming team,” Scerbak said. “All of the films in the school program are actually watched by teachers. For the Peace Region films, because it is impossible for me to say no to people I like and work with, we always put it out to five, six or seven people out on the filmmaking team to chime in.”

The festival director added the successful entries are chosen by majority rules.

Scerbak said she is so happy to see the growth in filmmaking in the Peace Country. When she first started the festival, there was only one person making training videos for the oil patch in town, so it is rewarding to see the filmmaker community grow and thrive.

“The challenge for this last year, oh my gosh, it sounds so simple to go online, but there are many ways to go online, and the technical side can be challenging, just like the in-person events,” Scerbak said.

While it will be good to go back to an in-person, Scerbak added the local festival will probably continue with a hybrid model.

“Although it has been challenging to pivot to doing it online, the advantages which are like geographic reach, have made themselves very apparent, but there are also things you can’t replicate online that you have in person,” Scerbak said. “I think for us too; it is always so challenging for the schools with funding to bring their students on field trips. I think we will want to stay with the hybrid model for being able to reach our schools. These films are so valuable for classroom discussion.”

The festival founder and programming director said that the films could bring things to life for students in a way that textbooks can’t.

Another highlight of the festival is the Oscar-nominated short film from Palestine entitled “THE PRESENT.”

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