Powell River Film Fest is perfect for movie buffs looking for something unique



Powell River, B.C. – Is a slightly off-the-beaten-path destination the best place to hold a film festival? “Absolutely,” says Gary Shilling, executive director and programming member for the Powell River Film Festival Society. “The film festival is in its 18th season and while the majority of our audience comes from the community itself and the surrounding areas, we have a growing reputation among those from places like Vancouver, the lower mainland and Vancouver Island who are looking for something a little different.”

The film festival, which runs from Feb. 8 to 17, features international, Canadian and locally-made first-run films that you won’t find playing at your local theatre. In comparison to larger centre festivals, the Powell River Film Festival feels more like a boutique festival that keeps the community in mind at all times.

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“It’s not about big names and big directors for us,” said Shilling. “For us, the story is the most important thing. Will it resonate with our audience? Will it tell the story clearly and is the story unique?”

A quick glance at the diverse line-up and there’s definitely some standouts for this scribe. As a big Blues fan, Director Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes would be at the top of my list of must-sees, along with Becoming Astrid by Director Pernille Fishcer Christensen. After all, who doesn’t want to learn more about the woman who created Pippi Longstocking, one of my favourite heroines as a child.

A very important component of the festival is to showcase First Nations films that tell the stories of the history and cultural aspects of the Peoples. This year, the festival is featuring In the Valley of the Wild Horses, directed by Trevor Mack and Asia Youngman, Hehewshin – The Way Forward, directed by Cyndi Pallen and Edge of the Knife, directed by Gwaai Edenshaw, Helen Haig-Browni. This latter film, shot on Haida Gwaii, is done in the endangered Haida language with subtitles.

Learn more about the star of The Way Forward, the canoe, here.

Wild Horses and Hehewshin are powerful stories, which look at the traditions of the Xeni Gwet’in and Tla’amin Peoples, focusing on two important elements to the First Nations culture – the horse and the canoe. The focal point here is how by following one and climbing into the other, we, as Canadians, can better understand each other and move forward together.

Powell River Film Festival
Photo: The Powell River Film Society

For the Tla’amin Nation members, the canoe is a powerful symbol – if we are all in the same canoe, we must paddle together to get to where we need to be. 

Make sure to check out the film festival schedule.

One of the delights of the film fest is everything happens at the historic Patricia Theatre in Powell River’s Old Townsite. Built in 1928, the theatre is Western Canada’s longest serving theatre and began its life as a playhouse for vaudeville, stage productions and silent movies. The stage, with its velvet curtains, is still there, as is the orchestra pit and organ, the balcony seating and the original 35 millimetre projector. Beloved by the community, she’s a little worn, but life will begin anew again as the Film Society takes over.

“My son and I have been the stewards of the building for the pass 16 years, and we’ve always wanted it to be community-owned,” says Ann Nelson. “We feel this move is perfect. It’s a win, win, win for everyone as this is a significant building in B.C.’s history and this new community ownership will ensure that it is well looked after.”

“It will be a two-year transition and we’ve plenty of plans, including renovations,” said Shilling. Still, there’s something about sitting down in an old theatre with fresco-styled paintings on the walls, gilded millwork and flip-down seating that’s just simply magic. (The theatre is wheel-chair friendly.)

The Patricia Theatre in Powell River
Photo: The Patricia Theatre

Up in the projection room at the Patricia Theatre, the old 35 millimetre projector sits side by side with today's digital projectors.

The Pat (as the theatre is referred to by the locals) isn’t the only building in Old Townsite to be refurbished and given a new life. The ground floor of the original post office is now home to one of the sponsors of the festival, the Townsite Brewery, where you can enjoy a tour of the brewery and sample it’s creations. If you visit, make sure to ask about the history behind the names, they are as colourful as the beers are tasty.

The old Tudor-style courthouse no longer houses criminals and lawyers, it was reinvented in 1997 as a historic hotel – The Old Courthouse – and marries the refinement of yesteryear with modern conveniences. It's the perfect place for those attending the festival and who love staying in boutique hotels.

Powell River Film Festival
Photo: Barb Martowski

The Old Courthouse has been turned into a historic hotel with eight rooms that reflect both history and modern needs.

The latest building to be given new life is the Powell River Company store. When it was first built in 1940, it definitely stood out with its modern style verses all the Craftsman and Tudor that surrounded it. It took four years to complete and only opened in December of 2018 under the name – Townsite Market.

Reusing as much of the existing materials as possible, owner Steve Brooks has taken a page from places like the Granville Market in Vancouver and filled the space with local entrepreneurs and artisans. One of which is the Powell River Climbing Co-op, the perfect place to challenge yourself in between film screenings.

Powell River Film Festival
Photo: Barb Martowski

Genevieve B. is a member of the Powell River Climbing Co-op, which can be found in the newly opened Townsite Market.

Brooks also believes in extending his community involvement by supporting various events and activities within the community, including the film fest.

“The film festival and the wonderful Patricia Theatre have a long and important history in the Townsite and I’m very happy to be able to support the event. I’m keen to offer Townsite Market as a new venue for community events and given the close proximity to the Patricia, this is an ideal first event.”

I’ll leave you with one last suggestion; Pow folks love dining out and they have an amazing selection of ethnic and Canadian restaurants to choose from, but if you’re in the mood for some tasty Italian fare, head to Culaccino Modern Italian. It’s located in the "new" area of Powell River and everything is home-made. The meatball sandwich and Minestrone soup are amazing.

If you go

Powell River is 170 km from Vancouver, which involves a scenic drive along the Sunshine Coast and a couple of short ferry rides, but is well worth the trip as Pow Town is a really eclectic and charming place to visit and stay a while.

For full information on the Powell River Film Festival, Click Here.

Read our festival overview and start planning your trip to the Powell River Film Festival

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