(July 1, 2015 – Toronto, ON) Canada Day, 2015. The date not only marks our country`s 148 birthday, but it also marks the apex of the year. We are halfway there and, as some might say, it`s all downhill from here. Not for Toronto`s Gina Dineen. Founder of the Cabbagetown Short Film and Video Festival, work on this year`s festival is about to ramp up as the deadline for submissions approaches and plans to move the festival to a new, larger venue occupy much of Dineen`s free time. We asked if she could find a few minutes in her busy schedule to sit down for a brief interview with Northernstars.ca`s founder and publisher, Ralph Lucas.
Ralph Lucas: Of all the things you could have done… why start a film festival?
Gina Dineen: It all started with the Cabbagetown Cultural Festival. That`s what it used to be called. A weekend of street closures and yard sales and activities in the Fall celebrating the neighbourhood. I had volunteered for a couple of years doing kid`s event on the street because I have four kids, they were small at that time, and it was fun to participate as a neighbourhood volunteer in that way. Before having kids I had graduated from York University with a film degree and so my husband, Paul, who was then Chairman of the BIA, which organizes the festival said ‘Why don’t you do a film thing.’ Well, it was like BINGO!!! A light went on. So while I was at York in the early 80s, we had seen some films by Clay Boris, who has gone on to do a lot of episodic television directing. He had just released his big feature, Alligator Shoes, and before that he had done a couple of shorts, one of them was titled Parliament Street (Editor`s note: Parliament is the main street through Toronto`s Cabbagetown neighbourhood), black and white, 16mm, about some leather jacket type thugs chasing a kid all through Cabbagetown and then beating him up down at the base of Riverdale Hill. Then he did another short called Paper Boy, about a kid delivering papers pretty much in St. James Town. He also done something called Rose`s House about his mom`s rooming house. So I thought this was fantastic. Here was someone who grew up in the neighbourhood, who did some short films that are easily digestible and so, it was 1992, and I decided that would be the program.
I looked Clay Boris up in the phone book and he very graciously lent me some VHS tapes. I then got the upstairs room, it was called the Laurentian Room, at what once was the Winchester Hotel. Then I had to rent all kinds of stuff, like a front screen projector, monitors, and I sold tickets and people came. The program was far too long, but the audience was generous and the people loved it.
The next year I started inviting local filmmakers. At that time HandyCams were just starting to come out, that`s 1993, and I thought there would be a lot of local stories that would emerge. Not the case. Filmmakers are filmmakers. It`s a special skill, it`s talent, it`s a craft. Just because you put a camera in someone`s hands doesn’t mean that they want to or are able to make films. But Cabbagetown is a pretty artsy neighbourhood and we did get some excellent films. For example we had a film by John L’Ecuyer. It was shot in the Winchester Hotel and it was called Low Life. It was about a heroin addict. He`s a very successful television director and he`s a sweet guy. So, things like that started popping up.
Gradually I didn’t have to look for films. They started coming to me. And, all the entries come to me and I watch everything. Then I put together a short list, a sort of ‘best of’ selection that`s longer than the final program and those films are screened by me and a jury so that it`s not just my opinion. The jury picks the winners and decides what films don’t really fit.
RL: You mentioned Clay Borris and John L’Ecuyer, but there are many other names our readers would recognize.
GD: Yes. In fact I made a list, but just a couple of names. Vincenzo Natali, we showed his very early… a student film really, called Playground, which foreshadowed his later work. That was so exciting. Lori Lansens, she`s an author now, but we had her film Tessa. Then we had Kenny and Spenny. In 1995 they submitted a black and white documentary — can you believe it!! — and it wasn’t pranks or anything like that. It was called It Doesn’t Cost Anything to Say Good Morning. It was one of the most moving documentaries. It was about a homeless guy who panhandled around Summerhill and he passed away. Anyway, I didn’t know them from Adam and later they had their prank show that was so completely different. John Fawcett, who did Ginger Snaps and all that. We had his student film from the Canadian Film Centre called Scratch Ticket. It was so well directed you could tell this guy was talented. Then we also had Su Rynard who is a documentarian who just had Messenger at this year`s Hot Docs. She was a Grand Prize Winner in 1995 with a film called Signal. Stephanie Morgenstern from Flashpoint and Company X. She submitted Curtains in 1996. It`s like a Who`s Who. Michael Dowse had a film called Room 237 about this crazy room where a hamster is loose. Sarah Polley, her very first short film which was shot at the Spruce Court Co-op and Riverdale Park and was called The Best Day of My Life and it was a lovely coming-of-age story. She came to the screening in 1999, when she lived in the neighbourhood. We also had Bruce McDonald`s Elimination Dance.
RL: This year the venue for Cabbagetown Short Film and Video Festival changes.
GD: That`s right. We started in the down and dirty Winchester Hotel. We then moved on to the very comfortable seating arrangement at the Winchester Dance Theatre, in an historic building. But we would be selling out every year and we always ended up with a disgruntled 50 or so extra people who wanted to attend but couldn’t. And it really wasn’t wheelchair accessible. We even had one filmmaker in a wheelchair who came all the way from Edmonton and we had to carry him up the stairs. So, Regent Park has been redeveloped and one of the new buildings is the Daniel`s Spectrum and it has a 300-seat state of the art theatre, all the bells and whistles, great projector, great sound. We’ll still have our refreshment area there so people can have a drink and mingle with the filmmakers. It is more accessible, it has more seating and I think that`s good change.
RL: The date, or the day of the festival has also changed.
GD: It`s now the day before TIFF opens instead on the day it opens. In the past, a number of Cabbagetown people who wanted to be at our festival had conflicts because of needing to be at TIFF, so I was losing some of my audience. It`s still going to be the same great price of $15 for two hours of outstanding short films.
RL: But the deadline for submissions remains the same.
GD: Yes. As it is every year, the deadline is July 31st and all the information and details are online.
RL: Thank you for talking with us.