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From nude heroine to Canada's Kwakiutls

When the Sunshine Coast Film Society's (SCFS) Canadian Heritage Film Festival launches on Feb. 18 at the Heritage Playhouse, it's going to be difficult to decide whether the opening night or the closing night gala will be the most exciting.

When the Sunshine Coast Film Society's (SCFS) Canadian Heritage Film Festival launches on Feb. 18 at the Heritage Playhouse, it's going to be difficult to decide whether the opening night or the closing night gala will be the most exciting. Or, for that matter, all the other events in between: nine feature films, some old and rare, speakers and fascinating finds for film buffs. How do you choose between an opening night vintage film that depicts a genuine Canadian heroine in one of the screen's first nude scenes or the closing night gala that features a tale of Indians as perceived in 1914 that will be attended by present day members of the Kwakiutl Nation who will comment on the movie? I confess, at first, the thought of an entire weekend of heritage films made me yawn a bit. Visions of scratchy old documentaries and outdated technology sprang to mind. But then I gathered more information from SCFS artistic co-ordinator Judith Hammill who was positively breathless at the prospect of four days of quality films. Hammill should know; she has an MA in film studies and has been a screening committee volunteer at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The events open on Friday, Feb. 18, with wine, hors d'oeuvres and a screening of Back to God's Country (1919), that stars Victoria-born silent screen action heroine, Nell Shipman.

This Canadian writer and director braved rapids and befriended bears to star in many early films. In Back to God's Country, Shipman must pilot a dog sled across the icy tundra to get her husband to the doctor. Her co-star suffered frostbite during the making of the film, but Shipman emerged unscathed. The little known heroine has been re-discovered by professor of film and women's studies, Dr. Kay Armatage, who will be attending the opening night gala to tell the audience more. The silent movie will be accompanied by the Coast's own pianist Ken Dalgleish with his original compositions. The opening gala is the most expensive event in the festival, weighing in at $15. It even includes a free shuttle bus starting from Halfmoon Bay.

Saturday morning, Feb. 19, film archivist Emily Staresina will be holding an Antique Film Roadshow at a fee of $5. The public is invited to bring in 8 mm, Super-8, and 9 mm film that you or your parents once shot and that is now stored in the attic. Staresina will assess its condition, advise you how to preserve it and explain how to transfer it to another medium. This workshop is a general information session followed by individual consultations by appointment by calling 604-886-1226.

Saturday afternoon features a keynote address from speaker Colin Browne of the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust, supporters of the festival, and a double feature: a 1963 movie described as "captivating" by one Society member, The Drylanders, the story of a family that stakes their future on the Saskatchewan prairie, and the famous iconic Canadian movie by Don Shebib, Goin' Down the Road. Saturday evening involves an interesting idea, a panel discussion entitled Cinema as Sacred Site, perfect for those who, as Hammill puts it, "worship at the altar of the screen." Included is a 1931 epic, The Viking, filmed on the ice floes of Newfoundland depicting original footage of the seal hunt, and White Thunder, from filmmaker Victoria King. Sunday, Feb. 20, is a free event, a morning of classic NFB animated films for kids and adults, from 9 a.m. to noon. Come and go as you please. Sunday afternoon is an homage to Claude Jutra. This artistic Quebec film creator made Mon Oncle Antoine and A Chairy Tale. On Sunday afternoon, local artists should appreciate two films about painter Joyce Wieland, The Far Shore, and a portrait by Kay Armatage, Artist on Fire. The Monday afternoon double feature offers two films from the offbeat, dark world of Guy Maddin: Tales from the Gimli Hospital and The Saddest Music in the World. It is the closing night gala that will be stunning.

On Monday evening, Feb. 21, on Heritage Day, the SCFS and the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives will co-host a theme evening, British Columbia Heritage.

Speakers will help to interpret two films: Skana, a short documentary by Coast filmmaker Collin Hanney about how Skana, the killer whale, came to be in the Vancouver Aquarium, and the closing film, In the Land of the War Canoes, a 1914 film made by photographer and ethnographer Edward S. Curtis.

It's a story of love and revenge that captures on film the culture of the Kwakiutl First Nation of Vancouver Island before contact with the white man. Native food will be served in the lobby, and representatives of today's Kwakiutl will be guest speakers to have the last word on the subject. Ticket prices vary for each event and will be available at the door. Some weekend passes are available at the cost of $55 for film society members and $65 for non-members. You can purchase passes on line and learn more at or buy them at the usual outlets.

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