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Manitoba’s Largest Film Festival Returns: A Celebration of Community and Culture

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It was an exhilarating past few days for the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland with the 22nd Gimli International Film Festival (GIFF). Kicking off with an opening ceremony Wednesday evening, GIFF was host to film industry members, Manitobans, and world visitors to enjoy over 70 diverse and acclaimed films, workshops, and activities.

Visitors from Manitoba and abroad come to this five-day event, bringing significant foot traffic down the main strip. After two years of pain and challenges for small business owners, visitors are a welcome sight. Linda Miyai, owner of the Buskers by the Beach, an ice cream and smoothie shop with live entertainment, is proud to live in a community that hosts not only an International Film Festival but an Icelandic Festival.

“It’s great to have them here. Before we opened our business, we had a cottage here for over 30 years. We don’t miss a parade or carnival with our family. We’re all into it and are excited when it comes.”

The last few years have been difficult for Miyai, and the arrival of visitors to these festivals will permit them to stay in business for a few more years. “We’re happy to be a part of Gimli’s community.”

Visitors also means opportunity for budding entrepreneurs. Jay Anthony Willis is fresh to the Gimli community, having moved back to Manitoba after over 20 years of military service and travel. Having written a song about the joy he feels when viewing a prairie sky and was able to share that with visitors to his new home busking at Buskers. “With the festivals, it’s great. Everyone is going by smiling.”

The festival, which celebrates the Icelandic Heritage of Gimli, also promotes diversity and multiculturalism here in Manitoba and Canada. One such group featured is the Winnipeg Indigenous Film Collective. Since 2014, the group has been dedicated to Indigenous filmmakers across Manitoba to encourage one another and share their stories and film. Amanda Kindzierski, a filmmaker and organizer of the collective, as Manitoba’s largest film festival, having spaces to celebrate the diversity and unique culture of Manitoba is so vitally important.

“I believe when people think of Canada, When filmmakers come from other provinces, and they stay at a hotel downtown, they walk in downtown Winnipeg and go, ‘you know, nowhere else in Canada looks like this.’ When I go to other provinces and cities, I’m like, where are the Natives. I grew up my whole life being told Winnipeg is Canada’s largest reserve. There’s a certain culture very specific to Manitoba that doesn’t exist in the rest of Canada. So I think it’s important that Indigenous Manitoba voices are being held up for everybody to see.”

The collective showcased a wide array of shorts at the A-Spire Theatre, holding a question-and-answer period afterwards. For Kindzierski, this couldn’t be a better opportunity, not just to discuss their films but set a path for future creators.

“It’s important for me, but it’s also being able to ensure everybody in my collective has this platform. Certain opportunities, if you don’t take them, they go away. Anything that would be holding me back from doing it, I remove it from my mind because I know there’s another generation coming after me. I need to set a path for them.”

Festivals on this scale are only possible thanks to dedicated volunteers who take time out of their day. Jennifer Pawluk decided to volunteer with her friend to spend time together and give back to their community. Having covered the event previously as a community journalist, volunteering several times in the past, attending as a patron, and viewing as many screens as possible, GIFF is an event Pawluk never wants to miss.

“It’s such a benefit for the community. The Film Festival is such a highlight for Gimli, and it does so much for local businesses. Everyone has such a great time.”

The Gimli community now prepares for the August-long weekend Icelandic Festival of Manitoba.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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