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Review – Indie Koala Invasion: building a reel community

By Michaella Francom on July 23, 2013

Film’s success as an art-form is often credited to its ability to engage people one-on-one.  Going out to the theatre might seem like a social event, but the moment those lights go down you become isolated and singular in the darkness: the real world vanishes and you’re pulled into the illuminated reality of the screen.  It’s just you and the film.

That’s why Saturday night’s outdoor screening at Dundonald Park, Indie Koala Invasion, was such an utterly unique and refreshing experience.  Organized in collaboration between the Ottawa-based production company Treepot MediaCentretown Movies and IndieKoalaInvasion uses film to transform individuals into a community.

This was year two for the event but my first time attending.  Not sure what to expect crowd-wise I showed up early, threw down my blanket and staked out my territory.  I wanted the screening to be a success but with 15 minutes to go before the 9:00pm start there were still only a handful of people in the audience.  I was experiencing that anxious-for-the-actors feeling that my nerves usually reserve for live theatre.

And then, as dusk’s light dimmed, the first real show of the night began.  I was immersed in an alternate reality: but not one projected on-screen.  Bats, like shadows, flit about overhead and in seemingly-scripted unison people appeared from every direction.  Carrying lawn chairs and picnic baskets, spreading sleeping bags out on the grass and cuddling up together: this was not the traditional film experience.   I had been expecting the usual indie crowd; university kids, young professionals.  I was happy to see the event pulled in a much broader range of people.  Retired couples, parents with kids, five high-schoolers crowded together on a blanket sharing home-popped popcorn.  The heat wave had broken and the night was chilly but the atmosphere was warm.

When the screening got underway the sound quality was poor: fading in out, cracking and pitchy and just wonky overall.  But there weren’t the usual groans and complaints you get at the multiplex.  The organizers apologized, and while they were fixing the issue people turned to their neighbours and chatted until things got going again.  We were all there in support of local talent, all cheering for the night’s success. And success it was.

The program included several short films by local filmmakers.  I was most impressed with Algebra, a beautifully crafted and moving film which won the Best Technical Quality Award at the Digi60 Filmmaker’s Festival 2012.  And with Perfect, a truly entertaining short that had me laughing out loud and whose colour palette and overall composition titillated the film critic in me.  But it was the documentary feature, One of the Last, which really drove home the sentiment of the evening.  Watching this film about the Rideau Street Bakery I felt proud to be living in Ottawa; proud to know the city is about more than what its name has come to mean in synecdoche.  There’s a rich community we’re all invested in, all eager to participate in building collectively.

When the screening was over some people left immediately but others milled about striking up conversations with the filmmakers, discussing the shorts with other audience members.  Since graduating from film studies I’ve found it hard to connect with people who share my passion.  I found them at this screening: it made Ottawa feel like home.

Centretown Movies will be continuing its Outdoor Film Festival at Dundonald Park throughout the summer. I highly recommend going out for a truly one-of-a-kind experience and as a way to meet some neighbours and fellow film enthusiasts.

The films screened on Saturday night can be found online through IndieKoala.

Perfect  is currently one of the finalists in the CBC Short-Film Faceoff for 2013. Show your support!