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Festivalitis Part 1

Festival fever can hit hard - you’re all pent up ready for a good time- and then just as suddenly it’s over…

By Ellen Besen

Festival fever can hit hard- you’re all pent up ready for a good time- and then just as suddenly it’s over…

OIAF is wrapping up for another year- a good time to consider the best and worst of this venerable festival. Festivals can be addictive with all the ups and downs that word implies- a chance to break and out and party with friends from all over the world- but also an exhausting slog during which you inevitably hit moments where you wonder why you do this year after year. What elements feed these opposing sensations? A whole bunch of details it seems some which change over the years and some which form the traditional foundation of any particular festival.

One excellent development at OIAF 2012 was the return of the festival to the National Arts Centre after several years of exile from its traditional home. This wasn’t a full return to the days when the all the main screenings for the whole 5 days and some years even the workshops were held at NAC. Those less pressured and less expensive days are gone forever, of course. But even a partial return of the main events (for about half the festival) is a significant development and enough of a change to nicely illustrate an often overlooked factor in what makes an art event great: architecture.

The style, location and layout of the buildings which house a festival have a huge impact on how an event functions and not just in terms of the atmosphere they set. On one hand are the obvious effects like mood and the quality of seats and sightlines in the theatre.  On the other hand are the less obvious but equally important ways they affect the festival going experience, particularly in terms of how people interact.

When OIAF briefly settled in Toronto for one summer (way back in ’84) the screening and break out rooms were more than adequate but the bars and other fun places were too spread out from the main venues- people gathered and met easily before screenings but all that energy quickly dissipated as soon as the screenings let out which gave the whole event a noticeably hollow feeling- certainly not what you hope for in a major, multi-day event.

The last few years of OIAF saw a variation of the same phenomenon. Having lost access to the NAC- through no fault of their own, I might add- they were left with second best options at best: another venue that offered all-in possibilities but in an out of the way location or a set of venues that were all closer to the centre of town but too far from each other for easy passage from one screening to another.

They opted for the latter with a bus that hauled festival goers from one event to another with a fair bit of fuss and bother.  Yes, the intentions were all good...but unfortunately, the reality was best described as arduous - not a word you really want associated with a festival experience.

There were other issues in play here too- we’ll pick up the discussion in Part 2.

Copyright © 2012 by Ellen Besen. All rights reserved.